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What Robert Mathis' Success Tells Bears About Robert Quinn

Former Colts great made flawless conversion under Chuck Pagano to 3-4 linebacker and now Quinn will try to do the same thing at almost the same age

Robert Mathis had been around sacking quarterbacks for the Indianapolis Colts in their 4-3 defense when they won the Super Bowl in 2006 over the Bears, and even before this for three seasons.

So when Chuck Pagano went from being defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 to being head coach of the Colts in 2012 and Mathis was unsigned, there was a problem.

Mathis was always a defensive end in the 4-3 and not a 3-4 linebacker.

Now Pagano is facing something similar with pass rusher Robert Quinn and wouldn't mind the same results.

"There'll be some adjustment for him," Pagano said of Quinn. "I remember going to Indy in 2012 and calling Robert Mathis in and having a discussion about playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 and all the things that come with that job title. He wasn't under contract at the time and it took, it took a long time, a lot of film, a lot of dialogue to get him to say 'OK, I'm in, I can handle that job description.'

"So there's definitely some hurdles to get over but we'll do the right thing for Robert, we'll do the right thing in the entire defense to put them all in the best possible position to be successful."

Will it work?

Mathis recorded eight sacks in his first season under Pagano, which seems like a blip on the radar considering he had 123 for his career. The Bears couldn't complain about such production considering they had four sacks and three sacks from Leonard Floyd the last two seasons.

Quinn is still younger than Mathis was then by a year, and when Mathis got into his second season in Pagano's defense the result was a bit better. He made a league-high 19 1/2 sacks and 10 forced fumbles at age 32.

It didn't work quite so well with another Colts player. Dwight Freeney was with the Colts longer than Mathis and always played right defensive end. He made five sacks that season and then left for San Diego.

The difference is Freeney was another year older than Mathis and a much different athlete. He was bulkier at 268 pounds, more a 4-3 defensive end's size.

Quinn is taller than both of those former Colts, leaner at 257 pounds than Freeney.

Besides, it's not as great of a conversion when you've actually played the position already and Quinn did play linebacker one year with the Rams in 2017.

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It's not totally unlike when the Bears brought in Mack in 2018 and put him at left outside linebacker. He does move from side to side but usually is on the defense's left side.

Mack had been a linebacker in a 4-3 defense as a rookie. Then he became a defensive end in a 4-3 and finally a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Bears.

No one is complaining how that one came out.

Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino sees the athletic ability in Quinn to lead to the kind of success Pagano said he had with Mathis.

"Well Robert, since he was a high school player, I've known he was a special guy," Monachino said. "It's hard to find the combination of length and speed and bend and all of those things that Rob brings to the table.

"I will tell you, those things, based on certain styles and certain protections, those things can be ultra-productive, those things that he brings to the table. I do think that there's still some room for us to add some things into his toolbox that he's going to be able to use as change-ups that I think can help him. But there are an awful lot of reasons to be really excited about Robert."

Robert Quinn at a Glance

North Carolina OLB

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 257

Key Stat: Quinn has forced two fumbles or more in each of the last seven seasons.

2020 Projection: 10 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 20 quarterback hits.

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