Many front office members of the Bears will utilize the next six weeks to recharge the batteries for training camp and the 2012 season.Most players take advantage of the down time as well, but as Ive stated in a previous blog, it could be valuable time for Jay Cutler and the receiving corps to really pick up their game.Training Camp PreparationA tremendous base has been built during OTAs for Cutler to build upon.Arm strength is crucial for any NFL quarterback and, realistically, Cutler will throw close to 500 passes per practice during training camp. The throwing totals have slowly increased as OTAs have moved along, similar to how routes run by receivers have also increased. I would hope Cutler has a set schedule to throw four-to-five days per week with his receivers. It really doesnt matter if it isaccomplished at Halas Hall or back in Nashville.Why it's importantWe have already mentioned a couple important benefits such as arm strength and conditioning.Even if Cutler experienced a period of dead arm during camp, his arm would remain pretty lively because he's just naturally strong. But you have to prepare your arm for a staggering amount of throws. Throwing sessions prior to campare also a great time to discuss route execution with receivers against different coverages. Cutler and his receivers will have a good understanding of each other by practicing various scenarios and attacking different defensive coverages.Cutler most likely has a good understanding of Brandon Marshall and Earl Bennett, but this could be a good opportunity to really get to know the mannerisms of young Alshon Jeffery. Mannerisms such asrange, flexibility, ability to track football to either side, quickness in and out of breaks, hands, etc...If Cutler can get answers to questions like: Can Jeffery go get the football if it's overthrown? Is there a sweet spot where Jeffery just never seems to drop the football? Can he adjust to an underthrown football as well as an overthrow?Whats his flexibility if I throw a football behind him on a crossing route?It would be another opportunity re-emphasizing learning the new Bears' passing game principles four-to-five days per week prior to training camp.After our final mini-camp in 2001, Marty Booker and I worked every day at Halas Hall, all the way up to the training camp reporting date.Marty had a Pro Bowl season with 107 receptions. It's safe to say we were on the same page and knew exactly what each other was capable of doing.
Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public.
“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”
Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet.
The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short).
So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall.
“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”
What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action.
“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”
The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June.
But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression.
“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.”
Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.
None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job.
According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.
Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.
The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.
If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.
The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.
The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.