Bears

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a minor foot injury suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

Could the Bears have done more to help their offensive line in loss to the Packers?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mitch Trubisky finished the Bears’ season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers with his second-highest passing yards total of the season (334). The obvious and obligatory caveat: he reached that total on 53 attempts, good for a meager 6.3 yards per attempt.

That point has been central the popular laments of Trubisky and the Bears offense. When things tighten up and the pocket constricts — as happened early and often against a boisterous Packers pass rush on Sunday — Trubisky is often prone to shoddy footwork, erratic backfoot throws and general checkdownery. 

Those themes pervaded Sunday’s game. Kenny Clark, specifically, feasted, notching two sacks on the afternoon and seemingly disrupting every rush the Bears attempted between the tackles. Trubisky completed 29 of his 53 passes, good for a 54.7 completion percentage. 

“I felt like they were pretty good,” Trubisky said. “They had a really good front.”

The protection around Trubisky was inconsistent all day, but on plays when Trubisky found success, he operated with a clean line-of-sight and space to step up into. According to Trubisky, that’s not a matter of coincidence.

“I felt like our O-line played really well. I thought we could’ve taken more pressure off them moving in the pocket a little more and me getting out,” Trubisky said after the game. “We’ve got to continue to find ways to take pressure off our O-line. With a good rush like that, continue to mix it up, whether it’s with screens, running it, draws — all that kind of stuff helps.

“Could’ve done a lot of stuff, yeah,” Trubisky added, when asked if he thought the team could have done more to help the offensive line.

But he also credited the Packers’ defense for making things difficult on them. Matt Nagy did the same.

“There’s some things they did. We know what some of that is, and that’s just week-to-week how that goes,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to find out how to communicate that. Not every week is going to be like last week running the football. That’s just how it goes.”

Juxtaposing those sentiments seems to illustrate a rift between quarterback and coach, which would explain the stilted, hot-and-cold nature of  the Bears’ 2019 offense. As the team now turns the page towards the final chapter of a largely forgettable season, the interplay between Trubisky and Nagy is worth monitoring — even without potential postseason contention to fixate on. 

After all, regardless of your thoughts on either, the most likely scenario for the Bears’ 2020 season involves each of them again dictating the fates. As for today, though, the feeling of wanting more stings.

But it wasn’t an entirely discouraging outing for Trubisky. Embedded in a 13-point team performance that fell woefully short of keeping the Bears’ season alive were the flashes we’ve come to expect from him — flashes that make you wonder if, in the right situations, Trubisky could be capable of helming a potent NFL offense. 

One sequence stands out in this respect: Late in the second quarter, with the Bears trailing 7-0, Trubisky sold a play-action fake and grooved a 33-yard pass to Anthony Miller in stride, taking the Bears down to the Packers’ 28-yard line. The team rushed to the line, then Trubisky ran a timely RPO keeper, on which a fake to David Montgomery opened enough space for Trubisky to scramble for nine yards and into the red zone. 

To that point in the game, the Bears had not run the ball effectively (after the first quarter, Montgomery and Tarik Cohen had combined for -2 yards on five rush attempts). But they’d done enough establishing the run to open up some inventive actions for Trubisky, actions that allowed him to utilize his most valuable asset: his feet. 

Two of Trubisky’s other most dazzling throws of the day — one an across-the-body sling to Riley Ridley to convert a 3rd-and-5 early in the second quarter, and a play-action rope down the sideline to Allen Robinson in the third — both featured a moving pocket. 

It’s no secret he and the Bears offense are at their best and most unpredictable when he’s free and loose.

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Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

Bears' WR tandem shows elite upside despite Week 15 loss to Packers

The Bears' Week 15 loss to the Packers brings to an end any far-fetched hope that Chicago would complete a miraculous late-season turnaround and sneak into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team. And while there's still a chance the Bears can finish 2019 above .500, the theme of this year will be disappointment.

There will be plenty of time to nitpick the 2019 Bears and identify what went wrong to derail a club with Super Bowl aspirations over the summer. For now, though, it's worth pointing out a positive development from Sunday's loss that advanced a recent trend of production in Chicago's passing game.

Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller each eclipsed 100 receiving yards against the Packers and continued to provide the Bears with a look at what could emerge as one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL next season.

Miller caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown while Robinson secured seven catches for 125 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky targeted the duo a total of 29 times in the game.

"We are just trying to make plays," Robinson said Sunday after the game. "Anthony Miller is a very competitive dude. He makes plays when he gets his chance. So for me I am just trying to do the same thing; make plays and give our offense a shot to move the ball and score some touchdowns.”

Robinson's big afternoon brings his season totals to 83 catches, 1,023 yards and seven scores. It's the first time A-Rob has gone over 1,000 receiving yards since his breakout 1,400-yard season in 2015.

Miller, who was an afterthought in the passing offense for the first month of the season, now has career-highs in receptions (50) and yards (649). He's averaged 86 receiving yards per game over the last five weeks.

Trubisky's stat line has benefited quite a bit from Miller's recent surge, too. He's averaging 298 passing yards per game over the last four weeks, which spread across an entire season would total more than 4,700 yards.

It's OK to be frustrated with how 2019 turned out for the Bears. The season got off to an unbearably slow start and didn't come anywhere near the lofty expectations fans had when training camp broke. But it's become very clear over the last several games that the Bears have a strong foundation for an explosive passing game in place with Robinson and Miller.

The goal in 2020 should be to make sure the explosive duo is unleashed much sooner in the season.

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