Bears

Immediate impact possible from all No. 1s in NFC North

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Immediate impact possible from all No. 1s in NFC North

One of the amusing sidelights of the first round of the 2012 draft was the way half of the NFC North teams selected speed guys to rush the passer and the other half of the NFC North grabbed guys expressly for the purposes of stopping the other half.

Early indications from OTAs are that all four No. 1s will be playing significant time by the time their teams meet, which makes pending matchups especially interesting. If youre inclined to hold off on any rush to grade teams drafts, this season will provide some immediate feedback.

The Bears used the 19th-overall pick on Shea McClellin with the plan of him being an immediate part of a rotation at defensive end. That translates into his initially spelling Israel Idonije on the edge opposite of Julius Peppers.

That projects to pit McClellin against the 26th-overall pick in week seven when the Bears host the Detroit Lions in a Monday night game--word out of Detroit is that Iowa tackle Reilly Reiff is going to push starters Jeff Backus (left) and Gosder Cherilus (right).

Carlos Monarrez over at the Detroit Free Press reports that Reiff who gives the Lions three No. 1s in the tackle mix, vs. the Bears two (Gabe Carimi, Chris Williams) is gaining some notice already, which is arguably premature given that OTAs are not lineman times.

Carimi, Williams and JMarcus Webb will have to deal with Nick Perry in game two when the Bears go to Green Bay for a Thursday night game. Where exactly Perry will be is going to be a work in progress, however.

Perry was an edge rusher in a 4-3 scheme at USC. Now he is transitioning to a 3-4 in Green Bay and the questions have been there as to whether he can work in coverage, particularly with 20 more pounds than he played at in college.

Matt Kalil isnt signed yet in Minnesota but the Vikings have to feel even a little bit better about the USC left tackle after Justin Blackmon, taken a pick later at No. 4 by Jacksonville after the Jaguars traded up to get him, is facing a pretty serious DUI situation.

But Kalil is participating in OTAs without a contract, which bodes well for his immediate installation as the starting left tackle. The Bears wont know how he matches up with McClellin until Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago, and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

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.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?