Four questions as the Bears prepare to play the Packers, who hold a 96-94-1 record against their rivals to the south in the NFL’s oldest rivalry:
1. How ready is Allen Robinson?
When the Bears’ new lead receiver takes the field Sunday night, it will be 364 days since he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Jaguars’ season opener last year. He hasn’t had a catch in a game setting since; the Bears played him only 11 snaps this preseason.
When he does touch the ball for the first time against Green Bay, it will be significant.
“I imagine it’ll feel very similar to my first catch in the league, being outside of football for a while,” he said.
Despite the Bears easing Robinson into action — and sitting all their starters in the traditional preseason dress rehearsal — he said he feels sharp. The Bears are counting on Robinson after signing him to a three-year, $42 million deal in March.
“I’ve done a lot throughout this offseason,” he said, “so that’s nothing I’m too worried about.”
2. What lessons did Matt Nagy learn?
Nagy planned to close the door to his office Friday night, take out a notebook and scribble down what he’ll say to the Bears before the game Sunday night.
“That’s ‘me time,’ ” he said. “And no one’s taking it from me.”
He’ll think about his own goals, too. Among his reflections: what he learned from his last relevant game. He was the play-caller in the AFC wild-card game in which the Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead and lost to the Titans by one. Nagy has vowed to “learn from that and not make the same mistake twice.”
The Bears’ season opener presents him with his first chance.
“I feel like right now I like where I’m at,” he said, “and hopefully I continue to keep growing.”
Halftime hot tip
The Bears are touchdown underdogs at Lambeau Field, but — get this — their last three coaches have won their rivalry debuts there. Despite having mediocre first teams, John Fox (6-10), Marc Trestman (8-8) and Lovie Smith (5-11) all beat Packers teams that reached the playoffs.
3. Throw it over the middle?
One unintended consequence of the NFL’s new use-of-helmet rule could be the opening up of the middle of the field. In the NFL season opener Thursday night, safeties seemed to pull back at times when they had clean shots on potential receivers. Robinson won’t count on that to continue.
“They may pull up; they may tattoo you,” he said. “You don’t know. You have to play accordingly.”
Tight end Trey Burton noticed the middle of the field open when watching his former team, the Eagles, play the Falcons.
“It’s tough, man,” Burton said. “The defensive guys have it hard. I don’t know if I’d be able to do that on the defensive side of the ball.”
He found it strange to watch his old team from his couch. But Burton, who threw the infamous “Philly Special” Super Bowl touchdown, joked that he taught wide receiver Nelson Agholor how to throw. Agholor threw a pass to Nick Foles on Thursday.
4. How did Jordan Howard meet Kanye?
Through a mutual friend, Howard met rapper Kanye West, who tweeted out a new nickname for him — J-HOW: Jordan Helping Others Win — earlier in the week.
“He knew a little bit about me,” Howard said with a smile.
With all the attention on quarterback Mitch Trubisky and outside linebacker Khalil Mack, Howard has slipped under the radar during the preseason. He predicts he’ll have fewer carries but more yards in Nagy’s new system. His goals are simple: make the playoffs and be consistent.
“I’m ready to get out there and show the new offense we have,” he said. “Show how dominant we can be this year.”