Bears

Bears competitive practices taking toll but Fox hardly beating up his players

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Bears competitive practices taking toll but Fox hardly beating up his players

The NFL rules on hitting, padded practices and the rest have changed over the years by virtue of collective-bargaining agreements. But even with fewer contact opportunities, in-season practices are costing the Bears some players, particularly starters.

The most recent was safety Antrel Rolle, already on the injury report as probable with an ankle injury but coming out of Saturday’s practice with a knee injury that took him out of the Denver game.

Rookie center Hroniss Grasu missed the three games before Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos with a neck injury suffered in practice after the Detroit game. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has seemed to end as many weeks as not with some new injury, most recently adding a shoulder problem last week to a groin injury suffered in practice the week before.

But the notion of Fox running overly physical practices doesn’t resonate with veterans with experiences elsewhere.

“Nothing really jumps out at me there,” said guard Matt Slauson. “I mean, playing for Rex [Ryan, N.Y. Jets] – everything with him is physicality. [Marc] Trestman’s practices, too, were very physical days. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Nothing’s really different now.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Fox is hardly using brutal practices as a means of culling his roster; he and GM Ryan Pace did that in the offseason and continue to whenever a poor fit is recognized. Players have alluded to the competitiveness within the Bears as an accelerant to improving, not as added physical risk or fatigue.

“If anything, I think they're real competitive because [Fox] doesn't back off of the competitive nature of the game because that's what brings out the best of us week in and week out,” said cornerback Tracy Porter, now on his fifth NFL team. “So he continues to push that competitive nature, whether he slows down the physical contact or whatever he decides to do, that competitive nature is still going to be on 100.”

Coaches typically do put significant stock into practice, both for its sharpening of execution as well as keeping an edge for players even during the season.

“I don’t know how many golfers go out and work on their half-swings or in tennis they work half-speed to practice tennis,” Fox said. “I just think it’s a professional sport, and you have to practice it to get better at it or stay finely tuned.”

Fox is hardly the first nor the most physical coach to run the Bears.

When Mike Ditka took over as Bears coach in 1982, his practices were legendarily brutal, installing new systems on offense in particular (Buddy Ryan stayed on as defensive coordinator) but also weeding out players he didn’t want or couldn’t meet the physical bar he wanted to set. Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent has always said that after practicing all week against left tackle Jimbo Covert, games were easy.

[MORE: Bears waive Clausen, promote Fales]

Dave Wannstedt applied some of the same methodology in 1993, beginning with the allowable extra minicamp taken to Arizona as a way of starting everything in the heat. One offensive tackle was flattened by a teammate wielding a padded shield in practice (the tackle was cut).

As late as five years into the Wannstedt years, wide receiver Curtis Conway blasted coaches after a Bears preseason game in Ireland for wearing players’ legs down during training camp. Coincidentally, Conway was lost with a broken shoulder suffered subsequently in a preseason game diving for a pass.

The chuckle here is that Dick Jauron was gigged for his supposedly soft practices, probably because the Bears were losers in all but one of his five seasons. Now Fox is being questioned about his rough practices in a time where NFL/NFLPA negotiations have effectively put a governor on practice speed.

Bears hire Deshea Townsend as defensive backs coach

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USA Today

Bears hire Deshea Townsend as defensive backs coach

The Bears unveiled their first assistant coach hiring since bringing aboard Chuck Pagano as their defensive coordinator, with Matt Nagy announcing the addition of Deshea Townsend as defensive backs coach on Friday. 

Townsend, a former cornerback and 13-year NFL veteran, had previous coaching stops with the New York Giants (assistant defensive backs coach, 2018), Tennessee Titans (secondary coach, 2016-2017), Mississippi State (cornerbacks, 2013-2015) and Arizona Cardinals (assistant defensive backs, 2011-2012). 

Townsend finished his career with 21 interceptions, 15 1/2 sacks and 112 passes defended in 191 games spent primarily with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-2009) and Indianapolis Colts (2010). 

Rumors swirled for the last week about the Bears’ potential interest in hiring future Hall of Famer Ed Reed as a defensive backs coach under Pagano, who coached him in college at Miami and in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens. Pagano and Reed are coaching together at the NFLPA Bowl this week.

The Bears appear to have retained defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, while the team announced Ronell Williams was hired on Friday as a defensive quality control coach, a position previously held by Sean Desai.

What should the Bears do with impending free agent Adrian Amos?

What should the Bears do with impending free agent Adrian Amos?

The Bears entered 2018 with two key members of their 2015 draft class playing the final year of their rookie contracts: Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman and safety Adrian Amos.
 
Goldman received a four-year, $42.04 million contract extension with $25 million guaranteed prior to Week 1, cementing him as the anchor for the Bears’ 3-4 base defense for years to come. Amos, meanwhile, was left to play out the final year of his rookie contract and will become an unrestricted free agent in two months.
 
“Really, it’s nothing in my hands anymore,” Amos said at Halas Hall a day after the Bears’ season ended. “I put my tape out there. I played with my teammates. I was really focused more on trying to win a Super Bowl this year. Just, man, it’s a hard day. I know I keep saying that. But it’s a hard day, a hard situation right now.”
 
For Amos, the frustrating feelings of coming up short in the playoffs with that 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles will fade. The idea of “unfinished business” won’t take precedent over, well, business. Both he and the Bears will have a decision to make in the coming months.
 
The first question is how the Bears value the 25-year-old safety. Amos set career highs in interceptions (two), pass break-ups (seven) and tackles (73) in 2018, all while playing the highest percentage of snaps (97.7 percent) of anyone on Vic Fangio’s defense. He’s proven to be a largely durable player in his four years in Chicago, playing over 1,000 snaps twice (2015, 2018) and dipping below 80 percent of his team’s defensive snaps once (2017, when he missed three games but also didn’t start until Week 4).
 
Amos and Eddie Jackson played off each other well, with Jackson fitting as a rangy ball-hawk and Amos a physical in-the-box type who’s adept against the run. He’s been graded well by Pro Football Focus, for what it’s worth, receiving an 82.7 grade in 2018 and 90.9 grade in 2017.
 
But if the Bears’ internal graded mimicked those of PFF, Amos probably would’ve been signed to an extension. Or, possibly, Ryan Pace is cognizant of the market for free agent safeties and isn’t prepared to commit a significant amount of money to Amos.
 
The largest contract given to a free agent safety in 2018 was a three-year, $16.35 million deal signed by Kurt Coleman with the Carolina Panthers. Tyrann Mathieu, the versatile former All-Pro, had to settle for a one-year, $7 million deal with the Houston Texans (of which $6.5 million was guaranteed, the highest guaranteed money figure for a free agent safety last year). Tre Boston, who had five interceptions in 2017, had to wait until just before training camp to sign a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals with only $800,000 guaranteed.
 
Granted, just one year prior, seven free agent safeties received contracts of three or more years with total values over $12 million (including Quintin Demps, who Amos replaced in the starting lineup after a season-ending injury in Week 3). Maybe 2018 was just a bad year for safeties — the Giants’ Landon Collins and the Rams’ LaMarcus Joyner will command hefty contracts, while Seattle’s Earl Thomas will be in high demand. There’s not only more star power in this safety free agent class, but more depth, too — with Amos included in that.
 
“It's an old cliché but you're never staying the same; you're either getting better or you're getting worse,” Pace said. “We need to make sure we're getting better.”
 
Amos’ durability and solid play are certainly positive traits, ones the Bears could deem worthy of a new contract. But would bringing back Amos mean the Bears would be getting better, especially if it comes at the expense of a need elsewhere? Or do the Bears believe Amos could have another gear to his game in Chuck Pagano’s scheme?
 
The Bears’ safety duo in 2018 was acquired in the fourth (Jackson) and fifth (Amos) rounds of the 2017 and 2015 NFL Drafts, respectively. Perhaps the Bears, with around $25 million in cap space (after the expected release of tight end Dion Sims) will figure they can address the safety spot next to Jackson in a few different ways: a competition between a cheap free agent (perhaps like Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro, who was a first-round pick of the Saints in 2013 when Pace was there and made $1.5 million in 2018), a mid/late-round draft pick, or an internal option (like Deon Bush).
 
Pace, too, may be more willing to use that limited cap space on attempting to retain slot corner Bryce Callahan and/or right tackle Bobby Massie, while using the remaining funds to address across-the-board depth. Alternatively, Amos has earned the opportunity to cash in – if the opportunity is there – after four years of reliable, solid play on a relatively cheap rookie contract.
 
So there are plenty of questions to be answered over the next few weeks and months regarding Amos and a potentially vacant spot at safety. Whatever happens, though, Amos will approach his impending free agency with a clear head about what appears to be a cloudy future.
 
“I always come out here and give it my all,” Amos said. “This year, we were a better team. We had a lot of success on defense this year. But I feel like I’ve been pretty consistent over my years here. You have bad games here and there; you have great games here and there.
 
“Overall, I just hope my tape speaks for itself. When coaches watch my film, (people) upstairs, they see what I bring to the table as far as communication, athleticism, everything they would want to see. I hope they’ve seen it, but I can’t worry about what they did see, but it’s already happened.”