By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – Everywhere he’s played, they’ve said he’s too small. When he made it to the NFL, they said he’d never last long because of his diminutive size. Yet from Cleveland to Atlanta and now Chicago, there’s Taylor Gabriel routinely and electrically getting behind defenses anyway.
There’s Gabriel moving across formations and leaving defenders in his wake with his quickness. Explosiveness and speed find a way, regardless of your frame.
On the first clear sky day of camp, Gabriel was not just an accessory used in gadget plays and specific packages. With Allen Robinson having a scheduled rest day, Gabriel was the main weapon and focal point in every situation, used in every which way.
From short designed crossers and nine-routes from the slot, testing and stretching the Bears’ secondary through double teams, to even occasionally starting in the backfield: the Bears made a concerted effort to get the ball into Gabriel’s hands.
Good things happen with dynamic receivers, after all.
Mind you, Gabriel didn’t disappoint or shy away from this challenge. That’s why the Bears signed him in the off-season: to maximize his special talents.
“I’m everywhere in this offense,” said Gabriel of his role with the Bears. “I’m at running back, I’m going deep, I’m getting screens, and I need to be available all the time.”
It takes a special athlete to be that prominently featured despite only being 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but Gabriel has always been a unique case. His experience and commitment to his craft as one of the league’s best one-touch players over the course of his four-year career speaks for itself. Gabriel has played on the biggest stages like Super Bowl LI with the Falcons, and has already played with an elite quarterback like Matt Ryan.
Matt Nagy couldn’t hold back from praising Gabriel’s background and how it assists one of the youngest teams in the NFL in the Bears.
“He has the confidence to play with a really good quarterback, and he’s been on the big stage,” said Nagy, describing Gabriel’s spotlight play. “Nothing’s too big for him,”
The Bears are nowhere near that February platform yet, and no one knows what Mitchell Trubisky actually is until meaningful game action. But it helps to have players like Gabriel who have been there before and done that. Who know what it takes to be trusted in a high-powered offense and perform at the highest level, no matter the situation. For as small as Gabriel is, it’s through his experiences and demonstrated proficiency that shows he has a lot to teach not only Trubisky about channelling doubts, but the Bears as a whole.
“I always have a chip on my shoulder,” Gabriel said of motivating himself through criticism. “I’m comfortable with my NFL experience and what I can do.”
As the sun shines, so does Trubisky
To start this camp, Trubisky’s play was at best okay. Part of that was inclement weather for three straight practices. Part of that was learning a new offense with a host of moving parts. Don’t forget a cohesive on-point defense taking advantage of the conditions.
More than anything, it was Trubisky pressing and trying to make plays as he’s tested in an offense more suited to his skill set under Nagy. Clearly as the sun shines so does Trubisky and the offense, because everything ran like a finely-tuned machine on Monday. For the first time, this Bears’ offense had real pushback in Bourbonnais. Trubisky was in complete command firing dart after dart down field.
In this process, what can’t be understated is the mentorship of Trubisky by both Nagy and veteran backup Chase Daniel. When you see Trubisky launching bombs down the sideline to Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, and Kevin White, those are established from a budding bond for the young passer and his mentors. Sans a well-timed Prince Amukamara interception, the Bears’ defense had no answer for the Kraken being unleashed. Those plays were the result of the quarterback being told to let it rip, how to let it rip, and to continually carry himself as the face of this Bears team.
Nagy elaborated on what that process has been like.
“That bond they have going on in that room, I just step back and laugh,” said Nagy, stressing Daniels’ tutelage with his quarterbacks. “Not laugh, but smile. Because that room is the foundation of our offense and team.”
When the Bears’ quarterbacks get together to review practice, they’re not robotically watching every play on film with little feedback. This isn’t a table read of a television show pilot. They’re having an open dialogue about every read, throw, and decision. They’re watching Trubisky’s mechanics, step by step. They’re communicating, creating chemistry, and getting comfortable. They’re learning.
One of the aspects of Trubisky that’s been undoubtedly touched on in the past few days is his accuracy and touch on deep passes. To start camp, Trubisky was sailing a ton of deep balls and either flat out missing his receivers, or throwing ill-advised picks. His technique wasn’t consistent so neither were his efforts to victimize the Bears’ defense.
Naturally, Daniel, Nagy and company worked on it. And lo and behold, Trubisky finally fired rainbow after rainbow, and passes on a rope as if he was out to prove a point.
What goes into those deep passes is simple: make sure you’re focused on the little things.
“Just keep your weight balanced,” said Nagy of how Trubisky adjusted his deep success. “Maintain your footwork and throwing it motion, and keep it consistent. Everything relies on that back foot and consistency.”
Camp is about challenging your players, then having them glean anything from potential mistakes. When push comes to shove, Nagy and Daniel are breaking Trubisky down, and building him back up the only way they know how.
“I don’t believe in putting guys in a box,” said Nagy. “We have to test them and see what they can do.” R.
Robert is your guy all for all things Bears. He’ll be with the team all through training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.