Bears

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the cornerbacks

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the cornerbacks

With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The cornerbacks. 

1. What will two new vets bring to the defense?

When Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye’s price tags skyrocketed, Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper were signed to one- and three-year contracts, respectively, then Tracy Porter was released. Pro Football Focus ranked Cooper 113th out of 120 qualified cornerbacks in coverage last year, though he did pick off four passes. Amukamara had sort of the opposite season of Cooper last year, not intercepting a pass but providing steady coverage. Neither player is likely to be a permanent fix at cornerback, but for a defense with a relatively heavy veteran presence, each fit the Bears’ plans for 2017. 

“(Amukamara)’s just kind of that veteran, savvy consistent pro, and sometimes there is a lot of hidden production from him because he’s got his guy covered and they just don’t throw at him,” general manager Ryan Pace said back in March. “… Cooper is a raw player that I think is still ascending. He didn’t play corner until late in college and when you watch him each year he’s gotten better and better the more he’s gotten opportunities. He has really natural ball skills. It’s very easy for him to make a play on the ball.”
 
2. Can Kyle Fuller hit the reset button in his last shot with the Bears?

Ryan Pace confirmed back in April that the Bears will not pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller, who so far looks like a big swing and a miss by the Phil Emery regime. Fuller missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury and isn’t a safe bet to be on the Bears’ opening day roster, though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said back in May he’ll be given an opportunity to be part of a “competition.” Still, the start of the 2014 season — when Fuller had three interceptions in his first three games — is well in the past.

3. Will the Bears regret not dipping into an ostensibly deep draft pool of cornerbacks?

This is a question that won’t be answered for a few years and is partly contingent on the development of both Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen. But it’s an interesting one to consider, given how strong this year’s class of college cornerbacks was (PFF analyzed it as being “the strongest in the past decade”). Eighteen cornerbacks were drafted in the first three rounds, 11 of whom came after the Bears drafted Shaheen with the 45th pick. But Pace stuck to taking the best player available on the Bears’ draft board, which meant snagging four offensive players with the team’s five picks.  

“I think it’d be difficult for us to say, man, we got a man graded this high, but ah man we really need defense, let’s step down here and take this player,” Pace said. “I think we’d regret that decision.”

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

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Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: