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

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

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USA TODAY

Another day, another reason why Bears won the Khalil Mack trade

Oh, now this is a doozy.

As if it wasn't obvious enough already, the Bears absolutely won the Khalil Mack trade over the Raiders. Not only did they acquire the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, but they did so when the rival Green Bay Packers were also interested. Based on a recent revelation from Packers president Mark Murphy, the extent to which the Bears won the trade is greater than we may have realized. 

In an interview with 105.7 The FAN, Murphy revealed a unique reason as to why the Raiders chose the Bears over the Packers.

"Well the whole Khalil Mack thing. It's not that we didn't try," Murphy said on Thursday. "We were aggressive. We wanted to sign him. I think, ironically, the Raiders took the Bears offer because they thought they would be a better draft pick."

As it turned out, the Packers had a higher first-round pick (No. 12 overall) than the Bears (No. 24) in 2019. This very well could change in 2020, but for the time being, let's get this straight.

Not only did the Bears acquire one of the best (if not the best) defensive players in football, but:

-Their trade package was highlighted by what should be two late first round picks (assuming the Bears remain a playoff team in 2019), and
-Acquiring Mack kept him out of Green Bay.

Talk about absolutely winning a deal. In the end, the Bears have a three-time All-Pro (2015-16, 2018) pash rusher entering his age 28 season. The Raiders and Packers surely cannot say the same thing.

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Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be

Why what 'Run DMC' does catching passes in training camp will be a big clue for how good the Bears' offense will be


How much better Mitch Trubisky will be is the defining question for the 2019 Bears. But we won’t begin to know the answer to that question until September — it’s not something that’ll be easily discernible during training camp practices in Bourbonnais or a handful of snaps in preseason games. Those can sometimes produce false positives and false negatives.

The Bears believe in Trubiskiy, of course, and you’ll likely hear Matt Nagy and players laud their quarterback’s growth over the coming weeks. But belief is one thing; tangible production is another. And we won’t truly get to see that growth until the night of Sept. 5 at Soldier Field. 

But there are a few things to look for in Bourbonnais that could clue us in that a big-time leap is coming for No. 10. We’ll begin this mini-series leading up to the start of training camp next week with this: Better success from running backs catching passes on first down. 

It’s a narrowly specific angle, but one that carries plenty of weight. Consider this excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview:

“First down has long been perceived as a running down. In 2017, the league-wide average run-pass split on first down was 47-53. It was 50-50 last season, but that was still well below the 59-41 league-wide split on all downs. Yet passing to running backs on first down is significantly more effective.

“In 2018, there were 6,248 running back rushing attempts on first down. They averaged 4.5 yards per carry, minus-0.01 Expected Points Added per attempt, and a positive play rate of 41.3%. When teams threw to running backs on first down, they averaged 6.02 yards per target, 7.8 yards per receptions. 0.08 EPA per attempt — slightly more efficient than the average of all passes regardless of down at 0.05 EPA — and a positive play rate of 52.3%.”

The larger point here (especially if your eyes glazed over some of those numbers — which, we promise, make sense) is this: Scheming more throws to running backs on first down is an area in which almost every team in the NFL can improve. It's worth noting the Kansas City Chiefs' most effective play on first-and-long in 2018, per Sharp, was a pass to Kareem Hunt. 

And the good news is the Bears re-worked their running back room in a way that could optimize their success throwing the ball to David Montgomery, Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen on first down. 

The 2018 Bears simply didn’t have the personnel to do that regularly or successfully.

Jordan Howard was only targeted nine times on first-and-10, catching five passes for 42 yards. All nine of those targets were short throws, either to the left (two), middle (one) or right (six), and Trubisky had a passer rating of 83 on those attempts. Meanwhile, Howard carried the ball 128 times on first-and-10, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and only generating nine first downs (the NFL average for rushing attempts on first-and-10 in 2018 was 4.7 yards per carry). 

Cohen was, roughly, the inverse of Howard’s numbers: He caught 30 of 37 targets for 241 yards (6.5 yards per target) and generated seven first downs through the air, but averaged just 3.2 yards on his 46 rushing attempts with four first downs. Neither player was particularly balanced in these scenarios: Howard was mildly ineffective running the ball and not a threat catching it; Cohen was largely ineffective running the ball but was a threat catching it. 

And for the crowd who still believes Nagy wasn’t willing to establish the run: The combined rushing attempts on first-and-10 of Howard, Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell totaled 182; the combined pass attempts by Trubisky and Chase Daniel in that down-and-distance was 176, per Pro Football Reference’s play index. 

The Bears, in 2018, averaged 5.5 yards per play on first-and-10, tied for 24th in the NFL. Yet only three teams — the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts — averaged fewer yards-to-go on third down than the Bears’ mark of 6.9. That’s a sign of Nagy’s playcalling prowess and the talent on this offense, and it’s not a stretch to argue an improvement of first-and-10 success will have a significant impact on the overall success of the Bears’ offense. 

So back to the initial point about passes to running backs in these situations: The Bears believe both Montgomery and Davis have some untapped potential as pass-catching running backs. Montgomery caught 71 passes in college at Iowa State, while Davis was targeted the most by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 on first down (17 of 42 targets). Cohen, of course, is already an accomplished pass-catcher. 

The “Run DMC” backfield needs to have more success carrying the ball on first-and-10 than last year’s group did, of course. But if you’re in Bourbonnais or watching a preseason game, keep an eye out for how effective the Bears are at passing to their running backs — especially if those passes travel beyond the line of scrimmage (another inefficiency noted by Warren Sharp's 2019 Football Preview). 

If you start seeing Montgomery making defenders miss after catching a pass, or Davis looking fluid with the ball in his hands, or Cohen breaking off some explosive gains — those will be significant reasons to believe in Trubisky and the Bears' offense in 2019. 

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