Tre McBride

Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

The most obvious change the Bears could make after a 1-3 September was playing Mitchell Trubisky instead of Mike Glennon, but that wasn’t the only performance-based swap available to this coaching staff. Tre McBride played 43 snaps on Monday against the Minnesota Vikings, while Josh Bellamy played only seven offensive snaps after averaging 36.75 in the Bears’ first four games. 

And on Tuesday, Deonte Thompson was released and Tanner Gentry was promoted from the practice squad. With Markus Wheaton (groin) out for at least Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Gentry should be in line for a bigger opportunity than he had in Week 2, when he received largely garbage time snaps in that blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“Coach Fox always says this: He says, ’If it’s not broke, don’t mess with it.’ If it’s not going the right way, let’s try something else,’” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We’re not ecstatic where we’re at right now in the passing game. I know it’s getting better and better each week. It’ll continue to get better as we built some continuity with Mitch and some of these new receivers.” 

The Bears’ receivers need to better help Trubisky, and Gentry and McBride likely can’t be much worse than the rest of a group that’s combined for 45 receptions on 75 targets for 494 yards and two touchdowns (of that total, Kendall Wright has 18 receptions, 23 targets, 200 yards and one touchdown). 

While Gentry and Trubisky showed a strong rapport during training camp, it’d be unfair to expect the undrafted rookie from Wyoming to go from being waived twice (and not picked up by another team) to being a go-to target for the rookie quarterback. Gentry's ball skills and instincts, though, are good assets for Trubisky to have at his disposal. 

“I guess my mindset every day is just give them a reason to keep me around,” Gentry said. “Make a play, whether that’s a block, special teams, a big catch — whatever that is, do something positive so that when they see the film they can see that and basically give them a reason to yeah, keep me around, and that’s it.” 

McBride flashed a bit on Monday night, with an 18-yard reception and what would’ve been a big-time 26-yard catch had Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty not called it back. Prior to the Vikings game, McBride played all of two snaps against the Buccaneers, which were his only offensive snaps since the end of the 2015 season. 

“This game has its obstacles, but that’s what they pay us for,” McBride said. “They pay us to come in and adapt and to make plays happen when they call our name, no questions asked. So that’s what I’m trying to do and that’s what we’re all trying to do.” 

Ideally, the Bears would’ve been able to play Gentry and/or McBride because they forced their way into the mix through continued competition from training camp into the regular season. But injuries to Cameron Meredith, Kevin White and now Wheaton (who only had one catch on nine targets) forced the Bears to get creative with their receiving corps. 

Perhaps the Bears unearth a hidden gem in Gentry and/or McBride. Perhaps they don’t. But it’s certainly worth giving them both a shot at this point in the season. 

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

The Bears aren’t sure if Kevin White will return in 2017, with the star-crossed former seventh overall pick going on injured reserve with a fractured scapula.

Whether he does or doesn’t, though, won’t affect the question facing the Bears’ passing offense: Now what?

When training camp opened in late July, the Bears’ top three wide receivers were lined up to be Cameron Meredith (who’s out for the year), White (who may be out for the year) and Markus Wheaton (who didn’t play Sunday due to a fractured pinkie suffered in August). So where can the help come from, if it materializes at all?

Currently on the 53-man roster:

Kendall Wright didn’t catch his first pass Sunday until the fourth quarter. He’s a savvy route-runner who’s adept at getting open in space, but is primarily a slot receiver, which limits his opportunities to get on the field if…

— The Bears use more two- and three-tight end sets. Zach Miller was Mike Glennon’s second-most targeted player on Sunday (six times, with four catches for 39 yards), and coach John Fox made the point last week that when Miller was injured in 2016, he was the team’s best pass-catcher. Dion Sims caught two passes and could be utilized more as a big body up the seam. Rookie Adam Shaheen didn’t show much during preseason but played a handful of snaps, but he and his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame could be molded into a useful weapon in certain situations.

“He’s getting better every day, every week,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “We’ll just keep practicing. He’s going to fill a role for us right now and it’s a deep position for us so we’re fortunate that we can develop a talented player and he’ll have a role and that role will continue to grow as he’s ready to take on more.”

Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy haven’t been more than 20-catch, 300-yard receivers with special teams value in their respective careers, but may be counted on to do more going forward. Bellamy in particular played well late against the Falcons, and while a possible game-winning touchdown hit him in the hands, it looked like he was held and had his timing disrupted on that play.

— Ryan Pace said last week the Bears “we’re excited about adding” Tre McBride, a waiver claim from the Baltimore Ravens. McBride was inactive last week and only has two career receptions for eight yards. “He spent last week getting kind of oriented in our offense, he's a possibility,” coach John Fox said.

Markus Wheaton is “improving,” Fox said Monday, but has yet to practice without a club on his hand to protect his healing pinkie. He has the established speed to at least be a deep threat for opposing secondaries, but only played in three games last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a shoulder issue that required surgery in January. If he can return to the field soon, he could add an important dimension to the Bears’ offense, so long as he’s able to stay healthy.

“I haven’t played a lot of football yet,” Wheaton said last week. “I’m sure it’ll come quick once I start playing again.” 

Tarik Cohen was outstanding on Sunday, catching eight passes for 47 yards and plowing through cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 19-yard touchdown. But can the 5-foot-6, 181 pound Cohen hold up over a full 16-game season taking the kind of shots he did from the Falcons’ defense? He’s shown impressive toughness, but given his early status as the best playmaker in this offense, may need to be calculated about the risks he takes (i.e., going down/out of bounds against zone coverage to avoid the biggest of hits).

Jordan Howard wanted to improve his all-around game in 2017, but the drop he had near the end zone late Sunday hurt. He only had 13 carries, though, and if the Bears’ offense can find a way to be effective while making sure he’s fresh throughout games and the entire season, it’ll benefit this group as a whole.

Benny Cunningham has pass-catching ability as a third-down back, but suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. That may lead to waiver claim Taquan Mizzell, who caught 195 passes in college at Virginia, being active against Tampa Bay to fill Cunningham’s role.

Not on the roster, for now:

— Training camp star Tanner Gentry could be an option if the Bears elevate him off the practice squad. He has a better understanding of the offense than anyone the Bears could acquire from outside the organization, which could help him step in faster. But the Bears decided against keeping him on their initial roster, and he wasn’t claimed on waivers by any of the other 31 teams in the league. Perhaps Gentry develops into a solid player, but it’s worth remembering the last undrafted rookie receiver to make it with the Bears (Meredith) only had 11 catches for 120 yards in his first year.

— The free agent pool at this time of the year, obviously, is limited. Could someone like a Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught 36 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns last year, be an option? Possibly, though teams have had two and a half months to sign the former second-round pick and haven’t, likely due to off-the-field questions. Former Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson is out there, but tore his ACL last year and, at the age of 34, has seen his production sharply decline over the last three years. The Bears’ front office will continue to scour the free agent, and possibly trade, markets, but finding an impact guy in mid-September will be difficult.

“When injuries happen in the league is, how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up?” Fox said. “We dealt with that more than our share last year and it's not unusual but we'll adjust.”

Jeremy Langford among cuts after Bears claim three off waivers

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USA TODAY

Jeremy Langford among cuts after Bears claim three off waivers

The Bears cut the roster down to 53 on Saturday, but apparently had some more tweaks to make to the roster.

The team claimed three players off waivers on Sunday: receiver Tre McBride, running back Taquan Mizzell and long snapper Andrew DePaola. To make room for those three, the Bears cut three more: tight end Ben Baunecker, running back Jeremy Langford and long snapper Jeff Overbaugh.

Langford is the standout among the cuts. The Michigan State product totaled 11 touchdowns in two years with the Bears after being picked in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. As a rookie he had 537 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 148 carries and added another receiving touchdown with 279 yards on 22 receptions.

Langford began the season as the Bears' starter, but with Jordan Howard's emergence, Langford saw his role get diminshed. He still scored four touchdowns, but had less than half as many carries (62). Langford had 200 rushing yards and 142 receiving yards on 19 catches.

Mizzell takes his spot in the running back depth chart. He was undrafted out of Virginia, but featured heavily for the Ravens this preseason. He led the team in rushing yards (126), receptions (12) and receiving yards (90) this preseason. His 40 carries were third in the NFL.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound runner is the only player in ACC history with at least 1,500 yards in both rushing and receiving for his collegiate career.

McBride, a William & Mary product, was drafted in the seventh round by the Titans in 2015. He was a kick return specialist in college and totaled two catches in two years with the Titans.