By Robert Zeglinski
The most natural tendency is to revel in optimism when a new NFL coach is hired.
When you’ve “won” the off-season in the manner the Bears have this spring, that’s what happens. It’s not often you see such a dramatic shift in philosophy and good vibes that the Bears have enjoyed with the rise of Matt Nagy and roster construction around Mitchell Trubisky. Without any games played, we are firmly and reasonably in the “honeymoon phase” of this Bears’ courtship where they can do no wrong and are on track for perfection. Off-season activities for Chicago have concluded until late July, and this is by far the most common sentiment.
On paper, this is the most talented Bears team since the late Lovie Smith era.
A core of Trubisky, Akiem Hicks, Jordan Howard, Leonard Floyd, Allen Robinson, and Eddie Jackson is comparable to Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, and Matt Forte.
On paper, this is the most balanced Bears team the Bears have had in decades.
The Bears haven’t had this much ability on both sides of the ball since the 1980s: the last time they were a consistent playoff team. This is an organization that historically struggles balancing talent on both sides, and it seems like they’ve reached a happy medium against that trend.
Which is why, until they prove it on the field, expectations should be tempered for the Bears attempting to leave the playoff launch pad for the first time since 2010. Why they must take a cliche path towards earning their stripes against opponents before they revel in the national spotlight that has strangely centered on the Bears more than ever.
Yes, your eyes haven’t been deceiving you. The early storylines out of this spring have been of the Bears being “back” and generally being viewed as a preseason darling. As a team of Bears prepared to awaken from hibernation and wreak havoc on the NFC. Of the leaders, such as Nagy, Trubisky, and general manager Ryan Pace making more public appearances on ESPN, NFL Network, and in the local Chicago media in just a several months than the previous regime’s three years combined.
It’s been a titanic shift in team marketing and praise, but something no one should get too swept up in until the Bears enjoy results that match up to the attention.
On paper, this is a team that will be in the playoff hunt come this December.
On paper, this is a team, with necessary adjustments, that begins contending for championships as early as 2019: especially given the framework of the roster with guys such as Akiem Hicks already 28-years-old.
On paper, the Bears need to prove this new mix has chemistry that meshes well before they can live off their growing headlines.
This comes in the form of incremental goals that build towards a crescendo of an elite team. Puzzle pieces, that when amassed together, perfectly illustrate the optimistic cloud that surrounds the Bears presently.
Baby steps would be winning three games in a row: something the Bears haven’t done since 2013. It would be finishing with a .500 record in the NFC North: something the Bears haven’t done since 2012, the last time they sniffed anything close to the postseason. Fun fact: you can’t amount to anything in the NFL without stacking wins together or without beating your most common opponents.
Individually, it’d be ideal to see Trubisky throw for 4,000 yards. No Bears quarterback has ever done it, and the Bears are one of the remaining NFL franchises without this distinction. Trubisky reaching this mark would mean Nagy’s offense essentially panned out for the young quarterback. It would mean the offense was consistently productive as it becomes the strength of Chicago’s roster over time.
More importantly, and in something that’s out of their control, the Bears need to stay healthy.
Chicago is the among the league leaders in the last three years in players missing games due to injury. From Kyle Long and Danny Trevathan, to Floyd and Eddie Goldman (2017 not withstanding), the Bears have been no strangers to being without key contributors at critically inopportune times. This is a trend that can’t continue if this franchise is ever going to leave what feels like the darkest and most endless of doldrums.
What the Bears have accomplished this off-season won’t matter if they can’t stay on the field. And if you look at the history of NFL teams that have been able to overcome injuries and still be contenders, the list isn’t lengthy. Health, more often than not, is the greatest predictor of success in the NFL season. The Bears have made efforts to reverse this recent troubling trend, but there’s only so much you can do to enhance what is sometimes just good fortune.
These are goals and aspects that have concerned the Bears with new coaches for years. The offense and it’s wrinkles have always looked exciting. Draft picks have always had the same amount of incredible potential. The fresh energy surrounding the organization is what comes along with, as mentioned, every staff establishing itself.
It’s on Nagy and company to prove that on this occasion, everything is going to pan out differently, in a way that Chicago isn’t used to. Until they do, be prepared for the highs and lows of a team learning how to win. They have flaws and issues they must work through first. Of a quarterback in Trubisky coming into his own. And of a coach in Nagy learning how to manage his roster through adversity, and the good times and bad.
This Bears team is well on it’s way: be patient.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.
Photo credit: USA Today