Bears

Bears get to next-level work on installing 3-4 scheme

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Bears get to next-level work on installing 3-4 scheme

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears have been installing their 3-4 defense all offseason, beginning with the hiring of coordinator Vic Fangio and his staff, punching up with the signing of Pernell McPhee, Antrel Rolle and other players and bringing all of them together through minicamps and OTA’s. That all moved to the next level on the first day of practice against a more “live” offense in particular.

The practices saw the return of Jonathan Bostic to a linebacker competition and rotation after his missed offseason with a back problem. Ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were in the uniform of the day (helmets and shells) but did primarily light running and some individual work.

“We’re cleared,” Houston said. “I’m 100 percent. I’m just taking it day to day and working my way back into playing football the proper way. Everything is good. Just taking it slow.”

Not all members of the defense were, however.

[MORE: Bears ’15 offense opens with some highlights, some work to do]

Defensive line

The expectation is that the down-three linemen will be in multiple personnel packages and those were evident on Thursday. Jeremiah Ratliff was a Pro Bowl nose tackle with the Dallas Cowboys in his prime, is a nose tackle now, but also was asked if he knew exactly what his position would be: “No. I’m not really worried about it,” Ratliff. “That will sort itself out. Wherever I am that day, that’s where I’m going to be.”

The Bears used a No. 2 pick this year on nose tackle Eddie Goldman and a No. 2 last year on Ego Ferguson. The latter has gotten quicker with some intentional weight loss and Goldman is a rookie who’s not being handed a job. “I think Eddie needs to just keep doing what he’s been doing,” Ratliff said. “He’s been playing hard — great leverage, great hands, strong guy, you know, powerful. He can eat up two, sometimes three blockers. You see how big he is. And he’ll be good.”

Linebacker

Pernell McPhee provided a highlight rush beating left tackle Jermon Bushrod with a counter move and boring in on Jay Cutler for a simulated sack. McPhee also showed quick lateral movement in inside-run work, getting across the faces of blockers and into gaps inside to stack plays up. 

Cornelius Washington, one of the squadron of defensive ends trying to adapt to linebacker, earned a high-five from McPhee with penetration at the point of one inside-run attempt. McPhee and Ferguson combined to blow up one run try in the backfield.

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Secondary

Tim Jennings was excused for personal reasons but is expected back for practice on Friday. Where he sits on the depth chart will be closely watched, as Sherrick McManis has made some strong impressions on the new coaching staff. Jennings had zero interceptions in 2014 and coach John Fox said matter-of-factly that Jennings hadn’t had a particularly good year, not a good start with a new staff.

Antrel Rolle already has established a presence in the deep middle alongside Brock Vereen, with the two of them combining to break up a 40-yard try in the end zone from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery. Vereen delivered several extremely fast closes on receivers in non-contact work.

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.