Bears

Re-drafting: A Bears tradition GM Ryan Pace must end

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Re-drafting: A Bears tradition GM Ryan Pace must end

Organizations can get themselves into difficulty when they feel forced to re-draft the same positions repeatedly because of injuries or misses on picks. The Bears under new general manager Ryan Pace hope they are not falling into another of those holes, but the incoming staff felt the need for a virtual do-over from the final draft of the Phil Emery administration.

Four of the Bears’ six draft choices were at the same positions addressed in the 2014 draft. Pace and the Bears stayed on point with their draft board but four of six repeat selections cannot be excused to coincidence or grades.

Pace wasn’t aware of the organizational do-over he was transacting. “It was really best player available all the way through,” he reiterated. “That’s how it fell. We knew we had a lot of needs.”

Therein lies the problem.

This is not a good thing. Position players have cycles if they are NFL caliber. If they don’t, the team has to draft or go into free agency for their replacement too soon in the overall cycle. And re-drafting too frequently involves reaching on a pick because it is being made specifically to fill a need.

In his first draft as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace nearly did a re-draft of the 2014 class left by Emery:

2014 (round) 2015 (round)
DT Ego Ferguson (2) DT Eddie Goldman (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey (4) RB Jeremy Langford (4)
S Brock Vereen (4) S Adrian Amos (5)
OT Charles Leno (7) OT Tayo Fabuluje (6)

Emery selected Ferguson and Will Sutton in rounds 2 and 3 last year. Because of either scheme change or performance – Ferguson fits in the 2015 plan, Sutton TBD – Pace and the Bears went into free agency to add defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald in advance of this weekend’s draft.

Despite drafting Shea McClellin at No. 1 in 2012 and Jonathan Bostic at No. 2 and Khaseem Green at No. 4, the Bears needed to go into free agency for Sam Acho, Mason Foster and Pernell McPhee. Even allowing for the switch to a 3-4, this is a significant number of replacements for Bears players drafted in the first four rounds.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

But Pace is necessarily less interested than mistakes of 2014 than with improving the hit quotient for 2015.

“What I’m excited about and what we talk about is there’s a lot of opportunities still going forward,” Pace said.

Dubious do-over history

The Bears were forced to reach for offensive tackles when Jimbo Covert’s career was cut short because of back problems. The real trouble came when they reached in the 1991 first round for Stan Thomas. When Thomas proved to be a bust, the Bears were forced to use a second-round pick on Troy Auzenne 1992. When Auzenne failed to secure left tackle, the Bears used another No. 2 pick in 1994 for tackle Marcus Spears – another bust.

At wide receiver, the Bears used a No. 2 pick in 1987 for wide receiver Ron Morris. The Bears used a No. 1 the next year for Wendell Davis, which should have set them up nicely in the pre-free agency era, but both Davis and Morris were out of football with knee injuries by 1993, when the Bears used the No. 7 pick of the draft for wideout Curtis Conway.

[MORE: Kevin White excited for transition to Chicago, Bears]

The Bears selected safeties in 11 of the 13 drafts from 2002-2014, using picks as high as the second and third rounds. Despite selecting Brock Vereen last year and signing Ryan Mundy last offseason, the Bears made safety a priority in 2015 free agency, signing Antrel Rolle to start, and in the draft, using a fifth-round pick on Adrian Amos from Penn State.

Ideally, Amos helps stop that repeating pattern.

“Some safeties you don’t get to see enough isolated in ‘man’ coverage a lot,” Pace said. “But you do with him. We’re going to start him out at safety and have him there. In different packages he can have different roles but he’s a safety first for us.”

Allen Robinson appears on latest 'Big Guys in a Benz'

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USA TODAY

Allen Robinson appears on latest 'Big Guys in a Benz'

New Bears wideout Allen Robinson appears on the latest episode of 'Big Guys in a Benz' hosted by Anthony Adams. In the episode, Robinson touches on a number of topics from growing up rooting for the Minnesota Vikings despite being from Detroit, his favorite Chicago baseball team and how he went about free agency.

When asked where the Bears were ranked when looking at teams in free agency, Robinson said the Bears were No. 1 on his list.

...especially once they hired coach Nagy, you know, I had been watching his work over the past couple of years and I know it's a system that I would definitely fit into and flourish in. 

As far as growing up a Vikings fan?

Bears fans can forgive Robinson as he grew up idolizing Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss. He went on to explain that once a year for his birthday he would get to go see the Vikings play in Detroit. Things came full-circle for Robinson when he was able to train for four weeks straight with Moss last summer, which Robinson said "took his game to the next level". 

When pressed to choose White Sox or Cubs, Robinson quickly responded "Cubs", making his allegiance to the North Siders known. 

And though the interview didn't touch on Robinson's ACL rehab, it did show how Robinson is quickly endearing himself to Bears fans as he prepares for a bounce-back season. 

What will Matt Nagy's passing offense look like with the Bears?

What will Matt Nagy's passing offense look like with the Bears?

First 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.

Bears coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have initiated a monumental makeover of the Bears’ offense, some effects of which should be evident sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than the quarterback and receiver group project to be noticeably better than the tools at the disposal of John Fox and Dowell Loggains.

But the changes run deeper than personnel.

“We’re going to continue to do some of the things that we did in Kansas City,” Nagy said not long after his hiring, “but we’re also going to grow. We’re going to create our own identity.”

Nothing should suggest that the 2018 Bears will ascend to the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive heights (multiple top-10 statistical rankings, including points (No. 6) and yards (No. 5) per game) in the short term. However, if it takes five years for the Bears to reach those levels, as it did for the Chiefs to do so under Andy Reid, the prospects of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace still being around to see it are problematic. Meaning: Changes will be noticeable immediately.

The complexities of the Nagy/Helfrich iteration of the time-honored West Coast offense are too much to chronicle in one analysis, and they won’t be immediately apparent to the naked eye. For one thing, if civilians could pick it up that easily, it wouldn’t have survived the decades of distinguished defensive coordinators assailing it. Also, if it were that simple, Mitch Trubisky wouldn’t have needed to work as hard at it as he has for some months now. A prime directive in all of this is precisely that the offense is NOT easy to figure out.

For another reason, regardless of how many years he apprenticed under Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Nagy’s offense will be uniquely his, not merely a Reid clone. Reid did not simply run the Bill Walsh playbook; he authored his own edition. Similarly, not all of the clues to the Nagy offense can be found looking at 2017 Chiefs film. Nagy brings a different and expanded offensive scheme to the Bears, with Helfrich in a complementary role.

But the past is often prologue. Nagy’s NFL experience has all been within the parameters of Reid’s framework, and Helfrich has never coached against an NFL defense. So a reasonable expectation is that Nagy and Helfrich build out from a Reid foundation, but customizing it with personal preferences and with an eye toward molding it to the collective skillset of Trubisky and the rest of the offensive components.

To gain a preliminary, superficial understanding of what Nagy’s offense is about, look to Nagy’s past, the West Coast roots that Nagy incorporates in his work.

With his own modifications. As in:

“I think if you compare the old-school West Coast offense, where the three-step [dropback-passing] game was the extension of the run, and they’re looking for the yards after the catch, the ‘YAC’ yards,” Nagy said, “now you look at our offense which is more of the RPO [run-pass-option] stuff. You’re sort of getting the same thing, but now you’re mixing in run and pass on the same play.”

The Walsh influences

At its core, the West Coast offense uses the pass to set up the run, and uses the pass as a device for ball control – something of a departure from recent Bears offenses, although Marc Trestman based much of his scheme around that premise.

Actually the West Coast offense is misnamed and should’ve gone into NFL lore as the “Ohio River offense,” or something reflective of the fact that Bill Walsh formulated many of the concepts while an assistant with the expansion Cincinnati Bengals 50 years ago. Walsh came from the vertical passing game espoused by the Oakland Raiders, his first NFL employer, but was forced in Cincinnati to adapt to the arm limitations of Virgil Carter, who stepped in as starter when strong-armed Greg Cook suffered what was effectively a career-ending arm injury. Walsh exploited the defense horizontally, not simply vertically.

With Trubisky, Nagy won’t be constrained by arm limitations. Trubisky has the deep arm and has speed with Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White.

But like any coach or assistant, Walsh wanted ball control but approached it through the pass, not the run, as explained in his “Controlling the ball with the pass” written in 1979. “To do that.” Walsh wrote, “we have to have versatility – versatility in the action and types of passes thrown by the quarterback.” Nagy subscribes to the notion of ball control using the pass, not solely the run.

Walsh espoused three passing concepts:

• drop-back passes, typically with short drops and quick releases;

• play-action passes, which in Nagy’s scheme can take the form of run-pass-option plays besides the conventional fake handoff on the way to a drop-back;

• and what Walsh termed the “action pass” where the quarterback moves outside to negate a rush, change the trajectory of a throw or shorten the throw to a targeted receiver.

Ex-quarterback Nagy has a full grasp of and appreciation for all three, particularly the action pass, and it begins with his own awareness of history. Within even a brief conversation about his offensive tenets, Nagy brings up one of the great plays in NFL history, one Walsh built into the San Francisco 49ers scheme, one that may have looked like a broken play, but was anything but.

“’The Catch’” was a movement play, ‘Q-8,’” Nagy said, recalling the Joe Montana pass to the late Dwight Clark against the Dallas Cowboys to win the 1981 NFC Championship game. “Montana sprinted out. That’s an old-school West Coast play, and we have that play. That’s a movement play. We do have movements; we don’t live in that world but we want to have that.”

Next: The misunderstood centerpiece position of West Coast offenses, and how all things “timing” are changing.