By Robert Zeglinski
BOURBONNAIS – Learning the intricacies and subtle information of a new offense takes time. That’s especially so when you’re expected to make strides while taking live bullets against the majority of defense that’s played together for three years. Multiply that with weapons that don’t yet understand each other, and the problem rises tenfold.
This volatile mix was the Bears offense through the first three weeks of 2018’s training camp. Plagued by an overload of information from Matt Nagy’s complex “Spread Coast” offense and a young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky being allowed to turn it loose without any experience of doing so, whatever positivity you heard about this attack was at a whisper. From turnovers and poor decisions, to a lack of focus and at times even failing to line up properly, the Bears had a limited poker hand to work with. A hand they held close to the vest out of sheer embarrassment.
On Monday, this offense fired on all cylinders for the first time and that’s because they finally have a connection.
For once, the Bears defense didn’t have an answer because Trubisky would get his teammates in the proper spots anyway, keeping the defenders on their toes for perpetuity.
For once, Chicago’s offense was dictating matchups, the way they professed they would the entirety of the 2018 off-season.
For once, the Bears had a defense in the palm of their hands. A monumental step forward for what is supposed to eventually be a high-powered, multi-faceted attack schooled by Nagy’s influences.
And it was keyed by the young maestro Trubisky finally fully understanding the nuances of the Bears’ different personnel groupings, terminologies, and decoding the immense responsibilities asked of him.
“The key on that is the coach to quarterback communication,” Nagy said of how Trubisky’s best grasped the Bears’ different formations and play versatility. “If it’s choppy, if it’s not the same for him, then it’s harder for him. “It’s gotta be a routine to where whatever that is, whether it’s the personnel first and then the formation. Or whether it’s a reminder first, and then personnel, and then the play. Whatever that is.”
“We don’t want him (Trubisky) going up to the clock with 14 seconds to go with the stuff we have in this offense. That’ll hurt us.”
What Nagy and the Bears coaching staff have done is create an open dialogue relationship with their quarterback, as they should. That allows Trubisky to see and hear the same messages reverberated to him again and again through mistakes and triumphs. There’s no confusion. There’s no panic on a bad play. It’s the same lessons from Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, to his backup in Chase Daniel.
This uninterrupted nerve cell offensive synapse of sorts is why Trubisky was able to have the Bears offense humming along on Monday. The most prominent examples of Trubisky’s command, and there were many, were his checks to successful plays.
In one of the first full team drills of practice, Trubisky surveyed Chicago’s defense, audibled and motioned Anthony Miller over, then hit the playmaking rookie in stride deep down the right seam with nary a defender in close proximity. As casual and cool of a check and cold pass in quick succession as you’ll see. This was Trubisky seeing a weakness in the defense and identifying how the Bears offense is designed to exploit vulnerabilities on a dime. Because he had seen it before.
Later, with the Bears working red zone drills, Trubisky lined up out of the shotgun and again saw an opening left behind in the defense. The quarterback then flipped Tarik Cohen over to his other side and took it for himself on a keeper in a free lane to the right side the other way. This was an emblem of the quarterback’s proficient decision-making processing better. Because, again, he had seen it before.
Those two plays were merely small examples of the rhythm the Bears offense displayed throughout a muggy day in Bourbonnais. The entire offense worked on a beat and step ahead like the elite offenses in football do. A beautiful symphony of spread offense. They had an advantage and did everything possible to maintain it.
It’s crazy what trial and error does for a team.
“As we go more and more through these installs, the game is starting to slow down for us,” Trubisky said of the Bears offensive progression. “The more time we have and the more reps we have, it just slows down for us.”
Indeed, as the Bears mow along through the 2018 season, it’ll be fascinating to see how the offense responds to fresh aspects of their scheme or other defensive ploys they haven’t seen. The week-by-week basis of the regular season doesn’t allow for the same meticulous correction and teaching that the slow crawl of camp and the preseason does. That’s why Trubisky and the Bears are taking the time they need for risks and tests in August so they can have more days like Monday when the lights are on.
“We’re out here finding out what throws we can make and what throws we should maybe just hold off on,” Trubisky said. “And routes, and timing, and whatever that works good. We’re out here getting better and we’re testing it to the limit every day to see what I can do, and see what this offense is capable of.”
Robinson the alpha
When Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey first met Allen Robinson, he thought he was a bit of an introvert. Robinson didn’t operate the way typical alpha dogs on the outside do, which threw Furrey for a loop.
But don’t let that quiet demeanor paint the picture of a receiver that lacks confidence. This is a player determined to be great who will let nothing get in his way: something that Furrey now sees every day out of the 24-year-old.
“He’s a business man that’s so locked in because he wants to be that good. You can see why that would be seen as being an ‘introvert’,” Furrey animatedly said of Robinson’s focus.
The hushed fire Robinson shows is when he’s the go-to guy for the Bears offense once there’s been a lull. There was a stretch Monday where Bears playmakers dropped three straight passes, Robinson included. Where they put the ball on the ground and lost a communicative signal. After that, the Bears force-fed the No. 1 receiver on three of the next four plays: each a completion to get the offense back on track. Later, he purposefully beat a Bears defender down the left sideline for a touchdown on a play where Trubisky absolutely knew he would get open.
When in doubt hit your elite stars like Robinson, because they know how to push back.
There’s leading with words and there’s leading by example. Robinson’s play and ability to be counted on is everything you need to see that he fits the latter description. The introvert is as ruthless, calculated, and intelligent as it gets. That’s part of why he can get so open on a quick sequence of plays.
“He’s very competitive, and man, he’s football smart. He understands the game,” said Furrey of Robinson. “He’s like a quarterback out there playing wideout.
The other Chicago wideouts like Miller might be getting the headlines now in the early season as Robinson eases in after his knee injury suffered in September 2017. But make no mistake, this Bears passing offense is built around Robinson’s skill set, leadership, and drive to be great. These small clips of the receiver’s game-breaking flair in clutch moments will become full-fledged motion pictures soon enough, and Furrey knows it.
“The main priority for him (Robinson) is to be the best at his job. He’s so focused in on that that everything on the outside is a shadow to him. But that’s not a bad thing either.” R.
Robert is a writer and producer. He’ll be with the Bears through all of training camp. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.