Top 5 Chicago Bears takeaways from NFL meetings

March 30, 2018

New Bears head coach Matt Nagy had a lot to say at this week’s NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., as he always does when the topic is football. And even G.M. Ryan Pace, who usually plays it close to the vest, dispensed some valuable information. Here are the five most noteworthy takeaways, as the Bears prepare to start the offseason program next Tuesday at Halas Hall.

1. Nagy has big plans for TE Trey Burton in his offense.

The first conversation Nagy had with G.M. Ryan Pace, as they were flying from Kansas City to Chicago the day the new coach was hired, was the status of the “U” tight end. That’s essentially the “move” tight end, the one who plays the biggest role as a receiver in Nagy’s offense. Burton is the guy the Bears signed to play that position. Travis Kelce plays that position for the Chiefs, and in the past four years, he’s been targeted 429 times with 307 receptions for 22 touchdowns and 3,900 yards, including 2,163 in the last two seasons.

As Nagy described the position: “You play the slot, you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce. It’s an important role. It’s a position that a lot of our offense, it’s easy to create some plays for. And when you have a guy that has the size (6-foot-3, 235) that Trey has, and the speed that he has, it’s about mismatches. If you get a small nickel on him, he can use his size to body him up. If they want to put a bigger guy on him, we can use his speed.”

2. Jordan Howard will run the football; Tarik Cohen will run a bit and catch a bunch.

Howard has run the ball 528 times in his first two seasons, and there’s no reason for that to change. But he has also demonstrated that he is challenged as a pass catcher and has been plagued by drops. The featured runner caught just 23 passes last year for a mere 125 yards, just 5.4 yards per reception. Cohen carried the ball 87 times last year as a rookie for a 4.3-yard average, and he was second on the team with 53 receptions, although his 6.7-yard average leaves room for improvement. The Chiefs’ rookie running back, Kareem Hunt, also caught 53 passes last year for an 8.8-yard average. Nagy will try to do a better job of getting Cohen the ball in space than the Bears did last year.

The powerful, 6-foot, 222-pound Howard is an effective between-the-tackles runner with great vision and the ability to run behind his blockers and through tacklers. The 5-foot-6, 179-pound Cohen is more effective running around tacklers.

“They’re different backs, obviously,” Nagy said. “They’re both really good at what they do. (As) we’re designing plays, we’re going to do what fits them best. We don’t want to put them in bad situations, and if we do, then that’s our fault.”

3. This is Vic Fangio’s defense.

Nagy, a former quarterback, has always coached that side of the ball, and he’ll have more than enough to keep him busy while he installs the Bears’ new offense. As the head coach, he cannot ignore the defense, but it’s in pretty good hands with Fangio, who has spent 18 of his 31 NFL seasons as a defensive coordinator.

“For me, that will be a new part of the process,” Nagy said. “Now my job is to be able to oversee (the defense). Vic’s been doing this for a long time, so I completely respect how he goes about things. I’ll be there for another set of ears and eyes to help him in any way possible and just letting him do his thing. That’s why we had the meeting when I first got this job, to be able to understand: ‘Can we communicate, and can we agree to disagree?’ We both answered that question. We’ll be able to do that.”

4. The opening-day left guard might not be on the roster yet.

Replacing four-time Pro Bowler Josh Sitton won’t be easy, and that position could be a primary target in the draft.

“There are some guys on our team right now we feel good about,” Pace said. “Eric Kush, Jordan Morgan (and) Hroniss Grasu. There’s flexibility with (Cody) Whitehair.”

Kush started four games at left guard in 2016 but missed all of last season after suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason. Morgan, last year’s fifth-round pick, was redshirted on I.R. Grasu was being groomed as the starting center when a torn ACL during a 2016 training camp practice ended his season. Whitehair, a guard in college, was moved to center as a rookie in 2016 and has played well. Moving him to guard would create a hole at center, where Grasu could get another shot.

“We’re always trying to improve our offensive line,” Pace said. “You’ve got to be mindful of that, especially as you approach the draft.”

5. Kevin White is not a forgotten man. A slew of injuries have limited the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft to five games in three years. But Nagy is in his corner.

“Has he lived up to what the first-round draft pick is supposed (to be)?” Nagy said. “No, he hasn’t. But that’s OK. I’m really excited to dig deep into him and put him in the best situation possible. You see a kid that is working hard during the offseason. How cool would that be to be able to get this kid to come back and be a dominant player, right? We’re going to give that kid every opportunity possible.”

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