LAKE FOREST – Through two days of the Bears’ veteran minicamp, one thing is as clear as ever.
There is every reason to believe the Bears’ offense could be improved this season, perhaps significantly so, but it’s hard to imagine anyone giving this team a chance to be serious contenders without a return to 2018 form from its defense.
Built around five starters with All-Pro and/or Pro Bowl experience, there’s no question the talent is there. And although the group isn’t young anymore as a whole, it isn’t old yet either.
But it isn’t going to happen without a return to their All-Star form from off or missed seasons by three key starters: Eddie Goldman, Robert Quinn and Eddie Jackson. Plus, they need a successful rookie debut from new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
Coach Matt Nagy talked about Desai and his troops after Tuesday’s first practice.
“We have a veteran defense of some guys that are ready to do some great things,” Nagy said. “But they know that there can be zero complacency.
“It’s easy to say, 2018 when we broke a lot of records and had a great defense and had all these numbers, and 2019 and 2020, we didn’t have quite the numbers, but we did have a good defense.
“But 2021 is going to be about coach Desai and this defense.”
Unfortunately, this minicamp already has raised a few questions about those three key contributors.
Although Nagy dodged questions about Goldman’s absence as best he could, he acknowledge some disappointment.
“He wasn’t out here, and again, for us, we’re out here practicing. And as everybody knows, it’s a mandatory minicamp, and he’s not here,” Nagy said. “But we did have a discussion with him yesterday – obviously, I’m going to keep that between us – but we do expect him to be at training camp rocking and rolling there at training camp.”
Pressed to confirm if Goldman’s absence was excused, Nagy was clear.
“No. This is a mandatory minicamp for us. So I think that just excites us about all the guys that are here,” he said.
What was so surprising about Goldman’s absence is it was less than two weeks ago that Nagy said he spoke with Goldman.
“Eddie Goldman, I was fortunate enough to talk to Eddie,” Nagy said. “I saw Eddie. It was awesome to see him.
“He was here in the facility and looks really good, and he’s the same old Eddie. It was neat to see him. It definitely put a smile on my face.”
Asked whether Goldman’s return for training camp is in doubt, Nagy said, “No, I don’t think it’s in doubt. I really feel confident that he is going to be here.”
Either the team doesn’t know what’s going on with Goldman, or, it seems far more likely, there’s something they’re working fairly hard not to share.
As for Quinn, again it’s way too early to form any conclusions. But as happened fairly often last season, he was present but didn’t participate Tuesday, watching the full practice from the sidelines and at one point offering some pass rush pointers to Trevis Gipson. He was nowhere to be seen Wednesday.
“Robert just has a little lower back [injury] that we’re just trying not to mess with too much,” Nagy said. “We’re probably more conservative on that than anything.”
There is no reason to doubt Nagy, but it’s hard not to be a little disappointed that Quinn’s already nicked.
With Jackson, no new concerns have popped up, but after telling us a bit about what he was doing while missing all of the voluntary on field teamwork to date, he actually expressed slight regret he’d missed it.
“Yeah, just being able to do things more on your own, focus more on your body, mentally, just more individual things,” Jackson said. “Like, I’m honestly happy to be back. I can’t say that I didn’t miss it because I totally did miss it. I’m just happy to be back, honestly.”
Again, it’s June, far too early to panic about any of this, but how are you supposed to ask a player why he’s been so average the last year and a half, after being an All-Pro the year before, and how will practicing less make you better?
One thing this minicamp has exposed is there still is an awful lot left to learn before we have any idea what this defense is actually going to be.
• Hub Arkush is a Shaw Media correspondent.