Bears

Will Bears fans finally get to see another side of Jay Cutler in his new role as FOX broadcaster?

Will Bears fans finally get to see another side of Jay Cutler in his new role as FOX broadcaster?

Well, that escalated quickly.

Just a day or so after word got out that former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had auditioned to become an NFL game analyst for FOX came the announcement Friday morning he'd been hired and will pair with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis as one of their broadcasting teams.

And look for Cutler around Halas Hall, and the Bears, again this season.

While Burkhardt and Davis are respected, solid and do a fine job, that threesome with Cutler likely won't be high on the pecking order for marquee games each week, and the Bears — not being one of those must-see teams nationally right now — have 11 games on FOX this season.

Just as the media here would have loved to have been a fly on the wall wherever Cutler was over his eight years at Halas Hall, how interesting will those Friday and Saturday production meetings with John Fox and Mike Glennon be? And how will Cutler handle any mistake from Fox, Glennon or the Bears in general during games? Or maybe he'll turn that over to Davis? Any tension will be broken quickly, as Cutler & Co. are scheduled to call the Bears' third preseason game, against the Tennessee Titans, during a national broadcast Aug. 27.

As JJ Stankevitz, Scott Krinch and I discussed on our latest Bears Talk Podcast (recorded Thursday afternoon before Cutler was officially announced as a new FOX employee), we found it hard to believe Cutler would make the jump this quickly, believing that he'd at least sit tight and wait for the inevitable preseason injuries for an opening around a league that's shut its doors on him so far. Perhaps his surgically repaired shoulder wouldn't have been ready to take the kind of hits he absorbed during his time here.

But Cutler was always an "on my terms" guy with the Chicago media after his splash signing in April 2009. And despite agent "Bus" Cook's public contention on the eve of last week's draft that he didn't see retirement in his client's near future, Cutler probably wanted to operate on his terms here. While not shutting the door on retirement papers in the statement he released through FOX on Friday morning, the guess here is he didn't feel like having to be the guy who gets invited to camp late in an emergency, having to pick up an offense quickly (which he's perfectly capable of doing) and having to still wait his turn for snaps.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

If that's all there's going to be for Cutler's playing career (unless he'd sign with a coach he has a good history with), the final assessment is that he preferred to call his own shots.

During his time here, Cutler was available for a midweek and a postgame press conference during the season. And he'd be a pretty decent listen and share a thing or two if he was asked smart, pointed questions. Eventually, he cooperated with a tolerance for those less inquiring whose knowledge lacked or who'd go in areas he didn't care to address.

Otherwise, he'd be a guest on the team-sponsored radio show once during the season and once for a preseason sitdown interview for the local preseason broadcast. Outside of that, there might be a quick sideline interview once he was lifted in a preseason game and a few one-on-one postgame chats during the year with the radio network's Zach Zaidman. Outside of that, with the exception of a charity event or two along the way, he was allowed his terms, media-wise. That's fine. While I didn't like it, I never personally held it against him for a guy who preferred to limit access. A majority of the guys in any locker room you can just walk up to and chat up after practice without being on record, football topic or not. Cutler made sure, through the team, that wouldn't happen and would barely be seen there during the 45-minute sessions when the media had access three times during a normal week.

It would have been nice, but not necessary, to get to know him better. He was not a "bad" guy. But given the handful of bad looks that cameras caught on the field during games, maybe more exposure could have softened some of that fan and media perception. But the answer to that for him became the running joke that he "didn't care" about those outside opinions.

The scrutiny will be less, the rope a little looser from a smaller number of critics in this new role. There are certain basics and fundamentals in this business, just as there were in the job he's at least temporarily given up. There's no doubt that the first time he criticizes a quarterback's footwork and decision-making, his critics will fire back with a vengeance. He's been a controversial, love-him-or-hate-him player. For publicity purposes, FOX wouldn't mind him creating the same reaction as an analyst. Don't hold your breath on that. But just like his playing days, there's potential there. Let's see how close he reaches it and how far and high he goes.

Bears outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley follows Vic Fangio to Broncos

staley.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Bears outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley follows Vic Fangio to Broncos

One of the Bears defensive assistant coaches is officially following Vic Fangio to his new team.

The Denver Broncos announced outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley will take the same position under his old defensive coordinator.

The Chicago Tribune had reported Staley was not expected to remain in Chicago, and the team evidently allowed him to make a lateral move to continue on with Fangio.

However, it appears Denver wasn’t the only team interested in Staley’s services.

NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero reports that the Green Bay Packers had also requested an interview with the outside linebackers coach, and the Bears denied it.

Staley joined the Bears in 2017 after three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Division-III John Carroll University in Ohio.

He helped coach Khalil Mack to another Pro Bowl season in 2018 while aiding in the development of Leonard Floyd, who the Bears plan to bring back for the optional fifth year on his contract.

Staley is the first defensive assistant coach who has been officially announced as not returning under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Why the Bears believe their offense will be much better in 2019

Why the Bears believe their offense will be much better in 2019

Matt Nagy fidgeted through most of Monday’s 42-minute press conference at Halas Hall, giving off every vibe of a coach deeply frustrated that his team isn’t prepping for the NFC Championship after crashing out of the playoffs eight days prior. 

Even the most positive, easily-sharable quote Nagy gave about the future of his team was done through the guise of being, simply put, pissed off about how a wildly successful 12-4 season ended with a disappointing thud (or double-doink). 

“What I'm most excited about is when we get to OTAs and we get to training camp, I can't even begin to explain how pumped up I am to take what we just put together this past year and fine tune it to our players and our coaches and our scheme,” Nagy said. “And then just get it down to what we think gives us a better opportunity to be much better next year.”

A defense loaded with talent will be good again in 2019, even with a new coordinator. But the best way for the Bears to build on their NFC North title and not only return to the playoffs, but make a legitimate Super Bowl push, will be for Nagy’s offense to make significant strides in Year 2. And just about everyone around Halas Hall has conviction that growth is entirely possible. 

Here’s why:

1. Advanced courses in the spring. 

When the Bears first congregated at Halas Hall last April 3, nobody really knew what to expect from Nagy’s offense — literally. Nagy brought a scheme and language foreign to everyone but backup quarterback Chase Daniel and, to a lesser extent, tight end Trey Burton. 

“We were just trying to figure out the formations and where to get lined up and who was going to be where,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Just real vanilla stuff.”

That was to be expected. But the expectation when Bears players report to Halas Hall in mid-April for 2019’s offseason program — which will consist of workouts, organized team activities and a minicamp — will be they firmly grasp the basics of Nagy’s offense. Maybe a handful of new players will need to get caught up, but it’s not like the whole team will be stuck in Football 101 again. 

“They all know that,” Nagy said. “We're speaking the same lingo.”

OTAs and minicamps carry loads of importance for coaches, even in the seemingly-monotonous nature of non-padded shorts-and-helmets practices in May and June. But if 2018’s offseason program was all about learning a new language and just making sure guys were lining up in the right spots and running the right routes, 2019’s will be about taking that knowledge and using it to begin making the offense more effective. 

And that’s not to say the Bears’ offense didn’t make strides during the season, either. While it wasn’t a straight line of growth from April 3 to Jan. 6, the progress was there, culminating in Trubisky driving the Bears into field goal range with time expiring in a playoff game. 

“From the time OTAs hit with us just learning the formations, just trying to get lined up, to be in this position now to go down with (56) seconds left to get to the 20-yard line, to have a shot in the end zone to give ourselves a shot to win the game, with even an attempt in the end zone,” Robinson said, “I think that says it all in itself.’

2. Progression from Trubisky. 

With the emotions of a playoff loss still raw last week, Nagy delivered an impassioned summation of his quarterback’s play in 2018 in Soldier Field’s press conference room. 

“I was just telling somebody in there, no one, not one person truly knows how far that kid has come this year than me,” Nagy said. “I mean, we're lucky. We're lucky to have him. I'm looking forward to the future. I really am, with him, because the city of Chicago is lucky to have that kid at quarterback.”

Trubisky ranked behind only Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees by ESPN’s total QBR metric, which aims to calculate a quarterback’s contributions to his team winning. But that very much is an outlier: Trubisky ranked 16th in passer rating, 20th in DVOA and 32nd in PFF grading (among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop-backs). He threw an interception on 2.8 percent of his passes, tied for the 10th worst in the NFL.  

“I thought I got better, but I'm just scratching the surface, hopefully,” Trubisky said. “I know this experience, I'm just going to do a lot of self-reflecting and make sure that I get better from this and that it motivates me to become the best player I possibly can.”

The Bears expect the experience Trubisky gained through OTAs, minicamp, training camp, preseason, 14 regular season starts and one playoff game will greatly benefit him as he returns to work at Halas Hall in the spring. Nagy said he saw Trubisky make important improvements with his vision and ability to go through progressions throughout 2018. 

But the next step, Nagy said, will be Trubisky’s ability to focus less on the operation of the offense and more on what an opposing defense is doing to scheme against him, and how to counter that scheme. 

“He knows it all,” Nagy said. “And now he can take that next step of figuring out, okay, here they come. They have got a saw blitz, cover zero, now I know what to do or I know how to check to, protection, all that. That's going to be the big one for him.”

That greater comfort and, as Pace put it, “natural growth” should help Trubisky avoid some of the head-scratching mistakes he made throughout the course of the season, whether it was due to sloppy footwork, mis-reading a defense or trying to do too much. But the emphasis is on “should” there. If it doesn’t, it won’t matter if the Bears’ offense moves on from Football 101 to more advanced lessons in the playbook. 

“To be able to come into this season with new personnel, with new scheme, new everything to be able to handle everything how he handled this year, like I’ve said from Day 1 when I stepped in here, the sky’s the limit for him,” Robinson said. “I truly believe that and I knew he believes that.”

3. Tweaking the ground game

Pace and Nagy are in lock-step on personnel decisions, and at the top of their offseason wish list for the offense will need to be finding a solution to an inconsistent run game. 

Whether or not Jordan Howard will be a part of that solution is the biggest question to answer. Howard seemed to have turned a corner in December, with the third-year back rushing for 399 yards on 88 carries (4.5 yards/attempt) over the final five games of the season. But he managed a paltry 35 yards on 10 carries against the Eagles, reverting back to the meager production that defined his 2018 season. 

The Bears ran play-action on only 20 percent of their plays in 2018 (23rd), while only one team — the Jacksonville Jaguars — averaged fewer yards per play on play action than the Bears’ 5.7. No team had a greater gap between their yards per play average on play action and non-play action plays than the Bears’ minus-1.4-yard difference, per Football Outsiders. 

The Kansas City Chiefs, meanwhile, ran play-action on 27 percent of their plays (7th) and averaged 8.6 yards/play on those (8th). So there’s certainly room for an effective play-action game that could greatly benefit Trubisky within Nagy’s offense — he just wasn’t able to find it in 2018. 

Meanwhile, Howard — cast as a downhill, physical running back — broke tackles on a shade under 10 percent of his touches, per Football Outsiders, slightly lower than the broken tackle rate of wide receiver Anthony Miller. 

This doesn’t mean the Bears are guaranteed to move on from Howard, who is in the final year of his cheap rookie contract. But there has to be an improvement on the ground in 2019, with or without Howard. 

Pace and Nagy kept the door open to explore bringing in Kareem Hunt, the former Kansas City Chiefs star who is on the commissioner’s exempt list after video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman from an incident in February. Allegedly, Hunt also punched a man in a separate incident last June, and was allegedly involved in a violent incident at a nightclub last January as well.  

Undoubtedly, Hunt is a talented player who would make the Bears’ offense better. But Nagy frequently preaches culture and bringing in people with “good, high character,” as he explained as the No. 1 reason that he was interested in hiring Chuck Pagano to replace Vic Fangio. No matter Nagy’s past relationship with Hunt, signing him would be inconsistent with that message, and could be a hard sell to the McCaskey family that stuck its neck out for Ray McDonald in 2015 only to have the defensive end again be arrested for domestic assault. 

The Chiefs found Hunt in the third round of the 2017, draft; that’s the same round in which the Bears’ first pick in 2019 will be. They can find a cheap replacement for Howard there that not only fits Nagy’s offense well, but also wouldn’t risk alienating a portion of the fanbase. 

Or maybe the Bears will absorb the negative press about Hunt and go ahead and be the team that gives him a second chance — because, make no mistake, some team will, even with that disturbing video easily available for anyone to see. Hunt is expected to be suspended for at least six, perhaps more, games once he’s removed from the exempt list. 

Whatever the solution is, though, this is an area of the Bears’ offense that will need to be better in 2019. And whatever the larger solution, is, too, it’ll also heavily involve Tarik Cohen — who only had four touches against the Eagles, which Nagy was asked about on Monday. 

“If you think that I don't want to get Tarik Cohen the ball, then we need to reevaluate where we're at because I don't think you know me too well,” Nagy said.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears and stream the ‘Football Aftershow’ easily on your device.