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Dynasty on tap? Bears youth making huge impact

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Dynasty on tap? Bears youth making huge impact

Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010
3:24 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

They are playing largely spot-duty roles for the Bears in their first true NFL seasons. But the 2010 rookie class and a couple of other newcomers have made significant contributions to what is now a 10-4 playoff team.

The true significance, however, may lie in the fact that on a team led by veterans, the Bears have an emerging core of quality youth. Not coincidentally, they are all members of position groups led by some of the elite veterans on the roster: Chris Harris and Charles Tillman in the secondary, Olin Kreutz on the offensive line, Julius Peppers on the defensive line.

JMarcus Webb, right tackle

JMarcus Webb, the Bears seventh-round pick in this years draft, has secured the right tackle spot this season and for what looks like a long, long time. But it has been a season of major adjustments: to the NFL in general, to a new position, even to a whole different kind of coach.

Ive played a lot of left tackle so this was kind of throwing me to the wolves at right and Im having to learn a lot of things over again, Webb said. Its different as far as shifting your weight.

And then theres offensive line coach Mike Tice: Ive had some pretty tough coaches, Webb said, shaking his head, but hes the craziest and most intense for me, his intensity and his word usage.

Major Wright, safety

Third-rounder and safety Major Wright was hit with a succession of injuries almost from the outset of training camp that may have prevented him from shouldering his way into the starting lineup by now. Coming off the bench he has not had fewer than three tackles in any of the last five games and the Bears are 6-1 since his return from a hamstring strain suffered in the Dallas game.

Wright blitzed Minnesota quarterback Joe Webb in the fourth quarter Monday and the pressure contributed to an interception by Brian Urlacher. The play was nullified because Wright was flagged for roughing the passer, but even though he took the quarterback out a little bit, linebacker Lance Briggs said, it was good to see that aggressiveness.

Corey Wootton, defensive end

Defensive end Corey Wootton was drafted in the fourth round primarily for the future and as depth behind Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije. Anderson was cut, Idonije is in the midst of a career year with eight sacks, and Wootton has begun to appear on game days, with three tackles against New England and a game-ending sack of Brett Favre Monday night in Minnesota.

I think every week its been better, said Wootton, who is unlikely to be getting too many more Sundays off. Thats the good thing, just to improve every week, and thats what Ive been doing. But Ive still got some major room for improvement and thats what I want to do.

Henry Melton, defensive endtackle

Like Wootton, Henry Meltons first career sack was of Favre, in the Week 10 game between the teams. The defensive tackleend from Texas was the Bears fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft but missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury suffered in preseason, making him a de facto rookie as well.

Hes got some real pass-rush stuff to him, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who has worked with enough elite pass rushers to know. Now its about consistency every day. Im looking at him outside and inside and rolling him around because if you suit seven men up or eight men up the guys in a backup role have to have position flexibility.

Melton has played four different defensive line positions in a single game and has emerged as a true part of the Bears defensive line rotation. He is 6-3, 260 pounds but hes got a hardness to him inside, Marinelli said. Hes a physical player. Hell hit.

D.J. Moore, nickel back

D.J. Moore has gone from afterthought rookie playing on special teams in just three games to the starting nickel back on one of the NFLs top defenses. He is tied for the team lead in interceptions, joining Chris Harris and Charles Tillman with four. He leads the defensive backs with three tackles for loss and put up his first career sack in the Detroit game.

The nickel position has an opportunity to make a lot of plays, said coach Lovie Smith. Having the right guy there, you can make a lot of plays. You have an opportunity to blitz like the linebackers, youre in pass coverage like the DBs and the linebackers, man coverage with wide receivers.

You get a chance to do everything and that position seems to be right at the point of attack a lot of times. D.J. has great instincts, as good hands as just about anybody on our team and right now hes just making plays.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

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Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

Ryan Pace had his annual strategically-cagey press conference on Tuesday, with the Bears’ general manager not wanting to reveal anything about his plans 48 hours before the NFL Draft begins. 

But there was at least one morsel of information dropped by Pace that could be useful in looking ahead to Thursday. 

Pace said the Bears have eight players in their “cloud” who they’d be comfortable taking with the eighth overall pick. None of those players are quarterbacks, of course, but there will be no fewer than two quarterbacks taken in the first seven picks (by the Cleveland Browns at No. 1/No. 4 and New York Jets at No. 3). And there’s a strong possibility three quarterbacks will be off the board in the first seven picks, too, either by virtue of the New York Giants or Denver Broncos taking one or because a team (like the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals) traded up to take their guy. 

So here’s a scenario: The Browns, Jets and Broncos all draft quarterbacks, leaving one of the consensus top four players at that position (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield) on the board when the Bears’ pick comes around at No. 8. If three quarterbacks are off the board, then most likely four of the eight players in Pace’s cloud are also taken after seven picks. 

The Bills didn't trade their left tackle to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up from pick No. 21 to No. 12 to not draft a quarterback, not after dealing away Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron a year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. In short: It would be a failure for the Bills’ front office if they didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round. 

So if we get to the Bears’ pick at No. 8, and the Bills haven’t moved up and drafted a quarterback yet, here’s where the trade-down possibility comes into play for Pace. If he were to move down to the No. 12 pick, and the Bills took a quarterback at No. 8, that would mean at least four quarterbacks would be off the board by the time the Bears would pick at No. 12. 

And that would mean that at least one of those eight players who Pace would be comfortable selecting with the eighth overall pick would be available at No. 12. Maybe the Miami Dolphins take a quarterback, too — Lamar Jackson would presumably be their guy — with the No. 11 pick, meaning two of those eight are on the board. 

“I think, especially with the quarterback situation this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some movement because of the quarterbacks in the draft,” Pace said. “I think there’s more trading that’s going on now. I don’t know if it’s a new wave. Sometimes with these trades and you have relationships with these other GMs, there can be win-win scenarios. There’s always this fear that someone is going to get the short end of the stick. Well, if you’re thorough with your research, and they are too, there can be win-win scenarios in these trades.”

A lot would have to break right for this scenario to play out, of course. The Bills could opt to trade up with the Browns (No. 4), Broncos (No. 5), Indianapolis Colts (No. 6) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7) to limit their risk in getting burned in finding their quarterback of the future. 

There could be four quarterbacks taken in the first four picks, too, which would limit the Bears’ trade-down opportunities but ensure half of Pace’s draft “cloud” is still there when he goes on the clock. The Bears could see that situation as an opportunity to draft one of the top four players on their draft board despite having the No. 8 pick. 

“If four quarterbacks go in front of us, I’m all for it,” Pace said at the league meetings last month. “I think you see the value of that position right now when you see people posturing to get up in the draft and get a quarterback. It’s critical. … So us personally right now, we’re all for as many quarterbacks going.”

Pace has traded up in the first round in each of his last two drafts to pick a guy on which there was conviction and a consensus (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky). But the math makes sense for him to trade down, if the possibility is there, and still draft a guy he likes while adding picks for Friday and/or Saturday. 

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

The days/weeks/months leading up to the NFL draft are all about players’ traits – size, speed, arm length, arm strength/throwing, arm strength/lifting and so on. Those ultimately determine whom is drafted where and by whom.

 

But what about the “traits” of the selectors, one selector in particular: Bears GM Ryan Pace?

 

Borrowing James Bond’s standard of measure – “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action” – the fact that Pace has now directed three drafts allows viewing him through the Bond prism.

 

And three particular Ryan “traits” begin to come into sharper focus when the camera is pulled back to look at the bigger Pace picture.

 

 

Subterfuge

 

Last year Pace didn’t even tell his head coach that the Bears were going to get Mitch Trubisky with their No. 1 pick. The plan was always to land a quarterback; Pace’s decision on which one surprised more than a few people even at Halas Hall.

 

But Pace isn’t exactly an anomaly. Over the years, NFL teams have become increasingly secretive in its handling of draft information. Pre-draft get-togethers typically produced any number of “We really like….” declarations regarding particular players. Those statements found their ways into the informational mainstream, which produced situations where opposing teams used that information to jump ahead of the Bears to snag a player targeted by the Bears.

 

So “this time of year I think it’s OK to be a little boring in these moments,” Pace said, laughing.

 

 

A “ceiling” guy

 

NFL personnel execs loosely fall along two general lines: the ones who gamble on a player’s upside (his “ceiling”) and those who factor in a bigger safety component in evaluating a prospect (his “floor”). And obviously there are similar elements in most execs.

 

Jerry Angelo was a “floor guy,” wanting to minimize the risk in a No. 1 pick even if it meant doing without a little upside. Pace is more “ceiling guy,” inclined to gamble more on projection, what a player could become. That was apparent even in some of his free-agent signings. Quarterback Mike Glennon was signed for his upside. So was tight end Trey Burton this year.

 

Now consider his high draft picks:

 

Wide receiver Kevin White, one huge (109 rec., 10 TD’s) college season, taken No. 7 overall.

 

Edge rusher Leonard Floyd –  productive all-around player at Georgia but a too-light 231 pounds. Trade up from 11th to 9th.

 

Trubisky – one good college season, 13 starts, 68% completions, 30 TD/6 INT. Trade up from 3rd to 2nd to select.

 

Tight end Adam Shaheen – small-college product, never faced top competition, taken 2nd round.

 

“You see a lot of physical traits and talent, and you're projecting how much better they can get,” said Pace, who characterized himself as both a ceiling and floor guy. “That's part of the art of doing this. I think a lot of that goes into the work by all of us — by our scouts and our coaches — and also knowing the football makeup they have. We talk about the desire to get better, their passion and their love for the game.

 

“If they have all the physical traits but they don't have that desire, then it might not work. But if they do have that desire, they do have that passion, those are the kinds of players we want because we have more faith they'll improve.”

 

 

Creative flex

 

The Bears have bordered on stodgy too many drafts. Contrasted to that, Pace’s draft aggressiveness has been amply chronicled. Pace has made seven draft day trades, four in 2016 and three last season. Pace’s four trades during the 2016 draft were the most by the team since 2000.

 

Pace traded up in each of the last two drafts to select clearly targeted players. The Bears hadn’t made a deal involving their first-round picks since giving away two of them in a trade for Jay Cutler in 2009. More noteworthy, the Bears before Pace had rarely made a move UP in a first round and in fact were far more inclined to trade out of their No. 1 slots.

 

Not necessarily to be viewed as organizational timidity, but besides the Cutler trade, they’d given Buffalo their No. 1 in 2006, going all the way out of the first round. They’d traded out of No. 4-overall in 2003, down to 14 and 22. They gave away their 1997 No. 1 in a trade for Rick Mirer.

 

Pace doesn’t shrink from the moment. "When we identify a guy that we like, and there's a unified vision in the building on a player that we want,” he said, “I don't think we're ever afraid to go up and get that guy."

 

But he also traded down in second rounds of each of the last two drafts. He in fact traded down twice in the 2016 second round, adding picks each time and still winding up with rookie O-line starter Cody Whitehair. Pace's second-round picks (Whitehair, nose tackle Eddie Goldman) have been better than his No. 1’s.

 

“In this [GM] chair, you're taking a lot of information,” Pace said. “We can have 10 to 12 reports on one player. You're taking all that information in. I have a really good feel now for, like, ‘OK, this coach or this scout's kind of a high grader; this guy's a low grader,’ taking it all in.

 

“Being aggressive when you need to be aggressive. Make a move if you need to make a move. And that can go the other way, too. The last two years, we've traded back in the second round and accumulated some more picks. That helped us a lot last year getting some good players. So, I think not being afraid to move around in the draft and use that to your advantage.”