Ray McDonald blame belongs one place, and it’s not with Fangio


Ray McDonald blame belongs one place, and it’s not with Fangio

The Bears organization was hosed down with criticism after the signing of Ray McDonald in March given the defensive tackle’s background that include domestic violence incidents. The ridicule went super-nova in May when McDonald was involved in another episode, whereupon the Bears released him.

At the time of the signing, Chairman George McCaskey detailed the vetting process. The decision was made to give McDonald another chance, which he squandered.

The decision also was made with considerable weight given to the positive recommendation of Vic Fangio, now the Bears’ defensive coordinator but previously McDonald’s coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. Fangio effective vouched for McDonald.

On Friday, Fangio confirmed that he’d made the recommendation, didn’t second-guess himself for the simple reason that it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

“Obviously I was disappointed, for everybody involved: Ray, us, the people on the other side out there in California,” Fangio said. “I don't regret trying to vouch for him, at the time I believed it was the right thing to do.”

[MORE: Rookie Kevin White getting started a little early]

Fangio showed a trace of irritation at the scalding that McCaskey, GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox took for the second chance: “The only thing that I regret is that because it didn't work out, and the club put their faith in my recommendation, and George and Ryan and John took some hits from you [media] guys and you really should've been hitting me and not them. So that's the only part I regret. Is that the guys above me took the hits for it.”

Since the media was not permitted to speak with Fangio for the last three months – since prior to McDonald’s release – Fangio’s admonishment of the media was mis-directed.

More to a bigger point, Fangio shouldn’t have been hammered any more than the Bears for making a wrong second-chance call. And the very simple fact is that the Bears promptly cut ties with McDonald after the latest incident. Action, reaction.

Second-guessing the organization, Fangio or anyone else is missing that bigger point. Fangio or McCaskey or Pace or Fox didn’t foul up.

That honor belongs to Ray McDonald. Period.

[MORE: Shea McClellin succeeding at a familiar position]

If there was any question how high or where the bar is being set by the John Fox coaching staff, there shouldn’t be after an amusing but very telling comment by Vic Fangio on Friday.

The defensive coordinator had encouraging things to say about young linemen Ego Ferguson and Eddie Goldman, both spending more and more time with the No. 1 defense. But those who knew Fangio from his San Francisco 49ers tenure were very clear that Fangio is nothing if not blunt and forthright, and he proceeded to be just that with his defensive line.

Fangio stated that right now the Bears have only one really good defensive lineman – Jeremiah Ratliff. The problem as Fangio sees it is that the Bears are playing a 3-4, not a 1-5-5 or whatever, so “we need three of them.” Meaning: To Fangio, where Ratliff lines up – the eye test says it will be one of the five-techniques – doesn’t particularly matter big-picture if there aren’t three of him or comparables. As strong as Ferguson and Goldman have been, they’re not “really good,” and that’s what “really good” defenses require.

No false-positives from Fangio. Which makes the very upbeat comments on the play of Shea McClellin carry a strong ring of honest appraisal. And since Fangio, as well as John Fox, have the results to give their critiques ample cred.

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

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Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

As the Bears set their foundation for training camp during OTAs this month, one part of that is beginning to identify each player’s strengths and weaknesses on which to build in Bourbonnais. 

Designing an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths was one of the reasons why Ryan Pace hired Matt Nagy, who then hired Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Easy is the wrong word — but it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bears to not build an offense around their second-picked quarterback. 

But as Nagy and Helfrich are installing that offense during OTAs and, next month, veteran minicamp, they’re also learning what Trubisky’s weaknesses are. And the one Helfrich pointed to, in a way, is a positive. 

“Experience,” Helfrich said. “I think it’s 100 percent experience and just reps, and that’s kind of what I was talking about was knowing why something happened. As a quarterback, he might take the perfect drop and be looking at the right guy in your progression, and that guy runs the wrong route or the left guard busts or something. The defense does something different or wrong, even. And trusting that is just a matter of putting rep on top of rep on top of rep and being confident.”

It'd be a concern if the Bears thought Trubisky lacked the necessary talent to be great, or had a lacking work ethic or bad attitude. Experience isn't something he can control, in a way. 

This isn’t anything new for Trubisky. His lack of experience at North Carolina — he only started 13 games there — was the biggest ding to his draft stock a year ago; while he started a dozen games for the Bears in 2017, the offense was simple and conservative, designed to minimize risk for Trubisky (and, to be fair, a sub-optimal group of weapons around him). 

But even if Trubisky started all 16 games in an innovative, aggressive offense last year, he’d still be experiencing plenty of things for the first time. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made this point back in September that still resonates now with regard to Trubisky:

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks,” Roethlisberger said. “In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

So the challenge for Nagy and Helfrich is to build an offense that accentuates Trubisky’s strengths while managing his lack of experience. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles succeeded in those efforts last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

For Helfrich, though, one of Trubisky’s strengths — his leadership qualities — are already helping mitigate his need for more experience. 

“He’s still in the mode of learning and doing things out here,” Helfrich said. “We might have run one play 10 times against 10 different defenses, you know? And so his response to every one of those 10 things is brand new. And so, you see his reaction to some of those is good. Some of those things you want to improve upon and then keep your chest up and lead because we need that.”

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.”