Chuck Pagano confident Robert Quinn will find a home in Bears’ 3-4 defense

The Bears’ defensive coordinator recalled a similar situation with the Colts in 2011, when Robert Mathis adjusted to a 3-4 outside linebacker and eventually thrived, with 19.5 sacks in 2013.

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Robert Quinn (sacking Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last September) had 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys last season.

Robert Quinn (sacking Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last September) had 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys last season.

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On paper, Robert Quinn as a pass-rushing upgrade looks like a no-brainer for the Bears. Quinn’s specialty was Leonard Floyd’s weakness — sacking the quarterback. Quinn had 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys last year. Floyd had three for the Bears — only one in the last 15 games. 

But defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano acknowledged the addition of Quinn will take some work. Quinn has done most of his best work in the NFL as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense — four double-digit sack seasons, including 19 in 2013 with the Rams. With the Bears, he’ll be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Quinn had 8.5 sacks as an outside linebacker with the Rams in 2017 but made it clear that’s not his comfort zone, once calling the 3-4 experience “suffocating.” 

“There’ll be some adjustment for him,” Pagano said. “I remember going to Indy in 2012 [as head coach] and calling Robert Mathis in and having a discussion about playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 and all the things that come with that job title. 

“He wasn’t under contract at the time and it took a long time — a lot of film, a lot of dialogue to get him to say, ‘OK, I’m in. I can handle that job description.’ So there’s definitely some hurdles to get over. But we’ll do the right thing for Robert. It’s going to be on myself and our staff to put all our players in the best possible position to be successful, so we’ll be smart about that.” 

Mathis had eight sacks and made the Pro Bowl at 31 in 2012 under Pagano and blossomed as an outside linebacker in 2013. He had 19.5 sacks (edging Quinn for the NFL lead) and 10 forced fumbles. He was runner-up to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. 

Pagano recalled that he just missed coaching Quinn as defensive coordinator at North Carolina. Quinn signed with the Tar Heels in 2007, but Pagano left to become the secondary coach for the Ravens under John Harbaugh in 2008, when Quinn started as a true freshman.

“A really, really talented football player,” Pagano said. “Everybody just thinks he can rush the passer. But he’s relentless. He’s tough. He’s athletic. He’s physical. He’s good against the run. 

“There’s some things he’ll have to adapt to from a schematic standpoint. But he’s done a great job to this point with picking up the playbook stuff. He’s a great pro. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great person.”

Floyd was productive in the Bears’ defense, but the Bears are hoping a player who can finish like Quinn will have a chain-reaction effect on the rest of the defense — starting with Khalil Mack, who had a subpar season with 8.5 sacks in 2019.

“This is a player we believe can come in and fit into the system and make us better in a lot of areas,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “That’s not to take anything away from any player that was here in the past. But as we move forward as a group, not only as an outside linebacker group but as a defense, we are going to find more ways for guys to do what they do best most often.” 

Monachino said he and assistant linebackers coach Bill Shuey have spent “more time with Quinn than we have spent with a lot of guys” in virtual meetings. “Robert asks a lot of good questions,” Monachino said. “He wants to be good and he wants to be good at this system and he wants that to happen right away.” 

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