Bears

Moon: Emery's time is now

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Moon: Emery's time is now

The Bears and the rest of the NFL without exception have swung onto final approach for the draft that is now 2-12 weeks off.

It is the time and reason for which Phil Emery was hired as Bears general manager. This is his time. And for the Bears in their quest to catch the Green Bay Packers and get back ahead of the Detroit Lions, it has to be.

Setting draft positions aside for the moment, the Packers (Aaron Rodgers) and Lions (Matthew Stafford) landed their franchise quarterbacks in drafts. They landed their top receivers (Greg JenningsJordy Nelson; Calvin Johnson) in drafts. They secured their top defensive players (Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh) in drafts.

The Bears didn't have top-four picks but the misses later is why Emery is back in Lake Forest.

Continuity through free agency a first, major positive

Emerys accomplishments in the open market have been considerable. Trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall; adding backup quarterback Jason Campbell and retaining Josh McCown; adding Michael Bush at running back; signing cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite; and with the assorted Blake Costanzo, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special teams and ideally more.

Add to that the re-signings of Kellen Davis, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings and Craig Steltz and the result has been an offseason of several steps forward without any backwards, other than defensive tackle Amobi Okoye leaving for one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

(Consider that one almost by choice. The Bears made an offer in their range for a player they wanted and who wanted to stay but were simply outbid by a team offering more of a starting opportunity.)

A subtly noteworthy backdrop here has been that Emery has followed a course in sync with much of what Jerry Angelo had laid out.

Angelo had targeted San Diegos Vincent Jackson as the first big strike in free agency. Marshalls character issues made him off-limits for Angelo with Sam Hurd and Tank Johnson on the resume, deserved or not.

Campbell was the goal at quarterback along with McCown, Angelos addition. And Hayden had met with the Bears previously but not signed.

The real point, however, is that Emery clearly is in phase with coaches and their needs a major positive. He did not pull into Halas Hall with an agenda and telling coaches what they needed.

And We used our college scouts expertise to work with us on unrestricted free agents, Emery said.

But now...

Emery is generally credited with a significant improvement from the Kansas City Chiefs draft of 2009 before he arrived and those of 2010 and 2011.

He already has put himself and the Bears in apparent better position than the Chiefs were. General manager Scott Pioli arrived in January 2009 but was slow to trust and ran that draft with a skeleton staff. Sources said he was rumored to have simply thrown scouts reports away and gone his own way and Emery was there for 2010.

Emery, as he has done in free agency, has avoided slipping backwards with staff or personnel losses. He worked with many of the scouts when he was with the Bears from 1998-2004; he will not be emulating Piolis first draft year in that area.

Emery, with his own credentials in college scouting, kept the Chicago college-evaluation staff in place. He also undertook a comprehensive program of synchronizing language, standards, expectations and virtually every other aspect of talent appraisal. He had the college scouts evaluate pro tape.

The objective was to ensure that the grading system and descriptions were matched in minds and the Bears system So that I could have a common understanding of where that grade was with the player, Emery said.

We put our coaches through the same process. We met with both groups and formulated the groups of players we had targeted. After the combine, we came back and met for 10 days and went through 400 college prospects.

Now the urgency is taking the steps forward that didnt happen with the Jarron Gilberts, Dan Bazuins, Juaquin Iglesiases and more.

Even though the contracts are small, it has always been the harder side of the personnel job.

Watching players as pros is an easier process because the level of the playing field, Emery said. Whereas in college you have a wide variety of talent prospects are playing against.

Bears preseason notes: Matt Nagy's starter-sitting plan, Javon Wims' roster spot and a peaking Duck

Bears preseason notes: Matt Nagy's starter-sitting plan, Javon Wims' roster spot and a peaking Duck

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Twenty-six Bears starters/key players did not play in Friday’s preseason loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, ranging from guys established as among the best in the league (Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson) to players with more to prove (David Montgomery, Adam Shaheen, Mitch Trubisky). 

Of the eight players who caught a pass, only two have seemingly punched their tickets to the Bears’ 53-man roster (wide receivers Riley Ridley and Javon Wims — more on Wims later). Of the six players who had a rushing attempt, only quarterback Chase Daniel will be comfortable over cut-down weekend. 

And on defense, 25 players recorded at least one tackle but only four look like locks for the Bears’ roster (Nick Kwiatkoski, Sherrick McManis, Deon Bush, Roy Robertson-Harris). 

“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears, and every team is different, and that’s okay,” coach Matt Nagy said. “… We love where we’re at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”

The Bears held a mock game at Halas Hall on Wednesday, one which allowed Nagy to get his starters some situational work in a controlled setting instead of in a less-predictable preseason game. Instead, these preseason games have turned into extended tests for the large group of players fighting to make the Bears’ roster — the Bears’ second-team offense and defense went against the Giants’ first-team defense and offense for a portion of Friday’s game, which’ll be notable as the team evaluates the guys who’ll fill out the back end of their roster. 

Nagy’s preseason approach to his most important players may start catching on around the league, especially as so many teams have hired younger, offensive-minded coaches who haven’t been doing something a certain way for decades. So the next time you'll see Trubisky throw a pass in a game, barring something extremely unexpected, will be Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. 

Even Nagy’s mentor, Andy Reid — one of most progressive, longest-tenured coaches in the NFL — still plays his starters in preseason games. That’s not to say it’s right or wrong. Nagy just doesn’t think that approach makes sense for his team. 

“Coach (Reid) has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid,” Nagy said. “I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation I need to do what’s best for us and I just feel like that’s where it’s at.

“September 5th is an important day for us.”

The Bears lost reserve tackle Rashaad Coward to an elbow injury during Friday’s game, while longtime practice squad safety Jonathon Mincy was looked at for a concussion. Left guard Cody Whitehair, who injured his finger during Wednesday’s practice, was participating in pregame warmups with only that lone finger taped. 

See Montgomery, burns?

Nagy felt himself getting carried away praising Montgomery after the third-round pick’s impressive preseason debut last week against the Carolina Panthers, to the point he later smirked that Montgomery’s seven-yard touchdown run was just “average.” 

Still, the Bears clearly had seen enough of Montgomery after one game. All the things he put on tape at Iowa State — patience, contact balance, tackle breaking, good hands, etc. — showed up against the Panthers. So in addition to Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis, Montgomery wasn’t put into harm’s way against the Giants. The next snap he takes in a game will be Sept. 5, barring a surprise. 

“I would say he’s done a good job in practice,” Nagy said. “We like what we’ve seen.”

Spot locked up for Wims?

As promised, some thoughts on Wims, who led the Bears having caught five of six targets for 64 yards, including an impressive 29-yard snag just before halftime. It was games like this that led the Bears to feel as if they had to keep the 2018 seventh-round pick on their roster last year instead of risking him to waivers in an attempt to sneak him on to the practice squad. With another strong showing on film for the rest of the league to see, the thought here is Wims’ roster spot is all but secure. 

And it’s not like Wims’ good game came out of nowhere — he’s been progressing to a night like this since the start of training camp. Cornerback Prince Amukamara — who got in a tussle with Wims during Tuesday’s practice — said he’s sensed a different gear in Wims since OTAs in spring, combining improved speed with developing route-running skills and the same go-up-and-get-it ability that was all over his college tape at Georgia. 

Wims’ 29-yard reception — after which the Bears clocked the ball with one second left, leading to Eddy Pineiro hitting a short field goal (one he wished he was longer) — was probably the most impressive offensive play of the game. 

“We practice that stuff,” Nagy said. ‘So what they just did with 16 seconds is hard to do and they did it very effectively, so when you look for positives for us, that’s something that I’m going to come away from this weekend and say you guys just rocked it, you did that the right way and we just got three points off of you guys executing what we teach you,”

Marvin Hall can still make the Bears’ roster, and for the second consecutive week broke free downfield for what could’ve been a big-chunk play only to have third-string quarterback Tyler Bray overthrow him. But he had a rough punt return, running backward from his own 19-yard line and, combined with a penalty assessed to sixth-round pick Duke Shelley, dropped the Bears at their own eight-yard line. 

Peaking Duck, and other ups and downs

— Undrafted corner Clifton Duck jumped an Alex Tanney pass at the goal line and dashed 62 yards for the Bears’ most impressive defensive play of the game. Duck is undersized and may not have the speed of Shelley, but his ball skills have consistently shown up during training camp. Those haven’t come out of nowhere, either: No FBS player had more interceptions than Duck from 2016-2018. 

And it’s not just the interceptions that’ve caught Nagy’s eye. His tenacity on the field has been noted, and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets more run with the second-team defense next weekend against the Indianapolis Colts. At the least, he looks like a good practice squad candidate; at best, he could make a push for a roster spot in a crowded group of young reserve corners. 

“He’s done it in practice. I like that,” Nagy said. “I think anybody that has some ball skills, which he does, that is always playing hard, you appreciate that. And I know he makes it difficult for our quarterbacks.”

Read more about Duck here

— It wasn’t as impressive a day for the rest of that aforementioned group of young corners. Shelley missed a tackle on wide receiver Bennie Fowler, allowing the ex-Bears training camp receiver to score a touchdown on the Giants’ opening drive. Shelley also committed that penalty on Hall’s punt return. 

The Bears rotated Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin as their outside corners throughout the game. Franklin had wide receiver T.J. Jones blanketed to force an incompletion in the second quarter, but was then beat by the former Notre Dame receiver for a 15-yard touchdown later in the game. Franklin, the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback, was also beat for a 37-yard gain in the third quarter, though it looked like Giants receiver Da'Mari Scott might’ve pushed off on the play. 

Joseph was beat for a 40-yard gain, though the play was more about the outstanding throw made by sixth overall pick Daniel Jones to wide receiver Cody Latimer. 

— Running back Ryan Nall had a solid 14-yard run to pick up a first down in the first quarter, which undrafted tight end Dax Raymond helped spring with a nice block on the edge. Nall started on offense over seventh-round rookie Kerrith Whyte Jr., though neither were particularly effective on the ground (Nall: seven carries, 23 yards; Whyte: six carries, 10 yards). Nall did catch four passes for 21 yards while. 

— Still, Whyte had the best non-highlight highlight of the game when he housed an Aldrick Rosas’ kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown, only to have it called back due to a holding penalty on Isaiah Irving (if you were watching the TV broadcast — Franklin was initially flagged for the penalty, but it was corrected to be assessed to Irving). While it didn’t count, it put Whyte’s breakaway speed on display. That could be an important point in his favor if the Bears’ roster comes down to keeping four running backs (with Whyte) or seven wide receivers (with Hall). 

— Receiver/running back Taquan Mizzell lost two fumbles in the span of four offensive plays. The most notable part of it: The Metlife Stadium PA system blasting Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" after the first one, and then playing Britney Spears' "Oops...I Did It Again" after the second. Ouch. 

— It didn’t feel like a particularly good game for the Bears’ reserve tight ends. Bradley Sowell was whistled for a false start with the Bears at their own eight-yard line, and he was burned by Giants linebacker Markus Golden for a sack. While Raymond had a good block on Nall’s run, neither he nor fellow undrafted rookie Ian Bunting were noticeable. Neither player was targeted — in fact, not a single Bears tight end received a target on Friday. 

— Two other splash plays on defense: McManis with a perfectly-executed Peanut Punch to force a fumble, and outside linebacker James Vaughters’ strip/sack/recovery, which he returned eight yards to the Giants’ 12-yard line. 

That McManis has been working with the third-team safety pairing shouldn’t be taken as a sign he’s on the roster bubble — he’s a veteran core special teamer who acquitted himself well enough as a slot corner following Bryce Callahan’s season-ending injury last year. 

And Vaughters’ play was notable if only because the Bears’ reserve outside linebackers — him, Irving, Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, Chuck Harris — haven’t flashed much during both practices and games so far this preseason. The Bears may only wind up carrying four outside linebackers (Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, TBD — though Irving has the inside track) if general manager Ryan Pace sticks to the “best 53” approach he’s said he’s taking. 

Bears, Matt Nagy make statement by leaving G Kyle Long off trip to face NY Giants

Bears, Matt Nagy make statement by leaving G Kyle Long off trip to face NY Giants

The reason behind guard Kyle Long not making the New York/Jersey trip with his teammates presumably traces to his confrontations with teammates during two practices over the past week, principally the ugly fight in which he was involved during practice Wednesday night. Whether the full and true details will surface is problematic, though, given coach Matt Nagy’s declared approach of handling certain matters internally, seconded by GM Ryan Pace.

“Really that’s an internal matter for us and we’ll keep that inside,” Pace said during FOX-TV’s “Bears Kickoff” pregame show.

Wherever the matter is kept, the overall played out as a situation in which Nagy was faced with a need to establish definitively where lines are within his program. Coaches who don’t – see: Trestman, Marc – eventually lose control of their team. Nagy is still in the installation phase of his program, and a lack of discipline in any venue portends a lack of it on the field when it matters.

A team leader being disciplined publicly obviously takes it beyond “inside” or “internally.” It also suggests a deeper concern and message – to Long or the team or both – if for no other reason than neither cornerback Prince Amukamara nor receiver Javon Wims, who got into a heated dustup in which punches were thrown at Tuesday’s practice, were effectively suspended from a team activity.

Nagy was visibly unhappy with the Long incident afterwards, in which the veteran offensive lineman ripping the helmet off of Jalen Dalton and hitting the rookie defensive lineman with it several times before hurling the helmet down the field. Long was sent out of practice, which very likely did little to improve his mood and may have started a burn that turned into an attitude that Nagy could not leave unaddressed.

Nagy and the Bears have some precedents for sanctioning Long and for how serious incidents can be.

Kansas City tackle John Tait, whose eventually came to the Bears via free agency, suffered a broken nose, needed 17 stitches to close a head wound, and missed two weeks of the Chiefs’ 2002 training camp when defensive lineman Eddie Freeman got Tait’s helmet off and smashed the offensive lineman over the head with it in a camp fight. Neither player was disciplined, however.

Possibly more in line with the Long situation, tight end Martellus Bennett was fined and suspended for conduct detrimental to the team following a fight in a Bourbonnais practice with then-rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. Bennett became incensed after Fuller knocked him down while attempting to knock the ball out of Bennett’s hands. Bennett body-slammed Fuller, setting off a larger fracas and was sent away from training camp after a volatile meeting with GM Phil Emery.

The suspension lasted a week and cost Bennett an undisclosed amount in fines. No initial word if Long was fined for his conduct.

*                     *                          *

Meaningful takeaways from preseason games are always spotty, particularly with teams like the Bears, who played exactly zero of their offensive and defensive starters on Friday. Teams do little to no scheming, players are substituted extensively and virtually all of the action is from backups, many of whom will not be on the final roster and even the ones who are won’t be prime-time players, barring lineup vacancies caused by injuries.

Still, the Bears 32-13 loss to the New York Giants was cause for a handful of observations:

  • The Chicago defense in the first half alone generated two takeaways (it should have been three but two players attempted to pick up a Giants fumble instead of falling on the football, which New York offensive lineman Nick Gates did). This follows a two-takeaway game against Carolina last week. The two Friday were supplemented by a diving red-zone interception by rookie cornerback Clifton Duck, who returned the INT 62 yards
  • But the No. 2 offense under quarterback Chase Daniel managed just six first downs and 97 total yards for the entire half, and ran just seven plays for minus-19 yards off the takeaways. Three of the plays were sacks of Daniel for a combined minus-25 yards. Not insignificantly from a perspective standpoint, the Giants started many of their No. 1’s, including quarterback Eli Manning, while exactly zero members of the Bears No. 1 units played in this second preseason game.
  • Aspiring defensive back John Franklin III, who’d produced flash plays through this offseason, played himself dangerously close to the edge of the roster. Franklin was beaten for a touchdown pass from Daniel Jones to wide receiver TJ Jones, then allowed a 37-yard completion late in the third quarter.
  • Rookie Kerrith White, who may have punched his ticket for a roster spot, returned the ensuing kickoff 103 yards for an apparent touchdown, only to have it called back for holding by linebacker Isaiah Irving.
  • It was not the only piece of a second straight poor performance by special teams. Whyte returned a second-quarter kickoff 34 yards, only to have it called back because of a holding infraction by running back Ryan Nall.
  • Whyte demonstrated some strong running in tight situations, getting the football across the goal line in the third quarter on a one-yard push, his fourth carry in five snaps to finish the drive following the interception by Duck.