Bears

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains seeing Bears offense same ways, good and bad

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains seeing Bears offense same ways, good and bad

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Jay Cutler has produced some of the worst football of his NFL career when the quarterback had praise and new contract money lavished on him by previous general managers in particular. Last year, with a new coaching staff that made no secret of its reservations about the quarterback they were inheriting with a contract they weren’t all that excited about, either, Cutler produced the best statistical season of his career.

The overarching question for the Bears’ offense really hasn’t been whether Alshon Jeffery would get a long-term deal or how Kevin White would come back from his lost season. It was how the relationship – football and, ultimately, personally – with new coordinator Dowell Loggains would evolve from what they had with Loggains as Cutler’s position coach to what it needs to be for Loggains to coordinate the entire offense, not simply Cutler’s endeavors.

Their bond, positive by all accounts coming out of last year, will take regular-season games – complete with successes and failures – to coalesce.

But elements of Loggains’ “coordinator’s personality” are already bubbling to the surface. First were Loggains explosions during offseason practices when plays failed. On Wednesday came blunt talk about a bad day for the offense. And if last year suggested anything, it was that Cutler responds better to blunt than coddling.

“I don't think today was our best day, and then we got a little bit tired,” Loggains said by way of critiquing his offense. “Coming off the [practice] off day is tough, then we had a couple dropped balls, the opportunity, we started fast, we had an opportunity to kind of finish the way we wanted to and eased off a little bit.

“If we want to be a good team, we need to finish that practice, just like we need to finish in the fourth quarter when it's hot. We need to deal with some adversity and it was good for us to deal with that a little bit today.”

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Coincidentally, or not, his quarterback had precisely the same take on the offense’s performance.

“I thought today was a little, kind of a half step back after the off day,” Cutler said. “We started off fast, didn’t end that well. I thought the o-line has played really well in the five, six, seven practices we’ve had. Receivers have kinda been up and down a little bit.”

If chief operating officer and chief executive officer of the offense are seeing through similar eyes, that is a good starting point. Because Cutler and coordinators haven’t always (see: Kromer, Aaron; Tice, Mike).

A foundation pillar of the offense for 2016 (and beyond) will be inexperienced wide receiver Kevin White. Coordinator and quarterback are agreed on how the young wideout is, and isn’t, progressing.

Loggains: “Everything's a little bit new to [White]. He had the limited route tree coming from West Virginia. I think that he's gotten better with getting off press. I think that his relationship with [receivers] coach CJ [Curtis Johnson] has helped him a lot.”

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Cutler: “He just kind has that extra gear where he’s able to put a little bit more pressure on them. we just have to get him to a point where he’s maximizing every single play.”

Many things look or sound good in training camp that become punch lines later when pressure is applied by real NFL life. And Cutler and Loggains could certainly unravel (see: Martz, Mike; Kromer, Aaron). But like most relationships, if there is communication, there is always a chance.

“I think the communication is we continue to grow as an offense,” Loggains said. “We put down pillars last year and we're building off that, just everyone a year in the system longer, the coaches and the new coaches, just getting a better feeling.

“And it helps Jay and I obviously communicate better because we communicate quicker and get to the point.”

Ideally, the same point.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.