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Bears

Arkush: O-line, receivers huge keys to improvement

Nagy says Long, Robinson rehabs are ahead of schedule

Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long watches pregame warmups before the start of preseason game Aug. 31, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long watches pregame warmups before the start of preseason game Aug. 31, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

LAKE FOREST – As the Bears begin phase three of the Matt Nagy era – organized team activities (or OTAs) – excitement is rampant among the players at Halas Hall, and more than a few analysts are projecting dramatic improvement for the team in 2018.

At the second of the team’s OTAs on Wednesday, Danny Trevathan explained why even if Nagy is viewed as an offensive savant, the defense is drinking his Kool Aid, too.

“He’s a cool coach, man,” he said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling, but we know he’s a hard worker, just like we are.

“He’s always putting us in the right position, and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

That Nagy is winning over his minions on both sides of the ball is a great start, but it will take more to make the Bears relevant again.

All of the new offensive schemes and ideas Nagy’s brought with him can only help if he also can oversee a big step forward on the offensive line and at receiver.

As much as Ryan Pace’s two most recent second-round draft choices – center/guard James Daniels and wideout Anthony Miller – can be solid contributors to that effort, the two keys to a big step forward for Mitch Trubisky and the offense are the return to good health and past performances of two of the only three Pro Bowlers on the Bears roster – Kyle Long and Allen Robinson. Jordan Howard is the third.

Long was an all-star his first three seasons in the league before a string of injuries limited him to eight starts in 2016 and nine last season, while Robinson caught 153 balls for 2,283 yards and 20 touchdowns while starting 33 straight games in Jacksonville until tearing his ACL on the third play of the 2017 season.

Nagy said Wednesday he is confident and excited about where his two biggest stars are at right now, saying of Long, “Yeah, at some point we’ll get him out there, you know, for him, he’s been doing really well. He’s been, you know, just honing in on the details of their job on the offensive line, and then as soon as we all agree that he’s ready to go, he’ll be up and going.”

Robinson may be doing even better, Nagy said.

“He’s ahead of the game, he’s looking good,” Nagy said. “We’re feeling really good about his prognosis as far as getting started, and there’s no, we don’t need to rush it.”

Nagy and Pace surprised some folks when they announced the rookie Daniels would begin working at guard instead of center because of their desire to lock Cody Whitehair in at one position.

Nagy said the same is true of Long when reminded of the prior regime’s efforts to make him a right tackle first and then a left guard.

“No one on this team is locked into any position, but I would say he’s about as close as you get; I mean, that’s his spot,” Nagy said. “As I said the other day with Cody at center, we want these guys to feel comfortable in their positions.”

The Bears are mediocre at best at tackle with Charles Leno on the left side and Bobby Massie on the right and no one behind them to push them. The left guard spot is a competition right now between Daniels and journeyman Eric Kush.

A starring role and 14 to 16 starts from Long would seem a must to give that group some teeth, keep Howard near the top of the league’s rushers and give Trubisky the protection he needs to blossom.

As for the importance of Robinson, while Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton are nice new pieces as well, how much better is this year’s group than last year’s without a No. 1 to lead the way?

For the Bears offense to be special, Long and Robinson will have to be on the field.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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