Bears

Bears release veteran offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod

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Bears release veteran offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod

An expected roster move came to pass on Tuesday as the Bears terminated the contract of tackle Jermon Bushrod, a move that became increasingly inevitable with the development of Charles Leno Jr. in five weeks of filling in last year while Bushrod battled injuries.

Bushrod was due $6.4 million in base salary for 2016 plus a $100,000 workout bonus, too much for a backup offensive lineman, which Bushrod effectively became during the course of last season.

“We thank Jermon for his contributions to the Bears,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “I have so much respect for how he carries himself on and off the field. He was a locker room leader and contributor in helping the younger players on our team grow. We wish him and his family the best as they move forward.”

A fourth-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 2007 draft, Bushrod developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle under line coach and former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and became a starter in 2009 in the Saints’ Super Bowl season.

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He turns 32 in August, but one positive of sitting out extended periods, as Bushrod did last season, is that the body has a chance to heal at least a little.

“Do I want to keep playing? Absolutely,” Bushrod said at the end of the 2015 season. “I feel like over the year I felt better. Honestly, I’ve been feeling good, I just haven’t been able to really put it all together like I wanted to. I started off the season and I felt like I played good. But things happen, situations change ... that’s just the way this league works and how it operates.”

Bushrod was a priority signing at the outset of the 2013 offseason, coming off two straight Pro Bowl appearances for the New Orleans Saints. Since the retirement of John Tait the Bears had struggled to find a true solution at left tackle (Orlando Pace, Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, J’Marcus Webb) and Bushrod had not missed a game in more than three seasons when he signed a five-year deal worth $35.9 million, with $22.4 million guaranteed on Mar. 12, 2013, the same day the Bears landed tight end Martellus Bennett.

Bushrod started 16 games in 2013, then missed two mid-season games in 2014 with ankle and knee injuries. The injury issues became more significant last season with concussion and shoulder injuries suffered in Week 3 at Seattle. After starting the first three games Bushrod was inactive for the next five.

[MORE BEARS: Matt Forte situation means looking beyond simple conclusions]

During that stretch Charles Leno Jr., who’d failed to land the right-tackle job during preseason, emerged as a viable option at left tackle. Bushrod worked back into the lineup as an extra lineman in the Bears’ “heavy” package, starting Week 17 in that role.

But Bushrod refused to become a malcontent even as he was enduring the demotion and was a mentor to both Leno and Kyle Long in their early stages as NFL tackles.

“Is it frustrating? Absolutely,” Bushrod said. “But at the end of the day, look at the position I’m in. I can’t be upset. I can’t have negative energy. Do I have it? Yeah, I go back and forth.

“But I have to be positive because your number could be called again. If you have a negative attitude or things aren’t going your way and you get in a situation where you might be back in, you just want things to go your way.”

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He left without rancor or regrets, other than not being part of a team that he sees on the upswing.

“I just want people to know that I competed all the time and I worked,” Bushrod said. “Although I was frustrated, I worked. All we want to do is win because winning makes everyone feel better. I see that in the future for this team, and we’ll see how it all works out.”

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

As the Bears set their foundation for training camp during OTAs this month, one part of that is beginning to identify each player’s strengths and weaknesses on which to build in Bourbonnais. 

Designing an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths was one of the reasons why Ryan Pace hired Matt Nagy, who then hired Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Easy is the wrong word — but it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bears to not build an offense around their second-picked quarterback. 

But as Nagy and Helfrich are installing that offense during OTAs and, next month, veteran minicamp, they’re also learning what Trubisky’s weaknesses are. And the one Helfrich pointed to, in a way, is a positive. 

“Experience,” Helfrich said. “I think it’s 100 percent experience and just reps, and that’s kind of what I was talking about was knowing why something happened. As a quarterback, he might take the perfect drop and be looking at the right guy in your progression, and that guy runs the wrong route or the left guard busts or something. The defense does something different or wrong, even. And trusting that is just a matter of putting rep on top of rep on top of rep and being confident.”

It'd be a concern if the Bears thought Trubisky lacked the necessary talent to be great, or had a lacking work ethic or bad attitude. Experience isn't something he can control, in a way. 

This isn’t anything new for Trubisky. His lack of experience at North Carolina — he only started 13 games there — was the biggest ding to his draft stock a year ago; while he started a dozen games for the Bears in 2017, the offense was simple and conservative, designed to minimize risk for Trubisky (and, to be fair, a sub-optimal group of weapons around him). 

But even if Trubisky started all 16 games in an innovative, aggressive offense last year, he’d still be experiencing plenty of things for the first time. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made this point back in September that still resonates now with regard to Trubisky:

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks,” Roethlisberger said. “In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

So the challenge for Nagy and Helfrich is to build an offense that accentuates Trubisky’s strengths while managing his lack of experience. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles succeeded in those efforts last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

For Helfrich, though, one of Trubisky’s strengths — his leadership qualities — are already helping mitigate his need for more experience. 

“He’s still in the mode of learning and doing things out here,” Helfrich said. “We might have run one play 10 times against 10 different defenses, you know? And so his response to every one of those 10 things is brand new. And so, you see his reaction to some of those is good. Some of those things you want to improve upon and then keep your chest up and lead because we need that.”
 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.”