Bears

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Running back

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Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Running back

Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted: 10:58 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Second in a series

The Bears rededicated themselves to running the ball around mid-2010, with the effect of aiding their offensive line and forcing defensive lines to pay attention to someone other than Jay Cutler. That commitment is expected to remain in place.

The Bears

Over the past decade the Bears scored with second-round picks at running back. Anthony Thomas (2001) was the offensive rookie of the year; Matt Forte (2007) was arguably the Bears offensive player of the year last season, accounting for nine touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards, tying for team high with 51 receptions.

Forte is entering a contract year but as one of the franchise-position players (along with quarterback and a pass-rushing defensive lineman) chances of Forte finishing 2011 without a new contract are slim at best.

The variable, however, is behind Forte on the depth chart. A source told CSNChicago.com that the Bears were expected to release Chester Taylor closer to the season.

However, loss of training camp and preseason due to labor troubles would dramatically reduce the opportunity for Harvey Unga to establish himself as a replacement for Taylor, whose production dropped for a third straight season to a career-low 2.4 yards per carry. And the Bears paid Taylor the majority of his money in year one of his four-year deal, so there is no economic pressure to make a move.

Need: Marginal; the depth chart may do some shuffling, and Taylor, Unga and Garrett Wolfe will not all make a roster that does not hold a spot open for a fullback anyway.

The 2011 draft

Gems can be uncovered in any draft, even the drafts lacking in apparent elite talent. That would be the situation in this years draft, in which Alabama Heisman Trophy winner (2009) Mark Ingram is rated far, far above most other prospects at the position.

Despite 11 underclassmen declaring for the draft, there is only one bona fide first-round talent among the group, says Pro Football Weeklys Nolan Nawrocki. Although its a smaller class of backs this year, there are some mid-round talents worth considering.

Indeed, rounds 2 and 3 are expected to see as many as a half-dozen backs drafted. Illinois Mikel LeShoure is viewed as a potential second-to-third rounder but too few of the backs, including LeShoure, have displayed the kind of size-speed mix coveted by the NFL, at least in early rounds.

Of course, Arian Foster was a free-agent pickup in 2009 and he led the NFL in rushing and total yards in 2010.

The Best Bets:

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama With 30 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons playing in the SEC, Hes one guy that really belongs in the first round, said ESPNs Todd McShay. He is so instinctive. And the three things that really jump out, the instincts, the lateral quickness -- he just feels a hole opening and is able to get in and out of it so quickly. And then, finally, the yards after contact, just the way he runs with his pad level and anticipating contact, he is so good in that area.

2. Mikel LeShoure, Illinois Could even slip into the first round, being the kind of productive player that quality franchises like Indianapolis and New England gravitate toward.

3. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State Did not run with the speed of Oklahoma States Kendall Hunter or Va. Techs Ryan Williams but this former QB got progressively better every year and is 6-0, 225 pounds, which the others arent.

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.

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio delivers some refreshing honesty about the state of the Bears' defense

Vic Fangio took the podium at Halas Hall on Thursday after coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich fielded questions for about 30 minutes, and began his press confernece with a classic quip. 

“Alright, let’s continue this lovefest,” Fangio said. 

For a Bears team coming off a 5-11 season — the fourth consecutive double-digit loss season for the franchise — there’s been plenty of positivity pinging around Halas Hall since Nagy was hired last week. But Fangio showed up with a reality check on Thursday, at least as it relates to the defense he’ll return to coach for a fourth year. 

“There’s no doubt strides were made," Fangio said. “Not enough. I think it’s a wrong picture to paint that the defense was great and the rest of the team wasn’t. We were 5-11. 

“If we were a great defense we’d have more than five wins. There’s a lot of room for improvement there — a lot — and we need to do that.”

The Bears opted for continuity in enticing Fangio to return to coach their defense, which ranked 10th in total defense and 9th in points last year, but was 14th in defensive DVOA. This was a good, not great defense that won the Bears a few games (most notably, the 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers) but struggled at times, too. 

A great defense? That’d be the Jacksonville Jaguars, which on the back of one of the league’s best pass rushes and secondaries has vaulted Blake Bortles into the AFC Championship game. A great defense wouldn’t have let Brett Hundley post a 110.8 passer rating against it in Week 10; a great defense wouldn’t have allowed Matthew Stafford to scythe through it on two occasions. 

And that Fangio — who’s generally honest and brings a no-B.S. attitude to his press conferences — acknowledged that eight and a half months before the 2018 season starts was refreshing to hear. It’s almost been easy to forget the Bears lost their 11th and final game of the 2017 season less than three weeks ago with a new, young, offensive-minded coach stepping into Halas Hall. 

There will be plenty of turnover on the offensive side of the ball — possibly an entirely different receiver corps than was regularly on the field in 2017 — but the defense will have some consistency, starting with Fangio and extending to his defensive coaches, who he said Thursday he expects to be back. This is a group that needs more talent at edge rusher and cornerback, but Fangio is more concerned with developing the guys who are already here — and were why this was a “good” defense last year. 

“Guys like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Leonard (Floyd), Eddie Jackson, I know I’m going to miss some, I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. 

“So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

And that approach — more so than his lengthy experience in the NFL — is why retaining Fangio made so much sense for the Bears. Nobody knows the strengths and flaws of the Bears’ defense better than Fangio; and keeping Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Jackson etc., in the same scheme with the same coordinator and same coaches gives this Bears’ defense the best chance to go from being “good” to great. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?