Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15


Bears facing new 'test of character' after failing too many in ‘15

Defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins described the remaining four games of the 2015 season as “a test of character” now that the Bears have stumbled to 5-7 in the playoff discussion purely as an exercise in mathematics.

Because the Bears have faced multiple character tests this season and come up short too many times, notably the three different times they have held .500 in their hands and fumbled it.

Football “character” has different elements and the Bears need to address them in the time left to them.

[RELATED - Blown chances in OT loss to 49ers put Bears on brink of being finished]

Amid the aftershocks from the Bears’ 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, safety Chris Prosinski passed on offering details of what went so horribly awry on the 71-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith that ended the game and effectively more than that.

“I’m not going to point fingers,” Prosinski said.

Nor should he or anyone else. Because the only digit that should have been pointed anywhere was the thumb.

If one or more of the Bears’ defensive backs wanted to step up and say, “My bad,” as Robbie Gould did after his failed field-goal try, fine. But players usually don’t discuss schematic specifics, good or bad, and that’s not really the point, anyway.

What is, is that for the first time this season, the word “appalling” can be hung on a defeat.

If the Bears weren’t as good as the 49ers, that’s one thing. But while disparaging Bears talent borders on the cliché’d by now, the simple fact is that their talent was enough to:

  • split with the Green Bay Packers;
  • be within a missed assignment of taking the 10-2 Denver Broncos to overtime;
  • allow the Minnesota Vikings 10 points in the final 1:49 to lose by three;
  • and take down the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Chiefs who are 6-1 since that game.

“The only difference between people with good records and maybe not so good records is they've won more of their close games than the not-so-good-record teams,” coach John Fox said.

[MORE: Bears shoot themselves in the foot in OT loss to 49ers]

Not necessarily.

Judging effort or focus is never easy or always altogether fair, but questioning it isn’t unreasonable, certainly not in this case. Jenkins said that the Bears were focused before this game, but “focus” is fluid and the Bears are 5-7 in very large part because of how they played at the end of the game – if there was focus in all three areas, it wasn’t apparent – as well as how they played at the beginning, not looking like they were fully ready to play.

“We’ve just got to show up every Sunday,” said defensive end Willie Young, a tacit summation that the Bears didn’t this time. Not at the beginning on offense, settling for field goals or less, or at the end on defense with the disasters of Blaine Gabbert’s TD run or Torrey Smith’s TD catch.

“We just lost rush lanes,” defensive lineman Will Sutton, taking some ownership of a sloppy fundamental by a position group having a strong game. “We’re taught to do some things but sometimes you gotta just play football, and [Gabbert] just hit the hole where nobody was at. It’s just the little things at the end. I thought on defense we played a real good game and just let it slip.”

Poor effort or sloppiness is typically laid at the feet of coaching. But effort and sloppiness are products of poor preparation during the week, and maybe the Bears just took wrong conclusions out of their film sessions, maybe that the 49ers really weren’t very good. It happens; just ask the New England Patriots after their experience with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But if professionals need to be motivated when all they need to read are a calendar and schedule, then the term “professionals” does not apply.

A criticism leveled at Fox by former boss John Elway was that Fox’s Denver Broncos didn’t go down “kicking and screaming” at the end of big games. (I never quite got that, when you’re talking about a coach who consistently wins; so Elway was saying Fox’s teams just kicked and screamed in little games?). Not sure that is the relevant problem, certainly not with every member of the beaten Bears.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The offensive line and running backs played as good a game collectively as they have all season, to cite one group of individuals who pass the effort eye test. Young, to cite another, was within a shoelace of taking down Gabbert early in that 44-yard gutting run in the fourth quarter “To know you were just a shoestring away and ended up in a touchdown… ,” Young said, reflecting. “Any closer and I think I’d have had him.”

Jay Cutler and his receiver group were collectively handled by one of the NFL’s poorer pass defenses. Cutler, for his part, was personally out-schemed by San Francisco on his pick-6 in the first quarter, set up by blitz looks, not recognizing peril, and getting no help from receivers like Josh Bellamy in the screen cluster.

If the Bears truly didn’t have enough talent – and they’ve achieved what they have so far without Alshon Jeffery for five games, Eddie Royal for six, Kevin White for 12, Matt Forte for three, and that’s just offense – the San Francisco loss would be at least a little understandable. Fox and coordinators Adam Gase, Vic Fangio and Jeff Rodgers did have players with enough talent in enough right positions to have won this and other games.  

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. 

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.