Bears

Bears' depth to be tested against New Orleans

538966.jpg

Bears' depth to be tested against New Orleans

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 12:24 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
For much of the 2010 season, the Bears were lucky. Once their offensive line got past its early season injuries (five different lines in the first seven games), only a few positions changed hands because of injury.

But after just one week of 2011, the quality of the Bears reserves could well determine whether this team is close is a playoff berth three months from now, when a game or two can be the difference between just 16 games and continuing on into the lightning round.

Starters are starters for a reason. But the Bears lose little if anything with the reserves being plugged into unfortunate openings.

Four positions come sharply into focus heading into New Orleans:

Wide receiver

Roy Williams caught all four of the passes thrown to him in the Atlanta game before straining a groin the fourth quarter. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, was limited on Friday and is officially listed as questionable.

Johnny Knox took the starters share of reps all week with the No. 1 offense.

This is the same Johnny Knox whose job was given to Williams. Then again, it is not the same Johnny Knox in the ways that matter. Knoxs mistakes have been cut back. Sometimes tough love is the best kind.

Hes made tremendous improvement each and every day, worked to get better, and thats what you look for in a young guy every time you go out there, said receivers coach Darryl Drake. Hes got to continue to do that. The thing were looking for now is consistency, being where hes supposed to be and doing things right.

Knox led the Bears in receiving yards (960), TDs (five), average yards per catch (18.8 yards) and tied for team high with 51 receptions more production than Williams has had in any season since 2006, the year after his Pro Bowl year.
Safety

Veteran Chris Harris was unable to practice all week on an injured hamstring and is listed as doubtful; he wont play.

But the Bears invested a high draft choice (third round) in Chris Conte and followed that in the days before the first game by signing Brandon Meriweather after his release by New England. Meriweather is a prototypical free safety, is expected start at that spot.

Lovie Smith and his staff routinely describe their safety positions as interchangeable. Not necessarily true, literally.

They teach you both safety spots and I think thats what hes talking about, Meriweather said. If you know one, you have to know the other. Since day one, Ive been trying to learn both.

The 2010 third-round pick, Major Wright, will work at strong safety, where his tackling ability is a plus.

The depth behind the depth Conte has had coaches excited since training camp.

Hes everything youre looking for in a safety, said Smith, a defensive back himself at Tulsa. Theres a reason why we drafted him as high as we did. He has excellent hands, has picked up the defense fairly quick, weve played him on special teams and hes made plays on it. Everything you look for in a guy before he breaks out, he has.

Right guard

Chris Spencer stepped in when Lance Louis went down last Sunday with an ankle injury and has worked with the No. 1 unit this week. His better position is perhaps center, but for loose comparisons sake, the Bears averaged 1.7 yards per carry in the first half vs. Atlanta and 4.7 in the second, which was played entirely with Spencer at guard.

If there is a falloff, it is difficult to see. Edwin Williams is the other alternative at right guard and took reps with the 1s this week. He was deemed good enough to leave there last season when Louis was healthy enough after a minor leg injury.
Running back
The most concerning problem created by injury is at No. 2 running back, where Marion Barber practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, then not at all the rest of the week. Kahlil Bell gave the Bears 10 carries last Sunday to spell Matt Forte and averaged 2.4 yards a carry (Chester Taylors average for 2010), and is an upgrade from Taylor, if a falloff from hard-running Barber and obviously from Forte.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should Bears do at No. 8?

pace.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should Bears do at No. 8?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score) and Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) join Kap on the panel.

The guys discuss Ryan Pace’s options with the NFL Draft just a day away. Plus, Porter Moser gets an extension at Loyola, Kyle Schwarber continues to rake and Michael Kopech continues to dominate at Triple-A.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Moon and JJ's final mock draft: Do the Bears go with offense or defense at No. 8?

Moon and JJ's final mock draft: Do the Bears go with offense or defense at No. 8?

Previous mock drafts: Jan. 22 | Feb. 6 | Feb. 26March 7March 19

1. Cleveland Browns

Moon: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

No team has butchered QB selections more than Cleveland, going back to Tim Couch instead of Donovan McNabb No. 1 overall in 1999, continuing to passings on Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Pat Mahomes, Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson in the span of just the last two years. Browns have scouted Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen each in three different targeted evaluations, including predraft visits. The deliberations will be intense and the Browns hope they’re getting Carson Palmer and not Matt Leinart. Allen or Mayfield here would not surprise at all, and Mayfield buzz picked up in the closing week.

JJ: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Browns seem to be sending out plenty of smoke signals as to who they’ll take with the first overall pick, but it’ll be a quarterback. I’ve had Sam Darnold here since January, but will finish with this: Allen’s sky-high ceiling is too much for the Browns to pass up. Of course, his low floor means he could be the next in a long line of quarterbacks to bust with the Browns, and would look even worse if any of Darnold/Mayfield/Rosen wind up being good.

2. New York Giants

Moon: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The far-and-away top rusher in this draft lit up the Scouting Combine. With Jets apparently trading up for QB adding to pressure on that group, Giants go for running mate to assist Eli Manning and get a windfall with Barkley.

JJ: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Even with Darnold still on the board, the Dave Gettleman sticks to his guns and takes Barkley. We’ve seen a running back taken in the first four picks in each of the last two drafts (Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette), so taking one this high isn’t totally unprecedented — especially if there’s a consensus in the Giants’ draft room that Barkley is the best player in this draft. 

3. New York Jets

Moon: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The truly intriguing team in the top 10. Trading up from No. 6 says Jets, even with Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown signed, are targeting a QB and want to get ahead of at least one Browns pick. A surprise could be coming but teams don’t mortgage their draft typically for less than a QB. The guess is which one but Jets making a move to ensure more than just a leftover. Drills and interviews will strike teams differently. Measurables may not be ideal (6-1) but they weren’t for Russell Wilson either. Mayfield made all the throws and has the benefit of coming from a big-time program.

JJ: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

The Browns and Giants make things easy for the Jets, who don’t need much discussion to take Darnold. I’m with Moon that Mayfield would be the pick here if Darnold isn’t on the board, though. 

4. Cleveland Browns

Moon: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

The first big jolt of the ’18 draft. Expect the Browns to trade out of here with Buffalo lurking and in quest of a franchise QB. But Bears aren’t the only team wanting to better protect a franchise QB and the Browns struck gold with tackle Joe Thomas at No. 3 in 2007. Hall of Fame guard John Hannah went No. 4 and Nelson is rated as one of two overall best in ’18 draft. While in Kansas City, GM John Dorsey went offensive line No. 1 overall in 2013 (T Eric Fisher) and second round in 2015 (G Mitch Morse).

JJ: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State

With Barkley off the board, the Browns take the second-best player in this year’s draft in Chubb. Pairing him with Myles Garrett presents a tantalizing long-term future for Cleveland’s pass rush. 

5. Denver Broncos

Moon: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

QB run continues. Denver and John Elway have fouled up the QB spot ever since Peyton Manning retired and badly need a QB hit. Evaluations (theirs and those of teams right above them) will determine which one falls to Broncos after they lost out to Minnesota for Kirk Cousins.

JJ: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

If Denver stays at No. 5, the debate comes down to Mayfield or Josh Rosen. The Broncos coached Mayfield in the Senior Bowl back in January, and that tips him over Rosen. Either way, in this scenario, there will still be one of the top four quarterbacks on the board when picks No. 6-8 are on the clock, leading to the potential for the Colts, Bucs or Bears to trade down with, most likely, the Buffalo Bills. 

6. Indianapolis Colts

Moon: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State

Trading down and still getting their guy is the early leader for ’18 draft move for Indy, where defense is such a priority for the Colts and its new coaching staff. Frank Reich likely can work Andrew Luck into something and a franchise pass rusher raises everything on that side of the football. The wild card here is Quenton Nelson; if he drops and Indy goes for there, Chubb could the surprise drop within reach of the Bears.

JJ: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Quenton Nelson and Roquan Smith could very well be in play for the Colts here, but they go with Ward in the hopes he could make an impact similar to that of Marshon Lattimore a year ago. 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Moon: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

The top DB in the draft, left there by QB-mania. If the scramble 1-6 leaves Nelson or Chubb, Bucs should expect their phones to start ring with trade overtures.

JJ: Derwin James, S, Florida State

James profiles as a plug-and-play safety who can make an immediate impact, so Tampa Bay goes with him over Minkah Fitzpatrick, who while talented doesn’t have a set position yet. 

8. Chicago Bears

Moon: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Who’s still on The Board already will factor in huge here. Nelson? Chubb? Fitzpatrick? All are among the Bears’ Elite Eight graded worth No. 8, and GM Ryan Pace has amply demonstrated his flexibility and comfort with high-end deals, trading up in each of his past two first rounds and down in his past two second rounds.
 
Suspiciously perhaps, Pace offered public praise for Edmunds, which might well have been just a touch of misdirection; Bears didn’t have known Edmunds special evaluations like a visit or private workout, which they did for Chubb, Fitzpatrick, Nelson, Georgia’s Roquan Smith, whom many evaluators grade above Edmunds. But Edmunds gets a late nod here over Smith based on upside/ceiling in what is suddenly an extremely interesting spot amid the Great ’18 QB Craze.
 
A handful of the Bears’ targeted players will still be on the board, making a trade down very attractive. Their evaluation ratings are key; Pace won’t and shouldn’t go all-in based solely on need. Retaining Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller for big $$ takes CB need way down, and someone may be hungry to trade up for Ohio State CB Denzel Ward. If there’s a trade scenario to land G Quenton Nelson, Bears would seriously consider help in the form of Nelson if available for a questionable interior O-line to protect QB Mitch Trubisky. But Pace scored big in ’16 round two with Cody Whitehair, saw while in New Orleans what lower-round OL picks, top coaching and a quarterback could do.
 
Edmunds has size over Smith, and his production was solid over the past two seasons. Bears D-coordinator Vic Fangio won’t be making the pick, but Fangio has favored bigger OLB’s (Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith, Pernell McPhee), while having elite results from smaller ILB’s (Navorro Bowman, Patrick Willis).
 
All that said, Bears may not have a shot at Edmunds if San Francisco, which had private workouts with both Edmunds and Smith, makes a move up for Edmunds. But the combination of grade, need, position value and the rest say Edmunds to the Bears.

[More from Moon on why the Bears should draft Edmunds]

JJ: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame

So the Bears get to their pick with Smith, Nelson, Fitzpatrick and Tremaine Edmunds still on the board, along with Rosen, presenting the possibility for a trade-down. This would present a number of factors for Ryan Pace to evaluate:

— Edmunds has the kind of off-the-charts physical traits Pace has targeted in previous drafts (Kevin White, Leonard Floyd), and could provide help to the Bears’ outside linebacker corps. But he’s more of a projection at this point, although that’s not necessarily a deterrent for Pace. 

— What about Fitzpatrick? He’s super-talented and his football intelligence and work ethic are well-regarded among draft circles. But is he a safety? Is he a cornerback? Do the Bears actually need either position? Unless the Bears were to view him as an absolute lock as the best player available at No. 8, he won’t be the guy. 

— Smith could start from Day 1 next to Danny Trevathan and give the Bears an excellent inside linebacker tandem. While his ceiling may not be as high as Edmunds, he’s drawn comparisons to Patrick Willis, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker who thrived in Vic Fangio’s defense. But these are all defensive guys. So that leads us to…

— Nelson, who would fit with the Bears’ 2018 strategy of surrounding Mitch Trubisky with the best possible cast of supporting players. An interior offensive line of Nelson, Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long should be an effective blockade of inside pressure; the added benefit of Nelson is he immediately helps the inside zone running game in Matt Nagy’s offense. Pairing him with Harry Hiestand, his offensive line coach at Notre Dame, is a slam dunk for a guy who already looks like a slam dunk prospect. As someone at Notre Dame put it: Don’t overthink this, and take the guy who will be an All-Pro for years to come. 

[More from JJ on why the Bears should draft Nelson]

9. San Francisco 49ers

Moon: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

Assuming Bears don’t grab Smith, he is a hedge against Ruben Foster injury and deepening character issues. Calvin Ridley may be too good to pass up as complement to QB Jimmy Garoppolo but Ridley didn’t really sweep through his evaluations.

JJ: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

With Smith still on the board, the 49ers don’t have to put much thought into the guy they’ll draft. It’s unlikely Smith makes it beyond the No. 9 pick. 

10. Oakland Raiders

Moon: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Ward was a backfield mate of Marshon Lattimore and consistently solid. Jon Gruden will want help on offense for Derek Carr, Ridley will be tempting, but Ward projects as day-one starter.

JJ: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

The Raiders could go for Fitzpatrick here with a “best player available” strategy, but drafting Edmunds and developing him into a star just in time for the move to Las Vegas sounds like a pretty nice path for Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden to take. 

11. Miami Dolphins

Moon: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
JJ: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

12. Buffalo Bills

Moon: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
JJ: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

13. Washington Redskins

Moon: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
JJ: Vita Vea, DT, Washington

14. Green Bay Packers

Moon: Derwin James, S, Florida State
JJ: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

15. Arizona Cardinals

Moon: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UT-San Antonio
JJ: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

16. Baltimore Ravens

Moon: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
JJ: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

17. Los Angeles Chargers

Moon: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
JJ: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

18. Seattle Seahawks

Moon: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
JJ: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

19. Dallas Cowboys

Moon: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
JJ: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

20. Detroit Lions

Moon: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
JJ: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

21. Cincinnati Bengals

Moon: Billy Price, C, Ohio State
JJ: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

22. Buffalo Bills

Moon: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
JJ: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

23. New England Patriots

Moon: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
JJ: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

24. Carolina Panthers

Moon: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
JJ: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

25. Tennessee Titans

Moon: Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State
JJ: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

26. Atlanta Falcons

Moon: Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
JJ: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

27. New Orleans Saints

Moon: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
JJ: James Daniels, OG/C, Iowa

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

Moon: Justin Reid, S, Stanford
JJ: Justin Reid, S, Stanford

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

Moon: Isaiah Wynn, G, Georgia
JJ: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

30. Minnesota Vikings

Moon: Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
JJ: Connor Williams, OT, Texas

31. New England Patriots

Moon: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
JJ: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UT-San Antonio

32. Philadelphia Eagles

Moon: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
JJ: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State