To date, I have yet to hear a bad word about what Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have done assembling their coaching staff thus far. They are all the rage and nationally acclaimed with the seal of approval from anyone you’d like to call a credible source and critic. This is good news for Bears fans who are eternally skeptical after years of futility and failure to produce talent both in the coaching ranks as well as the roster of players good enough to compete with the better teams and organizations in the NFL. In spite of what type of success the Bears have or don’t after hiring Nagy the nurturing and development of a hopeful franchise Quarterback and the building of a new exciting offense appears to be the focus here.
Offense around these parts has been pretty much considered a cherry on top of the sundae aside from a strong running game to help compliment the main ingredient a ferocious defense. Well, early returns on the hiring of Nagy’s coaching staff so far says that will no longer be the case. While the Bears figure to have a strong defense in place after last seasons dramatic rise up the rankings in most of the important defensive categories as well as, the return of Vic Fangio and likely most of his staff, Offense may finally be the feature here in Chicago and the reason the Bears compete with the big boys in this league. At least on equal footing with the Defense. This league is an easier one to navigate with all 3 phases playing well together.
Vic Fangio- Defensive Coordinator: Aside from Matt Nagy’s hire this is probably the second most important hire of the team. First and foremost it brings continuity to one-third of the team’s phases and continues to build on that side of the ball going into its 4th season together. This should help with the development of their current young players as they get to stay in a system they’re familiar with, and around coaches familiar with them and were drafted and signed in Free Agency to fit Fangio’s vision and scheme.
This is especially big for players like Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd who stand to benefit the most from Fangio’s rehiring as Defensive Coordinator. It also likely brings back the most if not all of the defensive coaching staff which also helps with the current roster’s development particularly a much-maligned secondary that made great strides in 2017. Particularly former first-round pick Kyle Fuller who Fangio admitted to liking coming out of the 2014 draft and likely would have drafted him in San Francisco if he fell that far to them and he had his druthers. Danny Trevathan is another player that seemed to thrive in Fangio’s system often being the main Blitzer for Fangio on the rare occasion he dialed one up. Trevathan also thrives in coverage and is just as good filling the gaps as a run defender.
Some young guys that the Bears will be counting on making the big jump in 2018 like Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard and Eddie Jackson stand to prosper with the retention of Fangio and his staff. They’ll have a much smaller learning curve as the challenge of relearning a new defense and a new staff learning their role in what their scheme might have entailed. This certainly gives them a better chance of not hindering their progress. This figures to help speed up the reboot of the rebuild. It also gives the Bears chances of heading in the right direction a little more credibility as Fangio likely would not agree to terms with a team that he feels has no shot at the postseason.
Mark Helfrich- Offensive Coordinator: The last time the Bears made an out of box hire they found themselves hiring Canadian Football League hero Marc Trestman and we witnessed one of the most dysfunctional seasons from an organization in NFL history. Immediately afterward the Bears fired everyone which lead to the hire of Ryan Pace. To a man every football pundit weighing in on this hire describe the opposite of the Trestman hire so breath a sigh of relief Bears Nation. However, it is only fair to note there were some who acclaimed the Trestman move, but their credibility was questionable as most who did hail the hire was closely tied in with Trestman. There were of course a few detractors with Hall Of fame Wide Receiver Tim Brown who had Trestman as a Coordinator standing out as among the harshest and proved out to be correct unfortunately for all of Bears Nation.
In Helfrich, the Bears get a coach who has the perfect blend of influences coming from a program that was under the guidance of Chip Kelly before Helfrich eventually took over as head coach when Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles. Under Kelly, Helfrich ran a blend of West Coast and Spread offense which is precisely what Bears Head Coach Nagy dabbled in with the Kansas City Chiefs to take advantage of Alex Smith’s athletic prowess. It was wildly successful as Smith had his best season in the NFL under that blend of offensive systems. That is precisely the reason Helfrich is here and that is to help develop Mitch Trubisky under that very same blend to take advantage of his athletic prowess.
Now when Kelly was Head Coach for the Oregon Ducks they were mostly a run first team which is a misconception a lot of people made about Kelly’s system always relating to the passing aspect of his system. Under Helfrich, however, there was a bigger emphasis on the passing game where he dipped into his first influence under the tutelage of now Tampa Bay Head Coach Dirk Koetter. That’s another blend Helfrich brings to the Bears offense which includes the four vertical offense which I covered in my last piece on Helfrich.
A Don Coryell influenced concept which was the first version of the spread offense which featured the sending out of a bunch of receivers in deep patterns and thus opened up the box and with it the run game. That will make a big impact on Jordan Howard who should see a ton less stacked boxes than he had last season. However, you need 5 good pass protectors as they have to hold off the rush one on one for extended periods of time. Got to give the deep routes more time to develop. This will require a smart and savvy group of pass catchers to work the hot read routes in case of a blitz getting home too soon.
Under Helfrich the Bears will likely profile small shifty quick receivers who can get downfield and in and out of breaks well and take advantage of Trubisky’s ability to throw with accuracy and anticipation on timing routes. I also see a nice blend of option routes once Trubisky has learned the offense better and it’s options which should bode well for the resigning of Kendall Wright. I would assume the Bears make a run at Albert Wilson who had a big year under Nagy last season and is a young ascending player. Calvin Ridley would fit the profile of such a receiver who is a polished route runner with a ton of Quicks. Also, keep your eyes out for a possible full court press on Seahawks free agent Paul Richardson. I would also not rule out the addition of a flex Tight End type to compliment Adam Shaheen who profiles as a typical inline Y Tight End. There will be a couple vets available like Tyler Eifert, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Virgil Green and Jimmy Graham who all profile as nice move Tigh End options. The draft also has some interesting Tight Ends the Bears could dip into like Dallas Goedert who you’ll probably have to take in the late first round at the latest which makes sense in a trade down scenario but I don’t see as a good chance of happening. However, you can get a nice one on day 2 like Mike Gesicki or Mark Andrews who both project as excellent flex Tight End prospects at the next level.
Chris Tabor- Special Teams Coordinator: By now everyone knows about his stint with the Bears as Dave Toub’s assistant under Lovie Smith from 2008-2010. That was good enough to get him the Coordinator’s gig in Cleveland in 2011 where he lasted for 8 seasons through various regime changes in both the front office and coaching ranks. As a matter of fact, Cleveland wanted to retain him but Tabor had had enough of the Browns and saw a better opportunity here with the Bears. Yet another positive sign that the Bears job is seen as a great destination and they see a bright future here.
In his eight seasons with the Browns Tabor has had an average rank in the top ten in Kickoff return yards against (6th), Punt returns yardage against (7th), Kickoff return yardage (9th), and total return yardage against (10th) averaged over eight seasons. There were other impressive numbers I could write copying stats from his Bears Bio but I’ll just post a link to it for you to read here.
Of course, his past means nothing without success here, but everything points to his success being academic. Yet another Bears coaching hire that has received critical acclaim from both national and local media, Analysts and former coaches and players who have played with and under him.
Tabor inherits some pretty good pieces to tinker with. While placekicker remains a huge question mark – and a huge part of special teams as it directly puts points on the board as part of its function – all other area’s of the team is strong. They have two special teams aces in Sherrick McManis and DeAndre Houston-Carson and three if they do indeed decide to keep Joshua Bellamy. At this point who knows, but it’s worthy to note that Bellamy did actually improve as a Wide Receiver. He still body catches and drops some because of it, but he also made some big plays. He is very fast and that is desperately needed on this team. He’s also good at special teams as a gunner because of that speed. He will come cheap with a lot of cost control.
That’s actually a good reason to resign Deonte Thompson who actually can catch a little, is super fast and a dangerous Kickoff returner and oh, by the way, is cheap. Maybe parlay the money you save with the bottom of the receivers and get a top Wide Receiver or two like Albert Wilson And Allen Robinson or perhaps a combo like a Wide Receiver like Paul Richardson and a Tight End like Tyler Eifert.
Speaking of dangerous returners Tabor just so happens to be the lucky fella to think of interesting ways to use the player who produced the 6th most all-purpose yards in the league this past season Tarik Cohen. All this without even mentioning the new players he’ll get in the draft and Rookie Free agency to toy around with. Like the defensive side of the ball, Tabor has a very good situation going for himself with a roster filled with players that can be in the top ten in most of the important special teams categories.
The rest thus far: In order for Coordinators to be successful, they need a staff filled with position coaches who can teach and relay their vision to the roster. Thing like what techniques they need to use in each role they’re in for example. It won’t necessarily lead to direct influence on the actual playbook, but it is a bit of a tell on what Nagy may have in mind based on the experience of these coaches and the background they come from. At first blush, the hires thus far scream out scheme transcendency. This comes in handy in not only making your offense more diverse and unpredictable but maybe more importantly sets you up to be completely open on the type of players you can acquire rather than being pigeonholed into acquiring players with specific skill sets and traits.
Confirmed names in the fold:
Harry Hiestand- Offensive Line Coach: Offensive line Coach is arguably the most important position coach in the sport of football. The prime reason for this is the complexity of getting 5 giant intelligent men to play as one. There are the challenges of teaching them how to train, what techniques to use and how to use them, teach them the physics of leverage and the geometry of angles, learning the playbook, all the line calls post and pre-snap, how to work in unison as run blockers, playing in multiple blocking schemes and the list goes on and on. It is a challenging job.
Fortunately for the Bears and their current and soon to be linemen they now have one of the best in the business at doing this job. Hiestand has helped develop some of the best linemen to come out of the draft the past few years and has two more likely first-rounders who will be entering the 2018 draft and one of the two may find there way on the Bears roster. He’s also coached up his fair share of Pro Bowlers at the pro ranks including several former Bears linemen. He brings a vast number of influences and can coach zone and man concepts. This comes in handy in this era of the hybrid infused NFL.
Mike Furrey- Wide Receivers Coach: A direct connection to Nagy as Furrey played with Nagy in the disbanded Arena Football league. To say Wide Receiver was a weakness for the Bears in the 2017 season would not quite give the meaning of the word, in this case, the gravitas it deserves. Some it due to injury, some negatively impacted by free agency additions and subtractions, and a good deal of it affected by inexperience both at the Wide Receiver position itself as well as at the Quarterback position with a greener than green albeit talented Mitch Trubisky.
Mike Furrey has himself a daunting task piecing this Wide Receiver corps. together and getting them to play like a real live NFL Wide receiving corps. However, by all indication, it appears the Bears are going to go in hard on the Wide Receiver acquisition business this offseason and don’t be surprised if they invest in a couple free agents and a draft pick to help Furrey along. He may be actually stepping into a wonderful position as being known as the guy who turned around one of the bottom third Wide Receiver Corps. in the NFL.
Kevin Gilbride Jr. – Tight End Coach: Gilbride comes with coaching pedigree being the son of former longtime NFL Offensive Coordinator by the same name. Coming over from the Giants organization where he had an eight-year run, he was the Wide Receivers coach for two seasons before being reassigned to Tight Ends Coach the last 4 seasons. So it’s likely he’s here to teach the Bears Tight ends to catch the ball number one. My guess is Hiestand will handle the blocking portion of their development.
Gilbride has a nice history of developing young Tight Ends in his 4 seasons. Helping two rookies in Will Tye and Evan Engram have excellent debut seasons at a position that is traditionally one of the hardest to learn in football. Given they have to learn both the receiving aspect of the position as well as the blocking aspect which they do a great deal of at the line of scrimmage. Tye led the NFL rookie class of 15′ in Receptions (42), yardage (464), and Touchdowns (3). Had a decent follow-up season with 48 receptions for 395 yards. This past season Engram led all rookie Tight End from the 2017 class in receptions (64), yards (722), and tied for Touchdowns with (6). Gilbride is being entrusted in developing and molding the raw but talented lump of clay that is Adam Shaheen into a star Tight End in the National Football league.
Charles London- Running Backs Coach: London began his coaching career here in Chicago as an offensive Quality Control assistant doing the grunt work under Offensive Coordinator Ron Turner. Tim Spencer was the Running Backs Coach during this time where London likely was greatly influenced by his coaching style. Coming over from the Houston Texans London was part of a very productive running attack as their Running Backs Coach the past 4 seasons. Before that, he worked on his chops as a Running Backs Coach at Penn State University for two seasons in 2012 and 2013. Hell, he even has scouting experience which he dabbled in with the Eagles for a year.
Here he inherits a pretty interesting group. He has his bell cow power back in Jordan Howard who has had two really impressive seasons in spite of being the main focus of opposing defenses and having his interior linemen in and out, playing hurt, and moved around all season. London’s challenge will be getting Howard to be a dangerous part of the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield.
Speaking of dangerous receivers out of the backfield he has the good fortune of inheriting Tarik Cohen who will make a lot of Running Backs Coaches look like geniuses. Benny Cuningham had a very good season as a 3rd down back and Taquan Mizzell has a lot of skill to bring to the table especially as a dual-threat Back. With an extremely deep Running Backs class coming up I would not discount the Bears grabbing one for London to develop and add to the mix as a rotational Running Back and special teams contributor. Most likely on Day 3 of the draft and perhaps an undrafted free agent or two. Another excellent hire.
What about the Defense? There have been no recent announcements of any position coaches yet but it stands to reason that most of his staff will be retained and those that aren’t likely have taken a better position elsewhere. So expect the usual suspects to return like Ed Donatel, Glenn Pires, Jay Rodgers Sean Desai, Roy Anderson and Brandon Staley.
Wrap up: An assistant coach I failed to get to Darius Swinton II who is being hired as Chris Tabor’s Special Teams Assistant. He’s someone I covered in my list of possible Coordinator hires as a Special Team Coordinator candidate. So you know how qualified I feel he is. He was here in the same role as he is in now in 2015.
Also, Bears have confirmed the firing of now former Strength and Conditioning Coach Jason George just yesterday. Not a shock considering all the injury issues they’ve had recently. So they’ll be hiring a replacement soon.
Another big positional Coaching hire that is greatly anticipated is the Quarterbacks Coach position. There were earlier reports that the Bears were likely to rehire Dave Ragone as QB Coach but the latest rumor is they’re bidding for the services of Pat O’Hara who was the Texans QB Coach and helped DeSean Watson get off to an excellent start as a rookie. He’s also a former AFL Quarterback who played in the league at the same time Nagy did. So there is a direct connection there that may give the Bears a leg up on wooing him to the Bears to help with the development of Mitch Trubisky. There also have been recent rumors of the Bears possibly considering recently fired Raider Offensive Coordinator Tom Downing as their newest QB Coach. Needless to say, this is a very important hire.
Coda: All the names, the past success, the various offensive influences and all the acclaim both nationally and locally will mean nothing if there is another black Monday in three years for the Bears. This is a good start, but now it’s time to see how they implement the plan. The goal here is to establish the next great coaching tree where the current coaches become wildly successful here in Chicago before going elsewhere as head coaches and the coaches below them get promoted to their positions and eventually follow suit and take their own Head Coaching jobs. That is what super coaching staffs do after all.