Bears scrimmage gives strong early hints on strategy, personnel


Bears scrimmage gives strong early hints on strategy, personnel

What coach John Fox intended to serve as an unofficial fifth preseason “game” – about a dozen full-hitting plays for each of the three offensive and defensive units – revealed a Bears defense that is ahead of the offense, for the day anyhow, and perhaps a few other 2015 “indicators.”

The structure of the scrimmage/practice, in which only quarterbacks were not to be tackled, put the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense and No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense. The third-stringers on both offense and defense had each other. Typically in camp the No. 1’s are matched up with their corresponding 1’s, the 2’s vs. 2’s and so on. The change expands the matchups for purposes of evaluation.

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The offense was without starting tailback Matt Forte and the defense without rush linebacker Pernell McPhee, both held out by coaches’ decision. But even without two of the projected linchpins on either side of the football, several strong impressions were possible coming off Saturday’s annual Family Fest practice in Soldier Field:

Think “balance”

Coach Fox stated that the Bears would run the football and coordinator Adam Gase provided a solid indication that balanced football will indeed be the design.

The No. 1 offense ran 11 plays, wasn’t terribly effective overall (26 yards by unofficial count), but even without Forte, Gase ran the football on six of those snaps.

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Quarterback Jay Cutler threw five passes, completed only one (a 12-yard toss to wideout Eddie Royal after a Cutler rollout), and did not have Alshon Jeffery for the scrimmage. But Cutler continues to be interception/turnover-free in any 7-on-7 or “team” session this training camp. Reducing turnovers was THE focus of Gase and coaches this offseason and the significance of progress here cannot be overstated.

“We’re getting to know him, he’s getting to know us,” Fox said. “He’s worked at it hard on everything we’ve asked and we’ll just keep evaluating these game-type conditions.”

Running back “committee” forming

Jacquizz Rodgers, whose workload ramped up substantially through last week, is quietly building a case for himself as the No. 2 running back, leaving rookie Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey battling for a No. 3 spot.

Rodgers was handed the ball on two of the first three plays, and Langford, running with the No. 1’s, carried three times as well.

“[Rodgers] is a guy I’ve seen on tape, competed against him, great teammate, fine young man,” Fox said. “He’s built low to the ground [5-foot-6], does have power along with speed and quickness.”

Special teams is a tipping point for players not in starting units, and Langford was drafted in this year’s fourth round in part because of his prowess on special teams.

Rob Gronkowski "highly unlikely" to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski "highly unlikely" to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday after despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”