With the Bears continuing to prepare for Thursday night’s season opener against the Packers, general manager Ryan Pace spoke to the media Monday at Halas Hall. Here are three things we learned from that session:
(1) Pace is pleased with the process that resulted in the Bears anointing Eddy Pineiro with their kicker and sees Pineiro’s arrow pointing up.
Finding a new kicker was a primary offseason objective for the Bears. They hired a kicking consultant in Jamie Kohl and evaluated eight kickers at their rookie minicamp in May. A couple days later, they acquired Pineiro from the Raiders in exchange for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.
The Bears brought Pineiro and Elliott Fry to training camp and eventually waived Fry, giving Pineiro an opportunity to win the job. He did just that by making 8-of-9 field-goal attempts, including a 58-yarder, in the preseason.
“The whole process that we went through, that was really the plan all along,” Pace said. “The hope all along and the optimism all along was to hit on a young kicker that we can grow and develop and we feel like we’ve done that. We’re very confident in him … and we think it worked out just right.”
Pace knows that the Bears will have to balance high expectations and a sense of urgency with patience.
“I think if you look at a lot of good kickers around the league, you’ll see ebbs and flows, especially sometimes earlier in their career,” Pace said. “Not that that’s our expectation. We also understand sometimes you have to have patience with this position. He’s got the right demeanor, the right leg talent. The team has really embraced him and we’re happy with the way that whole process played out.”
The Bears were especially pleased with the resiliency that Pineiro showed in last Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Titans. After missing an extra-point attempt by a wide margin, he followed by making all three of his field-goal tries from 32, 39 and 35 yards.
“Again, a young kicker that’s talented with the right mindset,” Pace said, “we’re just excited with the trajectory that he’s on.”
(2) Pace revealed that tight end Trey Burton could be a game-time decision for the season opener with a mild groin strain he sustained last week in practice.
“It could go that way,” Pace said. “It’s going to just be day-by-day. We’re going to evaluate that. It’s that type of injury right now that in our minds, it’s minor enough it’s going to be day-by-day and let’s see where he’s at.”
Burton was limited in practice Monday. Pace said that the injury is a new one and not related to the groin issue that kept Burton from playing in last season’s wild-card playoff game against the Eagles and required offseason sports hernia surgery. Asked how he was certain the two injuries are unrelated, Pace said: “Just from our docs and our trainers, and when you examine it, where it is.”
After sitting out the offseason program while recovering from surgery, Burton returned to practice at the start of training camp. But he was held out of several workouts for precautionary reasons.
“It was more just being mindful, just being smart as he came off the sports hernia surgery,” Pace said. “You’re not doing a lot of football activities over the summer. So to rush him out there in training camp and say, ‘Hey, go full speed in practice,’ that’s just not the smart thing to do.
“This mild groin popped up some time last week and it was, ‘OK, let’s just assess where we’re at on that.’ Hopefully it’s minor and it’s day-by-day.”
Burton, who played in all 16 regular-season games in 2018 in his first year with the Bears, has spoken publicly about dealing with anxiety in the past. But the Bears insist that this issue involves his groin and nothing else.
“There’s no concern,” Pace said. “I think if anything, he’s frustrated, he wants to be out there with his teammates. He knows how important this game is and the start of the season. So no concern on that end.”
(3) With Mitchell Trubisky entering his second season in the same offense under coach Matt Nagy, Pace sees a much more comfortable and confident quarterback.
“You can feel him operating faster,” Pace said, “and I think that comes with knowledge and comfort in the offense, with the scheme and then also the players that he’s playing with.”
The second overall pick in the 2017 draft, Trubisky was named to the Pro Bowl last season after completing 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards with 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 95.4 passer rating in helping the Bears win the NFC North championship with a 12-4 record.
Trubisky didn’t throw a pass in the preseason, handing off on his only three snaps in the opener against the Panthers. But he has continued to hone his game in practice, focusing on his eyes, footwork, fundamentals and reads, while also making sure that he’s throwing the ball where it’s supposed to go on a given play based in part on what he sees from the defense.
At the start of training camp, Pace stated that he wanted to see “steady incremental improvement” from Trubisky. Five weeks later, the Bears general manager is pleased with how the young quarterback has performed in practice.
“It’s been good,” Pace said. “We’re very happy with where he’s at right now and the trajectory that he’s on. Again, just his confidence, his knowledge in the offense, his ability to operate fast, see the field, process things, the command he has with the entire offense with his teammates, you can just feel that, which is natural and what you expect.”