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We’ll get to Bears OTAs, captains, the possibility of joint training camp practices and a ton more in this edition of Bears Things. But first, we need to start with a narrative that must stop. No, seriously. It must stop. Now.
New general manager Ryan Poles is not abandoning Justin Fields. If this thought has ever entered your brain, please delete that portion of your brain.
Also, the Bears are not tanking because they don’t believe in Fields. Poles and new head coach Matt Eberflus believe in Fields very much. They also believe in building a complete football team around a promising, but still unproven quarterback.
You don’t tank by drafting two plug-and-play defensive backs into a defense that ranked 13th in DVOA last year despite a struggling secondary. What’s missed by those fixated on the offensive depth chart is that the Bears are morphing into an outside zone run team and happen to have good depth at running back. With a defensive scheme that should create more takeaways and a strong emphasis on special teams (don’t forget they drafted two good returners), the Bears are capable of winning the field position game. Ball control and field position can go a long way in helping a quarterback develop, even if that quarterback doesn’t have Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez to target in the passing game.
What the Bears aren’t doing is making the same mistake the last regime made with Mitchell Trubisky. Yes, they love Justin Fields, but like everyone else, they don’t know with absolute certainty if he’ll be good. They need to see more. Remember, former Bears GM Ryan Pace double-downed on his Trubisky pick by trading for Khalil Mack after just one mediocre rookie season from his young quarterback. Poles is doing the exact opposite after Fields’ mediocre rookie season. In fact, he literally traded Mack to a different team. Poles is thinking long-term and allowing himself flexibility no matter what Fields does in 2022. If the quarterback takes off, great. The Bears will have a ton of financial flexibility and draft capital to supplement around him. And if he stinks? The Bears will have a ton of financial flexibility and draft capital to rectify the situation.
What did you want Poles to do differently? Spend reckless money on Christian Kirk? Trade future first-round picks for Chris Olave? What does this whole thing look like a year from now if Poles does that and the quarterback still isn’t good? Going all-in on Fields after a mediocre rookie season wouldn’t be smart, even if you still *think* he’s going to be good — which Poles does.
Keeping an open mind that Fields might not be the savior doesn’t mean you hate the quarterback — it’s just smart business when it comes to an unproven second-year quarterback. If there’s a football city that should understand that, it’s Chicago.
But what about the offensive line?
Good question. And here’s some advice for the next few months: Stop fixating on big names and pricy contracts and focus more on the identity Poles, Eberflus and new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy are creating on offense.
You remember that word “identity.” It’s that thing the Bears searched for endlessly on offense over the last four seasons and never found. They never had a consistent running game under Matt Nagy. And when they had good drives while leaning on running back David Montgomery, they would often get away from it in the red zone and stall.
The Bears’ 2022 offensive depth chart might not blow anyone away, but it’s not too much of a stretch to believe the entire unit will be more functional with a simpler playbook that establishes the run and leans heavily on play-action.
In other words, it’s a quarterback-friendly scheme. Heck, it even attracted backup Trevor Siemian — who had other opportunities — to the Bears.
“You can lean on the wide zone, the zone scheme,” Siemian said. “The play-pass lets young players, be it quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, play quickly. I’ve bounced around and been in different schemes, but I’ve always looked over the fence and been like, ‘Yeah, I want to play in that again.’”
It will all start up front with that offensive line everyone is concerned about. But if the players are a good fit for the scheme and match the brand of football the Bears are looking to play, then — again — it’s not a stretch to think the offense will improve (they ranked 26th in offensive DVOA in 2021).
Poles is banking on two things up front: His offensive linemen will be tougher and smarter than they were before.
“Football is played a certain way. It’s not a contact sport. It’s a collision sport,” center Lucas Patrick said. “We as the offensive line have two duties whether it’s run or pass: If it’s a run, we’re denting the defense. If it’s a pass, we’re setting a wall. That’s the expectation that every man should have when they put on a Chicago Bears helmet as an offensive lineman.”
If there’s one area where Poles deserves the benefit of the doubt in his first year as GM, it’s with the offensive line — you know, since he was an offensive lineman and all. As it comes together, focus less on the names on the back of the jerseys and more on how the unit is coming together within the new scheme.
- I was a little surprised when Eberflus said Tuesday he hasn’t decided on his philosophy for choosing captains. This is a hot topic among Bears fans because Nagy’s desire to have weekly captains went off the rails a little bit in his last season as head coach.
To be clear, I prefer season-long captains, but I’m not necessarily against weekly captains if the honor is actually earned. That’s not how it was last year under Nagy. By the middle of the season, the only criteria that seemed to matter was whether a player used to play for that week’s opponent. Hell, Bruce Irvin was on the team for five minutes and was still named a captain against the Seahawks in Week 15.
To his credit, Eberflus gave a good answer on the importance of leadership: “The leadership on a football team is the No. 1 priority you have to establish. It starts with the coaches but what’s more important is the leadership in the locker room … Being a good leader is about action. It’s about doing the things that you need to do and execution on the football field first. A lot of those guys are rising to the top. I let it happen organically, just by observing it. I set the parameters and the standards of a football team, how they operate, and the guys that operate in that certainly can be themselves, no question about it. But the cream will rise to the top. It always does. My 30th year as a coach and I’ve seen it every single year. It will rise to the top.”
- Eberflus is not optimistic about holding joint practices against another team during training camp and I’m not terribly surprised. The preseason schedule didn’t really cooperate. The Bears’ first preseason game is against the Chiefs and Andy Reid is notoriously against joint practices because he’s worried about giving away secrets. The second game is in Seattle — perhaps the toughest place logistically to temporarily move an entire training camp for a week. And the third preseason game (in Cleveland) is probably too late on the calendar.
“I’m in a conversation with one (team) right now and that might come up,” Eberflus said. “I’m not going to say their name but we could potentially do one but I don’t foresee it happening right now.”
It’s possible that team is one the Bears don’t play in the preseason. It’s not unheard of for teams to hold joint practices before the first preseason game week.
• On last night’s CHGO White Sox Podcast, I told CHGO’s Herb Lawrence that I’d address anything he wants in this column. He responded by saying: “Nathan Peterman shouldn’t be on the Chicago Bears.”
I’ll respond by tweaking that to: Nathan Peterman should not be playing in games for the Chicago Bears. If he takes meaningful snaps this season, they are in trouble. But right now, he’s the third-string quarterback and is an upgrade over Ryan Willis, who had rookie minicamp eligibility and was let go after that. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Peterman will be receiving very few snaps, if any, even in practice. This is Justin Fields’ show and, barring injuries, Siemian will be the unquestioned backup.
• Interesting nugget from Bears running backs coach David Walker: He’s been having David Montgomery study Colts running back Jonathan Taylor this offseason.
“Minus the 40-yard dash speed time … they are very similar in their styles,” Walker said.
For the record, Taylor ran a 4.39 to Montgomery’s 4.63, but no one is really questioning the fact that Taylor has an extra gear. Montgomery is still a criminally underrated back, and he’s almost certainly faster now than he was when he ran that 4.63 in 2019. Before suffering a minor knee injury last season, Montgomery looked faster both in the preseason and in the team’s first few games. Regardless, Walker was simply saying that despite differences in straight-line speed, there are similarities to how they run, so why wouldn’t you study Taylor to take nuances from his game and apply it to your own? Players are constantly studying other players. Taylor is a good one for Montgomery to look at.
What you may have missed…
We had a full recap of Tuesday’s OTA happenings at Halas Hall on the CHGO Bears Podcast. Make sure you go back and check it out if you didn’t see it live.
What’s on deck…
A live crossover event with the CHGO Bulls squad on Wednesday’s live show at 11 a.m. CT. Matt Peck and Big Dave are big Bears fans and they are sure to bring some strong thoughts on Justin Fields and the offseason.
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