Bears

Cam I am? Why the Bears see Dontrelle Inman as an ideal fit for their second-half offense

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USA Today

Cam I am? Why the Bears see Dontrelle Inman as an ideal fit for their second-half offense

The Bears probably aren't expecting Dontrelle Inman to produce to the level Cameron Meredith did last year, but there are plenty of similarities between the two wide receivers that are worth noting. 

Inman is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds; Meredith is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Both players had breakout seasons in 2016: Inman with 58 catches for 810 yards and four touchdowns, Meredith with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Beyond the measurables, Bearswide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said Inman and Meredith are comparable in terms of their length and catch radius, which he said “we were missing, quite frankly.”

“Especially in traffic, he’ll go up and make a play,” Azzanni said. “We were missing that length when Cam and Kevin (White) went out, that length got dropped down. And catch radius for a quarterback is a big deal out there. So it’ll be nice to have a guy with some length out there.”

That’s an interesting point from Azzanni about length: Tanner Gentry (before the move to acquire Inman) was the biggest and tallest receiver on the Bears at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, but has struggled to get open and has only been targeted three times since Mitchell Trubisky took over as the team’s starting quarterback. Tre McBride and Josh Bellamy are 6-foot, Markus Wheaton is 5-foot-11 and Kendall Wright is 5-foot-10. 

Just being tall and rangy doesn't make someone a good receiver, of course. Azzanni, too, has been impressed by how quickly Inman has picked up the terminology of the Bears’ offense. 

“He’s a smart kid, he’s a pro, he went out there the last two days and I think he lined up wrong one time and it was just a brain fart,” Azzanni said. “That’s pretty darn good for just getting here. So I’m excited to see what he can do.”

The Bears will need Inman and Trubisky to develop a chemistry quickly — one day of practice wasn’t enough for that to happen last week before heading to New Orleans, where Inman was inactive on Sunday. Inman said he quickly learned how quick Trubisky’s passes get to receivers — “I was like, okay, he spins it, so I gotta get my head around,” he said — but the pair has put in extra reps during and after these two off week practices to help foster that connection. 

“He’s got a big frame and he runs really good routes so he’s a guy to throw to,” Trubisky said. “He’s very ball savvy, so just continue to rep that chemistry along with the other guys and we’re going to continue to get better.”

Inman wasn’t a factor in the Los Angeles’ Chargers’ offense in 2017, with Keenan Allen — who Inman replaced in the lineup last year after a torn ACL — Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin getting most of the receiver snaps. He only was targeted four times in four games, and hasn’t been active since Oct. 8. 

So assuming Inman is active for the Bears’ Nov. 12 date with the Green Bay Packers, it’ll have been a month between games for him. But for the short-term, Inman’s goal is to keep studying the Bears’ offense during these four off days before reporting back to Halas Hall on Sunday. 

Also on Inman’s to-do list: Trying to settle in Chicago. He’s barely had a chance to catch his breath since being traded here a week ago, after all. 

“I don’t have a jacket,” Inman said. “So I have to go back and get all my stuff, pack up my old place. And study still, but at the same time prepare for the move now.” 

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who deserves the most blame for Bears losses?

Mark Potash (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Kevin Fishbain (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel. It’s another losing season for the Bears. So who deserves the most blame: Ryan Pace, John Fox or the players? Plus Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about the Bulls future and if the Celtics will win the East.