Training Camp Diary: A Series of Summarizing Tweets!

| July 30th, 2021

My rule with injuries over the summer: none of them matter until mid-August. But Jenkins needs to get on the practice field.

Somehow, a vaccine became political. Because we’re a fundamentally stupid country. From a football standpoint, this is great news.

Andy Dalton is not a great player. But he is a professional quarterback. And I just don’t see him pulling a Glennon or Nate Peterman and being so bad the organization is forced to play the young kid. Fields will play, and likely by midseason, but it won’t be because Dalton fails.

I refuse to believe Scooter Harrington is a football player and not a character on Happy Days.

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Training Camp Diary: Quinn Hurt (Again), Practice Intensity, Players Meet Media

| July 29th, 2021

Today, brief thoughts.

  • Robert Quinn was limited for the first practice with back issues. There is, of course, no reason to overreact to a knock in July but Quinn has not had a single healthy day as a member of the Chicago Bears. The man is paid a fortune at one of the sport’s premier positions. The roster construction doesn’t work on defense if the team gets no production from him again in 2021.
  • Nagy on Wednesday reiterated that practice will be of a higher intensity this summer and that players will see extended action in preseason games. The Bears lacked fire at times in 2020. This seems to be a cosmetic, if meaningful solution. (The easiest solution is just having a professional at the quarterback position.)
  • Khalil Mack is not blaming injuries for his lack of sack production recently. (But injuries are 100% to blame for his lack of sack production recently.)
  • Sadly, it seems Jake Butt has retired. His chances of making the Bears were greatly diminished by the arrival of “The Outlaw” Jesse James.
  • Eddie Goldman is back. And he missed football, per this report from Adam Hoge.



Training Camp Diary: Camp Begins Today, Opening the Definition of a Transitional Season

| July 28th, 2021

And so, camp begins.

Two nights ago I was sitting in my local and two guys, for no other reason than the Aaron Rodgers “thaw” news being broadcast on the televisions above us, asked me what I expected from the Bears this season.

My answers were wishy washy, ineffectual, nebbish.

The paragraphs were peppered with you knows and who knows and maybe, I guesses. Normally, as training camp begins, I have a pretty solid grasp on what is to come over the next 5-6 months from the Chicago Bears. (2019 being a signature exception, wherein I believed the quarterback was going to take a significant leap.) But this season, not only don’t I have that grasp, I don’t see their performance over these next 5-6 months as particularly important.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be into every game. I am not one of these Bears fans that sees upside in losing. (You would think the events of the 2021 NFL Draft would put an end to that stupidity.) I’ve written many times that some of my favorite moments as a fan of this franchise were during forgettable campaigns. I want the Bears to win every single time they play football.

But 2021 seems like the very definition of a transitional season. Look at the details:

  • The quarterback of the future is on the roster but unlikely to see more than a half season of work.
  • The quarterback manning the position is a solid veteran option but isn’t going to take the club, in all likelihood, beyond wildcard weekend.
  • The team is littered with veterans, specifically on defense, who are unlikely to be on the roster in 2022. This includes the team’s entire pass rush.
  • It is the defensive coordinator’s first season on the job.
  • The cornerback position won’t be solidified until next spring.
  • The left tackle isn’t a left tackle. I happen to believe he is going to be a terrific one in the future but as a rookie? History says no.

None of this is to say the Bears can’t win a bunch of games this season. They can. But is it Andy Dalton winning those games? If yes, okay, that’s nice. But is it better for the 2022 Chicago Bears for Dalton to go 10-7 as a starter or Justin Fields to quarterback the last eight games to a 4-4 record while looking the part of frontline NFL starting QB? Of course the answer is the latter because there is 0% chance Dalton is starting for the Bears next year unless something goes terribly wrong. (Do you feel the nebbish here? I’m practically writing in Woody Allen’s voice.)

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Training Camp Diary: As Players Report, CB Position Battles Pivotal

| July 27th, 2021

With two of the team’s three starting cornerback positions up for grabs, this summer’s positional battles could be crucial for the immediate and long-term future of the team.

There is little question that the Bears prefer for Kindle Vildor and Thomas Graham Jr. to win the starting jobs because while the competition features some interesting names, the options themselves are relatively unappealing.

Early reports from the offseason program have indicated Vildor played well, though it’s way too early to know what that means. He figures to be battling Artie Burns and Desmond Trufant for the job opposite Jaylon Johnson but could also compete with Graham and Duke Shelley at the starting slot spot. Vildor struggled as a rookie, allowing completions on 12 of the 17 passes thrown his way in the regular season, but that is to be expected from a raw fifth-rounder.

If he stays healthy, Trufant could be interesting. He has five interceptions in 15 games the past two seasons, but has also surrendered passer ratings higher than 100. He hasn’t been in good situations, playing with teams that haven’t had much for pass rush and Detroit liked putting cornerbacks on an island. It’s possible that Trufant has enough to give the Bears a good season, but that would do nothing to answer the long-term question.

If Burns win the job, the Bears will be in big trouble. The former first round pick has never played like a starting-caliber cornerback.

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Training Camp Diary: Miller Out, Rodgers Retiring?

| July 26th, 2021

Anthony Miller Traded to Texans

Late Saturday night, the boys over at NFL Network broke the story that Miller, the talented and temperamental wide receiver, would be leaving Chicago for the worst franchise in professional sports. My initial response was being slightly ticked that I wasted an hour writing Friday’s column, wherein I deemed Miller the “player to watch” on offense this summer. But after a bit of time, a new reaction emerged: why?

Yes, I’m sure there are folks out there, those who worship at the altar of the almighty draft capital, arguing that swapping late-round picks is tremendous value the Bears simply could not pass up. But there is a camp of pragmatists who abide by another maxim: you don’t quit on talent.

What is the cost of bringing Miller to camp this week? If he’s a pain in the ass, or a detriment to the organization, surely the late-round swap is still available from Houston (or another organization). It’s not like the additional week of work is going to turn Tyrod Taylor-to-Miller into the new Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison. The potential upside was not necessarily that Miller “figure it out” but that he simply learned to exist as role player and became a productive member of the offense.

This is the Chicago Bears we’re talking about. And while optimism is at an all-time high due to the arrival of Justin Fields, this is still a group that has been desperate for playmakers. That’s why Ryan Pace brought in Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd. That’s why Damien Williams was added to the running backs room and Khalil Herbert was drafted late. The Bears need as many playmaking options as humanly possible. And they just shipped a potential one south.

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Training Camp Player to Watch: Offense

| July 23rd, 2021

Every snap.

Every handoff.

Every throw.

Every interaction with Cole Kmet.

Every conversation with Flip and Bill Lazor.

Every single moment of Justin Fields’ training camp will be discussed and scrutinized this summer. So for now, we’re going to (a) acknowledge Fields is clearly the most important player to watch while (b) casting our gaze in a different direction for the sake of variation.

And my gaze is shifting to Anthony Miller. 

Sam Mustipher and Teven Jenkins are going to be given time to develop during the regular season. Kmet is going to be a productive tight end, especially with more competent quarterback play. Allen Robinson is a professional and understands his clearest path to another big contract is paved with production. None of these players are fighting for roster spots this summer. None of these guys have anything to prove before they start keeping score.

Miller is fighting for a roster spot. Miller does have a lot to prove. Because Anthony Miller is a good football player. Inconsistent? Sure. Temperamental? Absolutely. But he clearly has the ability to be productive at this level. He’s not Javon Wims, a decent talent with the brains of a duffel bag. He’s not Riley Ridley, a late-round draft pick struggling to navigate his way onto the active roster due to lack of everything.

Miller is a gifted athlete and now, with the emergence of Darnell Mooney, can slide into his more natural slot role and rip defenses apart with an endless supply of crossing routes (where he seems to be most comfortable). With Miller, it is going to be about attitude. It is going to be about embracing a new role. It is going to be about understanding his ceiling is no longer frontline NFL wide receiver – that ship has sailed. His ceiling is now dynamic role player. Miller can’t be Isaac Bruce. But he can be Ricky Proehl. And Proehl had a brilliant NFL career.

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Brett Kollman on Justin Fields [VIDEO]

| July 22nd, 2021

Was on mini-vacation over the last week so I’m late to this video, which is a pretty exceptional piece of work. Also, having known nothing about Kollman prior to seeing this, I’m truly impressed by his ability to build an independent outlet – via YouTube – to the size he has. It is not easy. This video is well worth your time today.

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ATM: Don’t Sleep on Mooney

| July 21st, 2021

As the deadline to extend tagged players with the Bears and Allen Robinson failing to reach an agreement, fans began to panic about the future of the team’s wide receiver position. But with Darnell Mooney, it seems to be in good shape.

When projecting future depth charts, fans often forget what front offices can’t: improvement often comes from within. Nobody should expect Mooney to be better than Robinson in 2021, but it isn’t a stretch that he could become one of the 20 best receivers in the league by 2022. Who knows what could come after that?

Mooney was in the top-10 amongst rookies in receptions (fifth), yards (sixth) and touchdowns (eighth) and most of those ahead of him benefited from more functional offenses — specifically at the quarterback position. He out-produced multiple first-round picks and most of the other players drafted ahead of him.

At roughly 5’11” and with legitimate 4.3-speed, Mooney showed the ability to run past defenders and make catches on 50/50 balls.  His 3.2 yards of separation per target were the second-best on the team — behind Cole Kmet’s 3.6 — per NextGen Stats. His statistics would be significantly better if the team had a quarterback who could hit him in stride regularly.

Nearly every report from Bears offseason practices has indicated that Mooney has stood out again, looking even stronger and faster than he was a year ago.

The Bears stopped short of betting on Mooney, but they have put him in an ideal situation to prove himself. By using the franchise tag on Robinson, the Bears bought themselves another year to see what Mooney is. If he doesn’t take another step forward, the Bears could certainly tag Robinson again next offseason. Per Albert Breer, tagging Robinson in 2022 would cost the team $21.6 million — probably less than if they had agreed to his terms for an extension. The team absolutely should already be planning on tagging Robinson for that price, even if it’s just to trade him.

Extending Robinson’s contract is still the most ideal way for the Bears to go from here. That seems like a long shot at this point, but that doesn’t mean the future of the position is doomed. The college game is producing high-level wide receivers at an incredible rate, the Bears seem to have found one in Mooney and we shouldn’t dismiss what he can become.

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