Taylor Gabriel

Why 'Turbo' Taylor Gabriel fell in love with the slow-paced game of golf

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USA Today

Why 'Turbo' Taylor Gabriel fell in love with the slow-paced game of golf

Plenty of NFL players will use the league’s mandated five-week summer break to play a little golf as a way to relax and recharge for the grind of training camp and regular season. But you won’t find many players who take golf more seriously than Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. 

Which is a little ironic on the surface, right? Gabriel’s nickname is “Turbo,” after all. 

“Yeah, that’s very weird when I think about it,” Gabriel laughed. “It’s not a sport to where you’re running and jumping, and I wouldn’t say not doing anything really athletic — it’s more mental than anything. 

“But I feel like it kind of helps me football-wise in the sense of kind of focus. Like dialing in on that swing, keeping that same swing rhythm pattern, not getting too frustrated after I just sliced a drive or go O.B. on the driver. So it’s helping me.”

Gabriel had played sporadically earlier in his life, and said his father golfs, but didn’t get hooked by the sport until last April while watching Tiger Woods win the Masters. He bought his first set of nice clubs after that remarkable weekend in Augusta and frequently posts videos of his swing to his Instagram account.  

So it’s become a serious hobby of his — “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t practice,” he said. It’s also something he and his wife do together. 

Though he admitted his wife is a better golfer than he is. 

“She’s not trying to crush the ball, she’s not trying to do too much, but she keeps that consistent same rhythm, same swing, same follow-through every time,” Gabriel said. “Me, I might see the hole is probably 180 (yards) out, I mean, I just want to crush it on the green. And that’s when everything goes wrong.”

Still, for someone who’s only been seriously golfing for about two months, that Gabriel said he can consistently hit his drives 240 yards is rather impressive (being an exceptional athlete, certainly, has to help). But this isn’t some casual love affair with golf — it’s a legitimate way for Gabriel to take his mind off football while staying sharp mentally and doing something he’s quickly grown to genuinely enjoy doing. 

“It’s relaxing, just playing 18 holes — I’m a walker, I like walking,” Gabriel said. “Eighteen holes kind of figuring out your swing, what you did wrong, you know what I mean, just being on the golf course, relaxing, the atmosphere. But at the end of the day I’ve been doing pretty good. I’ve been hitting them pretty straight, I’ve been putting them pretty good, so I guess I’m catching on quick. 

“But every time I ask a golfer, I mean, how long did it take for you guys to get a consistent swing, they say 20 years. I mean, I got that to look forward to.”  

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

2018 Depth Chart

1. Allen Robinson
Usage: 13 games, 71.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $15 million cap hit

From a production standpoint, Robinson’s 94 targets, 55 receptions, 754 yards and four touchdowns aren’t eye-popping for a guy on a three-year, $42 million contract. But his averages weren’t all that far off from what he did in 2016. To compare:

2016: 12.1 yards/reception, 4.6 receptions/game, 55.2 yards/game, 48.3 catch percentage, 0.4 TDs/game

2018: 13.7 yards/reception, 4.2 receptions/game, 58 yards/game, 58.5 catch percentage, 0.3 TDs/game

Robinson did miss three games with groin and rib injuries, limiting his overall numbers. But if what he did in 2018 is the baseline for his time in Chicago, that’s not a bad thing — especially because there are reasons to believe Robinson can be even better in 2019. 

The No. 1 reason, which Robinson pointed out a day after the Bears’ season ended, is he’ll begin this year’s offseason program in April fully healthy, as opposed to a year ago when he was still rehabbing the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season in Week 1. 

“Just being able to go into OTAs and training camp and having that time period to be at 100 percent, to be able to condition myself for a whole season, just being able to prepare a lot better,” Robinson said. “Being able to not be just worried about getting back on the field and playing and running routes at about 60, 70, 80, 85 percent. Being able to do that at 100 percent and getting those 100 percent quality reps is going to be big.”

Robinson broke a franchise record with 143 receiving yards in the wild card loss to the Eagles, with the 33 yards he gained on consecutive catches getting the Bears into field goal range for Cody Parkey’s ill-fated double-doink. The connection he showed with Mitch Trubisky in a brief playoff appearance was encouraging, and expectations in 2019 should be high for a guy who doesn’t turn 26 until a few weeks before the season begins.  

2. Taylor Gabriel
Usage: 16 games, 77.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $6.5 million cap hit

Gabriel blew past his career highs in targets (93; previous high: 72), receptions (67; previous high: 36), yards (688; previous high: 621), catch percentage (72, previous high: 70) and offensive snaps (830; previous high: 61.2). Gabriel had six receptions of 30 or more yards, and flashed some impressive downfield ball skills on tough 40-plus yard grabs against the Dolphins (twice) and Vikings. 

Over half of Gabriel’s receptions on third down generated a first down, with the 5-foot-8, 165 pound receiver displaying strong hands and slick route running to become a favorite target of Trubisky’s when he needed to gain tough yardage. Gabriel’s catch percentage ranked 14th among qualified receivers in 2018. 

With opposing defenses often working to take away the deep ball from Trubisky’s arsenal, Gabriel didn't have a ton of downfield opportunities (he averaged a little under one target of 20 or more yards downfield per game, per PFF). He wasn’t able to do much after the catch, either — per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he had the league’s third-worst difference in his average yards after the catch per reception (3.6) to his expected YAC per reception (5.1), though that number is likely skewed by some of the screens and short throws that required better blocking execution around him. 

Even if Gabriel’s statistical profile may not show it, he remains a speedy, versatile threat who Matt Nagy surely will try to do more things with in 2019. This is a guy nicknamed “Turbo,” after all. 

3. Anthony Miller
Usage: 15 games, 53.6 percent of offensive snaps, 9.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,216,750 cap hit

Miller may miss some or all of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing offseason surgery to repair his shoulder, which separated twice during the season (including once while he was carrying an end-around against the Vikings in Week 17). Miller, though, wore a shoulder harness and battled his way through the season, playing in 15 games and leading the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns. 

Miller did disappear within the offense for a three-week stretch in December, only receiving three targets against the Giants, Rams and Packers. But that stretch didn’t change the team’s long-term outlook for the former second-round pick. 

“We probably overloaded him to some extent in the middle of the season because we, ‘Oh, my gosh, throw everything at him!’ And we kind of throttled that back a little bit,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said in the midst of that December stretch. “People adjusted to him, you know. For a while it was, ‘Hey, let’s cover this guy. Or double this guy. Or what about this guy?’ So he’s been played a little bit differently but very, very excited about his future.”

4. Josh Bellamy 
Usage: 16 games, 29.9 percent of offensive snaps, 57.8 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

“Beezo” will hit free agency as one of the most popular, universally-respected players in the Bears’ locker room. He’s a core special teamer and has the flexibility to play all three receiver positions in Nagy’s offense. 

While Bellamy did mis-handle a Trubisky pass that led to an interception against the Patriots in October, he only had one other drop during the season, per PFF. He’s much better suited for the role he played in 2018 — fourth/fifth receiver, core special teamer — than having to be relied upon as a top-three receiver, which he had to be frequently during the John Fox era. His offensive usage rate in 2018 was the lowest in his four-year tenure with the Bears. 

That’s all to say it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears retain Bellamy in free agency next month. 

5. Kevin White
Usage: 9 games, 15.9 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

White’s future with the Bears was sealed in Week 9, when he was among the inactives for a game against the Buffalo Bills in which Robinson (who, to be fair, played a different receiver position) was inactive as well. Nagy hoped having White focus on playing on position — he was the backup to Gabriel — would allow him to being to seize on the potential that led Ryan Pace to draft him seventh overall in 2015. That didn’t happen. 

White was healthy for the entire 2018 season, which was a positive, but was only targeted eight times. Some team will take a flier on him in free agency, but he’ll face an uphill battle to earn an active roster spot wherever he lands. 

6. Javon Wims
Usage: 4 games, 2.8 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $593,978 cap hit

Wims is an intriguing prospect with good size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), good hands and good ball skills. Still, he wasn’t able to crack the Bears’ receiver rotation and was only active for one-quarter of the team’s games. 

Still, WIms likely left a positive impression on coaches with two tough catches on third down against the Vikings in Week 17. He’ll be given an opportunity to move up the depth chart during the offseason program and OTAs, but he’ll have to show improvement as a route runner to assure himself of a roster spot in 2019. 

7. Tanner Gentry
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bears likely will bring in a few other receivers for camp competition with Wims and/or to replace White on the roster, with Gentry being a part of that competition. The Bears liked him enough to keep him on the practice squad all season and give him a reserve/future contract, but the 2017 training camp fan favorite has a long way to go to earn a roster spot. 

8. Cyril Grayson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Grayson actually has a fascinating background: He’s a former track star who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day in 2017, landing him a contract with the Seahawks despite not playing a down of football since his senior year of high school in 2011. The Bears signed him to their practice squad in November and will keep him around as their roster swells for training camp. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

The Bears have decisions to make on Bellamy and the depth behind Robinson/Gabriel/Miller. Drafting a receiver wouldn’t be out of the question if there’s someone scouts like, but this isn’t a position at which the Bears will spend much in free agency outside of retaining Bellamy and/or bringing in some cheap veteran competition for training camp. 

Previous units: QBs | RBs

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Matt Nagy hopeful all five injured Bears will be back for playoffs vs. Eagles

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy hopeful all five injured Bears will be back for playoffs vs. Eagles

Bears coach Matt Nagy is optimistic regarding the statuses of five injured players for Sunday’s wild card round playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles, though he said Monday he’ll have a better idea of their potential availability come Wednesday when the Bears practice for the first time this week. 

Of those five players — safety Eddie Jackson, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, and wide receivers Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson — only Lynch did not travel to Minnesota for Week 17’s season-ender against the Vikings on Sunday. Gabriel (ribs) and Miller (shoulder) were injured against the Vikings, along with defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris, who had “a little whiplash” that Nagy didn’t frame as concerning. 

“Nothing significant there,” Nagy said of Gabriel and Miller. “I think we’ll be good.”

Jackson (ankle), Robinson (ribs) and Lynch (elbow) are all at different places in their respective recoveries, Nagy said. Robinson would seem the most likely of the three to play against the Eagles, though Jackson’s ankle injury suffered in Week 15 hasn’t been framed by Nagy as serious. 

“I’m hoping that they (play),” Nagy said. “I think they’re all in a little bit different situations right now. I’m excited to see come Wednesday, after talking to ‘Dre, Andre (Tucker). our head trainer, where they’re at. I think they’re all kind of (at) different levels. But I’m hoping they’re all ready to go.”

Jackson is a Pro Bowler whose elite ball skills have made him one of the best safeties in the league, while Gabriel and Robinson have been two of Trubisky’s most reliable targets this year. Miller’s seven receiving touchdowns topped Bears pass-catchers. And Lynch was an important rotational piece, tagging in for Khalil Mack or Leonard Floyd while offering strong support against the run. 

If the Bears get all five of those players back — or even if it’s everyone but, say, Lynch — they’ll enter their first playoff appearance in eight years with a remarkably clean bill of health. The Bears only have three players on injured reserve, and just one of them was a starter (slot corner Bryce Callahan, with the other two being outside linebacker Sam Acho and tight end Dion Sims) — and just activated right guard Kyle Long off injured reserve before Week 17.