Bears

All eyes on Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky as minicamp begins this week

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All eyes on Matt Nagy, Mitch Trubisky as minicamp begins this week

For the first time as a head coach, Matt Nagy will be able to run practices this week during a voluntary veteran minicamp from Tuesday through Thursday at Halas Hall. He’ll do so with a careful eye on Mitch Trubisky, not only in how the second-year quarterback plays during practice, but how leads his teammates. 

That Nagy-Trubisky relationship is the most important aspect of 2018 for the Bears. All the hype over Ryan Pace’s free agent class — and all the frustration over letting Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints — carries far less importance than how Nagy successfully develops Trubisky.

The point: If the Bears get their quarterback right, plenty else wil fall into place. 

“The expectations for us are that we’re going to always push him,” Nagy said last month. “We’re going to give a little bit more to him to see what he can handle, but you got to be able to balance that with other 10 guys and what’s too much. So you have that balance of what you can give him.”

The structure Nagy and Pace put in place around their franchise quarterback — offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and backup quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray — is designed to provide help for Trubisky at every turn as he is tasked with learning more and more of the Bears’ offense. 

But it’s also incumbent upon that structure — specifically Nagy, Helfrich and Ragone — to tailor the offense in some ways to Trubisky’s game. Nagy’s spiced-up west coast offense already incorporates run-pass options and a quarterback’s ability to use his legs, though, all while demanding flexibility from the skill players around him. So that's a good start, at least better than the conservative, predictable offense Trubisky was tasked with running in 2017. 

We’re probably getting ahead of ourselves in trying to picture what Nagy’s offense could look like, though. This week is the first time players will be able to practice with a ball with their coaches, and the real heavy lifting won’t start for another three months when the Bears report to training camp in Bourbonnais. 

But these minicamps and OTAs that’ll take place over the next two months will provide an opportunity for Trubisky to assert himself as a leader, which will carry plenty of weight once training camp begins in July. And for Nagy, these practices at Halas Hall are important for figuring out how hard he and his coaching staff can push their players, with Trubisky being the most important one in that group. 

“The part that we’ll have to keep a balance on is within practice, when we’re in practice, how you coach him and how he understands,” Nagy said. “OK, we’re going to give you all these plays, these install plays on Day 1, how does he digest that? Can he take it all in? Can we give him more? Where is he at with his progression? Where is he at with his footwork? Where is he at with his mechanics? Where is he at with his actual throws? So we’ll balance that out. We won’t know that until training camp. And then once we get to training camp, now we’ll really start loading him.”

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.