Pressure Point: John Fox must turn Bears players’ buy-in into wins
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Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in Sunday editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
New cornerback Marcus Cooper loves inspirational quotes. His Twitter and Instagram profiles are full of them.
“I just want to kind of share the wealth,” Cooper said. “Those people who get to see it, it may impact their lives somehow. I’m just trying to be positive.”
It’s no surprise then that Cooper has enjoyed playing for coach John Fox. Halas Hall is covered with inspirational sayings. Fox added them soon after he arrived.
The Bears’ refurbished locker room at Soldier Field also has a new message: “We don’t feel pressure; we apply pressure.” It’s all part of Fox’s method of operation. It’s how he motivates.
“Probably my favorite quote would be, ‘Victory loves preparation,’ ” Cooper said during training camp. “[It’s] nice and sweet.”
At this point, Fox’s messages should be getting through to his players. It’s not difficult to find ringing endorsements of him in the locker room from draft picks or free-agent signings. They believe in what Fox says.
“He’s definitely a player’s coach,” running back Jordan Howard said. “He’s always looking out for the players’ best interests. He’s always a positive guy. He always keeps a positive vibe. You love playing for a coach like that.”
“I respect him to the fullest,” safety Quintin Demps said.
But Fox’s influence — and, ultimately, his impact — is worth monitoring closely this season. He’s in the third year of a four-year contract, and he had only nine wins in his first two seasons.
This will be a demanding season for Fox because it’s unlike any other he has had.
For the first time in his 16-year career, Fox is overseeing a team that needs to win now but also drafted a quarterback with the second overall pick in Mitch Trubisky. He has never coached a team with a quarterback drafted that high.
It’s a delicate situation — one that general manager Ryan Pace influences, though he prefers a consensus approach.
Mike Glennon is the starter, but Trubisky could be the one who turns a good team into a better one this season. But the Bears don’t want to rush his development.
“Whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll be ready to do it,” Trubisky said.
Time will tell if having two new quarterbacks affords Fox more time. Trubisky’s development matters as much as Glennon’s early production. Trubisky appears to be on the right path under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone.
But nothing sparks change in the NFL like a change at quarterback. Regardless of what Fox said, allowing Trubisky to get smacked around late against the Browns in the fourth preseason game was a bad look.
Recent history also doesn’t side with Fox. The Titans fired Ken Whisenhunt not long after drafting quarterback Marcus Mariota second overall in 2015. In fact, Whisenhunt didn’t even last one full season with Mariota. The Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith not long after taking Jameis Winston first overall in 2015, and the Rams ousted Jeff Fisher after drafting Jared Goff first overall in 2016.
But Fox’s circumstances are very different than those coaches, particularly Fisher, who was dismissed in his fifth season.
The Bears are rebuilding under Pace. Ownership is well aware of his plans. Righting the ship will take time, and a certain steward is required.
Fox appealed to Bears chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips because of his history for quick turnarounds. He appealed to Pace because of the positive impact he could have on the Bears’ locker room after a dysfunctional 2014 season.
He has fixed the latter. Now Fox needs to turn the positive vibes that players and coaches often talk about into a turnaround. Their buy-in must turn into wins.
“He’s a straight shooter,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “If you ask a question, he’s going to give you an honest answer. But he’s a great coach. He’s always been a great coach. His teams everywhere he’s been, they get built up to great playoff teams. Hopefully, this team can do the same.”
It’s a good sign that players reference Fox’s messages often. Most of the time, it’s unsolicited, too. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. called Fox a “sayings genius.”
“ ‘Pressure makes diamonds or busts pipes,’ ” Leno said of his favorite Fox message. “It’s just stuff like that. I want to make diamonds. I don’t want to bust pipes.”
At this point, Fox needs to make diamonds, too. He’s under pressure.
Of all the good things that quarterback Mitch Trubisky did this preseason, his ability to go through his progressions and be decisive resonated most.
It’s what separated him from other quarterbacks in the draft, according to some scouts.
Trubisky might not have Patrick Mahomes’ natural arm strength or Deshaun Watson’s championship resume, but Trubisky was the top quarterback on many teams’ boards because he simply was the best at reading the field.
It’s a distinguishable factor between Trubisky and Watson. Some teams didn’t like that Watson tended to go through only one read before running.
Watson might be a threat with his legs — then again, so is Trubisky — but plenty of teams prefer their quarterbacks to operate from within the pocket.
So while some evaluators believed Watson could step in immediately for the playoff-caliber Texans because of his intangibles, the preseason showed that concerns about his field-reading abilities were warranted.
In three preseason games, Watson completed 29 of 56 passes (51.8 percent) for 397 yards with an interception and a 67.3 passer rating. He was sacked five times. He almost threw two more picks in the third preseason game.
Watson’s first touchdown came on a 15-yard scramble in his preseason debut against the Panthers. Watch the film. He only looks to his left before tucking the ball and running.
Trubisky, meanwhile, proved some scouts right. The game isn’t too fast for him. He can read defenses.
Trubisky’s numbers in three preseason games — 34-for-48 (70.8 percent), three touchdowns, zero interceptions, 354 yards and a 112.7 rating — are more impressive than Watson’s.
According to Pro Football Focus’ analysis, Trubisky was the most accurate passer this preseason with an 82 percent adjusted completion rate, which accounts for drops, throwaways and other factors.
More on QBs
The Browns will be interesting to watch this season because they coveted Trubisky, passed on Watson and ended up taking DeShone Kizer out of Notre Dame with the 52nd selection.
Teams were concerned about Kizer’s intangibles heading into the draft, and now everyone gets to see how well he plays after being named the starter.
Trubisky was better than Kizer this preseason. In the Browns’ third preseason game against the Buccaneers, Kizer completed 6 of 18 passes for 93 yards with an interception and a 28.2 rating.
But Kizer outplayed Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler. Mike Glennon struggled for the Bears, but he wasn’t nearly as awful as Osweiler (12-for-22, 67 yards, one interception,
The Bears’ 19-7 win against the host Titans in the third preseason game is a good omen.
In the previous three preseasons, the Bears’ starters were thoroughly outplayed by their opposition in their third exhibition games: 2014 (Sea-hawks, 34-6); 2015 (Bengals, 21-10); and 2016 (Chiefs, 23-7).
The starters — specifically, Glennon — have something good to build on. Jay Cutler completed 6 of 15 passes for 45 yards and a 47.9 rating in last year’s dress rehearsal.