Bears

Bears: Jay Cutler's 'competitiveness' leads to hamstring injury

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Bears: Jay Cutler's 'competitiveness' leads to hamstring injury

It all started out so well for Jay Cutler during Sunday's 48-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

The much-maligned Bears quarterback was executing new offensive coordinator Adam Gase's offense to perfection against a Top 10 Cardinals defense with multiple Pro Bowlers.

Each time Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer put points on the scoreboard, Cutler would answer right back.

Cutler was a perfect 8-for-8 with 120 yards and a touchdown, including his best impression of Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson with three carries for 24 yards running the zone-read option for the first time in his Bears career.

[MORE BEARS: Bears steamrolled by Cardinals, lose Jay Cutler in the process]

After Palmer put the Cardinals back up in front midway through the second quarter, Cutler looked poised to continue his scorching hot start in front of the home crowd at Soldier Field.

Then disaster struck in a big way.

Late in the first half Cutler threw his first incomplete pass of the game which landed in the hands of Cardinals defensive back Tony Jefferson, who returned the pass 26 yards for a touchdown. It appeared that Cutler had tight end Martellus Bennett open on the play, but what Bears head coach John Fox called a "sight adjustment" resulted in Cutler's second costly turnover in as many games.

"I may feel something that Jay sees different on a play," Bennett said. "So I felt a guy coming outside. It's a jerk route so when I sit down, I could give a double move and usually I clap when I'm ready for the ball, but it's a jerk route so it could go either way. Those are plays that we need to make and we make all the time. We've run those routes so many times so we just have to make sure we make those plays."

The result of the interception pales in comparison to the long-term effect it may have on the 0-2 Bears.

While trying to make the tackle, Cutler appeared to have landed awkwardly and injure himself.

"I was right behind it and Jay sold out trying to get him out of bounds," Bears offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "My hat's off to him. He gave his body up trying to give our defense a chance at holding them to three [points]. But that's what you've got to love about the guy. He puts his all into it and for him to go out when he's having a pretty good game, it's tough."

Fox shared that same sentiment.

"You know, they're competitors," Fox said. "Guys do that — I don't care what position it is. You prefer they don't pull a hamstring or get injured. But, by no means will I tell a guy not to compete."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Cutler immediately went into the locker room with the training staff and the Bears deemed the injury significant enough to rule him out for the remainder of the game, calling it a "pulled hamstring."

The Bears wouldn't discuss the severity of Cutler's injury after the game, nor have they ruled him out for Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks.

"Like I mentioned, it takes a while to run tests," Fox said. "Our medical people will inform me, and then I will inform you."

This isn't the first time in his career that Cutler has gotten injured after throwing an interception. Back in 2011 while flourishing under then-offensive coordinator Mike Martz, after throwing an interception Cutler attempted to make a tackle on San Diego Chargers defensive back Antoine Cason, suffering a broken thumb in the process.

Cutler missed the final six games of that season and the Bears finished with a 1-5 record, missing out on the postseason.

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

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USA TODAY

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

The Bears are at rest right now. The weeks between the end of the final minicamp and the start of the “season” that runs from the start of training camp through the final game represent the last time most if not all players will be truly 100 percent until early 2019.

In not too many days the Bears will begin their training camp, upshifting the pace, depth and urgency of formation of the 2018 team. Along with that comes the annual dilemma, not unique to the Bears, of balancing practice and strength training to achieve the football maximum while simultaneously staying within a plan calculated to minimize what has become a Bears curse since the departure of the Lovie Smith staff:

Injuries.

Injuries not confined to camp and practices, but also to creating a landscape that results in minimizing injuries throughout the season. And it is a complex equation that the Bears are trying to balance, one that reaches beyond football and involves complicated factors.

Matt Nagy is putting a small fingerprint of his own, instituting an 8:15 a.m. start time for the vast majority of Bourbonnais practices, “to keep guys out of the heat for the most part,” Nagy said.

Practice limitations have been mandated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements. The quirk for the Bears has been that as practice intensity has been legislated downward, injury totals (using players on IR as an apples-to-apples measure) have risen. The debate then has gone to whether lessened practices in fact saves players or ironically results in more injuries in games because players have not been sufficiently hardened for the intensity spike that games are.

Along with that is the need to truly learn schemes and plays in live action.

“I think football is a game, like many games, that you have to get calloused to,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. “It’s like when we go out the first day of training camp with pads on, and guys are hitting a little bit. You’re going to be taken aback and get mad that the guy just hit you too hard. But then by a week or two later, you’re getting hit like that and don’t even realize it. You gotta get calloused.

“So I do believe, even though you couldn’t prove it objectively or quantify it, I do believe that it’s a problem.”

Do the Bears need to rest more?

Nagy has seen the value of rest. Andy Reid, the head coach when Nagy worked in Philadelphia and Kansas City, is a lofty 16-3 in games after off-weeks during his coaching career. Last year his Chiefs did lose a road game post-bye, but Reid was 4-0 in Kansas City’s other games coming off more than the normal six days between games.

Other than the Bears, the five teams with the greatest number of schedule-created off days in the 2017 season appeared to put the time to good use:

Team Off days 2017 record (*playoffs)
Kansas City 12 10-6*
Buffalo 8 9-7*
Chicago 8 5-11
San Diego 8 9-7
Philadelphia 7 13-3*

A case can be made that recovery days are often as important as the effort days, that athletes perform better after their bodies have had even a brief window to heal. Coaches, too. As one Tour de France cyclist told this writer, people go too hard on the easy days, so they don’t fully recover, and too easy on the hard days.

Two-a-day, padded full-go practices were once the norm. Now consecutive padded practices don’t happen in-season, and even in camp, the objective is not as it once was, to weed out, but to develop. “I think back in the day you could say that it was ‘super-hard,’” Nagy said. “Now I’m not sure you’d consider it ‘super-hard.’”

The correlation between rest and results is far from exact. Marc Trestman was adamant about players getting off their feet after practices, and yet few teams sustained the level of injury, particularly on defense, that his Bears did. Lovie Smith’s practices were in the heat of the days, camp and other, with occasional night practices as prep for night games.

Year Coach Camp practice Year-end IR
2012 Lovie Smith 2/2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (three) 6
2013-14 Marc Trestman 9 a.m., 3:15 p.m. (three) 6, 10
2015-17 John Fox 9:35/11:15 a.m. 12, 21, 19

Apart from any empirical or other scientific information, anecdotal evidence suggests that rest is a significant factor in influencing outcomes. The most elementary casual indicator is the importance teams, coaches and players universally assign to in-season off-weeks. The break period is utilized for self-scouting, which is going on constantly anyway, but also for getting healthy.

If the cluster of a few days off (players are routinely given the off-weekend plus the preceding day or two to themselves) has some demonstrable physical benefits, then any structuring of normal weeks to build in recovery time stands to reason as a step toward healing during a 17-week stretch that leaves no one completely healthy.

But it’s not that simple, particularly in-season. “They’ll have off on Monday, then be back on Tuesday,” Nagy said. “And with the game-planning, you have to build that in, obviously.”

Positive offseason

At the risk of installing a jinx here, the Bears came through the offseason program without apparent severe injuries, and with key players (Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson) being brought along conservatively in their returns from ’17 season-ending injuries. At the same time, the requisite work was put in installing a new offense and reigniting a returning defense.

Training camp and preseason now are next-level intensity, and the Bears lost offensive linemen Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan, receiver Cam Meredith and long snapper Pat Scales in the time frame between the start of camp and the start of the regular season.

The objective moves to another level of managing the balance between preserving bodies for when it matters and getting done the work that has to be covered. Some of that was accomplished with some understandings of historical perspectives.

“I told the guys the analogy the other day, the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTA’s years ago,” Fangio said. “But years ago there were six preseason games and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went down to four preseason games and two-a-day’s. And when I say ‘two-a-days,’ they were two-a-days several days in a row.

“Now we’re to one-a-day’s with some legislated days off in there. These [offseason] practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past had gotten. We view them as very, very important, and our guys have had good focus. So we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but I try to tell them that this isn’t an ‘OTA practice;’ this is a training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

The Chicago Bears are entering 2018 with one of the best young backfields in the NFL. The combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will give defenses nightmares all season long, especially when both players are on the field at the same time. Howard brings a physical and grinding running style while Cohen can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Cohen's field-flipping ability makes him especially dangerous in the return game. He's so dangerous, in fact, that he was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team as a returner.

Cohen contributed in every which way for the Bears in 2017, bringing an explosive element to Chicago's run game, pass game and return game. He finished in the top 10 in punt-return and kick-return average.

Cohen ended his rookie season with 87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added 53 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. He gained 272 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 583 more on kick returns, bringing his season totals to 1,583 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

First-year coach Matt Nagy has been smitten with Cohen since the offseason workouts began. He's expected to use the second-year back a lot more than John Fox and Dowell Loggains did in 2017 which should give the 'human joystick' even more opportunities to make the kind of plays that will make him one of the NFL's most feared offensive weapons.