Camp competitions: Five things we gleaned from Bears coordinators
BOURBONNAIS — Three new quarterbacks. Three new starters in the secondary. And some burgeoning competitions at returner and kicker.
The Bears’ coordinators — Dowell Loggains (offense), Vic Fangio (defense) and Jeff Rodgers (special teams) — have plenty on their respective plates to digest this year.
With that in mind, here are five things we gleaned from their meetings with the media at Olivet Nazarene University:
Quarterback : Regardless of whom he’s playing with, rookie Mitch Trubisky’s natural arm talent continues to be a reason for excitement.
By all accounts, Trubisky remains a work in progress. He still has the occasional bobbled snap, and where he looks for his keys before the snap is a point of emphasis. But Loggains believes facing Fangio’s defense daily has led to growth.
“Coach Fangio does a great job and runs more coverages than anyone in the NFL,” Loggains said. “To see him get exposure to all that and be able to get as many reps as he’s gotten has been tremendous.”
It’s what makes some of Trubisky’s throws seem tremendous, too.
He has displayed a special ability to get passes through traffic since organized team activities. Trubisky’s passes often seem just out of the reach of defenders, whether it’s a rifled throw over the middle or a lofted completion in the flat while rolling to his right.
According to Loggains, Trubisky has “a good feel for choosing which ball to throw” on certain routes and against certain coverages. His accuracy is aided by his ability to change the velocity of his throws.
“One of the things we evaluate is the arc and base of each throw,” Loggains said. “In this league, you have to make the deep ball and the underneath throw. Mitch has every club. Every club is in his bag.”
It definitely includes a driver.
“Mitch is a thrower,” Loggains said. “He’s really accurate. I think it’s the short throws; you really see those things. Putting the ball ‘here’ compared to ‘there.’ It’s huge; it’s critical. And, obviously, he does throw a really good deep ball.”
Wide receiver : When it comes to Kevin White, the discovery process continues.
For White, the biggest challenge is stacking good days together, Loggains said. It’s an issue because White, the seventh overall pick in 2015, simply hasn’t played or practiced much because of the two major surgeries on his left leg.
“It’s just getting those reps,” Loggains said.
By getting them, the Bears will learn what White does best. There was an understanding early last season. Loggains made sure to mention that White led the Bears in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in Week 4.
But the team hit the reset button again because of his injury.
“We have plenty of patience in finding out what he can do well,” Loggains said. “As coaches, we need to expedite the process as much as we can and put him in as many different situations as we can to figure out exactly what he does really well and use his skill set the best we can.”
White’s route tree still is developing.
“We have to figure out, ‘Hey, this is what Kev does well,’ ” Loggains said. “And maybe it’s everything. Maybe it’s seven or eight routes. Maybe it’s three or four, but we have to figure out what that is.”
Having veterans Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton will help on and off the field. Loggains also commended wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni’s work with White.
“We expect a lot from him,” Loggains said. “He’s got a lot of talent. Everyone on this team is invested fully in getting the most out of him.”
Safety : Rookie Eddie Jackson might be on the fast track to starting.
The Bears have been rotating safeties opposite starter Quintin Demps. Jackson is pushing three young safeties with NFL starting experience: Adrian Amos, Deon Bush and Harold Jones-Quartey (when healthy).
Jackson’s range and ball skills — highlighted by his interceptions — have made him into an early standout in camp. He’s making ‘‘wow’’ plays, and everyone is noticing.
The Bears’ fourth-round pick this year, Jackson didn’t participate much in the offseason program because he was coming off surgery for a broken left leg.
But Jackson’s ability to cover considerable ground — and fast — has been obvious in camp. It helps that Jackson was an established threat as a punt returner in college at Alabama.
“Some of it’s natural as with any skill; a guy has it or he doesn’t,” Fangio said. “But you can improve it. He has good range, as does Bush, and we’re trying to improve that in our other safeties. But he does have good range.”
Fangio, though, said Jackson’s tackling will be a “determinant factor.”
“We can’t afford to have anyone out there that can’t tackle,” he said.
Cornerback : Kyle Fuller is moving better, but his place on the Bears’ roster remains in flux.
Fuller, the Bears’ 2014 first-round pick, fell out of favor with the team last year when arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in the preseason turned into a seasonlong absence.
But the Bears are trying to keep an open mind with Fuller, who’s now behind Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara on the depth chart. The Bears need depth, and Fuller still has talent
“It’s a new year,” Fangio said when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”
In that regard, Fangio has seen improvement.
“He’s a lot better than he was last year at this time — very, very different,” Fangio said of Fuller’s movement. “Then he had a calf [strain] here that recently acted up, and [he] missed a couple of practices. But before that, he was a lot better than he was last year physically.”
Kicker : Don’t write off Andy Phillips.
Rodgers doesn’t view Phillips, a 28-year-old rookie from Utah who once was an Olympic downhill-skiing hopeful, as merely a “camp leg.”
Phillips will get his chance to kick in preseason games. Rodgers wants to see how he handles the live game action and pressure.
Connor Barth is the clear favorite. He’s reliable within the range the Bears want and battle-tested.
But Phillips earned the nickname “Automatic Andy” for a reason at Utah. His background makes him even more compelling.
Rodgers has been impressed by Phillips’ diligence.
“He’s always on his iPad,” Rodgers said. “He’s always looking at his stuff from OTAs, from minicamp, the days he did good, the things he can improve on. He tried a new plant shoe, a new kicking shoe. He’s trying to find that right combination.
“And that’s different than a lot of rookies. Most rookies come into camp, and they’re kind of staring at the vets: ‘What are they doing? OK, let me do that.’
“[Andy] has a little bit of his own routine. He’s a competitive guy. He’s obviously athletic. He’s done some athletic things over the course of his career. He’s done a good job so far.”
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