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The Chicago Bears gave members of the media a sneak peek at their recently renovated training facility in Lake Forest, Illinois. This is is the second major expansion of Halas Hall since the team moved to it’s present location in 1997.
This new complex is easily four times the size of the original building. This expansion added 162,000 square feet to the 142,000 that were completed in 2013.
The first thing players see when entering the building is a decorative hallway featuring all fourteen of the Bears’ retired numbers, wall/ceiling lights that illuminate as players enter, and music capabilities leading up to a video wall comprised of nine screens.
Virtually every aspect of the facility has doubled in size, from the coaches offices to the player meeting rooms, draft room, lounges, dining areas, and weight room. The sports medicine space is four times as big as the original area, and features two hydrotherapy pools, two plunge pools, a float pod, sauna and steam room. Now there is a 13,000-square-foot indoor turf space adjacent to the position meeting rooms. If a coach has a brainstorm, the players can literally try it out, steps away, all indoors.
The renovation and expansion of Halas Hall have created a first-class facility that provides a daily reminder and motivation to help us work towards the goal of being a championship team. This upgrade furthers the continued support from the McCaskey family and their commitment to attract, develop and retain the most talented roster possible both on and off the field.Chicago Bears General Manager Ryan Pace
Hungry Bears? No more. The team and staff café more than doubled to over 7,600 square feet, including the dining area and kitchen space. The café features the “Bearista” coffee bar, a smoothie/juice bar, standalone soup and salad bar, daily live action station and hot food, sandwich and dessert bars. Next to the café is the “Sideline,” which provides additional seating and lounge space. Atop the expansion is a 4,200-square-foot rooftop dining area and garden from which the café will source herbs.
The workout space boasts an amazing array of weight training equipment. No more taking turns, or waiting in line. The locker room is much larger, roomier. This is quite an impressive facility now.
The project broke ground in March 2018. HOK was the design firm, Mortenson Construction was the general contractor and Corporate Concepts provided the furniture. All photos are by SRN Broadcasting, except as noted.
The Big Ten Football Media Days in Chicago kicked off the grind of the college football season, a chance for players and coaches to reflect on “what could be,” in the final days of the offseason. While the football season doesn’t officially kick off until the end of August, this is where players start to finish up their offseason training and coaches get closer to naming their starters.
The Big Ten has not seen a team be named to the college football playoff since the 2016 season. Perhaps for the first time in several years, Ohio State may not the conference favorite, and Jim Delany gets set to embark on his final season as Big Ten Commissioner, a role he has held since 1989.
At the recent Big Ten football days, several prominent coaches spoke to the media and addressed their team’s outlook for the upcoming season. This includes new faces, such as Ryan Day at Ohio State, who’s taking over for Urban Meyer. This summer, Meyer has had to dodge speculation that he will resurface at Southern Cal.
Ryan Day: In what is usually considered a well-oiled machine, Ohio State enters the season with the most uncertainty they’ve had in years. Many pundits feel that Michigan should be the Big Ten favorite this year, so Ryan Day has a lot to prove in his first season as Urban Meyer’s successor.
Dwayne Haskins is moving on to the NFL, and Day has yet to name Josh Fields as the starting quarterback. “One of our core philosophies is you don’t just get given a starting position, you have to earn everything around here, and he hasn’t done that,” Day said. “The hard thing for everybody to realize is he’s coming off the heels of Dwayne Haskins.” Despite this, the expectations at Ohio State remain to the same, and so does the philosophy. Day made it abundantly clear that plans on keeping the Buckeyes moving in the same direction as the team under Meyer.
Jim Harbaugh: 2019 could prove to be a make it or break it year for Jim Harbaugh. Blessed with talented recruiting classes in his four years as head coach, Harbaugh still hasn’t been able to put it all together and eclipse rival Ohio State.
Harbaugh recently made a comment on a podcast regarding former Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, stating that “controversy follows everywhere he’s been.” Some reporters at the Big Ten Media Days felt that this could be a deflection strategy for his inability to surpass Ohio State, but Harbaugh vehemently denied those accusations, particularly with one reporter who made an animal analogy to suggest that Harbaugh was stirring the pot.
It was just me giving my opinion. I’m not into making animal analogies, so the poking the bear thing doesn’t resonate– Jim Harbaugh
As far as the talent on the field, Harbaugh expressed his satisfaction with the depth that he has to work with this year, mentioning that he has a greater ability to take some of the burden off of incoming freshman in 2019.
Quarterbacks Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey complement each other well, according to Harbaugh, as Michigan boasts one of the best quarterback situations in the country in 2019.
Pat Fitzgerald: Northwestern is coming off of one of their best seasons in recent program history, winning the Big Ten West with an 8-1 conference record before losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
Despite winning bowl games in the last three seasons, Northwestern is largely overlooked in a conference with more popular teams and big-name players.
We’re not great click-bait I guess, picking us first isn’t real sexy. We’ll just earn it.Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
Four year starter Clayton Thorson is gone, so Northwestern has a lot on their plate, simply ensuring their next starter can be just as successful. Hunter Johnson, a transfer from Clemson and former 5-star recruit seems like the logical choice, although Fitzgerald has yet to name him as the starter.
In order to repeat as Big Ten West champions, Northwestern will need to rely heavily on their defense yet again, with Senior Joe Gaziano and Junior Paddy Fisher leading the way.
Mark Dantonio: It wasn’t long ago that Michigan State was considered one of the best teams in the nation, having qualified for the 2015 College Football Playoff. Last year’s 7-6 record was especially disappointing, and it looks like Mark Dantonio’s best days as head coach could be behind him.
The Spartans defense has remained elite, while the offense sputtered in 2018, ranking 125th out of 129 in scoring offense at 18.7 points per game.
If Michigan State is going to challenge Michigan and Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten East, major changes are needed on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Brian Lewerke needs to stay healthy in order to have a bounce back campaign in a revamped offense. Dantonio says that the team will return nine starters back on offense, which conceivably will help with chemistry as the offense eyes a turnaround.
Paul Chryst: The Wisconsin Badgers are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018 campaign where they finished with an 8-5 record and second place in the Big Ten West. The Badgers faced more intense pressure after winning a program-best 13 games and the Orange Bowl in 2017.
They haven’t been receiving as much attention this offseason. Still, Wisconsin will be primed to contend for the Big Ten West, as they look to reestablish their footing atop that division. However, they will face a particularly tough schedule featuring five teams who will be coming off their bye weeks.
I think you have to take it week to week. That’s when you as a team are at your best, if you can be in a moment and make the best out of that moment.Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst
Arguably the best running back in the country, Junior Jonathan Taylor will be leaned upon just as much in 2019. However, Wisconsin will have to adjust to a new quarterback, as Junior Jack Coan is battling redshirt freshman Chase Wolf and Graham Mertz for the starting job.
James Franklin: Penn State is another perennial contender that will have to face a quarterback transition for the 2019 season. Sean Clifford and Will Levis have become the likely contenders for the job, since Tommy Stevens transferred in July. Clifford is the only one with in-game experience.
Penn State took a bit of a step back in 2018, after back-to-back 11 win seasons in 2016 and 2017. The Nittany Lions, finished with a 9-4 record after losing in the Citrus Bowl. Despite the changes for an overall young team, Penn State is still very much in the mix in the Big Ten East in 2019 thanks to strong returning talent on both sides of the ball. The leading receiver a year ago, redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler’s presence will be key on offense for a team that will be using an inexperienced quarterback.
Our Predictions: Each side of the conference has multiple realistic contenders in 2019, with the west being much more wide open than the east. We feel that Michigan will finally surpass Ohio State in the east and Wisconsin will re-emerge at the top of the west. Michigan will beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
The two major takeaways from the Chicago Bears first preseason game of 2019 were the performances of David Montgomery and kicker Elliott Fry.
Montgomery, the team’s third round draft pick from Iowa State had three runs, including a touchdown and three receptions.
Just being able to be out there with the guys is the most important thing for me. Being able to get comfortable out there on the field and get acclimated to the NFL.-David Montgomery
Coach Matt Nagy discussed his rookie runner’s progress, “No, it’s been steady and just completely in one direction. OTAs (offseason training activities) was a lot of pass game, so he got good at that, and then we get to training camp and we get to put the pads on and we can see what can he digest. You can see his arrow is up. He wanted more carries. I would have loved to give him more carries, but you have to be smart.”
Another player who’s stock may have risen as a result of this game was undrafted free agent tight end Ian Bunting from Cal. His 45-yard catch and run set up a 43-yard field goal as time was expiring in the first half. Nagy was asked about Bunting brings to the offense. “His size. He’s a big kid. He’s super smart. He’s really smart. He has big hands. A lot of times when people are big hands, they’re a natural catcher. He’s a natural pass catcher. This is just a really good opportunity for him to see how much can he digest in this playbook, and when the plays come to him and he gets a chance to make a play, does he make it. He did a good job with that. He executed everything we asked him to do and it was productive for him.”
Thursday evening. Fry won the kicker battle against Eddy Pineiro, who missed a 48-yarder wide left on the previous possession. “I thought it was awesome,” said Fry. “It was really fun. Obviously I’ve never played at this level before, so it was fun to get back out there.” He didn’t even realize the significance of his kick was the same distance and end zone as Cody Parkey missed field goal to end the 2018 season until it was brought to his attention after the game.
The number’s been ingrained into my memory. But I’m not out there thinking about Cody’s kick. I’m not thinking about anything like that. I’m just going in and focusing on making it. You really tune out the fans. The fans are yelling all game, so you’re not tuned in.-Elliott Fry
Perhaps if neither kicker impresses the coaching staff, the team should look no further than Joey Slye, who is challenging Panther’s place kicker Graham Gano. Slye converted a 55-yard attempt early in the game, that could easily have been good from sixty yards out.
Several of the starters, including Mitch Trubisky were in for a series or less. As Nagy explained, “That’s what I was telling him earlier here, is that it’s mentally preparing himself. There were other guys that just played a few plays. I think it’s so important for some guys, and it could be good for Mitch, too, that’s why I did it, was to just stay mentally prepared, pregame warm-ups, before the game, the pat and go, getting underneath the lights, taking snaps from center, and even though it was just a couple of hand-offs, I feel like just that part is good for him.”
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defense played well against the run, but looked a little suspect on passing plays. That will need to be tightened up before the season begins.
with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal
Dave and Steve are joined by Jeff Rich to discuss the start of training camps for the 2019 season NFL. We talk Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and Arizona Cardinals, and more. Also covered are updates on the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Milwaukee Brewers.
Featuring audio from Packer GM Brian Gutekunst, coach Matt LaFleur, along with Chicago Bears players Khalil Mack, Tarik Cohen, and Mitch Trubisky. Don’t miss cameos from Chris Berman and Bob Uecker.
The 2019 NFL season in Chicago gets underway in earnest as Bears players began arriving at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.
Mitch Trubisky is looking ahead at 2019, but mindful of how 2018 ended. “We want to pick back up where we left off. At the same time we didn’t accomplish what we did last year because we were worried about expectations. Nobody expected us to do what we did last year. Now it’s flipped where there’s all these expectations. We have to do a good job of staying focused and blocking all that out, and doing exactly what we did last year to help us win those games. On top of that do even more, so we can accomplish more than we did last year. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Tarik Cohen described his approach to this season, “We hold ourselves to a higher standard now. The older guys that have been here who watched us go from last place to winning the division, know what it takes to have that success, and to have that work pay off in the regular season coming out of camp, so we’re all going to put our best foot forward. Help everybody that’s new to the team. Help the rookies, so we can achieve a higher goal this year.”
Trubisky insists he hasn’t even shown his best stuff yet. He wants to get rid of mistakes and “continue to make those good plays and being a consistent overall quarterback. Doing the little things like working hard and being a good teammate, and taking care of my brothers.”
Khalil Mack stressed that success starts in training camp. “It starts with camaraderie, and the focus, determination, and the will to win, ultimately. One game at a time, one week at a time. It’s going to be a long season.”
One of the biggest hurdles the team faced last year, was learning coach Matt Nagy’s offense. Having that behind them is big plus for 2019. “It allows us to go further within the details. It allows us to watch more film and install, and talk about every other thing. It allows us to accomplish a lot more throughout meetings. We are also allowed to add more. We can teach the new guys. As a quarterback, you want to master every part of it, so if you know a play insid out, you can teach it to someone else, then when you are on the field, you’re not thinking about it, you’re just playing ball.”
@radiomogul tags: Chicago Bears, training camp, Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Khalil Mack
UNC point guard Coby White is making his first long term foray outside of his home state. White didn’t have to go far from his Wilson, North Carolina home to join the Tar Heels. The city of nearly fifty thousand people was once a major center for tobacco cultivation. Now it’s better known for Interstate 95, a major north-south route along the eastern seaboard, and as the birthplace of Julius Peppers, another illustrious UNC alum.
On draft night, the Chicago Bulls made him the first Tar Heel first-rounder the team has selected since Michael Jordan, with the seventh pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Most mock drafts had him going to the Bulls, who finished the 2018-19 season with a paltry 22-60 record.
I felt a sense of relief for Coby because he was at a spot where people recognized what a great player he was for us. He was in serious consideration for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth picks before the Bulls took him at seven. Chicago wanted him from day one, so I am very pleased he went there. They are getting a fantastic player.– UNC coach Roy Williams
John Paxon stressed that, “the most important thing is that Coby White is a nineteen year-old young man, that’s going to get better. He’s just starting his career. Our job is develop him and help him develop into the best player he can be.” Paxon went on to state, “all of our background on him is that he is the type of young man that will take the challenge on. You have to play faster in today’s game. You have to get the ball up the floor. This young man can play an up tempo game. Jim (coach Boylen) has spoken often how we want to have multiple ball handlers. Guys who can take the ball off the board and push it up. Coby can run. He can shoot the ball. At North Carolina, he took on a leadership role with a lot of older guys. We feel he’s just a really good fit for us.”
He is spot on in that assessment. White led the break for one of the highest and quickest scoring teams in college basketball. Coby averaged a tad over 16 points per game, scoring almost 100 more total points than Michael Jordan did his freshman season.
Bulls coach Jim Boylan had high praise for his new draftee. “We loved his positional size. We loved his multi-position defender and multi-position ball handler. He can play on the ball. He can play off the ball. He can create. He can receive. Above all that, he looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable.”
I love being here. I’m glad they drafted me. My goal is to win. I’m all about winning. All the individual awards, that’s gonna come. My main goal is to come in here and win.-Coby White
The slender guard was spoting a neatly trimmed beard, and his now trademark crazy hair. He wore a beige suit and white shirt with no tie. His voice is quiet but confident when he adderssed the media, family, friends, and Bulls employees at the press conference. “At this level,” he says, “you are going against great players every night. Being in the ACC helped. I was playing against great college point guards. Every night you had to come ready to compete. You had to show up every game. For me personally, the ACC was the toughest conference in the country. Playing in that conference helped me bring that competitive spirit, that heart, and that will to win.”
with Packer Dave, Steve Leventhal, and John Poulter
The guys are back to discuss the Toronto Raptors’ first ever NBA Championship, the St. Louis Blues and their seven-game Stanley Cup win over Boston, as well as talk of the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers offseason football. John also gives his thoughts on the Major League Baseball season. Lastly, Jeff Rich joins us to talk Cleveland Browns football and the upcoming NBA Draft. We also discuss the trade between the Lakers and Pelicans that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles for the fourth overall pick and three players.
Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky were the story this week.
Last year, head coach Matt Nagy had to learn his new players, and the Chicago Bears in turn had to absorb his offensive scheme. In 2019, it is all about building on the success of the previous season.
Nagy talked about Trubisky’s growth. “He’s learning this offense. But now what he’s trying to do, is master it. Last year he learned it. This year he’s trying to really master it. He’s done a wonderful job right now at trying to get to some of the adjustment s we have withing the plays and the concepts and the schemes.” Nagy intimated that we would see that come to fruition in training camp and preseason games. He added, “He’s watching tape. He’s leading meetings. He’s vocal in the meetings that we have. He’s understanding that when we teach this offense that there’s different levels to it.”
When asked about having Mack for the entire offseason, Nagy commented, “It’s amazing how much he affected everybody (last year.) Now that he’s here, you get to see that he’s does things by his actions. He continues to do that. He shows some of these younger kids who want to be leaders. There’s different ways to do it, by showing up every day. By making plays.”
Khalil has been looking forward to the camaraderie, and getting a deep understanding of the defense early on. Unlike last year where, “having a one and a half weeks before the season wasn’t enough time to prepare.” As typical of his approach last season he vowed to let his play do the talking.
“It’s feels really great out there,” says Trubisky. “It’s a lot of fun to be back in Chicago, with the boys playing football again. Everyone’s on the same page. Everyone knows what they’re doing. Being year two in this offense. It’s a lot of fun going through it. Having fun executing it.” The third year QB was asked about the new acquisitions. “We got a ton of weapons on offense. It’s a lot of fun for a quarterback. We got a lot of talent around me in free agents we signed, that came in here and learned the offense. They picked it up real quickly. We continue to add great guys that contribute to our culture.” He went on to confirm Allen Robinson’s assessment that the team was way ahead of last year. “Everyone knows what they’re doing. We don’t have to spend a lot of time going in depth on each play, because we know most of the details. We’re helping the new guys, the rookies.”
The Chicago Bears begun 2019 organized team activities on Tuesday, kicking off the team’s first edition of on-field work as a team. Other than the imminent possibility of injuries, OTAs serve as an introductory and refresher period. It is a time for install and little else.
Last year’s session of OTAs focused on the installation of Matt Nagy’s offense. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the rest of the team got their first look at Nagy’s playbook, and some of them got their first look at each other. Trubisky got his first reps with a then-revamped receiving corps of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. This season, however, Trubisky has an established connection with his targets and a familiarity with Nagy’s system.
“Versus last year, which is all I have to compare it to,” Nagy said, “The speed of the plays, especially offensively, breaking the huddle, they know where they’re going. Now they just get to play football. They don’t think as much.”
“Mitch is in and out of the huddle, he sees the defense, and so from the time that we’ve been out here, it’s exciting. You stay cautiously optimistic that he’s going to take that really big jump, which, I’ve been saying that since I got here that it takes time. You see the vision from him within the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.”
The above quote on Trubisky was an unprompted comment, highlighting how great of an offseason storyline the third-year quarterback has been. As great as the Bears’ defense was last year, and likely will be this year, it will keep that “next step” that Nagy referred to for the Bears to break through their ceiling and into the Super Bowl.
Along with the familiarity that comes with the second year of a new system, changes have been made on the offensive side of the ball, namely that James Daniels and Cody Whitehair appear amidst a position switch and that swing tackle Bradley Sowell is switching to tight end.
“We’re going to try it out and see what he can do,” Nagy said of Sowell’s position switch. “It’s a position right there of that Y-tight end type spot that we could use some more depth, and Bradley has shown us the ability, not just off a two-point play or a touchdown play, but he’s shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he’s very smart, he knows how to block, all that stuff. So let’s test it out and see. And when I tell you he’s all in, he’s all in.”
You may recognize Sowell more for his appearance in Nagy’s funky plays that turn linemen into receivers, and you may recognize him specifically for this touchdown celebration:
However, Bradley Sowell’s position change signals a possible solution to the need for an in-line blocking tight end that Nagy refers to as the “Y.” Ideally, that role would go to Adam Shaheen, but durability and performance issues have necessitated depth. One of Nagy’s lynchpin philosophies is being as versatile as possible, and Sowell’s presence on the field may tell the defense a run is coming more than Shaheen’s presence. However, depth was needed at the spot and the in-house position change could be an answer to that need.
The other piece of big news was James Daniels and Cody Whitehair switching positions, sending Whitehair to guard and Daniels to center, where he played in college.
“That’s what we’re looking at,” Nagy said. “You know, we’re giving them a chance to look at it and see where it’s at. We feel comfortable with it”
The move was slightly clamored for last year in response to Whitehair struggling with snaps at times. But the chemistry between Trubisky and Whitehair was too important for the installation of the offense to be messed with. With the offense now familiar to Trubisky, existing quarterback-center chemistry is not as prioritized.
Whereas this year’s OTAs is a refresher for the offense, the defense will be introduced to a new coach and system in defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
Pagano, who was fired from the Indianapolis Colts’ head-coaching job is energized and excited to work with the league’s number one scoring defense from a year ago: “When what you have has been taken away from you, and now you have an opportunity to be back doing what you love, that’s coaching and being around great coaches and great players and guys that love ball, it’s really easy.”
Pagano has said in the past he won’t mess with a great thing in the Bears’ defense. Other than the language, the Bears’ defense will likely look similar to last year’s from a schematic standpoint. One of the anchors of that defense is second-year linebacker Roquan Smith, who led the team in tackles last year.
“You talk about football character and you talk about football IQ, we know the measurables, he’s one of the brightest, smartest guys I’ve been around for just a second-year player,” said Pagano, who coached Hall of Famer Ray Lewis in Baltimore.
The Bears drafted Smith with the eighth pick in 2018 with the hopes that he could be a dominant presence in the middle of the field for years to come, and so far, that seems like a wise investment. Smith had 121 tackles last year, despite missing all of training camp in a contract holdout. He now gets the experience of a full offseason without any contract stalemates, allowing maximum improvement.
“It feels great to be out here with my guys,” Smith said. “So I’m just focusing on getting better with the guys each and every day, so you can’t ask for more than that.”
OTAs are either the first taste of massive changes or a continuation of previous schemes and coaches. Fortunately for a still-growing Bears offense, they fall into the second category. The defense, with such stars Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Smith, is good enough that new terminology won’t be a barrier in its success. The Bears’ mandatory minicamp takes place June 11th-13th. We’re still months away from the Week One kickoff against Green Bay, but the Bears are in a good position after OTAs.
Follow on Twitter: @crbevins11 @radiomogul
Hear audio from Matt Nagy, Chuck Pagano and Roquan Smith:
Draft season is upon us, and after the typical ebbs and flows, falls and reaches of the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears will get their chance to add to their playoff-caliber team.
A successful season and a roster with few holes left the Bears with little to worry about, particularly the first night, where they were without a pick as a result of the Khalil Mack trade. The Bears hold five picks, one in the third (87), one in the fourth (126), one in the fifth (162), and two in the seventh (222, 238).
“There’s just so many variables and so many scenarios, cause there’s so much space before we pick” general manager Ryan Pace told reporters in his pre-draft press conference. “There’s a bigger pool of players. So you’re playing out every one of these scenarios, ‘Man, what if this player fell?’ There’s just a bigger pool of players we’re talking about, so a lot of scenarios. So that’s probably the challenge that exists with that.”
The Bears’ two most pressing needs remain running back and kicker, and the need for the former was exacerbated by the trade of former Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard to the Eagles. The buzz has been that the Bears will surely take a running back in the third round, but it’s possible they truly believe in the upward arrow of Mike Davis and the versatility Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen offer in the backfield.
Pace was sure to mention he doesn’t feel any immediate pressing needs, saying, “”You know, I know right now, running back’s been talked about a lot, but right now, we feel good about that position. We feel good about Tarik (Cohen), we feel really good about Mike Davis, we feel good about Ryan Nall, and we feel good about Cordarrelle Patterson and the things he can do out of the backfield as well.”
If such is the case, depth will be a priority, perhaps on the interior of the offensive line. Cody Whitehair will be a free agent next season and Kyle Long isn’t getting any younger. Ryan Pace has shown a willingness to draft secondary help in the later rounds, particularly at safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s one-year deal could call for insurance at the position.
“We’re trying to project right now, who will be there. So I would just say that third round cloud, for example, it’s just bigger than it is in previous years,” Pace said.
With those three positions laid out, let’s start with the sexiest: Running back. The league has grown smarter and learned to understand the pitfalls of drafting a running back in the first round. After the first round, Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the lone running back off the board.
This crop of running backs is particularly deep, and barring a crazy run on running backs, impressive talent will fall to the third round. Miles Sanders and David Montgomery are thought to be the next best running backs after Jacobs, and there’s a good chance they’ll be gone before the Bears are on the clock at pick 87. A trade-up is always possible with Pace, but let’s assume those two are gone.
Matt Nagy wants his running back to be two things, athletic, and adept catching out of the backfield. Jordan Howard was neither of these things, so he was traded to the Eagles. Memphis’s Darrell Henderson was an uber-productive ball carrier who runs hard and runs far (He averaged 8.9 yards per carry his senior year). He has the breakaway speed to make defenders miss at the second level, and he gets to that point with crafty agility and an ability to avoid defenders. His athleticism and explosiveness compliment his pass-catching abilities, and those three traits make him an enticing fit in Matt Nagy’s system, despite his 5’8 height. If (And that’s certainly a big “if”) Henderson is there, Pace should sprint to the commissioner with the draft card in his hand.
Offensive line is not an immediate need, but with running back being really the only one, the Bears can afford to shore up the interior. The middle rounds of the draft are a good place to find immoveable guards, but those guards also have to move. Another extension of Nagy’s desire for athleticism, a fluid set of interior players is a necessary component in Nagy’s system, particularly in the run game, indicated by the hit the Bears’ run production took they lost Kyle Long due to injury. Some names to keep an eye on over the weekend are North Carolina-Charlotte’s Nate Davis, Penn State’s Connor McGovern and Georgia’s Lamont Gaillard.
We still don’t know for sure what Chuck Pagano wants in his safeties, but the signing of Clinton-Dix indicate he desires balance between defending the run and the pass, at least next to his ball hawking free safety Eddie Jackson. Only two safeties came off the board in the first round, leaving a lot of talent left. Whoever the Bears draft likely won’t be an immediate starter, so it should be a safe assumption that they’ll look more to the fourth and fifth for a project as opposed to missing on a potential instant-impact player in the third. Boston College’s Will Harris made an impact in the run game, and with grooming, his athleticism could project him to be capable in the pass game.
One last thing to keep an eye on is the Robbie Gould situation. The Bears’ all-time leading scorer recently requested a trade from San Francisco, and the Bears immediately came to everyone’s mind. Kicker trade demands are fairly unprecedented, but if Ryan Pace truly wants to end his search for the ever-elusive kicker, the Bears’ fifth is not too high a high price.
Follow on Twitter: @crbevins11 @radiomogul
Hear audio from Ryan Pace:
These two Chicago Bears standouts were selected by their teammates to receive this distinguished honor.
The Piccolo Award has been given to a Bears rookie every season since 1970 in memory of Brian Piccolo. In 1992, the award was expanded to include a veteran as well. The Piccolo Award is a special honor voted on by Bears players, who select a teammate they feel best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo.
Patrick McCaskey, grandson of Bears founder George Halas acted as master of ceremonies. First he introduced Piccolo’s daughter Traci who noted, “It’s hard to believe that it’s been forty-nine years since we founded the Brian Piccolo Cancer Research Fund to carry on my father’s legacy and find a cure. She went on to talk about how much money has been raised, some of the current research, and expressed her thanks to the McCaskey family for all their support.
Coach Matt Nagy went next. He stressed how the team makes Piccolo’s legacy important, and how much it means to the players and coaches. “I think Our whole city, our whole family, our whole organization, should be extremely proud of the high character people we have, and how much family we’ve become.”
Assistant Linebackers coach Bill Shuey introduced rookie honoree Roquan Smith by saying, “Roquan epitomizes the characteristics associated with the Brian Piccolo award. Courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and the sense of humor. He has all of them.” Shuey added, “He’s an extremely hard worker, and he practices like he plays, but he also has a lighthearted side to him. His (Roquan’s) fast and tenacious style of play, coupled with humble and hard-working approach to the game, has earned him the respect of his coaches and teammates.”
The soft spoken Smith humbly accepted his award. “I’m honored to stand if front of you guys. I would like to thank the entire Chicago Bears organization for giving me an opportunity to live out my dream. To my teammates, I wouldn’t be here without you guys who have encouraged, motivated, and graciously taught me so much about this game on a daily basis. And also for noticing my hard work, courage, loyalty , and teamwork.”
New Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano talked about his own personal battle with cancer. “To the Piccolo family, I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your advocacy. The Piccolo fund research saved my life.” He discussed how the cure rate for the form of leukemia that he got back in 2012, had a cure rate of 90 percent, up from merely 50 percent thirty years ago. Pagano added, “I certainly know and understand the significance of this award, and everything that comes with it. It’s all about representing the decal on the helmet, and the name on the jersey. He turned to Hicks and explained that in the 2012 draft, the Colts picked below New Orleans, and stated, “had you slipped three spots, you would have been a Colt.”
“I watched the movie last night. Hicks thanked the McCaskey family for bringing him to Chicago and making him a part of the organization, and Ryan Pace for drafting him in New Orleans (where he served as player personnel director). This award means so much. You can be nothing better than a team guy, a coach once told me. You go nowhere without your teammates. No matter how strong, how big, and how fast you are, you can’t beat eleven guys by yourself. I understood that with a team, it takes everybody coming together. One of the biggest differences in our season this year was how we were able to come together and be teammates, and care for one another. It’s so important.”
After the presentation, both players met with the media. Hicks talked about how he holds the history of the organization in high regard. “I’ve met I don’t know how many of the Chicago Bear greats. I met Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary. In other organizations that I’ve been in, I never had that opportunity.” He also explained why he voted for Roquan, “From his his first day, he came here with the right mind set. He was focused. He was hard working. He had respect for the were here before him. The way he approached the game as a young man, You don’t see that all the time when guys come into the league.”
Smith noted, “Last year at this time, I was more focused on ‘where I was going to go’ and now I can focus on my craft.” He also commented on coach Pagano. “He’s a great guy. Great sense of humor. I love his character. He comes to work every day with a positive attitude.” His goals for this season. “Try to pick up where we left off last year. It didn’t end the way we would have liked it. Put pour heads down and keep working to not make this year a disappointment like last year.”
Roquan Smith and Akiem Hicks feature prominently in our new book, The 2018 Chicago Bears – Return to Respectability, available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Get it for a limited time for only 99 cents, a Dan Hampton friendly price.
During the Bears 2018 season, we interviewed several members of the media covering the team on a daily basis. These are incorporated into our upcoming book release “Return to Respectability.”
Here are the complete audio interviews, with written excerpts. They were used as part of our radio show / podcast The Sports Report.
Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times on the Opening Game –Recorded September 10, 2018
“I think it’s safe to say that Matt Nagy was out coached as the game went on. For all of the magic of that first drive, (Green Bay Defensive Coordinator) Mike Pettine, made adjustments. Some of that is Matt Nagy coaching in his first game. He’ll get better the same way Mitch Trubisky is supposed to get better.
On Khalil Mack – “The last time I saw somebody dominate a half the way that he did was Brian Urlacher against the Cardinals way back when. He didn’t have the wind to make it through the rest of the game. Rogers getting hurt was probably the best thing to happened to their game plan. They said ‘the heck with it, we’re going to go three steps and get the ball out’, and that limited Khalil Mack.”
John Mullin from NBCSportsChicago.com – Recorded 10/10/18
Discussing the addition of Khalil Mack: “The interesting thing is the ripple effect. What a guy like Mack does is introduce an element like the team had back in 1985. Guys like Richard Dent would get a sack and everyone else said ‘I’m going to get mine now.’”
“The impact he’s had throughout the defense has made everyone else put their foot down even harder. That gives them the chance to be great.”
“Mitchell Trubisky is 0-6 against the NFC North. At some point he has to start beating those guys. they’ve all stumbled, but they’ve gotten back up. One thing the Bears have been arguably is consistent, with the arrow going up. After the Bears finish with the four game stretch with the AFC East.”
“What’s tailor made for (Tarik Cohen) he’s got offensive coaches going to him in more situations. A guy who is good with the football in his hands. Give him to me. I’ll find a place for him.”
JJ Stankevitz of NBCSports Chicago on the Bears 3-3 –Recorded October 24th
“The expectations with this team should be higher, given what they did in the offseason, adding Khalil Mack a week before the season. I think you feel encouraged about them. You feel like there a certain things they obviously need to be doing better, but right now they’re a competitive team that needs a few things to go their way to still make the playoffs, but they’ll be playing meaningful games in December.”
“The Bears, before they can really start thinking about this division being weak, they need to start beating teams in the division. They lost the first week to Green Bay. The stretch where they play Detroit – Minnesota – Detroit, that is going to be the critical stretch for this team, assuming they go out and beat the Jets and the Bills in the next two weeks. The Bears haven’t won in this division in a long time, and for them to really say we’re better than last place in this division, they’ve go to start taking care of those games first.”
“Teams knew they had to be aware of Tarik Cohen at all times. The Bears had no other weapons last year. Now you have Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, or Allen Robinson, and Anthony Miller. That is allowing Tarik Cohen to have a lot of freedom in the offense. It’s giving Matt Nagy a lot of freedom to use Tarik in this way. Because even if a team does key on him, he can be a really good a decoy for the rest this offense. And even if they do key on him, sometimes he beats the opposing defense. What Matt Nagy has done with Tarik Cohen has been a really good success for him so far.”
Dionne Miller, Sports Anchor, ABC 7 Chicago –Recorded 11/8/18
“This is going to be the true to test to see where they are at. 5-3 is exceeding expectations. I would say the grade is B plus, A-minus. I think the last couple of weeks have been easier, but they have risen to the occasion. Now they’re getting healthier. This next stretch of three games in twelve days is going to be huge. This means something to them. Matt Nagy sets a tone that they hear listen and relate to in a different way than John Fox. Matt comes in with such a good energy and authenticity, that is legit, and they see it. And what he says works. He’s got their attention. It’s exciting.”
“It’s fun. The way that they are winning, and how they are growing. How can you not be excited about that. There are so many great angles to talk about.”
“Getting Khalil Mack back (from injury) is huge. During that stretch, when people asked them how much they missed it bothered the other defensive players, they said we were good before we got Mack. We were considered a top ten defense. We’re still those same guys. They really proved that over the last couple of weeks. Last week, getting interceptions all over the place. Leonard Floyd getting into the end zone, and Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson scoring. this is building confidence.”
Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune – Recorded December 10th
“First and foremost we’re seeing that anything is possible for the 2018 Bears. When you take an offense that is as high powered as the Rams. A team that was 11-1 coming into the night, and you dominate them for four quarters, it’s not otr of the question that this team could get hot and make a run through January, and suddenly start eyeing a a run to the Super Bowl. This team knows what got them here. The way the defense has taken over, and once again gotten on a big stage in prime time and played the way they did shows you this is a fearless team. With great talent, great cohesion and more than anything great confidence to do what they need to do.”
“It’s a special thing to watch this defense play. We’d be remiss not to start with Vic Fangio, who has great respect from all his players, and understands how in this era of offense, how to take apart an opponent. Obviously, they did a wonderful job Sunday night against the Rams. Todd Gurley comes in as the league’s leading rusher. He leaves with 28 yards on 11 carries. That is a testament to the talent that the Bears put out on defense. It’s a testament to their ability to subscribe to Fangio’s game plan. It’s a testament to Vic’s ability to see those things. So this defense is full of talent, and it’s very well coached, and that’s why they are 9-4 right now.”
Postseason thoughts from John Mullin of NBC Sports Chicago – Recorded January 14, 2019
“For the first time, Ryan Pace felt the arrow was pointing up for the Bears. He was vindicated. His quarterback got better. His team got better. His coach looks like the right guy.”
“I think Chuck Pagano is going to be real motivated. Pagano would look good, because he’s inheriting so much talent. I think may be a more stable hire than bringing Adam Gaze was. There’s not a whole lot of worry that Pagano is going to be a one and done guy.”
“I won’t say he had to, but Mitch Trubisky made some strides this year. He became a more accurate guy, completing 59% of his passes in 2017. Then he goes up to more than 66% this year. They finally got him some weapons. He was running an NFL offense with bad receivers, and some accuracy questions. The major steps forward were taken. You won’t see him get dramatically better, you’ll see him cut out the bad stuff. The bad overthrows or questionable decisions.”
It is an understatement to say that Chicago Bears running back and kick returner Tarik Cohen has a chip on his shoulder.
Despite excelling in both football and track & field, Cohen’s size hampered his ability to land a college scholarship. Only one school, North Carolina A&T, offered him an opportunity to play college football.
Not only did excel there, he finished as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s all-time rushing leader with 5619 yards, and set the the single-season touchdown record with 19, while also tying the school record for the single-season rushing touchdowns record with 18. He holds several other school and conference records. That led to Cohen winning the prestigious Deacon Jones Trophy, given to the most outstanding all-around collegiate football player of the year, among teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “I feel like they rewarded me for choosing them. They helped me grow into the player that I am,” he states about his time at A&T.
The Bears selected Cohen in the fourth round, 119th overall, of the 2017 NFL Draft. He played in all sixteen games, teaming up with Jordan Howard, and ran for 370 yards, while also catching 53 passes for 353 yards. Tarik scored four touchdowns, two on the ground, one on a pass, and also notched a punt return for a TD. Most notably, he threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Zach Miller in an October game against Baltimore.
You always have the dream of making it to the NFL, no matter what school you go to.-Tarik Cohen
The diminutive Cohen stands all of five foot six inches. He barely tips the scales at 180 pounds. However, he uses his speed and agility to elude linebackers, which is why he’s been so effective as a pass receiver. In post game or weekday interviews, he flashes a 100-watt smile and gold capped teeth, as well as plenty of glittery bling. He’s affable, congenial, and doesn’t hesitate to speak to the media.
One of the more remarkable things about his agility is on full display in a YouTube video of him catching footballs while doing a back flip.
When asked about how he learned about life in the NFL, Cohen admits, “You get guidance from the other players on the team, who have been in the league for a couple of years now. That’s mainly what I did last year. You look to the guys who’ve been there before, and the staff on the team.”
Cohen gave his mid-season perspective in a media interview. “I feel like we did OK. We think we did better than some people thought we were going to do. But we haven’t lived up to our own expectations.” What were those expectations? “To be more consistent,” he says. “To finish some of those games that we could have finished. Where we were in position to win.”
2018 was another solid year for Cohen. He increased his rushing totals to 444 yards and three TD’s. He more than doubled his receiving yards to 725 and scored five touchdowns, plus threw another TD pass. Tarik led the league in punt return yards, which resulted in being named to the 2019 Pro Bowl.
Off the field, Cohen likes to play video games, “To relieve the stress,” he notes. NFL 2K or Call of Duty are his games of choice. “I have to get away from football from time to time. I talk to my teammates from back in college. They help me relax.” Cohen is also a fan of AMC’sThe Walking Dead, based on his Twitter posts.
He enjoys social media and says that Twitter is his favorite method to communicate with the fans. “People say congratulations on the good games that I have. They tell me that they’re fans and they are going to get my jersey. Things of that nature.” He will also take to Twitter to defend teammates like Mitch Trubisky. “He is like my brother on the team, so I’m going to protect him.”
Tarik was asked about winning the 2018 NFC North title and responded, “It means a lot. What we went through last year, not winning any division games, then we came from the bottom, and we finally got to the top now.”
Cohen has a marketing advisor and an agent to take care of his business affairs. “They help me out with some things, like getting commercials and appearances and signings. I enjoy it a lot. I enjoy making money.”
At least he’s honest.
with Packer Dave and Steve Leventhal
Joining us this month are Dionne Miller of ABC7 Chicago, just back from Arizona, to talk Spring Training and a some Bears football. Jeff Rich chimes in on NBA hoops, and Adam Lucas, UNC beat writer from GoHeels.com previews the Duke-Carolina game and the ACC Tournament for us.
Don’t miss cameos from Pat Hughes and Bill Raftery.