Bears

Mullin: Don't close the door on anything

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Mullin: Don't close the door on anything

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 9:43 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
The Bear may not be able to have contact with their draft choices now that the selection ritual is finished. But those draft choices have something to say to or about the Bears.

What the Bears and did not address with their 2011 draft, the first time since the 1993 start of free agency in which the draft preceded a free-agency signing period, now begins to bring some situations into focus.

We are not shutting the door on any position, said general manager Jerry Angelo. The only position I would think we would do that to is the quarterback position. Other than that, we are going to look, no more than that.

Taking the offensive

The line was unsettled most of training camp and early last season for a variety of reasons, most of them bad. This year there is some uncertainty but at least with some considerably greater positives.

No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi leaves the Bears appearing amply set at tackle. Carimi and JMarcus Webb as the front-runners for the starting jobs and Chris Williams in competition for one of the offensive-line jobs, possibly back inside at guard. And Frank Omiyale served at right and left tackle last season so there is depth at this point.

The Bears still do not have center Olin Kreutz re-signed, nor a quality left guard, given that Omiyale right now may have the inside track on starting despite struggled badly in that new (for him) position in the 2009 season. Omiyales play at left tackle, like Williams at guard in 2010, was not good enough to keep the Bears from making the position their highest priority.

We still want to look at the offensive line, Angelo said.

Look for the Bears to pursue a veteran guard in free agency, although finding a quality player at an affordable price close to the season is problematic.

Putting it on the line
By selecting Stephen Paea out of Oregon State, the Bears addressed the interior of their defensive line, the No. 2 priority going into the draft. That may dial down urgency to pursue Green Bays Cullen Jenkins as a tackle, particularly with the way coaches are looking at a newly upsized Henry Melton.

But where does Paea play?

He has the power to play nose tackle, which could mark an end to unsigned free agent Anthony Adams time in Chicago. If Paea is slotted at the nose, then Jenkins as a three-technique becomes an intriguing thought.

But 4-3 teams do not often trade two draft choices for purposes of moving up to grab a nose tackle. What the Bears gave themselves with Paea is options in the form of someone who could play either tackle position. A nickel unit with Melton and Paea paired inside is potentially a better interior rush tandem than the Bears have had in several seasons.

It is not easy given the fact that if they are athletic and they rush, it is hard for them to do the nose tackle job in terms of the dirty work, Angelo said. It is more mental toughness than it is an athletic trait, so he has very good toughness.

If the Bears do pursue Jenkins, 31, he also can play end, but Julius Peppers is set, Israel Idonije gave the defense impact plays and eight sacks at the other end, and Corey Wootton was a fourth-round draft choice last year whose development continued through the season. Wootton was active for each of the final four games and registered the final sack of Brett Favre.

Paeas role models are speedquickness players John Randle and Warren Sapp rather than plodding power players.

I feel like Randle is exactly what I want to play like, and Warren Sapp, the quickness, not much of a ball rush type of person, Paea said.

Scheming advantages

While some critics ceaselessly pound the defensive scheme of Lovie SmithRod Marinelli as passe and hopelessly out of NFL fashion, indications continue to be that the trend of teams toward 3-4 defenses is helping the Bears defense.

The obvious has been the type of defensive linemen the Bears want: smaller, speed preferred over bulk. Fronts in 3-4s typically employ space-eaters, 320 pounds or bigger, even the ends.

That then leaves a talent like Paea, at 6-1, 305 pounds, available for a scheme like the Bears. Same with a Melton, who now is up to more than 290 pounds.

Mike Riley, Paeas coach at Oregon State, coached in the NFL and specifically called Marinelli about Paea. Rod I know hes the perfect guy for what you guys are looking for, Riley told Marinelli.

A misperception among critics is the amount of time Smith, Marinelli and the Bears use the Cover-2 scheme. But the Bears do use their safeties in throwback styles and frequently use a free safety in the traditional role of someone expected to be able to tackle but primarily able to defend the deep middle in pass coverage.

That safety position has great value now because our game has really changed, Angelo said. You cant take just the down-in-the-box safety. So, its hard to find a guy. He has to be a real good tackler, have good cover skills and he has to have better than average speed.

Its very demanding in terms of the traits that qualify someone to play the position. In a long version, we just felt like, because he is that hard to find, lets not look a gift horse in the mouth.

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.