Bears Camp Shorts: Daniel Braverman highlights continue; Tony Moeaki, Jonathan Bullard flash

Bears Camp Shorts: Daniel Braverman highlights continue; Tony Moeaki, Jonathan Bullard flash

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coach John Fox rarely deals in superlatives, so his comments on rookie wide receiver Daniel Braverman suggest that the seventh-rounder is making more than a fleeting impression.
“He just keeps making plays,” Fox said Wednesday. “You know we're performance-based and I know it's just practice, but we try and simulate games as much as we can in the practice and he continues to flash and make plays.”
Braverman’s plays on Wednesday included out-fighting cornerback Sherrick McManus for a touchdown catch in the end zone. He also turned in a sliding catch of a Brian Hoyer sideline throw, beating rookie safety Deon Bush. Those were in addition to a clutch grab in two-minute work.
“We love his heart,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “We love how he competes. He works really hard and I think [receivers] coach CJ [Curtis Johnson] has done a really good job with him. He’s got some ‘rat-ball’ in him. You don’t want to take away the best part of him and some of that is that he’s got a knack to get open.
“He just has to understand to continue to grow and get open in the timing of the play and not just when the route’s at 10 [yards], break it off at 6 — but he’s open.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Braverman at Western Michigan caught 109 passes last season (No. 2 in the NCAA) and 86 the year before. Meaning: He gets open.
Braverman’s personal motto is “one day better,” laying out a daily goal of being better today than he was yesterday. That involves “just learning from your mistakes,” Braverman said. “No one's perfect. You're going to fail; it's just how you react and how you overcome adversity, and going and watching tape and getting better from that and getting ready for tomorrow”….
…Zach Miller remained out of practice and in the Bears’ concussion protocol but the tight end situation flashed on Wednesday as Tony Moeaki gathered in a Jay Cutler pass for a touchdown in an 11-on-11 red zone session…Credit cornerback Tracy Porter with the pass defense of the day. Porter perfectly timed a leap to deflect an end-zone heave from Cutler toward wide receiver Josh Bellamy, saving a touchdown…
…Jonathan Bullard has shown steady improvement in all areas of his game and the rookie defensive end had a strong pass-rush day. Bullard got superb push against veteran guard Ted Larsen, then used his hands to get Larsen off balance and close for a sack. Bullard later worked a move with nose tackle Will Sutton in two-man work and came free for a second “sack”…
…Kyle Long returned to practice on a limited basis after days out with a calf injury. But wide receiver Eddie Royal remained in the concussion protocol and did not practice. Also out: wide receiver Derek Keaton (knee), tight end; Ben Braunecker (ankle); linebacker Roy Robertson- Harris (illness); linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski (hamstring); Brandon Boykin (pectoral).

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.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.