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Matt Nagy’s coaching debut a reminder that Bears have a long way to go

Matt Nagy made his Bears debut Thursday. (AP)

CANTON, Ohio — The Bears came to one of the sport’s most hallowed places to honor former linebacker Brian Urlacher, who will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and to debut their new coach and his forward-thinking offense.

And maybe to bury the John Fox era — and its run-run-pass march to mediocrity — for good.

It took only five plays in the Bears’ 17-16 loss for the faithful to be reminded, though, that Matt Nagy’s work is just getting started.

“Offensively, there’s going to be some growing pains,” Nagy said. “We have some guys right now that are going through this for the first time, and they have a lot of different responsibilities with protections and route assignments and conversions. …

“We’ll learn. They’ll be able to see where their mistakes are.”

There were plenty. With both sides starting mostly backups, the Bears moved 61 yards on their first four plays against the Ravens, sparked by Josh Bellamy’s 25-yard catch and run and Benny Cunningham’s 30-yard scamper. On first-and-goal from the 14, Chase Daniel found Bennie Fowler wide open in the back right corner of the end zone. Fowler dove, grasped the ball with both hands, then dropped it the minute his arms hit the turf.

On the next play, Daniel bounced a pass off his own offensive lineman’s helmet. It popped up in the air at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium and into the arms of Ravens safety Chuck Clark for an interception.

Daniel’s first quarter would feature a four-yard touchdown pass — to fullback Michael Burton, of all people — and another pick, this time to linebacker Kamalei Correa.

The Bears’ offense didn’t find a rhythm until Daniel was lifted after the first half. His line: 8-for-16 for 53 yards, two sacks and a passer rating of 38.8.

Tyler Bray, who relieved him, went 18-for-34 for 181 yards, a touchdown and two sacks. He had a 78.2 passer rating.

Nagy, of course, wasn’t plucked from the Chiefs to make Daniel or Bray a star. He was brought in to mentor Mitch Trubisky, who spent the night playing the role Daniel will perform during the regular season: ballcap-wearing ball of encouragement.

Given how intertwined Nagy is with Trubisky — now and going forward — judging one without the other is folly. Especially on Aug. 2.

Thursday, though, was not without its benefits for Nagy. The extra preseason game was a bonus for him and his offensive staff — which has never worked together, in any incarnation. It gave Nagy the opportunity to, for the first time as a head coach, call plays into the quarterback’s helmet — he lets offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich do that during training-camp practice — and his staffers to grow comfortable with their own headset conversations. He was pleased with how smooth it went.

Short of Nagy’s fashion choices — a navy visor and skinny pants — the game didn’t offer much of a glimpse into his game-day tastes. The Bears kept their scheme vanilla.

After vowing to bring his aggressive approach to the Bears, Nagy went for it on fourth-and-one from the Ravens’ 28 in the third quarter. And one play after converting a fourth-down pass with about three minutes to play, Bray threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tanner Gentry. With preseason overtime verboten, Nagy went for two, but Bray threw an incompletion.


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Nagy, who had never called plays until last season and has never been a head coach at any level, got his first taste of the clock-management responsibilities that come with his new gig. With 1:19 left in the first half, he used the team’s second timeout after Nick Williams sacked Ravens quarterback Josh Woodrum to force third-and-11. The Ravens converted but eventually let the clock run out.

Nagy had practiced such scenarios every night at training camp — both with his players and staffers.

“Now we get to test it,” Nagy said. “We get to see how it works.”

Want your Bears training-camp update without delay? Each day of summer practice, Sun-Times Bears beat writers Patrick Finley, Adam L. Jahns and Mark Potash will share exclusive insights on the workout and interviews in a livestream conversation 1 p.m. daily through Aug. 12. Catch their live analysis and ask questions on Twitter @suntimes_sports or follow Sun-Times Sports on Periscope to be notified of each live report.