Bears

Teammates making it hard for Hanie to succeed

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Teammates making it hard for Hanie to succeed

As the Oakland Raiders game ended, Caleb Hanies quarterback arrow was pointing decidedly up. Since then

What has happened to Hanie?

It is not as simple as just declaring him an unfit quarterback for the NFL, denigrating Bears personnel staff for allowing 2011 to begin with him as the No. 2 behind Jay Cutler. Or ridiculing the coach staff for going with him as first alternate.

Thats hindsight, second-guessing, selective memory, whatever you want to call it. And it somehow doesnt add up to an adequate explanation for three straight losses with an increasingly inept offense.

Something isnt making complete sense here. Maybe its as simple as. Maybe its. Answer at the end.

Respectable history

On three separate occasions last season Hanie entered games as an emergency throw-in after utter Todd Collins failures. One was against the New York Giants after their nine-sack half against Cutler. Hanie threw four passes, completed three for 36 yards, and his 102.1 passer rating was a relief from Collins 8.1.

A week later Hanie succeeded Collins again and completed two of his three attempts for 19 yards.

Hanie didnt play again until the NFC Championship game when he again replaced Collins after Cutler was lost to the knee injury. Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes, threw an INT that was returned for a touchdown, but recovered from that to a degree that even doubting coordinator Mike Martz was impressed. Hanie had the Bears with a third-and-3 at the Green Bay 27 before Martzs end-around call to Earl Bennett backfired and Hanies last attempt was intercepted at the Green Bay 12.

That was enough of a body of work for the Bears to invest some hope in Hanie, who managed to spit the bit for a time in training camp with his interceptions but not enough for the organization to make another Collins-type move.

Put another way, Hanie gave the Bears more on-field reasons for at least guarded optimism than Matt Cassel had by the time he succeeded Tom Brady several years ago, than Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates had by the time they came on for Matt Schaub in Texas, and any number of backups.

Oakland fourth quarter, and then

In the second half of the Oakland game, Hanie recovered from the interception nightmares of the first two quarters and posted a passer rating above 97. He completed 11 of 21 passes for 182 yards and a TD in the second half and directed three straight scoring drives in the fourth quarter.

The problem is that hes managed just 13 points in the eight quarters since then.

The problem I have with that is its not a full picture.

Hanie has made too many bad passes to escape any sort of blame. He whiffed on Bennett in the Kansas City game and on Marion Barber in Denver.

But whats wrong with the Bears offense right now is so clearly Barber, Roy Williams and points given away. This isnt all that complex.

Hanies problem is that he has not been able to raise his game enough to overcome the 14 lost points by Barber (formation) and Williams (drop) against Kansas City, plus the missed Robbie Gould field after sacks on consecutive pass calls at the Chiefs 7-yards line. And the Gould opportunity that vanished in Denver with the Barber fumble.

The difficulty right now is knowing exactly how good or not good Hanie is. Hes been without franchise running back Matt Forte since mid-first quarter vs. Kansas City. Leinart and Yates at least still had Arian Foster to hand off to, and Carson Palmer threw more INTs (7) in his first three Oakland starts than Hanie (6) has in his first three.

Hanie isnt good enough yet to carry a team past the plays of a Barber and a Williams (at least not both).

Maybe nothing actually has happened to Hanie after all.

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.