Bears head coach Matt Nagy called Wednesday’s warm organized team activity at Halas Hall – the second of 10 OTAs and the first of three open to reporters – a good day for the defense. He also noted that while there were a lot of incompletions, the Bears’ emphasis is more on the passing game than the run game at this offseason phase. It’s still evident Mitch Trubisky’s comfort level is much higher entering his second season in the same system.
“Mitch is in and out of the huddle, he sees the defense, and from the time we’ve been out here it’s exciting,” Nagy said. “You stay cautiously optimistic that he’s going to take that really big jump. I’ve been saying that since I’ve got here that it takes time, but you can see the vision from him in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.”
One jump Trubisky has already taken is from what Nagy unoffically calls the starter's level course in his offense to the second floor or second interval. That shows up in Trubisky's command of the huddle and ability to check to the right plays. We'll see once the season begins how much freedom that affords him in games, but the early returns, Nagy said, are gratifying to watch in practice.
"I know he’s always had that but to me the growth right now that’s really neat to see is his ability to come out here and take — last year, I kept talking about 101," Nagy said. "Now, without a doubt, I can say with pure conviction we’re in 202 right now. And we don’t need to have a live game to see mentally where he’s at with calling the plays. I mean, he’s doing things in the last two days that last year at this time he wasn’t even close to. So that’s exciting."
Trubisky didn’t have his full arsenal of receivers Wednesday, when Anthony Miller was one of at least two not spotted on the new practice field adjacent to the Walter Payton Center after offseason shoulder surgery. But one direction, or more aptly put, number, Trubisky looked for frequently was No. 84, that of newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson.
It was never a doubt that the creative Nagy would have plenty of tricks up his sleeve for Patterson – and we only caught a tiny glimpse of that Wednesday with him taking handoffs in individual drills and fielding passes in individual and team alike. What we saw consistently was Patterson’s impressive ball skills, which aren’t often noted in a scouting report that includes 6-foot-2, 220 pounds with 4.4 speed. That special blend of size and speed also was quite evident.
“He’s a weapon, and for us to be able to use him, you saw what New England did with him,” Nagy said. “We’ll have our own stuff that we do. You’ll see some of that and you won’t see some things. He’s a big player. You look at him, he’s huge. When you’re huge and you’re fast, those combinations usually work.”
It wasn’t a perfect day catching the ball for OT-TE convert Bradley Sowell, but he did show natural hands, mostly corralled it cleanly and away from his body and rebounded from one drop in individuals with an impressive grab.
We’ll get our chance next week to speak with James Daniels, Cody Whitehair and OL coach Harry Hiestand about the moving parts along the interior, but Daniels looked natural snapping to Trubisky from the outset and the 21-year-old appears to be a bit thicker in his upper body.
On defense, we must start in the middle, where Roquan Smith flowing to the football already almost appears second nature at this point.
"The more you play, those reactions—you kind of shake the rust a bit—and you can trigger,” new ILB coach Mark DeLeone explained of Smith’s rookie progress following a lengthy holdout until now. “He’s unbelievably natural as a middle linebacker.”
It sounds like Smith will receive the green dot and primary play-calling responsibilities in Year 2, though DeLeone was careful to point out that it’s a “joint effort by both guys."
“I think anyone who knows Danny [Trevathan], who has spent time with DT, knows that he’s a vocal leader and he’s going to continue to be that way.”
Smith’s quiet yin and Trevathan’s chattier yang that jelled tremendously last season seems to be transferring well to the new scheme under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
“You just go watch [Trevathan] in the meeting room. You watch him in walk-throughs,” Pagano said. “You watch him through Phase 1 and Phase 2 and now at practice here, they’re talking all the time. Whether he’s in the huddle and they’re taking reps with the first unit or he’s on the side taking mental reps, they’re talking all the time. That communication is outstanding.”
Added Pagano on Smith: "On the football field, he does a lot of things you can't coach."
Elsewhere on defense, although much of the discussion regarding position changes centered on Daniels and Whitehair, the Bears longest-tenured player Sherrick McManis received some run at free safety. What makes that interesting to us is of course the potential numbers games in the secondary with two new draft picks and a vet joining the CB room but only Ha Ha Clinton-Dix replacing Adrian Amos at safety.
Speaking of Eddie Jackson and Clinton-Dix, with all due respect to Adrian Amos, the Bears new safety tandem appears more imposing with the newcomer's superior size and length. Of course the proof will be in the production, but just running around in shorts, this pairing certainly looks dynamic.
Prince Amukamara ceded a bit of time Wednesday with the 1s across from Kyle Fuller to second-year player Kevin Toliver, but he's had a unique perspective throughout the offseason of new nickel Buster Skrine.
“It can be one of the hardest positions on the field," Amukamara said of the slot. "You’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, we put a lot on the nickel. But Buster is very seasoned. He’s been acting like he’s been in this defense before.”
The NFL's No. 1 punt return unit endured a few early hiccups with Tarik Cohen and Marvin Hall muffing attempts. We did see Cohen showing off his joystick suddenness during a team drill on offense, and also observed Taylor Gabriel going way up in an attempt to secure a deep pass but coming down hard on his back without the ball.
Last but certainly not least, as expected, the Bears chose not to amplify their ongoing PK competition like they did at rookie minicamp. But we did see Chris Blewitt convert his field goal to end a team session, whereas Eddy Pineiro pushed his wide right. We didn't get a chance to watch Elliott Fry kick, but one new wrinkle debuted Wednesday: The Bears build an additional set of uprights inside the normal goalpost, presumably designed to sharpen further the kickers target. We'll get a chance to ask special teams coordinator Chris Tabor and perhaps kicking consultant Jamie Kohl about the new method next week.