Mitch Trubisky

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

Five things to watch for the Bears in Saturday's preseason meeting with the Broncos

DENVER — Expect the Bears’ starters to play deeper into the first half on Saturday in Denver than they did last week in Cincinnati, but their time on the field will still be relatively brief. The real dress rehearsal for the Bears will be next weekend, when they gameplan for and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 25. 

But Saturday’s game against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium still represents sort of a checkpoint in the buildup to Sept. 9’s season-opening tilt with the Green Bay Packers. It’ll be the last game of the installation phase of the offseason, with coaches turning their focus to gameplanning for the Chiefs next week and then the Packers afterwards. 

There’s still plenty to be learned on Saturday, though. A few things to watch:

1. Will the first-team offense actually produce?

Mitch Trubisky this week bristled at the notion preseason games didn’t matter — “They don’t matter?” he said. “Then why do you guys talk about them so much?” — which fits with the attitude of a guy who was fairly frustrated with his and his teammates’ performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Trubisky wasn’t happy with offense’s sloppy and ineffective play during the two drives he quarterbacked, and wasn’t willing to write it off as “just” a preseason game. 

“No matter what it is, if it’s on the practice field, if I’m in the backyard by myself, if it’s a preseason game, we’re trying to get better and we’re trying to move the football,” Trubisky said. “That’s what great players do. That’s what great teams do. We’re trying to get some momentum and everybody do our job and execute the offense.”

Still, because the Bears aren’t doing much in the way of gameplanning for the Broncos, any production or lack thereof won’t tell us much about the direction in which this offense is headed. More important will be how successful this group is next week against the Chiefs. 

But Trubisky’s competitiveness means he’s not going to let a poor performance slide, even if it’s only for a few series in a game that doesn’t count. He and the Bears hope that translates into some first downs and points on Saturday. 

2. Some notable debuts

Helping Trubisky’s cause will be the 2018 preseason debuts of running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Allen Robinson, as well as running back Tarik Cohen — who only played one snap against Cincinnati — perhaps being used more. 

The Bears’ offense will not be at full strength, with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (foot) and tight end Dion Sims (concussion) still out. But for Trubisky, it’ll be a good opportunity for him to see how all the work he and Robinson put in to develop a chemistry in the last few weeks translates to the field.

“We continue to create that chemistry in practice and my job is just to get the ball to the playmakers,” Trubisky said. “The more playmakers we have on the field, just continue to get them the ball and let them do what they do and we just need to roll as an offense, be on the same page, everyone continue to do their job, lock in and go out there and have fun an execute. It’ll be nice to see those guys with the ball in their hands this weekend.”

3. What about Roquan?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith in full uniform going through pregame warmups, but it would qualify as a minor surprise if he actually played on Saturday. 

The benefit to Smith playing would be working to accelerate his development with an eye on Week 1, even if it’s only for a few snaps. But does the risk of him getting injured outweigh whatever benefit playing him would provide?

It’s a question the Bears surely are debating. But coaches and trainers made sure to not push Smith too hard in this week’s joint practices against the Broncos, and it would be risky to put him in Saturday but tell him to not play at full speed. 

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for Smith to play on Saturday, but more likely would be No. 58 making his preseason debut against the Chiefs with another week of practice under his belt. 

4. Snap decisions

James Daniels felt like he was a little sloppy last week against the Bengals, specifically with his hand placement but more broadly because the intensity of things was increased. 

“I think that’s when my technique gets sloppy is when you’re out there and playing against somebody else, you’re really playing,” Daniels said. 

This week’s joint practices, then, were beneficial for Daniels to focus on keeping his technique sound in a more intense setting. And he had the opportunity to do that all while still playing center, not left guard, where he had been working up until last week. How Bears coaches evaluate Daniels' week of practice — which certainly wasn't perfect — will be important, especially in the context of...

... Cody Whitehair going through a snapping “slump” over the last week or so, starting with that preseason game in Cincinnati. If those low/high snaps crop up again Saturday, and Daniels is able to put in a solid day of work with the second-team offensive line, it may nudge the Bears toward moving Whitehair to guard and inserting the second-round Iowa product into the starting lineup. 

The Bears haven’t considered that move yet, though, and the plan all along has been to keep Whitehair at center. A lot has to happen for that plan to change: If Whitehair can’t consistently get snaps to Trubisky, if Daniels proves he’s one of the team’s best five offensive linemen, and then if Daniels proves he’s a better option at center than Whitehair. So far, the Bears haven’t arrived at any of those conclusions, but Saturday’s game could have a significant impact on what those conclusions wind up being. 

5. Down-the-depth-chart position battles

Plenty of players fighting for a spot on the Week 1 53-man roster will get an extended opportunity to put more good — or bad — things on film on Saturday. 

Near the top of the depth chart, Adam Shaheen will have another opportunity to keep his arrow pointing up at the “Y” tight end spot with Sims still out. Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris will continue their competition for the final starting spot on the defensive line, with Bullard still likely the slight favorite. Nick Kwiatkoski can help his case to hold off Smith with another solid showing in what’s been a solid preseason. 

An all-hands-on-deck competition to be the Bears’ reserve outside corner is developing, and with Prince Amukamara (groin) not practicing this week, everyone from that group will get a chance to help their case of making the Week 1 roster. Marcus Cooper needs to have a better game than he did against Cincinnati, while 2017 practice squad’er Doran Grant should get plenty of opportunities, too. For undrafted rookies Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and John Franklin III, it’s a big opportunity, too, to turn a longshot bid for a roster spot into something more realistic. 

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”

Postcard from Camp: The tests begin in earnest for Roquan Smith

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Postcard from Camp: The tests begin in earnest for Roquan Smith

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Bears aren’t sure when Roquan Smith will make his preseason debut, but anecdotally the eighth overall pick didn’t look overly rusty or anything along those lines during Wednesday’s joint practice with the Denver Broncos at the UCHealth Training Center. 

Surely Smith and his coaches will pick apart some things he did on Wednesday when they watch the film. But Wednesday was Smith’s first padded practice since prior to the College Football Playoff title game, and more than anything, he came away feeling positively about where he stands following his four-week contract holdout. 

“I felt great,” Smith said. “That's the way football is played. That's why I've made my plays in pads. It was great just being back out in pads and getting after it and doing a little poppin’.”

Smith did relay the defensive calls to his teammates and set the front during team drills, though he characterized those responsibilities as “basic linebacker stuff.” Mentally, though, Smith felt sharp and well-prepared for the responsibilities he did have on Wednesday. 

“I remember a lot of the defense,” Smith said. “I had my tablet when I was back in Georgia so I was watching a lot of film and stuff like that. It's not like it's my first time seeing some of the defensive calls.”

From a bigger picture, Wednesday was another step toward Smith winning a starting job. He's win it at some point; that’s why the Bears drafted him eighth overall. 

But how quick he’ll win that job is a legitimate question. Bears coaches need to evaluate what Smith did on Wednesday and have an honest conversation with him about how he feels before determining if they can put more on his plate for Thursday’s practice. This very much is a narrow, daily process. 

Smith could get the nod Week 1, or it could be later than that, depending on how his viewed in comparison to Nick Kwiatkoski. Coach Matt Nagy feels like he, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and inside linebackers coach Glenn Pires have enough time — just barely — to evaluate Smith’s readiness for the Green Bay game. While he may not play in Saturday’s game in Denver, Nagy said he does believe having Smith only participate in one game — which would be next Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs — would be enough to have him ready for the trip to Green Bay. 

“Just knowing who Roquan is and the way he handles his business, you guys all know who he is and how he works,” Nagy said. “He knows it’s going to be a challenge. … We’re right at that line, in my opinion, so we’ll test it out and we’ll see here in the next couple days slash weeks where he’s at.”

High Praise in Denver

A reporter made the observation to Nagy that Mitch Trubisky seemed to be taking a lot of deep shots in Wednesday’s practice. Nagy’s response might as well be the preseason slogan for his team:

“Yeah, that's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who missed practice with a foot injury, caught wind of that quote and excitedly responded on Twitter:

As was been the case in Bourbonnais, the Bears and Trubisky remained as aggressive as ever during Wednesday’s practice even with another team’s players lining up across from them. That collective — Nagy, Mark Helfrich, Dave Ragone, Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray — are still figuring out what this offense can and cannot do with No. 10 as its quarterback. 

How that aggressiveness plays out during next week’s practices leading up to the Kansas City game — for which coaches will put together a true gameplan — will provide a bit of a clue to how this offense will actually operate during the regular season. 

For what it’s worth, Trubisky and the Bears’ offense left an impression on one of the best defensive players in the league on Wednesday. 

“I think the offensive scheme and the players he has around him, he’d be great,” Broncos edge rusher Von Miller said. “He was great last year. He was great in college as well. He’s their franchise quarterback. … He can do a little bit of everything, so you gotta be prepared.”

Calling Trubisky’s 2017 “great” is a stretch, but for what it’s worth, Miller has had to face the Andy Reid version of Nagy’s scheme the last few years, so he may not have been entirely dropping an empty platitude in there.  

More Miller Time

One of the more enjoyable portions of Wednesday's practice was watching the pass-rush drills of the Bears' offensive line against the Broncos' defensive line/edge rushes, and the Broncos' offensive line against the Bears' defensive line/edge rushers. For two teams that've done nothing but hit each other for the last few weeks, this drill had plenty of juice to it. 

For the Bears' pass rushers, it was an opportunity to face an offensive line that had different snap counts and sets, explained outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. Floyd said he was eager to go back and watch the film to see how he did and pick up some tendencies for Thursday's drills. 

On the other field, we got to see Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb rush a few times against the Bears' offensive line, which provided an excellent test for that group. And Miller offered some more praise and an optimistic outlook for the guys he went against, starting with left tackle Charles Leno. 

"He’s been a consistent left tackle for a long time, it doesn’t matter who he plays against," Miller said. "In a great division with a lot of great pass rushers, he’s solid week in and week out. Bobby Massie is solid as well, Kyle Long is solid as well. They’ve got a great offensive line and a great young quarterback. They should be pretty good this year.”

Sick Bay

Gabriel (foot), cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin), tight end Dion Sims (concussion) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (hamstring) notably missed practice. Lynch has been injured since the first practice of training camp, and Nagy admitted on Sunday he had some setbacks but is “back on track and he’ll be ready to go.” 

Quote of the Day

Danny Trevathan returned to Denver for the first time since celebrating his Super Bowl 50 win, and offered this when asked of his favorite memories of playing on the practice fields here:

"Picking off Peyton (Manning)," Trevathan said with a massive grin. "Getting my name yelled out a couple times, who is this guy, who's 59, get him off the field. But just creating memories you know? Getting on Peyton's nerves ... seeing Peyton start practice over, seeing DeMarcus (Ware) and Peyton talking up close one on one, just little stuff like that you remember. Guys working hard to get to a common goal."