Sam Acho

Bears players back Matt Nagy's decision to rest them: 'That's the type of coach you want on your side'

USA Today Sports Images

Bears players back Matt Nagy's decision to rest them: 'That's the type of coach you want on your side'

Bears players felt like coach Matt Nagy had their collective back when he decided to bench most of his team’s starters for Saturday’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. So on Monday, those starters who didn’t play had Nagy’s back when discussing their first-year coach’s bold, unorthodox play. 

“Just because we’ve been doing it for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right, just because it’s what most NFL teams do doesn’t mean it’s the right way of thinking,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “I love what coach Nagy’s approach is. He’s thinking, what’s best for my team? What’s best for the Bears? He’s not thinking, what does everybody else do? Or what would make me look good in front of my players or the coaches or the media? He’s not thinking that way. He’s thinking, what is going to help us beat Green Bay? And so I trust him.”

A few things about not playing resonated with the guys who were relegated to the sidelines for the traditionally “all-important” dress rehearsal preseason game. First and foremost, even if some players wanted to play, the collective feeling was that Nagy had their best interests in mind. 

“I was happy just about his approach,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “In the preseason you get little nicks and bruises that carry on through the regular season. I felt like it was a smart move on his part, the way the game is changing. It makes his players look at him like he really cares about us.”

Said running back Tarik Cohen: “He doesn’t care about what everybody else is going to think. He’s just looking out for our best interests and the team’s best interest, and that’s the type of coach you want on your side.”

Some players who were here a year ago were quick to point out wide receiver Cameron Meredith’s season-ending knee injury suffered in 2017’s third preseason game, while others made note of Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Marqise Lee suffering a season-ending knee injury over the weekend. Lee’s former teammate, Allen Robinson, certainly did. 

“For me, for that being one of my close friends, that was very tough to see,” Robinson said. “… At the end of the day, like I said before, coach Nagy has the best interests for us players and this team. I think at the end of the day, whenever you can try to take certain precautions or whatever, I think that was in the best interests.”

Offensive lineman Kyle Long brought up Lee in making a point about the importance of preseason game snaps, too.

“I think you’d be crazy to say I want to play more reps of meaningless football,” Long said. “Until they start passing for wins and losses, it’s an opportunity for the younger guys and the backups to have their opportunity to make the team. Unfortunately you saw with Marqise Lee and guys like that … I think that answers your question. It’s kind of pointless.”

That’s not to say all of the guys who didn’t play on Saturday didn’t want to play. Some of them did, Cohen said, but more important was that Nagy’s decision was respected. 

How not playing on Saturday impacts the Bears’ readiness for Sept. 9’s curtain-lifting trip to Green Bay remains to be seen, though players didn’t believe sitting out will have a negative impact. If anything, it might’ve provided a little extra motivation among these players to prove their coach right. 

“I feel like it was the right move,” Trevathan said. “It’s our job to make it the best move for him.”

Whatever Bears do for National Anthem, it’ll be in the spotlight before Hall of Fame Game

Whatever Bears do for National Anthem, it’ll be in the spotlight before Hall of Fame Game

CANTON, Ohio -- Update: All Bears players, coaches and team personnel stood and linked arms during the playing of the National Anthem. No Ravens players appeared to protest during the anthem, either. 

Bears players, as of their final practice before leaving for Canton on Tuesday, hadn’t come to a decision on what they’ll do when the National Anthem is played before Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game. Whatever members of the team do, though, it’ll be in the national spotlight given tonight represents the first NFL game played since the Anthem issue barged back into the league’s headlines this spring.

The NFL last month put a freeze on the National Anthem resolution it adopted in May, which required all team personnel on the field to stand and “show respect” for the anthem. Anyone who was on the field and not standing would be subject to fines from the league and the team for which they play; those who wish to protest were told to remain in the locker room for the playing of the anthem. With the decision to freeze that resolution — which the league announced jointly with the NFLPA — there is no policy in place on how team personnel are expected to act during the National Anthem.

Bears linebacker Sam Acho, the team’s NFLPA rep and the most outspoken member of the organization on the National Anthem and social justice issues, said on Tuesday he wasn’t sure if he and his teammates would continue to stand and link arms during the anthem, as they did in 2017 following President Donald Trump’s explosive comments and tweets on the matter.

“Yeah. It’s really hard,” Acho said. “I’m not going to lie to you guys. It’s really, really hard, and it could be confusing at times, on how do you find an answer? How do you get a solution? Because not everyone has the same beliefs. Not everyone has the same experiences. Not everyone has the same skin color. Not everyone has the same religious background. Not everyone has the same sexual orientation.

“We come from so many different backgrounds and experiences, so it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone. But the great thing about a team is when you do something for your brothers, you’re doing it for yourself. And so even if you don’t believe wholeheartedly in some issue, you believe in your teammates, so you do it for your teammates. Even if you don’t agree or you haven’t experienced some pain that someone else has experienced, you believe in them, so you do it for them.

“You cry with them. I’ve cried with these guys. I’ve shed tears with these guys. I’ve been places with these guys. I’ve done life with these guys. So it’s going to be hard to figure out one solution that fits everyone, but I think the beauty of it is that when you come together and you put your own, I’ll call them selfish desires, behind you and say I’m going to do it for the betterment of the team, I think that’s when real growth and real change happens.”

Those on the Bears who’ve spoken on the anthem issue have all said whatever action is taken will be done as a team, as Acho outlined above. But a one-size-fits-all policy will be difficult to come to for 53 players in Week 1, let alone for the 90 guys on this roster for Thursday night.

Still, as those within the organization discussed what will be done during the National Anthem Thursday night, coach Matt Nagy said he’s confident in whatever decision is made.

“I feel really, really good with where we’re at,” Nagy said. “I feel comfortable  and I know this, whatever we do, we’re going to do it together.

“… It’s everybody (discussing it). It’s collectively. That’s how we do things around here. I think that’s the best way. Me personally, that’s my opinion. And I know everybody else feels that way. And that’s what makes it really easy for so many of us to understand that and feel good. We talk about a family type atmosphere in this organization and I think you’ll see that.”

Whatever the Bears and Baltimore Ravens do during the National Anthem, though, will be noticeable in one way or another. Will the president tweet about it? Perhaps.

But no matter what, this is a topic that isn’t going away, especially as long as long as the NFL keeps stumbling through solutions that don’t appease anyone on either side of this divisive issue.

“I tell everybody, everybody has their own opinion,” Nagy said. “Specifically, everybody is right and everybody is somewhat wrong. There is no correct answer. But as long as you talk it through and you do it peacefully and you understand that, then you realize what is out there. And that as long as you recognize that, you talk it through and you try to help out.

“So I feel really good with where we’re at. I feel good myself. And then again, I think, if you talk to a lot of coaches, they’re not putting it aside. But we have a responsibility with this team right now. We’re trying to get this team right to win football games. And so right now, with all due respect, that’s really what we’re focused on.”

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.