Bears can’t afford another ‘terrible’ season from OLB Robert Quinn

Quinn was limited in the opening practice of training camp. The Bears hope to have him full speed by Monday, because he needs the reps.

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Quinn had 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 2019, then two for the Bears last season.

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Robert Quinn wants to leave his first season with the Bears in the past and never discuss it again. Of course he does.

“I’ll be honest: Just a terrible year for me, personally,” Quinn said.

No argument here. But after watching him sign a mammoth free-agent contract, then put up just two sacks, it’s a little early to forgive and forget. Quinn has a lot to prove to an organization that believed it had formed a monster pass rush with him and Khalil Mack opposite each other at outside linebacker.

And there’s already some skepticism about a bounce-back season given that Quinn has been limited by a lower-back injury for more than a month and was limited in the opening practice of training camp Wednesday. Quinn brushed it off as “no concern,” and coach Matt Nagy said he’d still get meaningful snaps as he built up his strength.

Nonetheless, even as Quinn enters his 11th season, practice reps will be vital. He missed extensive time last summer, and it clearly hindered him.

“When we get pads on, we need to get him going on those full-speed reps,” Nagy said.

Those start Monday with the first practice in full pads.

Quinn was arguably the Bears’ biggest letdown in a 2020 season stuffed with them. They signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract — the second-largest total for any free agent that year — with $30 million guaranteed. His $14.7 million salary-cap hit this season is second on the Bears only to wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Concerns arose immediately. The most glaring among them was that Quinn always has been adamant that he does his best work as a defensive end but joined the Bears as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He said, essentially, he’d adapt.

It still sounded like a shaky situation for both sides, and now it’s up to new defensive coordinator Sean Desai to solve the puzzle they created.

Quinn was pretty clear he’d like that solution to include heavy usage as a defensive end on the right side.

That’s where he played when he erupted for 40 sacks from 2012 through 2014 with the Rams, earning All-Pro honors with 19 in 2013, and during his 11.5-sack season for the Cowboys in 2019.

“If you’ve known my career, if you know me, you know where I like to be,” he said. “I think he knows where I’m dominant at.

“I think we’re all on the same page. I get the opportunity to hopefully re-prove myself and hopefully earn the respect from the guys, make sure I don’t disappoint them like I did last year.”

Mack led the team with just nine sacks last season, followed by nose tackle Bilal Nichols (five). Quinn had just two in 548 snaps.

The man he replaced, by the way, had a career year for the Rams. Leonard Floyd put up 10.5 sacks and earned a four-year, $64 million extension.

With Quinn ineffective, it was easier for teams to load up against Mack. The Bears stumbled to 17th in sacks (down from third two seasons earlier) and 19th in opponent passer rating (down from first) as their defense slid from great to good. Quinn mostly avoided answering questions about what went wrong.

“Really just trying not to dwell on the past,” he said. “I can erase 2020 — well, put it behind me — because it’s done and over with. Now I’m gonna look forward to this year and come in with a better, positive mindset, a little more energetic . . . and try to give the Bears the best version of myself. Hopefully they get what they’re looking for.”

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