ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Nagy's media breakfast Tuesday at the annual NFL meetings was an hourlong opportunity to learn more about the offense he and his staff are designing. The new Bears coach has been teaching the scheme to assistants and will begin installing it when players report to Halas Hall on April 3.
From Nagy's first extended comments since the Bears added three starting pass-catchers in free agency, here are some things we learned about his vision, his philosophies and how the personnel could fit in.
1. Exploiting mismatches is the constant mission. Of course, that's not unique to Nagy. Every offensive coach strives to do that. But creating mismatches has not only driven the Bears' personnel acquisitions, it also defines elements of the scheme, including formations, pre-snap movement and option concepts.
Mismatches were a theme Tuesday that threaded together Nagy's thoughts on new receiver Allen Robinson, the group of tight ends on the roster and the different skill sets of running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
As that applied to Robinson, Nagy said: "He's a guy that presents a lot of problems to defensive backs just because of his ability with his size. But he's a good route-runner. He's able to, if you have a smaller DB on him, he can beat you up with his size. A bigger DB, he can beat you up with his route running."
2. The "U" tight end, which Trey Burton will play, is critical to establishing those mismatches. The U in Nagy's scheme is a role commonly known as the "F" or "move" tight end, as opposed to the "Y," which is more of an in-line blocker.
The U tight end normally will play in the slot, although he will line up elsewhere at times, with the primary objective of running pass routes.
"You can move around, do different things — it's what we did with (Travis) Kelce," Nagy said. "It's an important role. It's a position that a lot of our offense, it's easy to create some plays for. And when you have a guy that has the size that Trey has and the speed that he has, it's about mismatches.
"So if you get a small nickel on him and they want to play nickel, he can use his size to be able to body him up. If they want to put a bigger guy on him, we can use his speed. So that's an advantage to the offense and that's one of the things that I learned through Coach (Andy) Reid is getting mismatches throughout, and that's what Trey does."
3. Tight end Adam Shaheen fits better as an in-line tight end but could play the U. Nagy expects such versatility from all the Bears tight ends.
"A guy like Adam Shaheen, who's a big guy, he's a real good fit for us, and he'll be able to play, really, the Y and the U position," Nagy said.
"One thing you guys will see as we go, there's flexibility within this offense. And guys need to know, and that goes back to Trey — you can call Trey a U tight end/receiver, but Trey is going to have to know the Y position as well. This is no longer a deal where you're just playing a split-out tight end position. But we as coaches need to be able to put these guys in the best position possible so they can succeed. Whatever their strength is, let's work toward that."
4. Nagy says it won't be problematic having Dion Sims and Shaheen as Y tight ends. In the 11 games last season for which both Sims and Shaheen were active, Sims played 65.6 percent of the snaps while Shaheen played only 23.9. Granted, Shaheen was a rookie from a Division II school, so the Bears expect to see significant growth in Shaheen's technique as a blocker (including the angles he takes against defenders) and understanding of defenses.
"If you go back (to the Chiefs) and look at what everyone would call our "13" personnel — which is one running back and three tight ends — we do that a lot," Nagy said. "To me, that's a part of this process with the players and trying to fit guys in where we have the ability to where if we have a wide receiver that goes down, we can get into 13. If we have a tight end that goes down and we're short on tight ends, now we can go into our 11 personnel."
5. The slot receiver is called the "Zebra" position. Free agent Taylor Gabriel was acquired for that role. Elsewhere at receiver on the formational diagram, the split end is the "X" and the flanker is the "Z."
The Zebra position, abbreviated "Ze" when the Bears draw up plays, will move around the formation. He'll line up on the ball sometimes and off the ball at others. Gabriel fits because of his speed, suddenness and ability to gain big chunks of yardage after the catch.
"I was really excited once he got in and we started seeing who he was as a person and his energetic personality," Nagy said. "But then on tape, his personality fits the way he plays. So the things we do with getting guys the ball quick, RPO (run-pass option) stuff, but getting him the ball — you see what he can do with screens.
"He can catch the ball behind the line of scrimmage and take it for a touchdown really on any given play. Now, a lot of that goes with regards to blocking that goes on with wide receivers and that, but he's not just that 'gadget guy.' He can be a true receiver and really do well."
6. Nagy is determined to maximize strong parts of quarterback Mitch Trubisky's game, specifically his athleticism and accuracy.
"With our offense, some of the RPO things we do, and in the pass game with his footwork and decision-making, you saw a kid that grew with decision-making over time," Nagy said. "There are times he'll step up in the pocket, take a big hit and still make that strong throw. He has the mobility, to me, where he's not a quarterback who's looking to run, but he has the ability to where if a tackle misses his block, he can make a guy miss and extend a play. In Kansas City, one of Alex Smith's strengths was being able to use his legs. He has that. Mitch has the ability to make guys miss.
"But on top of that, his accuracy with his throws, you see some of the throws over top of the middle, the comeback throws to the sideline and the deep post throws where we always are talking about touchdown-to-checkdown mentality. He has the ability to make those throws."
7. Nagy believes aggressiveness as a strategist and play-caller is part of his DNA, but he insists on being calculated about it. That was clear when he was asked what being aggressive as a play-caller means to him.
"It's going to mean the pace of play," he said. "It's going to mean downfield throws. We're going to always attack you downfield. We're going to make sure that you understand you can't just sit there at 10 to 12 yards and just wait for these intermediate throws to be thrown. We're going to go downfield, and we're going to test you.
"Not every ball is going to be complete, and that's OK. It's going to stretch the defense. It's going to open it up for guys like Jordan and Tarik to be able to do some things in the run game. And then it's going to involve the aggressiveness of being able to be smart when you do it, but pick and choose when you're going to go for it on fourth down."
8. The differences between Howard and Cohen will be a basis for weekly game-planning. Howard is a bigger back who has demonstrated the vision to exploit holes and the physicality to gain yards after contact. Cohen, on the other hand, is much smaller but faster. And as a rookie last season, Cohen proved he could catch passes out of the backfield and lined up as a receiver. Howard, meanwhile, has struggled with drops in his two seasons.
"You can you use them in different ways," Nagy said. "You can move them out (of the backfield), and if they want to go ahead and try to cover you with a linebacker or cover you with a safety, that may predicate, dictate what you're going to do offensively."
9. Nagy likes the offensive line. Even though the Bears have a vacancy at a starting interior position after they cut guard Josh Sitton, Nagy singled out last year's line as a positive from the game video he reviewed. And he expects a similar standard under new position coach Harry Hiestand.
"Very athletic and guys that are big and they're fast," he said. "They're athletic, and that fits what we do. I will never forget when I was watching, thinking, 'Man, this group is pretty good.' I didn't know exactly who the player was in regards to the person, that sort of thing, but they're athletic tackles, athletic guards.
"There were injuries and guys in different places, but it fits what we do. And then you look at the rest of the roster, and there is some depth there. So, you bring in a guy like Coach Hiestand to come in here and right away — again a guy that has been in the NFL, a guy that has had success at Notre Dame. Now he's coming back. You want to talk about a teacher? He's a special teacher."
10. Nagy's brainstorming sessions with first-year offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have highlighted important fundamentals of option concepts, which the Bears will employ.
"Little things of the ball handling between the quarterback and the running back," Nagy said. "Those are just little details. Where the quarterback's eyes are on specific reads. What the running back's eyes are. What he's reading. What the path is of the offensive line. With the wide receivers, what some of their reads are.
"Just because we've been running this offense for a long time and what we have and the way we teach the details of the wide receivers' routes, there's other ways to do things. So, it's interesting listening to some of the ideas he has. And so now, what we're trying to do is just mold that into, OK, why — why does that work? And if it does, then let's put it in and let's get to teaching on April 3."
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