Bears

Bears who stepped forward, backward, and sideways vs. Bengals

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Bears who stepped forward, backward, and sideways vs. Bengals

This 21-10 Bears loss in Cincinnati wasn't quite the humiliating defeat they suffered in last year's dress rehearsal in Seattle.  There are clearly issues, from health, to performance.  There's also playing with the hand you're dealt, and between the injuries at wide receiver and some vanilla play-calling, perspective's needed in the offensive evaluation.  Perhaps more discouraging was the (presumably) starting defenders being unable to get off the field.

Injuries to nose tackles Jeremiah Ratliff (ankle) and Eddie Goldman (concussion) becomes the latest health storyline to follow, particularly for Goldman, since he'll be eligible to play in two weeks.  Coming out of that, however, was Will Sutton continuing to make noticeable plays, even after sliding into that nose spot despite not having the prototypical body for it.

Senorise Perry also continued to impress on kick returns, appearing to seal a roster spot, if there was a question.  But he'd limp off the field in the second half with no immediate word on his injury.

[RELATED: Boden's first-half thoughts on Bears-Bengals]

Rashad Lawrence and Joshua Bellamy may end up both making the final 53, if only for insurance for the recuperating trio of Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Marquess Wilson.  If the staff decides to roll the dice at that position, they may be pitted against each other, and neither particularly distinguished himself Saturday night.  No one gained on them either.

Like that position, it will be interesting to see if the either wave of roster cuts over the next week provides an alternative at right tackle, because Jordan Mills and Charles Leno, Jr. continued making mistakes.

It was not the best of nights for Dante Rosario, either, but perhaps his history with John Fox, his special teams experience, and the fact another tight end hasn't stepped up behind Martellus Bennett helps his cause.  The backup running back competition remained status quo.

Terrance Mitchell wasn't mistake-free, but still made a couple of nice stops and recovered a fumble, so he just might be penciled-in already, especially after Tracy Porter reinjured a hamstring and simply cannot stay on the field.

Shea McClellin was a step behind his man in coverage, getting beaten consistently over the middle, while Lamarr Houston and Willie Young made a couple of nice plays as their recoveries continue, albeith versus second- and third-stringers.  Sam Acho did not play due to illness, but it was another awfully quiet night for Jonathan Bostic.  Brock Vereen had a bad moment on a short touchdown run in the first half, but filled a gap nicely to make a play after intermission.  Adrian Amos was most noticeable when he accidentally hit Goldman's helmet, causing his fellow rookie's exit.

Rosters need to be reduced to 75 by Tuesday.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

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.