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Training Camp Diary: OL Gets Some Bodies, Bears Get Ready for Bills, Q Brothers!

| August 20th, 2021


Thoughts on Thursday’s Practice (Closed to Public)

  • Jason Peters practiced for the first time and Larry Borom returned to practice. Strong chance these are the starting tackles Week One, if Ifedi is unable to return on time.
  • Andy Dalton is slated to play a quarter and a half Saturday, per Nagy. That means Justin Fields will see a ton of useless action. Having Fields play with backups, against third stringers, achieves nothing. (I hope my disappointment is resonating in those sentences.)

Looking Ahead to Saturday’s Practice Game

  • Dalton is the story. The Bears could name Justin Fields the starter right now and that decision would be entirely warranted. Fields has done everything a rookie quarterback needs to do in the off-season to start on day one. The reason he’s not the starter is the presence of Dalton but that presence has to come with production. If Dalton plays poorly Saturday, the volume of the Play the Kid Chorus will grow louder, and louder, and louder.
  • There really aren’t that many positional battles to watch on this roster, but there are a few areas possibly worth looking at:
    • With Khalil Herbert receiving Matt Nagy’s praise this week and having a strong camp, his roster spot is safe. Will they end their open call for kick returners and let Herbert settle into the gig this week? Does Artavis Pierce have any path to this roster?
    • Is Dazz Newsome ready to start returning punts? If not, this is a battle worth watching.
    • Robinson, Mooney, Goodwin, Byrd and Dazz are locks for this roster. Is there space for another wide receiver? Are these the final days in a Bears uniform for Wims and Ridley? Can Adams or Johnson make their way onto the practice squad? (You would think an endorsement from Fields would almost guarantee it.)

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Training Camp Diary: Preseason Opens, Fields Electrifies, Now What?

| August 16th, 2021

____________________

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE FIRST LADY OF DBB, SARAH K. SCULLY. 

I have never approached any preseason game with anticipation. That changed Saturday. Here are notes on what could prove to be an important weekend in Chicago Bears history. (Side note: They should knock off one more of these preseason games. Get that schedule to two games, one home and one away.)


The Story is Fields

Penalties and drops around him. Losing track of the play clock. Spin move in the open field, taking unnecessary contact, fumbling the football. It was the definition of a slow start.

But what did Fields say in his post-game presser? “So after that, I think I’m going to officially retire the spin move.” 

None of the struggles bothered him. Fields maintained his composure, displayed his command of the offense and let his athleticism take over the football game. Yes, he was playing with backups. Yes, he was playing against backups. But Fields did what he is supposed to do in that scenario: he was clearly the best player on the field.

  • Two quotes from Adam Hoge’s excellent game story:
    • On the 8-yard touchdown run: “They were playing man coverage. My man Jesse got tripped up. I was looking to go to him,” Fields said. “Of course, I knew my routes were coming my way backside, but I knew they were in man coverage so I knew nobody really had me so I just went to the left.” Does anyone think this kid isn’t ready for regular season action?
    • “Keep stacking days like he had today and understanding that in this whole process and this plan, as we go, what’s the ultimate goal for us as an offense? Scoring touchdowns, right? So keep leading the team down, keep getting first downs, keep getting touchdowns,” Nagy said when asked what Fields needs to do to be named the starter.” This is Nagy leaving the door open for Fields to be the Week One starter. This is the first time he’s done that, to my recollection.

Bears have no choice. Fields should be throwing to Robinson and Mooney today. He’s got to be given a chance to win this job with the folks who will actually be on the roster.

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Examining Chicago’s Personnel Usage/Tendencies on Offense in 2020

| June 1st, 2021

Like I’ve done the last few seasons, I want to explore how the Bears deployed their skill position players on offense in 2020 to see if there are any trends or tells for which opposing defensive coordinators can look. These are tendencies Chicago’s coaches should be aware of and look to rectify in the future.

The table below shows changes in run percentage when skill position guys who played between 35-65% of the snaps were in the game vs. on the sideline.

  • On the high end, that excludes players who played more than 75% of snaps, because their “off-field” splits would be too small to consider. That was only Allen Robinson in 2020.
  • On the low end, that excludes players who played less than 25% of snaps, because they are often mainly in the game in specific situations, where a run or pass may be expected (i.e. the 4th WR in a 4 WR set for 3rd and long, or the 2nd TE in a short-yardage set). This excluded Demetrius Harris, Cordarrelle Patterson, and a host of other role players who played a few offensive snaps.

(Note: This data is pulled from the NFL Game Statistics and Information System, which includes sacks and QB scrambles as passing plays.)

A few thoughts:

  • David Montgomery had pretty even splits when he was on and off the field. Therefore I won’t look at him any further when I split the sample into different personnel packages below.
  • This is a change from 2019, when Montgomery’s presence on the field made a run much more likely, and is almost certainly due to Tarik Cohen’s injury. In Cohen’s limited 76 plays before getting hurt, the Bears only ran it 29% of the time. He clearly had the passing downs role, and Montgomery absorbed that when Cohen got hurt.
  • Everybody else has fairly significant changes in how frequently the offense runs when they are on the field vs. off of it, which warrants further exploration.

Different Personnel Groupings

I was curious how much the personnel groupings might influence these splits, so I looked at how frequently the Bears run the ball in different groupings. Generally, there are five skill position guys (WR, TE, RB) on the field for a given play, so I split the sample up by how many of them were wide receivers.

The more WR the Bears have on the field, the more likely they are to pass. That makes sense, but the significant difference in run frequency here means we’re going to have to look at each of these groups individually to see how players really impact the run/pass ratio when they are on the field.


3+ Wide Receivers

Let’s start with plays featuring 3 or more WRs, which means there are 2 total TE + RB. The most common setup here was 11 personnel, which features 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR.

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Bears at the Mini-Bye Volume II: Offensive Personnel Usage

| October 14th, 2020


I already looked at a variety of statistics for the offense, including QB performance, run game woes, and explosive plays. Today I want to explore how the Bears are deploying their skill position players, using lineup data from the NFL Game Statistics Information System. This tracks how many plays the Bears have played with different combination of 11 offensive players, and splits the data into runs and passes, with yards gained for each. Combing through this data can provide valuable insights into how the Bears are deploying their personnel, and what packages have been most and least effective.


Tight Ends

The Bears completely overhauled this position in the offseason, following a disastrous 2019 campaign in which no player even hit 100 receiving yards. They gave Jimmy Graham a big contract, spent their 1st pick (43rd overall) on Cole Kmet, and brought in veteran journeyman Demetrius Harris.

I want to start by looking at Cole Kmet, who has been very quiet so far as a rookie despite receiving a good bit of training camp hype. Through five games, Kmet has played 102 snaps, seen 3 pass targets, and caught 1 ball for 12 yards. This is hugely disappointing, and worrisome for his future; when I looked at rookie seasons for TEs drafted in the 2nd round this offseason, I found that tight ends who are going to be good are typically involved in the offense right away. The only tight ends drafted in the 2nd round over the last 10 years to receive fewer than 30 targets in their rookie seasons are Vance McDonald, Adam Shaheen, Gavin Escobar, Drew Sample, and Troy Niklas. Of those, only Vance McDonald has done anything in the NFL. Kmet is currently on pace for 10 targets.

It’s fair to argue a rookie should see their production increase as the season wears on, so I looked at all 19 players in that study through the first five games of their rookie season. You can see the full list here, but Kmet has the 3rd fewest targets, least amount of catches, and the least number of yards through that time period. And for all of those categories, the bottom four (not including Kmet) are from the list of five names above. It’s early, but right now Kmet most closely resembles Troy Niklas and Adam Shaheen, which is very not good.

Because I was curious about Kmet, I split out lineups involving him vs. those who don’t, and also sorted by the number of tight ends on the field. The results, as you can see below, are certainly illuminating.

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ATM: Wims Deserves a Longer Look

| October 1st, 2019


Even after Taylor Gabriel exits concussion protocol and returns to the starting lineup, Matt Nagy must find a way to keep Javon Wims on the field. The second-year WR did not dominate on Sunday. Far from it. And he certainly isn’t getting confused for Randy Moss anytime soon. But his performance against the Vikings stood out enough for him to be given a chance to help this offense escape their current rut.

His presence gives the team another big target, which could be help a quarterback who struggles keeping the ball down. Chase Daniel used Wims’ size multiple times in the game, most notably on a 37-yard lob that helped the Bears get out of the shadow of their own end zone. The pass ended up being under thrown, but Wims made a nice adjustment in the air to make it look like a back-shoulder throw. Daniel probably wouldn’t have thrown the pass if he didn’t think the receiver could win a jump ball.

Wims can adjust in the air. That we knew. But that played showed he can also get deep. He roasted Trae Waynes and it would’ve been a much bigger gain had the throw been on-target. That speed is new to Wims and something Prince Amukamara noted in the off-season:

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Across The Middle: Bears Receiver Depth Should Be A Concern

| April 9th, 2019

The Bears seem to like their wide receivers right now, but that shouldn’t stop them from looking hard at the position in the draft later this month.

The top three of Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel appear to be set, but there are a bunch of question marks after that, for both 2019 and the future. Assuming Robinson is better another year removed from knee surgery and Miller takes a step as second-year receivers tend to do, the team’s top three receivers are really quite good. Unless, of course, someone were to get injured, which tends to happen in the NFL.

Both Robinson and Miller missed some time last year and the result was Josh Bellamy playing 321 snaps and Kevin White getting an additional 170. While White’s snaps and position are going to be easily replaced by free agent signee Cordarrelle Patterson, fans shouldn’t underestimate the loss of Bellamy.

Ideally, Bellamy would be replaced by Javon Wims, but Wims is anything but proven.

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The Best Collection of Thoughts Ever Assembled on the Bears v. Chiefs Practice Game

| August 25th, 2018

LAKE FOREST, IL – MAY 16: Chicago Bears wide receiver Marlon Brown (81) participates during the Bears OTA session on May 16, 2018 at Halas Hall, in Lake Forest, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)


Twitter exploded with the news that Matt Nagy was putting his entire roster on the bench. Hell, even Josh Bellamy got the afternoon off. But who types primarily with his middle fingers and is happier than a clam about the news? This guy.

  • Matt Nagy’s decision to sit the bulk of his starting lineup isn’t bold or brilliant. It’s practical. He’d rather his first units be a little bit rusty on opening night than be without any of their best players. Even this idea is kind of kooky because the Bears are still fifteen days from their first real game. How could 25 snaps in the preseason carryover for half a month? That’s not how football works.
  • Why is Nick Kwiatkoski starting? Perhaps because he’s not the starting ILB? Kwik has had a good summer but he’s simply not in the same athletic stratosphere as Roquan Smith. Expect the Bears to spend the next two weeks getting their number one pick ready for Green Bay.
  • Marlon Brown’s downfield block was the key to the opening drive Benny Cunningham TD. And it continues Brown’s strong summer. Hate to make everything about Kevin White but it just feels like his relevance is sliding continually as players like Brown show versatility.
  • Chase Daniel has really gotten better each time I’ve seen him this preseason. Looks poised. But his legs were damn impressive against Kansas City’s first-team defense.
  • Kylie Fitts has found himself one-on-one with the opposing quarterback, in the backfield, several times this preseason. The QB has escaped each time. That Fitts is in position to make big plays is a good thing. That he’s not making will land him on the practice squad. (Update: Later in the game, against some QB I’ve never heard of, Fitts finished a play.)

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ATM: Javon Wims & the Annual Romance With Camp Receivers

| August 8th, 2018

[Administrative Note: This is not the first time DBB has ventured down this road, with one of our most famous columns being the aptly-titled “The Joe Anderson Boner”. It’s a nice read to set the stage for today’s piece from Andrew.]


“He’s special.”

                                                      -Some guy on Twitter, re: Javon Wims

I could hardly believe it when someone on Twitter sent those words to @DaBearsBlog about any player during the fourth quarter of the Hall of Fame game. But there it was. And Javon Wims, in that moment, became a camp darling. Some proclaimed Wims a seventh-round steal. Others actually said they’d rather have him than Kevin White, now and for the foreseeable future. Adam Hoge and Adam Jahns praised Wims on their weekly podcast and openly wondered if White should make the team.

Let’s rewind a bit.

• First of all, Wims dropped to the seventh round for a reason. I took a look at the ten receivers who were drafted before him and only two had fewer collegiate receptions and none posted worse athletic scores. He was praised as the leading receiver on one of the best teams in the nation but he only caught 47 passes.

• Secondly, he wasn’t having a good camp. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying to you or they don’t know what they’re watching. Don’t believe me? According to Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said Wims had “struggled for a couple weeks.”

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The 2018 Chicago Bears Draft Class

| April 28th, 2018

Come back Monday morning to read big-picture analysis of the front office’s approach to these three days. For now, here are the newest members of the Chicago Bears with a quick blurb from yours truly.


Round 1 – Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia

Honestly, ten years from now, fans should be debating where Smith ranks among the great middle linebackers in Bears history. That’s what an organization should expect when drafting a player at this position this high. Ryan Pace needs this to be Roquan’s defense for the next decade plus.


Round 2 – James Daniels, C/G, Iowa

Immediate starter. The Bears now have one of the league’s best interior o-lines (Daniels-Whitehair-Long) and one of the league’s three finest offensive line coaches. If he stays healthy, Jordan Howard may find himself in the MVP conversation this season.


Round 2 – Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

A text from a friend in the league: “He was the highest wide receiver on our board.” The Bears gave up a lot to get Miller and will put a lot on his shoulders quickly. Expect him to start in the slot in the opener against Green Bay.


Round 4 – Joel Iyegbuniwe, ILB, Western Kentucky

This most interesting pick of the week for Pace. If the Bears intend to play him inside, he’ll have a near-impossible time getting on the field. But he profiles similarly to Brendon Ayanbadejo – a solid defensive depth piece who excels on special teams. (If he sticks I’m sure I’ll need to Google the spelling of his name just as many times as I did Ayanbadejo’s in his career.)


Round 5 – Bilal Nichols, DT, Delaware

Akiem Hicks wore down in 2017. Eddie Goldman has an injury history. Nichols is being drafted to work steadily into the rotation and give these two great players a breather. In 2017 he simply devoured blockers in the middle of a 3-4 line. In 2016, according to Mike Mayock, he showed burst and acceleration getting to the quarterback. Rarely should one have expectations for a fifth-round pick. In this case, have some.


Round 6 – Kylie Fitts, Edge, Utah

Worth the risk for an athlete this impressive at a need position off the edge. Fitts has a terrific chance to be a real contributor to this Bears defense if he stays healthy. The problem? He’s rarely healthy. But it’s the sixth round. Why not? 


Round 7 – Javon Wims, WR, Georgia

A big dude who consistently makes highlight reel catches. Can he separate from pro corners? Doubtful. But with his size and speed, it’s impossible to rule him out of having a plausible chance to make some kind of impact in 2018.

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