Bears looking at crucial tests in multiple areas vs. Bengals


Bears looking at crucial tests in multiple areas vs. Bengals

CINCINNATI – The first round of mandated roster cuts for 2015 come no later than early next week. Those will be scrutinized intently by Bears personnel staff in search of fills for obvious needs in a roster with concerning gaps that have come since the draft and other additions gave the Bears what they hoped would be their pool of options.

But since then the defense has lost two of its three starting linemen – Ray McDonald released, Jeremiah Ratliff suspended for the first three games. None of the projected top four receivers are expected to dress for Saturdays game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and rookie Kevin White won’t be dressing for games anytime soon following shin surgery. Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson, to be determined.

The offensive line is having difficulty fielding two starter-grade tackles, with inconsistent Jordan Mills losing his job to 2014 backup Charles Leno Jr. Cornerback has been a turnstyle opposite Kyle Fuller because no one has taken a clinching step forward. The right-cornerback carousel has been players who weren’t good enough to be starters this time a year ago, and Fuller has had a substandard two preseason games.

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All of which has left coach John Fox still deep in an evaluation mode, with this third preseason game a crucial indicator of whether or not Fox has solutions at hand.

“I think it's real important to understand your football team,” Fox said. “Everybody in the league has to cut down to 75 after this week and then following the final preseason game cut down to 53. So those are the guys that you're going into the season with and I think it's important to choose wisely and you're evaluating everything.”

Last season’s game 3 was a frightening foreshadowing as the Bears fell behind the Seattle Seahawks 31-0 at halftime and 34-0 through the starters’ three quarters. It was a nightmare that would be repeated in roughly one-third of the Bears’ 2014 games – at New England, at Green Bay, at home against Dallas.

Preseason games may not count but some can reveal much – good and bad – about the true state of a team.

“I don't even know who we [Denver Broncos] played the third preseason game a year ago,” Fox said. “It doesn't leave a lasting impression when the games don't actually count. But they do count in the evaluation process in instilling kind of what you want into your team and how they react because they are games.”

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The Cincinnati game will be a glimpse at what the Bears have in the way of depth at wide receiver. At what the Bears have for the present and future at nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. And at the status of integration going on within a defense that may start only one player – cornerback Tim Jennings – from the unit that started that 2014 game three in Seattle.

“These past two games we had pretty good games,” said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. “Preseason doesn't count but we have to go in there with the mindset that we have to start fast.

“Coach Fox always preaches about starting fast and stopping the run and this is going to be a good test for us because the Bengals run the ball. That's a power team, and if we can come out with the group we've got and show we can play with these guys against the run, we can show we can play against anybody, so it's going to be a good test for us.”

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.