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Bears believe offensive struggles in camp against the defense will eventually make the team stronger

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich: ‘‘I don’t think a defense has existed like this. ... They’ve got dudes everywhere.’’

Bears linebacker Khalil Mack has been dominant in the early going in training camp at Olivet Nazarene — and his teammates on defense have followed his lead.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

BOURBONNAIS — It’s almost a rite of training camp that if the defense wins one day, the offense wins the next — or eventually responds. But at Bears camp this year, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith and Co. have been winning one day after another against a quarterback and an offense that are supposed to have made big strides in the offseason.

It was Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s turn to pick off Mitch Trubisky on Friday. Clinton-Dix pitched a lateral to Deon Bush, who lateraled to Kyle Fuller on the unchallenged return. The Bears’ defense is having a lot of fun at this camp. Most of it, in fact.

It remains to be seen if the defense’s success is a sign that it will take yet another leap toward dominance in 2019 or a red flag about the presumed progress of Trubisky and the offense — or something in between. But it has provided a daunting challenge you don’t often see in training camp. In fact, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said he has never seen anything quite like this.

“No,” Helfrich said. “I don’t think a defense has existed like this. I’ve played against some really, really, really good defenses, but they’re just so . . . they’re talented. They’ve got dudes everywhere — guys that care about it as much as they do. Khalil Mack works as hard as anybody out here, and that’s fun to see. It’s fun to be a part of on Sundays. It’s not so much fun on Tuesday. But it’ll help us in the long run. You’re preparing against the best.”

Helfrich said that the defense is making it difficult to see progress.

“Definitely,” he said. “Sometimes when you draw up the play, and you have the O blocking the X, and the X is Khalil Mack, that’s a bad matchup for a lot of O’s. You absolutely have to go, ‘Hey, if that’s a normal human being, we’re going to have a shot [at success].’ But you have to kind of work through all that.”

Helfrich said he has seen indications that the offense has made the progress it is looking for.

“Just making more plays,” he said. “We’ve simply made more plays, playing a different level from an efficiency standpoint. But it’s still hard — it’s still hard when it’s ones vs. ones.”

Trubisky has had his moments, including a deep ball to Allen Robinson for a touchdown Friday. But getting in any kind of a groove against this defense has been problematic.

“That’s a part of practice,” coach Matt Nagy said. “You’re never going to have great practices all the time. When it’s kind of choppy, what I’m looking for is, how does he handle that situation? Does he mope? Does he put his head down? Or does he freaking get ready for the next play and get ready to roll?

“That’s where we’re at right now — getting close to that point. I don’t want to force it to happen. I want it to organically happen. But [Trubisky is] getting pretty close with that.”