Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

USA Today

Under Center Podcast: Is Matt Nagy right to rest his starters in preseason games?

J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin and Cam Ellis to debate whether or not Mitchell Trubisky, and the rest of the Bears starters, need preseason reps to fully prepare for Week 1. Plus, the guys share their latest thoughts on Eddy Pineiro and the kicking situation.

00:40 - Moon doesn't think everything adds up with Matt Nagy holding Trubisky out of preseason games

03:20 - Highlights from Matt Nagy's Wednesday press conference on the growing trend of coaches sitting starters in the preseason

05:45 - Cam understands why coaches don't want to risk injury in the preseason, but also thinks something else may be afoot with Nagy sitting Trubisky

08:10 - Is joint practice the future of preseason football?

14:00 - Can teams really get the same quality of work done in practice as they can in a preseason game?

19:50 - Talking about Kalyn Kahler's Sports Illustrated article that gave an inside look to the Bears' kicking competition from rookie minicamp

21:20 - Moon says that the Bears are actually in a worse position now, than they were last year with Cody Parkey

23:15 - Did the Bears do future kickers a disservice by fixating on 43-yard kicks?

24:50 - All the guys are excited for Olin Kreutz to join Football Aftershow this season

Listen here on in the embedded player below. 

Under Center Podcast


Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Bears sitting QB Mitch Trubisky through preseason doesn’t make complete sense. At all.

Something jus don’ feel right about this Bears not playing Mitchell Trubisky in preseason… . Jus’ don’ feel right.

It’s not so much the starters; coaches Matt Nagy and Frank Reich texted this week and agreed that they weren’t playing their starters, although it was apparently more a case of Reich following Nagy’s no-starters lead. Whatever.

No, it’s about Trubisky. Because so much of the 2019 Bears and beyond is absolutely still about Trubisky, for whom his coach has been a public cheerleader but who said before training camp that the focus was on ball security, then has had practices speckled with anything but. Whether Nagy is in fact entirely pleased with his young quarterback is between them – not every tick of information says that Nagy is – and the coach is protecting his quarterback at least verbally, again, that’s between them. But it’s preseason and practice, so leave it at that for the time being.

But the situation is difficult to understand, for more than a few reasons.

Nagy’s NFL roots are of the Andy Reid tree. While Nagy was a member of Reid’s staff in Philadelphia, the Eagles in third preseason games started Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick – all on their ways to starting game one’s. In his five years with Kansas City, Nagy was part of the Reid offensive staff that started Alex Smith in every game three, on through 2017 when Smith played 44 (63 percent) of the Chiefs’ 68 snaps in a game three vs. Minnesota.

Nagy isn’t Reid and he doesn’t do or remotely need to do everything Reid did/does, including playing starters, particularly his quarterback, “just because that’s where our team’s at,” Nagy said after the New York Giants game. “Coach [Reid] has his way and I think coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then I’m not coach Reid. I’ve learned from him and I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and our situation, I need to do what’s best for us and just feel like that’s where it’s at. September 5th is an important day for us.”

Ok. Seems to make sense philosophically. Seems to… .

But NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes needs to play (game three last preseason, game two already this year), mentored by Reid, and Trubisky doesn’t? Houston’s Deshaun Watson needed to play the ’18 game three/’19 game two combo, and Trubisky doesn’t? Six-time Pro Bowl’er Russell Wilson and his Seattle Super Bowl ring needed to, but Trubisky didn’t?

Preseason as it is currently constituted needs to go away and probably will at some point. Joint practices are exponentially more preferred both for quality of work starters-vs.-starters and managing player utilization. But right now, preseason is the hand the NFL has dealt its players and coaches.

One vein of thinking is that teams that don’t expend starters in preseason leave more in their tanks at year end, and there may be something to that. Not much, however: Nagy holding his 1’s out virtually of the 2018 preseason doesn’t support that argument.

The Bears finished anything but strong last season. The two playoff teams that the Bears faced over their final 11 games held the Nagy offense to 15 points, including the Eagles and close coaching friend Doug Pederson. It doesn’t necessarily foreshadow or suggest that good teams were beginning to figure Nagy and Trubisky out as the season wound down, but it’s been hinted at in this space previously. In any case, the Bears weren’t in demonstrably, meaningfully better shape down the stretch.

The health thing is a very valid concern; it is with every player, starter or No. 90. Linebacker Leonard Floyd played a chunk of ’18 in a hand cast and then a brace because of a preseason injury, and tight end Adam Shaheen went on IR for much of the year with a lower-leg injury in preseason game two (although Shaheen ended his rookie/2017 season on IR with a chest injury, too).

But tracing the Bears’ exceptional collective good health of 2018 to keeping most of the starters out of preseason will take more than one season to trust as cause-effect.

The fact is that the Bears lost three of their first six games, only two of which (Seattle, New England) were against teams that eventually reached the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams, whose coach Sean McVay held quarterback Jason Goff out of preseason altogether, were the only other playoff team the Bears faced in Nagy’s first season as a head coach, before meeting Philadelphia in those playoffs.

Nagy may indeed be pleased with Trubisky’s practice work and progress. I don’t believe that. I believe there is a lot of coach-speak in play. I also don’t believe that Nagy is going no-starters to match any “trend” that McVay and some younger coaches represent; Nagy isn’t smarter than Reid, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and others, but he also is not a follower.

But something about sitting a still-forming Trubisky, who needs to prove to his coach and more that he can in fact throw into tight places without interceptions in an actual game setting, for example, even a “practice” game…that just doesn’t make complete sense.

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Matt Nagy doesn't want Eddy Pineiro looking over his shoulder as Bears' kicking competition hits final stretch

Matt Nagy doesn't want Eddy Pineiro looking over his shoulder as Bears' kicking competition hits final stretch

Eddy Pineiro said Sunday he knows he’s on thin ice, even after the Bears made him the only kicker on their roster in waiving Elliott Fry. But coach Matt Nagy doesn’t want him thinking that when he lines up for a field goal in the Bears’ final practices and preseason games. 

It’s a tough balance to strike, especially for a team and region still scarred by the infamous double-doink nearly eight months ago. 

“It’s really easy in Chicago as a head coach of the Chicago Bears, as a fan of the Chicago Bears, as the media (covering) the Chicago Bears, as the team of the Chicago Bears, it’s really easy for us to just destroy every missed kick,” Nagy said. “And I think we have to keep those things in a little perspective and not get too crazy over a missed kick here or there. And so there’s that balance though, right? That’s where we’re at. 

“… Does it matter, or does he think that if he misses a kick he’s out of here, no, he doesn’t think that because I told him just go kick, worry about the next kick, the next play. It’s the same thing I tell Mitchell (Trubisky) after he throws a pick, worry about the next play.”

Nagy said he’s been pleased with how Pineiro has bounced back from missed kicks, and knows those misses will happen. The question is if they’re happening too frequently for Pineiro to make this team, with these last two preseason games looming as critical data points. 

Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have been open about monitoring kicking situations around the league to see if a better kicker than Pineiro could become available. What, for example, Joey Slye does with the Carolina Panthers or Cole Hedlund with the Indianapolis Colts — two kickers the Bears will have scouted in person by the end of the preseason — will carry significant weight against Pineiro’s production with the Bears. 

With 10 days remaining until cuts, it’s unclear if the Bears’ answer to their kicking woes is on their team or is elsewhere around the league. But time is running out, and every make or miss will be even more amplified leading up to Labor Day weekend. 

Nagy said he talked with Pineiro about these last few practices and games, and while he wouldn’t divulge what those conversations entailed, it sounded as if the second-year coach wanted to convey support for the only kicker on his roster. 

“I have his back,” Nagy said. “And confidence is big for any position. I don’t want Eddy thinking that every missed kicked that he makes, uh oh, they’re looking for somebody else, etc. Just go out there and just kick.”

Grizzly Details

Sports Illustrated’s Kayln Kahler published a detailed story about the Bears’ kicking competition to date, with plenty of interesting anecdotes (and pictures) from rookie minicamp’s nine-kicker sideshow. Give it a read here if you haven’t already

Nagy said he hadn’t seen the article, which didn’t paint the Bears’ search for a kicker in an particularly positive light. At least one kicker questioned the role of Jamie Kohl — the kicking coach brought in as a consultant — in the process, while the Bears’ use of advanced tracking devices raised some eyebrows, too:

“Why does [mph] even matter?” asks one kicker, who requested anonymity for fear of hurting his chances to latch on with another team. “If it’s going in, it’s going in. I think they are overanalyzing it. Find a kicker, bring him in. If he does well, keep him going. If he cracks, then let him go.”

Nagy, though, said he felt like the Bears’ search for a kicker has been a positive in that the team committed to “turn over every stone” to discover Parkey’s replacement. Still, after Fry was released on Sunday, none of the nine kickers present at rookie minicamp remained on the roster (the Bears acquired Pineiro shortly after that weekend). 

“Whatever competition you’re in, when there’s a bunch of people and you either stay or go, you’re working through some adversity and you’re showing what you can do,” Nagy said. “Whoever of those kickers that were here, we had a reason for bringing them in, and a reason for not keeping them. It’s nothing personal – it’s just what we saw. 

“It’s where we’re at right now, and I just feel like Eddy’s done a great job of being put in situations. And now in preseason, given an opportunity to do well, he’s done well, but how’s he going to do going forward?”

That question, ultimately, will determine if the Bears’ search for a kicker in the wake of Parkey’s double-doink was a positive or a negative. And we won’t begin know the answer to it until the night of Sept. 5.