Bears

The best of the Bears: Defensive tackles

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The best of the Bears: Defensive tackles

As training camp approaches and CSNChicago.com looks ahead to competitions and other situations, Bears Insider Moon Mullin ranks the top three in franchise history at each to position.

1. Dan Hampton

The difficult issue with Hampton is whether he rates a franchise-best at tackle or end, since he made two Pro Bowls at both. He goes to tackle for a couple reasons:

He was the NFL defensive player of the year in 1982 as a tackle, six-time first first or second team All-Pro, and on the All-Decade Team for the 80s.

But what tips him to tackle is the fact that while the 46 defense of Buddy Ryan carries the number of safety Doug Plank, more than one former 85er told CSNChicago.com that the key was when Hampton dropped down into a nose tackle spot. Hampton was virtually unblockable one-on-one, and he was at tackle in 84 with 11.5 sacks when the Bears totaled 72.

The Bears got him with a No. 1 draft choice obtained from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in trade for Wally Chambers, who probably wouldve been in the Bests discussion himself but for injuries.

Besides, Hampton was part of creating the Gatorade Shower tradition (the proof is on YouTube). That has to count for something.

2. Steve McMichael

Mings biggest problem was that he was playing among too many luminaries, beginning with Hampton to his immediate left, Richard Dent to his far right and Fridge next to him inside. But McMichael was an every down tackle in the tradition of John Randle and interior impact guys who were far more effective at 280 pounds than jumbo models who couldnt move in a game built on movement.

McMichael was still getting six sacks at age 37 and he had no fewer than seven in nine of 10 years from 1983-92.

Mike Ditka called McMichael the toughest player hed ever coached. But its the performances that make him elite.

3. Tommie Harris

What makes Harris hard to grade is the odd combination of injury, maddening inconsistency and brilliance. The Tommie Harris of 2005 (when he was All-Pro) was a force despite only three sacks and he never had more than eight sacks in a season.

But Harris was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, which may be a popularity contest to be sure, but it reflects player and coach voting, so thats a statement of what peers thought of him.

This was a close call between Harris and George Musso, whos in the Hall of Fame after playing guard, tackle and defensive tackle. Musso also rates consideration because he was able to squeeze 5 of expense money out of George Halas, which means he understood pressure.

Harris was 295 pounds, however, a very good player with his injuries and sometimes a great player, when he wanted to be. The merits outweigh the demerits here.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?