By: Robert Zeglinski
To reach great heights in the NFL, sometimes leaders have to rock the boat. It doesn’t matter how sound its structure or foundation are. Even if a boat is enjoying smooth sailing through calm waters, circumstances on the open sea can change on a whim. A bizarre storm can pop up on the radar out of thin air, throw plans off kilter, and throw overboard whatever peace remained. The ships who don’t sink in these situations are those operating differently from the rest of the fleet. They don’t prescribe to the status quo. Blend in just like the others, you’re nothing more than a carbon copy clone that loses its sail, or hits the tip of the iceberg without warning.
Those who succeed at the highest level of football establish a new sense of normalcy that everyone else, in turn, follows. The winners are always the trendsetters.
Halfway through the Bears’ preseason and nary has there been a sighting of any of their starters. Save for Mitchell Trubisky channeling the legendary Stan Lee with a short cameo where he turned around and handed the ball off to Mike Davis three times, Chicago’s core players have been nowhere to be seen. Their supporting cast and loyal understudies have similarly been absent from action. A formal plea to be placed in the Witness Protection Program could’ve and probably should’ve been made by higher-ups at Halas Hall.
That is if this weren’t the calculated plan in the first place.
Matt Nagy has never hidden his tendency to zig when everyone else zags. To think not only outside the box, but entirely outside the radius of whatever random warehouse the box is being held in. His proclivity to be regularly irregular is the main reason he has a Coach of the Year trophy sitting comfortably somewhere in his office in Lake Forest. His deliberate ingenuity is what won over the Bears’ locker room in the first place and has them in position to win and win a lot. Nagy’s latest innovation is keeping any major Bears contributor from featuring in hollow football that possesses no bearing on the standings.
A Super Bowl potentially hanging in the balance, the 40-year-old is the trailblazer putting the final nail in the coffin that buries, alive, the idea of the NFL preseason.
“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears. Every team is different and that’s okay,” Nagy told WGN Radio over the weekend after the Bears sat 28 healthy players against the New York Giants.
The Bears and Nagy should be pleased with their progress. Taking a long-term vision and implementing it with a palpable audacity means vindication files in. What other teams make of their exhibitions this time of year is of little consequence to Nagy. Other teams are not the Bears. A good portion of the competition sits in a distinctly separate plane and stage of a rebuild. The Bears, by direct contrast, believe they have a championship to play for and soon.
It’d be best for them not to get in their own way.
“Each coach has their own plan with their own team as far as where they are at depth-wise,” Nagy continued. “We love where we are at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”
August’s monotony has almost come and gone and faded into obscurity in a snap, and reading off the list of noteworthy injuries on Chicago’s roster requires but a few breaths. A sprained ankle on the part of Anthony Miller. Trey Burton’s ongoing recovering from hernia surgery. And a loose spare tire of a hamstring for Riley Ridley that doesn’t appear to be a hindrance anymore. By every account, these minor ailments the Bears are handling patiently and calmly. Cooler heads especially prevailing in a game as unpredictably treacherous as football.
There are less than three weeks before the Bears kick off the NFL’s 100th season against the rival Packers. Barring an unforeseen complication born out of a risk the increasingly cautious Bears’ training staff likely won’t take, their coffers of talent will be complete come early September. Every member of every role, designation and creed, be it Trubisky and Khalil Mack at the top, or special teams aces like Sherrick McManis at the bottom, should be accounted for by the time fireworks are detonated at Soldier Field.
Nagy and his subordinates are treating their players like a shrewd collector refusing to take an action figure out of the mint condition packaging unless absolutely necessary. It preserves the value of every important Bear enough to a point where there’s nary a speck of dust on their playing uniforms, let alone any scratch or exposed stuffing. They’re the anti-Albert McWhiggin as they don’t possess a penchant for being utterly obnoxious and conniving to every person who crosses their path. The only place the Bears fall short in this protection of players (priceless modern heirlooms) is that they (rather unfortunately) lack the charm of Wayne Knight’s slimy voice.
What Nagy has done this Bears preseason is launch a more substantially thoughtful conversation about the merits of the preseason. That’s aside from making certain the Bears’ Super Bowl hopes maintain a healthy, vibrant pulse. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season. If there aren’t sweeping changes to the remaining skeleton of the preseason in incoming surely contentious negotiations, that would be quite the plot twist.
As it exists in its current form, the preseason may still have use to NFL teams attempting to sharpen the edges of the bottom of their rosters. Until someone with the necessary gravitas proposes a worthy alternative gifting young players other means of easing their way into the league, the low-grade beef of the preseason can never evaporate from existence. Otherwise, the four to five-game format sits firmly as an archaic relic of which needs to evolve. An exercise in useless tedium serving almost exclusively just to line the pockets of NFL owners and figureheads cannot continue in its active form. Besides, those respective owners would need to re-sew their pants to fit more currency in, if they haven’t already.
It’s a happy coincidence that Nagy’s bold sensibility to stand up for his team’s needs is what will first heavily figure in flipping this tired routine.
Robert is an editor and writer. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.