Eddie Goldman

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 grades: Which units escape an 'F' after blowout loss in Philadelphia?

Bears grades: Which units escape an 'F' after blowout loss in Philadelphia?

QUARTERBACKS: F

Mitchell Trubisky completed 17 of 33 passes (51.5 percent), with some significant accuracy issues contributing to that poor completion percentage. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice (though none of those fumbles were lost), and his 38.3 rating was a career low. “I didn’t play the game I set out to play or the game I’m capable of,” Trubisky said. The Bears averaged 2.9 yards per play, gained 140 total yards and had eight first downs on Sunday. And while the Eagles clearly have the better team, there’s not a curve for a last-place team facing a first-place team. 

RUNNING BACKS: F

The Eagles have one of the very best run defenses in the NFL, and Jordan Howard (seven carries, six yards), Tarik Cohen (two carries, -11 yards) and Benny Cunningham (one carry, minus-one yard) combined for 10 carries for minus-six yards, good for an average loss (not gain) of 0.6 yards per carry. On the bright side, Howard and Cohen each had two catches on two targets, but there was no way the Bears’ offense was going to have any success with its running backs averaging a loss every time they carried the ball. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: F

Dontrelle Inman caught four of his nine targets for 64 yards but had a couple of drops, while Tre McBride and Kendall Wright combined for four catches and 35 yards on 11 targets. Some of this had to do with Trubisky’s accuracy issues, but his receivers weren’t doing enough to make his Sunday easier. 

TIGHT ENDS: F

Adam Shaheen missed a run block early and only played 17 of the Bears’ 55 snaps, and caught his one target for one yard. Dion Sims returned from an illness and played 20 snaps, so it’s not like Sims was taking snaps away from Shaheen. Daniel Brown, though, played 30 snaps, which was more of a function of the Bears having to run their two-minute offense for most of the game. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: F

This group did do a halfway decent job protecting Trubisky (two sacks, five hurries) against an Eagles defense that was able to pin its ears back and do quite a bit of pass rushing against a Bears offense that had to pass quite a bit. But the six rushing yards the Bears managed are the second-lowest total in franchise history, and there’s no getting around that. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: D+

Akiem Hicks (two TFLs) and Eddie Goldman (four tackles, one hurry) both were solid at times, while Jonathan Bullard had his most disruptive game of the season (one sack, two hurries, one TFL). A depleted and ineffective linebacker corps was the bigger culprit for Philadelphia’s average of 5.3 yards per carry, but this unit didn’t have enough big, game-changing plays to prop up the rest of the defense. Worth noting: Hicks played 69.2 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps, with his only lower percentaged (69 percent) coming in that Week 2 blowout loss at Tampa. Hicks has been a workhorse on the defensive line this season, but given he was limited in practice last week, perhaps the Bears will manage his snaps a little more now that they won't be playing meaningful games in December. 

LINEBACKERS: D-

Pernell McPhee was largely invisible, only recording two sacks with no hurries, though Sam Acho had a solid game with four tackles and two hurries. Christian Jones had one pass break-up and five tackles, and Nick Kwiatkoski only had one tackle while playing 62.8 percent of the Bears’ snaps. Isaiah Irving recorded one tackle with no hurries or sacks in his first extended un in the Bears’ defense. This unit sorely missed Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd, to say the least. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: D

There was a lot of bad from this group, with Eddie Jackson struggling against the pass and run and dropping an interception in the second half. Adrian Amos allowed Zach Ertz to burst free for a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Philadelphia’s first of the game. Prince Amukamara committed two penalties, and Kyle Fuller had an uneven game, with the lowlight him falling down on a first down conversion to Alshon Jeffery in the first quarter. But give this group credit for Amukamara and Cre’Von LeBlanc both forcing fumbles (Amukamara was officially credited with it, though Amos, no pun intended, had a hand in it as well), while that pair each had two pass break-ups as well. And overall for the defense, no unit gets an "F" here because there were players from each unit (Goldman, Acho, LeBlanc in particular) who had decent games. It's harder to identify those guys on offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Pat O’Donnell had some uncharacteristic struggles, with his first punt going only 34 yards to the Bears’ 44, which preceded the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game (he did rebound to have his next punt stick Philadelphia inside its own 10-yard line, and had a 58-yarder later in the game). Cairo Santos was put in a tough situation on his 54-yard field goal — his first field goal attempt since Week 3 and his subsequent groin injury — but did connect on a 38-yard field goal that ensured the Bears wouldn’t get shut out. Both Marcus Cooper and Jonathan Anderson were flagged for penalties on returns that led to the Bears starting first-half drives inside their own 10-yard line. 

COACHING: F

We’ll start here: About five and a half minutes into the second quarter, the Bears mistakenly began to send their punt team into the field on third down, then had to call timeout because only 10 men were on the field. Having Santos attempt that 54-yard field goal on fourth and four was a questionable decision — why not let Trubisky have a crack at converting a first down? The Bears were woefully undisciplined, and ended the first half with more penalty yards (36) than offensive yards (34). That the Eagles were actually the more heavily penalized team (11 for 70 yards for Philadelphia, nine for 56 for the Bears) doesn’t absolve this group, and in fact makes it look worse that the Bears managed to lose by four touchdowns against a talented, yet sloppy, opponent.

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

For Bears, a Packers team without Aaron Rodgers looms as a referendum on Ryan Pace

Bear Nation has waited a long time for this. Now it’s here. A time without an excuse that has been conveniently, albeit painfully, there almost back into the time of Mike Ditka.

How many years has the lament resonated that if the Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers, the Packers REALLY aren’t any better than the victim-cast Bears? Well, Sunday in Soldier Field, no Rodgers. And the Packers have never beaten the Bears without Rodgers since he succeeded Brett Favre in 2008, a downturn in Bears fortunes vs. Green Bay because Lovie Smith teams had their way with Favre (8-5), whatever uniform the Packers great donned.

Maybe this game projects as a mini-referendum on Ryan Pace. The general manager has had three drafts and three offseasons to build a roster built ideally to eclipse those of the Packers, Lions and Vikings. He drafted his Clay Matthews/Ziggy Ansah edge rusher (Leonard Floyd). He secured his Mike Daniels/Everson Griffen/Linval Joseph defensive linemen (Eddie Goldman/Akiem Hicks). And now he’s made his play for a franchise quarterback.

All of this doesn’t exactly translate into any sort of made-up “pressure” on the Bears. That’s already there to excess in the form of a 3-5 record and a make-or-break game for any wistful playoff hopes. (Every game for the foreseeable future will be “make or break” in that regard.).

Packers limping sans Rodgers

Forget the point spread, which was up to favoring the Bears by 5 points on Wednesday. That’s basically an opinion poll, based on where the wager money is going, based on what football bettors think.

The facts are that the Packers are a combined 3-10-1 since 2008 without Rodgers taking the majority of the snaps: 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their primary quarterback this year, 2-5-1 in 2013 after Shea McClellin’s tackle turned the first Bears game over to Seneca Wallace, 1-0 in ’11 and 0-2 in ’10.

To expect a walk-over would be a mistake. The Packers did lead the Saints 14-7 at halftime. And the Bears need to demonstrate they can win a second half; they are 3-0 when leading at halftime but 0-5 when tied or trailing at halftime. Best guess for a game plan would a change in general mindset of keeping the game close with defense and ball control. In this situation, keeping the Packers close is higher risk than there needs to be.

Not that Bears World needs any perspective like this, but the Bears know painfully well what Green Bay is feeling right now. Last year the Bears were 3-13 without someone approximating a No. 1 quarterback. Jay Cutler may have been the titular starter, but that arguably was a default setting. The Bears were 1-4 in Cutler starts, 1-4 in Brian Hoyer starts; and and 1-5 with Matt Barkley.

They are already better off (2-2) with a rookie in Mitch Trubisky, in no small measure because of an exponentially better defense. But part of that clearly traces to Trubisky and the Bears overall reducing giveaways from 10 to five in his four starts, vs. the issues during Mike Glennon’s stewardship.

Making a point

Green Bay is 0-3 with Brett Hundley as their quarterback, including the Minnesota game in which Hundley took over when Rodgers was hurt. The Packers have failed to top 17 points and have been outscored by an average of nearly 12 points in the three games against reasonably strong opponents (Minnesota, New Orleans, Detroit).

Ominously for the Packers, the defense appears to have contracted the malaise that Hundley brought to the offense. With Rodgers, the Packers are allowing 22.4 points per game. In the three Hundley games they are giving up 26.3.

The Bears can relate to a quarterback having a ripple effect on other phases. Opponents were putting 26 points per game on the Bears when Glennon started. In Mitch Trubisky’s four starts, opponents have managed just 16.8 ppg., and that with two TD kick returns by Baltimore. Trubisky hasn’t played a defensive snap yet but his effect around the locker room is palpable.

“They’ve done an excellent job schematically tying it all together,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. “That’s definitely something that jumps off the tape. [Trubisky] is very smart with his decisions. He can make throws in the pocket, he can make throws out of the pocket. It’s clearly a better offense today than the one we saw going into the first game. They’re taking care of the football and they’re playing old school, hard John Fox football.

“I think they’re playing excellent on defense and they’re doing a really good job running it and taking care of that ball and time of possession is something that hasn’t been where it needs to be for us clearly the last two weeks. It’s a focal point for us.”