A NEW EXPERIENCE:
Rookies ‘engaged’ despite mounting struggles, defeats
For Bears rookies such as safety Eddie Jackson who were unaccustomed to losing seasons in college, maintaining the proper focus and perspective through the final four games of the year is their primary challenge.
Eddie Jackson has played football deep into December and even January before.
But there’s a big difference between preparing for the college football national championship game with Alabama and trudging through a losing Bears season in his first year in the NFL. So the rookie safety has been asked several times about how he handles a five-game losing streak, the likes of which he hasn’t seen before in his career.
“You try to think of the long term,” Jackson said after Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. “…You just have to keep thinking next day, man.”
For the Bears rookies — Jackson, running back Tarik Cohen, tight end Adam Shaheen and, of course, quarterback Mitch Trubisky — the last four weeks of the season are about squeezing out more experience while trying to keep perspective. That’s not easy while questions of the coaches’ futures and criticisms of the state of the organization are shouted from talk radio and website headlines.
Jackson, a 2017 fourthround draft pick, was part of a college program that lost just six regular-season games over his four years there.
“Guys like Eddie who came from winning organizations, they’re used to not losing or maybe losing once a season, so that can play on someone’s (mind),” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “It’s just being in his ear and telling him, ‘Stay at it.’
“He has been a young leader for this team, and he’s starting to understand the NFL is not like college. I haven’t seen the freshman blues or any of that in him. He’s still fully engaged and enjoying it.”
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Jackson has impressed with his consistency and eagerness to bounce back quickly from a bad play or game.
All of the rookies’ engagement comes in focusing on the daily work and the hope it can shape a better future.
“We’ve seen we have some talented rookies, some talented young players,” Shaheen said.
In the midst of outside questions about his playing time, Shaheen continues to try to learn in his transition from Division II Ashland, which lost five games in his three years playing in the program.
Shaheen said he has made strides in his knowledge base and understanding what it’s going to take physically to grind through an NFL season. But that learning has come more in theory than in games over the last two weeks.
Against the 49ers, Shaheen was on the field for nine snaps and not targeted at all. His opportunities have diminished since the return of Dion Sims from illness in Week 12 against the Eagles, but Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said it’s about managing the load Shaheen takes on.
Shaheen is backing up Sims at the “Y” tight end position but said he still has a lot to learn at the “F” position, where injured Zach Miller played.
“It’s really just a young player coming from a small school,” Loggains said. “Adam is a smart kid, and at some point in this league he’s going to be a really solid football player. It’s just the point of handling all the things that come with tight ends — the moving pieces of, ‘Hey, this team plays six different fronts.’ One play versus six fronts is really six different plays, just being able to handle all that volume.”
The volume and experience continue to grow for Cohen and Trubisky too. When Trubisky, Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone sit down at the beginning of each week, Loggains gives Trubisky a few things from the previous game at which he needs to be better, breaking the loss into constructive parts for a player Loggains calls “process- and goal-driven.”
“We don’t expect him to handle losing well,” Loggains said. “No one should handle losing well. But you have to have enough emotional stability and control where you understand the big picture.
“Those nights when you go home it’s miserable. I don’t know that you can learn much in losing. I don’t like that statement. But you do learn by going through the process.”
Cohen and Trubisky, who now has lost more games as the Bears starter (six) than in his junior season at North Carolina (five), each said it’s not hard to keep an eye on the big picture.
“It’s just having that unwavering faith, no matter what happens, that you can be successful,” Trubisky said. “People have gone through worse seasons and come out on the other side.
“You try to look at those success stories. You just always believe you’ll beat the odds. … If you love the game you’re playing ... it can only get better from here.”
“We’ve seen we have some talented rookies, some talented young players.” — Bears rookie tight end Adam Shaheen, above
BRIAN CASSELLA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE
LOU FOGLIA/CHICAGO TRIBUNE Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson, wrapping up 49ers wide receiver Trent Taylor, is seen as a young leader on the team.