Bears

Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

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Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

It would have been so easy for former Chicago Bears Otis Wilson and Gary Fencik to give the politically correct answers to reducing head injuries.
Sure, players will take themselves out of the game if theyre woozy after a hit. Sure, players will readily tell team doctors and coaches when theyre not feeling right. Sure, the cautionary tales of those suffering lingering concussion issues and those whose premature deaths may have been related to those problems will get through to todays players.
But Wilson and Fencik know a football players mentality.
They know that pride, fear and uncertainty will keep most players from admitting something might be wrong. Still, the two former Bears know that the message still has to be delivered. And the more they and others talk, the more players will listen.
The Bears, with the U.S. Army, hosted a Health and Safety Forum prior to Sunday nights game against the Houston Texans. The session focused on the work the NFL and army are doing together to promote a positive culture change and reduce the stigma related to head injuries.
And all parties know its going to take some time to do that.
You talk about warrior mentality. We dont want to get rid of that. But we want to talk people through everything the league is doing, this type of forum, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. Its going to take years to really get the culture change were looking for.
Wilson used the term dinged when talking about how he felt after some of those hits in his playing days. Players didnt know the affects of concussions as much then. Sometimes they didnt even know they had a concussion. Answer a couple of questions correctly and they were back in the game.
The lingering affects havent hit me yet, said Wilson. When asked if he was sure about that, he said, I remember how I got here and how to get home. My closest friend Dave Duerson, he couldnt remember how to get downtown, couldnt remember a lot of things. When I compare myself to that, Im doing OK now.
Duersons tragic story resonates with Wilson and Fencik, for certain. Duerson committed suicide in February of 2011. In a text to family, Duerson asked his brain be donated for research; three months after his death, neurologists at Boston University confirmed Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
Still, the cautionary tales, even tragic ones like Duersons, dont always resonate immediately. Players may think itll never happen to them, that theyll bounce back quickly if they do suffer a concussion and they could lose their job if they do come out of the game.
You go down for a play, and a guy (behind you on the depth chart) is making 200,000 less, maybe they give him a shot. And you lose your job, Fencik said. Its very difficult for that player. Its a tremendous challenge because its your job. Its something theyve done their entire life.
Still, the message will continue. You cant eradicate concussions completely. You can take out illegal hits, sure, but head injuries are caused on the perfectly legal ones, too. The research is better now than it was in Wilson and Fenciks playing days, and improves every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a consulting clinical neuropsychologist at NorthShore Medical Group, said education is key.
One of the biggest misconceptions?
That you need to be knocked out to have a concussion. You dont, she said. Only 9-10 percent (of head injuries) result in loss of consciousness. You still hear, He wasnt knocked out, so doesnt have concussion. Thats bothersome. Theyre brain injuries. Theyre not just seeing stars for a few seconds.
So the message will keep being delivered. The culture is going to take time to change. Perhaps a suffering player heeding that message wont save his career. But hed be saving something more precious.
We as a group have to let (players) know that its OK if somethings wrong with you: stand on the sideline and get yourself some help, Wilson said. We have to keep talking to one another.

Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

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Postcard from Camp: Adam Shaheen's ankle injury puts a halt on the solid growth he's made this preseason

Bears coach Matt Nagy wasn’t sure on Monday if Adam Shaheen’s right ankle sprain would keep him from playing Week 1 in Green Bay. If it does, though, it would represent the fourth consecutive regular season game the second-year tight end would miss dating back to last year. 

In a coincidental connection, too, it would mark the second straight year Shaheen wouldn’t be able to immediately build off a strong showing against the Cincinnati Bengals. Last December, Shaheen caught four of five targets for 44 yards with a touchdown in the Bears’ 33-7 win in Cincinnati; he caught all three of his targets for 53 yards against the Bengals in Aug. 9’s preseason game. 

Shaheen suffered a chest injury during that Bengals game last December and was inactive for the Bears’ final three games of the season. Coincidences aside, Shaheen’s ankle injury represents another speed bump in his developmental path, depending on the severity of it. 

But the good news, perhaps, is that Shaheen has made strides this training camp and preseason. We’ll look at one specific play against the Bengals that stands out below. 

To set it up: Earlier this month, Shaheen talked about how he’s improved at reading coverages and how that’s helped him improve as a route runner. That’s something that has come with experience as he enters Year 2 in the NFL. 

“It’s a big part of this offense as a receiver, recognize the coverage and where you need to be,” Shaheen said. “How you get there is everything.

“… There’s a little more not-so-much focus on, like, a perfect square cut. It’s more, like I said earlier, against this coverage you need to be in that hole at the right time. You might just be in that hole just pulling a defender another way to open up your teammate. That’s a big part.”

That growing savviness was on display in Cincinnati on Aug. 9. Specifically, this play:

Shaheen runs a drag over the middle on third-and-four but encounters linebacker Hardy Nickerson (red circle) standing in his way.

Instead of keeping strictly to the route and trying to run through or beneath Nickerson (yellow arrow), Shaheen faced up to the Bengals’ linebacker, did an inside-out juke move and goes to Nickerson's outside shoulder (blue arrow).

Shaheen is then able to use his strength and athleticism to gain leverage on Nickerson and work his way into the open field. 

The whole play took all of two seconds to develop, and by the time Chase Daniel releases the ball, Shaheen has a step on Nickerson. The result is not just a first down, but a 29-yard completion. 

“Some routes are locked in, and other ones we’ve got a little wiggle room to work,” Shaheen said. “Those ones are obviously very good to see a linebacker over there because you know you can really have an opportunity to get the ball and work him.”

Those little things will continue to grow Shaheen’s game with more experience. The potential is there for Shaheen to play a significant role in the Bears’ offense in 2018 — provided he’s healthy for the start of it. 

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Construction and nature of Bears pass rush adds to potential impact of Leonard Floyd hand injury

Measuring the impact and domino effect of Leonard Floyd’s fractured right hand suffered in the weekend win over the Denver Broncos is next to impossible at this juncture simply because what Floyd’s effectiveness will be in a cast isn’t remotely clear. Coach Matt Nagy noted Monday that players have functioned with a “club” for a hand but the Bears need more than Floyd just playing.

The injury, which required surgery, affects Floyd’s fingers, and irrespective of the specific injury, those requiring casting and club-like encasement have dramatically affected effectiveness in even the game’s top pass rushers: Clay Matthews in Green Bay (2013); Jason Pierre-Paul with the Giants (2015); J.J. Watt in Houston (2016).

Nagy used the word “relief” in talking about Floyd’s situation; good word choice. Because the Bears have lost elite linebackers to season-ending thumb or wrist injuries (Bryan Cox, 1996; Brian Urlacher 2009).

But any diminishing of Floyd’s effectiveness projects to a potential catastrophe for a Bears defense wanting to start fast and help an offense that will be learning to stand fully upright through its first season under Nagy. Pass rushers, particularly speed rushers, need their hands. And fingers.

The reason is more than simply Floyd. It’s the construction of the Bears defense and its rush options. Because in the Bears’ case, numbers can obscure the true nature – and degree of vulnerability – of the Bears’ pass rush.

The defense posted 42 sacks in 2017, ranking an eminently respectable tied for seventh despite being without a single defender with more than Akiem Hicks’ 8-1/2, and better than Arizona (17th) with Chandler Jones (17 sacks), for example.

That is both good news and bad news.

The good news is that a top-10 defense was not based on one individual rush terror – a Matthews, Watt, Von Miller. Consider it a rush-by-committee, with Floyd, Hicks, Sam Acho, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young or any of more than a half-dozen threats capable of delivering one of the single most devastating defensive plays other than a takeaway.

But that is also the bad news. Because the Bears lost McPhee, Young, Lamarr Houston and the players who produced more than one-third (14-1/2) of the 42 sacks.

This is more than a simple headcount issue; it’s an integrated-whole problem. The Bears had so many potential impact rushers, their scheme was able to bring pressure from different places and players. The rush may not have had one elite pocket disruptor, but it did have quantity to the point where double-teaming any one created opportunities that non-elite rushers exploited.

Acho benefitted from Young benefitted from McPhee benefitted from Hicks benefitted from Floyd benefitted from... You get the idea.

The point is that no Bears rusher was, or now, is, capable of exerting consistent dominance by himself, as great pass rushers do. Dan Hampton benefitted from Richard Dent, but Hampton was a Pro Bowl rush threat before Dent arrived. Watt had 20 1/2 sacks in 2012, before the Texans drafted Jadeveon Clowney, and 20 1/2 in 2014 when Clowney only played four games.

The Bears situation is not necessarily a crisis; the whole being greater than the sum of the parts is by definition the antithesis of crisis. But the Bears lost a significant number of those parts. Liken it to the Bears having a great offensive line and losing a couple of starters: The remaining starters could the better members of the “great” group, but unless the lost players are replaced with talent equal to or greater than the losses, the chances of the group achieving anywhere near what it was when it had all its components are slim.

Hicks is coming off a career year. But the Bears did little to replace Houston, McPhee and Young, who contributed both to Floyd’s development and his production. Now the pass rusher drafted to be a linchpin of the Bears defense has a significant impairment.

So does the entire defense.