Bears faced with stopping Raiders WR Amari Cooper…the one that got away?


Bears faced with stopping Raiders WR Amari Cooper…the one that got away?

As the first round of this year’s draft began, the Bears had a deck of seven players they’d established as being worth the No. 7 pick of the draft. Two of them were wide receivers and the Bears would have been happy with either Amari Cooper from Alabama or West Virginia’s Kevin White.

Whether the Bears would’ve chosen Cooper over White was a moot point. The decision was made for them when the Oakland Raiders grabbed Cooper, the 2014 Fred Biletnikoff winner as the top collegiate receiver, with the fourth-overall pick. The Bears, who also had Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes still on their list, opted for White.

At least for 2015, fate was not kind to the Bears, who lost White, possibly for the season, to a stress fracture. In the meantime, Cooper became a near-instant centerpiece of the Oakland offense with 20 catches through three games, good enough for 15th in the NFL, and his 290 receiving yards rank eighth in the NFL.

[MORE: Bears QB Jay Cutler practices again, says he's 'day-to-day']

Cooper is the only rookie ranked among the top 50 for catches and receiving yards.

But in an NFL that has seen increasing numbers of wide receivers making huge impacts as rookies, Cooper’s success was close to predictable. He was considered the most NFL-ready receiver in this year’s draft and has played up to his seed.

“He comes from a college program that runs similar to a pro offense so that obviously helps him,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “I think he's got good football instincts and football savvy, so he knows how to play the game and adjust to things well and he's got good, size, strength, speed and quickness, and you put that all together you've got a great player.”

The Raiders selecting Cooper, the 2014 Biletnikoff winner, in the same year as they were signing Michael Crabtree, the 2008 and 2009 Biletnikoff winner, lined up an element of serendipity: The Oakland wide receivers coach is, naturally, Raiders legend Fred Biletnikoff.

The situation was not lost on the rookie.

“It means a lot to just be in the NFL,” Cooper said. “To play for the team that Fred Biletnikoff played for is just a great feeling to try to continue the legacy.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Cooper and Crabtree (No. 10 overall, 2009) give the Raiders two wideouts from top-10’s of their drafts. Crabtree, chosen initially by the San Francisco 49ers, evolved slowly, from 48 catches as a rookie to 55, 72 and a career-best 85 in 2012.

Cooper’s ascent has been faster, with production through three games that projects to 107 for the year. That would break the mark of 101 set by Anquan Boldin with Arizona in 2003.

It would not totally surprise the Raiders.

“A lot of work went into the draft and he was a guy where the tape was good, the production was good, the work ethic was good, the character was good,” said coach Jack Del Rio. “We expected him to be a good football player and he’s had a good start… .

“He had a lot of production in college and when you go to Alabama, you’re exposed to some professional principles in terms of the route tree and all those things. It’s closer to an NFL-looking offense in the things that they do and what’s he’s been exposed to. From that standpoint he was a lot better prepared than a lot of the players who come out.”

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller has quickly become a fan favorite on social media. He has the confidence and swagger found in most top wide receivers and it comes through on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Miller was one of 40 players in attendance at the 2018 NFLPA Rookie Premiere where he not only learned about the business and marketing side of football, but also suited up in his Bears gameday uniform for the first time. Of course, he shared the moment on Twitter:

Panini America, a sports collectible company, snapped a picture of Miller with fellow rookie receiver Calvin Ridley (Falcons) and quarterback Mason Rudolph (Steelers):

Miller has become something of a standout for the Bears despite not playing a single snap. He's expected to have a big role in an offense that has several new pieces and roles that are up for grabs.

Miller will compete with former first-round pick Kevin White and free-agent addition Taylor Gabriel for reps opposite Allen Robinson. Miller has the necessary skill set to play as both an outside receiver and in the slot which should give him an even greater opportunity to be on the field quite a bit.

The Bears first three draft picks are all vying for starting jobs in 2018. Roquan Smith (first round) is a lock to start next to Danny Trevathan and James Daniels (second round) will start at guard. Miller should make it three-for-three in a draft class that could end up the best of Ryan Pace's tenure.