Bears

Bears playing for this year and next year in 2015's final stretch

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Bears playing for this year and next year in 2015's final stretch

From the day of his arrival as Bears coach, John Fox has been about the business of reshaping the culture, beginning with minicamps, OTAs, training camp and even into added emphasis on winning in the preseason. The changed mindset was apparent through the early regular season, with the Bears shaking off even a shutout loss at Seattle to rebound with two comeback wins to start the climb in the right direction.

But now a Bears team that had just won three out of four (all three on the road) has lost three out of four (all three at home) in gut-twisting fashion, all with missed efforts to tie or win within the final seconds. The nature and number of the losses could conceivably undo some of the positive culture change sought by Fox and his staff.

“All of us are ultimately trying to get better every week,” Fox said. “That, in turn, will at some point flow into next season.”

Unless the Bears are different than most of the NFL — or mankind, for that matter — the result of repeated defeats and the missed opportunities will leave scar tissue.

“We just have to get back to work, put it behind us,” defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins insisted. “It’s that simple.”

But is it?

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Contrary to the claim that every season is its own entity and momentum does not carry over, the reality is that there can be scar tissue that carries over into the offseason. That, like it or not, in fact adds urgency to the Bears’ final three games. Confidence can be built or shaken, and people have memories.

“Last year we finished good, and I think that gave us, maybe, a push into the offseason and kind of go from there,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Guys felt good about being here.”

Zimmer has had to deal with a slump in team confidence, surprising perhaps in a Vikings team standing 8-5 and in possession of the sixth playoff spot.

After the Bears were shut out in Week 3 by the Seahawks, they rebounded. The Vikings won five in a row to reach 7-2, but after they were crushed by the Seahawks, 38-7, two weeks ago, they suffered a crisis of confidence that might have leaked over into last weekend in a loss to Arizona.

“We just got our butts kicked pretty bad against Seattle,” Zimmer said. “It was a game we just didn’t do anything well — special teams, offense or defense. I just think sometimes that causes you a little bit of doubt maybe, but we have a pretty resilient group.”

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The Bears have been resilient. So far.

After losing the first three, they rallied for two wins. They failed to win a third (OT loss in Detroit) and reach .500 and lost two straight. Then they again rallied, with road wins over San Diego and St. Louis six days apart. The loss to Denver, then the Thanksgiving win at Green Bay.

Then the San Francisco and Washington losses, the third two-loss brace this season.

Fox hasn’t had to coach back from two straight losses since early in the 2012 season with the Denver Broncos, who then ripped off 12 wins in the next 13 games. But this is not then, and the Bears are not a team with Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Von Miller and Demaryius Thomas in Pro Bowl seasons.

Fox is in fact coaching for the present as prelude for the future.

“Our goals are no different right now than they were five weeks ago, four weeks ago, two weeks ago, last week,” Fox said. “We’re trying to get better, improve, evaluate our team and do everything we can to get better as a team.”

This year. And next.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.