This is the first Chicago Bears training camp under new head coach Matt Nagy. As I attended the third practice of camp Monday morning, there were four people in particular who stood out, as well as five who stood out for their absence.
Notes From Chicago Bears Training Camp
The improved arm strength in quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is one of the most noticeable improvements at camp. Throwing sideline patterns to Kevin White, you could hear the pop when White caught the ball. That said, he did seem to throw the ball a little late on a few throws. But then all the Bears quarterbacks did the same. They are only a couple of days into camp, and Trubisky and backup Chase Daniel had pretty good timing overall.
Let me tell you, there is a big difference in arm strength from Trubisky and Daniel to third-stringer Tyler Bray. I don’t understand why the Bears haven’t brought in another younger quarterback to develop. Bray doesn’t appear to be NFL caliber.
Trubisky’s ability and timing on deep routes was pretty impressive as he hooked up with new receiver Taylor Gabriel. He also fired a laser over the middle to running back Tarik Cohen for a big gain during team drills.
What I was not fond of at the beginning of practice was seeing the Bears practicing the “Philly Special” and having the running back Cohen, off a reverse, throw a wobbly pass downfield to a sprinting Trubisky. They ran this play three times, and converted it twice, to big roars from the crowd. I hope that play isn’t a standard, because some quarterback is going to get killed running that play this year.
White has been maligned and labeled a bust after having season-ending injuries three years in a row. Nagy has said that White looked good in mini-camps and will be judged on this camp, and not the past. While White has looked impressive in camp so far, Nagy has now said that the pre-season games are where White will have to make his mark against contact from other teams.
After seeing him haul in pass after pass today, it’s a little more understandable why the Bears spent a number seven overall pick on him. He’s big and fast, looking like a stronger version of Julio Jones in person. When he catches the ball, he displays good technique snatching the ball out the air with his hands, and not into his body. The Bears just have to hope that he can hold up to the pounding of being a regular contributor, and maybe he can be a rotation guy as he heads into free agency. The Bears have already declined his fifth-year option.
Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen
Two players who have already made an impact since being drafted by the Bears are Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Last year the Saints’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara may have hogged the headlines as the league’s best backfield 1-2 punch. But this off-season both Howard and Cohen have worked very hard in an attempt to rise to their level.
After the Bears hired Nagy, speculation around the team centered on third-year pro Howard, wondering whether or not Howard is a fit for Nagy’s system. Leading up to the draft many writers thought the Bears may address running back in the early to middle rounds. Nagy has been consistent in his praise of Howard, always saying how vital and important he is to the team.
When questioned at the beginning of camp Nagy spoke aggressively saying, “There’s this notion that he is just a first and second down back, and I don’t believe that. Jordan can play all three downs, and we are going to do that.”
Not many coaches would have the attitude Nagy has when it comes to Howard. He sees a teaching opportunity to get Howard to improve his receiving and blocking skills. Nagy said, “That kid is working on his hands every single day…He’s having fun, and it’s reflecting in practice.”
If Howard can be the three down thunder of the Bears backfield, then Cohen is the lightning. He is a player that can score from anywhere and everywhere. Last season he scored five touchdowns in every way possible and the Bears appear ready to display all the tools in this Swiss army knife type of player. Last year he was fifth in rookie receptions with 53 catches.
When I saw him this past Monday morning he was the centerpiece of most of the mis-direction plays I saw when practice opened. Throwing wobbly passes to Trubisky on the ‘Philly special” it is now known as. They also ran a lot of reverse packages, and shovel pass type of plays with Cohen seemingly all over the field.
The Bears goal this year is to actually get Howard and Cohen on the field as much as possible. Last year they talked about doing it, this year they will do it. Defenses will be forced to cheat coverage, or spy on Cohen at all times. This could open up running lanes for Howard, and clear space for Trubisky to run the RPOs (run-pass options) that are a staple from the Andy Reid coaching tree and playbook. Nagy will use a lot of the concepts from his mentor. One of the reasons he took the Bears job was because he believes Trubisky is ideally suited to run the RPOs and throw on the run.
Halfway through practice, Howard’s improved blocking in an effort to become a three down back was on full display against middle linebacker Nick Kwaitkoski. Howard stuffed and stood up the middle linebacker to the delight of coaches, and his running back brethren. The result was the entire linebacking crew dropping, and doing 10 push-ups each, as payback on some sort of training camp wager or contest. If Howard can prove to be a blocker and capable outlet receiver there is really no reason to ever take him off the field.
Five Notable Absentees
Among the Bears notable absences today were right guard Kyle Long, middle linebacker Danny Trevathan and edge rusher Aaron Lynch. Trevathan and Lynch have hamstring issues they are dealing and will not play in the preseason opener for sure.
As for Long, it was probably a day of rest, as he is still rehabbing from off-season surgeries. He may make an appearance with the first team for one series, in the Hall of Fame Game against Baltimore a week from Thursday.