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The Winds of Change at Halas Hall

The addition of Matt Nagy to the Bears organization has us feeling that change is in the air. This isn’t your father’s Bears team.

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Chicago Bears Introduce Matt Nagy
The New Bears Brain Trust
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On a blustery day in early January, the Bears hired their 16th head coach in franchise history. While Matt Nagy was on many fan’s radar screens, he did not seem to be the consensus pick, he certainly wasn’t mine. The biggest issue for me was that I simply didn’t know all that much about him.

Was he going to be a hard case like Mike Ditka? Was he going to be gruff like John Fox? Weird and new-agey like Marc Trestman? Stoic and revered like Lovie Smith? We simply did not know, and frankly, I didn’t want a coach like any of the aforementioned. Personally, I don’t believe that any of those styles really fit in today’s game with today’s players.

Fast-forward a little more than four months and we have a pretty good idea of who he is. The Bears have a young team with a young quarterback. They needed to find someone with a little more juice than the crusty, old Fox.

Last week, our very own Josh Sunderbruch brought us some seriously guarded optimism, or at least a giant shrug, about the direction of the 2018 Bears. While there is plenty of truth in those words, I may be slightly more optimistic. This isn’t a rebuttal of his piece but rather a companion, a way of looking at this through a slightly different lens. I had to revisit the article after seeing what transpired over this past weekend’s rookie minicamp. Suddenly, a thought bubble occurred right before my eyes...

The Battleplan

What would be the prudent thing to do with a young quarterback when the opportunity presents itself for an overhaul? For me, the answer is simple: surround him with the proper support system. That starts at the top. The head coach needs to oversee the team, but make no mistake about it, Nagy was brought here to help his field general, Mitch Trubisky.

One coach wasn’t going to be enough. He needed to have some help to implement his new scheme and buck the learning curve as much as possible. What better way to ease the transition, while also making your quarterback as comfortable as possible, than to hire coaches from the college ranks? Especially ones from spread systems that Nagy and Trubisky would be familiar with.

It was easy to see the college influence while watching the Chiefs or Eagles last year, Doug Pederson—an Andy Reid disciple like Nagy—runs a similar offense to the Chiefs. It is obvious that both Pederson and Reid have taken a number of pages out of the college spread offense for their playbooks.

So what did Nagy do when was hired? He went out and got Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. The same Helfrich that was with Chip Kelly when Oregon was the offensive superpower on the west coast. Harry Hiestand (offensive line), Mike Furrey (wide receivers), and Charles London (running backs) all came from the college game as well. Toss in a dash of Brad Childress, who helped integrate college plays into the Chiefs’ playbook, and you have something cooking.

The Bears have been down this path before, and usually with poor results (see: Crowton, Gary). We have no idea if this is going to work or not, but the fact that Ryan Pace went out and hired Nagy, who in turn hired this staff, tells me that they are committed to making Trubisky the best he can be. That, in and of itself, is exciting to me.

The Reinforcements

I am a self-admitted “scheme guy.” I firmly believe that you can be successful with less than stellar talent if you have the right scheme. Now, you have to have some talent, and your players need to be able to execute your scheme, but you don’t need eleven all-pros on offense to be good. Defense is another story though. Scheme can only take you so far. But I don’t think many of us are as worried about that side of the ball as we are the offense.

While I do believe in Nagy the play-caller, and I believe that this scheme truly fits Trubisky’s skill-set perfectly, neither are established in the NFL yet. That means that there needed to be an influx in talent in order to give this offense the boost it needed. The additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton, along with draft picks Anthony Miller and James Daniels, gives the Bears offense a potency that it has lacked since, well, forever.

Not only have the Bears forged an offensive staff to compete in the modern age, but they went out and procured players that can actually execute the scheme. On the surface, this all seems so obvious. The offense has been stuck in the Truman administration since, you guessed it, the actual Truman administration*.

*For those that aren’t history buffs, that was 1945 to 1953.

So in many ways, these aren’t your father’s or even grandfather’s Bears. The reasons for optimism and drowning yourself in Kool-Aid are blatant. But even the best laid plans are often derailed by unforeseen events.

The M*A*S*H* Unit

Over the past two season, no team has lost as many games due to injury as the Bears have. Call it fate, call it karma, call it a hard-headed approach by the Fox regime, but whatever the cause, something needed to change.

The first order of business was to upgrade the practice facilities at Halas Hall. This is still an ongoing project, but you don’t tour the country looking at the best facilities and thrown north of $100M at a project if you aren’t serious about changing the dichotomy of perception versus reality. Better practice fields, weight rooms, dining halls, and training rooms are all great things. This is a great start, but more was needed.

Another seemingly obvious decision was made when the Bears fired their training staff along with their strength and conditioning staff. Obvious to most, but this is the Bears we are talking about here. Nothing obvious is ever obvious. Enter Andre Tucker as head athletic trainer and Jason Loscalzo as strength coach. Tucker has previously worked in the NFL, so there is a track record there, which appears to be pretty solid.

Loscalzo on the other had is a bit of an unknown coming from Washington State. Again Pace and Nagy scoured the country looking for the best. It isn’t easy digging up information on strength coaches, but what information is there, makes this seem like a wise move.

Yet another move into the present and future for an archaic franchise.

The Enlisted

If the Bears new look offense with the additions via free agency and the draft pan out—and the team as a whole can stay healthy—then the players on the bottom of the roster won’t matter much. History tells us otherwise. Why even bother examining the undrafted free agents and tryout players then? Well, because there seems to be a shift taking place there as well.

Cornerback Kevin Toliver was a player that many had rated as a day-2 draft prospect, others had him on day-3, but he was surely a draftable prospect. There are some “character concerns” with Toliver but the Bears were willing to give him a chance.

Another cornerback, John Franklin III, is one more player that could fall into the knucklehead category for those who watched Last Chance U. Despite having tremendous athleticism, this is a player without much true production in college. For Franklin III, it is more of a bold attitude and the fact that he will carry around somewhat of a circus because of the show.

Even second-round pick Anthony Miller has his detractors as far as his on-field attitude is concerned.

Now, none of these players have done anything wrong, let’s get that out of the way. Personally, I like it. Football isn’t a sport for choir boys and eagle scouts. It is a violent show of precision, athleticism, and strength. Having a team full of nice guys is all well and good, but sometimes you need some swagger. These guys bring that in droves.

The Bears are finally going out and getting some players with personalities again. Nothing against the guys who were here before but great teams usually have some players that crack jokes (Tarik Cohen) or bring an intensity (Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long) or both (Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller).

Yes, the winds have picked up and changed course. At this point, we have no choice but to be swept away by it. Make no mistake, this is not the Bears franchise that you grew up with...this is a whole new monster.