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5 things we learned from Bears position coaches

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Bears position coaches talked to the media Monday. Here are five things we learned:

(1) Mitchell Trubisky is playing free and happy.

It stands to reason that Trubisky is playing with house money at this point in the season. After winning back the starting quarterback job, he's been able to let loose without the fear of being benched.

Passing game coordinator Dave Ragone has worked with Trubisky since his rookie year, and he's seen a change in the quarterback.

"The first thing that came to my mind was a smile," said Ragone. "The joy with which he's playing, he has been different since he came back into the starting lineup. He has carried himself differently. You can see it in practice, more importantly. And he is playing, and he's having fun."

Ragone praised Trubisky for playing through his mistakes, avoiding compounding errors that have plagued him in years past.

Ragone cited Trubisky's second-quarter interception as an example of the type of play that might have thrown a younger Trubisky into a spiral, which instead became a mere footnote to the game.

"I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you," said Ragone, "and I'm sure he told you yesterday that he'd want that throw back, that decision back. But the great thing about it is, with what Roquan [Smith] was able to do [with his first interception], we were able to kick the field goal. We came into halftime. We had a plan. He executed the second-half openers, just like the rest of the offense."

(2) Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet are helping each other.

Graham caught two touchdowns on Sunday. He now has eight touchdowns on the season, his second-highest season total since leaving the New Orleans Saints in 2014.

"If you look at his tape and just from yesterday," said tight ends coach Clancy Barone, "and play a game of 'guess his age,' like they do at the carnival and you get a little sticker or whatever it is, there is no one on this call who would guess 34, I'm sure of it. I'm sure there would be a lot of 29 and 30 guesses and things like that."

Graham's resurgence continues a career that is likely to end with a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. However, Barone believes that Graham has benefited from the development of rookie tight end Cole Kmet.

"The best thing for Jimmy at this point in his career is Cole Kmet," said Barone, "because Cole can take a lot of the reps off of Jimmy and help him play younger and play faster and not have to go out there and play 65 snaps a game."

Barone also believes that Kmet has blossomed through Graham's mentorship.

"The mental part of the game that only a player can express to another player," said Barone. "'When this happens, be sure to check this and that type of thing.' I promise you, I have learned in my career, I have learned more from players than I ever have from coaches."

(3) Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor have stepped up in Jaylon Johnson's absence.

With Johnson out, the play of Shelley and Vildor, late-round picks in the last two drafts, has kept the Bears defense without a glaring weakness.

"They've done an excellent job," said secondary coach Deshea Townsend. "They get in there competing. They tackle well. They challenge in their pass game. That's all you can ask for. It didn't stop when they came in. Of course, when those guys do get the opportunity to play, the opponent knows where they're at. They held their own, and they played well."

Both players have a similar profile as undersized corners who have to compensate for their size with speed and toughness.

"That's what you look at when you draft guys like that," said Townsend. "You saw that on tape when they played at Kansas State (Shelley) and Georgia Southern (Vildor). You saw the edge they played with."

(4) Bilal Nichols will be fine at any position next year.

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers stressed that he is not thinking about next year at the moment.

However, he did acknowledge that Nichols' flexibility will be key when nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 season, returns. Nichols played defensive end during his first two seasons before moving inside due to Goldman's absence.

"Bilal started every game at nose so far when we have been in our base defense," said Rodgers. "If you look at the snaps that actually happen during the game, he's probably played more end than nose, so his growth has been really good this year. He's done a lot of really good things. He's been really crafty with his hands. His effort is always at a high-end level."

Rodgers believes that Nichols' production and personality have allowed him to step up as a leader this season.

"He's very intuitive," said Rodgers. "He wants to know everything, he wants to know the little things. He's very witty. He can hit a one-liner any time if someone says something in a meeting. He asks good questions. I think with having production, you command a level of respect among the players."

(5) The receiving corps is playing unselfish ball.

Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney are seeing the largest share of targets. However, receivers coach Mike Furrey believes the culture of his unit has kept the rest of the wideouts engaged.

"Allen Robinson was on pace to get to 100 catches," said Furrey, "and over the last four weeks, we've started off every single meeting with the fact that I don't give two craps about any one of your statistics. We care about wins."

Anthony Miller, the team's second-leading receiver in 2019, has seen less action since Mooney emerged at the start of this season. Javon Wims has only been targeted twice since returning from a two-game suspension.

"If it were asked of you to go out there and catch four balls, then that's your job," said Furrey. "If your job is to go out there and run 30 plays, and you're going to get one catch, that's your job. Make the most of it. Now don't try to play outside the box. But just do your job."

Furrey cites the effort that both players have made in taking care of their responsibilities in areas that don't attract the same glory as catching touchdowns.

"I will tell you if you guys go back and watch Anthony Miller yesterday in that game in Jacksonville," said Furrey, "and the effort that he gave in the run game, and the physicality that he gave in the run game, that will answer your question. I think he's responded very well."

See the best 25 photos–as selected by Bears photographers–from Sunday's Week 16 win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

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