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Victor Cruz can improve the Bears with his play, not mentorship

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How a veteran like Cruz will help the Bears is purely with his own skill set. Any teaching or bringing players under a wing is overstated.

Tutoring players at your position in the NFL doesn’t possess much basis.
Chicago Tribune

It’s a common referendum any time an NFL team brings on a veteran looking for a fresh start with already young players at his position seeking to make the “leap.” This veteran is of course, going to teach these players “how to play” with nuance. He’s being brought on as an adviser and anything related to his own actual play is merely gravy.

This is a straightforward narrative to fall back on for many players, not just the 30-year-old, seasoned Victor Cruz, who signed last Tuesday with the Chicago Bears. Cruz, who is still getting used to his new digs with Chicago, has already made sure to mention at last week’s Bears OTA media availability day, how he understands he’s immediately seen as more of a leader given his past play with the New York Giants.

That belief is regardless of anything (nothing) he’s done with the Bears.

“... I think I fit into that mold very well. I think it’s natural for me, and I’m excited to help these young guys get better and watch them grow,” said Cruz to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Those young players he notes are an obvious reference to the Bears’ 24-year-old receiving duo, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White. The hopes, dreams, and overall future of Chicago’s passing game rests on these two’s development. And now Cruz, who in actuality is only getting comfortable with his new team at the moment, is supposed to help them take that next step.

Whether that step for either White (for White it’s almost everything) or Meredith is being more savvy as a route-runner, picking your spots in coverage, developing a swagger, it doesn’t matter. These are aspects of a receiver’s game they more than often develop on their own with coaching in tandem, rather than because a player whose been around walks them through it.

Sure, Cruz can indeed help some of the Bears’ young guns along, but the effect won’t nearly be as dramatic as some believe. Eventually, the training wheels have to come off, and that would’ve been the case whether Cruz signed with Chicago on his one-year contract or not.

If Meredith or White become players the Bears can consistently count on, it will largely be on their own merit with relative support from others, not the other way around. The leap won’t be jumpstarted by occasional words of advice or taking a prodigy aside on the sideline or locker room occasionally. Characterize it as more of offering a relieving helping hand while the learning curve is well underway.

And that goes for every position in football.

Think of another scenario that has already been gestating with the Bears for some time in new back-up quarterback Mark Sanchez, a long-time NFL veteran. Sanchez, who enjoyed some moderate success with the New York Jets to start his career, is remembered now more for his famous “Butt Fumble” play because of objective mediocrity under center otherwise. Now, he’s supposed to teach the relatively inexperienced Mike Glennon and the 13 college starts of Mitchell Trubisky, simply because he’s been present as a professional.

This is partly why many made the connection of Sanchez assisting with the rise of last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Dak Prescott. Notions such as him “celebrating” with the Cowboys star rookie passer after a score were supposedly now a part of Prescott guiding Dallas to the NFC’s No. 1 seed, a 104.9 passer rating, and a 23 touchdown to four interception ratio.

No, there’s no way it could’ve been due to Prescott’s ability, tape study, and natural poise. That would make too much sense for that credit, right?

It can indeed be asserted that Sanchez knows aspects of playing professional football as a quarterback that Glennon and Trubisky don’t, but beyond that, is there really anything he’ll be able to do to mold either of the two men he’ll likely share a meeting room with in 2017? If Glennon and or Trubisky become quality passers, it’ll be with their own due diligence and a careful coaching plan by the Bears to bring them along properly, not because of some kind of innate trade secret a somewhat passable back-up quarterback such as Sanchez divulges. Pats on the back included.

But as noted, it’s easy to fall back on these kinds of crutches.

After all, make the connection yourself.

Accomplished veteran teaches green and inexperienced players because he’s been “there.” Their talent level that needs to be unlocked isn’t taken into account. It’s more that they need someone, anyone, to show them the ropes. Correlation somehow always equals causation. The emotional part of the game taking over the technical “eye-test” aspect, which can get people into misunderstood trouble.

In that respect, it’s quite easy to ignore that sometimes a youthful player’s talent ascends and transcends simply because of their own growth rather than an aging past-his-prime player whispering sweet nothings into their ear. Plenty of credit goes to the experienced tutor instead of his younger counterpart taking advantage of his own hard work.

That’s not going to happen with the Bears and Cruz and Sanchez standing at the chalkboard for Chicago’s receivers and quarterbacks, respectively. The acclaim might inch towards mentorship being shone a brighter light than it should, but it’ll be more about any of White, Meredith, Glennon, and Trubisky making a name on their own, bar none.

If Cruz makes an impact with the Bears, it will be as the team’s slot receiver. It will be because he regains some of his former Pro Bowl (2012) and Second-Team All-Pro (2011) form. If Sanchez establishes a foothold, it’ll be because he understands his role as even more of a place holding quarterback than Glennon, and steps in admirably should injury or play catastrophe happen. Nothing more, nothing less, should be expected or for either of the Bears’ two new “mentors.”

An NFL career twilight is just that, a twilight - the beginning of an end with perhaps something, anything salvageable towards the end. For all of Cruz, Sanchez and their Bears students, their potentially useful additions won’t come packaged with overvalued sagely advice.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.