Bears

First look at Bears’ new 3-4 has a touch of 'Where’s Waldo?'

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First look at Bears’ new 3-4 has a touch of 'Where’s Waldo?'

Bears head coach John Fox said earlier this offseason that one of the reasons he, a 4-3 coach virtually his entire career, liked the 3-4 scheme because it made it difficult to tell who was rushing the quarterback. (Seeing it live for the first time on Tuesday, he wasn’t kidding.)

Fox also said all offseason that he was holding off on position decisions and assignments until he had time to see his 2015 Bears “on the grass,” meaning the practice fields of Halas Hall.

That process began in earnest on Tuesday with the start of the team’s first minicamp, this one voluntary. And if observers weren’t sure who was rushing the quarterback, they were even less sure of even who was where.

[MORE BEARS: Matt Forte passing up Bears voluntary minicamp]

Which underscored Fox’s overall point.

While considerable attention will be focused this offseason at what happens with certain individuals and positions – Tim Jennings’ No. 1 cornerback spot, whether Kyle Long is a guard or tackle, how will Jared Allen, Shea McClellin, Willie Young and others will fit a totally new scheme – conclusions were in very short supply.

Rules prohibit getting into specific personnel packages, schemes, plays and such. But even without limits on putting out what the team considers competitive information, suffice it to say:

[MORE BEARS: Fuller, Forte honored at Piccolo awards]

Jeremiah Ratliff is the only defensive lineman listed as “NT” on the Bears’ roster. He won’t be attending the three-day camp. Ego Ferguson was mentioned by GM Ryan Pace as a nose tackle, but Ferguson was all over the three-man defensive line on Tuesday.

Asked whether he was a nose, five-technique, end, tackle, what? Ferguson laughed: “Just say, ‘defensive lineman.’”

So was Will Sutton. So was Jarvis Jenkins. So was Allen.

Fox said that McClellin would start out at one of the inside linebacker spots. McClellin did. So did four other linebackers, in multiple permutations.

[SHOP: Get your official Bears NFL Draft hat]

You get the point.

And as far as how well former 4-3 players fit generally into the new scheme:

“I think there's enough carryover that other than OLB vs. DE, I mean that's just alphabet, it's the same job description in my experience,” Fox said. “Whether a guy's been a holdover, I mean, I kept coaches on this staff, so I don't really buy into all that. You try to find good human talent at all levels, upstairs and downstairs, and you go about your business.”

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

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.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

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.