6 players the Bears should focus on at the 2020 NFL Combine


6 players the Bears should focus on at the 2020 NFL Combine

The 2020 NFL Combine kicks off this week as 337 draft hopefuls will be poked and prodded in Indianapolis with all 32 teams in attendance.

The Bears are without a first-round pick once again this April, but it doesn't mean this week's event is any less meaningful. In fact, it's an even more important part of the evaluation process for GM Ryan Pace, who will be tasked with finding potential starters in the second round and beyond.

Here are six players the Bears are likely to keep a close eye on over the next several days.

Harrison Bryant, TE, FAU

Bryant profiles as an ideal fit for Matt Nagy's offense with his combination of receiver traits in a tight end's body. While he's a far cry from Travis Kelce, he'll provide Nagy with the kind of versatile pass-catcher who will be an instant mismatch against opposing linebackers and safeties. His stock is on the rise after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, and if he runs well in Indianapolis, he'll be a strong candidate for the Bears at No. 43 overall.

Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton

Trautman, like Bryant, had a big week of practices at the Senior Bowl and quickly shed the small-school label. He was more than comfortable going up against top senior competition and established himself as one of the top tight ends at the all-star game. He scored 14 touchdowns in 2019 and has the kind of smooth athleticism the Bears are looking for at the position. The combine is bigger for Trautman than most; he has to prove his speed and agility is among the NFL averages (or better) to completely silence the small-school chatter.

Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia

Hall was considered a lock for the first round after the 2018 season, but his decision to return to Virginia for his senior year hurt his stock a bit. An unfortunate midseason ankle injury ended his year early and as a result, he's been a victim of the out of sight, out of mind syndrome. He can change all that with a good showing at the NFL Combine. The Bears have a bigger need at cornerback with the release of Prince Amukamara than they did at the start of the offseason, so it's a position group that will rank high on their wish list. Hall is a strong second-round prospect who brings some safety upside, too.

Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU

Gladney is one of this year's top cornerback prospects and he may end up as a first-round pick once the dust settles. But there's always that supposed first-rounder who slides into Round 2; Gladney could be that guy. If he experiences the kind of draft-day fall that Greedy Williams (Browns) experienced last year, the Bears will be in a position to strike. Remember: Williams was projected as a first-round cornerback and arguably the best cover guy in the country but slid to No. 46 overall because of tackling and other concerns. Gladney, while not possessing as many of those red flags, could end up in Chicago's second-round range.

Hakeem Adenji, OL, Kansas

Adenji isn't an early-round prospect and that shouldn't change over the next several days. But he is a long-armed and experienced starting offensive tackle who could eventually find his home inside at guard. The Bears won't have a chance at any of the blue-chip offensive linemen in this year's class, so players like Adenji are the ones Pace has to focus on. His maximum upside may be as a swing offensive lineman in the pros, which has value especially with how injuries have hit Chicago's offensive line in recent years.

Matt Peart, OT, Connecticut

Unlike Adenji, Peart is a prototype offensive tackle prospect because of his physical makeup. He has great length and movement skills that both project favorably as a potential starter on the outside. Peart could find himself in the Day 2 range come draft weekend, which means the Bears would have to spend a second-round pick on him if they don't trade back or into the third round. That may be a bit rich for Peart's skill set. If he happens to slide into the early portion of Day 3, Chicago would have to be all-in, even in a trade-up scenario.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace

It's a Friday edition of SportsTalk Live. Host David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh, Patrick Finley, and KC Johnson.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy confirm that there will be an open competition for starting quarterback between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky. The guys wonder how open it will actually be. Meanwhile, Nagy says he can sense Trubisky is a fierce competitor. The panel wonders if competition will elevate his play and make him better.

The Bulls have officially begun their search for the new executive to lead their basketball operations. Bulls Insider KC goes through the potential candidates. Haugh and Finley wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their search and ability to land a big name. And what about Jim Boylen's future? KC says it will ultimately be up to the new person in charge but reminds everyone how much Boylen is liked by the current front office.

Later, former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show from Florida. Wanny dissects the Bears quarterback competition and explains why the pressure will always be high on Mitch no matter what. They also talk about new tight end Jimmy Graham's impact on the offense and pass rusher Robert Quinn's impact on the defense. And what's Wanny up to during quarantine? He tells Kap the shows he's binge-watching and gives his review of "Tiger King". 

0:00- There will be an open competition for the Bears starting quarterback job. Does either QB have an advantage? Will competition make Mitch a better quarterback? Also, how much better does Robert Quinn make the defense?

8:00- The Bulls have begun their search for the new head of their basketball operations. KC goes through some of the candidates. Plus, the panel discusses what this means for Jim Boylen's future, John Paxson's role in the search and his future role in the organization.

16:00- Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show. He talks about Mitch's chances to win the QB competition and his chances to keep the job throughout next season. Plus, they talk about Jimmy Graham's role in the offense, Robert Quinn's impact on the defense and Wanny gives his honest review of "Tiger King".

Sports Talk Live Podcast


Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Calling a quarterback battle an “open competition,” as Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy did Friday, leaves that comment open to interpretation. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nick Foles is going to emerge from that competition as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

The Bears are not going to hand Foles their QB1 job — he’s not even going to take the first snaps of the competition. Those will go to Mitch Trubisky, the incumbent here. Foles will have to win the job, and there’s a chance he won’t. I’m not ready to call the Bears’ quarterback competition for Foles before a single practice is held. 

But for Trubisky to win the job, and not Foles, the Bears will have to not only see the 2017 No. 2 overall pick out-play his challenger during training camp. They’ll have to convince themselves it’s not a mirage, and that the last three years of inconsistent-at-best tape aren’t a mitigating factor against a guy who threw for 373 yards as the MVP of a Super Bowl. 

“I think when we say open competition, this is a open competition, they’ve both been told that and I think it’s the best way to do it,” Pace said. “I think the good thing is honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what’s best for the Chicago Bears. It’s as simple as that.”

The quote that really stands out to me, though, after Friday’s hour-plus of teleconferences with Pace, Matt Nagy, Nick Foles and Robert Quinn is an old one from February. It’s Nagy talking at the NFL Combine in February about wanting Trubisky to know the offense better than he does. It felt like a challenge to Trubisky at the time; it felt like an even greater challenge when Foles — who has experience running versions of the Bears’ offense in Kansas City and Philadelphia — was brought in. 

Essentially, the Bears told Trubisky through their words and actions: If you don’t know the offense to the level we want, we have a guy in place who does, and he'll take your job. 

Foles has a working knowledge of the Bears’ offense, one Nagy figured could get him through a game right now if need be. But there are plenty of different things the Bears do on offense compared to the Chiefs and Eagles (insert your own joke here about those offenses, most importantly, being better). There will be a learning curve for Foles to know Nagy’s offense better than Nagy, especially with the expectation of no OTAs or spring minicamps.

But Foles did an excellent job of explaining why a quarterback needs to know the offense better than its playcaller, one which resonates after watching so many Bears games spiral offensively in 2019. 

“I think if I can (know) this offense just as good, if not better, than the coaches,” Foles said, “when you step in the huddle, then you're able to face adversity better because there's gonna be times when Nagy calls the play and it's a different defense than it should be and it's up to the quarterback to change it.”

The Bears can try to simulate that adversity in practice, but also have a couple years’ worth of information that Trubisky can’t pull out of it. If everything is equal on the practice field, wouldn’t the Bears choose the guy who they hope can fix things in the middle of a game, rather than the guy who’s shown he can’t?

“This is a kid (Foles) who’s been through a lot of different situations,” Nagy said. “He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for.”

Again, the Bears have not named Foles their starter. He carries a lower cap hit in 2020 than Trubisky, meaning the Bears will be okay financially with him being a backup. Trubisky could be sparked by the mere presence of Foles into being some version of the guy Pace hoped he was getting three years ago. 

If that’s the case, Foles may never play a down for the Bears in 2020. That’s actually the team’s best-case scenario. It’s what the Bears — and Bears fans — should be hoping for. 

But realistically, the odds are in Foles’ favor to be QB1 in Week 1. This franchise knows what Trubisky can do. A lot of Nagy’s coaches, including Nagy himself, know what Foles can do from past experiences working with him. And that gives an advantage to Foles. 

So if, in the absence of actual sports to gamble on right now, you’re looking for a safe bet: Take Nick Foles to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. 

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