Making a little sense of Bears ’15 season, culture change


Making a little sense of Bears ’15 season, culture change

Of the Bears’ first 14 games in 2015, fully nine have been against playoff teams. The fact that the Bears were 2-7 in whose games says that they weren’t at that level, but it also says a couple of other things.

One is that they generally won’t be well served in strength-of-schedule tiebreakers in whatever draft order they find themselves after next Sunday’s wrap up at home against Detroit. This weekend concluded with six six-win teams. The fact that the Bears managed their six against from a schedule with so many games against playoff teams, unofficially at this point, suggests that the Bears are one of the stronger teams in that group; hence, higher draft slot.

[RELATED - Bears' victory a late statement but a necessary one looking beyond]

(For record-keeping purposes, the Bears had wins over Green Bay and Kansas City; and losses to Arizona, Denver, Green Bay, Minnesota (twice), Seattle and Washington.)

More important is that while the 5-11 meltdown of 2014 left the locker room and collective psyche in shambles in only Marc Trestman’s second year, the Bears have rarely had total breakdowns.

“We feel it; those [players] feel it,” said coach John Fox. “We’re getting there.”

The Bears played a total of 37 games without core members of their projected No. 1 offense – Martellus Bennett (5), Jay Cutler (1), Matt Forte (3), Alshon Jeffery (6), Eddie Royal (6) and Kevin White (16) – and six different offensive lines in 15 games. So winning six games probably ought to be graded on a little bit of an expectations curve, even if the NFL doesn’t.

But nine wins hasn’t cracked a core group persona: “Playing free and playing with heart and intensity,” said rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, “and at the same time, trust each other – I think that’s who we are, a group that has character. Of course we have some rough patches. But we can play with anybody.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

But Fox’s prime directive taking over as head coach was to reform the culture and the level of football along with it. When defensive end Willie Young stood up Saturday night in the team dinner in St. Petersburg, it was an indicator that the culture reformation was coming from within, not just imposed by Fox. And that is when that culture starts to mean something.

“One of the things you try to create is a ‘player-culture,’” Fox said on Monday. “They’re the guys who play the game. Sure, coaches are part of it. We’ve got systems, schemes, but at the end of the day they have to execute.

“The term ‘TEAM’ – Together Everybody Accomplishes More – and doing it for your teammates and doing it for something bigger than yourself helps create chemistry, an edge, whatever word or label you want to put on it. It’s empowering guys to lead. In my experience with different teams, different championship teams, you had that. Whether it’s been here with the Bears or with teams you’ve experienced or I’ve experienced, it’s something you try to establish. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a minute. I think we’re developing that. We’re not a finished product yet by any means.”

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith helps shear a sheep at Bears community event

Roquan Smith has more sheared sheep than tackles on his stat sheet as a pro football player.

Smith and several other Bears rookies participated in a hands-on community event at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, Illinois on Monday where he assisted farm staff with the sheep's grooming. Smith said it was a first for him despite growing up around animals. 

"It's like on the norm for me though, playing linebacker you're in the trenches," Smith said of the experience.

"Shaving a sheep, I never really envisioned myself doing something like that," Smith said via "I was around animals [growing up], but it was more so cows and goats here and there and dogs and cats. I've petted a sheep before, but never actually flipped one and shaved one."

Bears rookies got up close and personal with more than just sheep.

Smith was selected with the eighth overall pick in April's draft and will assume a starting role opposite Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker this season. Here's to hoping he can wrangle opposing ball-carriers like a sheep waiting to be sheared.

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

USA Today Sports Images

The Bears' defense is ahead of its offense, but Matt Nagy doesn't see that as a problem

Asking players about how the defense is “ahead” of the offense is a yearly right of passage during OTAs, sort of like how every baseball team has about half its players saying they’re in the best shape of their life during spring training. So that Vic Fangio’s defense is ahead of Matt Nagy’s offense right now isn’t surprising, and it's certainly not concerning. 

But Nagy is also working to install his offense right now during OTAs to build a foundation for training camp. So does the defense — the core of which is returning with plenty of experience in Fangio’s system — being ahead of the offense hurt those efforts?

“It’s actually good for us because we’re getting an experienced defense,” Nagy said. “My message to the team on the offensive side is just be patient and don’t get frustrated. They understand that they’re going to play a little bit faster than us right now. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll get back to square one in training camp.”

We’ll have a chance to hear from the Bears’ offensive players following Wednesday’s practice, but for now, the guys on Fangio’s defense have come away impressed with that Nagy’s offense can be. 

“The offense is a lot … just very tough,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They’re moving well. They’re faster. They’re throwing a lot of different looks at us and that’s just Nagy’s offense. If I was a receiver I would love to play in this offense, just because you get to do so many different things and you get so many different plays. It just looks fun over there.”

“They’re moving together, and I like to see that,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re not a bad defense. They’re practicing against us, so they’re getting better every day, and vice versa. It’s a daily grind. It’s going to be tough, but those guys, they got the right pieces. I like what I see out there. When somebody makes a play, they’re gone. Everybody can run over there. It’s the right fit for Mitch, it’s the right fit for the receivers, the running backs.”

Still, for all the praise above, the defense is “winning” more, at least as much as it can without the pads on. But the offense is still having some flashes, even as it collectively learns the terminology, concepts and formations used by Nagy. 

And that leads to a competitive atmosphere at Halas Hall, led by the Bears’ new head coach. 

“He’s an offensive coach and last year coach (John) Fox, I couldn’t really talk stuff to (him) because he’s a defensive coach and it’s like Nagy’s offense so if I get a pick or something, I mean, I like to talk stuff to him,” Amukamara said. “He’ll say something like ‘we’re coming at you 2-0.’ Stuff like that. That just brings out the competition and you always want that in your head coach.”