Bears

Some Bears carrying 'The Chip' that makes holding a grudge a good thing

Some Bears carrying 'The Chip' that makes holding a grudge a good thing

Almost without exception and not expressly by design, the Bears this offseason have brought in a succession of free agents from teams with a history of success: Arizona (Ted Larsen, Bobby Massie), Denver (Danny Trevathan), Indianapolis (Jerrell Freeman), New England (Akiem Hicks), among others.

But while playoff appearances were only incidental, football character has been a decidedly prominent target in the search process, and in no small part, that character has centered around the driving motivations inside players who felt overlooked or slighted as far back as their draft years. Using slights as motivation is time-honored, and multiple Bears are carrying an inner grudge that they are translating into something positive: Don’t get bitter; get better.

Put another way: The players have the requisite pads on their shoulders, and underneath those, some giant chips on those shoulders.

“I see a lot of guys with that chip on their shoulder,” said linebacker Willie Young, himself a former seventh-round draft choice by Detroit and who has never felt secure in the NFL. “My biggest thing and it kind of goes back to what I said about Day 1 in Detroit. Regardless of what … I had to figure out how to survive with what I was given. You come into the league as a seventh-round draft pick, you’re expecting to be nothing but a practice-squad guy.

“But I never heard that. I never paid that no mind. I continued to live life on the edge — playin’ ball on the edge, take my chances… . Every day … it’s a jungle out there, man. I’ve never had a break. I don’t expect to get a break.”

Young paused. “I’m always working. I’m always working.”

Trevathan comes from Denver with a Super Bowl ring and two Super Bowl appearances in the last three years, but also with an edge from falling to the sixth round in his (2012) draft.

“I feel like, that you know a lot of people doubt them or some guys were hurt last year or this and that, but you know they're playing like they're hungry, with a chip on their shoulder,” Trevathan said. “They're playing like they're hungry and that's what I'm used to and that's where you need to start.”

It is not an emotional burn to take lightly, even among greats.

Michael Jordan used doubters as fuel. Jay Hilgenberg, an undrafted free agent center who went to seven Pro Bowls, knew draft rounds of defensive tackles he had coming up, and the higher the pick, the better.

Hilgenberg never lost the chip. He is not alone in holding a constructive grudge.

“No question, that chip never leaves your shoulder, especially a free agent like I am,” Freeman said. “I know [Trevathan] was a late-round pick… .It’s always going to stay on you. That’s just why we play like we do; just running around, aggressive, just flying around because we have that … I know I have that free-agent mentality. I just feel like I’ll always be a rookie free agent in everybody’s eyes, so I’m out to prove [myself to] everybody.

“I don’t think anybody in the NFL has taken my path: Division III [college], CFL, NFL, being cut. I just have the mentality [that] I just don’t want to go home. I feel like I’m out to prove myself not week-to-week, just every day, in the weight room, training, on the field, My journey has kind of shaped me into who I am.”

The result even in these earliest stages of the run-up to the 2016 is palpable and on the minds of numerous veteran players, not to mention perhaps rookies like running back Jordan Howard (fifth round) who would like nothing better than to show opponents that passing over them was a mistake.

“I can definitely see a chip on a lot of guys,” Young reiterated. “Seems like there are a lot of similarities.”

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

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USA TODAY

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:

 

On the Bears’ season as a whole:

 

“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”

 

On Mitch Trubisky:

 

“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”

 

On Tarik Cohen’s usage:

 

“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.

 

“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”

 

On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:

 

“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”

 

On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:

 

“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.

 

“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”

 

On Matt Nagy:

 

“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.

 

“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.

 

“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”

 

While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:

 

“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”

 

One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.

 

The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.

 

But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: