Bears

Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

Why the Bears defense needs to be healthy, ready when the bell rings

John Fox has yet to win a game as Bears head coach in the month of September. And when the schedule was released a few weeks ago, fans probably didn’t feel it would get much better in 2017.

While the offense adapts to new quarterbacks and receivers trying to learn a new system, the defense (particularly the secondary) will still be in the fresh stages of “getting-to-know-you.” If there’s any unit that needs to be ready (and, especially healthy) at the starting gate, it’s Vic Fangio’s guys. The offenses they’ll face will be powerful, with weapons galore.

To wit:

Sept. 10 vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons were the league’s No. 2 offense last season behind MVP Matt Ryan. The quarterback ranked first in passer rating (117.1), second in touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (4,944) and third in completion percentage (69.9). The NFC Champions also had the receiver with the third-most yards (1,409) in Julio Jones, and the ninth-leading rusher in Devonta Freeman (1,079). He and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,600 yards on the ground

Sept. 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs only ranked 18th in offense a year ago, and the NFL’s second-best rusher from two years ago, Doug Martin, may be out due to a suspension, forcing them to lean on ex-Bear Jacquizz Rodgers. But he still averaged 4.3 yards per rush in Martin’s absence before a season-ending injury. Jameis Winston enters his third season coming off two 4,000-yard passing seasons to begin his career. Mike Evans was a big part of that, especially last season, when he was tied for second in TD catches (12), fourth in yards (1,321) and sixth in receptions (96). But all they’ve done in the offseason is add receivers DeSean Jackson (free agency) and Chris Godwin (third round draftee), and All-American tight end O.J. Howard (19th overall draft pick).

Sept. 24 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

A week later, it’s back home against the Steelers and their seventh-ranked offense from a year ago. Ben Roethlisberger tied for sixth in touchdown passes (29) and ranked 11th in passer rating. Main target Antonio Brown was second in the NFL with 106 catches, tied for second with a dozen TD catches and was fifth in receiving yards (1,384). Not to be outdone, Le'Veon Bell ranked fifth with 1,268 rushing yards. Second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster is insurance if Martavis Bryant can’t stay off the suspended list.

Sept. 28 at Green Bay Packers

So four days after the black and gold on the lakefront it’s the green and gold up the road at Lambeau. Do we really need to go there? Well, if you want: the No. 8 offense featured the quarterback who led the league in touchdown passes (40) and finished fourth in passing yards and passer rating (4,428 and 104.2, respectively), not to mention the fact Aaron Rodgers almost always finds a way to beat the Bears. They may need to turn to fourth round rookie Jamaal Williams to run the ball, but remember how ex-wideout Ty Montgomery had no problem facing the Bears (with a 5.9 yard rushing average for the season). Then there’s Jordy Nelson, first in touchdown catches (14), fifth in receptions (97) and sixth in yards (1,257). Davante Adams’ 12 touchdown catches tied for second with Evans, as he and Randall Cobb combined for 135 receptions. Oh, and they signed former Bear Martellus Bennett to fill a “need” at tight end.

If the defense can keep the games close (a big “if”), there’s no doubt the offense will lean on Jordan Howard. Against the run a year ago, Atlanta ranked 17th, Tampa Bay 22nd, Pittsburgh 13th, and Green Bay eighth.

Postcards from Camp: Bears Matt Nagy understands what coaching interns are going through

Postcards from Camp: Bears Matt Nagy understands what coaching interns are going through

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Dear Stacey –

Well, I wanted to be head coach of the Chicago Bears and here I am, in charge of my first training camp, worrying about everything from Mitch Trubisky’s RPO footwork to whether Kyle Long is going to fall off his bike sometime in the course of camp. Probably don’t need to worry about Kyle – he’s always so safe about everything, and it’s not like he’s had all kinds of surgeries or anyth-- ….oh, wait, nevermind…

Besides all of that, we’ve got six coaches here as part of the Bill Walsh diversity coaching fellowship. They’re seeing how we do things and helping us out, and this is special. Remember back in Philadelphia when Andy Reid brought me into this profession through that program? Now it’s 11 years later and here I am, and this really represents a little pay-it-forward for me – I can understand where these coaches are because that was me once upon a time. Somebody gave each one of us a break that helped us along the way so our staff is more than delighted to have these fellows here.

Everybody was really pleased that some of our top vets – Mitch Trubisky, Allen Robinson, Chase Daniel, others – came down to camp early when the rookies reported. The coaches didn’t order that, and it says something about what you hope is forming inside the locker room. The young guys see the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 1 wide receiver coming in early and it sets both a standard and an example. When your best players are your hardest workers, then you’ve really got some leadership.

The pads’ll be on tomorrow (Saturday) so we’ll start seeing hitting by the fronts on both sides of the football, which takes the speed of everything up a notch. I’m going to pay close attention to how everyone is performing but also to how they’re holding up physically – circumstances set up beautifully for us, with an extra minicamp because I’m a new coach, then an extra practice week to go with the extra game Aug. 2 for the Hall of Fame.

Hope you and the boys are getting all the Chicago arrangements in place. Now, if I can just find my sunblock before practice…

Your coach husband,

Matt

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In search of an empty sick bay

After the obvious workload entailed in installing a new offensive system and coaching regime, Matt Nagy’s No. 1 concern is injury, which has plagued the Bears on an annual basis since the 2012 departure of Lovie Smith. So while Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt once made no secret of their approach using epically physical practices as a means of culling the roster, Nagy has laid out a balancing act between physical practices and knowing when to back off.

“The biggest thing that any coach in the NFL will tell you is that you want to come out healthy,” Nagy said. “That’s a big one. So you have to know where you’re at on that one. You have to have some luck involved in that. There’s some unfortunate injuries and there’s some that happen for certain reasons. Health is the biggest concern for us.”

Sadly, some position competitions and lineup decisions are inevitably dictated by injuries. A season-ending leg injury to Kevin White in 2016 opened a starting job for Cameron Meredith, who’d been the No. 5 wideout on the depth chart. Meredith’s own preseason season-ender made Deonte Thompson a starter. Safety Adrian Amos had fallen from two-year starter to backup by this time last year, and only started again because Quintin Demps suffered a fractured forearm in Week 3.

If there is a major health positive right now, it is that three pivotal starters – linebacker Leonard Floyd, guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Allen Robinson – all approach the start of practices fully cleared. Those represent two Pro Bowl players (Long, Robinson) and one the Bears expect to be (Floyd).

“One of the traits we look for in players is durability and availability,” said GM Ryan Pace. “Leonard is a very talented player with a lot of natural pass rush ability. But in order for him to reach that production, he needs to be on the field. I know he’s worked a lot on his body, he’s worked a lot on his techniques, so we just feel that if he can stay healthy, the production’s going to be there.”

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Weather or not….

Matt Nagy’s first practice as Bears coach came under a cloud – literally – as the threat of rain and thunderstorms had the team waiting until the last minute to determine whether the session would be held on an outdoor field as planned or indoors at a gymnasium on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University.

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The outlook for Roquan Smith when he signs….

Training camp has begun without the presence of No. 1 pick Roquan Smith as his agents and the Bears work out contract details. Few expect a protracted impasse and Smith’s development may be delayed but unlikely denied. Smith had been cycled in with the No. 1 defense, as were a number of the top newcomers to the ’18 Bears. That process is expected to resume whenever Smith’s deal is concluded.

Extended holdouts are never positive, for either side, but are not necessarily career-impacting. Quarterback Cade McNown missed the initial 11 days of his first (1999) training camp, eventually started, but whether because of shoulder injuries or talent shortcomings, or both, never played to his status as the 11th-overall pick. Cedric Benson’s rookie season (2005) was dramatically undermined by his 36-day holdout, but he had two more seasons after that and needed a move to Cincinnati where he averaged more than 1,000 yards over four Bengals seasons.

Defensive end Joey Bosa missed the first four weeks of the Chargers’ 2016 camp, then missed four weeks with a hamstring injury, but came off of that to be named defensive rookie of the month for October and finish with 10.5 sacks and defensive rookie of the year honors.

 

Training Camp Daily: Maintaining the balance between physicality and health

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USA TODAY

Training Camp Daily: Maintaining the balance between physicality and health

It is Day 1 of practice in Bourbonnais. Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin and producer Paul Aspan discuss how Matt Nagy's desire for a physical camp reconciles with the No. 1 goal of all training camps: stay healthy.

Plus, why there are only two real questions for the Bears in this camp - and they both involve QBs. And Akiem Hicks is one of the best Chicago free agent signings ever...but let's slow down with the Legion of Boom comparisons in the secondary.

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