Bears

10 days to go: The latest state of Bears draft needs

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10 days to go: The latest state of Bears draft needs

Offseasons proceed in stages, effectively beginning late in the preceding regular season and running into the draft in late April. Transactions will go down outside of that framework but the defining deals typically go down in those stages, each one affecting the next and ultimately dominoing into the draft.

So it is with the Bears.

First are in-season re-signings of in-house targets (receiver Earl Bennett, center Roberto Garza, guard Edwin Williams).

Then come re-signings before the onset of free agency (cornerback Tim Jennings) and into the early stages of the open market (tight end Kellen Davis, defensive end Israel Idonije, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Craig Steltz).

Those were preceded by a trade (wide receiver Brandon Mashall) that dramatically altered the Bears course in free agency. That was followed by others: quarterback Jason Campbell, running back Michael Bush, receivers Devin Thomas and Eric Weems, linebacker Blake Costanzo, cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden, Jonathan Wilhite).

Throw in the assorted extension (linebacker Lance Briggs) and you have an active franchise for not just the last six weeks but also the last six months.

So what does all that activity mean for draft needs, which are considerably altered from the premature analyses before the tsunami of change rolled through Halas Hall?

CSNChicago.com assesses the degree of current need for each position group in the wake of the additions.

The key:
1 = priority need; likely pick during first four rounds.
2 = moderate need; help wanted but not desperate enough for a need-based reach.
3 = low or no need; could take one but only a value surprise.

Quarterback: 3

With Jay Cutler in place, Jason Campbell in addition, Josh McCown in reserve and Nathan Enderle in question, the Bears have gone into few drafts with less pressing need for help at quarterback.

Running back: 3

Matt Forte isnt expected to be reporting anytime soon in protest over his franchise tag, although a holdout extending into the season is unlikely. Michael Bush would be competing for a starting job with multiple teams and well could be in Chicago before his four-year deal is done. Khalil Bell is a restricted free agent playing for his opp next offseason.

Wide receiver: 1

The problem is still simple numbers. Marshall and Bennett take care of two of the top three spots, and Devin Hester has enough returner help to let him focus on receiving. Devin Thomas and Eric Weems are depth and special teamers wholl put Dane Sanzenbacher in a roster vise. Johnny Knoxs return is still a significant question.

Tight end: 3

Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth are not big producers but coaches believe in both, and have prospects (Kyle Adams, Andre Smith) down the depth chart.

Offensive line: 2

The Bears had three backs with 100-yard games and 2,015 rushing yards for the season. Pass protection was a problem but Mike Tice isnt Mike Martz and Cutler isnt Caleb Hanie. The Bears believe they have potentially three serviceable tackles (Gabe Carimi, JMarcus Webb, Chris Williams), three guards (Lance Louis, Chris Spencer, Edwin Williams) and three centers (Roberto Garza, Spencer, E. Williams). Free agents have been interviewed but coaches dont see the dire situation outsiders do.

Defensive end: 1

Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije are in place along with injury prone reserve Corey Wootton. The Bears didnt land Jeremy Mincey or Mario Williams and will have trouble landing in the playoffs without more pressure off the edge.

Defensive tackle: 1

Losing Amobi Okoye to Tampa Bay was a setback but Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina are returning starters and Stephen Paea is a returning No. 2 pick. Idonije is a potential swingman with E-T experience but the Bears have drafted at least one defensive linemen within the first four rounds of all but one draft since 2000.

Linebacker: 1-2

Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are set for another year and Nick Roach has missed just three games over the last four seasons. Depth is always a concern but not enough to force a need reach.

Cornerback: 2

The Bears have four corners with starter experience (Kelvin Hayden, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Jonathan Wilhite) plus nickel back D.J. Moore. They have size and depth but if a quality cover man falls within reach, theyll build for the future.

Safety: 2

Chris Conte is considered a future star at free safety and Major Wright is expected to perform better with a clear assignment at strong. Craig Steltz is insurance at strong but Conte finished the season on IR. Whether the Bears will invest another fourth-round-or-higher pick for the fourth time in five drafts isnt a given.

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”