LAKE FOREST – Pop quiz, football fans: First, read the following quote from Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey. Then, try to interpret its meaning.
“Normally, I do it before practice. I try to catch about three buckets of ’em.”
Frey is discussing:
A. Fishing for catfish, but not the Manti Te’o variety
B. Hunting for stuffed animals on the claw machine
C. Catching footballs on the JUGS machine
If you guessed that Frey’s daily routine involves 50 cents and a claw machine, congratulations. Not because you’re right, but because you took a risk.
The correct answer is “C.”
By Frey’s estimation, three buckets of ’em would equal roughly 75 footballs.
“You know the crazy thing about it?” Frey said after Wednesday’s indoor practice. “The one I normally drop is always the first one. Then I catch the rest of them.”
You know what they say: Seventy-four out of 75 ain’t bad.
Perhaps you remember Frey, the Bears’ sixth-round draft pick from 2012. He spent all of last season on the practice squad, but emerged this summer as the darling of training camp in Bourbonnais, making play after play as if his legal name were Prime Time.
Incumbent nickelback Kelvin Hayden tore his hamstring, allowing Frey to seize the job.
Here we are, more than 3 months later, with Frey still searching for his first big play.
It’s not that Frey has played poorly or squandered opportunities, because he hasn’t. Yes, the Bears have had their problems on defense, but safety and the defensive line are most to blame.
It’s just that Frey has yet to make a big play, which is strange, considering that the nickelback position has covered some of the most valuable real estate in the Bears’ defense for the previous few seasons.
D.J. Moore and his swirly haircut racked up 10 interceptions in a 3-year span from 2010 to 2012. After he was relegated to Lovie Smith’s doghouse late last season, Hayden stepped in with an interception and four fumble recoveries.
This season has proved to be a different story.
In nine games, Frey has zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recoveries.
Give the 23-year-old Nevada alum credit. A player with less perspective than Frey might not have responded well to the subject matter.
“Hey, champ, you got a minute? Let’s talk about what you haven’t done this season!”
Instead, Frey remained upbeat and polite as he discussed the importance of playing with consistency in the Bears’ assignment-based defense.
“I’ve just got to keep doing my job,” Frey said. “It’ll come. I can’t force it. I don’t want to go out of my way to make something happen and not do my assignment.”
Naturally, teammates see the same statistic (zero takeaways) as everyone else.
Their message to Frey: Hang in there. Eventually, the ball will find you.
“They tell me Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Frey said. “They tell me, if I keep doing my job, it will come. Just keep doing well and helping the defense with what you’re doing, and the turnovers will come.”
Buckets of ’em.