Bears still waiting for offensive line to come into focus

Bears still waiting for offensive line to come into focus

Kyle Long played all 62 offensive snaps the Bears took in his first game since Nov. 13, 2016, so he reported to Halas Hall on Monday feeling “about as sore today as I was prior to anything surgically," as he described it. 

“It’s a good thing," Long said. "It's something you miss when you're not in it. It's funny, I was talking to my dad and he's like ‘well are you sore?’ I was like yeah, and he's like well that's a good thing. It's one of the things I miss, being sore after a game feeling like you've done something. It feels good to be in here after a win."

Considering Long struggled to make it through practices last week as he worked to get back into football shape, that he played every single offensive snap was a little surprising to coach John Fox. 

“He played probably a lot longer than I thought was possible as far as I think he was probably pretty gassed afterwards,” Fox said. “I thought he played very well, like our whole offensive line. Was it perfect all the time? No. But whenever you can run the ball as many times and as effectively as we did, I think it starts up front. So I think he played well.”

Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined to average more than six yards per carry in Sunday’s 23-17 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers behind an offensive line that got Long back, but still had to deal with more next men up. With Josh Sitton out with a rib injury and Tom Compton sidelined with a hip injury, and Hroniss Grasu injuring his hand in the first half, the Bears had to shuffle the interior of their offensive line for the second consecutive game. That meant Cody Whitehair moved back to center and Bradley Sowell replaced him at left guard. 

The interior of the Bears’ offensive line was circled as a strength prior to this season, but the Sitton-Whitehair-Long trio hasn’t played a game together yet. Sitton was listed as a “limited participant” on the Bears’ injury report for a theoretical practice on Monday (the NFL requires teams playing a Thursday night game to release participation, even if they don’t practice the day after a game). Compton was a full participant, so the Bears should at least have him back at Lambeau Field. Fox would only say Grasu, who was listed as a limited participant Monday, "has a hand" and wouldn't detail the extent of his injury. 

Until the Bears’ offense is able to at least threaten to stretch its passing game downfield, opposing defenses can continue to cheat up and scheme to stop the run. That makes the offensive line’s job harder, though getting back to full health could help lead to more games like the one the Bears had against Pittsburgh. 

"It’s extremely tough, but you gotta get it done," left tackle Charles Leno said of trying to run block when opposing teams know what's coming. "You gotta get your job done. You gotta find a way. You gotta dig down deep and get your job done and that’s what we did." 

Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White


Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White

Questions have been hanging over Kevin White ever since GM Ryan Pace opted to invest the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft on a wide receiver with one outstanding college season on his resume. Given Pace’s strike for a quarterback with a roughly similar body of work last draft, this may qualify as a Pace “strategy,” but that’s for another discussion closer to the draft.

But in the wake of signings at wide receiver by Pace and the Bears over the start-up days of free agency, a new and perhaps darker cloud is forming over White. This is beyond the obvious ones visited on the young man by his succession of three season-ending injuries, and by a nagging belief in some quarters that White is a bust irrespective of the injuries.

The point is not that White will never amount to anything in the NFL. Marc Colombo came back from a pair of horrendous leg injuries to have a career as a solid NFL tackle, albeit with the Dallas Cowboys, not the Bears.

The problem facing White now, assuming he comes back able to stay healthy in a competition with Cameron Meredith for the spot opposite Allen Robinson, is whether there is reasonably going to be a roster spot the Bears can use for him.

This would be on top of whether Pace and the organization could bring themselves to cut ties with a quality individual in a move that would amount to admitting a failure in what was supposed to be a defining initial top-10 pick by a regime committed to building through the draft.

White is still under his rookie contract with its $2.7 million guaranteed for this season, so there is little reason to simply give up on him, even assuming an offset if White then signs on somewhere else.

But Robinson and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel account for two of the starting three wideout spots. For the other wide receiver job, Meredith, also coming off season-ending knee surgery, rates an early edge on White based on Meredith’s 66-catch 2016 season.

If White does not start, he then becomes a backup, and backups are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s what has kept Josh Bellamy in the NFL, and what new Bears tight end Trey Burton points to as his ticket to making it through his first years with Philadelphia.

White doesn’t cover kicks, doesn’t return them, doesn’t block them. The Bears have typically expected special-teams participation from their No. 4-5 receivers, although the fact that Meredith and Robinson are coming off knee injuries, and chances that the Bears will keep six wide receivers in the West Coast offense of Matt Nagy, all could tilt a decision in favor of White simply as insurance/depth, even with his own injury history.

It is difficult not to have a spot of rooting-interest in White, a young guy trying so hard to get a career dream off the ground. It’s just also difficult to see a clear fit in the new Bears world that began forming in earnest in the past several days.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.