Bears losing free yards, looking at changes in kick return mindsets

Bears losing free yards, looking at changes in kick return mindsets

Suppose the NFL gave the Bears’ offense an extra nine plays and guaranteed them more than 5 yards for those plays. The Bears in fact have had the opportunities for those “free” yards and haven’t taken them.

The yards are some of the “hidden” yards, in this case 46 yards that the Bears deprived themselves just by failing to return kickoffs as far as the 25-yard line – which the NFL gives teams as part of the touchback rule – through their first two games.

Bears special teams have opted to return nine kickoffs in the two games this season. Of those, only one has been brought out as far as the Chicago 25, the spot that the NFL gives free just for taking a knee in the end zone. The result was the offense starting twice at the 17, once at the 22 and once at the 10 in the Houston game, for example, the last of those made worse by an illegal-block penalty. Against Philadelphia, none of the four kickoffs were returned as far as the 25.

Had those returns simply been taken as touchbacks, the offense would have been set up a rough total of 46 yards farther out. The upshot is that the Bears are admittedly taking a long look at which kicks they return and which they just take a knee and the 25.

“I feel like we can score every time we bring it out,” returner Deonte Thompson said. “But sometimes it depends on a lot of factors. Do we want to take a risk of being hit at the 15 and put the offense in bad position? Definitely not.

“The extra five yards means a lot. It changes how we think.”

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Through two game weekends, only six returners are average as much as 25 yards on kickoff runbacks. Adding a spot of insult to injury, the current No. 2 and No. 3 returners are Bears castoffs: Devin Hester (29.3 yards), now with Baltimore; and Eric Weems (28.3), back with Atlanta.

Thompson stands 12th at 20.7 yards per return.

Notably perhaps, no NFL kickoffs have been returned for touchdowns yet this season, making the risk-reward situation favor taking the yards rather than gambling for the big runback.

“I think that if they’re going to give you the ball at the 25 instead of the 20, there’s more times that you’re going to take a knee now than you would have done before,” acknowledged Jeff Rodgers, Bears special teams coordinator. “That return in the past, let’s say the ball is 3 [yards] deep and you return to the 22. Well, up until this year you’re getting 2 yards where you would’ve on a touchback, now you’re 3 yards less than you would’ve on a touchback. So it certainly factors in the equation.”

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

USA Today

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

The Chicago Bears haven't enjoyed many wins over the last several years, but that hasn't done anything to hurt the franchise's bottom line.

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Bears rank 17th among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world for 2018. The franchise is valued at $2.85 billion.

17. Chicago Bears

Value: $2.85 billion

1-year change: 6%

Operating income: $114 million

Owner: McCaskey family

Chicago is seventh among NFL teams in the top-17, with Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Washingon, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams) all having higher valuations.

It's no surprise the Bears are this valuable, even without a winning product. They play in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet. And just imagine what will happen to the club's price tag if Mitch Trubisky and the new-look roster actually start winning games. 

Trubisky on NFC North QBs: 'Bring 'em on'

USA Today

Trubisky on NFC North QBs: 'Bring 'em on'

The NFC North was recently dubbed the most talented quarterback division in the NFL largely because of Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford.

Bears starter Mitch Trubisky may eventually be viewed as an elite quarterback someday, but his average rookie season has created some doubt among analysts about whether he'll ever be that guy.

In a recent sit-down with Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne, Trubisky said he isn't concerned with outside opinion, nor is he intimidated by the resumes of his NFC North counterparts.

"I've realized that these people you look up to—watching Aaron Rodgers, watching Tom Brady—they're humans just like I am," Trubisky told Dunne. "They can make mistakes. They're just people. We've all been through similar things to get to where we are now. ... As a competitor, you want the biggest, tallest challenge you can possibly ask for.

"So, yeah, give me the division with Aaron Rodgers, Stafford and Kirk Cousins. Bring 'em on."

Trubisky's confidence has been evident this offseason. There's no doubt who the Bears' leader in the locker room is. Just ask Kyle Long.

Still, he's not without his critics, something he said he doesn't consume himself with.

"Why would I be worried about what anybody has to say on the outside?" he said. "You're sitting in a chair talking into a microphone. I'm in the war. I'm in the middle of the hurricane."

Trubisky's name is consistently mentioned after DeShaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes whenever the 2017 quarterback class is discussed and few -- if any -- experts expect him to be the best of the three.

But none of that matters. All Trubisky has to be is a winner in Chicago, and he certainly has the confidence needed to get there.

"So get ready," he said. "I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to give you everything I've got. Hopefully, I make people eat their words with what they say about me."