4 things we learned from the Chicago Bears, including Matt Nagy warding off negative thoughts and Chris Tabor’s take on punt returner Ted Ginn Jr.'s decisions

Phil Thompson and Colleen Kane, Chicago Tribune
·6 min read

Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy, his coordinators and several players spoke Thursday as they prepare to take on the 4-2 New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Here are four things we learned.

1: Matt Nagy wants to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

Matt Nagy had already answered one question on whether he has considered relinquishing play-calling duties — for the record, the answer is no. But when the subject came up again, he had a “negative” reaction.

“To me, that feels like somewhat of a negative thought I would have in my head,” Nagy said Thursday. "Like, when are things going to go so bad that I’m going to give up play calling, and when are things going to go so bad that we’re going to do this or that?

“I know that’s kind of where this world is at today. There’s a lot of negativity and people feed off of that, and we love all of that stuff right now — negative, negative. That’s just not where we’re at or where I’m at. We try to focus on the positives.”

This doesn’t spring from a vacuum. National media and fans have looked skeptically at the Bears' winning record, pointing to their now-29th-ranked offense (308 yards per game) and sixth-worst scoring average (19.7 points per game).

Since losing to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday, the Bears have been careful to remind everyone they’re still 5-2.

“We’re sitting 5-2. The world is not coming to an end,” quarterback Nick Foles told WBBM’s Jeff Joniak on the radio station’s postgame show Monday.

Nagy said Wednesday: “We’re 5-2. At times it doesn’t feel like that, but we are 5-2.”

On Thursday, left tackle Charles Leno said Foles' positive energy helps.

“Sometimes when you look at the grand scheme of things, it feels like we’re 2-5 and we’re 5-2 right now, just by the way our offense is playing, and we’re the only ones that can get that turned around.”

Nagy vowed that as a team “we fight through this kind of stuff” and stay positive.

“We are 5-2, we are not 2-5 and I think that’s very, very important for all of us to understand,” he said Thursday. "I would be a terrible head coach if I was walking around this building right now acting like we are 2-5. How crazy would that be if I did that? So I’m going to make sure that the positivity stays.

“And hey, these are learning lessons, man. What are we going to do? Are we going to stick together or are we going to be negative and talk about the what-ifs and the coulda-shoulda-woulda’s and everything? No. We stay positive.”

2. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor gave credit to Rams punter Johnny Hekker for his big night Monday when asked about Ted Ginn Jr.'s lack of returns.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker had five punts Monday, and he placed them at the Bears' 7-, 10-, 1-, 6- and 5-yard lines, earning NFC special teams player of the week in the process. Coach Matt Nagy said Tuesday he thought Bears punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. could have caught two of them, and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor acknowledged that.

“We do have our rules there,” Tabor said. "There’s some that you want to field and there’s some you say that was a good play by them and you tip your hat to them. That’s how it goes.

“Those are tough decisions. I think the reason we’re always criticizing everything is because Johnny Hekker checked the ball up. Had those balls bounced and gone in the end zone, then you’re probably not asking the questions. But I do understand the questions. You know, I have faith in Ted Ginn.”

In this case, the Bears will show how much faith they have in Ginn when they send out their punt return unit Sunday. They signed veteran kick and punt returner Dwayne Harris to the practice squad this week, and he very well could take over Ginn’s duties.

“If you just know his history, (Harris) has been a good player in this league, and he’s a tough, physical player that can do a lot of different things besides return,” Tabor said. “He covers and all those things. I’m glad he’s been added to our practice squad and makes everybody better.”

Tabor said the Bears' return game — including kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who is battling a quad injury — has a tall task against the Saints.

“They’re loaded,” Tabor said. “It’s a well-coached unit that gives everybody fits, so it’s a big challenge for us.”

3. Locker-room comedian Tarik Cohen is a hard act to follow for a team that could use a lift.

The Bears offense has missed Tarik Cohen’s contributions as a rusher and pass catcher since he tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons.

But his absence has been felt by teammates in other ways.

“Tarik is definitely the guy,” rookie receiver Darnell Mooney said. "You definitely felt it the following week after he was gone. He was our energy. Even on the sideline he would get everybody pumped up, like, ‘C’mon, let’s pump up the defense.’ And just yelling at us, getting the offense together so we can go out and score some points.

“Even in practice he was the energy. He was the guy that got everyone smiling around. He’s definitely a big loss for us.”

Running back Davis Montgomery misses the adviser, on-field partner and locker-room cut-up.

“I talk with Tarik all the time as far as where he is on rehab, where he’s at mentally, making sure he’s good,” Montgomery said. "He’s a high-end, big-energy guy for this team and for this offense especially. So we definitely miss that guy, having him around, being the type of team player he is and also for being that funny cool guy that you need on the team.

“But what you find out is once you have somebody of such a big impact kind of be removed, you find it in other people, too, where you least expect it.”

Montgomery mentioned fellow backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Lamar Miller, but he revealed a more surprising choice: quarterback Nick Foles, who has a “smart” kind of humor.

“The average brainiac wouldn’t understand the funny of Nick, but once you kind of like pay attention to Nick, he’s actually pretty hilarious," Montgomery said.

4. Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson, Cody Whitehair and Cordarrelle Patterson remained out of practice.

Matt Nagy declined to speak at all about injuries Thursday, but the Bears had four key players miss practice for the second straight day.

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack is out with an ankle injury he appeared to suffer against the Rams. Nagy would not answer a question about whether it was a long-term injury. Center Cody Whitehair is sidelined by a calf injury. Wide receiver Allen Robinson remains in concussion protocol. And kick returner/running back Cordarrelle Patterson is out with a quad injury.

Safeties Eddie Jackson (knee) and Sherrick McManis (hamstring) were limited in practice. About the only good news was that tight end Cole Kmet, who was limited Wednesday with a back injury, was back to full participation Thursday.

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