Bears

#BearsTalk Pick Six: What are the important storylines for veteran minicamp?

#BearsTalk Pick Six: What are the important storylines for veteran minicamp?

This week’s mandatory three-day minicamp at Halas Hall  closes out the Bears’ official off-season program. Once practice concludes Thursday afternoon, the players are on their own for six weeks before reporting to training camp in Bourbonnais Wednesday, July 26, with the first practice expected a day later.
 
Here’s are a six-pack of storylines CSN's Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz will be especially keeping their eyes on:

1. Roll Call

Only three of the Bears’ 10 Organized Team Activities over the past three weeks were open to the media. A good portion of the roster was out on the field each day we were allowed to witness the workouts at Halas Hall. 

But there were other times a handful of key players were either nowhere to be seen, or off to the side working with the training staff. How much from a group that includes the likes of Josh Sitton, Hroniss Grasu, Markus Wheaton, Zach Miller, Eddie Goldman, Jaye Howard, Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Eddie Jackson will be taking part, from individual drills to 11-on-11? If not every day, any days? And is it because of the coaching staff is playing things cautiously, due to the bad injury track record the past two years, or from setbacks, or something new? 

We won’t get definitive answers on that from John Fox, who’s said the primary objective is to get everyone ready to go by training camp, or the regular season. Mark Sanchez, Cam Meredith, Danny Trevathan and Kyle Long are not expected to be taking part when the offense and defense line up opposite each other. And based on the forecasted temperatures in the 90’s, it wouldn’t be a surprise to reduce risk by working out inside the Payton Center.
— Chris Boden

2. Mike Gennon’s command of the offense

By all accounts, Mike Glennon hasn’t wavered in taking command of the Bears offense since Mitch Trubisky was drafted in April. His “this is my year” line was a public declaration of the approach he’s taken with his teammates, which has been roundly praised before and after April’s draft. This week will be Glennon’s last opportunity to build on-field trust with his teammates before July, but he’ll likely use the six-week summer break to keep building relationships off the field, too. 
— JJ Stankevitz

3. ”Tru” at No. 2               

It’s hard to think Ryan Pace and the coaching staff will stray from their plan to begin the season with the second overall draft pick sitting third on the quarterback depth chart. But with Sanchez sidelined, Mitch Trubisky at least has an opportunity to make them think otherwise. No, he won’t be going up against an angry opponent’s number-one defense that’s scheming to rattle the rookie. But you’d have to think Dowell Loggains (and Vic Fangio) will try to push and challenge the quarterback of the future, who’ll get consistent work with teammates projected to be higher up the depth chart. Should he impress, it won’t change minds of the position pecking order heading to Bourbonnais, but Trubisky showing he’s a quicker study than expected could at least open the door slightly more to that possibility. 
— Chris Boden

4. Where does Kevin White fit?

Among the “ifs” on the Bears’ roster — and there are many — Kevin White may be the biggest. The 2015 No. 7 pick has only played four games in the last two years, but if he can be the guy the Bears (and plenty of draft analysts) thought he was coming out of West Virginia, he’ll go a long way toward replacing Alshon Jeffery. The importance of veteran minicamp for White is mostly just getting him reps, even if pads and contact aren’t involved, as he continues to build his way back from those two leg injuries. 
— JJ Stankevitz

5. The first thing for the secondary

For a secondary with four offseason additions — cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara, and safeties Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson — OTAs have mostly been important for developing trust and chemistry within the unit. This is a group that will be tasked with creating more turnovers than last year’s total of 11 (tied for the lowest in a single season in NFL history), and the process of developing that takeaway-focused mentality began during the offseason program. For the new players and the holdovers from last year, learning everyone’s strengths and weaknesses now will help get this group on solid footing heading into training camp in July. 
— JJ Stankevitz

6. The “baby” Bear       

So Cam Meredith and Zach Miller have injuries they’re working their way back from, Kevin White still has to prove himself going into Year 3, and the last thing you want to do is put Jordan Howard through any more work than needed before Sept.10. Now’s a good time to start seeing how 5-foot-6 waterbug Tarik Cohen can be utilized, whether it’s coming out of the backfield, split out wide or in the slot. This offense needs weapons and diversity even when everyone is healthy. Cohen has the potential to supply that, provided he can evade and outrun defenses at the NFL level like he did at North Carolina A&T.  (And by the way, he wouldn’t like being called baby Bear. It’s used for these title purposes only. He’s used his size as a chip on his shoulder to become a fourth-round draft pick.) 
— Chris Boden

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

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USA Today Sports Images

What do the Bears hope to accomplish in joint practices with Broncos?

DENVER — With Roquan Smith finally in tow, the Bears headed to Denver on Tuesday for a pair of joint practices with the Broncos leading up Saturday’s preseason game at Mile High Stadium. 

The Bears last held joint practices with the New England Patriots in 2016, and for coach Matt Nagy, this week will be his first experience with practicing with and against another team. For Bears players, the opportunity to practice against opposition — instead of their teammates, as has been the case for nearly a month — will inject some life into the dog days of the preseason. 

“It’s a great opportunity to compete against other guys and you get to go out there, and you’ve been beating on your guys all year long and all training camp long,” defensive end Akiem Hicks. “It’s an opportunity to have some other type of competition. And then to finish it up and play them at the end of the week, it just works well.”

Nagy said on Sunday he doesn’t anticipate Wednesday and Thursday’s practices will be live, and Broncos coach Vance Joseph said on Tuesday he spoke with Nagy about working to prevent the kind of fights that have popped up in some other joint practices this month. Washington and the Jets, most notably, had an all-out brawl earlier this week in a joint practice. 

“It’s always good the biggest thing when you do these team scrimmages together, you just want to stay away form the fights,” Nagy said. “As long as guys do that it’s definitely a benefit for both teams.”

The main benefit lies in the boost players should get from competing against another team's players instead of their teammates. That competitive jolt is beneficial, especially for a team that’s been practicing longer than anyone else besides the Baltimore Ravens thanks to participating in the Hall of Fame Game Aug. 2. 

“It’s a different defensive scheme all week,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “We are lucky to go against a great defense in practice, but it will be nice to go against someone else (with) different styles and different coverages.

“It’s going to be competition all week, so we definitely have to bring it. It will be a great week for us to get better and compete and see who wants to win every single snap — not just a game, not just practice periods, but every single snap, every single rep.”

For Smith, Wednesday and Thursday will be a head-first dive into the Bears’ defense. Even if coaches try to ease him into things — which won’t necessarily be the case — it will come against an offense not controlled by Nagy and Mark Helfrich. These two practices will be a good early test for where Smith is in terms of knowledge and football shape after his four-week holdout. 

And for the rest of the Bears, these two practices represent an opportunity to compete against someone different while breaking up the monotony of preseason practices. That’s generally a good thing — even if you’re, say, a tight end who all of a sudden has to try to block Von Miller. 

“I know they have some good edge guys,” tight end Adam Shaheen said with a bit of a grin. “… I think once we saw the schedule, all the tight ends were looking at those guys. it’ll be a good challenge and a good chance to get better.”

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

How soon will Roquan Smith start? The Bears are ready to figure out the answer

Roquan Smith signed his rookie contract Tuesday morning and took part in a light walkthrough practice shortly thereafter at Halas Hall, but his coaches are still a ways away from anointing him as a contributor, let alone a starter, for Week 1 of the regular season.

In a more narrow scope, coach Matt Nagy said he wasn’t sure if Smith would be available for Saturday’s preseason game against the Denver Broncos, but did say that the eighth overall pick would be in uniform for Wednesday and Thursday’s joint practices with the Broncos in Colorado. The first step for Nagy, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires and the Bears’ training staff will be to determine what kind of football shape Smith is in, which will become apparent in the coming days. 

Nagy said he might have an idea in a week or 10 days whether or not Smith will be able to contribute in Week 1, but not only does he have to prove that he’s in the right physical and mental shape to do so, he’ll have to prove he’s a better option than Nick Kwiatkoski. Chances are, the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will be able to prove he’s better than Kwiatkoski, who is a solid player in his own right. But if Smith can't, that would say more about him than it would about Kwiatkoski (who, again, Bears coaches already trust). 

“I’ve seen him out here with no pads on for an hour and a half,” Nagy said. “I’ll be able to stay in touch with Vic and we’ll ask, we’ll see how that goes and obviously you hope (he’ll contribute Week 1), right? That’s one of the benefits of him being here now but we just have to see. And I don’t think it’s fair to the other guys as well that have been out here battling each and every day, so again, go back to you have to earn it, and come out here and show it.”

Pro Football Talk reported the Bears and Smith’s camp reached a compromise to end the 29-day holdout. You can read the specifics here, but it boils down to this: Smith received ample protection for on-field disciplinary incidents, while the Bears retained their ability to void the guarantee on Smith’s money in an extreme case (think like if Smith becomes the next Vontaze Burfict). 

Smith declined to get into the specifics of his holdout, frequently deferring to “my agent and Mr. Pace” when asked for specifics. Nagy said he didn’t want to dwell on the past, now that the “past” of Smith’s holdout is over. 

But Nagy did say Smith was getting close to the point in his holdout where his availability for Week 1 would’ve been in doubt. So while the timing of Smith’s deal wasn’t ideal — ideal would’ve been mid-July — the opportunity is there for him to prove to his coaches and teammates that he’ll be ready for that curtain-lifting trip to Green Bay. 

“That’s up to the coaches, to decide on, you know, when they feel that I’m ready,” Smith said. “I’m just going to do whatever I can do to prepare myself to get ready. I’ve got confidence in my coaches in there to catch me back up to speed.”

Smith’s level of participation will be closely watched in the coming weeks, starting with these two joint practices against the Broncos on Wednesday and Thursday. Will he already be swiping first-team reps from Kwiatkoski, who had a solid camp while Smith was away? Will all the positive things he put on tape (without pads on) during OTAs and minicamp show back up? Or will he look a little lost early on and need some more time to get up to speed?

These joint practices will be an interesting introduction for Smith into the preseason, though, given the practices he has participated in — OTAs, minicamps and Tuesday’s walkthrough — have consisted of controllable, relatively low-intensity reps. 

“What’s going to happen is in practice that we go against each other there’s a normal consistent pace every day, and now it’s going to naturally pick up when you go against another team,” Nagy said. “But I’m not worried about it with Roquan. I know that he’ll be ready for that, as the rest of our guys will.”

While the Bears will want to give Kwiatkoski a fair chance to keep his job, come Sept. 9, the two best inside linebackers the Bears have will be on the field together against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Danny Trevathan and Smith could be those guys — and, realistically, they should be those guys. The Bears didn’t draft Smith to sit on the bench against Rodgers in a game against a historic rival they’ve only beat three times in their last 19 meetings. 

The process of getting on the field began Tuesday for Smith. It will continue this week — even if he doesn’t play Saturday in Denver — and then next week leading up to Aug. 25’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. When Nagy said he’ll have a good idea in a week or a week and a half if Smith will be ready for Green Bay, that hints at Smith’s role in the Chiefs game being telling for what he’ll do at Lambeau Field 15 days later. 

To figure that out, the Bears are going to put a lot on Smith’s plate. There’s no time for a slow introduction into things. 

And if the team’s evaluation of his skillset, football intelligence and work ethic is correct, he’ll handle that accelerated workload well and, ultimately, earn the starting gig for which he’s been destined since late April. 

“If you take too many baby steps  and you don’t test him enough then you don’t know what his limit is,” Nagy said. “So I think you go ahead  and you throw stuff at him. I think right now we have to make sure physically you don’t overdo it. Mentally he’s fine. We can pull back on that but physically don’t over do it.”