Bears linebacker Sam Acho disputed the notion that the onus is on the players to perform against the Packers in the season opener, so that coach Matt Nagy doesn’t look bad for sitting his starters through so much of the preseason.
“Not really because we trust him,” Acho said. “I trust coach Nagy, and when I heard the news, I trusted him and believed him. He knows what he’s doing. He continues to tell us, ‘Guys, just trust me, and it’s going to work out.’
“Sometimes we don’t get it. Sometimes we don’t believe. But you trust him. He gives you tough pills to swallow sometimes. But you believe him, and it works.”
We’ll see about that. One of the most interesting Bears preseasons in recent memory concluded with little resolved. If Mitch Trubisky is ready to take the league by storm, we saw little to no evidence of it in the preseason. If the Bears’ top-10 defense is ready to reach another level with rookie linebacker Roquan Smith in the middle, we didn’t see evidence of that, either.
The Bears are intriguing, no doubt about it. They can be the Cinderella team of the year, go 13-3 and become a factor in the playoffs. Or they could fall flat and quickly be doomed to a fifth consecutive season of double-digit losses.
In fact, after the preseason finale Thursday night against the Bills at Soldier Field, only one thing has been defined heading into the regular season: This is Nagy’s show. The rookie head coach has firmly established himself as the man in charge. Everything he has done seems to have come from experience even though he has no experience as a head coach at any level.
Nagy has been resolute in every move he has made. Even the few difficult situations he has had to deal with — Smith’s holdout and the status of injured players, for instance — he has handled well. And when he thinks outside the box like he did in sitting his starters against the Chiefs, he solidified the trust many players already have in him. They believe.
“I love coach Nagy’s approach,” Acho said. “He’s thinking, ‘What’s best for my team? What’s best for the Bears?’ He’s not thinking, ‘What does everybody else do?’ Or, ‘What would make me look good in front of my players or the coaches or the media?’ He’s not thinking that way. He’s thinking, ‘What is going to help us beat Green Bay?’ So I trust him.”
Acho’s not the only one. Akiem Hicks, the Bears’ best defensive player, has developed a relationship of trust with Nagy — not always an immediate or automatic thing for defensive players and a coach from the other side of the ball.
“Probably seven or eight weeks ago, I might not have said [I did],” Hicks said. “But just being able to be with him through training camp and OTAs and all that stuff, I [trust him]. He is exceptional at what he does. He knows how to pull back on a team. He knows when to push us. I think his years in K.C. have only benefitted him when he came here.”
“His years in K.C.” might be the key to the whole thing. A team that is 19-45 in the last four seasons is thirsting for leadership and will believe anyone who sounds like they know what they’re doing — a Nagy specialty. Players believed in Marc Trestman in a similar situation in 2013, and they followed him into oblivion. But Nagy’s experience with Andy Reid provides hope that what we’re seeing so far is real. He appears well-prepared.
“He definitely was. And it’s interesting that you [brought up] the coaching trees — the [Bill] Parcells coaching tree, the Reid coaching tree,” said Hicks, who played for two products of the Parcells tree — Sean Payton and Bill Belichick. “That [stuff] really means something.”