Bears

To 2015 Bears, not all 3-5 records are the same

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To 2015 Bears, not all 3-5 records are the same

No one in or around Halas Hall would dispute Bill Parcells’ classic declaration, “You are what your record says you are.” The Bears are 3-5 in 2015, so they are a 3-5 team, pure and simple. That is exactly where they stood after eight games last season.

But there are 3-5 teams, and then there are 3-5 teams. And the difference between the 3-5 of 2015 and last year’s is palpable.

At this point of the 2014 season, the Bears had commenced unraveling at 3-5, nosing over into a death spiral. Now at 3-5, “We’re going to make a run at the playoffs,” tackle Kyle Long told CSNChicago.com. He paused: “And if anybody doesn’t think that, then get the (expletive) outta here.”

Talking playoffs doesn’t get anyone into playoffs. But having won three games with fourth-quarter comebacks, a season on the brink has become anything but, for reasons significant beyond 2015.

Some, but hardly all, of the change has been personnel. Of the 22 position players starting at San Diego, 12 were Bears last season, and that didn't include injured regulars Matt Forte and Shea McClellin.

The changes within that personnel are as, if not more important than the new bodies. Sometimes holdovers from a previous regime retain some of the negativity that underlay the problems that necessitated the changes in the first place.

The opposite has been the case to this point.

“We have guys who want to get that taste out of their mouths,” Long said.

A driving motivation among returnees is “to get rid of what was wrong in the past and show that none of that was really us,” said Will Sutton, who was drafted last year to be a 4-3 defensive tackle but has started twice at nose tackle in the 2015 Bears defense.

“We’re the people out there playing, and we have to take it upon ourselves,” Sutton said. “We have almost the same amount of guys here from last year, and those guys, we don’t want that feeling of ‘we gave up last year.’”

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Harsh expectations

The Bears went into the 2014 season with heightened expectations after reaching 8-6 before collapsing in their final two games, which turned out to be something of a foreshadowing. They even started better last year than this, 3-3 as of a road win in Atlanta, then fell apart in multiple ways at home against Miami and then went into free-fall the next week with that 28-point loss in New England.

After the off-week to regroup, the Bears fell behind 42-0 at halftime in Green Bay and the disintegration was in full flower.

This season the Bears, with dramatically lower consensus expectations, lost by 26 at Seattle to hit 0-3. Since then, however ...

“You know, as I look back, obviously disappointment in our record at this point,” coach John Fox said. “I think you look back and you start the season 0-3. You look at progress. Whether it’s the O-line, the receiving corps, our whole football team.

“The good news is that if you look over the last five games we’re 3-2. So I think we’re trending hopefully to do better in the second half of the race.”

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears right here]

'Progress?' Not so fast

The Bears still have not defeated a team outside the AFC West, and their three wins have been over teams that are a combined 9-16. They’ve lost to the 1-7 Detroit Lions.

The 2015 Bears at 3-5 are scoring fewer points per game (20.0) than the 2014’ers (22.5). The 2015’ers are giving up 28.9 points per game, up from last year’s 27.8. The current 3-5 team is averaging 333 yards per game; the 3-5 team of 2014 was rolling up 354 on average.

But considerably less important that any stat, the mindset of this 3-5 team is starkly different from the one of a year ago.

“It starts at the top starts with Foxy and the way he approaches each week and the way he talks to the team, the guys in the locker room, the type of players that we have,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We've got guys who no matter what the score is they're going to play hard and we know that the fourth quarter we have to play a little bit better than we did the first three quarters, so it's stuff that he talks about all week and stuff he's talked about all year long and it's kind of coming to fruition.

“I think if you’re all in with the coaching staff in what you’re being taught, you just kind of start repeating what they say and I think a lot of guys in that locker room believe in coach Fox, believe in their position coaches and how we’re being taught and it just kind of goes downhill from there. Everyone starts talking the same language.”

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

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USA TODAY

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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USA TODAY

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.