With months spent learning Matt Nagy’s offense and weeks spent coaching new players, members of Nagy’s overhauled offensive staff had plenty to say this week during organized team activities. Here are five things gleaned from five Bears assistants during their conversations with the media:
Quarterback: Mitch Trubisky’s rookie experiences are viewed as invaluable despite the coaching changes.
When players took the field for the first time during Phase 2 of the offseason program, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone immediately noticed a difference in Trubisky’s demeanor.
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“Just overall the way he was carrying himself, it was just different,” Ragone said. “He’s not looking around. It’s not the first time he’s been at Halas Hall, just got drafted and wondering where the bathroom is.
“He’s out here now like, ‘I understand my surroundings. I understand the players. I’m learning the system with the rest of these guys.’ And that’s huge. Last year, to play, was huge.”
In other words, Trubisky’s experiences under John Fox and Dowell Loggains still were meaningful despite the uneven results.
Ragone strongly believes that. After all, the Bears retained Ragone because they appreciated his rapport with Trubisky and wanted to maintain some continuity.
“You hear LeBron James say in a press conference for the playoffs you can’t discount experience,” Ragone said. “It’s the same thing. … Until you go out there and do it, you need to play.
It’s more than playing time and the X’s and O’s, too. As Ragone explained, it involves Trubisky’s formation of a weekly schedule, how he takes notes and how he digests and analyzes film.
“He handled some of the stuff off the field very well,” Ragone said. “All that stuff that you maybe don’t do in college because of a lot of different reasons that you have to do now, that’s part of the process.”
Receiver: The Bears want Taylor Gabriel to assert himself in a leadership role.
At 27, Gabriel is the second-oldest receiver on the roster behind Josh Bellamy (29). But Bellamy doesn’t have Gabriel’s four-year, $26 million contract or his skill set.
Because of his age and contract, the Bears want Gabriel to be more than a speedy, field-stretching threat.
“He’s got to now become the example for all the younger guys,” receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “He had some good people to look up to you where he was coming from [the Falcons], so now that’s him. That’s a huge transition in your career.”
Furrey described it as a “work in progress” because Gabriel is learning Nagy’s offense much like Furrey is, in addition to other coaches and players. But Furrey said that should change come training camp.
“People are watching you now, so you can’t really take things off,” Furrey said. “You got to be that example. You got to set that bar for people. You got to push our room, instead of kind of being in the wagon of the room.”
Running back: The Bears are committed to improving Jordan Howard’s pass-catching abilities.
New running backs coach Charles London made it sound as if a detailed plan is in place to address Howard’s issues with dropped passes.
“That’s one area that both Jordan and I identified when I got here, that he wanted to get better at,” London said. “And he’s put in the work.”
It involves catching passes before, during and after practices. But London also identified some of Howard’s issues that resulted in his drops. London’s predecessors, at least publicly, didn’t do that.
“We’re working on hand placement … just his focus and concentration, hand-eye coordination and things like that,” said London, who is Howard’s third position coach in as many seasons.
Overall, London said there are “a lot of factors” to address.
“How he needs to position himself. How he needs to have his hands to catch the ball,” London said. “And I think he’s getting a better understanding of that. I’ve seen progress.”
Tight end: Trey Burton was signed to catch passes, but the Bears see a tough, willing blocker, too.
Despite his limited production, Burton received a four-year, $32 million contract to handle the all-important “U” role in Nagy’s offense. He’s the mismatch waiting to happen.
“[It’s] route-running, his hands and his understanding of getting himself open,” tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride said. “That is what he brings to the table, as far as his No. 1 quality.”
But if Burton is going to be an every-down staple for Nagy, he has to be able to put his hand in the dirt and get his nose dirty, too.
“He’s got some toughness to him, too,” Gilbride said. “He’s not going to back down from anybody in the run game, so that’s exciting.
“I’m not sure he was asked to do a ton of run-blocking in [Philadelphia], but when he got a chance to play, mostly third-down, two-minute and those situations, he played really well.”
Offensive line: Guard Kyle Long has been limited physically, but he’s taking charge of the linemen.
Long is participating in practice but the Bears, as expected, are being cautious because he underwent several surgeries on his upper body in the offseason.
“He’s really anxious,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “But he’s doing a lot of good stuff out there without any contact, so [it’s] being smart that way. But he’s working his hands and he’s working his stance, takeoff and his footwork.”
A widely revered line coach who produced several first-round picks out of Notre Dame, Hiestand has been impressed by Long’s presence and approach with his younger teammates.
“He’s very interested in helping the other guys,” Hiestand said. “I didn’t know that about him. Like after I’ll say something, the meeting will break and they’ll be walking out to get a break and he’ll be, ‘You know what Coach is talking about there?’ [With] the young guys, that part has been really good about him.”