No one can pinpoint the exact moment NFL coaches collectively decided upon a set preseason schedule that gradually increases playing time with each successive game every year. Along those same lines, it’s rare that coaches have challenged the thought process of needing live game repetitions in late August to make a regular season matter. That’s how everyone’s always done it, so why attempt something new? This is a fact that especially rings true with the Bears, who have rarely had head coaches effectively alter the status quo and earn the esteem of their peers and critics at the same time.
That is, until Matt Nagy, of course.
Late Friday evening, the Bears and Nagy announced that most major Chicago starters would not feature in their preseason game against the Chiefs Saturday afternoon. The ensuing raging fervor over the decision to not give a new offense led by Mitchell Trubisky a maximum amount of snaps before Week 1 against the Packers was incredibly palpable.
Football players play football, bar none, it was said. They cannot get better if they don’t play football against a live opponent, it was maintained. You risk losing them if you don’t send that message too, apparently. However, that’s an old school way of thinking with no actual research to back it’s credence.
Nagy is certainly not one to go with the crowd of absolutely having to play a needless half of football in the summer just because. The Bears have been beating each other up since mid-July. They’ve been playing football and improving in that process. Nagy’s Bears team is far and away independent from what peer pressure says he should do.
“I understand that, but I don’t get it,” Nagy said in the postgame of concern Trubisky and Chicago’s offense missed out on meaningful repetitions. “We’re at almost 2000 snaps in practice. For somebody telling me 25 to 30 reps is going to make (Trubisky) better Week 1, Week 2, or Week 3, it’s not going to happen.”
In a game of intense attrition like football, one half of a preseason game can make all the difference where you can lose any given player on any given play. In the grueling grind of of a year, where you can far more stomach losing a player in a regular season game over an exhibition, the decision to feature starters extensively in late August is more a mentality that’s never been taken to task than proven valid.
Change in the Bears’ preseason modus operandi was frightening, because it created an uncomfortable situation. It’s only uncomfortable because no one was accustomed to such a preseason shock to the system. And because no one quite understands what Chicago’s offense will be yet, so there was no peace of mind. Yet, crucially, Nagy and his staff possess that tranquility.
Change is scary, but it’s the only way to grow. Change means seeing one half of a vanilla exhibition as something that won’t drastically hamper an important result in the standings.
“If we win that game against Green Bay, trust me, it wasn’t because we didn’t play 25 plays today,” Nagy said. “And if we lose it, it’s the same thing. I’ll promise you that.”
Beyond the decision to push past a preseason boundary many NFL coaches have been either too afraid to broach upon, or too comfortable to consider something else, it was most notable how Nagy defended his preseason resting decision.
Nagy didn’t back away from the heat. He didn’t dismiss the concerns altogether and wanted to listen to what was being said. When a Bears’ public relations member signaled for one more question after a barrage from the gathered media contingent, Nagy waved them off breathlessly, “I’m good,” to continue explaining himself.
Not only he did veer away from the league’s old boys club, Nagy wanted to help everyone understand why he rested the Bears starters as best as possible. He wanted everyone to see that circumstances are different now at Halas Hall. Circumstances where the leader isn’t afraid to speak up and take a stand when he feels he has to.
Most would have the audacity to make a controversial move like Nagy did, but then dodge the criticism and never discuss it again while allowing the rage continue to boil.
Most aren’t Nagy. He faces the music head on.
He’s only been around the team since January, but Nagy knows what’s best for the Bears first and foremost. Making this preseason resting decision and seeing main contributing Bears like Trubisky and Jordan Howard jubilant on the sideline and in the locker room had to be consoling for him to back that knowledge. That was as clear a sign as any that he’s taken firm control of the reins of this Bears roster and earned their respect. That will mean more in the long run and pay off with fantastic dividends than any one half of a preseason game.
Only time will tell whether Nagy is vindicated in his decision to sit Chicago starters against Kansas City. Regardless of whether we do get a definitive answer down the line, the more telling development was Nagy making his first strong-willed move as head coach of the Bears.
It’s his team, his way, and he’ll be damned if anyone tells him otherwise.
“I don’t care what Bill Belichick does, I don’t care what Andy Reid does,” Nagy said of comparisons to how the NFL’s most experienced coaches operate in the preseason, as he noted he phoned his mentor beforehand. “This is my team.”
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer for Windy City Gridiron, The Rock River Times, The Athletic Chicago, and other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski and contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.