Dion Sims

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. 

Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

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Why Dion Sims' return may not lessen Adam Shaheen's role in the Bears' offense

Dion Sims was limited in practice on Wednesday, but he participated — marking the first practice he took part in since Oct. 27. Sims said he feels “great,” so assuming he’s getting closer to playing on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, that begs the question: What does it mean for Adam Shaheen?

The short answer, according to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains: Not much. 

“We don’t want to slow down his progress,” Loggains said. “And as long as he’s making steps in the right direction — we’re high on Dion Sims as well — but we do not want to slow down Adam’s progress that way.”

Shaheen has caught all six of his targets the last two weeks, totaling 80 yards with a touchdown and displaying some encouraging chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (who was his offseason roommate after the pair were drafted in April). Against Green Bay and Detroit, Shaheen played 52 and 73 percent of the Bears' snaps, respectively. 

The Bears didn’t use Shaheen in Sunday’s critical two-minute drive against the Detroit Lions, though, turning to Daniel Brown instead of their second-round draft pick. Loggians explained that he didn’t want to overload Shaheen with responsibilities after his elevation on the depth chart due to Sims’ illness and Zach Miller’s season-ending injury. So Shaheen was tasked mostly with first- and second-down plays, while Brown became the Bears’ third down and two-minute guy at tight end. 

“It was mainly so Adam could focus in on his role,” Loggains said. “And as he keeps growing that way, we’ll  keep expanding that package for him. But that was the reason why.”

The Bears need Shaheen’s role to expand, though, for him to meet the usual expectations placed upon a 45th overall pick. There are going to be some situations, especially running ones, where Sims has to be on the field, possibly at the expense of Shaheen. But if the Bears were to step back and take a bigger-picture look at their offense, there are some good signs of Shaheen and Trubisky growing together, just as the team hoped when they made the pair their first two selections in the 2017 draft. The return of Sims shouldn’t disrupt that growth. 

“He’s earned the play time the last two weeks,” Loggains said. “He’s played better and better and he had some things on the first level in the blocking game that he needs to improve on that Dion is really good at because he’s played a little bit longer. We do want to play him, continue to grow him, continue to grow him and grow the reps that way, especially without having Zach here. So there is a role that — we’re still missing a little bit of a role that we’re kind of splitting between Adam and Dan. 

“But we’ll continue to play him more, and each game will be a little bit different, how it dictates. But yes, we do see him, his role just like Tarik (Cohen’s) to continue to grow weekly.”