Charles Leno

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

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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. 
 

Bears film breakdown: Tarik Cohen remains a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season

Bears film breakdown: Tarik Cohen remains a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season

Tarik Cohen's 61-yard punt return score -- on which he actually ran 127 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats -- was one of the most exciting plays by a Bears player in recent memory, and was a much-needed reminder for this team than 2017 hasn't been a complete disappointment. 

"I wouldn’t necessarily say it we drew it up like that," Cohen said. "It was designed for me to get to the left somehow. So when I first got it, my job is to set the defense up and they were really coming aggressively, so that’s why I had to take it that far back to finally turn around and get back to the left side. When I got back to the left side I had all my teammates there, my blockers, to escort me to the end zone."

Cohen nearly had another explosive punt return in Sunday's 15-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, too, though that 67-yarder was called back due to a penalty on Ben Braunecker. He played 16 of the Bears' 37 offensive snaps and had six touches, cathing four passes for 39 yards and rushing twice for five yards. 

"I think we're using Tarik just fine," coach John Fox said. "As a guy out of the backfield, you know he's one of our most explosive players so I don't think there's a lack of knowledge of who and how we use him."

Cohen's numbers should've been better against San Francisco, too, had there been better execution on these two offensive plays: 

This is the first one, coming with the Bears on the 49ers 44-yard line late in the first quarter. Dion Sims (blue arrow) is going to pull to his left, as is right guard Kyle Long, into a hole between left tackle Charles Leno and tight end Adam Shaheen, with Cohen following him. 

Long (red arrow) is pulling and will block Brock Coyle (50) in the hole, while Sims' man is linebacker Reuben Foster (56). 

Things are setting up well here, with Long and Sims plunging into the hole ahead of Cohen. Also worth highlighting is the green arrow: Adam Shaheen doing a good job blocking linebacker Eli Harold. 

If Sims can block Foster (blue arrow), Cohen will have a clear run at the second level, perhaps even the end zone. 

But Sims whiffs to the outside shoulder of Foster, who's able to bring Cohen down. Coyle was credited with the tackle in the official box score, but this was mostly Foster's tackle. 

***

The second one is a passing play early in the second quarter, coming one play after Jordan Howard dropped a pass from Mitchell Trubisky on first down. Cohen (yellow circle) is matched up with cornerback Greg Mabin at the top of the screen. The left side of the Bears' offensive line (blue arrows) will head for the second level and look to trigger an explosive play. 

Cohen runs a good route, faking a quick slant and stopping on a dime to come back to receive the pass from Trubisky, who just completed a play fake to Howard. Leno (72), Josh Sitton (71) and Cody Whitehair (65) quickly get into position to barge into the second level. 

Cohen catches the pass and the Bears have what they want: Two offensive linemen bearing down on a pair of defensive backs in Mabin and Adrian Colbert (38).

Colbert slips and takes out Sitton's knees (blue circle), but Leno engages with Mabin instead of running through the 49ers cornerback. He doesn't disengage until Cohen is past him, and a flag is thrown, negating what would've been a 25-yard gain to midfield. 

These are the kind of plays the Bears need to clean up by the 2018 season, when the team can hope Cohen is a key weapon in a much-improved offense. 

Bears Week 4 grades: Mike Glennon, John Fox fall flat in Green Bay

Bears Week 4 grades: Mike Glennon, John Fox fall flat in Green Bay

QUARTERBACKS: F

Mike Glennon lost two fumbles and threw an interception in the first half, then threw another interception in the third quarter. This was another horrendous game for the Bears’ starting quarterback. Teams don’t go into Green Bay — or anywhere, really — and win when their quarterback turns the ball over four times and doesn’t make enough plays to overcome those mistakes. Glennon now has eight turnovers to his name through four games.

RUNNING BACKS: D

Jordan Howard was bottled up for 53 yards on 18 carries, with 21 of those yards coming in garbage time during the fourth quarter. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t force a missed tackle on any of his 18 runs, and also dropped a screen pass. Tarik Cohen (six carries, 24 yards, four receptions 24 yards) wasn’t able to get loose but did deliver a nice block in pass protection on Glennon’s touchdown to Kendall Wright. Unfortunately for the Bears’ “Thunder” and “Lightning” Green Bay did what plenty of opposing defenses will do going forward: The Packers put eight or more defenders in the box on 12 of Howard’s 18 runs Thursday night.

WIDE RECEIVERS: D

Wright caught all four of his targets and looked like a productive pass-catcher a week after not being targeted against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rest of his teammates struggled, though — like Josh Bellamy being unable to bring in a relatively well-thrown Glennon deep ball late in the first quarter. On Glennon’s first interception, he threw the ball too quick, so Markus Wheaton wasn’t able to get the depth in his route that he wanted.

TIGHT ENDS: D

Zach Miller had two productive catches totaling 45 yards, but this group didn’t do enough in the run blocking game. Adam Shaheen didn’t play enough, and when he did, he wasn’t able to block Ahmad Brooks on a snap, who dropped Howard for a four-yard loss that preceded Glennon’s first fumble. Dion Sims had one catch for eight yards and hasn’t been much of a factor in the passing game this year.

OFFENSIVE LINE: D+

A Kyle Long false start put the Bears behind the chains right before Glennon threw his first interception. Josh Sitton (holding) and Charles Leno (false start) were flagged in a succession on three plays in the second quarter that backed the Bears up from the Packers’ 37-yard line to the Bears’ 47. Cody Whitehair had another shaky snap before he and Glennon botched the one Green Bay recovered (for what it’s worth, Olin Kreutz said that was on the quarterback):

This was a struggle for an offensive line that finally had all five projected preseason starters, but was facing a Dom Capers defense that was going to sell out to stop the run and force the Bears to pass. In that sense, that the only sack Green Bay had was when Glennon held the ball too long on the first play of the game is a positive.

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Green Bay ran the ball on five of its first six plays, with Ty Montgomery, before he exited with a reported broken rib, quickly pushing the Packers into Bears territory. When the Packers did pass, a lot of the balls came out quick — except for that 58-yard heave to Jordy Nelson. But even if the pass-rushing opportunities were limited, this was a missed opportunity for a defensive line going against an offensive line missing its two starting tackles and playing guys out of position.

LINEBACKERS: C-

Leonard Floyd notched his first sack of the year and Pernell McPhee continued his solid play to open the season with a sack of his own, but this group (and the defense as a whole) didn’t record a hurry on Rodgers. According to Pro Football Focus’ numbers, Rodgers was under pressure only seven of his 28 drop backs. Danny Trevathan made 13 tackles but his vicious hit on Davante Adams may warrant a suspension, which would leave the Bears precariously thin at inside linebacker.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D+

Nelson getting wide open for a touchdown in the second half was ugly, and the only positive play on the ball this group made was when Eddie Jackson dislodged the ball from Nelson’s hands on a deep third down throw in the first quarter. The Bears still don’t have an interception through four games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal wide right for the second consecutive week. More positively, Pat O’Donnell pinned the Packers inside their own 20-yard line on all three of his punts, and perhaps not coincidentally, Green Bay punted on all three of those possessions.

COACHING: F

John Fox said it himself: “It starts at the top. We got out-coached.” The Bears were sloppy, and their eight penalties followed games in which they were flagged 10 times (Pittsburgh) and eight times (Tampa Bay). Coaching on a short week isn’t ideal, but the Packers had to deal with the same timeframe (though they committed seven penalties, too).

On another topic — why was Howard, shoulder injury and all, still in the game down 28 in the fourth quarter? It was a white flag drive lasting 8:53 with the team down by 28. At that point, protecting the team’s best offensive player would’ve seemed to be important, especially if that was the reasoning for not playing Mitchell Trubisky.

“If you watch the game, I don’t think it was an ideal time to put him in,” Fox said.