Bears

Bears cornerbacks Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark are learning new positions in their own way

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USA TODAY

Bears cornerbacks Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark are learning new positions in their own way

Stephen Denmark was willing to transfer from wide receiver to cornerback for his final collegiate season at Valdosta State for one simple reason.

“I kind of figured there’s a lot of 6-3, 220 wide receivers,” Denmark said. “But there’s not many 6-3, 220 cornerbacks at all, really.”

As it turned out, that transition is what got Denmark drafted, even if it was on a seventh-round flier by the Bears. General manager Ryan Pace alluded to Denmark’s “ridiculous” measurables last weekend and said the Bears see “tremendous upside” in him.

If anyone around Halas Hall is dreaming big, could that upside be Richard Sherman — another lengthy receiver-turned-corner who’s put together an intriguing Hall of Fame case in his eight-year career?

“I look up to him,” Denmark said. “There’s plenty (of WRs-turned-CBs) out there but Richard Sherman, yeah, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, there are hundreds of metaphorical hurdles separating Denmark from one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He would’ve been higher than a seventh round pick had there been certainty he’d be the next Richard Sherman.

So this weekend’s rookie minicamp will begin a long, grueling process for Denmark to make good on his opportunity in the NFL. But he’s someone who, at the least, the Bears are fascinated to see develop.

“This late in the draft, it’s just a very interesting, intriguing prospect for us to take,” Pace said. “I can tell you this: When we go to the rookie minicamp, he’s going to be one of the guys I’m going to be most interested in watching, just because of the traits that he possesses.”

A different kind of learning curve

Duke Shelley has far more experience playing cornerback than Denmark, having played 37 games while picking off eight passes over the last four years for Kansas State.

But Shelley is changing positions, too, at the NFL level — only he’s moving from outside corner, where he played at K-State, into the slot. And that’s not always an easy transition.

“Nickel’s a hard position to play, just because of where you’re at on the field,” Shelley said. “There’s more grass, more field to cover. Guys have opportunities to go two-way go’s on you and things like that.

“But for me personally, my skill set fits it, being my size and how quick I am and the feet I have. Transition, I don’t feel like will be hard for me. Being out there now during walk-throughs I was able to get in there at nickel a little bit and just lining up, it feels a little different. But after you get going and you get a couple of reps, you’ll be fine. So you just put your best foot forward and rely on the things you’ve been doing your whole life, so that’s kind of where I’m at with that.”

While Shelley was a solid, productive corner in the pass-happy Big 12 — opposing quarterbacks had just a 52.0 passer rating when targeting him in 2018 — his undersized 5-foot-9, 180 pound frame and a season-ending toe injury last year led to him not being invited to the NFL Combine. And that led to him being perhaps under-scouted, though the Bears discovered they liked his traits as a projectable special teamer now and slot corner in the future.

“He’s so scrappy,” Pace said. “If it’s completed, it’s earned. He’s very sticky in coverage. He’s highly, highly competitive. He’s just very athletic.”

Still, Shelley will have some learning to do before he can be an NFL-ready slot corner. The good news for the Bears is there are two veterans ahead of him on the depth chart (Buster Skrine and Sherrick McManis), so Shelley should have some time to develop behind the scenes so long as he’s contributing on special teams.

“Nowadays everyone (is) going to nickel personnel, 10 personnel, so it's opportunities — you got to put guys on the field who can run and come up and make tackles,” Shelley said. “I’m loving it, loving the transition. Learning new things about nickel. But I'm definitely loving the transition.”

 

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Pat McAfee thinks Cam Newton is the move the Bears should be making this offseason

Pat McAfee thinks Cam Newton is the move the Bears should be making this offseason

Recently on the always-light-hearted, analytical-bending Pat McAfee Show, the former Indianapolis Colts player turned radio host weighed in on the Bears’ decision to keep Mitch Trubisky under center for the upcoming season. McAfee believes it’s time the Bears climb back into relevancy by replacing Trubisky with former-MVP Cam Newton:

If I was the Chicago Bears, I would be trying to get Cam Newton. What's the worst that could happen? He stinks? You guys stink anyways. 

With a “what do you have to lose?” mantra, McAfee believes that the Bears should swap out Trubisky for the Panthers' star. Newton is not a free agent, however; it's possible his time with the Panthers could be up,  as it's been heavily-rumored that they'll trade him away this offseason. Newton was sidelined most of the 2019 season with back-to-back injuries, first in his shoulder, then his ankle. If they trade away Newton, the Panthers could allot the money to rebuilding their team around one of the league’s best running backs, Christian McCaffery. 

2020 Senior Bowl: Jordan Love's 1st-round hype is real

2020 Senior Bowl: Jordan Love's 1st-round hype is real

MOBILE, Ala. — The Detroit Lions didn't gain any new fans after their questionable practice session (North team) on Day 1 of the 2020 Senior Bowl, but despite a lot of time warming up and working against air, there were a few prospect performances worth noting.

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was the headliner, showing off his cannon of an arm in what was a clear display of starting-quarterback talent. Compared to fellow North team quarterbacks Shea Patterson (Michigan) and Anthony Gordon (Washington State), Love looked like the only quarterback who's capable of succeeding in the NFL. It wasn't even close.

Love has an effortless throwing motion. His passes are crisp, accurate and on a rope. Was he perfect? No. But he had the most impressive arm of the day. His first-round hype is very real and will only continue to build momentum as the week goes on.

RELATED: Here's who Bears scouts are watching at the Senior Bowl

As for Patterson and Gordon? Bears fans need to temper their excitement for both of them. Patterson's quirky throwing motion looks labored and forced while Gordon's slight frame and underwhelming arm strength scream backup at best.

Tight end Brycen Hopkins (Purdue) had a quiet first practice. His opportunities to make plays were limited. But he'll need a strong finish to the week to maintain his standing as the top tight end at the Senior Bowl.

One player Bears fans should highlight as a name to watch is Michigan offensive lineman Ben Bredeson. He looked the part on Tuesday. He has strong hands and the kind of powerful playing style that tends to lead to success in the NFL. He showed pretty good feet, too. He has a chance to rise up the board if he stacks two more positive practices together.

On the defensive side of the ball, Syracuse edge rusher Alton Robinson flashed in drills. He showed a good first step and violent hands at the point of attack. He won several reps with ease. The Bears have to add pass-rush help in the middle rounds, and Robinson looks like a quality prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Ohio State defensive lineman Davon Hamilton had a nice day, too. He was almost unblockable at times and practiced with a level of intensity that scouts are certain to like. While not a need in Chicago, Hamilton looks like a player whose value could trump need come draft day. 

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