Bears waiting on Alshon Jeffery to provide downfield threat


Bears waiting on Alshon Jeffery to provide downfield threat

Alshon Jeffery, who was limited (again) in practice on Thursday has more optimism about playing this Sunday in Detroit (“a lot better than last week,” Jeffery said) than he has had for any of the Bears’ last four games (all of which he missed) because of a hamstring strain. The offense has out-gained opponents in three of those, all but the Seattle game.

But the Bears rank 31st in yards per pass attempt (6.1 yards), meaning that the football is not going deep downfield very often. Not all of it can be laid at the foot of protection questions, with the Bears 18th in sack percentage; not great but not catastrophic, either.

The Bears have 17 pass plays of 20 yards or longer but only 10 of those have come from wide receivers, and Jeffery accounted for two of those in the one game he played (Green Bay). Jeffery has had longest catches for 80 and 74 yards the past two seasons and through five games this year the Bears have none longer than 50 yards.

[MORE BEARS: Rookie WR Kevin White does some light work at practice]

The twin hopes are that Jeffery will be active Sunday in Ford Field and that he will bring something that has been sorely missed by the 2015 Bears offense.

“I think we’re going to be able to open things up a little bit,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said. “We haven’t really been able to attack down the field. A lot of our guys… ‘Q’ [Marquess Wilson] has tried to do a good job with what we ask him to do.

“[But] I know Alshon is a special cat. The way that he goes up and gets the ball, it’s rare to see. I know there’s a few guys that can do it, but it seems like a contested throw, he wins a lot. Like [receivers coach Mike] Groh always would say, ‘He’s an above the rim player,’ and there’s not a lot of those guys around the league.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

Jeffery actually is, literally, an above-the-rim player. He was a four-time state champion as a member of the Calhoun County (S.C.) High School basketball team.

“[Not playing has] been frustrating at times, but I have great teammates and great coaches, and great people around me that are keeping me in good spirits,” Jeffery said. “We'll evaluate it. Let's just see what the coaches say and see how it feels. [We’re a] couple of days away from Sunday, so we'll see.”

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.