5 takeaways from Chicago Bears offseason program

Seamless interior O-line switch, learning new defensive scheme, newfound flexibility on offense

Last Updated:

Summer vacation got underway Thursday for the Bears and the rest of the NFL, but not before we learned a lot during the offseason program about what Matt Nagy’s club could look like come the fall.

So here are five of our bigger takeaways from the spring. Study up because there will be a pop quiz before camp commences in late July.

No more musical chairs expected up front
Nagy said this week that perhaps the greatest compliment he could pay LG Cody Whitehair and C James Daniels, the blockers who flip-flopped spots along the interior O-line this offseason, is in not talking to — or about — them much. Basically, the Bears set it and forget it when it came to the position switch this spring.
“It's funny, I was actually talking to Cody today right before practice and really with our offensive line in general, those five guys that are there, they probably get the least amount of love from me right now, which is a good thing because they're the same crew, they're just working together,” he said.
Kyle Long joked that Daniels has stepped on his toes more than Whitehair, before largely echoing the sentiments of seamlessness recently shared by Nagy and OL coach Harry Hiestand regarding the moves.
“I don't really have to look over my shoulder inside much,” Long said. “At an early age, [Daniels is] a pro. … [He] and Cody are two bright guys, so I think them flipping is really not been anything more than a bump."
We’ll have more next week on Whitehair’s mindset in approaching a contract year and position switch simultaneously, but know that he and Daniels both sound like they’re in not only good — ideal — places now.
The starters are set, but we expect the OL reserve battles to be right up there with WR, LB and CB competitions for the summer's most heated. Alex Bars, the promising college free agent with positional flexibility and a strong rapport with his former Irish position coach Harry Hiestand, got his first taste of on-field work during vet minicamp after a September ACL tear and ultimately could be the group's X-factor.
But the Bears aren't blowing smoke regarding their feelings on Rashaad Coward, and with Ted Larsen, Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings bringing real NFL starting experience to the mix, and undrafted Sam Mustipher another Hiestand disciple with strong pedigree, there's suddenly a lot of viable options to consider and likely only three spots to fill.

Scheme change on ‘D’ an ongoing process
The Bears defense is going to be really good regardless of who coordinates it because it boasts blue chippers at all three levels and improved depth to boot. But as one of its core leaders, Akiem Hicks explained that while the transition is very much a work in progress, nothing has caught the NFL’s No. 1 scoring unit by surprise and in Chuck Pagano, he thinks the right guy is leading the charge.
“There's a great deal of learning that's going to be required of us — that has been required of us — during these OTAs that's going to continue during training camp. … It's a progression right now and there's a lot of things we still have to sharpen," he said. "We expected that, though, with a new defensive coordinator. If anyone was good for the transition, it was Chuck, because he knows how to handle it.”
We've also got a big Pagano feature brewing for y’all soon and, like Danny Trevathan is keeping the pointers he learned from Mike Singletary at Bears100 close to his vest, we’re preaching patience. But here’s a snippet from Trevathan on what he’s learning from his new defensive coordinator.
He wants us to fly around,” Trevathan said. “That’s the type of football I love and I enjoy. It’s linebacker friendly, it’s linebacker fun and it’s linebacker heaven with him.”
Close your eyes and it sure sounds like Trevathan is describing Pagano’s predecessor Vic Fangio, doesn’t it?

Chocolate? Vanilla? Strawberry? Bears skill group on offense has all of them.
In top pick David Montgomery, it already appears as if the Bears have another version of Tarik Cohen: a fluid and flexible receiving back poised to be used in a multitude of ways. Of course, in Montgomery, Chicago also thinks it’s found a more creative inside runner than Jordan Howard who can handle a full workload.
In their biggest vet signing on offense, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago seemingly found Taylor Gabriel on steroids. That’s not a knock on Gabriel, who is likely to maintain at least a semblance of his own versatile role, but Patterson is a ridiculous mismatch weapon with his size and speed. And in Nagy, Patterson finally might have the imaginative play caller who'll fashion even more roles for the former first-rounder and Pro Bowl return specialist who has really been a jack of all trades but master of none on offense as a pro.
The list goes on with rookie Riley Ridley winning in all areas of the field during his first offseason and holdovers Allen Robinson and Adam Shaheen building a ton of momentum. Lest we forget, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton and promising UFA Emanuel Hall haven’t even entered the equation yet.
“It’s a good problem for me as an offensive play caller that we have a lot of weapons that we will feel good about and they’re all kinds of different flavors in regards to sizes and speeds and attributes,” said Nagy, whose creativity has never been questioned.
Now the quality and quantity of the ingredients with which he can create shouldn't be doubted, either.

Don’t forget about this guy
When the Bears spent two of their five draft picks on cornerbacks, one of the snap judgments naturally was that last year’s undrafted cover men Kevin Toliver and Michael Joseph faced long odds to stick.
While that's certainly true, it was clear throughout the offseason that the Bears remain fond of Toliver, a big, physical corner who was on the active roster all of last season and even held his own in spot-starting duty.
Toliver might not match Stephen Denmark’s “ridiculous measurables,” but his pedigree shouldn’t be discounted. Pagano, whose specialty is his hands-on teaching of defensive backs, seems to have taken particular interest in Toliver, the one-time top-rated high school CB prospect in the country.
Remember, not all drafts are created equal. Had Toliver been in this year’s class, the guess here is he’d have received a higher grade than Denmark and Duke Shelley. We’re not making any bold predictions but suggest keeping close tabs on Toliver when camp arrives. If the offseason is a true indication, his ball skills have improved.

Did the ouster of Blewitt kick start Pineiro, Fry?
Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that the two remaining challengers (for now) to replace Cody Parkey converted six of their final seven field goal tries over the final two minicamp practices after Chris Blewitt was handed his walking papers. And the final round of pressure kicks were merely 30-yard chip shots, we should add, after 45- and 53-yarders one day earlier.
But Nagy still found their upward trajectory entering the summer notable.
“Being able to respond to adversity, I want to give those kickers credit,” Nagy said after citing the “lull” the hat trick of misses on Day 1 of minicamp created. “We’re always going to get on them when they miss but when they make, like they did the last couple days with pressure situations – we didn’t change it because we want to feel sorry that they missed. Matter of fact, we made it tougher and they came through and executed. So I think heading into our summer, we like where we’re at but we’re always going to collaborate and make sure at every position that we’re doing what we need to do.”
Translation on the last part, not that it should be needed: the Bears will continue to explore all avenues to answer their kicking puzzle. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are the two obvious outside situations to monitor. They drafted in Round 5 Matt Gay and Austin Seibert to compete vs. Cairo Santos and Greg Joseph, respectively. Any of the four might be considered an upgrade, and two almost assuredly will be available come late August.
Pro Football Weekly