By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – While the focus of camp has primarily centered on the Bears’ new offense under Matt Nagy, it’s been an underrated defense and a secondary bringing back a majority of it’s starters that’s stolen the show early.
Mitchell Trubisky and the rest of the offense’s time will come, especially as they gel and learn the nuances of a fresh scheme. For now it’s a back end wasting no time piecing back together a puzzle that’s given them plenty of success before.
On Sunday with the Bears in full pads for the first time, save for a few miscommunications Chicago’s secondary stood their ground in every drill. Seven-on-seven, full team, one-on-ones, you name it.
Any time the Bears passed the ball in any fashion, Trubisky often ate the “sack” and either threw checkdowns or threw the ball away. Part of that is Trubisky getting accustomed to reads he hasn’t seen before, but most of it was a sound secondary continually working it’s keys and chemistry well. There’s only so much you can do when you’re not on the same page with your receivers and the secondary is teeing up.
In typical fashion, veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara rarely let up any space against Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, or Kevin White. Kyle Fuller, continuing the strongest camp of any Bears defender, showed out in run support and fits, and also racked up his second pick of camp on a tip. Cre’Von LeBlanc soon too got in on the fun, snagging a nice diving interception on a pass intended for Adam Shaheen from Chase Daniel.
Even third-year safety and 2016 fourth rounder Deon Bush made plays, breaking up more than a few passes: most notably one where Taylor Gabriel shook him easily early. Since he’s been receiving a ton of repetitions, if there was ever a time to make yourself stand out as Bush, it’s now.
Past the secondary, and in the defensive highlight of camp so far, Nick Kwiatkoski read Trubisky’s eyes perfectly on a rollout and tipped the ball to himself for a pick of his own. A display of impressive reflexes as well as athleticism. That, of course, capped an overall stellar day for the linebacker. The third-year pro in Kwiatkoski has received plenty of opportunities with Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith not practicing to this point, and he’s making the most of them.
Second-year safety Eddie Jackson, a crucial cog of this Bears secondary and defense as a whole, had the right idea about the heights he and his fellow defensive backs can reach. About the standard the defense can establish when they have stellar days at practice like they did on Sunday.
““We just want to get back to that old Chicago Bears style defense,” Jackson said. “We want to be relentlessly aggressive.”
Have a day, Kevin White
Much has been made of how White factors into this Bears offense yet again coming back from injury. The Bears didn’t pick up the 26-year-old’s fifth-year first round option earlier this spring and that spoke volumes of what they see in the future. That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to give White a chance to entrench himself if need be. Especially if he’s going to enjoy sharp practices like he did on Saturday.
Whoever White lined up against, he had success against. Early on, it was his quickness that stood out in the short passing game creating space against Amukamara and Fuller. Later, it was getting separation downfield against Amukamara — multiple times – and burning Bryce Callahan on a deep nine-route down the left sideline: the offensive highlight of camp to this point.
White did have an occasional drop or two, the most egregious of which a pass from Trubisky where Amukamara slipped at the line of scrimmage and White didn’t have a defender within 10 yards of him. But overall this looked like a revitalized version of the receiver the Bears drafted three years ago.
As has always been the case for White, we’ve seen this movie before. It’s about how he builds on these performances and that he shine when it actually matters while building confidence. Something Matt Nagy has reiterated over and over.
“We just want him to be him and play, play fast. And he’s done that so far,” said Nagy sternly of White. “Again, it’s going to be up to him to do it in the preseason games and see where it takes him.”
Sims has a part to play
When the Bears invest as much into the tight end position as they did this off-season, expectations for an unproven group comprised of Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Dion Sims rise. Nagy’s Bears offense is going to feature every member of this trio heavily, with no stone unturned.
On Sunday, in the first real team capacity of camp, each of Burton, Shaheen, and Sims moved up and down the Bears’ formations. They were split out wide. They lined up in-line. They were used in motions. They were sent deep and on screens. All as expected.
And generally, each of Burton, Shaheen, and Sims received the same amount of tests. Gone are the days of the tight end being ignored by predecessors John Fox and Dowell Loggains. In is an offense where the “Y” and “U” are the main catalysts.
Yes, even Sims, who many had a gripe with the Bears about retaining given a $4.5 million dollar cap hit for 2018. The 2017 free agent had a dud of a season last year, but Nagy’s offense wasn’t keen on giving up on him that quickly. Every sign early points to Sims being a significant contributor for Chicago as both a veteran leader and classic grinder of a tight end.
The man who likely most pushed for Sims to be retained in Nagy, didn’t hold back in his praise of the 27-year-old. Sims is going to play, and the Bears have every season to believe 2017 was an anomaly.
“The value with this group is that they each bring something different to the table,” said Nagy describing his tight ends. “Dion in particular, who we can see do more once the pads come on as more of your traditional ‘Y’. He’s physical and he’s athletic, and we’re looking forward to implementing him more.”
How the Bears balance snaps for a tight end trio like this is simple. They’re all versatile, so they’re capable in every phase of the Bears’ offense, and you don’t have to limit them. Camp then, will be about finding the most creative ways to maximize their abilities. A fun challenge for Nagy and company.
“We’re in the basic installs of camp right now, going through things from OTAs,” said Nagy. “Once we get deeper into camp, that’s when we’ll really have fun with these guys and see what they can do.” R.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. He’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.