Matt Nagy sat shoulder to shoulder with Ryan Pace on Saturday evening, the draft complete but their honeymoon still going strong.
In almost four months since they partnered, they’ve hopped from island to island, lifted by their synergy and optimism at each stop. Hiring the coaching staff. Free agency. The start of the offseason program. And now the draft.
They’ve worked through these important steps and invigorating times together, capitalizing on the energy a coaching change is designed to generate.
Their shared vision for ending the Bears’ streak of four consecutive double-digit-loss seasons: become flexible and diverse in creating mismatches on offense.
That meant adding talent to the coaching staff and then the roster, from offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, to free agent receiver Allen Robinson and second-round slot receiver Anthony Miller.
Saturday, then, as the biggest portion of the player-acquisition cycle concluded, the Bears’ top-two leaders glowed. When Nagy was asked whether they have acquired enough players for the Bears to be the matchup problem he envisions, he signed off on the repairs.
“We certainly have enough,” he said. “Without a doubt. We’re at a point right now where there are really good numbers in regards to all the positions. So whether it’s the running back position, the tight end position, wide receiver and then the depth at O-line, we’re in a really good spot. It’s up to the players and coaches to produce to get it done.”
Such a strong statement should continue the good vibes that have pulsed from Halas Hall and throughout Chicago since the coaching change.
Not only does Nagy sense meaningful progress on the roster, having collaborated with Pace about his preferences, he also embraces the months of work required in the next phase.
“It’s one thing to get guys on paper,” Nagy said. “It’s our job now as coaches to take the handoff, develop these guys and teach them how to play the game within our system, within this building and how we’re going to do things.”
In other words, it’s reasonable to feel good about what the Bears added in free agency and the draft but also responsible to acknowledge they’ve accomplished nothing on the field or in the standings.
At least they’ve positioned themselves for the latter. That much was clear in the differences between the postdraft news conferences Saturday and a year ago.
Last year was awkward. John Fox, needing to win in his third season to save his job, squirmed as he took questions about a first-round quarterback Pace hoped to redshirt and a second-round tight end from Division II Ashland University.
As it turned out, Fox was not fully clued in on Pace’s determination to draft Mitch Trubisky until draft day last year. Their divergence was set from that moment.
This offseason, though, Pace has raved about his collaboration with Nagy.
For example, take Friday’s pick of Miller, the fiery, explosive receiver from Memphis.
“With Anthony, he likes to stick the top of the route, and it’s sharp,” Nagy said. “What that does is it sets the angle for the quarterback. And you don’t see that from every wide receiver. There’s a violent move for him to be able to set angles, whether it’s a slant route, a post route, an out route, etc. He’s aggressive with it, and that fits his style of play.”
That scouting report carries even more weight publicly, given what Pace said Tuesday about Nagy’s input.
“Matt has looked at almost every receiver in the draft, so he has a good feel for, ‘Hey, here’s how this guy fits.’ Hearing that from the head coach, from the play-caller, is valuable for me.”
That hasn’t been limited to the offense either. Nagy got a comprehensive feel for first-round linebacker Roquan Smith during their dinner on Smith’s predraft visit.
“It’s a slam dunk when you meet him,” Nagy said.
In the football component of Nagy’s evaluation, he appreciated Smith’s value to the defense through this offensive lens.
“He can play all three downs,” Nagy said. “Usually those type of guys with that size, they struggle in the run game. Well that’s not necessarily the case with him. That’s why he automatically becomes a top-10 pick. So offensively you look at a guy like that who can cover your tight ends and can cover your running backs … and you say, well, OK, we’ve got to figure out another route to go.”
Additions of that caliber, resulting from meaningful collaboration, simply add to the Bears’ offseason momentum.
Of course, this isn’t novel. This is the third time the Bears have changed coaches in their seven-year playoff drought. The feel-good juice doesn’t always end up feeling so good.
Nagy has that in proper perspective, though, and that will count for something if he’s as sharp an innovator as Pace believes he is.
Already, the large whiteboard in Nagy’s office is marked with circles and names, one indicator of a plan slowly coming to fruition. There are no guarantees ahead, but at least the Bears’ reformed identity and leadership have cleared their path.
“We mentioned about adding pieces offensively and that’s what we’ve done,” Nagy said. “Now, it’s up to us as coaches to make it happen, and it’s up to the players when we get on the field to make it happen.
“There’s a lot ahead of us, but that’s the challenging part.”
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