Frustration Over the Bears Offensive Line Shows in Fan Questions and Answers

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions

Why do you continue to mention the new coaches — particularly the offensive line coach — as a significant factor in the Bears’ improvement. Weren’t we told how terrific the former assistant coaches were, especially Mark Helfrich and Harry Hiestand? Why should we trust in the new ones? Why do you? How much of this is scapegoating? — Damian W., Missoula, Mont.

Those are certainly fair questions you are raising. The point I’ve tried to make is that the Bears, by virtue of their actions more than anything else, have pointed to the coaching changes being the most significant when it comes to the offensive line. The personnel additions there have been minimal. Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs were signed for veteran minimum salaries. Ifedi projects as competition, perhaps the leading candidate, for the right guard job. Spriggs could compete for a spot as the swing tackle. How else do you evaluate the club’s evaluation of the offensive line coming off last season? I look at it and say, “Obviously, the Bears have a high level of confidence that staffing changes under Matt Nagy will go a long way toward changing the performance of the unit.” If the offensive line doesn’t look considerably different this season, we’ll know there is much more work to be done and in that case, yes, it’s fair to say some scapegoating took place.

Will Charles Leno be a starter in 2020? — @bearsvictoryfl1

Is that really a question? Who else on the roster would the Bears possibly roll out as the Day 1 starter at left tackle provided Leno is healthy? There have been offensive line questions in the mailbag nearly every week since the end of the season. I don’t know how many different ways I can write that the Bears are largely banking on the players they had last season playing better. Obviously, Leno is a huge part of that equation at left tackle. He was added to the Pro Bowl as an alternate after the 2018 season, so he’s not far removed from a strong season. As you may recall, the Bears converted $6.97 million of his base salary for 2019 into bonus money, clearing nearly $5.6 million in cap space in August 2019. That transaction effectively tied Leno to the club through at least the 2020 season, so he wasn’t going anywhere at the end of last season. He’s only 28, so he’s still young and potentially has some good football ahead of him. If not, the Bears will have a major void to fill when looking ahead to 2021. But asking if he will start this season is missing the mark by a wide margin.

I get the frustration on both sides here. It’s the same thing week after week and you can sense that Biggs is getting tired of answering these questions. The answers don’t change.

When I talk to Bears fans all over the city the one thing that they consistently mention are the deficiencies on the offensive line. And no matter how many times I explain why the situation is what it is, the money being paid to the tackles and Cody Whitehair, the commitment to James Daniels, they still keep asking.

I ask, “Who are they going to replace?” Silence. But then the next time I see them they ask me yet again why the offensive line wasn’t addressed. It’s like they don’t even hear me.

Most fans sense that, one way or the other, games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage and they all pay particular notice when one of the units on either side of it is under performing. It’s hard to accept that there were virtually no changes to this unit after 2019.

For whatever reason, Matt Nagy has decided he’d rather have Juan Castillo coaching the offensive line. It isn’t that Hiestand was necessarily a bad coach. It’s just that Nagy didn’t believe he was the right coach. That’s the way it is. Whether it makes a difference or not, we just just have to wait and see.

In the mean time its obvious that the Bears believe that the linemen that they committed to organizationally after 2018 can do better despite under-performing last season.

To be frank, their judgement when it comes to these sorts of decisions hasn’t been great in recent years. The prime example was the decision to ignore the tight end position last year and ride with Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton. They were wrong and they paid dearly for it as a key cog in the offensive machine was virtually useless. In the end, they had to attempt fixing the position in part by drafting Cole Kmet in the second round this year. Which meant, of course that they couldn’t address the offensive line with that pick.

Every year we see situations where the Bears “so called good players” have to step up and improve. The Bears are taking a big risk by putting that on the offensive line this year. But it’s obvious that’s what they’ve done and I think we all understand the reasons why.

Time to accept it and move on.

Kevin White Probably Got a Fair Shot in 2018

JJ Stankevitz at interviews former Bears wide receiver, Kevin White, who doesn’t appear to be too happy with the way he was treated in 2018 by head coach Matt Nagy:

When I asked White what went wrong in 2018, he sort of bristled at the notion I was looking for the answer to be about him. Instead, he repeated this word seven times: “Business.”

White felt like he was playing the best football of his career in 2018. It started with a good showing in a mid-April minicamp and continued into OTAs that spring. Nagy wanted White to stack practices; White did that. Coaches and teammates did what they could to build up White’s confidence and keep him engaged, even though he didn’t have a clear path to playing.

“I would go on scout team and go against the first team just to show, like, you wanna see it again? I’ll show it again,” White said. “So I didn’t see anything coming from it so I would kind of shut down sometimes. Like, man, y’all got it. I don’t know what else you can do. I’m preparing like I’m about to go out there and get 10 (catches) for 100 (yards).

“And then I get to the game and it’s on the bench. Nothing. Nothing.”

This has led reporters like Adam Hoge, also at, to go back to their notes from 2018 to see what they wrote about White’s performance. They don’t seem to match what White said:

…I don’t agree with his own assessment of his play – especially in 2018. I would argue White was given plenty of opportunities to prove himself that year and didn’t take advantage of them.

White described himself as playing the best football of his career that summer. I have notes from OTAs that year that suggest otherwise, although in fairness, reporters only get to view one practice a week during OTAs. During training camp, when the pads went on, I remember a few splash plays, but I also remember White struggling to get open. On Aug. 10, 2018, I wrote in my “10 Bears Things” column:

I’m less focused on whether or not White can stay healthy and more focused on whether or not he can actually play wide receiver at the NFL level. We’re now three weeks and two preseason games into training camp and I’m still waiting for some kind of answer.

It’s nice to have a reporter’s point of view on this but they are, after all, just reporters.  And all of them would acknowledge that they were only able to see a small portion of the practices.

But there is one absolute fact that argues against White and in favor of Matt Nagy’s decision not to play him.

White was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals last year and was released in August. He also had a try out with the Detroit Lions. Neither team thought he had enough to help them. I’m therefore having a hard time believing he could have helped the Bears.

Who Has the Edge in the Bears QB Competition? Ask Yourself What the Ideal Outcome Is.

Jason Lieser at the Chicago Sun-Times is positively inclined towards the way the Beas addressed the quarterback position in the off season:

“The ideal outcome is to get two acceptable seasons out of [Nick] Foles, let [Mitch] Trubisky leave next spring and pick the next quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft.”

Ummmm… no.

The ideal outcome is for Trubisky to develop into the quarterback the Bears thought they drafted.

Now, you might not think that’s likely and that’s fine. Lots and lots of people would agree. Heck, the Bears might agree. But there can be no doubt that the Bears would love it if the 25 year old Trubisky won this job by playing well.

This is, in my opinion, a fact that is being largely overlooked as people handicap this competition.

There are many, many fans and members of the media who think that Foles is already ahead as the two enter this race. They believe that because Foles has worked with all of the coaches who count for anything in the past and because head coach Matt Nagy undoubtedly had a heavy hand in choosing him, that he’s the Bears’ decided choice.

There is also the “follow the money” argument where people point out that the Bears are paying Foles $25 million dollars, a significant commitment.

All of that is true. But it all pales in comparison to the fact that both the coaches and the organization would gladly pay that money to have Foles sit on the bench if it meant Trubisky had developed into something.

The truth is that Foles doesn’t have an edge in this competition going in. If anything Trubisky does. Because if its all even at the end of the summer, Trubisky will be the winner.

Matt Nagy Is Working to Correct Some Mistakes from 2019

Though many apologists defend him, there’s very little doubt that Matt Nagy made some mistakes in 2019 that contributed to the Bears disappointing season. Generally speaking, Nagy did what most coaches do and admitted nothing during the year.

But it seems that after some thought, he’s reconsidering at least one questionable decision. Via Bryan Perez at NBC Sports Chicago:

“Matt Nagy admitted Friday that his decision not to play his starters during the 2019 preseason was a mistake that he won’t repeat this year.

“‘As we talk, that’s one of the things that I look back at from last year that I’m not happy about that I made a decision to do in the preseason,’ Nagy said on the Waddle & Silvy Show. ‘Number one, I think it’s good for them to have it, but number two it sets the mentality. So that’s not going to happen this year.'”

To me, this is really good news.

Nagy has largely gotten a pass on many of the mistakes that he made last year as members of the some media defended (and continue to defend) some of his more questionable decisions. Not playing his starters during the preseason was one of them.

Nagy decided that scheduling and playing a intra-squad scrimmage last year was enough to get the team ready to play. This strategy apparently worked out OK in 2018 so one can’t really blame him too much for playing it this way.

Nevertheless from the first snap in game one against Green Bay, it was evident that the team wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Most prominent among those players apparently affected was quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who hadn’t seen a snap without a red jersey on since January and whose eyes were dilated from the first minute. Trubisky was woefully unprepared to play and it helped set him back so far mentally that it took weeks for him to recover.

Even then he only managed to be league average by the end of the year and this is related to yet another mistake that Nagy made. Going softly and telling Trubisky to relax in the offseason rather than working harder to refine his craft obviously backfired because, by Nagy’s own admission, Trubisky still didn’t know the playbook well enough as his second year in the offense started. As a result, Nagy had to cut it down and this hampered the offense the whole year.

Though Nagy hasn’t come out and admitted that going easy on Trubisky hurt his preparedness to play, he’s certainly not handling him the same way this year. Now he’s cranking up the pressure by supplying competition in Nick Foles, who at least some smart people think is actually the favorite to win the job. How Trubisky responds will be one of the more interesting subplots of the offseason.

From the way he handled training camp to the way he handled the game in London, where the Bears flew in late in the week and were obviously jet lagged, Nagy definitely contributed his share to sporting what was a noncompetitive team last year with some questionable decisions.

It’s a very good sign to see that at least some of those mistakes won’t be repeated.

Robert Quinn Might Make the Bears Defense Go in 2020

Jason Lieser at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the challenges facing the Bears defense.

“[Pass rusher Robert] Quinn said he’ll be fine as long as he plays on the right side, which is compatible with [Khalil] Mack’s preference to play on the left. But there’s a big difference between talking about it in the spring and actually doing it in the season.”

Unlike some of the other things the Bears have done this offseason, I don’t have much doubt that adding Quinn was an upgrade over Leonard Floyd.

Quinn had some bad years with the Rams and Dolphins before having an an excellent season last year for the Cowboys, accumulating 11.5 sacks. I’m sure their willingness to indulge his preference for the right side accounts some of his massive improvement last year. But I’d say that putting him opposite Demarcus Ware, who draws consistent double teams, probably had more to do with it.

Floyd’s inability to beat one-on-one blocking last year opposite Mack, who was literally getting triple teamed, was a serious problem. If last year was any indication, it shouldn’t be an issue with Quinn.

In 2020 the Bears Are All In

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic answers your questions:

“I know the cap is always very flexible and there are a lot of outs in the contracts his players have signed but I’m worried the Bears are soon going to be an old, expensive team without a lot of young, developing blue chip prospects, a great defense, and not good enough to win a Super Bowl. I know this isn’t really a question but I’m asking if my fear is real or am I overreacting? Keep up the great work fish man. — Theodore A.

“Well, I think there are definitely things going on in the world to redirect your fear … actually, second thought, this is probably a better place to channel it.

“What we’ve seen over the past week with the additions of Robert Quinn, Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham, plus the Danny Trevathan extension, is a pretty clear ‘kick the can down the road’ and ‘make the playoffs in 2020’ strategy. Pace would never suggest that publicly, but after years of getting the Bears younger from the end of the Phil Emery era, it’s fully win-now. [Ryan] Pace doesn’t have the time to try to rebuild anymore.

Cody Whitehair’s contract already got restructured. It’s possible we see another one (Akiem Hicks?) before an Allen Robinson extension gets done. All that does is push higher cap numbers into the future. Of course, if the Bears are a playoff team, no one will care about how much everyone costs. If things go sideways and a new regime has to come in, it’ll inherit a rough cap situation in the coming years. However, as Pace has taught us, there are always ways to get around it.”

I actually asked Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune a similar question and his answer differed a bit from Fishbain’s:

“In the past the Bears have been reasonably conservative with their contracts, often front-loading them to allow them to cut players who don’t work out with minimal salary-cap impact. From what I can tell about the recent additions Robert Quinn, Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham and from Danny Trevathan’s new contract, it has occurred to me that ?Ryan Pace might have shifted to win-now mode and shoved in all of his chips on 2020. But it also occurs to me that with the TV contract renewal coming this year, the salary cap might jump pretty significantly next year. I’ve heard estimates as high as $240 million. Do you think the structure of the new contracts has more to do with the Bears simply anticipating the increase and pushing the money off into years when they know there will be a higher cap? — Tom S., Chicago

“I don’t see the details of recent contracts as a sign of more immediacy at Halas Hall. The Bears have lowered the number of 2020 cap hits for the guys you referenced in order to fit them in for this year, allowing for them to carry larger cap hits in 2021, when, as you note, the cap is expected to climb significantly. That’s not putting a premium on the opportunity to win this season. That’s simply navigating the cap situation. It has gotten to the point in the NFL that teams are able to move cap money around so much, it’s really not a big hindrance to offseason roster building unless it’s totally out of whack. It’s worth noting Bears general manager Ryan Pace came from the Saints, who have, for the most part, always found a way to operate while being close to the cap at the start of the offseason. Of course, they have had a franchise quarterback they needed to pay for a long time, and the Bears don’t have one of those. My take is the Bears are doing business as usual with the contracts, even if these players create at least a little ripple for the cap situation in 2021 or 2022.”

After thinking about this a great deal, I think the truth of the matter is that both of these points of view are correct. This is, as Biggs put it, “business as usual” but it is also, as Fishbain puts it, “kick the can down the road and make the playoffs in 2020” mode.

Pace did, indeed, learn his philosophy in the Saints organization and that is to always be aggressive every year. That means that the large potential increase in the 2021 cap is an advantage which the team believes it should take advantage of now and worry about the future later. This is the way they’ve been playing it and this is the way that they will always play it as long as Pace is here.

Why Did the Bears Draft Cole Kmet? A Look at the Eagles Provides Insight.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Seems like the addition of Cole Kmet says Matt Nagy is planning on using a lot of two-tight-end formations. How does this compare to what the Chiefs/Eagles have been doing in the past few years? Can you comment on how different the Bears offense might look this year based on the offseason? — @roybal5598

“That’s something we should certainly see more of this season, but I’d caution you not to get carried away with the idea we’re going to see a dramatic shift. You’re talking about 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers — something that has fallen out of favor across the league the last few years. As passing offenses have exploded, we’ve seen a trend toward much more 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.

“The Bears were near the bottom of the league in using 12 personnel last season. It stands to reason. Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, their top two tight ends entering the season, struggled to stay healthy or perform when they were on the field. The result was the Bears ranked 28th with 123 snaps in 12 personnel. That was a big drop-off from Nagy’s first season, when they ranked 11th with 182 snaps. So we’re talking about 59 snaps being the difference between near the bottom of the league and on the verge of the top 10. Over the course of a season, that’s fewer than four snaps per game.

“Here’s how the Chiefs and Eagles ranked the last two seasons:
2019 Chiefs: 299 snaps in 12 personnel, third in NFL
2018 Chiefs: 274 snaps in 12 personnel, third in NFL
2019 Eagles: 528 snaps in 12 personnel, most in NFL
2018 Eagles: 347 snaps in 12 personnel, second in NFL

“The Eagles made a huge jump last season, but that was need-based more than anything. Injuries decimated their depth chart at wide receiver and forced them to adjust with personnel groupings, leaning more on multiple tight ends.

“With Jimmy Graham and Kmet in the mix, Nagy will be able to return to using more 12 personnel, which he likes to do. It should allow the Bears to create more gaps in the running game to defend. It’s also a great package to throw out of when the defense adjusts to defend the run. It can make it easier to max protect in order to take deep shots downfield or in the play-action game. It gives the quarterback big bodies to throw to in the middle of the field, the kind of easy completions any quarterback needs.

“What the Bears don’t have is Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, so I don’t know that they’re going to shoot to the top of that list. But if Graham and Kmet can play well, there are questions about the depth at wide receiver and running more 12 personnel would reduce the need to rely on a third wide receiver as much. Their third wide receiver last season in terms of catches was Taylor Gabriel with 29. The hope is that Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie Darnell Mooney can combine to produce a good bit more than that.”

I would go even farther than Biggs and suggest that the ability to go to 12 personnel was the single most important missing component in the offense last year and the year before. Though I doubt Mitch Trubisky would have been great, I would suggest he would have been decidedly better if the Bears had had even one tight end that they could have relied on.  The possibility of the run with two good tight ends would have reduced the degree to which teams shifted around to confuse Trubisky after the snap.

A couple years ago I came across this article written by Brian Solomon at The Athletic just after the Eagles had drafted Dallas Goedert in the second round of the NFL draft.  The Eagles were receiving heavy criticism from their fans for the pick, much like the flack Bears general manager Ryan Pace is getting from some quarters after the Kmet pick.

This article made for fascinating reading and gave great insight into how the Andy Reid tree of coaches uses the tight end.

“If anything from the Eagles’ 2018 draft has drawn criticism, it’s Howie Roseman and company spending their only pick in the first three rounds on a tight end. Yes, the team said goodbye to both Brent Celek and Trey Burton in March. But Zach Ertz, fresh off his first Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl-winning touchdown reception, is signed through 2021.”

“It’s a fair question. The answer lies in how the Eagles used multiple-tight end formations as a critical passing weapon, which they unleashed in high-leverage moments. Let’s take a look.

“The first thing to know about the Eagles and their tight ends is that — compared to most of the other 31 NFL teams — the Eagles don’t hesitate to run with one tight end on the field or pass with two tight ends. In snaps prior to the red zone, the Eagles used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) and 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) at about a league-average clip. Yet the average team in 11 personnel passed 69 percent of the time, while the Eagles were more conservative, calling a pass on 60 percent of plays. In 12 personnel, the average team’s willingness to throw dropped precipitously to 45 percent, while the Eagles’ tendencies were relatively unchanged at 57 percent pass plays — the second-highest rate behind only Doug Pederson’s old team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

“What these tendencies show is that when most teams swapped out a wide receiver for a second tight end, they generally planned to run and wanted to gain a blocking edge. The Eagles, by contrast, were more balanced. Whether their four non-running back skill players were wide receivers or tight ends largely didn’t affect their play-calling.”

“While the average NFL team only used two or three tight ends in the red zone about a third of the time, the Eagles deployed multiple tight ends on 41 percent of red-zone snaps. Pederson then called pass plays on 52 percent of those plays compared to a 35 percent league average. The result: 16 touchdown receptions and 0 interceptions on just 32 passes. That includes six touchdowns on eight passes with three or more tight ends (or an extra offensive lineman) in the game. Granted, the Eagles’ red-zone offense was effective throwing out of nearly any formation last year. But that scorching success rate stands out no matter how you slice it.”

Of course, the Eagles have Ertz, a wonderful Pro Bowl tight end, to rely upon. Still, Solomon also points out that the other two Eagles tight ends in 2017 were not created equal. Check out the production by each combination on the field in this table:

The statistics indicate that the offensive production jumped to 7.7 yards per pass and 5.6 yards per carry when Ertz was paired with Burton compared to 3.2 and 3.9 when paired with the aging Celek.

That success continued in the playoffs as the Ertz-Burton combination produced 8.9 yards per play including 9.7 yards per pass on the way to the Lombardi Trophy with Nick Foles under center.

I’m not suggesting that the combination of an aging Graham and rookie Kmet will produce like the Eagles did with Ertz on the field. But what the Eagles did out of two tight ends tells the story when you consider that the position has been a priority with Matt Nagy. Put Tarik Cohen on the field with them and you put defenses in a bind as they need to consider the possibility of the run even as they choose who to cover with a linebacker.

The Bears haven’t produced at this position under Nagy. But if things come together, the possibilities are there.

Like All Rookies Jaylon Johnson Has Work To Do

My feeling is that most Bears fans believe that taking Jaylon Johnson in the second round was the Bears’ best pick in the draft. Most have him penciled in as an instant starter in place of the departing Prince Amukamara.

Amongst all of the optimism surrounding this pick, I thought it would be good thing to pull the comments on Johnson from Bob McGinn‘s pre-draft article on the defensive backs in The Athletic to see what it said. For those not in the know, McGinn is known for getting provocative quotes from scouts on the draft prospects.

Typically for each prospect he’ll have at least one review where a scout has mostly good things to say about the prospect followed by at least one that is very negative. Here is what the negative scout had to say about Johnson :

“He’s a stiff player that tends to play high. He’s out of balance at the top of routes. When he’s playing off he has dirty eyes. Average to below tackler. He does not hunt the ball. He lacks change of direction when playing off. Good ball production. Does a nice job when matched up with large receivers. He’ll go in the first or second. Would I take him there? No.”

Most scouting reports mentioned Johnson’s flaws when playing off coverage and its obvious that its his man-to-man press coverage that got him drafted.

I assume most coaches believe that if you have the athleticism to play man coverage, they can coach you up for the rest. We shall see.