The teams with the best coaches usually wind up in the playoffs. That’s a general rule of the NFL; it’s one that’ll be so, so much more pronounced in 2020.
Not only does Matt Nagy have the challenge of running a training camp without any previous in-person OTA/minicamp practices, but he also has the challenge of creating a plan for a training camp in the midst of a pandemic. It’ll take good coaching from both an X’s and O’s and planning standpoint for the Bears to be prepared for the beginning of the 2020 season.
The closest thing the NFL has experienced to this year is 2011, when the lockout kept players away from team facilities until a new CBA was agreed upon in late July, with training camp starting shortly after.
Nagy was a quality control assistant under Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles back then and said balancing preparedness with health will be the most difficult challenge.
“Two years ago we talked about being calloused. That’s real,” Nagy said. “That’s gonna happen this year — I promise you that will happen in our training camp.
“But we also can’t be stupid. We need to make sure that we’re smart and we’re calculated in how we do it. Injuries can affect a football team. Specifically you can run into hamstring injuries, calf injuries, all that. We’ve tackled that pretty well.
“We have an actual plan on how we want to go about fixing that and we have a plan for it. So that was probably the biggest thing from the lockout year, knowing that we gotta be prepared, so were going to put that into action this summer.”
2011’s challenges, of course, didn’t include social distancing, mask-wearing, disinfecting, etc. — all the safety requirements the NFL is putting in place to get players back to team facilities this summer.
One Nagy’s reasons for ending the Bears’ offseason program early was to allow players to focus on training their bodies for the season over the next few weeks. When the Bears do report to Halas Hall — whenever that is — every practice rep will carry a little more weight than in years past. So coaches and players alike will need to do what they can to prevent soft tissue injuries, etc., that could prevent guys from getting those meaningful reps.
In addition to those reps, coach-player and player-player relationships still need to be built. While the Bears didn’t have an overwhelming amount of coaching or personnel turnover, there is some. None of the offensive linemen have worked with Juan Castillo. Nick Foles knows Nagy and John DiFilippo but not Dave Ragone. Tashaun Gipson hasn’t had to communicate with Eddie Jackson on the field.
So while the Bears’ regular Zoom meetings have helped foster some bonds, those can only go so far from screen to screen.
“They’ve talked over Zoom, but to have those one-on-one personal connections that you build, that’s probably the biggest drawback to everything that went on,” Nagy said. “We gotta recover from that. We need to make sure that when we do get back together that we make up for it. We have to be very organized. We can’t have any wasted motion. Our meetings need to be crisp. We need to have a great action plan with that.
“We feel like we’ve done everything in our power to handle the mental side and handle the relationship side through a computer. But when we get there, we have to hit the ground running. It’s going to be imperative that every rep matters.”
So are Nagy and his coaches up to it?
Good coaches with established schemes and systems will have an advantage in 2020 — the Reids, Sean Paytons, Kyle Shanahans, Doug Pedersons of the world. First-year coaches will be at a disadvantage, especially first-year guys who not only brought new schemes to their respective teams, but new players.
Nagy and the Bears fit somewhere in between. This will be Nagy’s third year in Chicago, and he’s quickly built a strong culture here. The Bears’ defense has, largely, been together for the last few years and is entering Year 2 under Chuck Pagano’s watch. They should be fine.
But the Bears’ offense needs improvement that can’t just come from a better quarterback or a different offensive line coach. It has to be scheme-wide and team-wide, and those improvements will have to be built without the usual foundation of springtime OTAs and minicamps.
That’s a tough spot in which Nagy will operate. 2020 might truly separate the good coaches from the not-so-good ones.
And if Nagy can improve the Bears’ offense and get them back to the playoffs, he’ll cement himself in that “good” column.