By Robert Zeglinski
It can be difficult to truly pinpoint the aspects that are frustrating of yet another lost Bears season. The list of qualms, assuredly, seems like it never ends.
Another disappointing loss to a previously 1-10 team at home in the 49ers? Try again.
An offense that looks as if it game plans to take into account Mitchell Trubisky not even existing? Close, but no cigar.
No, when you’re in the midst of five-game losing streak, and the tenure of your head coach is all but certainly circling the drain, the youth on the team enters the crosshairs. Meaning, younger players getting valuable snaps and playing time in less than meaningful games to prepare for a more meaningful future.
Under Fox though, this doesn’t happen for the Bears. Under Fox, ineffective veterans are afforded all of the leeway to make mistakes, while rookies and up and coming players sit on the sideline forever biding their time.
Take into account Chicago’s current tight end situation for example.
Dion Sims, who signed a relatively lucrative deal in the off-season that guaranteed him $6 million dollars – a bit perplexing considering he hadn’t accomplished much in his first NFL stop with the Miami Dolphins – continually receives more playing time than rookie second-round pick, Adam Shaheen.
At first glance, that doesn’t seem so bad. The veteran Sims is theoretically a more polished player than the Division II product Shaheen.
But when you consider that Sims has been ineffective as the blocking tight end he was brought in to be, sometimes egregiously. And, to boot, when he’s a complete non-factor as a pass target, the justification to continue playing him over the future in Shaheen at the position becomes quite hollow.
The most prominent recent example of this confusing juxtaposition concerns two specific plays for the Bears in the last two weeks. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Shaheen badly missed an early block; in fact, he completely whiffed against one of the NFL’s better defensive ends in Brandon Graham. Summarily, he received little to no snaps the rest of what would be an eventual blowout: when it would’ve been perfect to insert unproven players needing seasoning.
This past Sunday, on the Bears’ first possession of the second half against San Francisco, Sims himself badly missed on a cut block in pass protection, allowing his man to pressure Trubisky. Trubisky, being as athletic as he is, of course, was able to turn the play into a positive gain on a scramble. Sims still received the majority of the tight end playing time through the rest of the game, all despite being the more experienced veteran that shouldn’t be making those kinds of mistakes at this stage in his career.
For context, Chicago had a paltry 37 offensive plays against the 49ers. Of those 37 plays, Sims was in on 25. Shaheen, the more athletically gifted and more complete pass target (something this offense desperately needs) received a minute nine snaps.
Fox in typical non-committal fashion, offered no answer to the question of the disparity in playing time for a player with a maxed out ceiling and one with nothing but room to improve.
“We have a lot of young players playing already,” said Fox. “It’s hard to get a lot of playing time when you have 37 plays. “He’s a guy that we’d like to look at a little bit more. It just didn’t materialize that way … but we like him a lot.”
“We like him a lot”? It doesn’t look like it.
For Fox, words have always meant so much less in relation to action. If Fox and staff appreciated the underlying talent Shaheen had, he would be playing more. If they wanted him on the field and let him make mistakes like the raw rookie he is, he would be playing. But he isn’t, yet another indictment of a staff that seemingly has no concrete plan.
Because for as much as the Bears and Fox will constantly espouse about putting the best players on the field to give them the best chance to win, they don’t. They have their veteran favorites who they trust more than explosive young guys. A hypocritical stance that has never added up.
If they were truly putting the best players on the field, Shaheen would be receiving his necessary repetitions like the starter he should be, because he’s better than Sims. They’re not.
Or, guys like Deiondre’ Hall — a second-year safety — would receive the start fresh off of injured reserve against the 49ers as opposed to someone only signed off the street in Chris Prosinski a few days earlier. He didn’t.
Maybe, Tarik Cohen, who continues to see the ball so little on offense despite being the most electric player almost any time he steps onto the field (see his 61-yard punt return touchdown), would also see more than six offensive snaps. Somehow, he doesn’t.
This is a staff playing out the string as it sees fit, already harming whatever other plans the Bears may have in place. Fox and company have no reason to care about the future and develop the Bears’ foundation. They’re operating on their own schedule with the players they prefer, to a fault. Going down with the ship with a failed mantra that’s accrued 12 wins in almost three seasons.
Perhaps, if they had a concerted effort to play younger guys in the past two lost Bears’ years, the organization wouldn’t be in the 3-9 position it is now with better experience. But here they sit again, with hope at a standstill blocked without any rhyme or reason.
Bold move, Cotton. It still hasn’t and definitely won’t work out for them.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.