The Bears wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday with the final practice of veteran minicamp, releasing players for a 41-day break before re-convening in Bourbonnais for training camp July 19.
While coaches won’t get a true evaluation of players until the pads come on in training camp, these shorts-and-helmets practices as well as the meetings, film reviews and training sessions over the last two months did carry some importance. The Bears worked to create a foundation for training camp after reporting to Halas Hall in early April, and enter summer break with plenty of positive vibes.
With that in mind, the four most important takeaways from the offseason program:
1. Players bought into Matt Nagy.
From the first time Nagy addressed his team back in early April to the end of veteran minicamp on Thursday, there’s been a common thread among players — on both sides of the ball — as to why they’ve taken a shine to their new coach. A sampling:
Mitch Trubisky: “I get a really genuine feel when I’m around him.”
Charles Leno: “He’s a genuine guy.”
Prince Amukamara: “I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”
Danny Trevathan: “Where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”
Leonard Floyd: “It’s great, the energy. He always preaching play with swagger.”
No players are going to publicly rip their new head coach in May or June, of course. But there is such a thing as damning with faint praise, the praise for Nagy has hardly been faint — it’s been strong, and it’s been specific.
For players on offense, it’s easy to see why the buy-in is there while learning and operating Nagy’s dynamic and exciting scheme. So in that sense, there’s a different kind of vibe around the building than there was when John Fox was brought in.
“You know, Fox (was) a defensive coach,” Leno said. “We've got an offensive coach now. And we've got somebody who can put up points, put points on the board. We've got somebody who's gonna be calling plays for us and it's just a really good feel, speaking of the offensive side of the ball first, it's just a real good feel for us.
“We believe in his scheme. He keeps pushing us every day, challenging us in the playbook, in the meeting room, and all the coaching staff's behind us. They're all pushing us. That's what we need and that's what we want right now as a younger team.”
For players on defense, their entire coaching staff is back, headed by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Nagy didn’t go out and hire another young hotshot to run his defense; he kept the well-respected veteran coordinator in place. That, too, gave Nagy some early points with the defense, and he continued to impress those guys over the course of the offseason program.
This buy-in matters, not in the sense of that it’ll win the Bears any games come September. But without it, training camp could get messy, and that certainly could lose the Bears games in the fall.
“You don't know that coming in here, how are guys going to respond to you as a player … and then how are they going to respond to yourself as a head coach and as your assistants and that's the unexpected, you have no idea,” Nagy said. “So I go back to my original message of just being you and if I'm just myself, if our coaches just let their personalities show then those guys will be honest, they'll let us know, we'll communicate and let it fit as it may. But it's been, again they've helped make my job easier, I'm not going to be perfect all the time, I will make mistakes but I'll try to correct them.”
2. Trubisky handled a lot, and handled it well.
The Bears’ defense was ahead of its offense throughout practices in the offseason program, though progress with Trubisky’s group was evident during minicamp this week (when Nagy said he “pulled back” a little on installation and let the offense play fast). But the goal of these minicamp and OTA practices was to throw as much as possible on Trubisky’s plate to figure out what he can and cannot handle.
More important than any specific plays, though, is this takeaway: Trubisky was able to handle an immense amount of learning, and should enter training camp with a solid foundation in his understanding of Nagy’s offense. That foundation has been formed thanks to not only Trubisky’s talent, but his work ethic and desire to be coached.
“It’s always been, quarterbacks, we chase perfection — and that’s impossible,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “It’s a hard chase. But he’s a willing participant in that. He comes to every meeting prepared, every meeting with a good question and he wants to be coached. That’s a big part of it too.”
These last few months were just step one in a long process for Trubisky. But he enters summer break with a decent amount of experience running the offense against different looks provided by Fangio’s defense, experience that will be become critical to draw upon when he starts facing defenses not wearing an orange “C” on their helmets.
“The biggest thing for Mitch right now is just trying to digest this offense, and he’ll do that,” Nagy said. “I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to do everything he can these next several weeks to continue to look at the film that he’s put on tape now in the last couple months. He’s got different looks now. We didn’t have that before. He didn’t have that before. So now he can go back and physically work on his body. He’ll do all that. But mentally right now, we want to hone that thing in and get that thing right for Week 1.”
3. Roquan Smith took baby steps, but the talent and mindset to be great are there.
This year’s eighth overall pick began taking some reps with the first-team defense by the end of the offseason program, but is still very much in the acclimation phase of entering the NFL.
“Right now he’s just trying to learn everything and he’s doing well at that, working hard at it,” Fangio said last week. “We’ll see. Right now he’s got to earn his stripes. He had a good enough college career both on and off the field to get drafted where he was, and now he’s got to prove his worth. But he’s doing well.”
Fangio isn’t one to reflexively give sunshine-and-rainbows answers on guys, and to become a starter in a group that otherwise is returning 10 of 11 starters from a top-10 scoring defense, Smith will have to prove himself. Smith’s speed and quickness are evident, and off the field, he’s taking the right approach, too.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” Trevathan said. “We haven’t put the pads on, but he’s learning well. He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”
The Bears will have a better idea of where Smith is when the pads come on in Bourbonnais. Don’t be shocked if he starts practicing with the second-team defense early in training camp — he still has to earn the right to displace Nick Kwiatkoski from a starting role next to Trevathan. But by the time the Bears break camp in mid-August, expect Smith to be firmly planted in a key role in Fangio’s defense.
“I’m just trying to master everything and make the most of my time,” Smith said. “Every rep just make the most of every rep. Just … don’t regret it at the end of the day and mainly make the most of every rep I get.”
4. The Bears may be pretty healthy come training camp.
The Bears made it through the offseason program without a major injury, and saw Floyd and Allen Robinson return to practice by the end of OTAs.
Floyd, in particular, made significant strides and practiced in full during minicamp. Robinson made enough progress to work in some individual drills, though the expectation for him has always been to be cleared for training camp.
The only significant non-participant in practices during the offseason program was Kyle Long, who Nagy said will be “good to go” for training camp.
Aaron Lynch suffered a pair of injuries described as minor — an ankle injury during April’s minicamp and a hamstring injury during this week’s minicamp. Those are a little more concerning given Lynch’s injury history, which contributed to him missing 18 games over the last two years.
But the Bears could be at or close to full strength for their first training camp practice July 20. Injuries will happen in Bourbonnais and in preseason play, but avoiding anything major during these shorts-and-helmets practices in April, May and June only helps add to the positivity around Halas Hall.
More from OTAs and minicamp:
Podcast: There's a different kind of excitement at Halas Hall
What's next for Kevin White?
2018 a tipping point for Leonard Floyd
Bears' offense causing 'fits' for the defense
Teammates see 'greatness' in Mitch Trubisky
Anthony Miller wants to create his own path
How does Jordan Howard fit in Matt Nagy's offense?