Bears

Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
2:36 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Spending some time on a call Thursday with NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock added to the growing sense I have that the 2011 draft could indeed break very nicely in the Bears favor.

As I discussed previously, one thing you want when youre down around No. 29 as the Bears are, is for the draft to have real quality depth at some positions not on your must-list. Mayock confirms that defensive end is one of these.

The other thing is for there to be a clump of quality players in the grade range where youre drafting. That helps avoid needing to reach, which very typically happens at offensive line in particular because the supply is far short of the demand. As Jerry Angelo says, O-linemen can go anywhere from one round to three rounds higher than their grade because of the position.

The Bears looking for offensive and defensive line quality. Mayock describes 011 as one of those years where around the 20s there is a clump of similar quality players that extends into the second round.

Ive got a deeper first round than Ive had the last several years and it starts because of the defensive line class, Mayock said. He cited Temples Muhammed Wilkerson (6-5, 305, 16 sacks over the past two seasons) as the kind of talent possibly going to be there in the 25-40 range.

Why thats important is that Angelo has traditionally worked to keep a strength strong, and defense is that strength. So if hes looking for upgrades over Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison and Matt Toeaina, and defensive line is his first love, this is a name to monitor.

Depending on what youre looking for, if youre looking for a corner at the end of the first round, you might have a problem, Mayock said. If youre looking for a defensive end, defensive tackle or maybe an offensive tackle, youre in luck.

Its whether your need meets up with the strength of this years draft.

Last year the Bears first pick was in the third round. They needed a safety. Normally it is nearly impossible to realistically target a position in round three. But the draft had eight safeties graded at that level or above and the Bears landed one of them: Major Wright.

In 2008 the Bears were sitting at No. 14. They needed an offensive tackle, a coveted position. The tackle talent pool depth was sufficient for eight to be taken in the first 26 positions and all are current NFL starters. Seven are starting at tackle and one is a guard.

Chris Williams. But hey, hes a starter. And he could be a tackle again in 2011.

There wont be eight first-round-quality tackles in the first 28 picks, if the Bears are intent on addressing offense first again.

Carolina on his mind

Former Bear and new Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has taken over one of the NFLs youngest teams that lurched to a 2-14 record last season. That earned the Rivera the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and the surprise will be if, in spite of quarterback problems, Rivera doesnt stay on familiar ground defense with that No. 1 pick.

Were looking to fill holes on defense first, Chico to Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk.coms Live show Thursday. That tack served Carolina very well once upon an NFL time when they held the No. 2 pick overall and invested it in Julius Peppers.

Rivera emphasized the success that Carolina has had running the ball and said the organization is still looking at players on which to place its franchise tag. That prompted Florio to speculate that the early favorite for the tag would be running back DeAngelo Williams.

The player who clearly will not be tagged is wide receiver Steve Smith. At one time a definite franchise-grade receiver (he virtually did in Riveras 2005 Bears defense singlehandedly in the divisional playoff round), Smith has fallen from grace. As far as Smiths future in Carolina, where in-depth evaluations are in process, a lot of it depends on what happens in the next month, Rivera said.

Which sounds decidedly like Smith will at the very least be trade material, particularly when Rivera talks about going through the process and deciding whats best for the team and for Smith.

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.

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

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USA Today

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

Mitchell Trubisky shook his head and grinned when he fielded yet another question this week about the touchdown pass Tarik Cohen threw against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Dang, you guys can’t get enough of this,” Trubisky said. “I talked about it after the game. Dowell (Loggains) was saying it was the best pass of the game. I’m like, ‘All right, geez, let him play quarterback.

“… He threw a dime ball. I love how he was fading away on it and celebrating on the 50-yard line. Zach (Miller) made a great catch. So A-plus; really impressive spiral, especially with the gloves on. Can’t count any of that out. Tarik’s a special player and it was an awesome throw.”

The point here is less about Cohen’s throw and more about the Bears finding yet another way for the rookie running back to make an impact. So far this year, Cohen has rushed 50 times, caught 26 passes, returned 14 punts and now thrown that historic touchdown. He’s been asked to block in pass protection more frequently, allowing him to be on the field more. And he’s worked with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Kendall Wright (who Cohen referred to as another receiver coach for him) to expand his route tree, leading him to be the most-targeted player (33 targets) on the Bears through six weeks. 

That may seem like a lot to put on the plate of a fourth-round draft pick from an FCS school, but it hasn’t been too much for Cohen. 

“We need Tarik to be that guy for us — the best playmaker we have,” Loggains said. “There’s no secret there. And he’s a guy who we’ll continue to use, and people are aware of him. So how creative can we get with him? How many different things can we do with him? 

“Like, we’re stretching him. Mentally, he’s stretched to the max playing all these positions — motioning out to wide receiver, playing running back and doing more in the backfield with more carries. So we have to keep stretching him and keep using him in the offense.”

Opposing defenses have keyed on Cohen since his explosive debut Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, scheming to muffle his playmaking ability. But he still managed to nearly have a walk-off 73-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, and then in Week 6, with defenses figuring they could crash down on him on sweep plays to the edge, he (literally) threw another wrinkle into how to gameplan against him. The next time the Bears run a toss sweep to Cohen, opposing safeties will have to think twice about bolting toward the line of scrimmage to stop him. 

Every time Cohen seems to hit a rookie wall, he and the Bears find a way to knock it down. The discussion a week ago about Cohen was that he was dancing too much and not cutting upfield quick enough; this week, it’s all about his perfect quarterback rating. 

“Our coaches do a good job of continuing to put him in places so he can be successful,” fellow running back Benny Cunningham said. “But ultimately I feel like he has such a genuine love of the game, I don’t see that happening (hitting the wall). Since the day he’s been here, from Day 1 to today, I’ve seen no drop-off in his desire to be successful and to help this offense.”

The Bears have known this about Cohen's mentality since they scouted and drafted him back in the spring, and his potential only blossomed after getting him into Halas Hall in May — “Early on, we knew Tarik was going to be pretty special,” coach John Fox said. But Cohen wouldn’t be able to reach that potential without the ability to handle the responsibilities of all the different tasks the Bears have asked of him so far. 

Cohen’s ability to do so many different things makes him an important player for this team, and his ability to do them with an exciting, playmaking flair has made him a fan favorite since training camp. So what’s next for the 5-foot-6 rookie?

“I think we’ve got something — I’ll punt the ball this week,” Cohen joked. “Naw, I’m playin’. I can’t put the ball for nothing, I don’t think. It’ll probably go like 20 yards.”

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists.