Revamped Bears bringing whole new look to historic rivalry with Packers

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) throws an incomplete pass while being pressured by Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during the third quarter of their game Sunday, November 12, 2017, at Soldier Field.

First in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.

GREEN BAY - A year ago, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace gave his organization a reboot by trading up to select quarterback Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina. The Jay Cutler era had run its course, and Trubisky was the player tabbed to be the Bears’ quarterback of the future.

This year, on Jan. 1, Pace gave his team its second reboot in as many seasons by firing coach John Fox after three seasons, three last-place finishes in the NFC North and just 14 total victories. Fox was out, and Matt Nagy was ushered in at Soldier Field.

Nagy, who turned 40 in April, had been in the NFL since 2008 and worked previously for the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs. He was a coaching intern, a coaches’ assistant and an offensive quality control coach for the Eagles from 2008-13. And from 2013-17 he was a quarterbacks coach and later the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs.

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Nagy hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as his offensive coordinator after Helfrich spent the 2017 season out of football. Helfrich led the Ducks to a 37-16 record in four seasons at the helm, from 2013-16, before he was fired. More importantly, Nagy retained stud defensive coordinator Vic Fangio from Fox’s staff despite interest from several franchises, including the Green Bay Packers.

While the Nagy-Trubisky tandem is certainly light on experience, the Bears now have a coach and quarterback they believe can work together to gradually shift the balance of power in the NFC North. If Trubisky develops as the Bears are hoping, every team in the division will have a franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future after the Minnesota Vikings signed free agent Kirk Cousins during the offseason.

Here are three things to know about the Bears:

Paid their man

Pace opened his checkbook in March and rewarded cornerback Kyle Fuller with a four-year contract extension worth $56 million with $18 million guaranteed — rebuffing the Packers in the process. New general manager Brian Gutekunst signed Fuller to an offer sheet after the Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller for the 2018 season. The Packers were desperate for a No. 1 corner after trading Damarious Randall, and Gutekunst took a chance on Fuller, the former first-round pick from Virginia Tech. In the end, however, the Bears needed but a few hours to match the Packers’ offer sheet and retain one of the core pieces of an above-average defense.

New receiving corps

Former Bears mainstay Alshon Jeffery left during free agency prior to the 2017 season and wound up winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles, leaving behind a trail of woeful receivers in his wake. The trio of Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman threatened nobody, and Pace responded by loading up at the receiver position both during the draft and free agency. Pace used a second-round pick on Anthony Miller of Memphis, a player considered by some to be the best slot receiver in this year’s draft. Miller caught 191 passes for 2,896 yards and 32 touchdowns in the last two seasons combined and earned consensus All-American honors in 2017. Pace also added former Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Allen Robinson (80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs in 2015) and former Atlanta Falcons wideout Taylor Gabriel (35 catches for 579 yards and 6 TDs in 2016) through free agency.

New leader

Just as the Bears identified Trubisky as the leader of their offense moving forward, their first-round pick in this year’s draft is expected to become the face of Fangio’s defense. Pace selected former Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith with the No. 8 overall pick and secured for Fangio one of the best players in college football last season. Smith made 137 tackles in 15 games to earn consensus All-American honors while leading the Bulldogs to the national title game. His total also included 14 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks. Smith is expected to earn the starting inside linebacker job alongside veteran Danny Trevathan in Fangio’s 3-4 defense.

Packers schedule glimpse

Sept. 9 vs. Bears, 7:25 p.m., NBC.

Week before: Final exhibition game at Kansas City, Aug. 30.

Week after: vs. Minnesota, Sept. 16.

On the horizon: at Washington, Step. 23.

Chicago Bears

Coach: Matt Nagy (0-0 overall, first season with Bears).

2017 record: 5-11, fourth in NFC North.

Scoring offense: 16.5 points per game (29th in NFL).

Total offense: 287.4 yards per game (30th).

Scoring defense: 20 points per game (ninth).

Total defense: 319.1 yards per game (10th).

Series: Packers lead, 95-93-6.

Last meeting: The Packers traveled to Soldier Field and earned their first win of the season without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had suffered a broken collarbone the month prior. Backup Brett Hundley played fairly well by completing 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown. He orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter that ended with a 19-yard touchdown to wide receiver Davante Adams, which put the Packers in front by double digits. They held on for a 23-16 victory.

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