Bears

Bears NFL Draft notebook: Starts may not be the whole story for Mitchell Trubisky

Bears NFL Draft notebook: Starts may not be the whole story for Mitchell Trubisky

Sweeping the notebook in the wake of the 2017 draft...

- Mitch Trubisky having only 13 starts coming out of North Carolina required the Bears to make a monumental leap of faith with their expensive trade-up to No. 2 overall and their choice. In this analysis, that would have been a deal-killer for that lofty level of his selection.

Not that it's a defining predictive measure necessarily: He wasn't drafted No. 2 overall, he wasn't a quarterback and his team didn't deplete their draft larder trading to get him, but Kyle Long had switched from defense to offense and had all of six starts coming out of Oregon and has been to the Pro Bowl three times.

- The Bears not selecting just one defensive back, in the fourth round, from a supposed talent-rich draft on that side of the football was only mildly surprising, given the money and roster slots invested in free agency on cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, and safety Quintin Demps. And Ryan Pace hadn't drafted a defensive back higher than the fifth round in either of his first two drafts.

But the one he chose warrants questions, and for reasons beyond his coming off a broken leg of last October or that he was playing behind a defense that had six players taken in this year's first three rounds. Eddie Jackson comes out of Alabama, which the NFL beats a high-round draft path annually to Nick Saban's door for his players.

But defensively, many of those players and ones before Saban, while usually solid, arguably max out at Alabama: Of the 74 Alabama defensive players drafted since Derrick Thomas went to Kansas City in 1989, many of them 1's and 2's, seven (Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, C.J. Mosley, Don't'a Hightower, Marcell Dareus, Roman Harper, DeMeco Ryans) became Pro Bowl players, by unofficial count.
 
For comparison purposes: From 2006 through the third round of the 2011 draft, 16 Oklahoma offensive players were drafted. Five have been selected to Pro Bowls, each to more than one. On the other hand, none of the 26 Michigan Wolverines drafted since Jake Long went No. 1 overall in 2008 have graced a Pro Bowl, yet Michigan led all schools with 11 players selected in this draft.

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For the record: This is not only not a criticism of Alabama; it's actually a compliment. Some perspective here: For a long time, a widely held opinion of Penn State among NFL personnel folks was that you got solid players from there but because of the excellent coaching they'd gotten, only rarely did they go on to become NFL superstars. The thinking was that their coaching had gotten the max out of the players; they arrived with much of their upside already realized.
 
That said, those defensive players have been on 10 different Super Bowl champions. So maybe you DO want ‘Bama defensive guys around.

- North Carolina had five offensive players drafted, all skill-position'ers (two backs, two receivers), suggesting either that Trubisky had a pretty solid supporting cast, or that he made people around him really good.

The Tar Heels were a modest 8-5, which is either a credit or an indictment of Trubisky, depending on how you want to look at it. Using a standard popular with fans of Jay Cutler, Trubisky didn't have a lot of help from the UNC defense, which allowed almost 25 points per game. (Clemson's defense gave up 18.4 per game for Deshaun Watson, No. 12 nationally).

- Ryan Pace said to check back with him in three years for a grade in this draft. This reporter has never subscribed to the multi-year time frame for evaluating a draft. Final grades maybe, as in a school-course grade, but you know well before the report card how you're doing in Chemistry. It does not take three years or even the oft-cited two to know whether a Shea McClellin or Kyle Long or Kyle Fuller or Alshon Jeffery or Leonard Floyd (or Adam Shaheen) can play, and the players in the early rounds are ultimately the make-or-break for a franchise on its drafts.

In the 2017 case, because the cornerstone Bears piece is a quarterback who isn't slotted to start this season, and they do have a longer developmental gradient anyway, this draft may be harder to evaluate. But I've used this wine analogy before: You know pretty well from a barrel-tasting what a particular vintage is going to develop into, and if the Bears don't know until three years from now what they have in Mitch Trubisky, the folks who drafted him likely won't be around to get that report card.

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

Oct. 22, 2016: Alabama safety Eddie Jackson’s season, and with it his college career, came to an end after he suffered a broken leg in a win over Texas A&M.

Oct. 22, 2017: Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson became the first defensive player ever to have two turnover-return touchdowns of 75 yards or more in an NFL game in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Bears’ defense is so hot right now, getting the takeaways that alluded them last season, making the lives of opposing quarterbacks a living hell and keeping opposing offenses completely out of the end zone.

Sunday, Jackson became the breakout star of a defensive renaissance that’s returning “Monsters of the Midway” status to this unit. In the first quarter, he picked up a Panthers fumble and ran back 75 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, he came down with a tipped Cam Newton pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown.

“He’s like germs,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said of his rookie teammate, “he’s everywhere.”

Most folks believed the Bears made a very good pick by selecting the Crimson Tide safety in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but of course there were injury-related questions after the broken leg brought a premature end to his college career just a few months prior.

Well, any doubts have since been wiped away, with Jackson earning a starting spot in the revamped Bears secondary out of training camp and then starring Sunday with two of the biggest plays the Bears’ defense has made all season.

Defensive plays like that, defensive takeaways, defensive points. Those are things that weren’t in abundance last season. Fast forward to now, and Jackson and his teammates are writing a brand-new script.

“That was something that we came into this year with on our mind, was getting more turnovers, especially in the secondary, forcing more turnovers,” Jackson said. “We always knew, whoever forces the first turnover, then they’re going to start rolling in. (Adrian) Amos told me before the game, ‘I told my dad you were going to get one today,’ and it happened.

“That’s just how it works: We force one and they just keep coming.”

That Bears secondary, of course, looks a lot different than it did a season ago, when the team ranked second from the bottom in the NFL in interceptions. A key cog in the remodel was Jackson, who despite his lack of NFL experience has brought plenty of experience from as successful a football program as you’ll find at any level.

All that winning in Tuscaloosa — three straight SEC titles, three straight trips to the College Football Playoff and a national title to cap the 2015 season — has given Jackson a unique perspective, one that’s proving quite valuable to this Bears defense.

“He has fun playing ball, and you like that college-like funness that he brings to the game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think it started at his college, his mindset coming from Alabama. He’s actually teaching some of us, telling some of us how it was at Alabama. And that’s a winning program, so I think that adds to our defense.

“He really just preaches: ‘Don’t settle, keep wanting more.’ And we’ve been carrying that out onto the field.”

Jackson didn’t even realize that his monster day came on the one-year anniversary of his collegiate injury, expressing surprise when informed of that during his postgame press conference before waving off the notion that his comeback has been that big a deal.

“I’ve dealt with adversity before, and that’s one thing I can credit Alabama on,” he said. “They help you fight through adversity. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life, so that was just a little minor stepping stone. I came here (to the Bears), it’s a great organization, great training staff and great teammates. So they did a great job keeping me up, keeping me going.”

While he brushed off his comeback from that injury, it’s still obviously on his mind. The pinned tweet at the top of his Twitter page references his return from that broken leg.

Jackson’s coaches and teammates have seen what he can do for a while now, the obvious reason that the fourth-rounder was a starter out of camp. But now he’s broken out, showing Bears fans and football fans across the country the type of big playmaker he is.

“He’s a tremendous young guy as well as a young player,” head coach John Fox said. “I think we saw it early on. … Eddie showed those things to the coaching staff and to his teammates early on, and now you all get to see it.”

So as the Bears defense continues to look more and more like Bears defenses of old, fans can expect Jackson to continue to be in the right place at the right time. And next time, they’ll have a similar reaction to the one Trevathan had when he saw Jackson come up with the ball on Sunday.

Asked what he was thinking, Trevathan pointed forward toward the imaginary end zone and replied with a certain cartoon bird’s instantly recognizable catchphrase.

“Beep beep!”

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

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USA TODAY

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

Are the Monsters of the Midway back?

You wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that way after watching yet another strong performance from the Bears’ defense in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.

Highlighted by Eddie Jackson’s pair of 75-yard turnover-return touchdowns, the Bears’ defense had a second straight highlight-reel display on Sunday. In addition to Jackson’s takeaways, the defense also added a fourth-quarter interception for a third takeaway, sacked Cam Newton five times and kept the Panthers completely out of the end zone.

For those keeping score at home: That’s two full games without allowing an offensive touchdown.

And they did it all while constantly being on the field. Thanks to Jackson’s touchdowns, the Bears’ offense got to stay on the sideline more than usual, the Bears’ offense possessing the ball for fewer than 7 minutes in the first half and only 21 minutes and 25 seconds on the game overall. And when the offense did take the field, the results were poor, meaning a quick turnaround for the defense.

The overworked defense didn’t always keep the Panthers from marching down the field, but the Panthers never found the end zone, Newton’s inaccuracies assisting the terrific play of the Bears’ defense, which technically forced four turnovers, if you count a third-quarter turnover on downs.

And that’s all before mentioning that the defense supplied almost the entirety of the Bears’ scoring output for the day on Jackson’s first-quarter fumble-return touchdown and his second-quarter interception-return touchdown. Both went 75 yards as Jackson, playing a year to the day from the end of his collegiate career with a broken leg at Alabama, became the first defensive player ever to have two 75-yard-plus return touchdowns in an NFL game.

If you’re having flashbacks to the last decade, when Lovie Smith’s defenses had a habit of being bigger scoring threats than the offense, you’re not alone. Twitter lit up with Mike Brown comparisons for Jackson.

Great day for the rookie, great day for the defense.

No offense to be found

Meanwhile, the Bears’ offense did next to nothing on a day when the defense was excellent.

Mitch Trubisky was mostly silent in his third career game, the obvious exception being his 70-yard heave to Tarik Cohen. Trubisky’s deep ball landed in his fellow rookie’s hands, and Cohen did the rest scampering all the way down to the 5-yard line.

Of course, the Bears’ offense failed there, unable to cover five yards in three plays for a touchdown. Trubisky attempted to rush in on third down, racing to the pylon and diving for the score. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but a replay review determined he was down short of the goal line. The Bears settled for a field goal on that drive, and it was the only scoring drive the offense engineered all day.

In the end, the numbers were disgusting. The Bears accumulated just 153 yards, picked up just five first downs, went 2-for-11 on third downs and scored just three points. Trubisky barely even threw the ball, completing just four of his seven passes for 107 yards.

Good thing the defense was so good — and scored 14 points — because the offense was practically non-existent.