One aspect of the annual NFL teams offseason mission statement is to build both the quality of a roster as well as the quantity. That means not only depth but specifically depth that is good enough to either contend for a starting job or replace a starter without precipitous falloff.
The Bears, in Phil Emerys first offseason as a general manager, have added not only volume to the roster, but also players who come in not as starters, but could be.
The latest is linebacker Geno Hayes, signed to a one-year deal after starting 42 of 56 games played at weakside linebacker in four seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hayes succeeded longtime Pro Bowl fixture Derrick Brooks in Tampa and is a speed addition at 6-1, 226 pounds.
The Bears previously signed guard Chilo Rachal, a one-time starter for the San Francisco 49ers. Kelvin Hayden was a starting cornerback with the Indianapolis Colts with a stop in Atlanta last year before signing with the Bears. Brandon Marshall obviously was a starter-plus for Denver and Miami. Corner Jonathan Wilhite started 17 games over his five NFL seasons.
Jason Campbell was a starting quarterback with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. Michael Bush started nine games last season for the Raiders. Devin Thomas started 11 games over his four seasons.
In 2011, Hayes started 13 of 16 games played, finishing third on the team with 86 tackles and seven tackles for losses, adding one interception and two forced fumbles.
The knock on Hayes, and why the Bucs were willing to let go of a one-time starter, was maturity and discipline, one NFL source told CSNChicago.com. He made flash plays but was prone to taking chances all pointing toward a big upgrade to special teams.
Akiem Hicks deserved to be a Pro Bowler in 2017, a year in which he led the Bears with 8 1/2 sacks while proving to be one of the best run-stuffing defensive linemen in football. But it wasn’t even that he wasn’t selected to the roster — he was only a fourth alternate, which seemed like a slap in the face to a guy who had a standout season.
The biggest prohibitive factor for Hicks’ Pro Bowl campaign, though, was the Bears’ 5-11 record and general irrelevance in the NFL landscape.
“Yeah, it doesn’t really work out when you don’t have the record to match your performance, right?” Hicks said last year.
The Bears’ record now matches Hicks’ performance. He’s having an outstanding season as part of the league’s best defense: His 30 stops, defined by Pro Football Focus as plays that result in a “loss” for the offense, are the most among defensive linemen this year. He has six sacks and 39 total pressures, pairing good pass rushing productivity with his elite-level run defense.
All that adds up to an impressive Pro Bowl resume. Fan voting — which counts for one-third of determining the roster, with the other thirds coming from player and coach voting — ended on Thursday, with Hicks receiving the second-highest number of votes among NFC defensive linemen. The guy ahead of him is Aaron Donald, and there’s certainly no shame in that.
“It would be an honor,” Hicks said. “It’s something that I’ve aspired to achieve, it’s something that I’ve wanted for a really long time. Is it going to happen and is it a guarantee to happen? No. Have I been shafted before? Yes. Will it hurt the same? It for sure will. But that’s what we got. That’s what we gotta deal with. So I hope everything goes the way that I deserve but we’ll see.”
Hicks, though, would prefer to make the Pro Bowl roster and then not play in the actual game — which would mean the Bears would be preparing for the Super Bowl.
“The objective is to be able to play in the biggest game,” Hicks said. “We’ll see how all that shakes out.”
Packed for Chicago
Earlier this year, Allen Robinson told a Jacksonville TV station that his free agency decision came down to the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. That he chose the Bears — with an unproven coach and unproven quarterback — over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers was a notable leap of faith, but one in which Robinson was always confident.
“For me, since early on in free agency, I had my eyes on Chicago,” Robinson said. “I think that was the big thing for me as far as again, Chicago not only had Mitch Trubisky and coach Nagy, but the city of Chicago. Being close to my hometown (Detroit), being in a city that I was pretty familiar with — and there’s a lot that goes behind Chicago. Chicago is a big sports town, as far as a player, there’s no other place that you would want to play in like this. For me, it was a lot that went into Chicago more than just some of the small variables.”
Not has Robinson’s decision paid off with an all-but-confirmed playoff berth — which would be the first of his career — but he’s taken advantage of his platform in Chicago. Robinson’s Within Reach Foundation on Monday raised more than $112,000, which will allow his foundation to launch “Reach For a Book” reading rooms at Title I elementary schools and Boys & Girls Clubs.
The Associated Press this week named Nagy the NFL’s best coach in 2018, likely the first of a handful of coach of the year honors the first-year Bears’ coach will receive.
Nagy, though, was quick to credit everyone else around the Bears for his personal achievement.
“That kinda stuff — the individual awards, for everybody, I think to me when you hear something like that, especially as a head coach, it speaks to who we are,” Nagy said. “When you hear an award like that, you get humbled by it, you appreciate it, but it’s all about everybody in this building. It’s about the players. so that’s pretty good for them.”
According to sources of Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, the Bulls have called up Rawle Alkins in the wake of the Zach LaVine injury news.
However, the 21-year old wing will not play with the Bulls tonight in San Antonio.
Alkins is a 6-foot 5 wing player who plays with tenacity and energy on the defensive end. In 18 NBA G League games Alkins has averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
The main weakness in Alkins game was his inconsistent perimeter shooting, which has looked good so far with the Windy City Bulls. He is shooting 38 percent on 4.5 attempts from 3-point range per game, though he is struggling mightily from the free throw line.
It will be interesting to see how Jim Boylen deploys Alkins in lineups—assuming he gets solid playing time in LaVine's absence—because a Alkins-Shaq Harrison-Kris Dunn pairing could provide a very big dose of switchability and defensive pressure for a team that has been quietly been 17th in the league in defensive rating since Boylen took over.