Rook­ies ‘en­gaged’ de­spite mount­ing strug­gles, de­feats

Chicago Tribune - - CHICAGO SPORTS - By Colleen Kane Chicago Tri­bune ck­ane@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @ChiTribKane

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


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.

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