What Have The Bears Been Up To?

Coaching Hires

matt nagy

To be honest, before the news broke that he would be the new Bears head coach I had never heard of Matt Nagy. Also, despite it looking easy enough, I’m still not sure if the ‘a’ in his last name is pronounced like the ‘ai’ in ‘bait,’ the ‘a’ in ‘bag’ or the ‘e’ in egg. Nagy has been the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for the last two seasons, serving as their quarterbacks coach the three previous seasons. He took over full offensive play calling duties midway through this season, and at the end of the year the Chiefs had some of the best offensive numbers in the NFL. The Chiefs gained the 5th most yards on offense, were 7th in passing yards per game and featured the league’s leading rusher, Kareem Hunt.

The reason I’m most excited about Nagy’s hiring is because of what it can potentially do for Mitch Trubisky. The phrase “run-pass-option” (RPO) has become a buzzword in football over the last year or so, but those plays are an integral part of Nagy’s offense. Trubisky frequently showcased his athleticism and surprising speed this past season, but it would be nice to see him doing that on more designed plays rather than because his receivers couldn’t get open or he was running for his life. Furthermore, a system where the defense has to respect the QB as a running threat opens up opportunities for the running game. Jordan Howard in particular stands to benefit from having less attention payed specifically to him by defenses. Nagy also said he thinks he can use Tarik Cohen in a similar way to how Tyreek Hill was used in Kansas City this season, which made me Matt Patricia levels of excited as a Bears fan.

I also really like the Bears giving a guy like Nagy who hasn’t been a head coach before a chance with this team. The Bears stink, no way around that, so why not try something new.

The theme of promoting coaches to the top level continued with many of Nagy’s hires for the offense. First was Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand harry hiestandto serve in the same role for the Bears, a job he previously held from 2005 to 2009 (good times). The Joe Moore Award, which each season is presented to the best offensive line in college football, was recently awarded to Hiestand and the Irish offensive line. That line was anchored by left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Mike McGlinchey, both of whom are projected to be first round picks in this spring’s NFL Draft. I’ll get to the Bears’ draft needs in a minute, but don’t be surprised if one of those two ends up reuniting with their old coach this coming season.

Next was Mark Helfrich, formerly the head coach at Oregon and previously their mark helfrichoffensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, who was hired to be the offensive coordinator. While I expect Nagy to still take the lead on calling plays, partnering with a great offensive mind like Helfrich can only be good for the Bears offense. After a year of the John Fox and Dowel Loggains “run, run, pass” offensive I’m all for some more creativity in the offensive play calling. Bring on the options, jet sweeps, and skill position players throwing passes.

A coach taking a huge leap up the coaching ladder is Mike Furrey, who’s been hired as the receivers coach. He was most recently coaching Division II Limestone College, and was once Nagy’s teammate in the Arena League before going on to play for the Rams, Lions and Browns. Not much to speak of resume wise, but if Nagy believes in him I say why not. The Bears receivers can’t get any worse.

Perhaps the Bears’ most important coaching move outside of Nagy was retaining Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. vic fangioWhile the Bears were the 23rd best defense this year by yardage allowed, they’re a young unit who showed real signs of improvement this season and keeping Fangio in charge can only be a good thing for the continuation of their development. I also think it will be a huge benefit to the defense if the Bears can control the clock better on offense (the Bears ranked 28th in time of possession this season).

Draft Needs

If I was to rank the Bears draft needs in terms of position, wide receiver might be ranked first, second and third. Kendall Wright had a decent year, with 59 receptions for 614 yards. He also had just one touchdown and was the Bears’ leading receiver. Dontrelle Inman also provided a spark after coming over from the Chargers, but these are guy who should be the supporting cast of a receiving corps not its leading men. The Bears desperately could use some help here, which is why every mock draft I’ve seen has them taking Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley with the 8th overall pick. Ridley is a phenomenal talent and would be a great add to this Bears team. calvin ridley I think the only reasons he may not go to the Bears is if either another team drafts him higher (unlikely but possible) or the Bucs don’t take the aforementioned Quenton Nelson (which they have been widely predicted to do) at 7 and Hiestand wants to bring in one of his former players. Either player I think would be great for the Bears, and if they were to take Nelson there should still be some solid wide receiver talent available in the second round.

quenton nelson

I’m always in favor of improving the offensive line when possible, so for Trubisky’s health if nothing else I’d like to see them strengthen up front on draft day(s) at some point. Either bring in some cover for Kyle Long and Josh Sitton or look to improve at the tackle positions.

Next is the defense in general. In order for the defense to continue improving they need to keep adding top talents like Leonard Floyd. The Bears are looking to build for the future and already have the quarterback and running back positions covered, which allows them the opportunity to focus on less flashy positions (specifically defense) in the draft.

Finally, they may need to add another tight end. Zach Miller really stepped up this year before suffering his gruesome leg injury, but until he’s back to full health it’s hard to know what his level of contribution will be. Adam Shaheen and Dion Sims did what they could, but a dynamic player at the tight end position could really improve the Bears offense. Looking at what Nagy did in Kansas City with Travis Kelce, it would be great to see something similar in Chicago.

Outlook for Next Season

I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bears. Next season’s schedule includes the NFC West, AFC East, Buccaneers and Giants in addition to the regular division games. Despite facing the Rams, Seahawks, Niners (who are suddenly good now), Patriots and Vikings twice, I still see the Bears improving their record. I think it would be going too far to say they’ll challenge for the playoffs, but 8 – 8 is something to shoot for.

I believe next year will be big for Mitch Trubisky, who even though he’ll be learning a second offense in two years should be the biggest beneficiary of Nagy and Helfrich. The Bears may not be great next year, but I hope they’ll at least be a fun team to watch and to root for.

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