The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.
Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.
But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)
So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”
Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.
Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”
Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”
Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:
First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.
The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.
What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.
What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.
The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.
Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).
And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.
“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.
“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”