Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

The most obvious change the Bears could make after a 1-3 September was playing Mitchell Trubisky instead of Mike Glennon, but that wasn’t the only performance-based swap available to this coaching staff. Tre McBride played 43 snaps on Monday against the Minnesota Vikings, while Josh Bellamy played only seven offensive snaps after averaging 36.75 in the Bears’ first four games. 

And on Tuesday, Deonte Thompson was released and Tanner Gentry was promoted from the practice squad. With Markus Wheaton (groin) out for at least Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Gentry should be in line for a bigger opportunity than he had in Week 2, when he received largely garbage time snaps in that blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“Coach Fox always says this: He says, ’If it’s not broke, don’t mess with it.’ If it’s not going the right way, let’s try something else,’” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We’re not ecstatic where we’re at right now in the passing game. I know it’s getting better and better each week. It’ll continue to get better as we built some continuity with Mitch and some of these new receivers.” 

The Bears’ receivers need to better help Trubisky, and Gentry and McBride likely can’t be much worse than the rest of a group that’s combined for 45 receptions on 75 targets for 494 yards and two touchdowns (of that total, Kendall Wright has 18 receptions, 23 targets, 200 yards and one touchdown). 

While Gentry and Trubisky showed a strong rapport during training camp, it’d be unfair to expect the undrafted rookie from Wyoming to go from being waived twice (and not picked up by another team) to being a go-to target for the rookie quarterback. Gentry's ball skills and instincts, though, are good assets for Trubisky to have at his disposal. 

“I guess my mindset every day is just give them a reason to keep me around,” Gentry said. “Make a play, whether that’s a block, special teams, a big catch — whatever that is, do something positive so that when they see the film they can see that and basically give them a reason to yeah, keep me around, and that’s it.” 

McBride flashed a bit on Monday night, with an 18-yard reception and what would’ve been a big-time 26-yard catch had Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty not called it back. Prior to the Vikings game, McBride played all of two snaps against the Buccaneers, which were his only offensive snaps since the end of the 2015 season. 

“This game has its obstacles, but that’s what they pay us for,” McBride said. “They pay us to come in and adapt and to make plays happen when they call our name, no questions asked. So that’s what I’m trying to do and that’s what we’re all trying to do.” 

Ideally, the Bears would’ve been able to play Gentry and/or McBride because they forced their way into the mix through continued competition from training camp into the regular season. But injuries to Cameron Meredith, Kevin White and now Wheaton (who only had one catch on nine targets) forced the Bears to get creative with their receiving corps. 

Perhaps the Bears unearth a hidden gem in Gentry and/or McBride. Perhaps they don’t. But it’s certainly worth giving them both a shot at this point in the season. 

Bears match 'best available' with 'need' in Roquan Smith pick at No. 8

Bears match 'best available' with 'need' in Roquan Smith pick at No. 8

A small nagging thought as the first round made its way toward the Bears early Thursday night was that the top guys in general manager Ryan Pace’s supposed eight-player cloud of candidates might not be going necessarily or precisely the way Halas Hall would’ve liked, though be assured that within the Bears’ myriad draft scenarios was this one. But all’s well that ends well and Day 1 of the 2018 draft seemed to be wind up that way for the Bears. Teams always get exactly the guy they targeted all along (that’s a joke there), but the Bears in fact did get the consensus highest-rated player available for one of their foundational needs going into the Matt Nagy era.

And maybe this was just meant to be: Before the draft began, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio triumphantly showed the press corps the golf ball with which he’d scored his third lifetime hole-in-one earlier in the day, declaring that he was “hot” and this could be a day for defense.

It appeared to be, with Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith becoming the newest Bear and the highest Bears linebacker pick (No. 8) since Waymond Bryant was picked No. 4 out of Tennessee State in 1974. Only two defensive players were off the board through seven picks before the Bears were up.

“(Trade interest) wasn’t super strong, really,” Pace said. “As soon as Roquan was there, as soon as we knew it was gonna unfold that way, the whole room was elated. That’s a great moment in the draft room when everybody feels that way.”

Did the Bears land a nugget at No. 8? Consensus says yes. draft analyst Mike Mayock, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, and USA Today Sports all ranked Smith as the No. 4 player in their rankings regardless of position. And the Bears got him at No. 8.

Pace having a deep cluster of options was a good idea. Cleveland snatched up cornerback Denzel Ward, coveted by a core inside the Bears’ draft room, at No. 4, Then Denver at No. 5 took the presumed best pass rusher in this draft, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, after which Indianapolis chose Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson — all three having been numbered among the Bears’ elite eight, along with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who went No. 2 to the Giants.

If Pace indeed had the cloud of eight as he said, then those four were gone by the time the Bears were up. Pace suddenly couldn’t afford to trade any further back than three slots and still be sure of getting one of his eight, and possibly the lowest-ranked of his eight. Teams coming off four straight last-place finishes don’t improve by settling for leftovers.

“You could feel some things going on with the quarterbacks in play,” Pace said. “We felt pretty strong if we stayed pat at No. 8 that we were going to get a good player. It kind of went off how we expected, and we were thrilled when Roquan was there, and we’re very happy.”

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Fitting a Pace template for No. 1s

Smith fits certain characteristics in top Ryan Pace draft picks, and is a slight departure from some others.

Pace drafts athletes. Smith is the latest in a line of Bears/Pace No. 1s marked by speed, clocked at 4.51 seconds in his Combine 40-yard dash, fourth-fastest time of all linebackers there. Kevin White was fourth-fastest wideout in 2015; Leonard Floyd’s 4.6 was fifth among 2016’s linebackers. And the Bears are letting out the offensive shaft because of the mobility of Mitch Trubisky, whose 40 time (4.67 seconds) was just .01 seconds off the pace of Deshaun Watson.

The Bears prioritize grades over need as a draft determinant. But Smith staffs another position that, like wide receiver in 2015 (White), edge rusher in 2016 (Floyd) and quarterback in 2017 (Trubisky), ranked as one of the two highest needs of the Bears in that draft.

Where Smith differs from his three Pace antecedents is that he is arguably the most “finished” product drafted No. 1 by the Bears general manager. White had two seasons as a starter at West Virginia and Trubisky one at North Carolina; both were clearly picks acknowledged as being a touch undeveloped but having huge upsides. Floyd had three productive seasons at Georgia but was drafted with the plan of up-sizing him, which the Bears have done with dietary changes.

Floyd was a Game 1 starter as a rookie; White might have been but for the first of his season-ending injuries. Smith projects to be a Day 1 starting inside linebacker as is. And if that plays out as expected, he’ll be in the same huddle with former Georgia teammate Floyd.

“It’s going to be insane,” Smith said via conference call. “Leonard Floyd, I looked up to the guy a lot. Coming from Georgia, he was an older guy. He was a redshirt junior when I was a freshman. So it was definitely big looking up to him. I’m a young guy, big-eyed freshman, like this guy is pretty special to see him go ninth overall to the Chicago Bears, so I’m beyond excited right now.”

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Familiar faces coming

Look for Bears personnel guys to hold onto their evaluation notes and hand ‘em over to the coaching staff after this weekend. Because the coaches now have to deal with a hefty chunk of the top-12 draft choices from 2018. The Bears’ schedule includes:

— Giants, running back Saquon Barkley, No. 2

— Jets, quarterback Sam Darnold, No. 3

— Broncos, defensive end Bradley Chubb, No. 5

— Bills, quarterback Josh Allen, No. 7

— 49ers, offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, No. 9

— Dolphins, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, No. 11

— Buccaneers, defensive tackle Vita Vea, No. 12

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A second No. 1 pick? Not quite

The draft didn’t see the sometimes-forecast tsunami of quarterbacks going in the first four pick picks, but four did go in the top 10 picks, five in the first round, and all but the Browns at No. 1 traded up for their guys — just like the Bears (Trubisky), Chiefs (Pat Mahomes) and Texans (Watson) all did last year.

The Bears weren’t going to trade up for a quarterback, but they did poke around possibilities for jumping up from No. 7 in the second round into the late first round.

“I think we’re always exploring those things” Pace said. “Yeah, we were exploring some options to come back in (Round 1). We’re always going to be aggressive if there’s players we like. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

NFL personnel compare Roquan Smith to Lance Briggs with speed

NFL personnel compare Roquan Smith to Lance Briggs with speed

Is Roquan Smith going to be the next great Chicago Bears linebacker?

Okay, draft night is probably too early to place such a hefty label on the No. 8 overall pick. Still, Smith will join a franchise with a rich history at the linebacker position.

From Dick Butkus to Mike Singletary to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs more recently, the Bears have seemingly always featured other-wordly talent at linebacker. Smith's career is just beginning, but the comparisons are inevitable.

Laurence Holmes and Alex Brown discussed Smith's potential on NBC Sports Chicago Thursday.

"I had two NFL people with a lot of front office experience make this comp on Roquan, that he is Lance Briggs with 4.5 speed," Holmes said.

Brown took the conversation a step further, adding a player as talented as Briggs with Smith's speed is a Hall of Famer.

"Imagine that. We all know Lance Briggs without 4.5 speed and he was a monster, he said. "Lance Briggs with 4.5 speed is a Hall of Famer, in my opinion."

Ironically, Smith got the discussion going himself during a conference call after the draft on Thursday night.

"It’s a great franchise. A lot of rich tradition, especially on defense," Smith said. "From way back with Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, all of those types of guys. It’s insane and I’m excited.

Former NFL quarterback and current Bleacher Report analyst Chris Simms compared Smith to seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis. 

"He’s a little Patrick Willis-ish," Simms said. "This guy is a special guy, he really he is, he is one of the safest picks in the draft, there is no doubt about that.

“He doesn’t care, he’s going to knock your head off if you’re there to be had."