A Bourbonnais bow: Main takeaways from Matt Nagy’s first Bears camp
By Robert Zeglinski
And so, in the blink of a three-week eye, Matt Nagy’s first Bears training camp has come and gone. Many laughs were shared, and many tears were shed. But most importantly, lessons about the rookie head coach’s roster and situation were learned.
Let’s unpack the most pertinent proverbs from Chicago’s launching point of the 2018 season.
Trubisky a work in progress
Mitchell Trubisky didn’t have an objectively awful camp as the Bears’ definitive starter for the first time, but he didn’t have a good camp by any means. The second-year quarterback has been oft-compared to the Eagles’ Carson Wentz and Rams’ Jared Goff because of the sophomore season NFL leaps they made in 2017. If Trubisky is to follow in their footsteps and take Nagy’s offense to a high-powered level, he has to dramatically improve upon an overall poor showing in Bourbonnais.
You could count the number of times Trubisky didn’t throw an interception in a camp practice on one hand. You could also count the number of days he looked in command and comfortable on one hand. Part of that was learning a complicated offense. Part of that was working with a revamped receiving corps and building chemistry with their targets.
But it wasn’t all on a fresh supporting cast and scheme. Sometimes Trubisky just missed throws, either leaving them short or long, with none of his highly-touted accuracy on display. Sometimes he just made mistakes. That’s on mechanics he still has to improve: which would’ve been the case regardless of offensive additions the Bears made.
Nagy said he “didn’t care” about errors Trubisky makes in the camp environment because this is where the quarterback should make them as he tests what does and doesn’t work out. However, until further notice where this testing pays off, all there is operate on is decidedly substandard play by Trubisky.
To be clear, Trubisky’s poor performance in camp isn’t an indicator he’s a surefire bust and that the Bears are wasting their time in his development. It’s that he has a long way to go, and that this offensive Rome isn’t going to be built in one day.
Defense almost there, but not quite
Not by coincidence, while Trubisky and the Bears offense struggled, the Bears defense regularly had field days in Bourbonnais. The unit shined day in and day out.
For example, it was rare to see a running back with consistent running lanes as a stout defensive line led by Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks stuffed plays. In camp where NFL teams aren’t always full contact and live tackling, that makes this achievement more impressive for the Bears defense.
On passes, most really any passes Bears quarterbacks put in the air, cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara excelled on the boundary. How Fuller and Amukamara played off one another with patience, discipline, quick feet, and a newfound penchant for interceptions was incredibly noticeable.
Taken a step further, by the close of camp Leonard Floyd looked like a nightmare on the defensive edge and as if his knee injury suffered last November never happened. The 25-year-old pass rusher, with his trademark burst and fast hands, became regularly unblockable against the likes of Charles Leno Jr. and the offensive line.
Therein lies the rub: the Bears have nothing else to reliably count on the edge opposite Floyd. Free agent signing Aaron Lynch missed the entirety of camp due to a hamstring injury. Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irvin only began to come on late, and even then they both have oodles to prove. Yes, there’s the prospect of veteran Sam Acho starring in a full time role, but that’s a story told about the Bears too often in recent years: players placed in larger roles and subsequently pushed past their limits.
That played into the offensive line regularly holding up well and protecting Bears quarterbacks soundly, despite less than favorable results as the play developed. Not the best defensive harbinger of things to come.
If not for a rough patch offense, I suspect the Bears defense would have had many more glaringly awful practices where their weaknesses were exploited. Time will tell if the pass rush is as glaring of an issue as believed, as it certainly doesn’t look promising after camp.
Tight ends the end-all, be-all of the offense
Much attention was paid to the Bears’ newly signed and drafted receivers like Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller during camp, and rightfully so. They’re going to be the playmakers that ideally make Trubisky look like a franchise quarterback in due time. But it was the tight ends that instead starred on a daily basis and who should be seen as the focal point of this early and budding Nagy offense.
Every day each of Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, and Dion Sims made an eye-opening play. Every day at least one of this trio could’ve been seen as one of the primary standouts from practice. Be it a slick catch downfield in Burton’s case, completely outmuscling and bullying a defender in regards to Shaheen, or corralling a Bears defender easily while blocking in reference to Sims. There was a lot of projection with these tight ends, but camp significantly quelled those concerns.
This Bears tight end group was used extensively as they were lined up all over the place: showcasing a versatility not previously seen for this attack. Given how tight ends were used by Nagy with the Kansas City Chiefs and in his offensive roots with the Philadelphia Eagles, expect the “U” and the “Y” to create a beautiful symphony together for Chicago. Burton, Shaheen, and Sims together can be special, and are as advertised.
Nagy coaching style welcomed with open arms
Last but not least, we come to how camp was conducted and the general vibe around Bourbonnais. There’s only so much the Bears can do with a young and promising roster if they don’t have a coach that knows how to relate to them and push their buttons. If they don’t have a coach that knows when to ease up on the reins and when to challenge his players. A thin motivational line.
There was always going to be a sense of Bears optimism with Nagy’s energetic personality in account, but the coach made sure to effectively back up his words throughout Chicago’s stay at Olivet Nazarene University.
When the Bears performed well as a team, Nagy was never too effusive in his praise, understanding that they had plenty more work to do. When the Bears floundered, Nagy didn’t take it as a death sentence, understanding that they had plenty of time to fix their mistakes.
When the Bears needed a jolt after lethargic showings, he actively and appropriately chided them. When they needed to simply be taught a concept or ease their way into physicality, Nagy was patient.
In every case, Nagy was refreshingly honest as to the Bears’ different situations that arose. It also couldn’t have been easy to have the Roquan Smith holdout hang over his head as a rookie coach as well, while being relentlessly questioned about it every day. The 40-year-old, as he does with everything, handled it with aplomb.
Late in camp, Acho called Nagy “a strict, but loving dad” as the Bears’ head coach.
Matt Nagy, the dad of a guiding coach the Bears have long needed. R.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. Hire him. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.