Bears

Free hugs available for violent Bears’ 'dogs' after first day in pads

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Free hugs available for violent Bears’ 'dogs' after first day in pads

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — A little girl with a homemade sign on her dad’s shoulders gave the Bears’ defensive line a boost that some of them may have needed after some portions of Saturday’s first day in pads:

“Free hugs D line” the young lady’s huge sign read.

The Bears’ D line didn’t have THAT bad a first day in pads by any means, and in fact was dominant against the run. Also evident was a degree of physicality that was absent the past couple of seasons, with linebacker/ends Jared Allen and Pernell McPhee among those delivering impact plays in team sessions that set a tone.

[MORE: Bears OL strong in first 2015 time in pads]

“That's going to really show who's got the dog in them and who doesn't,” McPhee said. "That's what it boils down to at the end of the day on defense: who's got the dog in them and who is going to be physical and violent.

“My attitude is, ‘Hey. I know what time it is; time to be a dog and every play I’ve got to be one.”

Defensive line

If Jared Allen is still feeling his way into a new job as a hybrid end/linebacker, it was not evident on Saturday. Allen played physical at the point of attack on numerous occasions against the run, lining up in multiple sets, and thoroughly handling block attempts by a receiver and tight end on separate plays, then closing down fast to stuff an attempted run play… . Cornelius Washington continues to show up on film, playing with 20 pounds added from last year and acquitting himself well as one of the 5-techniques. Washington recorded his third simulated “sack” of camp and also dominated two reps in one-on-one pass rushing drills… .

[RELATED: Two days, zero turnovers for Bears’ 'O']

Ego Ferguson is playing solid with the No. 1 defense but has not been able to provide noteworthy pass-rush pressure against strong pass-blocking efforts by Bears O-linemen… . Promising rookie nose tackle Terry Williams was held out of practice… .

Jeremiah Ratliff has been frequently unblockable one-on-one in team sessions, particularly strong against inside runs… . The hit of the day came from tackle Brandon Dunn, who got into the backfield and had 235-pound running back Daniel Thomas bounce off him like a ping-pong ball.

Linebackers

Sam Acho batted down a pass on a blitz late in practice, one of the first of this camp — a radical departure from practices when the defense was ordered to keep their hands down because they were blocking too many passes. Acho struggled in some one-on-one passing drills against different Bears right-side linemen… .

Pernell McPhee was barely held off in one-on-one pass rushing drills, working against tackles Charles Leno and Jordan Mills. McPhee is displaying an explosive first step to go with his use of leverage and 280 pounds… .

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The Bears had to be pleased with the play of Lamarr Houston on the first day in pads. Houston was a force against the run, holding the point against 353-pound tackle Tayo Fabuluje and making a hit on the running back. Houston also defended well in space, reacting quickly to pressure quarterback Jimmy Clausen and forcing one premature throw.

Secondary

Cornerback Terrance Mitchell produced the defense’s first takeaway of camp when he stripped wide receiver Ify Umodu after a catch across the middle, with the defense recovering… . Coverage was good enough twice in 7-on-7 to force quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen to tuck the ball and run because no receiver was open… .

Brock Vereen continues to work alongside Antrel Rolle as the safety tandem, with Ryan Mundy working in with Rolle as well, after Alshon Jeffery got completely loose in the secondary with no defender closer than 20 yards of him. “We're still early in the evaluation,” coach John Fox said. “I think that was our third real practice, first in pads. So much about that position is how they key and diagnose. When you get into live game situations sometimes, practice obviously is big. We let loose a guy wide open on an all-block pass or a gadget play. That's why we're here, we're trying to teach guys to have the right eyes and look at the right things and react the right way.”

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.