Bears will learn first-time lessons about Matt Barkley vs. Vikings

Bears will learn first-time lessons about Matt Barkley vs. Vikings

Every game that Matt Barkley plays this season is its own evaluation opportunity for a Bears organization looking to put in place a quarterback depth chart designed for success in 2017 and far beyond. One game doesn’t represent a really meaningful sample size for an Aaron Rodgers or any quarterback with more than a multiple of the five NFL starts Barkley has amassed in his personal hurry-up season.

But the Minnesota game represents a more meaningful case study of Barkley that any of his others in this, his first meaningful NFL look.

The obvious reason is that the Vikings represent the best defense that the inexperienced quarterback will have faced out of Green Bay, Washington, Tennessee, San Francisco and Detroit. The Vikings are No. 8 in points allowed (19.3 ppg.) and No. 2 in yardage allowed. Only the New York Giants (18.3 ppg.) are allowing fewer points per game but the Giants are giving up 40 more yards per game. The Vikings also are No. 4 in sacks and are fifth in the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage against.

Which is why coach John Fox had a ready answer for what he most needed to see from Barkley after the latter’s five interceptions in the loss to Green Bay.

“Avoiding interceptions,” Fox said. “Ball security I think is critical. You play one of the top four best offenses in the league, the main idea is to keep it away from them, not give it to them more. So I think cleaning that up … it’s all correctable things. Our coaching staff will work hard on that.

‘We’re going against a very good Minnesota Vikings defense I think ranked second in a lot of important categories anyways at their place with crowd noise, so it’s not an ideal situation for a young quarterback, but one we have to improve quickly.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

As important as Barkley’s turnovers, or lack of same, will be, however, the degree to which he puts his problems behind him may be the more important evaluation point for the Bears, and for Barkley. One point in Fox’s philosophical foundation is that the measure of someone is not whether they make mistakes, but how they respond to the ones they and everyone inevitably do make.

Barkley’s five starts produced just the one win, against San Francisco. But those starts were stunningly successful in terms of producing points (more per game than the Bears under either Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer) or yardage (281 per game, which would be No. 4 behind only New Orleans, Washington and Atlanta on a full-season basis).

And Barkley became more accurate with each passing week, with completion percentages of 51.9, 61.1, 62.5 and 69.8.

Until last week: 58.9 vs. Washington.

Barkley’s response after a step backwards is something the Bears haven’t seen from him. That process was clearly underway already, with Barkley hinting that he understood what went wrong, which would be the first, biggest step.

“Not because of the game, but maybe once we got down in points, then I felt like we needed to kind of get back into it,” Barkley said on Wednesday. “Sometimes during that [Washington] game, I was forcing the ball or two to try and get some chunk plays, trying to get more yards, trying to win the game in one play, and that wasn’t going to happen.

“It was calming down, take my reads, go through, let my feet make the right decisions.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

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The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”