No finger pointing: DeShone Kizer's accountability hits the right notes at NFL Combine

No finger pointing: DeShone Kizer's accountability hits the right notes at NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS — San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch said former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer "blew the doors off" in an interview with his team, which doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who worked with or followed Kizer during his three-year stint in South Bend. 

In a more public interview setting on Friday, Kizer said he's taken accountability for Notre Dame's brutal season when it's been brought up in private. That level of personal ownership, and the lack of finger pointing from a guy who certainly would've been within his rights to do so, may resonate as teams examine whether or not to select Kizer in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

"A guy my size, my arm talent, my understanding of football, why do you go 4-8?" Kizer said of the prodding he's received in interviews with teams. "I've answered that question as truthfully as I possibly can, and that's I didn't make plays."

Notre Dame's worst season since 2007 wasn't all on Kizer, of course. An awful defense washed out huge stat lines Kizer had in losses to Texas (15/24, 215 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 rushing TD) and Duke (22/37, 381 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD), for example. Brian Kelly's August decision to play both Kizer and Malik Zaire was an ill-fated one, leaving Kizer to look over his shoulder more than he would've liked while preparing for the season. 

"I don't think (the two quarterback approach) held me back, but I do think I spent a little too much time thinking about that rather than thinking about developing the guys around me and developing the trust," Kizer said. "Once again, that 2015 team and the 2016 team were completely different. We had almost completely different roster on offense. I think there should have been a little more time spent with me trying to develop that trust and develop the guys around me to make the plays in those fourth-quarter drives when needed. At times I was kind of looking over my shoulder a little bit too much. That's probably my biggest regret this past season."

Notre Dame's wide receivers were exceedingly young last year, and lone regular upperclassman Torii Hunter Jr. only appeared in eight games due to a pair of injuries. The losses of wide receiver Will Fuller, running back C.J. Prosise and offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin — all of whom were among the first 90 picks in last year's NFL Draft — created a talent vacuum that Kizer and the Irish weren't able to fill. 

Kizer certainly could've pointed to all those mitigating factors, as well as his still-solid stat line (58.7 percent completion rate, 2,925 yards, 26 TDs, 9 INTs, 8 rushing TDs) and try to absolve himself of responsibility for Notre Dame's dismal season. But doing so probably would've been detrimental to his chances of being a high draft pick — blaming others is never good for locker room morale, after all. 

"The ball's in my hand every play," Kizer said. "It's my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust
in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me."

But the Bears have, in Indianapolis, made mention of wanting a quarterback to have the ability to make everyone around him better, which is something Kizer didn't do in 2016. General manager Ryan Pace pointed to the success Drew Brees in college — at a perennial underdog of a program — as something the team would like a young quarterback to have in his history. 

"You want to see a guy who has elevated his program," Pace, who was part of the New Orleans Saints front office when Brees led the franchise to a Super Bowl win, said. "Again, you just reference places you've been. I know I've talked about this (player) a lot because he had a big impact on me. But I think about Brees when he was at Purdue. And he elevated that program. He took them to the Rose Bowl. I think that means something. I think that's something that we have to pay attention to."

Based on that boat-raising trait, Clemson's Deshaun Watson would seem to be the guy if the Bears decide to target a quarterback in the draft. While Notre Dame (under Kizer) and North Carolina (under Mitchell Trubisky) both took steps back in 2016, Clemson made the only stride possible for that program: Beating Alabama in the College Football Playoff title game a year after losing to the Crimson Tide on the same stage. 

Watson elevated Clemson from a perennial good-not-elite team to a title contender in the two years he regularly started for the Tigers. That may resonate more with the Bears than Kizer being a good interview. 

Kizer has other tantalizing traits, of course — his Combine measurements of 6-foot-4, 233 pounds and 9 7/8" hand are awfully close to those of Andrew Luck (6-foot-4, 234 pounds, 10" hand). And his 2015 film, during which Notre Dame went 10-3 and was a pair of two-point losses away from going 12-0), can't be thrown out because the Irish plummeted to eight losses a year later. 

But what Kizer showed on Friday was accountability, confidence and poise. Are those intangible traits, and his answers to teams in Indianapolis, good enough to warrant interest from teams — like the Bears — picking high in the draft?

"I guess we'll see if they'll come see me at Pro Day," Kizer said. 

After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper


After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper

Marcus Cooper's offseason has resembled a will they, won't they relationship.

The corner back signed a three-year deal with the Bears last offseason, but struggled last year and was released by the Bears after one year of that deal. However, Adam Caplan is reporting that Cooper could be back in a Bears uniform this season.

Cooper was officially released by the Bears on March 14 and visited the Arizona Cardinals earlier on Friday. Cooper started for the Cardinals in 2016.

Cooper began the year as a starter for the Bears, but finished with just four starts. He finished 2017 with 18 tackles and three passes deflected in 15 games.

His play with the Bears didn't exactly make him Mr. Popular with fans, as can be observed by looking at the savage replies to Caplan's report.

Cooper's original contract for the Bears with valued at $16 million over three years so the reported $2.5 million number is a significant pay cut and could mean he is being brought back for depth as opposed to last year when he was expected to start.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick.