1. In Year 3 of covering John Fox as head coach of the Bears, I know this much: What he says Wednesday about the quarterback position is way, way more important than what he said here Sunday afternoon after the hot and muggy mess that was the loss to the Buccaneers.
Mike Glennon played poorly and was particularly bad in the first half when he turned the ball over three times and the Bears fell behind 26-0. It was shades of Jay Cutler circa, well, circa just about any year in a Bears uniform. If Fox has a short fuse for anything at the quarterback position, it’s turnovers.
“No,” Fox said. “I don’t think in any way, even without seeing the tape yet, you can pin that (loss) on the quarterback. Like I said, everybody had their hand in that. That wasn’t the Mike Glennon Bears. It was the Chicago Bears. It was our whole team.”
Relax. Take a deep breath. It’s going to get better. It might get better sooner than you would imagine. I’m not convinced the Bears don’t at least have some high-level talks this week and consider turning to Trubisky. In fact, I’d be surprised if there were not some high-level talks this week about the quarterback depth chart and how and specifically when it will change.
I don’t put a ton of stock in what Fox says postgame and you shouldn’t either. While he talks, he really doesn’t say a whole heck of a lot. Never has. Never will. He takes great pride in that as a matter of fact.
Here is another thing I know: If Fox is going to consider a change at quarterback, and you can’t rule that out here, he sure as heck isn’t going to announce his plans 20 minutes after his team has been beat up. It might make you feel better instantly. It might keep more tickets on the secondary market from falling into the hands of Steelers fans. It might do a lot of things. But it’s not how Fox rolls. He’s a players’ coach and always has been. That’s not how a players’ coach delivers news to the quarterback, a team captain, that he’ll be demoted. That’s not how a players’ coach delivers news to the star rookie that, “Hey kid, here’s your chance.”
People want immediate answers, even quicker solutions and they want someone at the top of the organization to lay the blame squarely on Glennon. That’s never going to happen on the day of the game.
Who knows? Glennon might end up losing his job here and it might happen this week. I don’t know. What I do know is I don’t really care a whole heck of a lot about what was said in the postgame scrum because it’s rare, extremely rare, to find a coach that talks depth chart in that setting. Glennon has been around long enough to know that anything Fox said, at least to media, shouldn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Fox isn’t going to make a depth chart change at any position before he reviews the tape. After he’s done that, maybe they consider a change. Maybe Fox asks general manager Ryan Pace which direction he believes is the best path for the organization.
What most of the people clamoring about the quarterback situation are failing to realize is that Fox needs to win this season and he knows that. He’s been a head coach in the NFL for a long time and you don’t survive like he has by making ridiculously poor decisions.
I still believe there is a chance a change is made this week. Fox isn’t going to make roster moves with media involved and he’s not going to give the Steelers a head start on preparing for Trubisky if they are going to make a move. Let’s hear what he has to say Monday afternoon and then again Wednesday. To me, Wednesday could be the key day of the week if anything is happening.
2. There is very strong belief in the building that Mitch Trubisky is going to be a hit for the Bears and have success from the start. Trubisky is a lot more athletic than Mike Glennon and I don’t need to explain to you the ways in which he is. He can avoid some trouble in the pocket. He can extend plays with his legs. He gets rid of the ball a little more quickly. He’s more willing, it seems in the small sample size we’ve had to see, to force the ball into tight windows downfield. He’s got more chutzpah. As I have written before, I believe the decision about when Trubisky plays is based far more on when the Bears deem him to be ready than it is how Glennon is performing. Trubisky is the future of the Bears and everyone in the building and outside the building knows that. Glennon knows that. Glennon was one throw away from helping upset the defending NFC champion Falcons in Week 1. If a throw doesn’t go off the fingertips of Josh Bellamy or if Jordan Howard doesn’t drop a ball in the flat, it might have been a win. He didn’t play well here and the pick-six was a particularly bad decision and throw, but I suspect Bellamy will carry some of the blame for a poor route. Glennon playing poorly might expedite the timeline a little bit for Trubisky, but really, folks, this is about Trubisky. It’s not about Glennon. The Bears have made a huge investment in Trubisky — jobs hang in the balance with how he performs, lot of them — and they want to make sure they make all the right moves when it comes to preparing him for the role. I get the sense some believe he is close, maybe almost there. We’ll see what the powers that be have to say later in the week.
3. For those clamoring for an immediate switch, I’d ask that you keep in mind a few factors that certainly have to be considered:
- The wide receiver position is really bad and hopefully gets a little better with the return of Markus Wheaton. I think Wheaton plays this coming Sunday against the Steelers.
- Both guards were knocked out of the game and the best offensive lineman, center Cody Whitehair, was asked to play three positions. The Bears need to make sure they have the future protected as best as possible when Mitch Trubisky plays.
- The running game hasn’t done a darn thing.
- The Steelers are 2-0 and the Bears will play five days after that against the Packers, a week in which there are basically two walk-through practices.
- The mini-break in the schedule the team gets after the Green Bay game might be the most ideal time to make a move at the position. They don’t play in Week 5 until Monday, Oct. 9, so that would create two, possibly three extra practices to prepare the rookie.
4. I don’t know what to make of Jordan Howard right now. I don’t know the extent of what appears to be a right shoulder injury for him is right now. Howard was dinged up in the opener against the Falcons. He wasn’t on the initial injury report released by the Bears last Wednesday. An update was sent out that added Howard to the injury report as limited with a shoulder. He remained limited for the rest of the week and was questionable for the game and of course he started. Howard got nine carries for 7 yards and was targeted with one pass, which he dropped. Has a 1,300-yard rusher ever disappeared from an offense so quickly? Surely there’s got to be something to the shoulder issue but Howard has refused to talk — he’s 2-for-2 on that — and the Bears aren’t saying anything.
It’s fair to wonder if the playing time situation is an issue for Howard, who carried 13 times for 52 yards against the Falcons. While Cohen is lining up outside of the backfield some, he had 39 snaps in my unofficial tallies (which include plays with penalties) and Howard had 32. If the Bucs had any advantage to not playing in Week 1 (and there were far more disadvantages), it was getting some game film of Cohen, who was pretty much bottled up. Yes, he’s still a dangerous threat that can get to the end zone on any snap. Howard, however, is a guy that needs to get the ball time and time again to wear an opponent down. That’s not happening and this hasn’t been an ideal start to the season for him.
The Bears have an excuse to play for the lack of commitment to the running game. The score got lopsided quickly. Let’s remember that was the reasoning given for the run/pass balance in Week 1 too. What they’ve got to do is find a way to run the ball with success and run the ball from the start so they can use it as a launching point.
5. I’ve pointed out the Bears’ lack of takeaways so much that I can’t go any deeper in this column without pointing out the first of the season. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee ripped the ball out of the clutch of Bucs running back Charles Sims and the Bears took over with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter. With any luck this will be the start of a growing trend for the defense.
“Just trying to make a play, man,” McPhee said. “Take advantage of my opportunities. I’m just trying to make a play.”
McPhee went from getting four snaps in the opener to playing 23 snaps against the Bucs in the unofficial tally I kept. That count includes plays with penalties. That’s a good sign as they work him back to normal or whatever the new normal will be like for McPhee. The other thing I picked up in my snap count is much more even distribution of playing time for Willie Young and Sam Acho. Recall that Acho double up Young in snaps in the opener against the Falcons. That’s because Atlanta went with a lot more “12” personnel – one back and two tight ends – than the Bears expected. Acho played the run well but he doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of pass rush. Young had 33 snaps by my count to 31 for Acho. Leonard Floyd was far and away the leader with 55.
6. One thing that stuck out to me a little was the comments safety T.J. Ward, a newcomer to the Bucs, had about his team’s offense. Ward thought the tone for the game was set before Mike Glennon started turning the ball over – and don’t forget the boneheaded mistake by rookie Tarik Cohen on the muffed punt. Tampa got the ball to start the game after the Bears won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. They drove 51 yards on 13 plays and took a 3-0 lead on Nick Folk’s 42-yard field goal. They were briefly in the red zone before a Willie Young sack pushed them back outside the 20-yard line.
“I don’t know what they were doing over there,” Ward said. “They were getting hit, I will tell you that. We just came out more physical than them on offense and once you give away that physicality, you’re in trouble. I think that’s what happened. Our offense came out first and punched them in the mouth. When they started to fight back, then we started opening up on them. We had mistmatches. They couldn’t handle the speed, size, height. They couldn’t handle anything. I’ve never been on a team with an offense like this. It’s fun to watch from the sideline.”
I thought the defense, by and large, was OK. They didn’t give up the big play. It’s not like the Bucs ran all over them on the ground. They did face some tough spots with short fields. Another thing the Bears did was allowed long drives. Tampa had drives of 13, nine, eight, 11 and 16 plays. Good defenses find a way to get off the field.
7. Rookie running back Tarik Cohen has been the most targeted player in the passing attack through two games with 21 targets. The much ballyhooed tight end position? Not so much.
Zach Miller: 15 targets, 10 catches, 81 yards, 8.1 average, 12 long
Dion Sims: 4 targets, 2 catches, 31 yards, 15.5 average, 22 long
Adam Shaheen: 0 targets
Daniel Brown: 0 targets
They’ve got to do more than that to convince me or you or anyone else they’ve got a real strength here. Miller only had one target in the first half here so most of his work was underneath stuff when the game was way out of hand.
8. Casual fans following the Bears can tell you they’re going to have to look long and hard at the wide receiver position in next year’s draft. That was the case before Kevin White was lost in Week 1 and probably the case before Cameron Meredith went down with a torn ACL in the third week of preseason. So, I asked a handful of college scouts for some early impressions about potential high picks in next year’s draft.
The resounding response I received was it is way too early to have a short list to work with. Now, keep in mind that scouts don’t operate off of highlight shows on Saturday nights. They’re not going to give an assessment on a player until they’ve been on campus and spent time watching stacks of game film while doing the other due diligence that comes with the job.
“There’s always a little dynamic fast guy,” one national scout said. “There’s always a big guy. There’s always that middle of the road kind of guy and usually there are three or four of them that go in the first round. But was there a Julio Jones out there last year? I didn’t see one. I don’t know if I’ll see one this year.
“We’re going to get 80 to 90 juniors, maybe more. That’s the reality of it now. I haven’t got into the finished product yet. You’re calling me too early. The Bears? They’ve got guys hurt and they’re not good enough at wideout to start with. They’re pigeonholing themselves for the draft if they don’t trade for someone now or pick up a big-time free agent. My bet is they sign a free agent, maybe a big name, and draft one.”
I texted another scout and asked if he’d come across a wide receiver that has first-round material?
“Not yet,” he replied. “The kid at Alabama (Calvin Ridley) must be better than what I saw last year. Everyone is talking about him high but I did not see it off last year’s tape.”
A third scout said he hasn’t covered enough territory this early in the college season to offer an informed opinion on players he’s personally vetted. Two of them did say they’re interested in checking out SMU’s Courtland Sutton later in the season but he did next to nothing Saturday against TCU. Oklahoma State’s James Washington is putting up the kind of numbers that will generate buzz. Florida’s Antonio Callaway was a big-time playmaker in an offense that was challenged meaning in a better offense, hit production would probably be greater. But Callaway is suspended by the Gators right now and that’s more baggage for a prospect that already had some to begin with.
We’ll keep an eye on wide receivers as the season wears on. We’ll have a little better defined picture of what the draft class will look like in late October. It’s never too early to start looking and start wondering.
9. The Pro Football Hall of Fame released a list of 108 nominees for the Class of 2018 last week. There were 11 players on the list for the first time, including Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Other former Bears on the list were center Jay Hilgenberg, left tackle Jimbo Covert, guard Ruben Brown, linebacker Wilber Marshall and safety Richie Petitbon, who is actually on the list as a coach.
Missing from the list was six-time Pro Bowl center OlinKreutz, who was also first-team All-Pro in 2005 and a longtime captain. I’m not sayingKreutz should go into the Hall of Fame this year or next year but if you’re going to have a lengthy list of nominees, a lot of them very worthy candidates, how isKreutz not on it? In comparison, former Giants/Eagles/Rams wide receiver Steve Smith is on the list and he had 245 career receptions for 2,641 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had one really strong season in 2009 when he caught 107 balls for 1,220 yards. He was named to the Pro Bowl that season. Smith’s inclusion seems to be an error, a mix-up with the longtime Panthers/Ravens wide receiver of the same name. That Smith isn’t yet eligible as a player has to be five years removed from his playing days to be considered.
So I emailed Joe Horrigan, the executive director of the PFHOF, and asked what happened with Kreutz, who was on the ballot in his first year of eligibility a year ago. His reply cleared up the matter.
“He did not receive sufficient selector support (at least 4 votes in the reduction to 25 semifinalist) to automatically return to this year’s list of nominees,” Horrigan wrote in reply. “Also, as required, he did not receive a nomination by anyone to place him on the list of nominees for this year. In order to be on the annual nomination list, a candidate has to either be nominated or had sufficient selector support -- as described above — from the previous year. Your email nomination for next year has been recorded and as such he will return to the list of nominees for consideration for the Class of 2019.”
With any luck, Urlacher will be on the list of inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. My hunch is he’s got at least a decent shot.
10. The belt resembles the kind you see a heavyweight prize fighter hold above his head after a title bout. It’s big. It’s heavy. There’s a lot of gold. The belt was draped over the top of linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski’s locker this past week at Halas Hall. The belt is what is given to the top special teams point producer on a weekly basis. He had one big stick in the loss to the Falcons, drilling returner Andre Roberts. Much more than tackles go into the points system run by special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. Every facet of special teams is graded.
I asked Kwiatkoski if he was going to wear the belt to a meeting.
“Maybe later this week,” he said. “We’ll see. That’s the goal each week, to get the belt. That’s the big reward.”
Jonathan Anderson was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to effectively fill Kwiatkoski’s spot on special teams. With Jerrell Freeman on injured reserve, Kwiatkoski is now in a starting role. Anderson earned the belt once last season and wants to hang it over his locker this week.
“It absolutely makes it more fun,” Anderson said. “Everyone is out there competing and trying to get it. That’s the main thing we’re trying to do. We’re out there during the game and saying, ‘Who’s going to get that belt?’ You’re just out there doing your job.”
Will Anderson wear it if he wins it?
“It’s too heavy,” he said. “You felt that thing?”
10a. Bears wide receiver Kevin White did undergo surgery for the fractured scapula he suffered last week. What’s not known at this point is what the recovery timeline will be like for him. It would need to be on the short side, of course, for him to potentially be designated to return from injured reserve later this season.
10b. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter told me the biggest challenge his team faced with the long layoff created by Hurricane Irma was that it hadn’t played in such a long time and there was a long layoff from practice. Because the NFL switched the Bucs’ bye week in order to have them play the Dolphins later in the season, that meant the players had to get their bye weekend – a minimum of four consecutive off days. So for a team trying to get into regular-season mode, that was disrupted.
“The biggest way it was affecting us was that we had so much time off,” Koetter said. “And with the heat we were worried. Having 46 guys up when it’s over 100 degrees heat index, it’s going to affect you condition-wise and that is what we were most worried about. When we went out to practice on Wednesday, our first day back, it was a heat index of 106. It was the same thing out there today.”
10c. Unfortunately, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski left in the first half with what the team called a pectoral muscle injury. That’s what sidelined Jerrell Freeman and sent the veteran to injured reserve last week. That would whittle through some depth quickly and place a greater burden on Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson. If the Bears have to make a move, they could promote John Timu from the practice squad. They have been high on Kwiatkoski and the feeling I got was he was going to push for legitimate playing time this season even if Freeman was healthy. Now, this is a concerning situation.
10d. Good to see rookie Tanner Gentry get a little bit of work in his debut. I wanted to catch up with him but failed to get that done. He had eight snaps by my count and I might be off by a few. Gentry was targeted three times and made two catches for 27 yards. We’ll see if his role expands a little in the weeks to come.
10e. The Bears are now 0-8 under coach John Fox in September. It’s tough to get the season going when you’re digging out from under a hole. The last time the Bears had a winning record in September was 2013 when they won the first three games of the Marc Trestman era.
10f. Lot of Bears fans were out and about in Tampa as usual. I’m expecting to see a lot of black and gold next week at Soldier Field. Steelers fans are well known for traveling well.
10g. Ray Lampe, aka @DrBBQ on Twitter, is a longtime Bears fan and native of the Chicago area. He relocated to Florida a couple decades ago to give it a go in the barbecue world and has done quite well for himself. Mike Alstott hired Lampe to provide the eats for a tailgate party before the game and the spread was top-notch. The next time the Bears play at Tampa, check Dr. BBQ out. His new restaurant should be open and he loves talking football.