Bears

Bears NFL Draft notebook: Starts may not be the whole story for Mitchell Trubisky

Bears NFL Draft notebook: Starts may not be the whole story for Mitchell Trubisky

Sweeping the notebook in the wake of the 2017 draft...

- Mitch Trubisky having only 13 starts coming out of North Carolina required the Bears to make a monumental leap of faith with their expensive trade-up to No. 2 overall and their choice. In this analysis, that would have been a deal-killer for that lofty level of his selection.

Not that it's a defining predictive measure necessarily: He wasn't drafted No. 2 overall, he wasn't a quarterback and his team didn't deplete their draft larder trading to get him, but Kyle Long had switched from defense to offense and had all of six starts coming out of Oregon and has been to the Pro Bowl three times.

- The Bears not selecting just one defensive back, in the fourth round, from a supposed talent-rich draft on that side of the football was only mildly surprising, given the money and roster slots invested in free agency on cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, and safety Quintin Demps. And Ryan Pace hadn't drafted a defensive back higher than the fifth round in either of his first two drafts.

But the one he chose warrants questions, and for reasons beyond his coming off a broken leg of last October or that he was playing behind a defense that had six players taken in this year's first three rounds. Eddie Jackson comes out of Alabama, which the NFL beats a high-round draft path annually to Nick Saban's door for his players.

But defensively, many of those players and ones before Saban, while usually solid, arguably max out at Alabama: Of the 74 Alabama defensive players drafted since Derrick Thomas went to Kansas City in 1989, many of them 1's and 2's, seven (Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, C.J. Mosley, Don't'a Hightower, Marcell Dareus, Roman Harper, DeMeco Ryans) became Pro Bowl players, by unofficial count.
 
For comparison purposes: From 2006 through the third round of the 2011 draft, 16 Oklahoma offensive players were drafted. Five have been selected to Pro Bowls, each to more than one. On the other hand, none of the 26 Michigan Wolverines drafted since Jake Long went No. 1 overall in 2008 have graced a Pro Bowl, yet Michigan led all schools with 11 players selected in this draft.

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For the record: This is not only not a criticism of Alabama; it's actually a compliment. Some perspective here: For a long time, a widely held opinion of Penn State among NFL personnel folks was that you got solid players from there but because of the excellent coaching they'd gotten, only rarely did they go on to become NFL superstars. The thinking was that their coaching had gotten the max out of the players; they arrived with much of their upside already realized.
 
That said, those defensive players have been on 10 different Super Bowl champions. So maybe you DO want ‘Bama defensive guys around.

- North Carolina had five offensive players drafted, all skill-position'ers (two backs, two receivers), suggesting either that Trubisky had a pretty solid supporting cast, or that he made people around him really good.

The Tar Heels were a modest 8-5, which is either a credit or an indictment of Trubisky, depending on how you want to look at it. Using a standard popular with fans of Jay Cutler, Trubisky didn't have a lot of help from the UNC defense, which allowed almost 25 points per game. (Clemson's defense gave up 18.4 per game for Deshaun Watson, No. 12 nationally).

- Ryan Pace said to check back with him in three years for a grade in this draft. This reporter has never subscribed to the multi-year time frame for evaluating a draft. Final grades maybe, as in a school-course grade, but you know well before the report card how you're doing in Chemistry. It does not take three years or even the oft-cited two to know whether a Shea McClellin or Kyle Long or Kyle Fuller or Alshon Jeffery or Leonard Floyd (or Adam Shaheen) can play, and the players in the early rounds are ultimately the make-or-break for a franchise on its drafts.

In the 2017 case, because the cornerstone Bears piece is a quarterback who isn't slotted to start this season, and they do have a longer developmental gradient anyway, this draft may be harder to evaluate. But I've used this wine analogy before: You know pretty well from a barrel-tasting what a particular vintage is going to develop into, and if the Bears don't know until three years from now what they have in Mitch Trubisky, the folks who drafted him likely won't be around to get that report card.

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”

Postcard from Camp: Things get chippy and the snaps get sloppy

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Postcard from Camp: Things get chippy and the snaps get sloppy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It wouldn’t be fair to call them fights, but the Bears and Broncos did get into two skirmishes during two-on-one gunner drills during Thursday’s joint practice at the UCHealth Training Center. 

Anthony Miller got mixed up in the first scuffle, and while coach Matt Nagy was talking to the rookie wide receiver, defensive back Deiondre’ Hall got involved in a bit of a tussle. The two teams were quickly separated, and after some talking-to’s from coaches, the rest of the morning went on without anything spilling over into pushing/shoving/fisticuffs. 

Miller said Nagy’s message to him was one of understanding, and Miller said he knew he wasn’t supposed to be mixing things up like that. 

“It’s all a part of the game,” Miller said. “Things can get chippy a little bit. It’s a physical game. You got grown men out here, some of them, they don’t like to get handled, and when that happens stuff pops off. But like I said it’s just a part of the game.”

Those two skirmishes were the only times the intensity of these joint practices boiled over into something counterproductive. Pass rushing drills — the most physical battles between the two teams — would frequently end with a Bears’ offensive lineman giving Von Miller a pat on the butt or helmet, or something along those lines. 

Nagy and Broncos coach Vance Joseph went into this week hoping to prevent the kind of all-out brawls that have marred joint practices in the past — like the one between the New York Jets and Washington earlier this month — and largely saw that message hit home. 

“As competitive and as much of an ego as you want to have and try to fight somebody, it's not worth it,” Nagy said. “You know, there's injuries and it just doesn't make sense. So I think the best way to handle it is just bring everybody together and just tell them that, right? And just let them know that hey we're here to play football, not to fight and they responded well to that. These guys are in this league for a reason, because they're the ultimate competitors and sometimes that comes out. But that's our job as coaches to control it." 

Roquan Watch 2.0

Nagy said he was “happy with what he saw” after watching the film of Roquan Smith’s practice on Wednesday, but the Bears will continue to slowly bring the eighth overall pick along as he works his way back into football shape. Smith’s responsibilities and reps didn’t increase in Thursday’s practice, and Nagy said no decision has been made as to whether or not Smith will play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Broncos. 

“I thought there were some plays where he showed some flashes of speed and cutting down angles and the instincts, I though his instincts showed up,” Nagy said. “He still, again, didn't get a whole bunch of reps yesterday, he got enough which was good — we didn't want him to get a lot of reps.” 

Snap Slump

The Bears have been adamant for months — really, since they drafted James Daniels with the 38th overall pick in April — that Cody Whitehair will be their Week 1 starting center. The thought is that letting Whitehair stick at one position, instead of shuttling between center and guard, would allow him to improve on the solid production he had in 2016 and 2017. 

That may still be the case, but an issue has cropped up over the last week or so for the third-year Kansas State product: His snaps haven’t consistently been accurate. It’s been an especially noticeable problem the last two days here in Colorado. 

Whitehair admitted he’s struggled with consistency snapping the ball, the root of which is both mental and physical, he said. 

“Obviously if you don’t get the ball to the quarterback, the whole play is messed up,” Whitehair said. “So it’s something that I’m trying to move past and go to the next play but it is in the back of my head. I care so much that I gotta let it go. At the end of the day, it’s something I’m working on.”

This was an issue for Whitehair a year ago that he ultimately fixed, even as Kyle Long’s availability shifted him between guard and center quite a bit. But a difference from last year to this year is the presence of Daniels, who starred as a center at Iowa and looks like a natural fit at that position.

“You want those to be darn near perfect, 98 percent of the time if not near 100,” Nagy said, adding that it’s not just one guy having those issues. “Yeah, there are some struggles right now but we're going to stay positive with it.”

If Whitehair can’t fix those snapping issues before Week 1, though, it’s fair to wonder if the Bears would almost have to move him to guard and insert Daniels at center. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be the first time a Bears rookie would be thrown in at center on short notice — Whitehair, after all, succeeded doing that two years ago. 

Whitehair said he’s willing to do whatever the team asks of him, but is also able to draw on that experience form 2016 to stay positive as he works through this slump. 

“(It tells me) just that I can do it,” Whitehair said. “(I was) put in there with a week of practice, and I did well my rookie year, so I gotta keep focusing on that, stay positive and keep working at it.” 

Briefly

The Bears released outside linebacker Andrew Trumbetti and signed long snapper Tanner Carew on Thursday in an effort to bring in some competition for Pat Scales, it would appear. Carew was the only long snapper invited to the NFL Combine earlier this year and was waived by the Seattle Seahawks in late July.

Carew played for Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich in college at Oregon, and had some good things to say about his former coach back at the Senior Bowl in January. 

"I love coach Helf," Carew said. "He’s a great coach and a better person. There isn’t a better judge of character out there than coach Helf. ... He truly does look out for his players and that really goes a long way, being a player that played for him."