Chuck Pagano

Bears, Chuck Pagano thrilled about 'great competitions' forming in secondary

Bears, Chuck Pagano thrilled about 'great competitions' forming in secondary

Right now, the Bears know they have a good amount of depth in their secondary. After that is when things get uncertain. 

Between now and September 13th, the Bears have to figure out who's going to start next to Eddie Jackson, who's going to start across from Kyle Fuller, and who's going to fill in when (or if, but, you know) that first soft-tissue injury pops up. Depth and quality are by no means synonymous, but there's a lot of optimism inside Halas Hall that 2020's group of DBs are a special unit. 

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"We've got a safety situation where we've got great competition back there," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said during a call with media on Thursday afternoon. "We've got it at corner. For that matter, we always talk about, it's young guys' jobs to come in here and take old guys' jobs and it's old guys' jobs – veteran guys that have jobs – to hold those guys off. There's computation everywhere." 

Still – from the sounds of it, the situation at corner isn't as murky as it's been made to be. Though many expected 2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson to win the CB2 job as a rookie, the odds are stacked pretty heavily against him right now; not only is Johnson still limited coming off shoulder surgery, but Pagano admitted that getting up to speed this quickly, under these circumstances, is a tall task. With vets like Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver, and Artie Burns, the Bears feel like they have at least a little bit of time to let Johnson find his rhythm. 

"They are starting behind the 8-ball, so to speak," he said. "Fortunately, we’re pretty deep at that spot ... so the good thing is it’s not like he has to come in and he has to be the No. 2 or No. 3 guy right now." 

Behind them is where the real competition is, apparently. Technically Deon Bush is the incumbent, but he's been a special teams guy for the majority of his time in Chicago. The team signed Taushaun Gipson back in April, and conventional wisdom pointed towards Gipson and his 23 career interceptions (Bush: 0) getting the nod. But as Phase 2 of the Bears' ramp-up gets underway, that job's as open as any on the roster. 

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"When we talked to Tashaun about coming, we laid it all out there and we talked to Deon, and we we said, ‘Here’s how it’s going to roll,'" Pagano said. "They’re going to get an equal number of snaps with the 1's and they’re going to have to come in here and compete day after day after day. It’s going to be a little bit different, obviously, with no preseason but we’re going to create the competition and create the situations to where we can do an honest eval on those guys and give them both an opportunity to win that job." 

Bears need to support player protests, and why — and how — they will

Bears need to support player protests, and why — and how — they will

While it’s not clear what the 2020 NFL season will look like — or if one can be played safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic — what is clear is if games are played, players will demonstrate to protest police brutality and racial injustice. 

That might mean taking a knee during the national anthem, as Colin Kaepernick first did in 2016. It might mean raising a fist during the national anthem, as current Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn previously did with the Los Angeles Rams and Miami Dolphins. 

It might mean something different entirely — over in England, player names on jerseys in the Premier League were replaced with “Black Lives Matter” upon the league’s re-start this week. 

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Matt Nagy has been asked multiple times if he’ll support players kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial injustice during the anthem, or just generally demonstrating in some way on gameday. He’s declined to directly offer unequivocal support — as Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans and Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals, among others, have — but it’d be out of character for him to not back his players. 

Nagy, though, has preached unity in relation to protests during the anthem. 

“Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a feeling and we come together and do it united,” Nagy said. “That's just what we believe in.”

To be clear, Nagy said this month there haven’t yet been team-wide discussions about how players hope to continue to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice against the Black community. He’s going to defer to his players to come up with a plan, and then I’d expect him to support whatever that plan is. 

A gameday protest against police brutality and racial injustice should never — ever — cost someone his job again. It’s an indelible stain on the NFL that it did in the first place. 

MORE: Inside Bears' raw, emotional meeting about race in America

But just because Nagy wants unity doesn’t mean every Bears player has to do the same thing, whether it's during the anthem or otherwise. Current defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano preached unity back in 2017, when he was the coach of the Indianapolis Colts and had a number of players kneel — while locking arms with teammates who were not — to protest police brutality and racial injustice during the national anthem. 

“We had a discussion about it and I’m really proud of our guys and I’m proud of our football team,” Pagano said then. “I’m proud of their commitment and their compassion for this game, for the horseshoe, not only on the field but off the field. We wanted to be unified and we talk about us, unity over self all of the time and we wanted to be together on this thing.”

But former Colts cornerback Antonio Cromartie told Bleacher Report last year he felt he was cut in 2016 because he knelt during the national anthem against the wishes of Pagano and the organization. 

“We’re in a team meeting room, and coach Pagano gets up and says, ‘Look, guys, I know you all wanna do something. I don’t want you guys taking a knee,’” Cromartie said. “… He’s like, ‘Well, guys, look. When we go on the football field, it’s about football.”

Cromartie took a knee in Weeks 3 and 4, and was released after Week 4 of the 2016 season. He was 32 at the time and his play had declined, but it’d also be unfair to completely dismiss his claims given how the NFL tacitly banned Kaepernick from the league for his peaceful demonstration against police brutality and racial injustice. 

Pagano, this week, notably said: “We've all done a ton of listening and learning. What I know today compared to what I knew back then, my eyes are opened up, my ears are opened up. I think we're all learning a great deal (with) exactly what was going on and those kind of things.”

MORE: Akiem Hicks on his experience being Black in America

NFL teams — specifically, owners — still have to follow through on actually supporting players who demonstrate on gamedays. Far too many owners have been conspicuously silent over the last few weeks — though Bears chairman George McCaskey did put out one of the league’s stronger statements following the murder of George Floyd, and also filmed a video with ex-Bears linebacker Sam Acho. 

The Bears, too, joined a number of pro sports teams in closing their offices in observation of Juneteenth, and added the celebration of slavery’s end in the United States to their holiday calendar. 

But from McCaskey to Nagy, it does sound like the Bears will support players (like safety Jordan Lucas) who decide to protest in some way before, during or after games. It shouldn’t have taken this long — and it shouldn’t have cost Kaepernick his career — for NFL teams to support peaceful protests, but it does feel like we’ve finally reached the point where doing so won’t jeopardize a player’s career. Hopefully. 

"Just the conversations that we've had that coach has orchestrated and made available to all of us, our players, our coaches, the entire organization, all those kinds of things — whatever comes to be, our guys know that coach Nagy has their back,” Pagano said. “They've got 100 percent of his support. They know the McCaskeys do, and everybody in that organization, (general manager Ryan Pace), everybody. They've got full support. 

“We're going to do whatever we can do to help this fight and this cause, not let the flames burn out. Do whatever we can do to help.” 

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Bears' Chuck Pagano says team is 'still working with' July 20 return date

Bears' Chuck Pagano says team is 'still working with' July 20 return date

While talking with reporters today, Bears' defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano gave an answer that will unquestionably be music to fans' ears. When asked about when Pagano and the rest of the Bears might report to camp, here's how the coach responded:

I'm pretty sure [July 20] is the date the league has put out for everybody right now. Everybody will handle it differently whether you bring rookies in at that time. That's kind of the date that we're working off of. Coach knows and he's been very open with all of us. That's fluid. So the league is working through a ton of stuff themselves with protocol and how it's actually gonna look. I don't think anybody really knows. And so just like we adapted on March 12 or March 13 when they walked in and said 'hey, download your computers, load up your office, take what you need, and we're going to send you home and we'll let you know when you can come back.' I don't think anybody anticipated  it would be towards the end of July would be the first time you'd get back.

If that's indeed true, and there are no coronavirus-related delays between now and then, that means that Bears camp would open exactly 32 days from today. It'll be the first time since 2002 that camp isn't held at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbannais, though that change was announced even before the NFL mandated that every team has to run their camps at home facilities.