Bears-Titans game contains multiple QB elements, good and bad

Bears-Titans game contains multiple QB elements, good and bad

One amusing narrative from critics of Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox is that they need desperately to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, but also that they have not shown enough talent aptitude to be trusted with such a vital mission. Failure to reverse Bears fortunes in the span of two drafts is cited as a reason, which is curious, given that draft “failures” under Pace almost entirely trace to injuries (Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Leonard Floyd early) rather than to clearly recognized mistakes as in Phil Emery’s first drafts (Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene).

Pace and the Bears were enamored of quarterback Marcus Mariota when he was coming out of Oregon into the 2015 draft, where he would be taken No. 2 overall by the Tennessee Titans. The Bears did not aggressively shop Jay Cutler as part of any proposed deal to move up from No. 7 (where they took White). But they did check the price for trading up and opted to stay with Cutler (at Adam Gase’s urging) and their basket of picks as part of a wider span of upgrades.

But “we liked [Mariota] a lot in the process when he was coming out,” Fox said. “He's proved to be about what we thought he was I know in our evaluations.”

For the Pace-Fox doubters, at least this Bears administration appears to have some solid instincts (the non-selection of Dak Prescott three times in round four this year notwithstanding).

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Consider those as might-have-been quarterback things for an organization with a history of quarterback “things,” mostly bad. George Halas acquired Bobby Layne via trade at No. 7 of the 1948 draft but subsequently sold him to Detroit and spent the 1950’s being tormented by him. The Bears lost a coin flip with the Steelers in 1970 for the No. 1 pick overall. The Steelers got Terry Bradshaw. The Bears…didn’t.

The Bears had the No. 7 pick (what is it with this “7” thing and the Bears?) in 1999, decided that Cade McNown was the most NFL-ready quarterback in a class that included Tim Couch (No. 1), Donovan McNabb (2) and Akili Smith (3). So they were the deciding member of a three-team trade with New Orleans and Washington, because they were willing to pass on Daunte Culpepper and grab McNown at No. 12.

The organization is still dealing with the most recent quarterback “thing,” the trade of two No. 1’s for Jay Cutler in 2009. One hindsight question would be whether the Bears might have been better served using one of those picks on a quarterback. Those classes, however, turned out decidedly not-ready-for-first-round quarterbacks (Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, even Sam Bradford) other than Matthew Stafford.

Mariota has turned the Titans around and has a full grasp of what hitting on the right quarterback means to a franchise.

“[A franchise quarterback] is a position that, for me, can determine a lot of things, whether it’s wins and losses, how you are reflected in the community, what people think of this team,” Mariota said via conference call. “A lot of that stems from the position of quarterback.”

Just ask the Bears.

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North


Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success


A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.