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Emma’s Tailgater: Chase Claypool faces pressure to prove himself for Bears

10 months agoChris Emma

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Tyke Tolbert has coached some of the game’s great wide receivers during his career as an NFL assistant. He helped Anquan Boldin ascend as a rookie with the Cardinals, guided Demaryius Thomas to perennial Pro Bowl form and pushed Odell Beckham Jr. to stardom. 

Tolbert understands that each one has to be handled differently. As the Bears hope to reveal the best out of Chase Claypool, they must find the right way to reach him first. Tolbert recognizes that task he faces. 

“Everybody has a button to be pushed a different way,” said Tolbert, the Bears wide receivers coach.

In the days since an abysmal season-opening performance from Claypool, one in which he had zero receptions and several key missed blocks, Tolbert took notice of how he has responded. 

Claypool met with Tolbert early in the week and the two found a common ground on goals for this week. He has hustled around the practice field and put in the work to perform. 

When Matt Eberflus put Claypool on notice by leaving open the possibility he would be a healthy scratch, the Bears may have found a button to push. Now, they’re wondering to see if there’s a response on Sunday in an intriguing second game against the Buccaneers (Noon CT) from Raymond James Stadium. 

The Bears (0-1) suffered an embarrassing 38-20 opening loss to the Packers last Sunday at Soldier Field, opening this new season with the same familiarly poor performance. The Buccaneers (1-0) looked to be an upstart team in a surprising win 20-17 win over the Vikings last Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. 

As the Bears work to pick up the pieces from their loss to the Packers, there has been plenty of blame to share. Perhaps no player faced scrutiny quite like the 25-year-old Claypool, whom the Bears acquired last November in a deal that sent a second-round pick to the Steelers. That selection became No. 32 overall for Pittsburgh, which typically doesn’t dispatch talented players without reason. 

The Steelers didn’t sign All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to the long-term extension he coveted, allowing him to sit out the entire 2018 campaign and ultimately sign with the Jets. He was never the same player after leaving Pittsburgh. A year later, All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown was traded by the Steelers to the Raiders. He played 16 games over three years following that deal, with his career derailed by legal troubles and constant controversy. 

Claypool is in a vastly different situation from that of Bell and Brown – a player who is still in the prime of his career and should be highly motivated to earn his future in the NFL. That didn’t seem to be the case in the season opener. 

After announcing his intentions to prove himself this season – “It’s the biggest year of my life, and I understand that,” he said in late July – Claypool seemed checked out emotionally in the very first game. 

“At the end of the day, all players, especially NFL wide receivers, they want to help the team win,” Tolbert said. “If they feel like they’re not helping the team win, they all get frustrated. He felt like this past game, that he wasn’t helping the team win enough, so he was frustrated with everything. 

“He’s come in early. He’s been the first receiver in the meeting rooms all week long. He (has hustled the most of any) receiver on the practice field the past two days. Hopefully that continues (in practice) and hopefully goes into the game with that same attitude.” 

Claypool has not made himself available for comment to reporters during the week. He was a strong performer during the course of training camp before suffering a hamstring injury on Aug. 9 that cost him the rest of the preseason. 

As a rookie with the Steelers in 2020, Claypool had 62 receptions for 873 yards and 9 touchdowns. He appeared to be a rising star at wide receiver. He hauled in just 3 TD receptions in the following two seasons and struggled to gain the trust of head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. The Bears made the trade for Claypool believing he could be a key target for quarterback Justin Fields. Through eight games in Chicago, Claypool has just 14 receptions for 140 yards and no touchdowns. 

Claypool is playing out the final season of his rookie contract. The Bears acquired him with the intentions of signing him to a long-term deal, though general manager Ryan Poles wanted to see that be earned. Instead, Claypool has let down Chicago and the significant investment made in his potential. 

One game into this new season, Claypool looks like a player whose future warrants uncertainty. He could either go out and secure a lucrative contract extension in Chicago or enter free agency next offseason hoping to latch on for another second chance. The Bears are eager to see how he responds. 

“I always tell them, ‘Try to be the best player on the field with or without the ball,’” Tolbert said. “I don’t think we accomplished that this past week. 

“His button is different from everybody else. It’s my job to find that button. I think I found it.” 

Fields, Getsy ready to bounce back 

The boos at Soldier Field clear towards the end of a disheartening opening loss to the Packers. The outrage was even louder across Chicago, a city that had such renewed hope for this season. 

The Bears produced a poor performance against the rival Packers and their offense appeared to be in disarray.  

“I know that it’s there, for sure,” Getsy said on Thursday in acknowledging the pressure of his job. “I mean, I’m in a huge market here, and we have an exciting young quarterback that everybody is excited to see how well he can do. For sure, I know it’s out there. 

“You’re making sure that you’re doing everything possible to give those guys a chance to have success. That’s all you’re really focused on, and that takes up enough of your time that I don’t really have a chance to listen to all that or read all that.” 

Quarterback Justin Fields finished his first game of this pivotal third season in his career going 24-of-37 for 216 yards, 1 touchdown and a pick-six, an underwhelming outing that reflects on the entire offense. Fields targeted top wide receiver DJ Moore just twice, logging a pair of connections for 25 yards. Claypool did not have a catch. Roschon Johnson, the rookie running back, was the leading receiver with 6 receptions. 

There was a clear disconnect in the trust between Getsy and Fields, a concerning lack of faith from Fields in himself, and more poor protection from the offensive line that limited opportunities. 

For his part, Fields believes he can be more assertive with opportunities in the passing game. 

“I felt like I was a little bit too conservative at times during the game,” Fields said. “Definitely with guys like DJ and Chase on the outside, if we do have one-on-one on the outside, potentially throwing it up and seeing what happens. With them, they’re great playmakers and they can most likely come up with a 50-50 ball. Definitely want to give them more chances deep down the field.” 

Fields elected to pass off to the checkdown option on 17 of his 37 passes on Sunday. He attempted just four passes beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage – which included a 20-yard touchdown connection to Darnell Mooney and also a pick-six to Packers linebacker Quay Walker. 

Getsy, Fields and the Bears hope to produce a stronger offensive performance on Sunday against the Buccaneers. That’s what they need to silence the noise. 

“I think our execution was obviously a little bit more reflective of Game 1 than we would want it to be,” Getsy said. “Felt like we left a lot out there. Obviously, when you don’t win, things will get criticized more but we always look at it under the microscope and make sure that we’re coaching every single person to the best of our abilities and getting the details right. Our details were not good enough and that is kind of the underlying fact that showed up. 

“We look for advantageous looks. I know it sounds like screens have been a conversation, but a poor motion landmark, and a couple of poor blocks — if you watch the film and actually watch the film, we have everybody accounted for and there’s nobody else out there. If we can just capture that edge, those are 15-, 25-yard gains and you guys are patting me on my back. And I get it. That’s part of it. My point of it is, we’re going to make decisions about what we feel is advantageous to our guys having opportunities. Now, we have to do better. We have to coach it better. We have to make sure that guys execute it better. That’s where we have to get better at it for sure.” 

Reaction to Rodgers’ injury 

Eddie Jackson has been in that same place as Aaron Rodgers was Monday night, down on the turf at MetLife Stadium and unable to get back in the huddle. 

A four-time MVP over 18 years with the Packers, Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles just four plays into his anticipated debut with the Jets. His right cleat was caught in the turf as he was taken down and his Achilles ruptured. Rodgers will miss the remainder of the season and it’s uncertain whether he will return next season after this lengthy recovery ahead. 

Last November in a game against the Jets, it was Jackson crumbling down on a non-contact injury as he made a cut at MetLife Stadium. He suffered a Lisfranc injury and faced a challenging recovery before returning to the Bears this season. 

“I felt sick for him,” Jackson said of Rodgers. “I know it’s a longtime rivalry but you still don’t want to see players go down, especially somebody like Aaron Rodgers. I was kind of excited to see how he was going to do in New York. To see him go down on the same field I went down on with a serious injury, a season-ending injury, it just brought memories back. You get frustrated with it. I know a lot of players that went down on that field. The NFLPA has been talking about making changes with the fields and playing surfaces. It was just tough.” 

This offseason, MetLife Stadium changed its playing surface from a controversial slit-film turf surface – which has drawn criticism for its safety concerns – to an improved synthetic playing surface. However, the players’ union this week has reiterated its hope for every NFL field to be of natural grass. 

“Grass is better,” said Bears long snapper Patrick Scales, a players’ union rep. “We’ve been fighting for that for a long time. So, we want the teams to change it. (MetLife Stadium) is an outdoor stadium, so we wish they would go grass, and we’re pushing for that. It’s better for our bodies. We recover better. It’s all-around better. 

“It hurts the game. I mean, people pay to see these great players play. When they get hurt, it hurts the game and hurts competition all over. We don’t want that.” 

As Getsy returned home from a late Monday night meeting with the Bears coaching staff, he checked his phone to see several text messages. That’s how he found out Rodgers’ first season with the Jets was done after just four plays. 

Getsy, who is close with Rodgers, reached out with a text message. 

“That’s the unfortunate part of our game,” Getsy said. “Just sent the message saying, ‘Man, you’ll come back better than ever.’” 

‘All about actions’ 

Veteran pass rusher DeMarcus Walker knows how to turn a phrase just like he understands how to get to the quarterback for a sack. But after a loss so ugly as this last one, Walker understands there’s nothing the Bears can say to make this right. 

“You can’t talk,” Walker said. “It’s all about actions. I’m not going to tell you anything, I’m going to show you.” 

The Bears must improve in all three phases of their games as they take on the Buccaneers, putting a poor performance behind them and revealing the type of team they believe is there. 

For Walker’s side of the football on defense, the Bears must play within the scheme of their defense and limit big plays from Mayfield and the Buccaneers. The Packers posted four plays of 30 yards or more and nine plays that went for 10 yards or more. 

The Bears returned to Halas Hall less than 24 hours later on Monday and held a film review that revealed all that must be corrected.  

The mood of the Bears remained down in the days that followed. 

“It kind of took a couple days,” Mooney said. “You could see it yesterday, it was a little down still. But everybody is kind of over it, moving on, and understands to move on to Sunday.” 

Quote to note 

“It’s a long season, and we’re going to get better, and we’re going to focus on ourselves, and we’re going to improve.” 

—Coach Matt Eberflus 

Injury report 

CB Kyler Gordon (hand) — The Bears placed Gordon on injured reserve Thursday, meaning he will miss a minimum four games before being eligible to return. 

CB Josh Blackwell (hamstring) — Blackwell would be the likely next man up for the Bears at the nickel cornerback position, but his status for Sunday is in doubt after an injury this week. 

LB Dylan Cole (hamstring) — The Bears released Cole prior to their season opener but signed him back this week. Once healthy, he is expected to be a key special-teams contributor. 

Emma’s Prediction (0-1): Buccaneers 24, Bears 20 

The Bears have talked about their hopes to bounce back from their ugly season-opening loss, but I don’t see it happening on Sunday in Tampa. This team could be 0-2 heading into a matchup with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. 

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