2015 Grades: Bears coaching staff walks the walk


2015 Grades: Bears coaching staff walks the walk

The NFL doesn’t grade on a curve, only pass-fail, as in win-loss. The Bears won only one more game under John Fox than they did a year ago in Marc Trestman’s second year. But more than one game’s worth changed inside the Bears because of coaching in 2015.

The Bears offense went into its final game with six of its top seven receivers either on injured reserve or simply injured. And the defense came in with exactly one lineman who’d been on the roster in training camp. Injuries are part of every team’s season but that kind of sick list is something else entirely.

That the Bears won six games may be surprising that it was so few, or so many, given not only the catastrophic injury clusters at certain positions, but also that the coaching staff was doing what it had to do while installing new schemes on offense, defense and special teams. Reshaping the culture of the team was a primary goal and that was clearly accomplished regardless of the win total.

"I think the confidence [John Fox] brings, the excitement he brings, the accountability he brings, the discipline and all those things he started the moment he walked through the door really show up in the everyday work and on Sundays,” said wide receiver/returner Marc Mariani, one of the coaching victories, someone who’d caught five passes in three career seasons before 22 this year. “He's going to tell you, ‘We're going in the right direction. We're doing things right.’ It's exciting to be a part of it. We all see it and it's not just talk. It's what he brings. It won't be long. We're going to be playing a lot longer [than 16 regular-season games] in years to come."

The change effected in the game of quarterback Jay Cutler was the obvious major individual coaching achievement of coordinator Adam Gase. Cutler posted career-best’s in passer rating and other areas, even with three interceptions in the Detroit game.

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One overall in the philosophy of Fox’s was a strong running game, and coordinator Adam Gase put the plan into practice. The 2014 Bears ran the football 25 or more times just five times all season; the 2015 Bears had just two of 16 games in which they did NOT rush at least 25 times.

Gase surprised opponents at times with a two-back personnel grouping. Against Detroit, he unveiled a package with all three of Ka’Deem Carey, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford on the field at the same time, Forte and Langford split out right as receivers and Carey the lone runner with Jay Cutler in the backfield. Carey popped the play for a 10-yard run. Given the shortage of proven wide receivers, the scheming was a reasonable gambit.

That Gase was able to develop more of Jay Cutler’s game despite the whirlwind of receivers and changing offensive line personnel was an accomplishment of near-epic proportions.

“I think we’ve handled it pretty good,” Gase said. “The hardest thing for us is just practice, trying to get that rhythm, more for down-the-field throws. “We’re close to hooking up on a lot of these but we just don’t quite have the timing we need and that comes through guys being in and out and just not being able to develop that kind of timing.”

The defense under Vic Fangio completed its makeover as a 3-4 despite having limited player resources specifically suited for the scheme as designed. Yet the defense improved from 30th to 14th in yardage allowed and from 31st in points allowed to 20th, even with three return touchdowns given up. The run defense allowed about 125 yards per game vs. the 113 per game last season some of that traces to a 2014 defensive line that underwent few changes due to injury.

“It’s improved,” Fangio said of his unit. “That’s for sure, and really improved from the start of the season throughout.”

Special teams had myriad breakdowns early in the season and too many inexcusable penalties for a group that needed to be more disciplined.

Bears coaching season grade: A

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”