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‘Progressive and aggressive’: Matt Nagy is building creative offense for Bears

Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace at training camp. (AP)

BOURBONNAIS — When it comes to scrutinizing Matt Nagy’s competitiveness and football mind, Brian Ginn has an exclusive perspective.

Nagy and Ginn not only competed for playing time as quarterbacks at Delaware, but they also lived together at one point.

“But as quarterbacks, you spend more time in the meeting room and film room and stuff like that,” Ginn said.

After Ginn graduated, he returned as a graduate assistant for the Blue Hens’ 2000 season. It was Nagy’s senior year, and it became Ginn’s responsibility to send the plays in to him.

“Four or five times a game, the play that was run was not the play that the head coach or the offensive coordinator had called,” Ginn said during an interview during the offseason program. “Matt would claim that I messed the signal up. I would claim that he was changing the plays.”

Jokes aside, Ginn realized halfway through that season that Nagy was right in making the changes. It’s one of the reasons why Nagy left Delaware with more than 20 passing records.

“All the plays that he was changing were working, so I just started taking credit for changing the signals, even though I knew it was him,” Ginn said, laughing. “It was just like that.”

Ginn smiles when asked about what Nagy is building for the Bears and quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the help of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Nagy always has had a high football IQ, Ginn said. He came to appreciate it at Delaware.

Ginn jumped at the chance to be Nagy’s offensive quality-control coach after 17 seasons coaching several positions at Delaware. Everything is new and exciting, and that includes what’s being built offensively.

“It’s very interesting; it’s cool,” Ginn said. “It’s a lot of stuff as a football guy you’ve watched, and you’ve kind of said: How?

“You watch Oregon. How are they running in so much space like that? Now, to sit down with Mark and see some of that stuff, and Matt’s putting it together with the pro concepts and spacings, [it] has been interesting to see.”

It’s Nagy’s offense, but building the playbook and finding what works best for everyone is a collaborative effort. The Bears are merging Andy Reid’s West Coast system and the run-pass options that Helfrich mastered at Oregon with Chip Kelly, and then some.

“Having Helfrich here helps a lot because he’s a different thinker than normal offensive coaches, coming from Oregon,” tight end Trey Burton said Friday after the Bears’ first practice of camp.

Having played with the Eagles for Kelly and Doug Pederson, a Reid disciple, Burton would know, too. The possibilities seem endless.

“That was kind of like my dream, bringing these two offenses together,” Burton said. “And they’re kind of together now.”

The Bears want to be creative and innovative, so they’ll experiment. That will take place in camp, but also continue in the preseason and into the regular season.

“Yeah, we’ll always do that,” Nagy said in an interview before camp opened. “That’s some of our identity as coaches with our staff here. We’re always going to be progressive and aggressive with what we do. That will never change.

“We just have to be smart with it. It’s got to be something that makes sense. We can’t just do it because we want to be fancy and make it look cool.”

At this point, Nagy said that Trubisky has been given the meat and potatoes of the offense. A strong foundation must be established.

“The stuff that we know we’re going to do regardless of what anybody says, we want him to get good at that,” Nagy said.

“And then we’re sprinkling in little concepts that we think are fun with the players on this team. We try to add some dimensions of play with those formations, motion shifts, then we test the waters.”

Camp is the perfect time to experiment. It’s time to find the best ways to use receivers Allen Robinson, Kevin White, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller, tight ends Burton and Adam Shaheen and running backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard. It can be a fun process for all involved.

“We’re just going to run a play and see if we like it or don’t like it,” Nagy said. “If we do, we’ll put it in the memory bank, we’ll hold on to it and maybe bring it out in the season sometime. It keeps it loose for the players, too. They get to have a little fun. They understand that. They know that’s not what we’re going to live and die by. But it keeps it fun. It keeps it loose. Then every now and then, you find one that works, and you hang on to it.”

It’s a creative approach that has fostered a sense of the unknown, which is exciting for players.

“It’ll be cool,” Burton said. “No one really knows right now what’s going to happen and all that type of stuff. I’m not a prediction guy, but I’m excited to see how it ends up.”

Of course, Trubisky’s input is invaluable. It’s Nagy’s offense, but he wants him to voice his concerns. Nagy listens to his assistants. He takes advice. He’s open-minded.

“It’s a group effort,” Trubisky said. “Everyone’s bringing ideas together, but at the end of the day, it’s coach Nagy’s offense, and he’s just adding details. He’s a very detailed person. You can see his creativity every day.”

It’s all part of Nagy’s makeup, another reflection of the competitiveness and football mind that Ginn knows very well.

“He’s got a vision for exactly what he wants and how he wants to get there,” Ginn said. “It’s a very clear vision that he has, and he’s done a very good job of communicating that to everybody.”


Learning from experience

On Sunday, the Bears will put on their pads for the first time under coach Matt Nagy. He promised his players that training camp will be physical. He wants to “callous” them.

If players are curious about what Nagy means, tight end Trey Burton is there for them. He experienced the type of camp that Nagy wants while playing for the Eagles and coach Doug Pederson.

After leaving the Chiefs and Andy Reid in 2016 for the Eagles, Pederson also promised to have physical camps.

“It’s tough,” Burton said. “[Nagy] wants to set the tempo. He understands that it’s an extremely physical division.

“He talks about it all the time, about callousing our bodies for the season. So the tougher it is now, the easier it will be during the season.

“I truly believe that. I experienced it in the last two years in Philly. I understand how tough it’s going to be.”

So what will happen?

“I know in Philly we went live a couple of times,” Burton said. “The physicality, we’re going good-on-good a lot, ones-on-ones, twos-on-twos, that type of stuff. It’s going to be a lot more physical in that sense.”

It includes full tackles, too. Players will be brought to the ground.


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“Sometimes, yeah,” Burton said. “Not all the time, obviously. He’s going to be smart with it. There’s a time and place for all that. We have an extra preseason game, so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of live tackling. But I’m sure there’s going to be a couple of periods [of practice] here or there.”

More from Maddon

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t the only Bears coach who has gotten to know Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

While Fangio’s bond with Maddon has turned into a friendship full of text messages about baseball, Matt Nagy also quickly impressed Maddon.

It happened over the phone, then in person at Wrigley Field when Nagy threw out the first pitch April 14. Nagy, Fangio and Maddon are all from northeastern Pennsylvania.

“The thing that stood out to me was how easy [Nagy] was to speak with, how bright he is,” Maddon said during an interview before camp. “I’m always wondering when guys that young get jobs like that, there’s got to be a hook or lure that attracts ownership or general managers, people who are making those decisions. I had heard that he had been sought after by other teams, too.

“So when I spoke with him, that came through to me. I can understand why groups would be attracted to him. He’s very ingratiating. He’s got leadership qualities, where he listens really well when you talk to him. He doesn’t step over the conversation. He’s eager to get new information, different methods, different ways. All this stuff to me — believe me, I’m analyzing this as I’m talking with the guy on the phone — that is why the Bears hired him. That is why teams were attracted to him — because of him.”

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