Bears

Bears-Dolphins preseason preview: Is Adam Gase as good as his word?

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Bears-Dolphins preseason preview: Is Adam Gase as good as his word?

CSNChicago.com takes a look at three preview points going into the Bears first preseason game.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase won’t be showing any more of his playbook than defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be of his when preseason moves into game phase. But Gase has committed to two major, and related, objectives – running the football and reducing the turnover proclivities of one Jay Cutler.

During the Bears’ Saturday scrimmage, Gase‘s play selection approached a 50-50 balance of run-pass. The Bears in fact ran the ball more effectively than they threw it. It was only practice, but… .

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Gase has two outstanding guards (Kyle Long, Matt Slauson) with size, mobility and attitude. He has given every indication of being more than wanting to use them and the entire line to set a tone for his offense. He can’t do that with just talk about the run.

“I feel really good about our line,” Gase said. “I think that stable of backs we have is very impressive. Right now I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

For a point of reference: In Peyton Manning’s last several years in Indianapolis, the Colts’ use of the run trended downward into the mid-30-percent range. In Denver, with Gase working under coordinator Mike McCoy and then taking over as O.C. when McCoy was hired to coach San Diego, the run percentage moved back up into the 40’s (42 last season).

[MORE: How stout will defensive front be]

The Bears are not expected to give much if any work to Matt Forte on Thursday against the Miami Dolphins. No need, both from a risk and other standpoints. The play of Jacquizz Rodgers has been outstanding through camp and he has to this point played his way into the No. 2 tailback job.

The Bears are unlikely to keep four running backs, putting a squeeze on fourth-rounder’s Ka’Deem Carey (2014) and Jeremy Langford (2015), the latter with an edge on special teams.

Being able to run the football and staying with that commitment takes some of the offensive burden off Cutler, which is part of the overall. Cutler uncharacteristically has not thrown an interception through 11 practices, and while the operative word there is “practices,” it is perhaps an early hint that something is working with a quarterback whose carelessness with the football has been his and his teams’ undoing.

“Right now, time will tell,” Gase said. “We’re taking it one day at a time right now. If I knew what was going to happen, I’d play the lottery. Right now I don’t know. Every day we’re getting a little bit better. He’s doing a good job of staying with it and getting better.”

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.