Whether it was players, coaches or fans, Sunday morning’s Chicago Bears practice brought what everyone wanted — full pads.
In front of a packed house for the second day in a row at Olivet Nazarene University, the Bears strapped up all their gear for the first time this summer in yet another highly competitive practiced.
And when safety Eddie Jackson intercepted quarterback Mitch Trubisky on the first play of the team period, it set the tone for the entire day, one that was mostly won by last year’s NFL-leading defense.
“For our first day out here with pads on, I thought it was a pretty good day,” Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. “I thought the defense ran around pretty fast today, they did a good job.”
In addition to Jackson’s interception, the defense also forced a few fumbles, one noticeably coming from rookie running back David Montgomery. Nagy said the aggressive approach to forcing fumbles stems from former Bears great Charles Tillman, who was one of the best in the game at forcing turnovers during his NFL tenure.
“What (defensive coordinator) Chuck (Pagano) and our guys are preaching is going after that football and punching it out,” Nagy said. “Everybody knows about the Peanut punch with Charles Tillman and that’s carried on, not just this year, but from years in the past.”
For Montgomery, the lesson he needs to learn from his fumble Sunday was a simple one.
“Just hold on to the ball,” Montgomery said.
With former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio now serving as the Denver Broncos’ head coach, new coordinator Chuck Pagano has spent the early stages of camp installing his twists on the defense, one that has similar schemes but also stark differences.
Nagy said that while defensive veterans, such as linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback-moved-safety Sherrick McMannis, can give input on things, he also compared the defensive situation to last year’s offensive situation, when Nagy was installing his own system.
“Let Chuck and his guys put it in first and see where it’s at and then go ahead and give our advice,” Nagy said. “It’s like us last year with offense — let us put the offense in and then once we get it in, tell us what you like, what do you not like, how we can get better.”
While it definitely seemed to be the defense’s day Sunday, in large part to Jackson, the all-pro safety didn’t think things were so one-sided.
“It was going back and forth — they made plays, we made plays,” Jackson said. “When we get on them, they pick it up and that’s what you like to see.”
While Trubisky was given a long leash with his aggressive throws last summer as he began learning Nagy’s offense, Nagy said that this season, the approach may be the same, but results will be more closely monitored during camp.
“The mentality for (Trubisky) is always gonna be the touchdown or check down mentality, so staying aggressive,” Nagy said. “Last year, he didn’t have that library. This year, he knows where to go with the football a lot better than last year.
“If you’re going to take a risk with a downfield through, you better have a good answer for why you took it.”
As a rookie, Montgomery is learning the offense the same way the defense is learning Pagano’s system on the other side of the ball, as everything is new for him.
He said that as he continues to learns the ins and outs to the way things will work on the offensive side of the ball, he has learned one thing — his work will dictate how well he does in the system.
“I just think it’s a great offense,” Montgomery said. “If you just want to come in and work, the offense will work for anybody. I’m just excited to see what happens.”
One of the biggest storylines to come out of Saturday’s practice was the beginning of this summer’s kicker battle. Rookie Elliott Fry dazzled fans with a barrage of boots that were true from as far as 60 yards out after missing his first kick.
And after Fry’s day came Saturday, it was Eddy Pineiro’s turn on Saturday. Pineiro also missed just one kick, converting 7-of-8 attempts, including a 63-yard missile to end the kicking session.
With one of the league’s more publicized position battles, Nagy has been more than satisfied with how both kickers have started off on the right foot.
“How do you not love two kickers battling for one spot, competing their tails off, after everything that’s gone on with our team and our city?” Nagy said.
As it turns out, Fry’s 60-yarder Saturday and Pineiro’s 63-yarder Sunday came on what the team is calling “Dealer’s choice” kicks, where the two are able to choose where they want to attempt their last kick from.
“You’ve gotta earn it, you don’t get dealer’s choice if you miss kicks,” Nagy said. “We’re gonna continue to have these guys have this kickoff and see who rings up the best production.”
Pineiro said that after seeing what Fry did yesterday, he had to up the ante and show what he could do.
“(Special teams) coach (Chris Tabor) asked me, ‘Hey, let’s do 60 (yards),’ and I said, ‘No, you guys did 60 (yards) yesterday, we’re going 63 (yards) today.
“Mentally, I was just staying calm and know I have to do my job,” Pineiro added. “My job’s on the line every day — everybody’s job’s on the line every day.”
After taking his day yesterday, Fry had the day off and handed the kicking keys over to Pineiro (the Bears are giving alternating days to each kicker). He said he wasn’t surprised to see Pineiro have a similarly effective day to his first offering Saturday.
“It’s to be expected, this is the NFL. — you don’t expect guys to come out and miss,” Fry said. “He had a great day, I had a good day.”