Bears

Just Day 1 of minicamp, but did Bears coaches see what they needed to from QB Mitch Trubisky?

Just Day 1 of minicamp, but did Bears coaches see what they needed to from QB Mitch Trubisky?

Random (and not-so-random) thoughts on the new kid running the Bears’ huddle on Friday…

John Fox is rarely given to strong positives, let alone superlatives, over his two seasons as Bears coach – which made his take on rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky after just one no-pads, no-contact, limited-work practice at least a little worth noting.

“I think we put a lot of work into the evaluation and again saw a lot of the reasons why we decided to pick him where we did today,” Fox said after Friday’s opening practice for the Bears’ weekend rookie minicamp. “He’s very accurate, very smart, he’s got good football character, as far as transferring things from the meeting room to the field. And I think we saw that today.”

Whether he would say if he DIDN’T see the reasons drafting him high in the first round, hard to say. Maybe not. Maybe it would have been evident in his face (pout-face?), or by damning with faint praise.

This weekend Trubisky is with fellow rookies or fringe vets on tryouts, so if he looked “good,” he absolutely better have, and assigning it any kind of significance would be silly. He’ll still have to learn proper footwork under pressure, what “open receiver” really means at the NFL level, all of the little things that seem insignificant until one of them isn’t done right. Trubisky mishandled a couple of direct-snaps, not what he did much at North Carolina, but he also wasn’t working with anyone he’d ever taken a snap from before.

“Just getting with the new centers, getting that rhythm, getting that timing and chemistry,” Trubisky said by way of summary. “It’s all about getting better every day and working under center.”

*                          *                          *

Whether trading up from No. 3 to No. 2, and whether Trubisky was the right guy to trade up for, will remain simmering what-if’s for some time to come.

Two AFC scouts revealed that they had the highest grade on Trubisky that they’d had on any quarterback over the past six years. That means: higher than Jameis Winston; higher than Marcus Mariota; higher than Cam Newton; higher than Russell Wilson; higher than Andrew Luck; higher than Derek Carr; higher than Carson Wentz.

The evaluation of one NFC regional scouting team was that “Trubisky is an almost perfect quarterback prospect” and that 'the Bears should count their lucky stars he only started 13 games because if he was a two-year starter, he goes 1/1 [overall No. 1] without hesitation.”

*                          *                          *

The things that can be learned from watching a minicamp, particularly a rookie one, are minimal if for no other reason than some of the things that actually matter you really have no way of assessing.

Like how well, fast and thoroughly do these guys learn?

The Bears put Trubisky through a number of drills during their evaluations of him, not for purposes of teaching him anything specific, but rather to see how he reacts to new stuff, being made uncomfortable. “We had confirmation that he would be able to handle that stuff,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, “and he would be able to get it quickly.”

Coaches altered the practice structure Friday expressly to put Trubisky in more passing situations, meaning making drops, reads, throws and all the rest. They again saw what they needed to, beyond the actual execution.

“We're having two 7-on-7 [passing sessions], so he's getting more reps that way,” Loggains said. “We gave him a big install, and he handled it. We wanted him to feel stressed a little bit and understand how different the game is and to this point right now he's responded well… .

“The expectations for him is to come in and develop as fast as possible. He gets a great opportunity to sit behind Mike Glennon; the guy’s a pro. [Trubisky] gets a chance to learn and grow in the system. Those are the only expectations, that he gets better every day.”

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

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USA TODAY

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

Second of two parts

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game -- because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bill Walsh wrote and always insisted that the tight end was the least understood central pillar in his offense. He viewed and used the tight end as a receiver rather than simply an extra offensive lineman, and used the position to exploit matchup problems and open areas of the field created by design.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, the Bears signed and drafted tight ends (Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims) a year in advance of Matt Nagy’s arrival. But how those tight ends project to be used will be substantially changed from their functions last year. The best indication came this offseason when yet another tight end was brought in, one that signaled a critical direction change coming to the Chicago offense.

The Bears invested heavily to land smallish ex-Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton this offseason. He fits a Nagy template.

“He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes,” Nagy said. “When guys see that you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way, they really gravitate towards that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”

In eight of the last nine years Nagy was with Reid, the tight end (Brent Celek in Philadelphia, Travis Kelce in Kansas City) was either the leading or second-leading receiver on the roster.

In the last 37 years, since Emery Moorehead (No. 2, 1985), the Bears have been led in receptions by a tight end just once (Greg Olsen, 2009) or had a tight end No. 2 in catches just three other times (Olsen, 2008, Martellus Bennett 2014-15).

Receiver additions Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson notwithstanding, the role of the tight end in a Bears offense is about to change. Dramatically. And it started literally before Nagy even arrived in Chicago.

“Our first conversation when [Nagy and Pace] were on the plane heading to Chicago the day that I was hired, we discussed that ‘U’ position, the position that we know in Kansas City and we use in Kansas City as kind of the wide receiver/tight end,” Nagy said. “And you play the slot position you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce.”

New meaning for “timing” in pass game

Trubisky’s mobility creates a greater threat in action passes and within run-pass options, if only because Trubisky can and will take off with purpose, even as Nagy, Helfrich and QB coach Dave Ragone drill one phrase into the quarterback’s brain: “Get down!”

“We don’t do that all the time but that’s kind of your ‘ball control,’” Nagy said. “There is a mentality that might be a little different in how we’re trying to be aggressive, too. In the classic West Coast there were still times where they were looking to be aggressive and we want that mindset.”

More than that, however, is the threat that play-calling versatility posed by Nagy’s offense. What jumps out is the play-calling balance on first downs:

 

2017 first downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

59/41        51.1/48.9 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.1             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

59.3          68.2

 

The Chiefs had the advantage of a more accurate quarterback (Alex Smith) than the Bears (Trubisky). Coaches are stressing accuracy along with ball security, and improving Trubisky’s accuracy is axiomatic for success in Nagy’s scheme, which is based on the West Coast foundation of high completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game.

Notably, in true West Coast tradition, with the Reid/Nagy offenses forcing defenses to spread horizontally the Chiefs rushed for a half-yard more than the Bears on first downs.

More notably perhaps, the Chiefs exploited those higher-percentage positive first-down plays, which meant shorter yardage needs on second downs, with more passing, not less. And when the Chiefs did run, they were just as successful per carry.

 

2017 second downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

48/52        40.8/59.2 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.0             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

62.6          72.7

 

West Coast systems typically operate with more drag routes, quick slants and square-in’s, requiring receivers to run precise routes and have the ability to create separation quickly as Trubisky sets up quickly and looks to throw on time.

The “on time” component is critical, because it the timing of breaks and routes are connected to footwork – Trubisky’s – in that the ball is expected to be coming out when he hits the third or fifth step of his drop. The quarterback is not going to sit waiting for a receiver to come open, as in some other programs.

“It's a wide open attack and it's a great offense because there are so many options within it,” Trubisky said. “We know our job and it all comes down to execution for us. There are so many options I can't even begin to say where it starts but Coach Nagy has brought in a great plan.

“I think the system fits the players we have. In particular I feel like it really fits my skill set with the RPO's, the quick game, stretching the ball down the field and then with the running backs we have just pounding it inside and continuously trying to establish the run game each and every game. I just feel like we've got a lot of options, can be really dynamic and on top of that how we understand it and how the coaches have taught it to us since day one is just going to allow us to play faster and execute the plays at a higher rate.”

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

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USA Today

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

The Chicago Bears haven't enjoyed many wins over the last several years, but that hasn't done anything to hurt the franchise's bottom line.

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Bears rank 17th among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world for 2018. The franchise is valued at $2.85 billion.

17. Chicago Bears

Value: $2.85 billion

1-year change: 6%

Operating income: $114 million

Owner: McCaskey family

Chicago is seventh among NFL teams in the top-17, with Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Washingon, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams) all having higher valuations.

It's no surprise the Bears are this valuable, even without a winning product. They play in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet. And just imagine what will happen to the club's price tag if Mitch Trubisky and the new-look roster actually start winning games.