Bears

Emery will change Bears, but not in a rush

622100.png

Emery will change Bears, but not in a rush

If Phil Emery believes the Bears need to upgrade at wide receiver, cornerback, offensive line or anywhere else, he isnt saying. And the new Bears general manager doesnt plan to, either.

If getting running back Matt Forte signed to a long-term contract or whether the Bears will use their franchise tag. Same thing.

When it comes time to publicly assess our needs or players that we have targeted, we will not do that, Emery said on Monday at his introductory press conference at Halas Hall.

I feel that is a competitive disadvantage to do so. We will know internally what our needs are We will not give away our competitive advantage to outline who those individuals or at what position they are. What is going to be targeted are good football players, producers, dynamic football players who can help this team grow.

The Bears believe that growing began in earnest with the hiring of Emery to replace Jerry Angelo, general manager for the last 11 years.
Philosophy changes coming

As expected, player personnel director Tim Ruskell did not stay around Halas Hall long after failing to make the cut as a finalist. Ruskell departed Lake Forest Monday morning after an announced mutually agreed upon parting of the ways.

His exit leaves Emery without a college or pro scouting director, two jobs that had been combined in Jerry Angelos final years. Ruskell was primarily responsible for both areas.

Emery said that he has a planned organizational structure in mind but will not make major changes until after the draft.

What will be happening as of Monday is a shift toward a Bears version of the Patriot system, which Emery learned working for former New England executives Thomas Dimitroff, with Atlanta, and Scott Pioli, with Kansas City.

And while Lovie Smith treasures speed over size, its a big-mans game, Emery said. There are smaller players that have success but overall, history will show you this is a big-mans game.

The Lovie Smith relationship

Emery took the job with the understanding that Smith will remain as head coach for 2012, with a contract that runs through 2013. No relationship is more important in the immediate future of an organization that prizes consistency.

Weve had consistency in our coaching staff, Emery said. I have great respect for what Lovie has done, the consistency, the teaching, being systematic.

When I watched Lovie Smiths defense, those players played fast because they know the scheme. So consistency is important.

Emery stressed that he and Smith would develop their plan on players that they agree upon. That would also include the plan for the player after the draft, not simply on what is done on draft day.

Emery will have final say on the 53-man roster.

I have that authority, Emery said. But thats not where my head is. My mind is on helping everyone in this buiiding advance and have a consistent winner.

Franchise-tagging

He, like Angelo, will have the primary say over what the Bears are willing to do for running back Matt Forte.

Forte is unlikely to be heartened by Emery replacing Angelo, who made no secret of his comfort level with the franchise tag in the event that contract agreement cannot be reached.

Emery knows where the tag came from and said he considers it fair to both sides.

It is a tool that has been collectively bargained, Emery said. It is fair to the player and fair to the club. Thats part of the collective bargaining agreement.

When Emery was a college scout for the Atlanta Falcons, he evaluated Forte extensively. He has done some evaluating since then.

But in terms of franchise tags and where we are, thats an internal matterthat we will not discuss as a competitive matter and showing our opponents our cards.

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. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

khalil.jpg
USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: State of the Bears: Defense

JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan are back with their training camp preview of the Bears' defense, looking at if it's fair to expect this group to take a step back without Vic Fangio (2:00) or if it's possible to repeat as the league's No. 1 defense (10:00). Plus, the guys look at which players the Bears need to improve to remain one of the NFL's best defenses (15:15), debate if Leonard Floyd can be better (20:00) and look at the future of the defense as a salary cap crunch looms after 2019 (25:00). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: