Bears

Does Bradley Sowell have a roster spot locked up as Bears' tight end battle hits home stretch?

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USA Today

Does Bradley Sowell have a roster spot locked up as Bears' tight end battle hits home stretch?

Matt Nagy listed off three positions he'll have a keen focus on during Saturday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts: Tight end, inside linebacker and cornerback. Of those three, tight end carries the most intrigue given the injury histories of Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, and the need for depth behind those two players. 

Here's where things stand with just over a week until cut-down day:

On the team: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker
On the bubble: Bradley Sowell, Ian Bunting, Dax Raymond, Jesper Horsted, Ellis Richardson

With Aug. 31's cut-down deadline quickly approaching, Sowell appears to be on the inside track to make the Bears’ roster as a backup "Y" tight end. A prime example: When asked about Sowell’s move from offensive line to tight end, Nagy preached patience with the move. 

“For us, if we don’t have patience with him in this transition, and there’s frustration with anything, we have to check ourselves as coaches,” Nagy said. “We’re taking this guy who has played tackle in his career and moved him to a position where you’re running routes and you’ve got to know every formation where you line up. So all that said, I really like where he’s at, and I’m looking forward to more.”

This could perhaps be positive coach-speak, and Sowell — who hasn’t been targeted but has committed two penalties in two preseason games — could be closer to the roster bubble than Nagy is intimating. But for Sowell’s roster spot to be in jeopardy, one of the Bears’ undrafted rookies will needs to step up.

So far, the closest to doing that has been Bunting, the 6-foot-7 Hinsdale Central alum who had a good showing against the Carolina Panthers (three catches, 77 yards) but disappeared eight days later against the New York Giants. Raymond, like Bunting, was not targeted against the Giants, though he did notch a solid block on a 14-yard run by running back Ryan Nall. Horsted and Richardson don’t appear to be realistic options. 

Notably, when asked how Bunting and Raymond have looked in terms of holding the point of attack in the run game, Nagy said after the Giants game: “They’re not there yet."

Nagy, though, added: "But there’s some potential. There is. This is a whole new world for them. It’s the NFL. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster. It’s a new playbook, so they’re trying to put all that stuff together. 

"We have to decide, ‘Hey, are they a developmental guy? Or are they a guy that’s ready right away? Who are they? We have two weeks to see that and then we’ll have not much time to decide it.” 

The thought here, then, is Sowell will be on the roster come Sept. 5, unless the Bears can find a backup “Y” tight end with whom they’re more comfortable on the waiver wire. At the least, the Bears trust Sowell as an in-line blocker (though he was beat on a block by Giants outside linebacker Markus Golden last week), whereas they may not trust Bunting or Raymond in those duties yet. 

Bunting and Raymond are likely fighting for their roster spot against a fourth running back/seventh wide receiver/ninth offensive lineman, etc. If they don't make the Bears' 53-man roster they'd be prime practice squad candidates. 

It's a big week for HaHa Clinton-Dix to reflect – both on the past and the future

It's a big week for HaHa Clinton-Dix to reflect – both on the past and the future

As media members congregated (see: aggressively ran) towards Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s corner locker, the Bears’ locker room burst to life. Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson, only a few feet away, started laughing and giving the safety a hard time for talking with so many cameras. Fellow safety Eddie Jackson stood just behind the scrum, jumping up and down to try to distract him. Tarik Cohen – and about 20 unidentified others – could be heard yelling “HaHa” as Clinton-Dix started fielding the first questions. 

“The vibe in this locker room is great,” he said with a grin. “The guys in here are pumped up, man. We’re just excited about the game coming up this week.”

It’s Packers Week for everyone, but the lead up to Sunday’s game is probably a little bit different for Clinton-Dix – whether he’ll admit it publicly or not. He was drafted by Green Bay back in 2014 and played there for four-and-a-half seasons. It’s where he was given Charles Woodson’s number, and where he made his only Pro Bowl (2016) so far. Sunday will be the first time he’s back, and “homecomings” always mean a little extra, right?

“Not a damn thing,” Clinton-Dix said, keeping a half-convincing poker face. It didn’t last long. 

“I’m just kidding, man,” he added. “It means a lot to be able to go back and play against guys that I’ve been with for the past five years. Getting to compete against your friends makes things more fun and more competitive.” 

“I'm sure he'll be fired up,” Matt Nagy added. 

It’ll be the first time he’s played Green Bay since being traded, but Clinton-Dix has already shown a knack for getting revenge on old teams. In the Bears’ Week 3 win over Washington, he had a touchdown, two interceptions, and two passes deflected. If that sort of performance comes against a team he played nine games for, imagine what he could do against a team he played for eight times as long. 

“If [Aaron Rodgers] decides to bless me and throw me the ball twice, I’ll be happy as hell,” he said. “Unfortunately [he] doesn’t work that way. He’s the best quarterback in the game, and we just have to go execute and make big plays.” 

Clinton-Dix swears he harbors no ill-will towards Green Bay, and says he’s under no illusions about the business side of professional football. According to him, he’s merely happy to have already suited up for two of the league’s flagship organizations. 

“Green Bay and Chicago are two of the most prestigious organizations in the business” he said. “High, top-quality places to play at. I’m blessed to be able to play for both.” 

There’s another business decision rapidly headed his way, though one he’s a bit more in control of. Clinton-Dix will be a free agent at the end of the season, and has clearly played well enough to earn more than the one-year, $3 million contract that the Bears’ signed him to as a prove-it deal. Even if some of the advanced metrics would disagree with his improved-season narrative, he’s put enough good plays on tape to warrant a longer-term deal. The Bears aren’t swimming in cap space and have the other star safety from Alabama to take care of, so the odds of running it back in 2020 don’t look great. But, as Clinton-Dix was quick to remind the eager media scrum, that’s a bridge to cross after Packers Week, and Chiefs Week, and Vikings Week. 

“Only thing I can reflect on is these next three games,” he said. “I’m going to give you the media answer, but I’m excited about this game – I can’t express it anymore. Like I said, I’ve got to finish this game strong. The next three games are important to me, and this one’s next on the list.” 

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Arena League Revenge and Great Boxing: How the Bears are getting ready for their rematch

Arena League Revenge and Great Boxing: How the Bears are getting ready for their rematch

What a difference 24 hours makes. 

Here’s Mitch Trubisky, from his weekly Wednesday press conference, talking about the Bears-Packers rivalry. 

“I mean, the rivalry is important for sure,” he said. “The rivalry is very important. But I just feel like where we're at as a team, we're just hungry, that whoever is on our schedule next, we're going to come ready to play where we're playing with confidence. We don't really care who shows up next. The rivalry game is important, but I just sense overall a hungry team that's pretty focused, and hopefully that just drives us to get better throughout the week and come ready to play on Sunday.” 

How diplomatic! Despite this Sunday’s game in Green Bay being the 200th meeting between two of the NFL’s original franchises, there’s been a surprisingly large amount of water thrown on the whole notion of rivalry games around Halas Hall this week. That is, until Thursday. When Nagy was asked about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who’s returning to Green Bay for the first time since being traded last year, the coach wasted no time showing that time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. 

“I mean, on a much smaller spectrum, I've been traded away as a player,” Nagy said. “And I know what that feels like when you play them again. To each their own. I'm sure he'll be fired up. But it's a personal deal with him. I know he'll be focused there to help his defense out.” 

Nagy, of course, is talking about the earth-shattering Arena Football League trade that sent him from the Georgia Force to the Columbus Destroyers in 2007. Nagy got his shot at revenge in the playoffs, when he took the 6-seed Destroyers (7-9) into the Arena at Gwinnett Center and beat the 2-seed Force (14-2), 66-56. Nagy was 23-of-34 for 209 yards and five touchdowns. 

“We played them in the NFC championship game of the Arena League, and we dominated them!” he said. “I'll never forget that game.” 

The Bears now seem happy to embrace the revenge narrative, among a half dozen other motivational colloquialisms they’ve adopted during this three-game win streak. On offense, they’re trying to avoid watching too much of Week 1’s loss, and schematically speaking that’s probably not a bad idea. On defense, they’re watching hand-to-hand combat. It's probably a little on the nose, but when is football not? 

“We like showing boxing stuff,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “You ever watch the Gatti-Ward fight, Round 9?”

Ring Magazine named the bout Fight of the Year in 2002, and Hall of Famer Manny Steward called that ninth round the “Round of the Century.” Micky Ward was a former prodigy who never quite fulfilled his potential, but he managed to find his way back into boxing after a hiatus spent paving roads and upset the heavily favored Arturo Gatti. Though he won by majority decision in 10 rounds, knocking Gotti down in the ninth is widely considered Ward’s crowning achievement – so much so that they got Mark Walhberg to play him in a movie.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but the Bears don’t need complete accuracy to find the motivation behind an underdog landing a late-round, knock-down blow. 

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