Bears’ offense is growing, learning but still producing
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Less than 30 minutes after the Bears defeated the Jets 24-10 last Sunday at Soldier Field, rookie receiver Anthony Miller tried to explain what’s developing between him and quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
‘‘Each and every game, we’re getting closer and closer to completing all our passes,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I know you’ve seen him maybe overthrow [me], or I didn’t run the route right, so it was just messed up. But our chemistry is going to grow as the season goes on, so that’s something I’m not worried about.’’
Why isn’t he worried?
‘‘I keep reminding myself that he’s 24, like me,’’ Miller said. ‘‘It’s tough being a quarterback in the National Football League. He’s on a journey, just like me. We’re learning that as each day goes on. I keep forgetting that we’re both the same age.’’
All the Bears’ skill players are in a similar position with Trubisky. It’s their first season together, and coach Matt Nagy’s offense is new for everyone but tight end Trey Burton.
‘‘It’s part of this process of having all new guys come to this organization and a brand-new offense being in the first year all together,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘So every day we’re learning new things about each other and how we like to play and what routes suit us best. And we’ve also got a lot of stuff — new stuff — going in with this offense.’’
Through all of their ‘‘learning,’’ there is a positive trend to consider: Each week, a different receiver seems to be emerging and producing in Nagy’s offense.
Early on, it was Allen Robinson, who caught 10 passes for 83 yards against the Seahawks in Week 2.
Then came the first two 100-yard receiving games of Taylor Gabriel’s career against the Buccaneers and, after a bye week, the Dolphins.
Then came Burton’s breakout game of nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.
Recently, Miller has received attention. Trubisky overthrew him several times against the Patriots, but he caught a back-shoulder touchdown pass in the back of the end zone last week against the Jets after he and Trubisky recognized the coverage.
‘‘We practice that all the time,’’ Miller said.
As different receivers produced, so did running back Tarik Cohen. He has emerged as a consistent threat, totaling 100 yards from scrimmage in three of the last four games. He also leads the Bears with 398 receiving yards.
‘‘It’s a learning and growing process every single day,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘We’re just creating that chemistry on every single route, every single concept, and just honing in, focusing in on everything else, so we’re not thinking too much. We’ll just let it happen naturally and organically.’’
It hasn’t always been a pretty process to outside observers. Trubisky’s critics still share his misses on social media.
On a third-and-six play in the second quarter against the Jets, Trubisky overthrew Miller on deep ball to his right despite having receiver Josh Bellamy open on a crossing route underneath.
But the Bears still liked what Trubisky did on that play. Nagy said he threw to the ‘‘right player’’ on his ‘‘right read’’ against man coverage.
‘‘In that situation, Anthony had [his man] beat,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘There were some types of throws that you can make on that. That one was a little bit too far, so Anthony couldn’t make a play. There’s a couple of ways that we practice throwing it. That was one that got away from him, but he went to the right spot.’’
At this point in the season, Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said that reps in practice can be limited. In
other words, it’s difficult to devote ample time to ‘‘a couple of ways’’ of throwing it on such plays.
‘‘That’s one of the things, as practices get shorter and shorter and there’s [less] reps for all of those guys, you have to do a lot of that in between plays,’’ Helfrich said. ‘‘That’s getting with Anthony Miller when I have two minutes to run these three routes or with Trey Burton to do this, that and the other.
‘‘[Trubisky has] done a great job of that and being vocal and really taking the reins as a leader to get those guys to know: ‘I have to have you at this spot on this timing, period. There’s no option.’ And that’s starting to show up.
‘‘The negative to that is some of those guys, you need to see that happen in a game to truly believe it. If he’s throwing to No. 1 and I’m No. 3 and I’m wide-open and I don’t understand why I’m not getting the ball, all of those kind of things you have to reassure guys about. That’s just a gradual, gradual deal.’’
Through it all, the Bears have produced. The offense is averaging 32.7 points in the team’s last four games, and five players already have caught two or more touchdown passes.
‘‘We all eat in this offense,’’ Miller said.
In time, Nagy said his offense should get better in certain areas with certain concepts.
‘‘[Trubisky is] in a unique position because we have so many of those guys that he’s trying to build that timing with,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And he’s done a good job, considering. . . . [He’s] trying to get better with Trey and with Allen and Taylor and Anthony, and the list goes on and on. Then you’ve got your running backs and all the other tight ends.
‘‘It’s not going to happen overnight. But throughout games, throughout training camp, throughout practices, he’s slowly realizing what routes he likes with those guys, and those guys are realizing what routes they like with him that he throws. And so he’s building that right now.’’
Some talking points
The football fan in coach Matt Nagy made agreeing to be featured in the Bears’ most recent ‘‘Mic’d Up’’ video an easy decision.
‘‘I’ve been there growing up,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘You love seeing that kind of stuff, and you can appreciate it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.’’
Of course, he had to find a balance. You didn’t hear any play-calls or much strategy from Nagy beyond his decision to go for it on fourth down.
It’s important to have a good editor, and Nagy made sure to thank vice president of communications Brandon Faber when asked about it.
There were some outtakes not for public consumption, he joked.
‘‘There’s some personal things, too, that not everybody needs to know about,’’ Nagy said.
But Nagy’s involvement is notable after John Fox locked down Halas Hall like the Pentagon.
‘‘This game . . . it’s just too important for so many people that care about the game in so many different ways,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It’s great for everybody to be able to understand when it’s authentic. It is what it is. You get to get in there and understand what goes on in certain scenarios. Whether it’s a practice or whether it’s a game, whatever it is, there’s a lot of good stuff that goes on with coaches and players.’’
Smart and aggressive
Running back Tarik Cohen’s decision — rather, his indecision — to try to field a punt at the Bears’ 15 against the Jets nearly turned into a disaster.
But special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor said Cohen has made good decisions overall on his returns.
‘‘We’re always telling him we want him to be aggressive but to play with good judgment,’’ Tabor said. ‘‘And I think that’s always the key. And he’s been doing that.
‘‘We have to clean up that last mistake there at the end of the game [against the Jets] because you don’t want to risk something right there when you’re 14 points up. He knows that. [But] I’m glad he’s back there. I have a lot of confidence in him that it could go [all the way] at any time.’’
Would you rather re-sign [Bryce] Callahan or [Adrian] Amos? — @JPfl_13
A: I’d try to re-sign them both. I think continuity is important for an emerging defense. But I’d go with Callahan over Amos if I had to choose. It’s hard to find a reliable slot corner. Callahan also has better ball skills than Amos, who has only one interception in 47 career starts.
The interesting thing here is that the Bears didn’t sign either player to a long-term extension before this season. Callahan signed his one-year, restricted-free-agent tender. Any concerns with Callahan start with his durability. He has dealt with various ailments since signing with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2015.
The Bears also prioritized extending defensive lineman Eddie Goldman over Amos, who, like Goldman, was entering the final year of his rookie contract. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Bears signed Quintin Demps last season to replace Amos as a starter. Amos regained his starting spot — and then a lofty grade from Pro Football Focus — only after Demps was injured. The Bears like Amos; they just want more from him on the field.
What type of role will [Adam] Shaheen play upon his return? — @nick_worst
A: The Bears aren’t short on offensive playmakers, but they are short. At 6-6 and 270 pounds, Shaheen is a different threat than anyone else on the roster. He’s a better pass-catcher than Dion Sims. As far as roles, Shaheen’s size should stand out in the red zone. Plays that currently feature reserve offensive lineman Bradley Sowell and tight end Ben Braunecker should involve Shaheen when he returns.
During training camp, the Bears used plenty of personnel groupings that featured Shaheen and Trey Burton. They were looks that gave the Broncos all sorts of problems during their joint practices together. Some of those groupings have been off the table since Shaheen injured his right foot and ankle in the preseason game against the Broncos.
With all due respect to Sims, he’s just not the same threat as Shaheen. Overall, Shaheen is a second-round pick no one should be writing off at this point. The Bears remain excited about his potential.