The Matt Nagy era officially kicks into a higher gear on Tuesday, when the Bears open their offseason program. It will be Nagy’s first chance to meet with his players, but, just as important, the team will get its first in-depth look at the health of players rehabbing from injuries — guard Kyle Long (neck, shoulder) and free-agent wide receiver Allen Robinson (anterior cruciate ligament) at the top of that list.
Those two events are a fitting way to begin the Nagy era. The energy and excitement that the 39-year-old Nagy is sure to generate with his players is a key part of the Bears’ rebuild. But if Nagy has the same kind of luck with injuries that John Fox had, he is unlikely to fare that much better, if any better at all.
For now, happy days are here again at Halas Hall. The leaguewide enthusiasm for the Nagy hire seems a bit unusual for a first-year NFL head coach with a modest coordinator/play-calling resume. The Eagles’ Doug Pederson further validating the Andy Reid coaching tree with a Super Bowl victory built on the same track the Bears figure to follow obviously helps. But the optimism — no matter how measured — already has triggered a predictable backlash in some parts.
That’s based on the Bears’ recent history of disappointment: making the playoffs only once in the last 11 seasons off a Super Bowl team dominated by 20-somethings in 2006, the withering of the Marc Trestman era into discombobulation under general manager Phil Emery and 14 victories in three seasons under Fox.
Nagy, though, arrives under different circumstances. He’s the first Bears coach to be hired with the arrow pointing up since Lovie Smith in 2004. With a top-10 defense and No. 2 overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky in his second season, the Bears were likely to be an improved team in 2018 even with John Fox. You couldn’t say that about Lovie in 2013 or Trestman in 2015.
Fox was fired as much because of the Bears’ altered dynamic as his poor record. When he was hired in 2015, the Bears were 31st in the NFL in scoring defense and had Jay Cutler at quarterback. Now with a top-10 defense (the only defense among the top 20 in the NFL last year without a Pro Bowl player) and Trubisky in place, Nagy is a much better fit to take the Bears from Point A to Point B and beyond.
It remains to be seen if he’s the right guy, but Nagy’s here at the right time. Trestman inherited an aging Brian Urlacher-less defense. Fox inherited that 31st-ranked defense and an offense in disarray. Nagy has the wind at his back on both sides of the ball.
It’s up to Nagy to do something with that advantage. But barring unexpected bad news on the injury front, he already is ahead of the game as the offseason program opens. When Fox arrived in 2015, tight end Martellus Bennett boycotted the voluntary portion of the offseason program in a petulant salary dispute. Running back Matt Forte —in the final year of his contract —missed the opening phase of the offseason program.
This time around, it would be an upset if 100 percent of this roster isn’t out to impress the new boss — not a bad place to start. With the teardown complete and the rebuild in the formative stages, Matt Nagy has a team you can at least get cautiously optimistic about. Even around here, there’s nothing wrong with that.