Bears

Bears Camp Shorts: Alshon Jeffery down with hamstring strain; Sam Acho, Eddie Goldman dominant

Bears Camp Shorts: Alshon Jeffery down with hamstring strain; Sam Acho, Eddie Goldman dominant

BOURBONNAIS — While so much of the attention has been on the new additions to the defense — lineman Akiem Hicks, linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman — two returning members of the defense have turned heads, in more ways than one.

Outside linebacker Sam Acho, a starter at this time last year before being sidelined with mononucleosis for some weeks and losing his job to Jared Allen, continued his high-impact camp Thursday, taking turns besting Bears offensive tackles Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr. He followed that with a near interception on a superb pass drop and mirroring quarterback Brian Hoyer’s scramble before undercutting the intended receiver for the near-pick.

Acho set Massie up for an outside speed move that left him with a clean win. He followed that with an inside counter against Leno, the most consistent pass protector of camp, and again went in on the quarterback-dummy virtually untouched.

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Coaches set up a best-of-three matchup with Leno, who redeemed the position group’s honor with a stalemate on the second rep and then a clean stand-up of Acho on the third.

- Nose tackle Eddie Goldman, whose improved conditioning and game awareness have him substantially ahead of where he was as a rookie last year, completely stuffed two tight red-zone running attempts, stopping running backs Jeremy Langford and Jacquizz Rodgers on successive tries at the goal line.

 “I want to see him dominate,” defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. "I want to see him be that anchor point in the middle of the 3-4 defense that we all talk about. Once we get into game situations, I want him to knock people back and be able to make plays. That’s what his role is."

[MORE: Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains seeing Bears offense same ways, good and bad]

- Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery did not finish practice on Wednesday because of muscle tightness and did not attend Thursday’s practice.

“I think again we get concerned about everybody whether they're injured or not practicing,” head coach John Fox said. “But on the other hand we don't get too concerned. We've got guys to take their place, we've got [roster] numbers."

- Guard Amini Silatolu was brought off the physically unable to perform list and was in uniform. Silatolu is coming off ACL surgery and is not expected to begin full participation in practice for some time. 

Kyle Long was back at his customary right guard spot and participating in pass-protection drills and full team sessions, but not every one, as he comes back from a mild calf strain last week.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

- Greg Scruggs, converting to tight end from defensive tackle, demonstrated some receiving skills on Wednesday, catching a couple of Jay Cutler throws. On Thursday Scruggs took on a power rush by Willie Young in team work, stood the veteran rush linebacker up completely, and sealed the edge for a run by Ka’Deem Carey. But Scruggs appeared to take a blow to the head during goal-line work and had his helmet off and was talking with medical staff.

- Leonard Floyd and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks were paired in a pass-rush drill against Massie and Long. Neither of the rushmen got close to a sack. But Floyd flashed with a perfect break to deflect a pass toward wide receiver Daniel Braverman on a third-and-goal in a full team period.

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

2017 grade: C-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Willie Young (contract), Pernell McPhee (contract), Sam Acho (free agent), Lamarr Houston (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah, Adrian Clayborn, Connor Barwin, Kony Ealy

 

Would you believe that no true outside linebacker in this year’s free agent class had more sacks than Lamarr Houston did last year? Houston and the Rams’ Connor Barwin each had five, underscoring how rare it is for an elite edge rusher to make it to free agency.

 

There are a few that, for now, are due to hit the open market. DeMarcus Lawrence racked up 14 ½ sacks with the Dallas Cowboys last year, but played as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. The same goes for the Detroit Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah, who had a dozen sacks in 2017. But if either reaches free agency, it’d be a surprise -- again, pass-rushers with that kind of production rarely escape the franchise tag.

 

If Lawrence or Ansah do become available, the Bears would likely be a part of the feeding frenzy to sign either player. Whether they could convince either player that 1) Chicago is a desirable destination and 2) that they’d be just as, if not more, productive in a 3-4 base instead of a 4-3 is a different question.

 

The same goes for Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn, who had 9 ½ sacks last year (including a ridiculous six-sack game) but played in a 4-3 and may not be looking to leave Atlanta. The Falcons, though, could be in a tricky salary cap situation with defensive lineman Dontari Poe and longtime kicker Matt Bryant both due to hit free agency.

 

Fangio’s scheme is malleable, though, and any of these players would be a fit in it one way or another. Spotrac estimates Lawrence would command an average annual salary of $14 million per year, while Ansah would be slightly lower at $13.2 million. Either way, either of those guys could command the biggest contract Pace has given a defensive player (although the Bears were prepared to give cornerback A.J. Bouye more than the $13.5 million average annual salary that he’s receiving with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Both Willie Young and Pernell McPhee could be released this off-season, too, to free up cap room. Cutting Young would net $4.5 million in cap savings, while a release of McPhee would free up a little over $7 million, according to Spotrac. Of the two, Young may be the more likely guy to stick around, despite coming off a season-ending triceps injury. While he’ll be 33 next September, Young has 9 ½ sacks in the last two year while McPhee has eight (while playing in more games than Young). This may not be an either-or situation, though -- the Bears could very well cut both.

 

Houston is an interesting option to retain after he racked up four sacks in five games after returning to the Bears last December. He’s struggled to stay healthy in his career, though, and the Bears probably wouldn’t re-sign him and count on the 30-year-old to be a starter in 2018, especially considering the uncertain recovery status of Leonard Floyd. Sam Acho could be brought back as a solid depth option, too.

 

The success of this unit, though, will hinge more on Floyd than whatever the Bears are able to do in free agency or the draft. The Bears need their 2016 first-round pick to A) stay healthy and B) improve as an edge rusher after injuries have limited him to 22 games and 11 ½ sacks in his first two seasons. If every team needs three reliable pass-rushers, the Bears will need to pencil in Floyd next to Akiem Hicks (who, for what it’s worth, is more of a run-stuffer, but did total 8 ½ sacks in 2017) and then either a free agent or a draft pick.

 

The most likely route to land that third pass rusher, though, is probably through the draft unless a top talent like Lawrence, Ansah or Clayborn hits free agency -- and then matches with the Bears.