Bears

Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

From Collins to Caleb. From Campbell to Clausen. Where can the Bears find the next....Josh McCown?

It’s been well-documented by now that Jay Cutler hasn’t played an entire season with the Bears since he arrived in 2009. His backups have thrown five touchdowns and ten interceptions. And Josh McCown has four of those touchdowns.

As another draft passed without the Bears selecting Cutler’s presumed successor, the team reached terms with veteran Brian Hoyer shortly after the seventh round ended.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whatever way I can as the backup quarterback,” Hoyer said after Wednesday’s OTA at Halas Hall. “You’re always one play away, but I’ve also been a backup.”

But he’s also started 22 games the past two seasons, for Cleveland (where Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had the same role in Year 1 of the Manziel Mess) and for Houston last year. He’s a guy who has taken the high road through Browns management’s desire to get the unqualified Johnny Football on the field, to last year’s “Hard Knocks” competition with Ryan Mallett that was there for all the world to see.

And he continues to, despite a solid 2015 (19 touchdowns, seven interceptions) that ended in a disastrous Pick-4 finale at home in the playoffs to Kansas City. When free agency opened a couple of months later, the Texans wasted no time plopping $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) in Brock Osweiler’s lap.

“Look, it was a terrible last game, and that’s what it came down to. But prior to that, I had the best season I ever had, as a starter. So unfortunately, it ended down there but it opened another door for me here and I’m gonna make the most of it.

“In my experience,” Hoyer continued, “the best quarterbacks make those other guys around them better. After being around Tom Brady for almost four years, you see that, and he’s earned it. The right time, the right players, right scheme…I think a lot goes into it, more than just you see on the field.”

That shouldn’t be interpreted as an excuse for what happened against the Chiefs. Brady was a sixth round draft pick, and Hoyer was undrafted out of Michigan State before he backed up one of the best ever for three years. He’ll wear what the stat sheet shows from that game. 

But there are other times in helping guide the Texans back from a 2-5 start where he covered up some blemishes.

“The thing about football, it’s a team sport, moreso on offense than defense. If one guy messes up on offense, it can create a disaster for the whole play. Everything kind of has to fall into place. Obviously, you have to play well, but the guys around you have to play well.”

That’s what he hopes to do should something happen to Cutler. He went 7-6 in 13 starts (12 TDs, 13 interceptions) two years ago with Loggains in Cleveland, where Hoyer grew up. Once this offseason's quarterback merry-go-round stopped spinning, Hoyer felt things would fit well in Chicago.

“Really what it came down to was my relationship with Dowell,” Hoyer explained. “I’ve known Jay through the years as an opposing quarterback, and then his previous relationship with Dowell, he kind of hooked us together. Then the quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, I’ve known him for a long time – he went to my high school. I knew there was a comfortability there from the Midwest. It was close to home and good to get my family back up here. It’s just exciting to be a Bear.”

“He gives you an established backup veteran guy,” Loggains said earlier this month during rookie minicamp, shortly after Hoyer was signed. “There’s competition. We haven’t set a depth chart but it gives us a guy who’s played in the league, has a winning record (15-11) as a starter, so it just creates competition.

The safe guess here is he’ll prevail over David Fales and Matt Blanchard to become Cutler’s main caddy.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whichever way I can as the backup quarterback. You’re always one play away, I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve also been a backup. I’ve started the last two years with two different teams but before that I was backing up Brady, so I have experience with that.  It’s kind of a different role because you have to prepare as a starter without getting the same reps.

“So for me, it’s coming in here, help however I can, whether that’s being ready to go at a moment’s notice, or pushing our defense, giving them a good look on the scout team.  To have familiarity with Dowell and the quarterbacks coach, it just felt like a really good fit.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.