Nagy confident with Daniel directing Bears offense
Bears coach Matt Nagy made sure to point out that his offensive game plan didn't change on Thanksgiving Day, even though Mitch Trubisky was replaced by backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who was making his first start in nearly four years.
And Daniel proved capable of running the offense more than efficiently, posting a 106.8 passer rating with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions, in a mostly seamless transition. It appears highly likely Daniel will start again this week, even though on Friday Trubisky was cleared to throw for the first time since the injury occurred on Nov. 18. But he was still limited.
"We were able to see that and see where he's at, and it's an arrow up, which is always good," Nagy said after watching Trubisky throw to receivers in individual drills but not in team (11-on-11) sessions. "There was a (pitch) count to it. I wouldn't go crazy and say it was a whole bunch. But it was enough to communicate with him. We have a plan with this, and it's day-to-day, but there's also a process to it that we feel we need to go about. So giving him an opportunity to throw (Friday) and see where he's at and how he feels and all that, was we thought the right thing to do."
Nagy's play-calling with Daniel at quarterback is expected to again be pretty much the same as it would be with Trubisky at the controls.
But, although Nagy's game plan might be the same for both quarterbacks, the way he interacts with them is very different. Daniel is eight years older than the 24-year-old Trubisky, but the nine-year veteran has started just three games. Trubisky had started 22 straight games before last week.
"Chase has had a lot of experience going through the process (and) has the experience of being in this offense, but he doesn't have the amount of experience on the field that Mitch has," said Nagy, who was Daniel's position coach for three years (2013-15) when both were with the Chiefs. "It goes back to my relationship and the time that I spent with Chase as a position coach, of us working together, more bouncing things off each other, whereas with Mitch, right now, it's more so me telling him, right?"
Nagy said that as a quarterbacks coach, there's a greater opportunity for day-to-day, one-on-one communication, something that isn't possible with the added responsibilities of a head coach. He and the members of his staff have referred to Daniel as an additional assistant coach because of his experience in the system, which Trubisky has done an excellent job of grasping but is still learning.
"As the days, week, months, years go by, (Trubisky) starts bouncing things back to me and saying, 'Hey I want to do this,' Nagy said. "He's not quite there yet, which he shouldn't be, but with time (he will be). With Chase, he's seeing different stuff on tape, or he's seeing different things (in the game). He's been around now as a backup with some pretty good quarterbacks (Alex Smith and Drew Brees), so all that knowledge is great."
While Trubisky continues to absorb information and transfer it to the playing field, Daniel can be more interactive through the game-planning stage because he knows it thoroughly in theory if not necessarily in practice. While both quarterbacks know why a particular play succeeded or failed, Daniel may have the ability to process that information quicker.
"He knows why things did, and why things did not happen faster than probably anybody else out there," Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "That's something he's done a tremendous job with in the quarterback meetings of being another assistant in there and helping Mitchell this whole time, constantly. He's done a fantastic job of that. I think that' sped Mitch's development as much as anything. Just that experience of knowing why things do work and why they don't."
It's a combination that seems to be working.
Starting defensive end Akiem Hicks (Achilles) and top defensive backup Bilal Nichols (knee) are both listed as questionable, for Sunday, which is a concern considering that Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley is arguably the most dangerous rushing threat the Bears have faced this season.
But both linemen are expected to play, since Hicks was a full participant in Friday's practice and Nichols was a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday before getting Friday's indoor practice off as a precautionary measure for a lingering knee issue.
"For (Hicks) to practice (Friday) was good," Nagy said. "So I feel confident there with him."
Hicks has dealt with some nagging injuries inn the past but has never missed a start in three years with the Bears. Cornerback Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and running back Benny Cunningham (ankle), two of the team's best special teams players, are doubtful after not practicing Friday.
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.