Back from the depths: Bears’ Robert Quinn having fun again after burying 2020 misery

Quinn said there were days in his first season with the Bears when he didn’t want to go to work. His outlook is remarkably brighter after his bounce-back season.

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Robert Quinn set the Bears’ single-season record with 18.5 sacks this season.

Robert Quinn set the Bears’ single-season record with 18.5 sacks this season.

Kyusung Gong/AP

LAS VEGAS — It’s a good day for Robert Quinn. Better than good, really.

It’s hard to be happier than he is on this chilly morning after wrapping up a light Pro Bowl practice. With palm trees rising on the horizon into a perfectly clear, pale blue sky, he smiles as the sun warms his face. His friends and family are nearby. His buddies from around the NFL are glad he’s here. And he’s back among the league’s elite.

He’s back from his misery, too.

There were a lot of days that felt just the opposite of this one as Quinn trudged through his first season with the Bears in 2020. He usually holds back the details, but it’s easy to grasp what a dark time it must have been.

“Just being honest, there were days I really didn’t want to go into the building,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. “I was just frustrated for a lot of different reasons. But I got to the offseason and talked with some people and got over it.

“I realized it wasn’t as bad as [it seemed]. I had put a lot of pressure on myself and built it up, and when the snowball starts to roll, it can turn into an avalanche. I let that happen for a little bit.”

Quinn won the Jeff Dickerson Award this season for exceptional effort with the media, but he also said it’s his least favorite part of the job because he prefers to keep to himself. It’s understandable. He’s a small-town guy from South Carolina, and he has been chasing a football career, not fame.

Setting aside his aversion to opening up, a look at his situation in 2020 paints at least a partial picture of what affected him.

Quinn was never quite right physically, starting in training camp. He struggled to adjust to playing in a 3-4 defense that shifted him out of his preferred position of defensive end to outside linebacker. And after the Bears signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract to stack up sacks, he wasn’t delivering.

It was the worst season of his decadelong career, and that’s terrible timing at age 30 when any player is at risk of drifting out of the league. Quinn had two sacks in 548 snaps. The conversation turned toward how quickly the Bears could get out of his contract.

Quinn was admittedly a little lost after that season, but those closest to him picked him up.

“Pastors, best friends — a whole bunch of people that were really just making sure I was alright,” he said. “They just reassured me. They could tell by the game film I wasn’t having fun. They said I needed to get back to having fun, and that’s what I did.”

Quinn’s comeback was fun — and remarkable.

He broke Hall of Famer Richard Dent’s franchise record for sacks with 18½, which is how he booked his spot as an NFC starter in the game Sunday at Allegiant Stadium. It’ll be his first Pro Bowl since 2014.

The specifics on how Quinn reached that spectacular total make it even more impressive. He was incredibly consistent, recording at least a half-sack in 14 of his 16 games. And remember, the Bears signed him to be Khalil Mack’s wingman, but Mack went down with a season-ending foot injury after just seven games. Quinn did the majority of his work as the lead pass rusher.

Everything clicked. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — Quinn was back in every way.

“I could do what I was brought in to do,” he said when asked how he felt walking into Halas Hall every day this season. “I’m sure everyone could tell the difference between Year 1 and Year 2 with the Bears. So hopefully nothing changes.”

As usual in life, change is coming. But this should be a good one for Quinn: New coach Matt Eberflus said he’ll remake the defense with a 4-3 base.

“Oh, did he?” Quinn said, genuinely surprised. “That’s the first I’ve heard. I don’t keep up with social media or nothing like that.”

He likes to stay disconnected. He hasn’t talked with Eberflus other than a brief text exchange. But Quinn knows that change will take him back to his home spot at defensive end. No more dropping back in coverage, which isn’t his forte.

He and former coordinator Sean Desai made it work this season, but Quinn has said throughout his career that he’s at his best when he lines up as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. He had 40 sacks at that position for the Rams from 2012 to ’14, earning two Pro Bowl trips and an All-Pro selection.

So as good as he was this season, Quinn might be even better in the next one.

He’s hoping for the best with Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams — “I’ve been through many a coaching change, so it sucks to say, but I’m kinda used to it,” he said — and it’s a lot easier for him to be optimistic on a day like this than it was a year ago.

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