EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Matt Nagy has made his feelings about the preseason crystal clear.
His words — but more importantly his actions — show that he believes the risk of injury outweighs the benefit of playing his starters in the preseason.
“September 5th is an important day for us,” Nagy said after sitting 28 healthy players, including all of his starters, against the Giants Friday night.
And Nagy has earned the benefit of the doubt after going 12-4 using a similar approach in 2018. But the second-year head coach has also shown a willingness to adapt and come up with new ideas to get his team ready for the Sept. 5 opener against the Packers. And in doing so, he’s shaking up the NFL’s preseason right before our eyes — just not on your television.
That’s where we’ll start this edition of 10 Bears Things, coming to you from the East Coast.
1. Nagy’s Approach Could Catch On
Over the years, Andy Reid has had no problem playing his starters in the preseason. That’s partly why it was surprising when Nagy sat his starters against his mentor in the second-to-last preseason game last year. This season, Nagy is taking that approach to a different level, with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky apparently destined to not throw a single pass in the preseason.
“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears. Every team is different and that’s OK,” Nagy said. “Each coach has their own plan with their own team as far as where they are at depth-wise. We love where we are at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”
Part of the reason he feels good about it is because of an audible he called earlier in the week. Instead of playing his starters against the Giants, the Bears’ coaching staff staged a full 60-play controlled scrimmage at Halas Hall. Nagy managed to simulate a preseason game — with more control over the situations — all while reducing the risk of injury and avoiding putting his offensive plays on tape for the Packers to watch. And it makes sense — if Trubisky can’t run the actual offense in the preseason games, what’s the point?
“I think it’s a smart move,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. “And listen, as an NFLPA rep, I really do think you’re going to see this league transitioning to what we’re sort of doing, and a lot of other teams are doing. Joint practices, where you practice back and forth and not play in the game. Because there’s so many injuries.”
Daniel specifically mentioned how Jets linebacker Avery Williamson tore his ACL and Eagles quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Cody Kessler suffered injuries in preseason games this year.
“Let’s be honest, that’s the reason they’re holding (starters) out,” Daniel said. “We lost (Leonard Floyd and Adam Shaheen) in the preseason last year and they were out for a few weeks and Shaheen’s ankle was never really the same. That’s a costly starter at tight end for us.”
Those are two injuries Nagy has been quick to point out too. They undoubtedly are influencing his approach this year.
Of course, it leads to a deeper discussion about the future of the preseason, especially with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2020 season. And those are discussions that Daniel, an NFLPA rep who benefitted from playing in the preseason as an undrafted free agent, will be involved in.
“You’ve got these AAFs, XFLs — these leagues never last. So we don’t really have a farm system,” Daniel said. “We’re one of the only leagues that don’t have a farm system. So I think the preseason, I think it’s necessary. At least some, so you can get these guys some film and some snaps.”
But when it comes to possibly winning the Super Bowl this year, the preseason isn’t necessary. For Nagy, it seems, it can only have a negative impact. And he doesn’t care that his mentor handles the preseason differently.
“I think Coach Reid would be the first to tell you that if I’m not being me, and if I’m not trying to do what I think is right for our team, then, you know, I’m not Coach Reid,” Nagy said. “I’ve learned so much from him, but for our team and for our situation, I need to do what’s best for us and I just feel like that’s where it’s at.”
And that’s when Nagy stopped, hesitated, and made it clear that Sept. 5 is an important day for the Bears. No argument there.
2. Montgomery Earns Starter Treatment
On the long list of 26 players the Bears announced would not play Friday night, one name particularly stood out: David Montgomery.
Early in training camp, Nagy vowed that the rookie running back would play in the preseason and he couldn’t wait to see what Montgomery could do. And it appears the coach saw enough in last week’s impressive debut against the Panthers.
“We like what we’ve seen,” Nagy said. “Those guys that we kept out, you saw who they were and we felt like that’s what we wanted to do for this week.”
It was already obvious that Montgomery was ready to play a major role in the Bears’ offense. Friday night’s (positive) benching just confirmed that the rookie is going to slide right into Jordan Howard’s former role as the Bears’ lead back.
3. Not Much Kicker Clarity
Game 1 went to Elliott Fry, but Game 2 went to Eddy Pineiro, keeping this a close competition. Pineiro went 2-for-2, hitting from 41 and 27 yards, while Fry missed a 47-yarder before hitting the Bears’ only extra point attempt of the night.
“They just got to, again, produce. So, Elliott had one kick tonight from 47 and missed it. So, we’re evaluating,” Nagy said. “These games carry weight. Don’t have regrets. I told you, it’s all about production and that’s kind of where we’re at.”
An interesting situation played out right before halftime as the Bears had the ball the Giants’ 38-yard-line with 16 seconds left and no timeouts. It appeared Pineiro was going to get a crack at a deep field goal, but Chase Daniel hit Javon Wims for a 29-yard gain. With the clock running out, the Bears almost didn’t get a field goal attempt out of it. Fortunately, Daniel managed to clock the ball with one second remaining and Pineiro made the chip-shot from 27 yards.
“Wherever it’s at, I don’t care. Just make the field goal,” Nagy said.
4. Three Up
RB Kerrith Whyte Jr. — Whyte appeared to have a kick return for a touchdown, but it was called back on a holding call that was tough to see on replay (it was charged to tight end Jesper Horsted). In the regular season, the penalty would have been tough to swallow, but in the preseason, Whyte gets credit for a great return that featured a quick cut to the outside and eye-popping speed. You usually don’t see that kind of speed from seventh round picks. Later, Whyte showed he can be slippery in tight spaces and scored on a tough run at the goal line.
S Sherrick McManis — McManis has been making plays on the ball all of camp (we chatted about his football punching skills in last week’s column) and he forced another fumble Friday night. He continues to look solid at the safety position, which he is playing for the first time at the NFL level.
OLB James Vaughters — I can’t say I’ve noticed Vaughters much during camp, but his strip/sack on Daniel Jones Friday night was certainly noticeable. Vaughters bounced off a chip block by the tight end and slipped inside Giants right guard Chad Slade, ripping the ball out of Jones’ hand as he went by. If not for a nice tackle by the rookie quarterback, Vaughters would have had a touchdown.
5. Three Down
CB Duke Shelley — The sixth round pick had a chance to tackle former Bear Bennie Fowler short of the goal-line, but was run over and Fowler scored. Shelley later tried to scoop up McManis’ forced fumble and take it to the house, but he couldn’t secure it and the Giants recovered.
LT Cornelius Lucas III — The fifth-year journeyman out of Kansas State had a tough night, allowing multiple pressures and getting called for two holding penalties (one was declined).
CB John Franklin III — The second-year defensive back had an up-and-down night, but the 15-yard touchdown allowed to TJ Jones and 37-yard catch allowed to Da’Mari Scott were hard to ignore.
6. Q&A: Prince Amukamara
Now 30 years old and in his ninth NFL season, Prince Amukamara is having a great training camp. He’s entering the second year of a three-year contract extension with the Bears, but his guaranteed money is up after 2019. I talked with him about what’s ahead this season and his future with the Bears:
With where you are at in your career, how has this training camp stacked up for you compared to past camps?
Shoot, I feel like this one has been great so far. This is probably one of the best and I’m measuring that by plays that I’m making on the ball, how comfortable I feel in the new defense and just how I’m moving. Yeah, I would put this up there as one of the best and then you hear your guys letting you know — especially when I feel like I don’t need the reassurance. I mean, I’m not (Khalil) Mack, but it’s like someone telling Mack, ‘Mack, you’re busting your butt.’ It’s like, OK, this dude is an All-Pro. So for me, just getting reassurance from my guys and coaches saying, ‘Hey man, you’re balling.’ So that helps out.
It doesn’t look you’ve skipped a beat physically. At this point in career, do you find yourself having to do extra work in the offseason or is it just the same routine and you just feel good?
I would say I’ve been keeping the same routine, man. Just being very in tune with my body, learning a lot from Lo-co and Pierre and Casey and the guys on our coaching staff. And just picking up new stuff from them, whether it’s different kinds of rehab treatment — especially our trainers, they’ve been great with just giving me little tips that I can add to my toolbox with stuff that I’ve already been doing. I feel like that’s been helping a lot.
I’ve covered this team for awhile and I don’t remember seeing the defense have this much chemistry and camaraderie in a training camp since Lovie Smith was still the head coach. Those guys played together for a long time. What has it taken to build that to the point where you guys have this much confidence and swagger?
This is a defense that I would say for sure, Vic (Fangio) built for awhile and with the pieces that are being added, I would say just the coaching that has already been here. We have a great group of guys that don’t have any egos — checking the egos at the door. And then I think one thing that is very underrated is we do a dinner once a week (during the season) and I feel like that chemistry and all that team building for sure happens there.
You’re a smart guy who pays attention to what’s going on around you. Does this feel like a big season for you? Because it seems like there are a lot of guys who want to be here for a long time.
I wouldn’t say it’s any bigger than any other season. I’ve been on one-year deals like three times in my career and so, this is probably like a one-year deal because my guarantees are up next year. And guys are going to want to get paid. Man, so, no, I’m not concerned about that in any shape or form and I know that as long as we take care of things on the field, everything will take care of itself.
7. Quote Of The Week
“When you have high character people, they can handle that. If you have a bunch of bad people or turds, they don’t. And we don’t have turds on this team.”
— Matt Nagy after a sloppy practice that resulted in the coaching staff getting on the players
8. Tweet of the Week
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 16, 2019
9. Emptying the Notebook
Kyle Long did not make the trip to New Jersey after Wednesday’s fight in practice, with Nagy saying, “It’s handled. Kyle has handled it. We’ve handled it and we have a plan going forward.” … Chase Daniel had some tough moments against the Giants (12/18, 103 yards), including a fumbled snap that turned into a safety, but he was playing with a backup offensive line and reserve wide receivers. With the starters around him, he’s an acceptable NFL backup quarterback … For the second week in a row, Tyler Bray missed Marvin Hall wide open downfield for a touchdown. Last week he was short. This time he was long … Backup right tackle Rashaad Coward — who the Bears hope can develop into a starting caliber tackle — left Friday’s game with an elbow injury and did not return … Undrafted cornerback Clifton Duck had an incredible diving interception near the goal-line and it looked like he was going to return it 99 yards for a touchdown, but he was run down from behind by Giants wide receiver Alonzo Russell.
10. Final Thoughts
— I keep hearing about how “the Bears stayed healthy last season.” This is especially brought up by those who are expecting a regression in 2019. Except it’s not really accurate. Sure, the Bears stayed much healthier than they did in the John Fox era, but that’s a pretty low bar. And it’s also true that they managed to avoid catastrophic (a.k.a. season-ending) injuries to their top players. That’s a reality that will be tough to repeat this year. That said, Khalil Mack missed two games and was limited in two others — that’s a quarter of the season. Mitchell Trubisky missed two games. Allen Robinson missed three. Kyle Long missed eight. And Eddie Jackson missed the final three games, including the playoff loss. The latter injury was a particularly tough blow. There’s more: Nickelback Bryce Callahan suffered a season-ending injury in Week 14. Anthony Miller played with a torn labrum for almost the entire season. Adam Shaheen’s foot/ankle injury had a bigger impact than most realize and the club Leonard Floyd had to wear on his hand early in the season was significant as well. I just named nine key players that either missed games or were significantly limited by an injury. Just something to remember before claiming that the Bears were healthy in 2018.
— When I did my quarterback rankings back in April, I ultimately gave Daniel Jones a second-round grade, writing: “I doubt you are getting a Hall-of-Famer here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jones became an early starter and lasts in the league for a long time. Perhaps an Andy Dalton-like career here.” Still, I was careful not to jump on the Giants for drafting him No. 6 overall, in part because of what I learned from the Trubisky saga. If you have conviction on a quarterback, you take him when you can. So far, Jones has looked good and I was impressed with his command and accuracy Friday night. Granted, he wasn’t facing Khalil Mack and Co., but Jones still looked the part. He’s not in a bad spot learning behind Eli Manning (don’t forget that Jones’ college coach David Cutcliffe and the Mannings go way back) and Pat Shurmur is a better coach than he gets credit for. Put me on the Daniel Jones bandwagon.
— Whoever was controlling the music at MetLife Stadium was on top of their game Friday night. After Taquan Mizzell’s first fumble, they played Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” After his second fumble? Britney Spears’ “Oops I did it again.” Respect.
— It will be interesting to see how Nagy handles this coming week. Practices are shifting to the afternoon, simulating a normal game week, which is pretty standard for the third preseason game. Of course, last year that week ended with Nagy sitting his starters against the Chiefs and it appears he’ll do the same against the Colts next Saturday. September 5th is an important day for the Bears.