Bears

DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

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DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
9:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Observations in the wake of the Bears Tommie Harris release:

If there were not already tremendous need for them to score big in this years draft, the Bears now have just three of their No. 1 draft choices over the past decade still on the roster: Brian Urlacher (2000), Greg Olsen (2007) and Chris Williams (2008), and Urlacher was under the administration of the late Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelos successor.

They have just two from the drafts since Lovie Smith arrived.

Their chief target and standard for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, have that many from the 2009 draft alone: nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, plus tackle Bryan Bulaga from the 2010 draft.

And the footsteps coming up behind the Bears are from the Detroit Lions, who had that many in the 2010 draft alone as well: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Jahvid Best. Add oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions have as many in the last two years as the Bears in the last 11. Cause for additional concern is that since 2006 the Lions also have hit on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, tackle Gosder Cherilus and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The Bears do get a slight pass (literally) when you factor in a significant score from the 2009 draft in which they gave up their No. 1 in the deal for Jay Cutler. And their de facto No. 1 in the 2010 draft was Julius Peppers but they had to commit 91 in free agency for him.

But the Bears also have just three of their second-round picks under Jerry Angelo at this point: Charles Tillman (2003), Devin Hester (2006) and Matt Forte (2008), plus Danieal Manning (2006) if he is re-signed once the free agency rules are established. The death of Gaines Adams left the Bears with nothing from their 2010 No. 2 as well as a deep hole in spirit.

The Packers have wideout Jordy Nelson, running back Brandon Jackson, guard Daryn Colledge, wide receiver Greg Jennings, safety Nick Collins, and defensive end Mike Neal from 2010. That is all of the ones they made since 2004...

A player in the spotlight for the Bears now becomes Henry Melton. The 2009 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season on IR and showed flashes last season, with 2.5 sacks. He has enough speed and quickness to have worked at defensive end and is expected to be given a longer look inside as the three-technique. But he has played at no bigger than 280 pounds and unless he has playmaker abilities in the mold of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings DT now in the Hall of Fame, the Bears are at risk of being overpowered at the point of attack.

Matt Toeaina showed enough for the Bears to sign him to an extension last year. But he was edged back out of the starting lineup by Harris for the final six games, including the postseason.

And Marcus Harrison will need a dramatic reversal of trend to make the roster in training camp after slumping from nine-game starter in 2009 to 11-game inactive last season.

The Bears may be able to manage with another shuffling on the offensive line, moving Chris Williams back to right tackle, JMarcus Webb to left, Frank Omiyale to left guard, and either re-signing center Olin Kreutz or getting more out of Edwin Williams as Kreutzs replacement.

But defensive tackle, already a draft priority with Harris, just became an even bigger one without him.

Harris speaks

In the long run, Harris did need a change of team and he knew it as this season played out. Its one of those bittersweet moments but its something that Ive been prepared for for a long time, Harris told host David Kaplan Thursday on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Live".

He never had the baggage issues of Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Cade McNown or other players whose time in Chicago was cut short for more reasons of perception and PR as well as performance.

But his relationship with Lovie Smith wasnt in a good place and hadnt been for a several years. Frankly Harris had some growing up to do and at the same time, he hadnt felt that Smith saw him as growing up when he did.

It was more like father and son, Harris said of their relationship.

And sometimes you just have to move out of the house. For both sides sakes.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

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USA TODAY

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

The Bears are at rest right now. The weeks between the end of the final minicamp and the start of the “season” that runs from the start of training camp through the final game represent the last time most if not all players will be truly 100 percent until early 2019.

In not too many days the Bears will begin their training camp, upshifting the pace, depth and urgency of formation of the 2018 team. Along with that comes the annual dilemma, not unique to the Bears, of balancing practice and strength training to achieve the football maximum while simultaneously staying within a plan calculated to minimize what has become a Bears curse since the departure of the Lovie Smith staff:

Injuries.

Injuries not confined to camp and practices, but also to creating a landscape that results in minimizing injuries throughout the season. And it is a complex equation that the Bears are trying to balance, one that reaches beyond football and involves complicated factors.

Matt Nagy is putting a small fingerprint of his own, instituting an 8:15 a.m. start time for the vast majority of Bourbonnais practices, “to keep guys out of the heat for the most part,” Nagy said.

Practice limitations have been mandated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements. The quirk for the Bears has been that as practice intensity has been legislated downward, injury totals (using players on IR as an apples-to-apples measure) have risen. The debate then has gone to whether lessened practices in fact saves players or ironically results in more injuries in games because players have not been sufficiently hardened for the intensity spike that games are.

Along with that is the need to truly learn schemes and plays in live action.

“I think football is a game, like many games, that you have to get calloused to,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. “It’s like when we go out the first day of training camp with pads on, and guys are hitting a little bit. You’re going to be taken aback and get mad that the guy just hit you too hard. But then by a week or two later, you’re getting hit like that and don’t even realize it. You gotta get calloused.

“So I do believe, even though you couldn’t prove it objectively or quantify it, I do believe that it’s a problem.”

Do the Bears need to rest more?

Nagy has seen the value of rest. Andy Reid, the head coach when Nagy worked in Philadelphia and Kansas City, is a lofty 16-3 in games after off-weeks during his coaching career. Last year his Chiefs did lose a road game post-bye, but Reid was 4-0 in Kansas City’s other games coming off more than the normal six days between games.

Other than the Bears, the five teams with the greatest number of schedule-created off days in the 2017 season appeared to put the time to good use:

Team Off days 2017 record (*playoffs)
Kansas City 12 10-6*
Buffalo 8 9-7*
Chicago 8 5-11
San Diego 8 9-7
Philadelphia 7 13-3*

A case can be made that recovery days are often as important as the effort days, that athletes perform better after their bodies have had even a brief window to heal. Coaches, too. As one Tour de France cyclist told this writer, people go too hard on the easy days, so they don’t fully recover, and too easy on the hard days.

Two-a-day, padded full-go practices were once the norm. Now consecutive padded practices don’t happen in-season, and even in camp, the objective is not as it once was, to weed out, but to develop. “I think back in the day you could say that it was ‘super-hard,’” Nagy said. “Now I’m not sure you’d consider it ‘super-hard.’”

The correlation between rest and results is far from exact. Marc Trestman was adamant about players getting off their feet after practices, and yet few teams sustained the level of injury, particularly on defense, that his Bears did. Lovie Smith’s practices were in the heat of the days, camp and other, with occasional night practices as prep for night games.

Year Coach Camp practice Year-end IR
2012 Lovie Smith 2/2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (three) 6
2013-14 Marc Trestman 9 a.m., 3:15 p.m. (three) 6, 10
2015-17 John Fox 9:35/11:15 a.m. 12, 21, 19

Apart from any empirical or other scientific information, anecdotal evidence suggests that rest is a significant factor in influencing outcomes. The most elementary casual indicator is the importance teams, coaches and players universally assign to in-season off-weeks. The break period is utilized for self-scouting, which is going on constantly anyway, but also for getting healthy.

If the cluster of a few days off (players are routinely given the off-weekend plus the preceding day or two to themselves) has some demonstrable physical benefits, then any structuring of normal weeks to build in recovery time stands to reason as a step toward healing during a 17-week stretch that leaves no one completely healthy.

But it’s not that simple, particularly in-season. “They’ll have off on Monday, then be back on Tuesday,” Nagy said. “And with the game-planning, you have to build that in, obviously.”

Positive offseason

At the risk of installing a jinx here, the Bears came through the offseason program without apparent severe injuries, and with key players (Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson) being brought along conservatively in their returns from ’17 season-ending injuries. At the same time, the requisite work was put in installing a new offense and reigniting a returning defense.

Training camp and preseason now are next-level intensity, and the Bears lost offensive linemen Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan, receiver Cam Meredith and long snapper Pat Scales in the time frame between the start of camp and the start of the regular season.

The objective moves to another level of managing the balance between preserving bodies for when it matters and getting done the work that has to be covered. Some of that was accomplished with some understandings of historical perspectives.

“I told the guys the analogy the other day, the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTA’s years ago,” Fangio said. “But years ago there were six preseason games and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went down to four preseason games and two-a-day’s. And when I say ‘two-a-days,’ they were two-a-days several days in a row.

“Now we’re to one-a-day’s with some legislated days off in there. These [offseason] practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past had gotten. We view them as very, very important, and our guys have had good focus. So we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but I try to tell them that this isn’t an ‘OTA practice;’ this is a training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

The Chicago Bears are entering 2018 with one of the best young backfields in the NFL. The combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will give defenses nightmares all season long, especially when both players are on the field at the same time. Howard brings a physical and grinding running style while Cohen can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Cohen's field-flipping ability makes him especially dangerous in the return game. He's so dangerous, in fact, that he was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team as a returner.

Cohen contributed in every which way for the Bears in 2017, bringing an explosive element to Chicago's run game, pass game and return game. He finished in the top 10 in punt-return and kick-return average.

Cohen ended his rookie season with 87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added 53 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. He gained 272 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 583 more on kick returns, bringing his season totals to 1,583 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

First-year coach Matt Nagy has been smitten with Cohen since the offseason workouts began. He's expected to use the second-year back a lot more than John Fox and Dowell Loggains did in 2017 which should give the 'human joystick' even more opportunities to make the kind of plays that will make him one of the NFL's most feared offensive weapons.