Amid turnover, Bears leadership, chemistry emerging


Amid turnover, Bears leadership, chemistry emerging

The subject of Bears leadership would be tiresome if it were not so precipitous. The lack of leaders and leadership, from the huddle on up, was not the reason the Bears of the past two seasons were abysmal. But the absence of them ensured that once the wobbling started, on offense, defense and special teams, no one was possessed of the talent/personality combination to arrest the slide.

Ironically, the tidal wave of new faces and personalities may actually be contributing to the emergence of an internal cohesion, particularly on defense, so dramatically lacking since the exit of Brian Urlacher and injury truncated seasons for Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman in particular.

The stream of new players, coupled with the change to a new scheme, coaching staff and departures of longtime fixtures, means that the vast majority of players aren’t trying to fit in an established locker room and systems as they have been for more than a decade.

[MORE BEARS: Restaffing/up-sizing Bears D continues with Tracy Porter signing]

Consider it like the first day of high school for freshmen.

“It’s a little different coming from where you’ve been around guys for four years,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee, a transplant from the Baltimore Ravens. “You know everybody’s attitudes, personalities.

“Coming to a new team, you’ve got to feel things out, see who’s the leader, who’s not, figure out which guys you can sit down with and learn the game. But right now we’ve got a great group of guys. We talk to each other.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

That’s the real key. Minicamps and practices in shorts do not reveal a great deal but the interplay among players on the sideline is striking. McPhee has sought out Jared Allen on matters of pass rush. Notably perhaps, Allen has sought out McPhee on intricacies of the hybrid rusher/linebacker role that McPhee has played but which is new for Allen.

“You know Pernell the other day gave me a tip,” Allen said. “I thought, ‘Oh that makes so much sense,’ and things kind of clicked and then…it kind of slowed down for me.”

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.”