ZOOM: BOOM OR DOOM?

How ef­fec­tive was bears’ vir­tual off­sea­son? we won’t know till play­ers hit field at camp

Chicago Sun-Times - - BEARS BEAT - BY MARK POTASH | mpotash@sun­times.com | @markpotash

The early front-run­ner for NFL Coach of the Year in 2020 is Doc Rivers. The Clip­pers’ coach and May­wood prod­uct was a huge hit on the COVID-19 cir­cuit — with the Bears, Colts and Rams — as NFL coaches looked for a way to break the monotony of Zoom meet­ings.

Rivers def­i­nitely did that for coach Matt Nagy in his ap­pear­ance May 21 in front of the Bears. Nagy was tight-lipped with the Chicago me­dia about guest speak­ers who ad­dressed the team dur­ing the off­sea­son pro­gram, but he opened up to the Los An­ge­les Times about Rivers’ ap­pear­ance.

‘‘I’ve heard a lot of peo­ple talk to groups, and Doc, to me — not to take any­thing away from any­body else — but that was one of the most pow­er­ful hour-and-15-minute dis­cus­sions that I had self­ishly for my­self and we had as a team,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Man, there was so much good stuff in there. A lot of the stuff I don’t even want to tell be­cause I don’t want other peo­ple to know.’’

Rivers’ im­pact is no sur­prise. He has cre­den­tials pro­fes­sional ath­letes re­spect from his 13-year ca­reer as an NBA player and some­one who has won 938 games and an NBA ti­tle as a coach. And his can­dor and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills are well-known in NBA cir­cles. He’s a two-time win­ner of the Rudy Tom­janovich Award, given by NBA writ­ers for co­op­er­a­tion with the me­dia.

‘‘Prob­a­bly the best Zoom thing that we did was the Doc Rivers talk,’’ Bears run­ning backs coach Charles Lon­don said. ‘‘I grew up in At­lanta [where Rivers spent the first eight sea­sons of his ca­reer]. I grew up a huge Doc Rivers fan, go­ing down­town to the Omni to watch him play. So that was pretty cool for me . . . to have him talk and just share some of his thoughts and stuff.’’

But while Nagy did not di­vulge his guest-speaker list, it was clear Rivers was hardly the ex­cep­tion in terms of mak­ing an im­pact dur­ing vir­tual meet­ings that chal­lenged most, if not all, NFL coaches to hold their play­ers’ at­ten­tion and keep them fo­cused on the big pic­ture.

‘‘Doc Rivers was phe­nom­e­nal, ab­so­lutely phe­nom­e­nal,’’ Bears re­ceivers coach Mike Fur­rey said. ‘‘We’ve been very for­tu­nate in our room. We’ve had four or five Hall of

‘‘I’ve heard a lot of peo­ple talk to groups, and Doc, to me — not to take any­thing away from any­body else — but that was one of the most pow­er­ful hour-and-15-minute dis­cus­sions that I had self­ishly for my­self and we had as a team.’’ matt nagy

Famers come talk to our guys — a 45-minute ses­sion that all of them pretty much turned into two hours.

‘‘And it wasn’t just guys talk­ing about what they did and how they did it. Our guys were ask­ing ques­tions; they were highly in­volved. We have picked some great things from all of them. We’ve learned a lot this off­sea­son from some great play­ers of what it’s taken to be great.’’

Though Nagy’s ex­per­tise as a new-age NFL co­or­di­na­tor and play-caller is still un­de­fined af­ter two sea­sons, his pro­gres­sive ap­proach as a man­ager and his abil­ity to re­late to all of his play­ers has come in handy dur­ing an off­sea­son thrown off the rails by the COVID-19 pan­demic.

‘‘You can take ev­ery­thing we’ve done in prior years and just throw it out the win­dow be­cause there’s new rules,’’ Nagy said in mid-May.

The Bears’ de­fense un­der co­or­di­na­tor Chuck Pagano has only tweak­ing to do with three new starters. But with four new of­fen­sive coaches and Nick Foles ac­quired to chal­lenge Mitch Tru­bisky for the start­ing quar­ter­back job, the chal­lenge is sig­nif­i­cant. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill La­zor, quar­ter­backs coach John DeFilippo, of­fen­sive line coach Juan Castillo and tight ends coach Clancy Barone are try­ing to build re­la­tion­ships, cre­ate new habits and in­stall new tech­niques with­out meet­ing their play­ers in per­son.

Keep­ing play­ers fo­cused is more im­por­tant than ever. The Zoom off­sea­son never will re­place be­ing on the field. But it very likely can’t be a waste of time, ei­ther. Maybe teams that are al­ready well-oiled ma­chines — the Chiefs, Saints and Ravens — can get away with a cur­sory off­sea­son pro­gram, but the Bears needed to get ev­ery­thing they could out of it.

Nagy ap­pears to have pushed the right but­tons and made all the right moves to pre­pare his team for an ab­bre­vi­ated train­ing camp and pre­sea­son. The team meet­ing in the wake of the civil un­rest af­ter Ge­orge Floyd’s death at the hands of a Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer was a bond­ing mo­ment.

‘‘As a team, there was a level of heal­ing in­volved in that [meet­ing], and there was a level of us just com­ing to­gether,’’ de­fen­sive end Akiem Hicks said. ‘‘We just got a lit­tle bit tighter be­cause we had this ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether.’’

And some coaches said the dy­namic of the Zoom calls helped them com­mu­ni­cate with play­ers.

‘‘I think it’s ac­tu­ally made me a bet­ter coach be­cause the guys are there ... and you’ve got to find ways to keep guys en­gaged,’’ Lon­don said. ‘‘You’ve got to find dif­fer­ent ways to mo­ti­vate guys.’’

Be that as it may, a few key ques­tions hang over the Bears as they head toward train­ing camp this month: Will that mean any­thing? Will mak­ing the most of a bad sit­u­a­tion put them in any bet­ter po­si­tion to hit the ground run­ning when they fi­nally get on the field? Or will the Zoom off­sea­son be like a good week of prac­tice, a poor in­di­ca­tor — or even a false in­di­ca­tor — of pre­pared­ness?

Even as DeFilippo was say­ing that Foles’ char­ac­ter will help him get ac­cli­mated quickly, he couldn’t ig­nore the ob­vi­ous.

‘‘It’s not ideal the way this off­sea­son was go­ing, not [be­ing] on the field,’’ DeFilippo said. ‘‘We can sit here and say the Zoom deal is the next-best thing to sliced bread, but it’s not. It’s not the same as be­ing on the field with your team­mates, high-fiv­ing your team­mates. It’s not the same. We can’t pre­tend it to be the same.’’

Only when the play­ers get back on the field will we know whether the coach­ing staff made progress this off­sea­son — and how well Nagy’s mes­sages got through.

‘‘Coach Nagy, he wants to see who is go­ing to be con­di­tioned when we get back to camp and who’s not, and that’s go­ing to tell it all,’’ safety Ed­die Jack­son said. ‘‘A lot of guys say: ‘Yeah, I’m work­ing. I’m do­ing this. I’m do­ing that.’ But it’s all go­ing to show when it’s time to re­port to camp.’’ ✶

‘‘Coach Nagy, he wants to see who is go­ing to be con­di­tioned when we get back to camp and who’s not, and that’s go­ing to tell it all. A lot of guys say: ‘Yeah, I’m work­ing. I’m do­ing this. I’m do­ing that.’ But it’s all go­ing to show when it’s time to re­port to camp.’’

Ed­die Jack­son

Clip­pers coach (and May­wood prod­uct) Doc Rivers earned raves for his Zoom talk with the Bears.

GETTY IM­AGES

Bears coach Matt Nagy (left) used guest speak­ers to keep play­ers en­gaged dur­ing the off­sea­son pro­gram.

GETTY IM­AGES

Ed­die Jack­son

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