Bears add tight end depth, claim J.P. Holtz off waivers

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Bears add tight end depth, claim J.P. Holtz off waivers

The Bears claimed tight end J.P. Holtz, who was released by Washington this week, and waived defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson on Wednesday, adding some depth to their tight end room. 

The 26-year-old Holtz played in his first NFL game on Sunday, when Washington promoted him from its practice squad to active roster with tight end Jordan Reed out. Holtz played 14 special teams snaps but did not play on offense. 

The 6-foot-3, 255 pound Pitt alum last played in college in 2015, finishing his career with the Panthers with 81 catches for 931 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was on practice squads for the Cleveland Browns and Washington from 2016-2018. 

Holtz caught five passes for 63 yards during preseason play this year, and has 10 catches for 89 yards with one touchdown in 15 career preseason games. 

The Bears kept four tight ends on their initial 53-man roster, though were without Trey Burton (groin) for their season opener last Thursday. Unless the Bears were to view Holtz as a better in-line blocking option than converted tackle Bradley Sowell, their best-case scenario is having him be inactive on Sunday — meaning Burton would be back in the lineup. 

If Burton is inactive, expect Holtz to be active on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. Coach Matt Nagy reiterated that Burton — who did practice Wednesday — remains day-to-day. 

“We’ll just see how he goes, how he is,” Nagy said. “I mean, in Trey’s case, just so as we go here, I cannot be any more honest or forthcoming on Trey Burton. I mean it. I’m telling you. Everything I’ve got, I’m telling you. We’re going to see how he does. If he does good, let’s see how he does the next day. And then if we get to it and we feel like he’s good to go, we all collaborate on it, let’s go. If we don’t, then we’re not.”

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No easy answers: How Matt Nagy, Bears will try to fix run game

No easy answers: How Matt Nagy, Bears will try to fix run game

Let’s start with a pop quiz: 

You’ll get the answer near the bottom of this article. Anyways, let’s get to it: 

There’s no simple fix for the Bears’ run game in 2020. There’s not much room to dramatically improve the offensive line, with 80% of its starters returning. David Montgomery isn’t going anywhere. A new tight end or two may help a bit, but the point is, the core of this offense that averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 2019 (fourth-worst in the NFL) will be back in 2020. 

So the only place for the Bears to really go in search of a run game fix is with their coaching. And Matt Nagy’s firing of offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (and replacing them with Bill Lazor, Clancy Barone and Juan Castillo) felt like a tacit acknowledgement of where the problem can be fixed. 

In talking about not having a run game coordinator, the first name Nagy brought up was Castillo, who previously coached with Nagy for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

“(Castillo’s) expertise in football is second to none,” Nagy said. “And so I have a lot of respect for him and how he does things. Just the last several weeks that we've been together talking scheme-wise, it just feels really good. I just appreciate a lot of simplicity of where he’s at and the consistency too. So it will be fun to get going on that.”

It’s notable the only coach Nagy hired this winter who he’d previously worked with was Castillo, who’s had stints as a run game coordinator/offensive line coach with the Eagles (1998-2010), Baltimore Ravens (2013-2016) and Buffalo Bills (2017-2018). Perhaps Nagy believes he’ll be less likely to abandon his run game if he has more trust in the guys overseeing it. 

Barone, too, has coached tight ends all over the league but also has experience as an offensive line coach, including with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos a few years ago. Lazor’s experience is with quarterbacks but the Cincinnati Bengals did rank eighth in rushing yards per play (4.7) in 2018, his last year as offensive coordinator there. 

“I’m doing a lot of listening and I think now is the time to do that so we can collaborate, figure out what went wrong last year and let’s fix it,” Nagy said. “Let’s be about solutions.”

Those solutions, though, are neither simple nor obvious. Remember that question at the top of the article? Here’s the answer: 

A (David Montgomery running from the shotgun): 115 carries, 478 yards, 4.2 YPC, 3 TD

B (David Montgomery running from under center): 127 carries, 411 yards, 3.2 YPC, 3 TD

The Bears’ run game needs a complete overhaul, not just a few tweaks, and there’s not a clear solution with the roster currently in place. Can Castillo & Co. give Nagy the run game he needs, and then can Nagy trust it on gamedays when he’s calling plays? 

We’ll find out in September, but those are two of the most important questions for this team to answer in 2020. 

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The Bears won't be the only team in the NFC North going after TE Austin Hooper

The Bears won't be the only team in the NFC North going after TE Austin Hooper

It's like the Kyle Fuller thing all over again! 

The Bears haven't been subtle about their desire to improve at tight end this offseason, and they've already been connected to Austin Hooper, one of the best free agents available. 

Though what would free agency be without a little bit of drama? A new report today suggests that the Bears aren't even the only NFC North team trying to sign the two-time Pro Bowler: 

Since Hooper is, you know, very good, it's not surprising to hear that the Bears aren't alone in their pursuits. But the idea of losing out on a top-tier tight end, only to watch him torch the Bears twice a year, is spooky for fans who just want something to be optimistic about. How juicy! The impending bidding war will be riveting.