Bears

Meriweather progressing, will play vs. Atlanta

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Meriweather progressing, will play vs. Atlanta

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 9:42 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin Brandon Meriweather is expected to be inserted in spots at free safety Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons despite only being signed over the weekend.

Meriweather is receiving a crash course in the Bears scheme based on a go-now program and from Day 1, we were trying to get him game ready as soon as we possibly could, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Thursday. We have thrown a lot at him, but hes picked it up quickly. But when youre a pro, youve been around, you have some different terminology, but most of the coverages are similar. He knew a little bit about how we play ball, so well see. Hes right on pace.

Meriweather played his way to two Pro Bowls as a member of the New England Patriots and coaches have not been shy about throwing him into the defense and into plans to go against one of the NFLs elite offenses.

Hes a real smart guy, said coach Lovie Smith. I think he understands everything were doing. But now its just doing it; the repetition of doing it, the run fits and all those things Were trying to get him up to speed as fast as we can.

Meriweather may not be the only very new guy making an impact on just a few days practice. Fullback Tyler Clutts, signed off the Cleveland Browns practice squad, played on all four Browns special teams and is expected to be on more than one as a new Bear.

Sick bay

Running back Marion Barber was out of practice again Thursday, all but guaranteeing he will be sidelined for the Atlanta game because of a calf injury suffered in the Tennessee game. Nose tackle Anthony Adams (calf), receiver Sam Hurd (ankle) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee) practiced on a limited basis. Adams is expected to be ready Sunday but Wootton is a longer shot, coming back from knee surgery.

Bears skeptic

As you can probably deduce from previous postings, Im curious why there is such widespread low-balling of the Bears, not just locally but also nationally. This isnt a fan speaking; I have no personal rooting interest here, and my 10-6 or better prediction for the second straight year is simply my guess on what actually will happen, not what I somehow wish would happen (except that, as my wife knows, I seriously love being right).

But Jason LaCanfora over at NFL Network calls himself a Bears skeptic rather than a Bears hater and explains why. Not a lot of surprises, including the observation that the Bears are getting older at a number of spots on defense.

A curious thing, though, is why investing a No. 1 draft choice in a tackle (Gabe Carimi) isnt considered doing much to fortify the offensive line, which also has left tackle JMarcus Webb going into a second NFL season and Chris Williams doing the same at left guard. Unless they mysteriously backslide, those are upgrades-in-place.

If Frank Omiyale was a starter last season and is not good enough to this year, that means your offensive line is better (no slight of Omiyale here). If Chris Spencer, a starter in Seattle, is not good enough to start, the Bears line is better.

Jason does raise a good question regarding Meriweather, whom the Bears signed to a one-year contract worth more than 3.2 million. It would seem that they couldve traded a draft choice for him (New England was shopping Meriweather) and paid less, although Meriweather had reached some contract escalators, so the Bears wouldve been paying quite a bit more than the 1.6 million in Meriweathers rookie deal.

Plus, two other factors: The Bears do not treat late-round picks lightly. They have two seventh-rounders starting on their offensive line (Webb, Lance Louis) and a sixth-rounder (Chris Harris) starting at safety.

And thats what the market said they needed to pay for a two-time Pro Bowl safety.

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.

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.