MIAMI — Thirteen years ago, the Chicago Bears were one of the teams playing in the Super Bowl in Miami. This time around, many Bears players were just in town for business, as spectators, or simply happened to live nearby.
“You’d much rather be game-planning or in a meeting room right now,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said this week.
As has become an annual tradition, WGN Radio was camped out at Radio Row — this year held at the Miami Beach Convention Center — and conducted many interviews, both with current and former Bears, as well as other important figures around the NFL. Here’s what you need to know from Miami:
1. Kyle Long thinks the Bears’ offensive problems boil down to two things. I asked the now-retired Bear to put his analyst hat on and explain what went wrong in 2019. He was quick to point out that the 2019 8-8 Bears were a similar team to the 2018 12-4 Bears, but with two major differences:
“Health and the running game. Those are the two things that separated the seasons,” Long said.
The right guard was certainly part of the health equation, as he revealed he tore his groin in Week 2 before ultimately landing on injured reserve after the Bears’ bye week in Week 6. The offense also greatly suffered from not having a go-to tight end for Mitchell Trubisky, as Trey Burton played hurt before landing on IR and ultimately undergoing hip surgery.
But health was only part of the equation.
“People want to place the blame on Matt (Nagy), or they want to place the blame on Mitch (Trubisky), and that’s unfair because there’s so many people on the field that dictate how the game ends up,” Long said.
Long put some of the blame on his poor play in the four games he played and doesn’t believe Nagy’s scheme is to blame, even though the Bears haven’t had much success on the ground in two years under the current head coach and offensive play caller.
“I would say scheme is not the issue,” Long said. “As football players, we’re told what to do and we’re asked to execute and if you don’t execute, everybody looks bad because of it. And if one of the five guys isn’t executing, me for example, if I’m not playing the ball that I’m capable of playing, it drags everybody else down.”
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Long join the media soon and he was already offering up opinions on how the Bears can fix their issues.
“I think if you draft early and invest in early picks on the offensive and defensive line, you’ll never go wrong,” he said. “Everybody else does well when the offensive line does well. And you look around the playoffs and you look at Super Bowl Sunday and what do these two groups have in common? Great o-lines.”
2. Patience needed with Robinson extension. The most remarkable thing about wide receiver Allen Robinson after six NFL seasons is that he’s still only 26 years old. When he signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Bears in 2018, he knew he’d still be young enough to cash in again on his next contract.
In two years with the Bears, Robinson has racked up 153 catches, 1,901 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. In many ways, he carried the offense in 2019 — which is why you’d think the Bears would want to extend Robinson at his age before he hits the open market a year from now.
“I said when I signed with the Bears that I wanted to retire a Bear. That has never changed or wavered,” Robinson told WGN Radio. “There’s a lot that goes into getting an extension done.”
Robinson said there hasn’t been much movement towards getting an extension done this offseason, but that is not necessarily surprising. While the Bears moved quickly to lock up safety Eddie Jackson after the season, general manager Ryan Pace has a reputation for getting extensions done right before the regular season starts. Eddie Goldman, Charles Leno Jr. and Cody Whitehair are all recent winners of late-summer extensions and Robinson could be the next in line.
“I’m just talking to my agent when anything comes up, but for me, I’m just attacking it like I would any other year,” Robinson said. “It’s a contract year, so just continuing to prepare myself and get ready to go. All I know is that I’ll be a Bear for this 2020 season and that’s what I’m preparing for.”
Right now, that includes training in New York. Robinson join his teammates at Halas Hall for the offseason program that begins in April and then spend the summer training in South Florida before training camp begins. And while he trains, he admitted his Pro Bowl snub will remain on his mind.
“Most definitely. I see stuff like that,” Robinson said. “I jot down little stuff like that. (The Pro Bowl is) something I want to accomplish … When you’re getting these offseason workouts in, those things definitely come to mind for sure.”
3. Like fans, players are interested in the specifics of the new coaching structure. When I asked Robinson what he knows about new Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, he responded: “I don’t know too much about those guys.”
And when I asked him to explain the job of “passing game coordinator,” Robinson said: “To be honest, I can’t,” before adding that he understood why Dave Ragone was given more responsibility because he’s “obsessed and very competitive and fiery into getting the job done.”
Essentially, the structure of the Bears’ top offensive coaches looks like:
Head coach: Matt Nagy
Offensive coordinator: Bill Lazor
Passing game coordinator: Dave Ragone
Quarterbacks coach: John DeFilippo
But while Bears players remain curious as to how this new structure will impact the offense, there’s was one quarterback in Miami who could at least provide insight on Lazor: Chiefs quarterback Matt Moore.
“Man, I like Bill,” said Moore, who was in Miami when Lazor was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator for two seasons. “Bill is a high energy guy. He’s going to hold you to the highest standard. He’s creative. He’s going to try to create speed and space just like anybody. When he was here, he had just come from Philly with Chip Kelly. When you talk about all that space with the bubbles and all that stuff, kind of how the game has evolved, and Bill was right on top of it. So we were doing all that stuff. They got a good coach in Bill Lazor, I know that.”
From that standpoint, Lazor is a good fit with Nagy’s scheme. In fact, Nagy was interested in hiring Lazor two years ago when he was first assembling his staff in Chicago, but Lazor had just had the interim tag taken off his offensive coordinator position in Cincinnati and remained on Marvin Lewis’ staff with the Bengals. Two years later, Lazor is now in Chicago where a big emphasis will be put on improving the run game.
“(The run game) was big (with Lazor),” Moore said. “I think that was one of the big things that he brought with him from Philly. So I think he’ll have his fingerprint all over it for sure.”
4. Patrick Mahomes’ agent would have been fine with his client landing in Chicago. Wednesday marked my annual radio row chat with Leigh Steinberg, the longtime super agent who is enjoying a resurgence with Mahomes as his star client. In discussing Mahomes’ rise to international stardom, Steinberg slipped this comment into the conversation: “The only thing that hurt me is that it’s so much fun having a player in Chicago because if you can just win — well, ’85. I went back for a roast of Richard Dent and they still love that ’85 team.”
Steinberg represented Jim Harbaugh when the quarterback was with the Bears so he has a good understanding of the opportunities that come with playing the position in Chicago. He knew the Bears were interested in Mahomes and that it was possible he’d be representing another Chicago QB.
“They were interested and they scouted him very thoroughly,” Steinberg said. “But individual teams fall in love with individual players and that’s what it takes to get drafted high. And I think you have to give Trubisky a much longer period because what happens is, the more times a quarterback sees the field, the better he gets.”
In general, he thinks the patience for quarterback development has significantly dwindled since he represented clients like Harbaugh, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and Steve Young.
“What happens today is they throw a young quarterback in (and) because of social media, fan reaction and the rest of it, he’s judged to be a bust very early. And it totally retards his development,” Steinberg said. “We have no patience. You gotta give Trubisky a chance to mature over time. The fact that Patrick is so successful or Lamar Jackson, that’s abnormal.”
5. Nagy’s fingerprints remain on Mahomes’ development. Considering how talented Mahomes clearly is, chances are he would have been just fine without the influence of Nagy, who was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator during Mahomes’ rookie season. But that doesn’t mean the Bears’ head coach didn’t have a significant impact on Mahomes’ development.
“Matt Nagy and (Mahomes) had a terrific relationship, one-on-one, and he helped a lot,” Steinberg said. “You have sort of a cerebral quarterback and Matt was the same way with him. Patrick credits him with a good part of his success.”
Part of Nagy’s challenge in 2017 was to develop the Chiefs’ first round draft pick, while also preparing Alex Smith to start every week and win games. That’s where former Northwestern quarterback and graduate assistant Mike Kafka came in. He was the Chiefs’ quality control coach at the time and worked closely with Nagy and Mahomes behind the scenes.
“Nags was able to help me out with kind of a framework of how are you going to get Pat ready and take the next step?,” Kafka said. “So we talked a lot — through Nagy and through Coach Reid — about how we want to get this done and get Patrick acquainted with the offense as fast as possible.”
They all knew Mahomes was the franchise quarterback and it took many extra hours of work to get the future MVP ready.
“Pat put in a bunch of time, getting in really early before a lot of players, talking through the protection game, talking through the install, so by the time Coach Reid installed it in the morning, he probably had heard it once or twice already,” Kafka said. “So those things, as you build up each week, each day. They start adding up.”
By Week 17, when Mahomes got a spot start in a meaningless game before the playoffs, the rookie showed off his talent with a 284-yard NFL debut. A year later, he was the MVP. Sunday, he’ll have a chance to win his first Super Bowl.
6. One Super Bowl XLI participant is going to earn their first ring on Sunday. Thirteen years ago, Robbie Gould was in his first full season with the Bears and Dave Toub was still a young special teams coordinator with a young, explosive kick returner named Devin Hester who took the opening kickoff to the end zone in the same stadium Sunday’s game will be played in. This time, Gould and Toub will be on opposite sidelines and one of them will earn that ring that eluded both of them in 2007.
“It is (weird),” Toub told WGN Radio. “I’m happy for Robbie. Robbie had a great year. I coached Robbie for eight years in Chicago. Great person. I’m really happy he’s made it to this game and let’s leave it at that.”
Toub laughed as he finished that sentence because the great relationship they have will be put aside for three hours on Sunday as they try to win the game. And Gould isn’t messing around either, revealing that he went back and studied Super Bowl XLI tape “just to see how (Toub) called the game.”
“It’s funny. It was so long ago that the film is grainy. It’s not HD like it is now,” Gould said. “But to go against him on the other side, for me, it’s going to be pretty special because the last time I played in this, he was coaching me. I just hope he doesn’t return the opening kickoff.”
Despite losing the game, Hester’s opening kickoff return touchdown remains one of the great moments in Chicago sports history and Super Bowl history.
“Simply the best moment of my life,” Toub said, before adding: “Coaching.”
7. The signing of cornerback Tre Roberson is one to take seriously, but don’t get crazy with expectations. On one hand, this isn’t just a random free agent from the Canadian Football League that is destined to get cut in early September. Roberson will certainly have to earn a job, but he was reportedly highly sought after by nine other teams and has a legitimate chance to stick with the Bears.
On the other hand, contracts tell us more about the true demand of players, and ESPN’s Field Yates reported Friday that Roberson has a base salary of $550,000 in 2020 and $610,000 in 2021 with a $75,000 signing bonus, a $50,000 Week 1 roster bonus in 2020 and a $25,000 workout bonus both years. In other words, there may have been some demand for Roberson, but every team agreed he’s a project.
Roberson played quarterback at both Indiana and Illinois State but was undersized so when he got his first shot in the NFL with the Vikings, he didn’t really have a position. He tried cornerback though and eventually got the hang of it, finding success in the CFL with seven interceptions last season. While Roberson is now 27, his CFL stint can be viewed almost like a second college career, but this time developing at a position he can realistically play in the NFL.
This of course does not mean Roberson is going to turn into a longterm starter for the Bears, but he has legitimate skills. With Prince Amukamara likely needing to take a pay cut to stay with the team, the Bears could have a starting cornerback spot open. Roberson will be in the mix.
8. Trubisky’s surgery a minor setback. Robinson confirmed that Trubisky had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and explained that the surgery would prevent him from getting together with his quarterback to work on routes and timing during the first portion of the offseason. Still, Trubisky’s surgery is not expected to hold him back too long and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him ready to go when on-field practices begin in May.
9. Eddy Pineiro and Pat O’Donnell serve as Super Bowl hosts. The Bears’ special teams battery hails from South Florida with Pineiro from Miami and Pat O’Donnell from the Palm Beach area. Both were on Radio Row this week, with Pineiro bringing his parents and 14-year-old brother with him to the party. Since they live so close together, Pineiro and O’Donnell plan on getting some work in together during the offseason. You can hear their joint conversation on The Hoge & Jahns Podcast right here.
10. Amazingly, Bill Vinovich is the referee in Sunday’s Super Bowl. That’s extremely notable because Vinovich was the referee in last year’s NFC Championship Game, which featured the infamous blown pass interference call that allowed the Rams to beat the Saints.
Here’s the thing: Vinovich is a good referee. This is his second Super Bowl in five years. The fact he was calling the NFC Championship Game last year means he had another strong season. And last year’s blunder has nothing to do with how Vinovich graded out this season, which is how playoff and Super Bowl assignments are determined.
Also, Vinovich isn’t the one that missed the pass interference, even though he was in charge of the crew.
All that being said, this hardly feels like a coincidence. It’s been a rough couple of years for NFL officials and senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron. Most believe he’ll lose his job this offseason (I’ll believe it when I see it), and right or wrong, the appointment of Vinovich in the Super Bowl just feels like a defiant statement. To be clear, Vinovich is worthy of calling this game, but the optics of it all are questionable at best.
Here’s hoping Vinovich’s crew has a great game. The NFL badly needs that to happen.
Note: You can hear Adam Hoge and Adam Jahns on WGN Radio 720AM and WGNRadio.com on Sunday from 1-5 p.m. CT as they get you ready for kickoff in Super Bowl LIV.