Javon Wims

Bears notes: ‘Lollipop’ turns Vikings into suckers

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USA TODAY

Bears notes: ‘Lollipop’ turns Vikings into suckers

MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears didn’t hold anything back in their offensive playbook in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings, as evidenced by the two-point conversion attempt call dialed up by coach Matt Nagy.

The play — dubbed “Lollipop” — called for cornerback Prince Amukamara to run fake jet motion across the line of scrimmage four times before Mitch Trubisky would drop back to pass, ultimately finding linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in the end zone for a score. The Bears had to burn a timeout to make sure the play was executed correctly — with Amukamara running four, not two, times along the line — but it wound up working to give them an 11-point advantage at a critical point in the game.

“(Amukamara) said he’s the most in shape person on the team,” Trubisky said. “I guess that’s why we used him there. Great distraction, big two-point conversion and heck of a catch by Kwit.”

The play brings the total of Bears defensive players to receive a snap on offense this season to eight: Amukamara, Kwiatkoski, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Bruce Callahan and Eddie Jackson. The Bears, too, ran plays in the regular season called “Willy Wonka,” “Oompa Loompa” and “Lollipop,” in addition to “Santa’s Sleigh,” “Papa Bear Left,” and “Freezer Left.”

“Freezer Left” — Hicks’ touchdown run against the New York Giants — and now “Lollipop” have resulted in defensive players scoring points on offense. Kwiatkoski said he played running back in high school, which would’ve been the last time he had to make a catch like he did in the end zone on Sunday.

“I’m really happy for the dude,” tight end Trey Burton said. “Great catch, back shoulder, and made a really big play for us.”

On a Wim(s)

With Allen Robinson inactive due to a ribs injury, and Anthony Miller (shoulder) and Taylor Gabriel (ribs) both exiting the game, Javon Wims and Kevin White saw significant action on Sunday. While White only had one catch, it was an impressive 22-yard snag on third down.

Wims, though, played a critical role in the Bears’ 16-play, 75-yard scoring drive that chewed up more than nine minutes of clock in the third and fourth quarter. His tough nine-yard snag on third and seven from the Vikings’ 17 set up Tarik Cohen’s touchdown, which after “Lollipop” put the Bears up by 11.

“There’s a reason he’s not on (the practice squad), because someone would’ve claimed him immediately,” Burton said.

Wims finished the game with four catches for 32 yards, his first catches and first yards as a pro after being drafted in the seventh round back in April.

“He had four catches on four targets. It shows who we are,” Nagy said. “He’s been having a great season in regards to just being able to learn in practice. You can watch him growing every day. I think that can do so much for him – whether it’s this year or down the road – for his confidence. He’s a great kid; he works hard. The best one of the day was when he caught that third down stop route. That was a big play and he’s got that in him.”

Wims has had to be patient, biding his time while only being active for three games (Buccaneers, Jets, Bills) prior to Sunday. But he took advantage of an opportunity against the Vikings — one that won’t necessarily be there in a week, with Robinson and Gabriel seeming likely to play against the Eagles, though Miller’s status may be up in the air. Still, if the Bears do need Wims in a week, he showed good timing and trust with Trubisky, which could wind up paying off.

“It just shows our depth,” Wims said. “We’re deep at the wide receiver position. Any one of us at any given moment could step in and fill a void for the team.”

Stumping for Nagy

The Bears finishing 2018 with a 12-4 record is a remarkable achievement after going a combined 14-34 over the last three years. Nagy, then, is a favorite to win coach of the year honors — the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, the Colts’ Frank Reich, the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the Chiefs’ Andy Reid will also merit consideration, too.

Depending on who you ask, the coach of the year award likely will come down to Nagy and Reich, both of whom have engineered magnificent turnarounds in Chicago and Indianapolis. But while Nagy won’t campaign for himself, he has a locker room of players who are happy to do the work for him.

“I really hope he’s the coach of the year,” Amukamara said. “I know he’s not thinking about it but we’re thinking about it for him.”

 

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How Javon Wims is handling an uphill battle for playing time

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USA TODAY

How Javon Wims is handling an uphill battle for playing time

It’s been two largely anonymous months since Javon Wims’ impressive preseason, which put him on the radar of plenty of Bears fans. The 2018 seventh-round pick has played only three snaps with the Bears’ offense since, having to work almost exclusively behind the scenes on the scout team receiver during the week at Halas Hall.

The Bears possess a solidified group of five receivers who, if healthy, will be active on gameday: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Josh Bellamy and Kevin White. Robinson and Gabriel are handsomely paid free-agent signings, Miller is a second-round pick, Bellamy is a versatile special teams ace and White is a former first-round pick. That’s created a difficult scenario for Wims to see action on Sundays unless someone’s hurt (and even when Robinson was out last week, Wims only played two snaps).

“I’ve been scrapping my whole life,” Wims said. “I go into everything expecting to get the worse end of the deal. But at the same time, I realize I’m blessed and I’m in a great situation where I can learn from those veteran receivers that we have. It’s just teaching me patience. When my time comes, it’s going to come, and I understand that. And for now, learn as much as I can from these guys and help the defense get ready for Sundays.”

Wims isn’t underselling the scrapping-my-whole-life angle: He had a grand total of one scholarship offer coming out of high school in 2013, and wound up getting injured after not producing much as a freshman at NAIA-level Belhaven University. He eventually wound up at Hinds Junior College in Mississippi, and then made his way to the University of Georgia, where he became Jake Fromm’s favorite target on the Bulldogs’ way to the 2018 College Football Playoff title game. After all that, he was only a seventh-round pick, a designation that hardly guarantees a roster spot.

Wims earned that roster spot with some flashes in the preseason, including a four-catch, 114-yard, one-touchdown game against the Kansas City Chiefs in August. But while that earned him a place on the 53-man roster, it hasn’t earned him playing time — and earning it is an increasingly difficult task as Mitch Trubisky develops chemistry with an overhauled group of pass catchers.

And so Wims hasn’t been active for five of the Bears’ seven games, and when he has been active, he’s hardly been a major factor in the offensive gameplan.

“To any competitor, it makes you — I wouldn’t say it bothers you, but at the same time it makes you want to really get better individually,” Wims said. “I try not to just focus on Sundays, like the end of the tunnel — I just try to focus on the days before Sunday. That’s where I try to challenge myself to get better.”

Gabriel — an undrafted rookie who was able to crack the Cleveland Browns’ receiver rotation back in 2014 — said he’s seen Wims take the right approach to his spot with the Bears.

“People always say just stay prepared and go through practices like you’re about to play, but it’s hard to be in that situation because you look at the depth chart and you look at the people in front of you, you just feel — you know what I mean — you won’t have the opportunity to play,” Gabriel said. “But what I do and what I tell him is just work on something that you should get better at, get more in tune with.

“He’s willing to learn. When you have young dudes like that, it’s kind of hard to get past where you came from. He’s coming from the University of Georgia, so he was the man there. Coming in the NFL, you’re not the man. Sometimes you are, sometimes you’re not, but he has the willingness to learn.”

The Bears liked Wims' size and go-up-and-get-it catching ability coming out of Georgia, but needed to see him improve his route running, specifically, during training camp. Wims did enough to make the team in that regard, and said he’s made strides as a route runner over the last few months.

The challenge, though, is those strides are coming while running scout-team routes — which aren’t always the same routes concepts used in Matt Nagy’s offense. But while that’s a drawback, getting to face Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and/or Bryce Callahan in practice has a benefit for Wims.

“We’re a top-10 defense,” Wims said. “I’m pretty sure I could perform against any defense after that.”

From a larger view, though: That the Bears have the ability to not play Wims every week stands in stark contrast to the group of receivers this team had in 2017. Wims probably would’ve been at least active for every game last year, and probably would’ve been somewhat of a factor in the Bears’ offensive gameplan.

It’s all about the right circumstance. And while that hasn’t shown up for Wims yet, he’s confident it’ll come.

“Patience is the big thing,” Wims said. “Everybody here is filled with talent and potential, and me just zeroing in on my own talent and potential, trying to understand the process and the plan and just being patient, understanding the plan that’s in place for me.”

Final thoughts: Bears’ defense searching for small answers to big plays

Final thoughts: Bears’ defense searching for small answers to big plays

The 2017 Bears defense was one of the NFL’s best at not allowing explosive plays. That hasn’t carried over to 2018. What happened?
 
The answer to the question is simple: The Bears haven’t tackled as well in 2018 as they did in 2017. But the root of the problem is more difficult to discern, especially for a defense that’s been buoyed by continuity and the splash additions of Roquan Smith and Khalil Mack. 
 
“We just gotta get back to it,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “Mental errors, little things, attention to details, things like that effort-wise. But that’s some things that we can control. We just gotta get those negative things out and go back to playing the football we were at the beginning of the year.”
 
The 2017 Bears allowed 27 plays of 25 or more yards, an average of fewer than two explosive gains per game. Only five of those plays resulted in touchdowns, and drilling even further, only two of those touchdown plays were passes (an 88-yarder to Falcons tight end Austin Hooper and a 28-yarder to Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones). 
 
In 2018, the Bears have allowed 17 plays of 25 or more yards through six games, an average of nearly three per week. Five of those 17 have gone for touchdowns, and all five have been passing plays. Worryingly, four of the five big-play touchdowns have come in the fourth quarters of losses to Green Bay and Miami. 
 
“Just misplacement, communication — it could be anything,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “I’m not really looking why it happened, I’m looking to get it fixed and to keep it from going on and on. That’s the thing about the season. I’m glad that we got it early, some different looks, great teams, Tom Brady and those guys came and gave us some stuff that challenged us, and it’s only going to help us through the season and it’s going to make us better. We’re on the right page. There’s no downfall, no let-off in us. We’re just going to keep putting our head down, going to work and getting better.”
 
According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have missed 42 tackles in six games — an average of seven per game. Nineteen of those game against the Miami Dolphins, and the Bears did improve in that regard against the Patriots, with six missed tackles credited to the defense. 
 
The Bears are less concerned with finding the reason for why their previously-sure tackling escaped them in the fourth quarters of losses to the Packers, Dolphins and Patriots and are more concerned with finding a fix for the problem. But an in-season fix to tackling issues may be difficult to come by — working on it in practice isn’t practical, given the contact limitations in those practices. Tackling drills in the controlled setting of practice is another way, as is an emphasis on tackling while watching video, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. 
 
Every defense misses tackles (the Bears did miss 95 last year, a rate of about six per game) but not every missed tackle has to lead to an explosive play. Another concerning thing for the Bears is how many of those explosive plays have featured multiple missed tackles — Josh Gordon’s 55-yard gain Sunday, for example, featured missed tackles by both Jackson and cornerback Prince Amukamara. The Bears had multiple opportunities to bring down Albert Wilson on his 75-yard touchdown in Miami earlier this month, too. 
 
“The one with Josh Gordon was there,” Amukamara said. “It probably could’ve been a 20-yard play, but missed a tackle and it turned into a 55-yarder. And missed tackles was the name of the game against the Dolphins, also. But we’ve been doing a great job of trying to get those reps in practice and we’ve improved (our) tackling from last game to this game. We just gotta keep improving.”
 
There may not be a good explanation for why the Bears’ have had these issues tackling, or why all of a sudden a defense with talent and continuity has allowed a rash of explosive plays. But whatever the reason, it has to get fixed, otherwise the big gains will continue no matter who the quarterback is — Aaron Rodgers, Brock Osweiler, Tom Brady, Sam Darnold, etc.. 
 
“We just get back to — we all can make tackles, we just gotta get back to making tackles,” safety Adrian Amos said. “I don’t think it’s really a formula or anything. We just gotta get back to wrapping up.”
 
Message Received
 
While Kevin White has played more snaps (90) than Josh Bellamy (65), Bellamy has been targeted six times compared to White’s two. The explanation for that disparity, coach Matt Nagy said, is Bellamy is able to play all three of the Bears’ receiver positions, while White is only an “X” receiver. 
 
But beyond the White-Bellamy question, there’s this, too: How does seventh-round rookie Javon Wims crack into an established group of five receivers who will be active on gamedays so long as they’re healthy? 
 
It’s a difficult task for Wims, who impressed during training camp but spends team drills in practice running scout team routes, which aren’t always the ones the Bears’ offense uses. That makes it difficult, but not impossible, for Wims to flash during practice in a way that could get him on the field on Sundays.
 
“It's not easy because of the numbers,” Nagy said. “So what he has to do when he's out there on scout team, he has to use that time to really hone in. If he sees a particular route that's similar to what we do while he runs with the (play) cards, you have to run it like you would in practice. When it comes to playing in our offense and our system, when he does get reps he has to make the most of it. 
 
“That's probably the hardest part for a young guy that's at that line right there of reps, that's the hardest is being able to get the route completed and then on top of it, build trust with your quarterback."
 
The Bilal Bowl is Cancelled
 
The only two professional athletes named Bilal in American sports history play for the Bears and Jets, between defensive tackle Nichols and running back Powell. That is, until this week, when Powell was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury. 
 
Nichols felt bad for Powell, saying he knew about him and  was looking forward to tackling Powell in some Bilal vs. Bilal action. 
 
“I was gonna say a little something to him,” Nichols said. “I was gonna say man, you got a fantastic name.”