INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears’ road to Super Bowl LIV in Miami next February officially started with the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this past week. Here are the main takeaways from Lucas Oil Stadium:
1. Matt Nagy’s goal to avoid self-satisfaction
A galvanizing force behind the Bears’ success in 2018 was the culture established. More than most NFL teams, it seemed like the Bears relished playing with one another and developed a chemistry bonding them as one. It was thanks to the efforts of the reigning NFL Coach of the Year in Matt Nagy that the Bears were able to come together so quickly.
The challenge now for a team that’s experienced success and will be viewed as a chic championship pick is maintaining those good vibes without sacrificing what makes them special—a challenge not lost on the 40-year-old Nagy.
“What we’ve done is build this foundation,” Nagy said to open up the Bears’ time in Indianapolis. “That was our goal in Year 1—let’s build a foundation. And I don’t know what our record’s going to be, but let’s get everybody in this building—at Halas Hall back in Chicago—to believe and trust what we’re talking about. It’s easy to talk about it, but you have to back it up.”
It’s said complacency is the root of mediocrity. If the Bears are going to make a deeper playoff run, they can’t rest on their laurels. Great teams are never satisfied. Great teams have leaders like Nagy prepared to push every button.
“It’s my job, my responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen. I look forward to that. I think that’s one of the fun parts in my position is being able to be creative and find ways of how do you do it,” he said.
2. No shortage of replacements for Howard
An explosive rush is defined as anything that’s at least 12 yards. Last year, the Bears generated an explosive rush on a mere 12 percent of their carries: 19th in the NFL.
A major detriment in a lack of explosive rushing success is Jordan Howard, who the Bears are seeking to replace. Howard had been one of the more productive running backs in franchise history, but he doesn’t fit the diverse offense the Bears are trying to create.
To start the Combine, with replacements on his mind, general manager Ryan Pace discussed what he looks for in tailbacks.
“It’s sometimes no different than the safety position,” Pace said to the Chicago Tribune. “Running back is such an instinctive position. As scouts sometimes we can get enamored with height, weight, and speed, when really that position starts with instincts and vision. We always have to be mindful of that and not overlooking that.”
Fortunately for the Bears there were a bunch of instinctive running backs to peruse in Indianapolis. Any number of which would be solid options with Chicago’s first draft pick next month, the No. 88 overall selection in the third round.
Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill had the best 40-yard dash time, the best vertical leap, and the best broad jump among all running backs. A multi-faceted runner with the speed and explosion necessary to create separation as a receiver, Hill would be an excellent fit in Nagy’s offense.
Elsewhere, a Memphis duo of running backs could suit the Bears’ fancy. Darrell Henderson tested extremely well and profiles as one of the more natural running backs in this class. The 2018 First-Team All-American was second in the country in rushing with 1,909 yards and 19 touchdowns. His teammate in Tony Pollard also tested good enough to be put on several teams’ radars, not just the Bears. Pollard produced over 1,000 all-purpose yards in his last college season and was one of the nation’s top kick returners with seven touchdowns scored over the last three years.
Both Henderson and Pollard would be noteworthy additions to place alongside former college running mate Anthony Miller.
3. Leaving no stone unturned at kicker
The Bears’ kicking issues over the past three years are well-documented. After releasing Robbie Gould at the end of the 2016 preseason, it’s been a never-ending carousel of misses and ill-advised investments. After designating that they’re moving on from Cody Parkey, who missed 11 kicks including the playoffs in 2018, the Bears are again on the hunt for an answer at kicker. It’s a full scale search of which needs every box checked.
It was one thing for the Bears to have poor kicking on poorly-built teams. It’s a different animal when they could be viewed as a contender and one kick could make or break an entire season. Finding a reliable kicker is understandably the hot button issue for a good team looking to break through.
“I promise we’ll explore every avenue to better that,” Pace told reporters at his Combine presser in Indianapolis. “We want to create major competition at that position. Obviously, it’s important. Whether it’s free agency or the draft or college free agency, we’re going to continue to explore that.”
Competition is the key distinction for Pace. After cutting Gould, which looks like a mistake in hindsight, the more egregious oversight wasn’t pushing then kicker Connor Barth with anyone. The same sentiment can be applied to 2017, when the Bears cut undrafted free agent Andy Phillips in early August and let the inconsistent Barth go on unimpeded.
Whatever route the Bears end up taking to solve their kicking woes, be it with a late draft pick or after scouring the undrafted free agent wire, it behooves them to make sure each of their potential replacements are competing well into training camp. Another potential championship season could ride on it.