Mitchell Trubisky

Mitch Trubisky on A-Rob: 'He's starting to look like the old Allen Robinson'

Mitch Trubisky on A-Rob: 'He's starting to look like the old Allen Robinson'

The news surrounding Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson has been nothing but positive as the team kicks off training camp on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

First came coach Matt Nagy, who said Robinson is physically and mentally ready to go after the receiver's recovery from a torn ACL last September. Then it was quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who said Robinson is getting back to his playmaking form.

"He got healthy and he's starting to look like the old Allen Robinson," Trubisky said Thursday. "We got to throw a couple of times recently and he’s getting back to his old self, just getting more and more comfortable, getting his legs underneath him, getting that speed back. Really, we know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it. Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.

"He can be a really special player for us."

Trubisky described Robinson's traits, ranging from his ability to create separation to his knack for the acrobatic catch, with giddy excitement. In fact, Trubisky used the word 'excited' several times when discussing the Bears' upcoming season.

Chicago kicks off training camp practices on Friday, with the first padded session slated for July 21. Robinson will finally have a chance, on the field, to turn excitement and anticipation to into performance and production.

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

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USA TODAY

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

Second of two parts

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game -- because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bill Walsh wrote and always insisted that the tight end was the least understood central pillar in his offense. He viewed and used the tight end as a receiver rather than simply an extra offensive lineman, and used the position to exploit matchup problems and open areas of the field created by design.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, the Bears signed and drafted tight ends (Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims) a year in advance of Matt Nagy’s arrival. But how those tight ends project to be used will be substantially changed from their functions last year. The best indication came this offseason when yet another tight end was brought in, one that signaled a critical direction change coming to the Chicago offense.

The Bears invested heavily to land smallish ex-Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton this offseason. He fits a Nagy template.

“He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes,” Nagy said. “When guys see that you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way, they really gravitate towards that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”

In eight of the last nine years Nagy was with Reid, the tight end (Brent Celek in Philadelphia, Travis Kelce in Kansas City) was either the leading or second-leading receiver on the roster.

In the last 37 years, since Emery Moorehead (No. 2, 1985), the Bears have been led in receptions by a tight end just once (Greg Olsen, 2009) or had a tight end No. 2 in catches just three other times (Olsen, 2008, Martellus Bennett 2014-15).

Receiver additions Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson notwithstanding, the role of the tight end in a Bears offense is about to change. Dramatically. And it started literally before Nagy even arrived in Chicago.

“Our first conversation when [Nagy and Pace] were on the plane heading to Chicago the day that I was hired, we discussed that ‘U’ position, the position that we know in Kansas City and we use in Kansas City as kind of the wide receiver/tight end,” Nagy said. “And you play the slot position you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce.”

New meaning for “timing” in pass game

Trubisky’s mobility creates a greater threat in action passes and within run-pass options, if only because Trubisky can and will take off with purpose, even as Nagy, Helfrich and QB coach Dave Ragone drill one phrase into the quarterback’s brain: “Get down!”

“We don’t do that all the time but that’s kind of your ‘ball control,’” Nagy said. “There is a mentality that might be a little different in how we’re trying to be aggressive, too. In the classic West Coast there were still times where they were looking to be aggressive and we want that mindset.”

More than that, however, is the threat that play-calling versatility posed by Nagy’s offense. What jumps out is the play-calling balance on first downs:

 

2017 first downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

59/41        51.1/48.9 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.1             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

59.3          68.2

 

The Chiefs had the advantage of a more accurate quarterback (Alex Smith) than the Bears (Trubisky). Coaches are stressing accuracy along with ball security, and improving Trubisky’s accuracy is axiomatic for success in Nagy’s scheme, which is based on the West Coast foundation of high completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game.

Notably, in true West Coast tradition, with the Reid/Nagy offenses forcing defenses to spread horizontally the Chiefs rushed for a half-yard more than the Bears on first downs.

More notably perhaps, the Chiefs exploited those higher-percentage positive first-down plays, which meant shorter yardage needs on second downs, with more passing, not less. And when the Chiefs did run, they were just as successful per carry.

 

2017 second downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

48/52        40.8/59.2 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.0             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

62.6          72.7

 

West Coast systems typically operate with more drag routes, quick slants and square-in’s, requiring receivers to run precise routes and have the ability to create separation quickly as Trubisky sets up quickly and looks to throw on time.

The “on time” component is critical, because it the timing of breaks and routes are connected to footwork – Trubisky’s – in that the ball is expected to be coming out when he hits the third or fifth step of his drop. The quarterback is not going to sit waiting for a receiver to come open, as in some other programs.

“It's a wide open attack and it's a great offense because there are so many options within it,” Trubisky said. “We know our job and it all comes down to execution for us. There are so many options I can't even begin to say where it starts but Coach Nagy has brought in a great plan.

“I think the system fits the players we have. In particular I feel like it really fits my skill set with the RPO's, the quick game, stretching the ball down the field and then with the running backs we have just pounding it inside and continuously trying to establish the run game each and every game. I just feel like we've got a lot of options, can be really dynamic and on top of that how we understand it and how the coaches have taught it to us since day one is just going to allow us to play faster and execute the plays at a higher rate.”

What will Matt Nagy's passing offense look like with the Bears?

What will Matt Nagy's passing offense look like with the Bears?

First of two parts.

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game — because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bears coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have initiated a monumental makeover of the Bears’ offense, some effects of which should be evident sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than the quarterback and receiver group project to be noticeably better than the tools at the disposal of John Fox and Dowell Loggains.

But the changes run deeper than personnel.

“We’re going to continue to do some of the things that we did in Kansas City,” Nagy said not long after his hiring, “but we’re also going to grow. We’re going to create our own identity.”

Nothing should suggest that the 2018 Bears will ascend to the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive heights (multiple top-10 statistical rankings, including points (No. 6) and yards (No. 5) per game) in the short term. However, if it takes five years for the Bears to reach those levels, as it did for the Chiefs to do so under Andy Reid, the prospects of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace still being around to see it are problematic. Meaning: Changes will be noticeable immediately.

The complexities of the Nagy/Helfrich iteration of the time-honored West Coast offense are too much to chronicle in one analysis, and they won’t be immediately apparent to the naked eye. For one thing, if civilians could pick it up that easily, it wouldn’t have survived the decades of distinguished defensive coordinators assailing it. Also, if it were that simple, Mitch Trubisky wouldn’t have needed to work as hard at it as he has for some months now. A prime directive in all of this is precisely that the offense is NOT easy to figure out.

For another reason, regardless of how many years he apprenticed under Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Nagy’s offense will be uniquely his, not merely a Reid clone. Reid did not simply run the Bill Walsh playbook; he authored his own edition. Similarly, not all of the clues to the Nagy offense can be found looking at 2017 Chiefs film. Nagy brings a different and expanded offensive scheme to the Bears, with Helfrich in a complementary role.

But the past is often prologue. Nagy’s NFL experience has all been within the parameters of Reid’s framework, and Helfrich has never coached against an NFL defense. So a reasonable expectation is that Nagy and Helfrich build out from a Reid foundation, but customizing it with personal preferences and with an eye toward molding it to the collective skillset of Trubisky and the rest of the offensive components.

To gain a preliminary, superficial understanding of what Nagy’s offense is about, look to Nagy’s past, the West Coast roots that Nagy incorporates in his work.

With his own modifications. As in:

“I think if you compare the old-school West Coast offense, where the three-step [dropback-passing] game was the extension of the run, and they’re looking for the yards after the catch, the ‘YAC’ yards,” Nagy said, “now you look at our offense which is more of the RPO [run-pass-option] stuff. You’re sort of getting the same thing, but now you’re mixing in run and pass on the same play.”

The Walsh influences

At its core, the West Coast offense uses the pass to set up the run, and uses the pass as a device for ball control – something of a departure from recent Bears offenses, although Marc Trestman based much of his scheme around that premise.

Actually the West Coast offense is misnamed and should’ve gone into NFL lore as the “Ohio River offense,” or something reflective of the fact that Bill Walsh formulated many of the concepts while an assistant with the expansion Cincinnati Bengals 50 years ago. Walsh came from the vertical passing game espoused by the Oakland Raiders, his first NFL employer, but was forced in Cincinnati to adapt to the arm limitations of Virgil Carter, who stepped in as starter when strong-armed Greg Cook suffered what was effectively a career-ending arm injury. Walsh exploited the defense horizontally, not simply vertically.

With Trubisky, Nagy won’t be constrained by arm limitations. Trubisky has the deep arm and has speed with Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White.

But like any coach or assistant, Walsh wanted ball control but approached it through the pass, not the run, as explained in his “Controlling the ball with the pass” written in 1979. “To do that.” Walsh wrote, “we have to have versatility – versatility in the action and types of passes thrown by the quarterback.” Nagy subscribes to the notion of ball control using the pass, not solely the run.

Walsh espoused three passing concepts:

• drop-back passes, typically with short drops and quick releases;

• play-action passes, which in Nagy’s scheme can take the form of run-pass-option plays besides the conventional fake handoff on the way to a drop-back;

• and what Walsh termed the “action pass” where the quarterback moves outside to negate a rush, change the trajectory of a throw or shorten the throw to a targeted receiver.

Ex-quarterback Nagy has a full grasp of and appreciation for all three, particularly the action pass, and it begins with his own awareness of history. Within even a brief conversation about his offensive tenets, Nagy brings up one of the great plays in NFL history, one Walsh built into the San Francisco 49ers scheme, one that may have looked like a broken play, but was anything but.

“’The Catch’” was a movement play, ‘Q-8,’” Nagy said, recalling the Joe Montana pass to the late Dwight Clark against the Dallas Cowboys to win the 1981 NFC Championship game. “Montana sprinted out. That’s an old-school West Coast play, and we have that play. That’s a movement play. We do have movements; we don’t live in that world but we want to have that.”

Next: The misunderstood centerpiece position of West Coast offenses, and how all things “timing” are changing.