Play ball: Young Bears need to get their growing pains in
Receiver Kevin White’s mistake that led to quarterback Jay Cutler’s first interception this season could be one of many coming this season.
And not just from White.
This whole season — particularly over the next three weeks when the Bears have winnable games against the Eagles, Cowboys and Lions — is about working through the “growing pains,” to use Cutler’s wording when discussing White in the preseason.
That’s what happens with youth movements, which is what the Bears are purposely experiencing under general manager Ryan Pace.
The Eagles will experience their own “growing pains” with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
The only way White, center Cody Whitehair and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd are going to get better is by playing.
And the only way the Bears can truly gauge what they have and what they need is by playing them and their other young players.
Unlike Fox’s run in Denver, a rejuvenated Peyton Manning isn’t walking through the doors at Halas Hall to make up for all the ups and downs of their youth.
Much of the Bears’ success will be determined by the contributions they receive from their young players. And those contributions won’t come at times. The young players need to their lumps and bumps in.
The Bears’ season-opening loss to the Texans was a reminder of that reality, whether it was White’s gaffe with Cutler, Whitehair’s ability to identify and handle stunts or Floyd’s ability to handle his run assignments better.
The Bears started nine players who are in their first or second seasons in Houston: White, Whitehair, Floyd, running back Jeremy Langford, strong safety Harold Jones-Quartey, free safety Adrian Amos, cornerback Jacoby Glenn, nickel back Bryce Callahan and defensive tackle Eddie Goldman.
Charles Leno Jr., a third-year player, is the unquestioned starter at left tackle after beginning last season as a reserve. Rookie Deiondre’ Hall was the top reserve at cornerback in the opener. Fullback Paul Lasike, 26, also made his NFL debut in Houston.
“Whether you’re dealing with young players or veteran players, the end goal is still to win,” coach John Fox said Tuesday. “And if you don’t win, that’s frustrating. But it doesn’t really matter how old they are.”
But experiences matters. Fox knows it. And the players know it.
Mistakes will happen.
“Even with veteran players, things are going to happen,” nine-year veteran receiver Eddie Royal said. “You practice against certain looks and then they come out and do something different so then you just got to talk about it. You just learn from it and try to move on after that.”
It’s how players develop, and that’s what matters most.
Fox said the film of White’s first game, including his miscue with Cutler, would be “a great teaching tool.”
The same applies for Floyd. Fox said Floyd had a “a couple of missed fits” against the run, specifically mentioning his matchups against the Texans’ tight ends.
“He’s a rookie,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, a five-year veteran. “So he’s going to be green on a couple things.”
As for Whitehair, Fox thought he fared well against the Texans’ talented front, especially given the circumstances in which he became the No. 1 center, but pointed out that Cutler got hit too much overall.
At cornerback, Fox said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the performances of Glenn and Hall, who played in place of an injured Kyle Fuller.
“You just coach the heck out of everybody,” Fox said. “This game’s only fun when you win. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hours.”
Freeman seemed to suggest that expectations should be high for the young players on both sides of the ball.
“They’re in the game for a reason,” Freeman said. “There’s no balancing act here. They’re in the game. Coaches trust them. When they get in there, we trust them. [It’s] make a call, go out there and play ball.”