The Bears were impressive yesterday. Say what you will about their opponent—the Bears were every bit as banged-up as the Bengals, if not more—but the performance, especially on offense, was easily their best of the season. The Bears fine 2017 rookie class, led by Mitchell Trubisky, was excellent.
This is not to diminish the superb performances by the 2016 draft class either—Jordan Howard, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Cody Whitehair played very well—but I wanted to focus on what I believe these rookies need to work on this off-season in order to reach their tremendous potential.
The old adage about players making their biggest improvements from year 1 to year 2 is more than just hyperbole. Certainly there are exceptions to this, we need to look no farther than the Bears own roster. Cody Whitehair seemed to regress this season, although I would attribute much of his struggles to switching his position. Adrian Amos appeared to have regressed in year 2 before being put in the correct position and having his best year in 2017. Jordan Howard is exactly the same player he was last season.
Improvement isn’t linear, nor is it guaranteed. But after 13 games, I think it is pretty safe to say that we know what this rookie class excels at, and what they need some work on. With an exciting off-season approaching, here are the things that I want to hear about this rookie class between now and OTA’s (Organized Team Activities).
We saw a glimpse yesterday of what kind of potential Trubisky has as a quarterback. There were still some things to work on though. The overall performance this year has been up-and-down, littered with penalties, dropped passes, fumbles, sacks, interceptions, inaccurate passes, poor timing and footwork. Make no mistake, Trubisky is an exciting talent, but one that needs to be honed and polished.
First things first, where the feet go, so goes the football. We have already seen this improve over the last two games and I have no doubt that this will be a major emphasis for the off-season. The other big piece of this that I see is timing. Even when the offense is in-sync and in-rhythm, the timing still isn’t great. Footwork and timing go hand-in-hand.
Assuming that there is a new offense installed this off-season, I would like for Trubisky to begin watching film on the successful quarterbacks to run that system. I would tailor those tapes to show timing: snap, drop, and throw. If the timing of the play is correct, the ball should come out when the back foot hits the depth of the quarterback’s drop. Drew Brees would be a good one to watch. It may also be a good idea to show the evolution of Carson Wentz. He has superb timing in year 2.
The small school tight end was raw, we all knew that, but the talent is undeniable. A lot of people hated this pick, and I understand that sentiment, but the pick was made and the future is starting to look bright. One of the big questions that Shaheen had coming into the season was his blocking. For the most part, this has been solid, but he is exposed when he has to block back across the formation.
Another issue that many had, especially in pre-season, was with his balance. He doesn’t seem to always have his feet under him. This is something that can be an issue when you are 6-foot-6. I have heard people say that they want Shaheen to bulk-up, but I simply don’t understand that logic. His athleticism shouldn’t be lessened to make him more like an offensive tackle.
Personally, I think he is at the perfect weight for him—270 lbs. For anyone who saw Shaheen in training camp, he is a little bit doughy—think Lance Briggs. If Shaheen can get leaner but stay at the same weight, that would be ideal. Being leaner will improve his balance but I think he should take it a step further and seek out a trainer that can improve his balance by training. Whether that be yoga, pilates, martial arts, or whatever, I believe that he would take an incredible step forward if he focused solely on those aspects of his body in the off-season.
No player in this class is more boom-or-bust than Cohen. But when he booms, it is something special. In the last two games, he has had three touchdowns called back by penalties that had nothing to do with the play. He is very impressive but also very frustrating. When he is more patient and allows his blocks to setup in front of him, he is deadly.
It isn’t uncommon for players on different teams to work out together, so if I was Cohen, I would do everything I could to work with Darren Sproles. At the very least, I would get every tape of his I could get my hands on. That is clearly the type of player he can be if he puts in the film work.
There is nothing wrong with his hands, speed, or athleticism, those are all outstanding. What Cohen lacks is a little discipline. His routes are lazy at times, he will too often try and force something that isn’t there. The cardinal sin though is going backwards. It is difficult to practice doing that but he has to find a way to play with a little more structure. I think he will find that opens up more big plays for him.
The former Alabama safety has probably been the most consistent performer on this list. Jackson came in and was much more physical than I saw on his college tape, and was pleasantly surprised. He really needs to work on two things in my opinion. First, he needs to build some muscle in his lower body. He has very lean legs which with him coming off a broken leg, plus the rigors of a 16-game NFL season, is something that I think he needs to work on.
The second thing is studying film. Jackson has displayed a bit of a knack for being around the ball but too many times, he is just a hair slow in getting the interception. There is nothing wrong with his speed or change-of-direction skills, those are excellent. The problem, to me, is play recognition.
For a safety, I think it is more difficult to watch others play the position. It would be easy to say “watch Earl Thomas and do that,” but that’s not really how it works. I think what Jackson needs to focus on are studying opponents offensive plays. At the very least, studying concepts of the major offensive systems; West Coast, Air Coryell, and Erhardt-Perkins. That should give him a foundation to work from when watching individual teams that have tailored the offense to fit their personnel.
This is a very promising rookie class which appears to have a rather high ceiling. Can all of these players reach that ceiling? I don’t know. But with a little work on their biggest flaws would go a long way towards that. Now it’s up to Ryan Pace to find the right head coach to coax every drop of talent of his rising stars.