Three ways new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich can shape Bears attack
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Coach Matt Nagy found his offensive-minded deputy Thursday, when former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who spent 2017 as a Fox Sports analyst, agreed to be the Bears’ offensive coordinator.
Helfrich, 44, won’t call plays in his first NFL job, but he figures to have a major impact on Nagy’s offense nonetheless.
In the last 25 years, only two offensive coordinators have joined the Bears straight from college: Ron Turner and Gary Crowton. Hiring a lifelong college coach makes sense this time around, though. At 23 and with only 25 starts since he graduated from high school, quarterback Mitch Trubisky isn’t that far removed from Helfrich’s usual pupils.
Helfrich won’t bristle at his head coach calling plays; Chip Kelly did that from 2009 to 2012 with Helfrich serving as his coordinator.
He went 37-16 in four years as Kelly’s successor, with half his losses coming in his last season.
Nagy wants to surround himself with teachers on both sides of the ball. It’s not hard to see the formula he’s trying to follow, at least when it comes to the quarterback. In Kansas City from 2013 to 2015, coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and Nagy, the quarterbacks coach, combined to help Alex Smith.
When Pederson left to become the Eagles’ coach, he crafted the same three-layered quarterback incubator, calling the plays while coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo developed Carson Wentz.
Nagy, Helfrich and an as-yet-unnamed quarterbacks coach — incumbent Dave Ragone would make sense, as they all have the same agent — should provide Trubisky with the same three layers of guidance.
The Bears could bring in a veteran backup who knows Nagy’s system — perhaps the Saints’ Chase Daniel, who will be a free agent — to help Trubisky learn Nagy’s playbook.
He’ll use Mitch’s legs
Nagy figures to make run-pass options a critical aspect of the Bears’ offensive attack, exploiting Trubisky’s athleticism the way he took advantage of Smith’s.
Only six quarterbacks ran more often than Smith in 2017, and only Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, DeShone Kizer and Dak Prescott topped Smith’s 355 rushing yards. Not bad for a 33-year-old. Trubisky, though, actually averaged more rushing yards per attempt than Smith — 6.0 to 5.9 — with about one-third fewer tries.
In Helfrich’s eight years at Oregon as a head coach and assistant, the Ducks’ “Blur” offense produced one dual-threat quarterback after another, from Jeremiah Masoli to Darron Thomas to Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
The Bears won’t expose Trubisky to the shots that come with more than, say, a half-dozen rushes per game — Smith averaged four — but they will make opposing teams account for his legs.
The threat of play-action should open up the middle of the field for Trubisky, too.
He’ll speed things up
John Fox’s Bears were methodical — only the Panthers averaged more seconds per play, according to Football Outsiders. Nagy’s Chiefs weren’t much quicker, ranking 30th overall.
Helfrich should help Nagy change up the tempo. As coach, his teams consistently ranked in the top 20 in pace. As Kelly’s coordinator, they were even faster.
Trubisky, who rarely huddled or went under center in his year as the North Carolina starter, would certainly be comfortable if Nagy wanted to speed up the offense.
It would benefit more than just Trubisky, though.
Running back Jordan Howard has talked wistfully about his time in Indiana’s no-huddle offense. It will be interesting to see how he thrives with his body much leaner now than in his college days.
Tarik Cohen is a walking mismatch and seems ready-made for a team that plays at a high tempo.
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.