Growth spurt: Bears coach Matt Nagy finally sees the light about the preseason
He no longer will keep starters out of exhibition games, as he mostly did in his first two seasons.
Matt Nagy can admit a mistake. You are forgiven for thinking otherwise. Last year, you listened to him defend, over and over again, a terrible decision to take a knee on first down to set up a potential 41-yard game-winning field-goal attempt. There had been more than enough time for the offense to get extra yardage for a shorter kick.
The ball sailed wide left as time expired. The Bears lost by a point to the Chargers.
Afterward, Nagy did not say he’d defend his decision to the death. He didn’t have to. There was a fevered gleam in his eyes that said, “Lock the doors, brothers and sisters, because our time has come.’’
But now we might be seeing some growth in the Bears’ head coach. He recently admitted that he has been wrong in his approach to the preseason. He no longer will keep starters out of exhibition games, as he mostly did in his first two seasons in Chicago. He has come to the realization that players need game repetitions to get ready for the regular season. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, coming off a decent 2018, didn’t take a snap in the preseason last season. He played poorly in 2019.
We’ll never know if the lack of preseason action caused the drop-off, nor will we know if a similar lack of action from Trubisky’s fellow starters caused the team to fall from 12-4 in 2018 to 8-8 last year. Nagy played his starters sparingly in the 2018 preseason, and the team made the playoffs. But did that lack of game action cause the Bears to tire out in the second half of a 24-23 loss to the Packers in the season opener? Nobody knows.
We do know that, when the Bears line up for the season opener against the Lions this year, they should be in better game condition.
No one is pining for a return of blood, sweat and three-a-days at training camp. OK, maybe some of you are. Forget it. That’s from another era, the Paleozoic. But NFL players need to work on their craft in games, even if those games don’t count. Or, to put it another way, if Tom Brady can take snaps in the preseason, so can Bears players.
“That’s one of the things that I look back at from last year, that I’m not happy about that . . . decision,” Nagy said on ESPN 1000’s ‘‘Waddle & Silvy’’ show. “No. 1, I think it’s good for them to have [preseason snaps], but No. 2, it sets the mentality. So that’s not going to happen this year.”
This was the same guy who defended his decision to sit his starters in the preseason last year even after the Packers stunned the Bears 10-3 in the season opener. A reporter asked him if not playing his starters in the preseason had negatively affected the team.
“I really don’t believe that,” he said. “I’m sticking with my gut. I really feel that. I really do. I know what our guys can do.”
So, yes, growth.
Part of Nagy’s changed philosophy comes from the Bears’ offseason acquisition of quarterback Nick Foles. He will compete with Trubisky for the starting job, and there can’t be a competition unless the competitors are taking snaps in preseason games. If the two quarterbacks are playing in August games, everybody else on offense has to, as well.
Foles’ arrival is another indication that Nagy can change. He presumably agreed to the trade that sent a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars in exchange for Foles. That would be tacit acknowledgment that the belief he publicly slathered on Trubisky wasn’t all that it seemed. We were never going to hear from Nagy that Trubisky is below average at his craft. There was little benefit in it. But it has been hard to see the benefit in going so far the other way, which is what Nagy did by piling the praise on his quarterback. It alienated all the fans who could see the truth.
Nagy’s embrace of Foles will win some points with those same fans, though that’s probably the furthest thing from his mind. But it proves he is willing to change.
As for ever admitting he made a mistake by not trying to gain more yards before Eddy Pineiro’s missed kick against the Chargers last season, dream on.
“I’ll just be brutally clear: zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football,’’ he said at the time. “You understand me? That’s exactly what it was. It’s as simple as that.”
Growth has its limits.