The preseason can be a frustrating game of patience. Everyone wants instant results, but there’s a reason the players are going through a slow, daily grind in training camp.
Thursday night’s preseason game in Cincinnati was an example of the patience that is needed, not only for the Bears’ new offense as a whole, but for individual players as well.
With that in mind, let’s jump into this week’s 10 Bears Things:
1. Missed Opportunity For Kevin White
I’ve been pretty consistent on Kevin White in 2018 and nothing has changed. I’m less focused on whether or not he can stay healthy and more focused on whether or not he can actually play wide receiver at the NFL level. We’re now three weeks and two preseason games into training camp and I’m still waiting for some kind of answer.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy tried to get White involved early Thursday night, starting with a deep bomb down the sideline on the first play of the game. Trubisky and White failed to connect, but the more glaring error came two plays later when White dropped an easy catch on third down.
I thought it was notable that White played the whole first half Thursday night, while rookie Anthony Miller was removed from the game well before the half. That’s usually a good indication of the depth chart, and it sure seems like White is the fourth option at wide receiver right now. It’s also notable that with all that playing time, White only received two targets and had zero catches to go along with the bad third down drop.
The clock continues to tick.
2. Floyd Takes Advantage
It’s also been somewhat of a waiting game with Leonard Floyd, who has been easing into camp while continuing to recover from the knee injury that ended his season prematurely last year.
Floyd appeared to turn it up a notch in practice over the last week and that translated to Thursday’s game. He had a couple of very impressive inside moves against the Bengals, including one that forced Andy Dalton to get rid of the ball early, resulting in a pick-6 for cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Essentially, Floyd accomplished what White didn’t — he flashed and put some good snaps on tape. No grand conclusions can be made off a game played on Aug. 9, but one first round pick is trending in the right direction, while the other is not.
3. Trubisky Played, And That’s About It
As for the quarterback, there really wasn’t much to take away from Mitch Trubisky’s play Thursday night. For one, Jordan Howard, Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel weren’t on the field, and Kyle Long only played one series. Trubisky was also hampered by the White drop, a missed block by Eric Kush on Geno Atkins and a holding penalty by Cody Whitehair on Atkins. It’s hard to move the football with all of those mistakes happening on just two drives.
First thought: Trubisky could have used another series.
Second thought: The entire offense could use another week of practice before going back out there.
4. Offensive Line Worth Watching Closely
Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand made minor news this week when he said that rookie James Daniels would spend the rest of the week working at center instead of guard. It was notable because general manager Ryan Pace was so adamant that the Iowa product would start his career at guard instead of center, despite being such a dominant college center.
Nagy later explained that the attrition at center (mainly Hroniss Grasu’s latest injury) led to this week’s move, which is fair because someone needed to take the bulk of the snaps Thursday night after the starters were pulled.
But the thing is, Daniels looked pretty good at center, while starter Cody Whitehair had a few struggles. Granted, Whitehair was lined up against Geno Atkins and Daniels wasn’t, but Whitehair committed a holding penalty and was guilty of a high snap, which was an issue at times last season.
The situation is worth watching going forward. It’s conceivable that the Bears’ best offensive line will eventually have Daniels at center and Whitehair at left guard. The problem is, Whitehair isn’t getting any work at guard right now.
Of course, there could be some doubts about putting the rookie at center with Trubisky instead of the more-veteran Whitehair, but then again, the Bears had no problem moving Whitehair to center during the first week of the regular season when he was a rookie.
5. Coaching Staff Went To School Too
When Matt Nagy was hired in January, he did something somewhat unorthodox. Instead of going out and filling his coaching staff with friends and former co-workers from Kansas City and Philadelphia, he instead hired many coaches he never worked with before. He stunned many when he hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, who had no NFL experience. He kept Dave Ragone on staff to work with his most important asset — Mitch Trubisky. He gave wide receiver coach Mike Furrey his first NFL coaching opportunity. And he convinced Vic Fangio to stick around as defensive coordinator, keeping the entire defensive staff in place.
The advantage on the defensive side was obvious: Nagy maintained the continuity and growth that had already taken place on that side of the ball. But on the offensive side, the new head coach’s strategy meant that not only did all the players have to learn his offense, the coaches did too.
“The first two months we were here, that’s really all we did,” running backs coach Charles London, who came over from the Houston Texans, said. “It was interesting because really Matt was the only one who knew the offense. He had to teach everyone the offense.”
Suddenly, the coaches felt like players again.
“Like the players are doing now—we’d have an install among coaches,” London said. “Then we’d have to go home and study to learn the offense. There were quizzes for us, too. So, just like the players, we would come in and we may watch a game. Matt may ask me: ‘What’s this concept? What do we call this? What do we call that?’ It was a great way to test each other because we were all learning together. Our learning process for the playbook wasn’t very different from the players’ process.”
Considering the complexity of Nagy’s scheme, the process wasn’t easy and it took up a lot of time during a period when coaches are usually self-scouting and/or aiding in NFL Draft preparation. But the payoffs were obvious too. For one, the coaches, which had very little familiarity with one another, bonded quickly. And perhaps more importantly, they got to experience exactly what Trubisky and the rest of the offensive roster is going through now as they continue to learn the scheme.
“I can understand some of their struggles at times to learn things because I probably struggled with that concept originally,” London said. “I may know the concept, but maybe the offense I was in it was called one thing, and here’s it called another. It’s like a whole different language. You’ve got to process that in your brain.”
Nagy’s coaching staff really is fascinating when you step back and look at it. On one side, Fangio’s group is going into its fourth season together. On the other, you have an offensively diverse group of creative minds trying to come together to teach a young quarterback and versatile roster a complex scheme. The results in 2018 will be very interesting to watch.
6. Hands Off For Now
Training camp stories have a tendency to repeat themselves. Kevin White’s confidence level. Kyle Long’s health. Jordan Howard’s catching abilities.
All of these stories are legitimate, but excuse me while I ignore that last one until the regular season starts. Howard is indeed working hard to become a better pass-catcher out of the backfield (London identified an issue with Howard’s finger placement and used tennis balls to improve the running back’s hand-eye coordination), but it will be impossible to judge to the results until the real games begin, a reality that London ackowledged.
“He probably catches 200 to 300 extra balls per day and I think we’ve seen improvement, but now we got to see it when the lights come on,” London said.
Howard also worked hard on this issue after his rookie season, but then dropped a potential game-winning touchdown against the Falcons in Week 1. If you think about it, any player playing in the NFL knows how to catch a football — and frankly, should be able to — but it’s a much different task when you have a linebacker or safety closing in on you and you’re looking the other direction at the quarterback. For Howard, this is a focus/concentration issue and it really cannot be replicated until the games really matter in the regular season.
To be clear, I’m not dismissing Howard’s efforts or doubting that he will get better as a pass-catcher. I just need to see it in the regular season before I believe the results.
7. Rodgers Trying To ‘Grow’ Roy Robertson-Harris
Coming out of UTEP, Roy Robertson-Harris was the definition of a “tweener.” His 6-7 height screamed defensive end, but his 255 weight suggested outside linebacker. After working at outside linebacker as a rookie, Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers made a pitch to get his hands on Robertson-Harris.
“I’ve had some success with guys who were undersized coming out,” Rodgers said. “He was like 265 pounds and was on a diet to keep it at that level and I said, you know what? This guy is a guy that reminds me of (some players) that I’ve had. Let’s grow him a little bit, get him some more experience and see if we got something.”
Rodgers was specifically thinking of Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, two players he coached in Denver.
“They were undersized when they come out in the draft and now they’re 290-295 pounds,” Rodgers said. “The days of drafting and signing the 375-pound defensive linemen are over with the way the game is being played.”
Instead, Rodgers is taking a different approach.
“We grow them. And they become athletic big men,” he said.
That’s the goal with Robertson-Harris, who suddenly looks the part of a 3-4 defensive end. He added another sack Thursday night and continues to impress. At this point, he would be surprising if he wasn’t active on game days and in the defensive line rotation.
8. Quote Of The Week
Bears quarterback coach Dave Ragone on Mitch Trubisky now, compared to a year ago:
“There’s a huge difference from training camp a year ago to now. He was the third-string quarterback the year before, and it wasn’t his team yet. Here it’s unequivocal. It’s obviously his football team.”
9. What To Watch For
The Bears will return to Olivet Nazarene University Saturday for a night practice, before wrapping up the Bourbonnais portion of the preseason with a closed practice on Sunday. For the third time in four years under Ryan Pace, the Bears will then head on the road to practice against another team. This time, it’s a trip to Denver to practice against the Broncos on Wednesday and Thursday before playing a preseason game next Saturday night at what is temporarily being called Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
Finally, let’s end this week’s column on this note…
10. Patience Wearing Thin
While I started this column by preaching the importance of patience, there’s one area where that patience is wearing thin: Roquan Smith.
On the list of all-time NFL contract holdouts, this Roquan situation officially qualifies as one of the most ridiculous disputes ever. Well into the fourth week of the holdout, all parties involved look terrible.
The Bears look silly for letting such specific and seemingly irrelevant language keep such an important player off the field in a year they can’t afford to start slow.
Smith agents look like they are taking advantage of a 21-year-old rookie, while they use him against a struggling franchise to earn future business.
And, fair or not, Smith comes off looking both selfish and somewhat oblivious, mainly because neither side is providing many details, only leaking small parts of the story through the media.
And now, silence.
This is basically a husband and wife fighting over who should take out the garbage. It’s insignificant in the big picture and briefly preventing a promising marriage from flourishing. There was some bickering, and now they’re giving each other the silent treatment.
The Bears are in no position to let such small, minor contract details have such a big impact on the 2018 season. Of course, Smith’s agents know that, which is why they have picked this fight. Smith, on the other hand, shouldn’t let such small, minor contract details keep him from playing Week 1 against the Packers, which is now in doubt. My advice: If you really want to look out for yourself, get to practice.
But here we are. Neither the husband or wife wants to give in, even though they know it’s the right thing to do. One side is going to briefly feel the shame of conceding, before realizing how stupid the whole thing was and continuing on with a promising marriage.
And with that, this relationship counseling session is over. The bill is in the mail.