After frustrating 0-3 start, Bears searching for turnaround


After frustrating 0-3 start, Bears searching for turnaround

For a time, an 0-4 start to a Bears season wasn’t all that noteworthy. One happened in 1997, another in 1998 and, after a recovery year under Dick Jauron in which Gary Crowton’s “razzle-dazzle offense (thank you, Gunther Cunningham) befuddled the Kansas City Chiefs before the Bears went back to losing five of their next seven, in 2000.

Moods of teams can be difficult to read and not always all that meaningful. Teams with good attitudes but no talent don’t necessarily win just because they don’t quit or try hard.

But while the 2015 Bears have fallen short to three 2014 playoff teams with a combined mark of 7-2 through three weeks, “I think there’s a whole lot of football left,” said tight end Martellus Bennett. “And it’s exciting every week to have another chance to get better, improve and see that improvement on tape.”

In coach John Fox’s mind, “I have to remind people that 1 ½ of those three [losses] that we were without our starting quarterback. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a reality. We’re missing some integral parts that hopefully, at some point, we get back. When that is, I don’t know. I don’t put time frames on it.

“But the good news is that we’ve got to look at some other people, some other guys and see how they react in those situations. And hopefully we’re learning some stuff that will help us moving forward… . There's no doubt that those teams [Green Bay, Arizona, Seattle] have beat some pretty good teams along the way and they are good football teams but this league's about winning no matter who you line up against, so we're still in that process."

[MORE: Cutler, Jeffery questionable against Raiders]

Somehow the prospect of the Bears losing their fourth straight in 2015, and ninth straight going back into last season, is spectacularly improbable given that teams with new coaches typically make some sort of first-year improvement. Not necessarily always a lot; there was, after all, a reason why a coaching change happened.

Fox was privately and publicly not viewing his team as a catastrophe-in-waiting when he took the job and even into training camp and the regular season before the problems started. The intriguing part of Sunday’s game with the Oakland Raiders is what plays out at quarterback if Jay Cutler is able to play.

“It's just like when you try to predict before the season, it's hard to do so you're right we've had three opportunities in the regular season and they haven't turned out like we expect,” Fox said. “I think all three of them take on a different personality. I think every opponent takes on its own personality, how you match up as an individual football team vs. your opponent. Obviously disappointed that we're 0-for-3 in those opportunities.

“I don't know that it's all been horrible. I know the result is horrible but hopefully we can grow and learn and get better from it moving forward.”

“Forward” is indeed the focus, vs. too many times in the recent past that “forward” was a source of dread. Not now.

“When you have all the guys on the field, the 53, we’re really going to be the team that we want to be,” Bennett said. “Guys are inching, inching, just not all the way there yet.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”