Bears

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Kirk Cousins on John DeFilippo: 'He’s going to add a lot to Bears' staff'

Kirk Cousins on John DeFilippo: 'He’s going to add a lot to Bears' staff'

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke with Chicago Sun-Times reporter Patrick Finley at the 2020 Pro Bowl and offered a glowing review of Bears quarterback coach, John DeFilippo, whose addition to Chicago's coaching staff is expected to bring the best out of Mitch Trubisky, the Bears' incumbent starter who's entering a make-or-break offseason with the team.

“He’ll be outstanding,” Cousins said. “He’s a great coach. He’s been around this league for a long time. I think it says a lot when someone like Matt Nagy, who knows quarterbacks so well, hires him. I think that says a lot about ‘Flip.’

“When you look at what he did with Carson Wentz as a young player, I think there’s a lot to like there. And he’s going to add a lot to that staff. It’s going to be to my detriment, because we’re in his division. But he’s a great coach.”

DeFilippo was the Eagles quarterback coach for two seasons (2016-17) and played an integral part in Wentz's development between his rookie and second seasons. Under DeFilippo's tutelage, Wentz went from a solid rookie season to an MVP-worthy campaign in 2017. It's also noteworthy that DeFilippo managed to get the best out of veteran Nick Foles, who replaced Wentz after a season-ending injury. Foles went on to enjoy a miraculous Super Bowl run.

DeFilippo certainly has his work cut out for him with Trubisky. The former second-overall pick has looked like an average starter (at best) through 41 regular-season starts and regressed mightily in 2019. Blame for his regression has been shared among the offensive line and play-calling, but he deserves much of the criticism too. His mechanics were sloppy, his accuracy was lacking and he just didn't play with the kind of downfield killer instinct Nagy wants from his starter.

Nagy's end-of-year comments about Trubisky needing to learn how to identify coverages didn't create much confidence in his near-term trajectory, either.

But that's why DeFilippo is in town. And if Cousins' comments prove to be true, then we may be on the precipice of a breakout season from Trubisky.

Or maybe DeFilippo will be the tie-breaking voice that allows the Bears to move on if Trubisky's struggles continue.

Mel Kiper thinks these players could be available to Bears in 2nd round

Mel Kiper thinks these players could be available to Bears in 2nd round

Believe it or not, the Bears are in good shape for the 2020 NFL Draft, even without a first-round pick.

This year’s class of prospects runs deep with talent and several players chosen between picks 33-50 will have upside similar to first-rounders from years past.

The Bears have two picks in that range — Nos. 43 and 50 — and have a great opportunity to add two starting-quality players by the end of Day 2.

But which players are likely to be available when they’re on the clock? 

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. published his new mock draft Friday and it offers a good look not only at who the potential first-round picks will be but also the cluster of highly-ranked prospects who will fall into Round 2.

Here are five players who didn’t make Kiper’s first-round cut that the Bears will give strong consideration to. 

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

Fromm is likely to be the highest-rated passer still on the board when the Bears are on the clock in the second round. And while he doesn’t have elite traits, his experience as a starter in the SEC adds an element to the Bears' quarterback room that’s currently missing. Plus, his accuracy on short and intermediate routes is a good fit for Matt Nagy’s offense.

Brycen Hopkins, TE, Purdue

The best tight end at the 2020 Senior Bowl and arguably the top tight end in the draft class slips out of Kiper’s first round and potentially into the Bears’ lap at No. 43 overall. Hopkins is an athletic yet undersized pass-catcher at the position who would immediately challenge for the starting job in Chicago.

Terrell Lewis, Edge, Alabama

Lewis looks the part of an NFL edge rusher. and with questions surrounding the future of former first-round pick Leonard Floyd, the Bears are likely to target a player who can help add some juice on the outside rush track. Lewis’ production (only seven sacks the last two seasons) will likely create enough questions about his upside to push him into the second round.

Austin Jackson, OT, USC

The Bears offensive line was a big weakness in 2019 and there’s no doubt it will be a high priority in the 2020 NFL Draft. The pressing question is whether the Bears will attack offensive tackle or guard first, but with a player like Jackson making it to the second round in Kiper’s mock draft, they'd be hard-pressed to pass him up.

Lloyd Cushenberry, iOL, LSU

Cushenberry was one of the top offensive linemen at the 2020 Senior Bowl and will be a riser throughout the draft process. He may end up being the best interior lineman to slip to the second round, and like Hopkins, would be an immediate upgrade and potential starter on Day 1 of his rookie season.