Four questions as the Bears prepare to play the Packers, who hold a 96-94-1 record against their rivals to the south in the NFL’s oldest rivalry:
1. How ready is Allen Robinson?
When the Bears’ new lead receiver takes the field Sunday night, it will mark 364 days his he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in the Jaguars’ season opener last year. He hasn’t had a catch in a game setting since, as the Bears played him only 11 snaps this preseason.
When he does touch the ball for the first time against the Packers, it will be significant.
“I imagine it’ll feel very similar to my first catch in the league, being outside of football for while,” he said.
Despite the Bears easing Robinson into action — and sitting all their starters in the traditional dress rehearsal — the receiver said he feels sharp. The Bears are counting on him to be after signing him to a three-year, $42 million deal in March.
“I’ve done a lot throughout this offseason,” he said, “so that’s nothing I’m too worried about.”
2. What lessons did Matt Nagy learn?
The Bears coach planned to close the door to his office Friday night, take out a notebook and scribble down what he’ll say to the Bears before Sunday night’s game.
“That’s ‘me time,’” he said. “And no one’s taking it from me.”
He’ll think about his own goals, too. Among his reflections: what he learned from his last relevant game. He was the play-caller in the AFC Wild Card game when the Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead to lose to the Titans by one. Nagy has vowed to “learn from that, and not make the same mistake twice.”
Sunday marks his first chance.
“I feel like right now I like where I’m at,” he said, “and hopefully I continue to keep growing.”
HALFTIME HOT TIP
The Bears are touchdown underdogs at Lambeau Field, but — get this — their last three head coaches have won their rivalry debuts there. Despite having mediocre first teams, John Fox (6-10), Marc Trestman (8-8) and Lovie Smith (5-11) all beat Packers teams that reached the playoffs.
3. Throw it over the middle?
One unintended consequence of the NFL’s new use of helmet rule could be the opening up of the middle of the field. In Thursday night’s opener, safeties seemed to pull back at times when they had a clean shot on potential receivers. Robinson won’t count on that to continue.
“They may pull up, they may tattoo you,” he said. “You don’t know. You have to play accordingly.”
Tight end Trey Burton noticed the middle of the field open when watching his former team, the Eagles, play the Falcons.
“It’s tough, man,” he said. “The defensive guys have it hard. I dunno if I’d be able to do that on the defensive side of the ball.”
Burton found it strange watching his old team from his couch. But the tight end, who threw the infamous “Philly Special” Super Bowl touchdown, joked that he taught receiver Nelson Agholor how to throw. The receiver threw a pass to Nick Foles on Thursday.
4. How did Jordan Howard meet Kanye West?
Through a mutual friend, the Bears running back met the rapper, who Tweeted out a new nickname for him — J-HOW: Jordan Helping Others Win— earlier in the week.
“He knew a little bit about me,” Howard said with a smile.
With all the attention on quarterback Mitch Trubisky and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, Howard has slipped under the radar during the preseason. He predicts he’ll have fewer carries, but more yards, in Matt Nagy’s new system. His goals are simple: make the playoffs, and be consistent.
“I’m ready to get out there on the field and show the new offense we have,” he said. “Show how dominant we can be this year.”