Bears

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

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USA Today

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

The Bears’ offseason program begins Tuesday, with players allowed to report to Halas Hall for rehab, strength and conditioning work. Attendance is voluntary, and the first time the Bears’ non-strength/training coaching staff will be able to work with players will be during April 17-19’s voluntary veteran minicamp. 

But this week will be the first opportunity for Matt Nagy and his players to set the tone for the 2018 season, with OTAs and minicamps to follow over the next two months. So as the offseason program gets underway, here’s where the Bears’ depth chart stands, starting today with the offense:

Quarterback

1. Mitch Trubisky
2. Chase Daniel
3. Tyler Bray

The Bears could look to sign an undrafted free agent later this month to, at best, compete with Bray — who was only guaranteed $45,000 in his one-year, $795,000 deal, according to Spotrac — and at worst be a camp arm to have in Bourbonnais. Both Daniel and Bray know Nagy’s offense well, which is why they’re here. 

“So now you get Chase and Tyler that both know the offense, that are there to just from both sides help Mitch out,” Nagy said. “But yet, they’re both going to compete. So now Tyler goes in there. Tyler is very accurate, has a really strong arm with great accuracy. And really has grown into a really good person and than as a player, he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity. And now unfair to him at the end of the game there, you know, he had that one play, and there were some different conditions and different scenarios. That’s now who Tyler is, but he knows his role and he’s just going to help out Mitch.”

Running back

1. Jordan Howard
2. Tarik Cohen
3. Benny Cunningham

While there are some questions about Howard’s fit in Nagy’s offense — which requires its running backs to be reliable pass-catchers — the only running back in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career will have a prominent role in 2018. Cohen’s versatility fits a lot of what Nagy wants to do, and he’ll have more help around him this year than he did in 2017, when opposing defenses were able to double-team him without leaving themselves exposed. 

Cunningham reportedly will return to the Bears, which doesn't necessarily take Ryan Pace out of the market to draft a running back. But the Bears like Cunningham's leadership, pass protection skills and special teams play, all of which may be traits difficult to find in a mid-to-late-round running back.

But the focus on this unit is how Howard and Cohen can play off each other. 

“They’re completely different, right? But you can you use them in different ways,” Nagy said. “You can move them out and if they want to go ahead and try to cover you with a linebacker or cover you with a safety, that may predicate, dictate what you’re going to do offensively. I think you’re seeing that because of those two things, injuries and then because of positional flexibility of being able to get matchups.”

“X” and “Z” (outside) wide receiver

1. Allen Robinson
2. Kevin White

1. Cameron Meredith
2. Joshua Bellamy

Meredith isn’t officially back in the fold yet, as he remains a restricted free agent following the Bears’ decision to place an original round tender — worth $1.907 million — on him last month. Here’s reportedly attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, but hasn’t signed an offer sheet, which the Bears would have the opportunity to match. The Bears were prepared for this, though, and teams are able to present offer sheets to Meredith through April 20. 

“When we tendered him that way, we know these are some of the circumstances,” Pace said. “So we’re monitoring it closely. We know we’ll have a decision to make if an offer comes in, and we’re prepared for that.”

If the Bears were to lose Meredith, drafting a receiver would become a priority. But Nagy wants to give White every opportunity to succeed, and if the 2015 first-round pick makes the roster, he probably won’t be a part of Chris Tabor’s special teams units. That’s generally a requirement for reserve receivers — Bellamy is a special teams ace — and would mean that if the Bears do draft a receiver, he’ll probably be someone who can contribute on special teams. The point: Don’t look for the Bears to draft a receiver in the first round, and potentially not in the second round, either. 

“Zebra” (slot) receiver

1. Taylor Gabriel
2. Tarik Cohen

The primary responsibility for the “Zebra” receiver in Nagy’s offense is to play the slot, but it’s a versatile position that looks to be an ideal fit for these two diminutive, speedy players. Nagy said the Chiefs’ coaching staff scouted Cohen during the pre-draft process a year ago, though it didn’t sound as extensive as the Saints’ work on him.

“Y” (in-line) tight end

1. Adam Shaheen
2. Dion Sims
3. Ben Braunecker

“U” (split out) tight end

1. Trey Burton
2. Daniel Brown

The Bears are set at tight end, roster-wise, with Shaheen, Sims and Burton topping the depth chart and Braunecker and Brown solid special teams contributors. 

The boom-or-bust potential in this unit is huge — Shaheen and Burton combined last year for only 35 catches and 375 yards, but also combined for eight touchdowns. At best, Burton can be a highly-targeted matchup nightmare between the 20’s, with Shaheen an excellent finisher in the red zone. At worst, neither player takes the step the Bears envision, and the productivity from this position doesn’t improve much from 2017’s mediocre-at-best results. 

“(Burton) was the second, sometimes third, tight end in Philadelphia,” Nagy said. “Well, now we’re going to put him in a role where those numbers are going to be able to jump up. And that’s on us to be able to do that.”

Left tackle

1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell

Left guard

1. Eric Kush
1A. Earl Watford

Update: The Bears made official a one-year deal with Watford on Tuesday. The 27-year-old former Arizona Cardinals interior offensive lineman has played in 42 games, starting 22, in his four-year NFL career. 

Center

1. Cody Whitehair
2. Hroniss Grasu

Right guard

1. Kyle Long
2. Jordan Morgan

Right tackle

1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell

A few options are here as the Bears look toward the NFL Draft next month. If Quenton Nelson is available when the No. 8 pick comes around, re-uniting the former Notre Dame guard with Harry Hiestand would be a layup. Nelson projects as a longtime Pro Bowler, and with the pool of quality offensive linemen shrinking seemingly by the year, it doesn’t matter that he’s “only” a guard. 

But for those reasons, the chances Nelson makes it to No. 8 may not be good. The Bears could opt to draft an interior offensive lineman with their second-round pick — as they did with Cody Whitehair in 2016 — and have him compete with Kush, Morgan and/or Grasu in training camp. Or the team could stick with Kush, who played well in 2016, and perhaps look to draft Massie’s eventual replacement at right tackle. Either way, it’d be surprising if the Bears didn’t take at least one offensive lineman in the draft. 

Why Tom Waddle believes Nick Foles will be Bears' QB1, not Mitch Trubisky

Why Tom Waddle believes Nick Foles will be Bears' QB1, not Mitch Trubisky

The central issue surrounding the Bears heading into the upcoming season concerns the starting quarterback situation, and that previous statement could apply to many more seasons than just 2020. Longtime ESPN 1000 host Tom Waddle is no stranger to QB drama, as the former Bears receiver has been a leading voice in analyzing the team for over a decade on the station’s highly-successful “Waddle & Silvy” show. When the Bears made their move to trade for Nick Foles in March, Waddle’s immediate reaction was a strong one, as he recounted to Laurence Holmes on the Under Center podcast.

“You don’t trade a fourth-round pick and give up $20 million guaranteed to a quarterback and sit him behind a QB that you don’t have full faith in,” Waddle explained. “I immediately thought this is going to be their starting quarterback. I think the familiarity that Nick Foles has with John DeFilippo and Bill Lazor and Juan Castillo and obviously Matt Nagy, I think you put that all together and you couple the familiarity with the uncertainty that is in the mind of the head coach about what the existing quarterback is capable of doing, and to me, it all added up to they got a guy that they trust and a guy that they see as their starter from Day 1.”

That doesn’t mean Foles will be an automatic savior. Of course, he led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title with a brilliant string of play in January and February of 2018, eventually outdueling Tom Brady to win the title in a shootout. But Foles has started more than eight games in a season just twice in his eight-year pro career, the last coming in 2015 with the then-St. Louis Rams.

RELATED: 2020 Bears Roster Review: Breaking down the Mitch Trubisky-Nick Foles battle

However, the fact that the Bears were aggressive in identifying Foles and then trading with Jacksonville speaks volumes about how they feel about him and it’s that conviction that truly sells Waddle on Foles being the starter. “If you were just looking for somebody to compete with Mitch, you could have waited out the Bengals, who were more likely to release Andy Dalton,” hypothesized the former Boston College Eagle. “You could have signed Case Keenum, but I don’t think the Jags were releasing Nick Foles at any point because of the contractual obligation they had to him. They had to go get him and once they went and got Nick Foles, that was the surest sign of all, in my world, that Nick’s got the edge.”

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Khalil Mack didn't rank as high as you might think on PFF's top 50 players

Khalil Mack didn't rank as high as you might think on PFF's top 50 players

Chicago Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack didn't have the kind of season fans were expecting in 2019, but to be fair, Chicago's entire defense went through a bit of regression last year. Mack ended 2019 with just 8.5 sacks. It was the first season that he failed to crack double-digit sacks since his rookie year (2014).

Still, there's no denying Mack's place among the NFL's elite players, regardless of position. Barring injury, he's a surefire Hall-of-Famer and certainly one of the 10-best players in the league.

According to Pro Football Focus, that may not be the case.

In PFF's ranking of the NFL's top 50 players, Mack ranks 18th.

Pro Football Focus is counting down their top 50 on Twitter, and so far the following players have been ranked higher than Mack:

17: Bobby Wagner
16: Chris Jones
15: Fletcher Cox
14: Richard Sherman
13: J.J. Watt
12: Stephon Gilmore
11: Drew Brees

All of those names are worthy of being ranked in this range, especially following a 2019 campaign that brought Mack back to the pack. 

2020 should produce different results for Mack and the Bears after adding Robert Quinn in free agency. The healthy return of Akiem Hicks will be a huge plus, too, giving Mack some much-needed help along the Bears' front-seven.

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