Cameron Meredith

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

12-7akiemhicks.jpg
USA Today

Projecting what holes the Bears will have to fill on their 2018 depth chart

On Wednesday’s edition of the Under Center Podcast, John “Moon” Mullin and I broke down the Bears’ current depth chart, and which players on it will and won’t be back in 2018. 

The genesis of the pod, which you can listen to below, was with this color-coded depth chart:

 

Instead of a deep dive into each of these units, as we did on the podcast, this will more be a look at who those players are who are locked into roster spots in 2018. This should begin to paint a picture of where the Bears’ positions of need are heading into the offseason. 

OFFENSE
 
QB: Mitchell Trubisky
RB: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
FB: 
WR: Cameron Meredith, Kevin White
TE: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen
LT: Charles Leno Jr.
LG: Josh Sitton, Eric Kush
C: Cody Whitehair
RG: Kyle Long, Eric Kush
RT: 

The first point to note with any of these projections is we don’t know what the Bears offense and defense will look like in 2018 with a potentially different coaching staff in place (i.e., if that coaching staff wants a fullback). 

The biggest need on this side of the ball, clearly, is wide receiver. Meredith and White are both coming off injuries (for White, three injuries in three years), and it’s fair to wonder if they can be as productive as the Bears expected them to be this season. 

The top five receivers currently scheduled to hit free agency are Davante Adams (744 yards, 7 TDs), Jarvis Landry (699 yards, 6 TDs), Marqise Lee (637, 3 TDs), Paul Richardson (592 yards, 5 TDs) and Sammy Watkins (528 yards, 6 TDs). Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright could play their way into contracts with the Bears in 2018 — both are due to hit free agency, too — with good play down the stretch. Inman, especially, has quickly developed chemistry with Trubisky since being acquired from the Los Angeles Chargers in October. 

The Bears could also potentially see an upgrade at right tackle, depending on how they’ve evaluated Bobby Massie’s season and his potential cap savings if he’s released ($5.6 million, according to Spotrac). There will be a need to add depth behind these starting linemen — though if Kush returns healthy from a training camp ACL injury, that would be a boost. 

Not all of these offensive players are "core" guys, but Trubisky, Howard, Cohen, Sitton, Whitehair and Long should fit that designation. 
 
DEFENSE

DE: Akiem Hicks, Jonathan Bullard
DT: Eddie Goldman
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski
CB: 
S: Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos

Whether the Bears’ 2018 defense is a 3-4 (as run by Vic Fangio) or a 4-3 (as run by a different defensive coordinator) remains to be seen, but these eight players would fit any scheme. 

The clear need is at cornerback, with Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara becoming free agents next year. Marcus Cooper hasn’t played up to his contract and would save the Bears $4.5 million in cap room if he were released (again, per Spotrac). Nickel corners Bryce Callahan (a restricted free agent) and Cre’von LeBlanc could be back, as could special teams ace Sherrick McManis (an unrestricted free agent). Finding an upgrade at this position is a definite “must-do” for the Bears’ offseason checklist.

But so is adding at least one go-to edge rusher, regardless of scheme fit. Pernell McPhee and Willie Young aren’t guaranteed to be back, given their relative lack of production (largely in McPhee’s case), their injury histories (in both players’ cases) or their age (in Young’s case). But if the Bears pencil in Hicks and Floyd as go-to pass-rushers in 2018, they still need a third. 

The good news is Jackson and Amos proved to be a solid safety duo in 2017, and that should carry over to 2018 (Quintin Demps could return, but perhaps as a backup). Goldman has been one of the Bears’ best defensive players this year and could be in line for a contract extension in the offseason. Trevathan is a rock on this defense, too, and is another player on whom a 2018 defense can be built. 

The "core" guys in this group: Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan and Floyd. 
 
SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: 
Punter: 
Long snapper: Andrew DePaola, Patrick Scales

Pat O’Donnell will be a free agent, while the Bears’ revolving door of kickers in 2017 isn’t likely to produce a long-term solution in 2018. 
 

Cam I am? Why the Bears see Dontrelle Inman as an ideal fit for their second-half offense

11-1dontrelleinman.jpg
USA Today

Cam I am? Why the Bears see Dontrelle Inman as an ideal fit for their second-half offense

The Bears probably aren't expecting Dontrelle Inman to produce to the level Cameron Meredith did last year, but there are plenty of similarities between the two wide receivers that are worth noting. 

Inman is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds; Meredith is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. Both players had breakout seasons in 2016: Inman with 58 catches for 810 yards and four touchdowns, Meredith with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Beyond the measurables, Bearswide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said Inman and Meredith are comparable in terms of their length and catch radius, which he said “we were missing, quite frankly.”

“Especially in traffic, he’ll go up and make a play,” Azzanni said. “We were missing that length when Cam and Kevin (White) went out, that length got dropped down. And catch radius for a quarterback is a big deal out there. So it’ll be nice to have a guy with some length out there.”

That’s an interesting point from Azzanni about length: Tanner Gentry (before the move to acquire Inman) was the biggest and tallest receiver on the Bears at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, but has struggled to get open and has only been targeted three times since Mitchell Trubisky took over as the team’s starting quarterback. Tre McBride and Josh Bellamy are 6-foot, Markus Wheaton is 5-foot-11 and Kendall Wright is 5-foot-10. 

Just being tall and rangy doesn't make someone a good receiver, of course. Azzanni, too, has been impressed by how quickly Inman has picked up the terminology of the Bears’ offense. 

“He’s a smart kid, he’s a pro, he went out there the last two days and I think he lined up wrong one time and it was just a brain fart,” Azzanni said. “That’s pretty darn good for just getting here. So I’m excited to see what he can do.”

The Bears will need Inman and Trubisky to develop a chemistry quickly — one day of practice wasn’t enough for that to happen last week before heading to New Orleans, where Inman was inactive on Sunday. Inman said he quickly learned how quick Trubisky’s passes get to receivers — “I was like, okay, he spins it, so I gotta get my head around,” he said — but the pair has put in extra reps during and after these two off week practices to help foster that connection. 

“He’s got a big frame and he runs really good routes so he’s a guy to throw to,” Trubisky said. “He’s very ball savvy, so just continue to rep that chemistry along with the other guys and we’re going to continue to get better.”

Inman wasn’t a factor in the Los Angeles’ Chargers’ offense in 2017, with Keenan Allen — who Inman replaced in the lineup last year after a torn ACL — Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin getting most of the receiver snaps. He only was targeted four times in four games, and hasn’t been active since Oct. 8. 

So assuming Inman is active for the Bears’ Nov. 12 date with the Green Bay Packers, it’ll have been a month between games for him. But for the short-term, Inman’s goal is to keep studying the Bears’ offense during these four off days before reporting back to Halas Hall on Sunday. 

Also on Inman’s to-do list: Trying to settle in Chicago. He’s barely had a chance to catch his breath since being traded here a week ago, after all. 

“I don’t have a jacket,” Inman said. “So I have to go back and get all my stuff, pack up my old place. And study still, but at the same time prepare for the move now.” 

The Bears didn't make a move at the trade deadline, but they did make a statement

ryan-pace-0428.jpg
USA TODAY

The Bears didn't make a move at the trade deadline, but they did make a statement

The NFL trading deadline came and went on Tuesday with a flurry of significant activity. Not all of it squared with apparent in-season situations, however, while the Bears were making a quiet statement or two of their own along the extended trading way.

Surveying what did and didn’t go down around the NFL and what some of it suggests.

Earlier this year the Bears took the temperature of the situation with the New England Patriots and Jimmy Garoppolo. They weren’t interested in the Patriots’ price (a first-round pick and more) for the backup quarterback and sat out the final notes of that dance as Garoppolo went to San Francisco on Tuesday for a second-round pick. (The Bears also had made inquiries about Kirk Cousins, just to put this sort of thing in context. Due diligence means at least asking.)

Teams reportedly had interest on Tuesday in trading for Josh Sitton. The Pro Bowl guard remains a Bear, though, with the organization clearly not inclined to weaken the already injury-laced palace guard for quarterback Mitch Trubisky – the biggest reason why GM Ryan Pace didn’t gut his draft arsenal to bring in Garoppolo.

What the Bears did do, however, was trade for depth at wide receiver last week, giving up a conditional late-round pick for Dontrelle Inman. Not the marquee addition that standout Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin was for the Buffalo Bills, who gave up a No. 3 and No. 7 in the 2018 draft for a de facto No. 1 receiver.

The Bears at 3-5 project to have a higher draft slot in 2018 than the Bills, who stand 5-2 and are ramping up for a run at the Patriots this year, not next. So why didn’t the Bears make that same offer to Buffalo?

Probably a handful of reasons. For one, Benjamin is due nearly $8.5 million in 2018, the final year of his rookie deal, after which he will be up for a major long-term one. For another, the Bears privately expect to have Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injuries in 2018, however problematic that hope might be, and had already mentioned an extension for Meredith, a restricted free agent after this season. For a third, Pace already has traded for Inman, invested in Markus Wheaton, faces a decision on Kendall Wright and is expected to draft a receiver next April.

The Seattle Seahawks enhanced Russell Wilson’s protective shield with a deal for Houston left tackle Duane Brown, giving the Texans two draft choices. Those picks were a No. 3 next year and a No. 2 in 2019. Again, the same draft offer from the Bears could have been more enticing, given that the Seahawks project to be picking later than the Bears at this point. But the Bears extended left tackle Charles Leno, who is at left because he didn’t work at right at all when the Bears tried him there. And Brown is 32, due $9.75 million in 2018 and held out for a new contract this year.

Perhaps most notable was any Sitton deal that didn’t happen. The Bears may be rebuilding (EVERY team is rebuilding every year; the only questions are how extensively and what areas), but they were not dumping veterans just to clear cap space or acquire draft picks.

A win-now mindset may be a stretch. But if the Bears undertook the organizational-quitting that multiple MLB teams do every year when the World Series is deemed beyond them, John Fox might as well pack now. And siphoning off any of what talent there is around Trubisky only puts the franchise quarterback at increased physical risk.

The Bears didn’t do that.