Inside the Huddle: Bears OLBs are a proud bunch out for redemption
New Bears outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley was told he was inheriting a boisterous group full of personalities.
The players’ interactions with the media are an example of that.
Pernell McPhee and Willie Young can turn interviews into stand-up routines full of quotes perfect for the nightly news. Sam Acho can preach and teach. Lamarr Houston can go from calm off the field to brash on it. And Leonard Floyd, perhaps the best of the bunch, can say little.
‘‘I would have been supremely disappointed if there weren’t [personalities],’’ Staley said with a laugh. ‘‘It’s a great room. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with these guys one-on-one. Going out to eat, being in their homes and stuff like that is really important to me to establish that type of relationship.’’
What has he learned about them as a group?
‘‘It’s a group that’s really willing,’’ Staley said. ‘‘This is a group that’s anxious to prove itself.’’
In many ways, the players already have. They’ve been productive starters, including veteran newcomer Dan Skuta. But they also feel as though they let the team down last season. They were expected to be one of the Bears’ strengths, a relentless unit of pass rushers with different sizes, skills and styles.
Instead, injuries limited their effectiveness. McPhee appeared in only nine games after having knee surgery last offseason, then had surgery for a torn shoulder labrum this offseason. Houston suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 2. Floyd missed several practices and four games because of various ailments, including two concussions. Young played through injuries and needed arthroscopic knee surgery this offseason.
‘‘You can feel the pride that these guys have,’’ Staley said. ‘‘That’s something that the every-day fan doesn’t see. It’s the pride that these guys have in their performance and how much it means to them. They’re anxious to recapture that productivity and also recapture that spirit of our team.’’
The Bears have little choice but to be confident in those players at this point. Other than adding Skuta in free agency, the position essentially went unchanged during the offseason.
The Bears’ need to pursue other outside linebackers became less pressing because they were encouraged by McPhee’s and Houston’s rehabilitation efforts. The Bears even moved Roy Robertson-Harris, a promising undrafted free-agent signee last year, to the defensive line.
‘‘Just staying healthy is the key,’’ McPhee said.
He said the players have the right mindset.
‘‘Dominate [and] destroy every opponent that we face,’’ McPhee said. ‘‘Just showing the world why they actually got these guys in the room — me, Leonard, Willie, Lamarr, Sam. Just dominate in the NFL. That’s what I want us to do, and that’s what I think we’re going to do.’’
There are reasons to be optimistic, starting with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio being more hands-on after former outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt left the team. Fangio’s expertise with linebackers stretches beyond his days with the San Francisco 49ers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he coached a New Orleans Saints linebacker corps that featured four Pro Bowl players. He also coached Hall of Famer Kevin Greene with the Carolina Panthers.
‘‘From [Fangio’s] past, he’s worked with some Hall of Fame, All-Pro, Pro Bowl guys,’’ Young said. ‘‘He has the experience and the knowledge to get us where we want to be and where he wants us to be.’’
Expectations are high for what McPhee and Floyd can be in their second season together. According to analysis by Pro Football Focus, McPhee and Floyd were the third- and fourth-best outside linebackers in terms of ‘‘highest pass-rush productivity’’ in the final five weeks of last season.
A McPhee-Floyd tandem can be an imposing blend of strength and speed. Overall, Fangio’s and Staley’s aptitude for mixing and matching the various strengths of the outside linebackers is worth watching.
‘‘More than anything, these guys want to win,’’ Staley said. ‘‘And that drive . . . it’s being as good as you can be because you know that you can help the team. From our group, that’s what they know: ‘When we’ve been healthy, our team has played better. When we’ve been out of the lineup and banged up, it hasn’t gone as well.’ They’re just anxious to get out there to help the team.’’
The right stuff
The Bears are asking rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky to change aspects of his game as he makes the transition from North Carolina’s shotgun-heavy system.
For the most part, though, the team will leave his throwing motion alone. The difficulties will be maintaining that motion despite different footwork.
‘‘Yeah, they’re not really messing with [my throwing motion],’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘It’s more of my footwork. My throwing motion is what it is. I’ve got a quick release, and I could throw the ball accurately as long as I bring my feet with me.
‘‘So that’s what [quarterbacks] coach [Dave Ragone] says: ‘Do the footwork. Bring your feet with you. Get through your progression and use your eyes well.’ So as long as my shoulders are level and I pull through with my hips, the ball should be where it’s supposed to go.’’
Offense needs work
With only veteran minicamp remaining in the Bears’ offseason program, it’s apparent the defense is ahead of the offense. That’s to be expected, especially with notable changes at quarterback, receiver and tight end.
But outside linebacker Willie Young said he sees some good things in the works for the offense.
‘‘As I go back and watch film from the previous practices and whatnot, I see a lot of upside,’’ Young said. ‘‘Upside is one thing, but what we actually do and what we’re actually able to put together during the process could be a completely different story. Time will tell.’’
He and other defensive veterans know how they can help.
‘‘The key is going to be to keep getting after those guys [on offense] and making those younger guys better,’’ Young said.
Getting Goldman right
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman said his goal is to ‘‘re-establish myself’’ after missing most of last season because of a high sprain of his
Goldman can do that by strengthening the ankle but also by maintaining his fitness with the summer break coming up. He needs to be mindful of his weight.
‘‘It’s been the same throughout the course of my time here,’’ said Goldman, who weighed 336 pounds at the combine in 2015. ‘‘It’s, like, 325 pounds.’’
Goldman said his quickness and strength have improved since the Bears drafted him.
‘‘I would like to think I added a lot,’’ Goldman said. ‘‘But the season is the true test, and summer camp is a true test. We’ll just have to see.’’
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