It remains to be seen if Robert Quinn can restart his career at 31 after a disappointing first season with the Bears. The veteran pass rusher got off to a slow start in 2020. He missed most of training camp and was inactive for the season opener. And after a sack and forced fumble on his very first snap against the Giants in Week 2, he had just one more sack the rest of the season.
He never looked comfortable as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 alignment, lamented his ineffectiveness throughout the season and just never fired despite diligent efforts by the coaching staff to break him out of a season-long pass-rushing funk. Quinn’s two sacks were a huge drop from the 11.5 sacks he had with the Cowboys in 2019. And when it was all over, he had to live with the fact that he was a huge disappointment after signing a five-year, $70 million contract that included $30 million in guaranteed money. He had to live with a lot of stuff.
But not any more. Quinn is neither living with the disappointment nor lamenting his plight. The season he’d like to forget is all but forgotten.
“I’m in a great place mentally and spiritually,” the soft-spoken Quinn told reporters this week. “Physically is what it is. It all kind of starts with the mental. I think I’m in a great place for myself. Now it’s just see if I can continue what you all see. So come in a few weeks.”
Maybe that fresh approach will help him regain the groove that made him one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Even he doesn’t know. But at least he’s in the right frame of mind to give it a shot, buoyed by a “heavenly peace” he hopes will prevent the memory of last season from dragging him further into the hole this season. So far, the renewed energy he is playing with in practice is a good first step.
“I realized, don’t let the tacky-tack stuff bother you,” Quinn said. “Don’t dwell on my disappointments or [anyone’s] disappointment — because once something happens, it has happened [and] you can’t change it. So how do you move on and grow from the situation? Don’t keep yourself in that type of dark place feeling sorry for yourself. Figure out how you can grow and become a better person and player.”
Bears first-year defensive coordinator Sean Desai lauded Quinn’s approach and has been encouraged that Quinn has been receptive to ideas from new voices, including himself and new outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey.
“He’s been extremely humble, really grateful, taking advantage of all the opportunity, taking in all the coaching,” Desai said. “For a veteran guy that’s aging, his effort is unbelievable every day — his play speed is unbelievable every day. He just goes at one speed.”
Even the best pass rushers can lose it in a hurry, especially after turning 30. Quinn’s 2020 demise was a bit confounding because he was in a defense — even without nose tackle Eddie Goldman — where he was surrounded by playmakers, including Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith.
But everyone — except the up-and-coming Smith — suffered as the defense as a whole lost its dominant edge in 2019 and 2020. With Goldman returning and a new coordinator in Desai, it’s still possible that Quinn will benefit from a defensive resurgence.
But even Desai acknowledges that it’s a work in progress.
“I’m not sure if it’s been unlocked,” Desai said. “Coach Shuey’s been tremendous with him and working with him to develop a plan that we want for him to respond to, and Robert’s been awesome in terms of responding and embracing that challenge.”