Bears

View from the Moon: Bears win over Ravens has deeper implications than one game

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AP

View from the Moon: Bears win over Ravens has deeper implications than one game

Lots of ways to look at the Bears after their 27-24 overtime over the Ravens in Baltimore, the first road win for the Bears since late 2015. Taken in the context of a season still short of its halfway point, they didn’t exactly clarify definitively whether they’re a bad team with occasional good days, or a team that threatens to be better than expected.

Either way the Bears suddenly could find themselves being a meaningful factor in an NFC North that on Sunday saw the Green Bay Packers (4-2) lose Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone and a game to the Minnesota Vikings (4-2), and the Detroit Lions (3-3) crushed by the New Orleans Saints.

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The best perspective, one that in fact parallels and even rivals the growth and development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky for collective significance, may be that the Bears found a way to win.

To a bigger point, though, the crucial playmakers were overwhelmingly their own draft choices – Trubisky (8-for-16 passing, 113 yards, a touchdown, ZERO interceptions, 94.0 rating), running back Jordan Howard (36 carries, 167 yards), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (six tackles, one for loss), Adrian Amos (90-yard touchdown interception return), Kyle Fuller (three passes defensed, six tackles). Add in defensive end Akiem Hicks (three tackles, one sack) and you have a game won by players who represent the developing foundation of the franchise.

The growth of Trubisky is a prime directive for the 2017 season. But so is Goldman’s. And Howard’s. And Fuller’s. Because if Trubisky progresses but the core does not rise with him, the Bears will have a good quarterback and little more. The Saints and Archie Manning. Or using another position, Joe Thomas and the Cleveland Browns. More than Trubisky matters.

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A cliché, but critical for a team that too often found ways to lose, and this game was there for the losing, the Bears blowing an 11-point lead in the final four minutes.

But they didn’t lose. This is the fourth of their six games that the Bears were in position to win, offensively or defensively, on a final possession (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Baltimore). When the Bears keep games close, they are 2-2. And in the two they lost – Atlanta, Minnesota – they were less beaten by the opponents by themselves with dropped passes (vs. Falcons) or mis-thrown ones (vs. Vikings).

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Trubisky is a sub-50-percent passer through his first two NFL games but a handful of his incompletions in Baltimore were very, very significant. They were indications of the decision-making that is the reason coaches turned to him. On a handful of occasions, Trubisky lofted passes that barely stayed in the field of play but were exactly what coaches want the rookie to do rather than force throws into too-tight windows

On Sunday he became the first of 11 rookie quarterbacks to beat John Harbaugh's Ravens.

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On the not-so-good side:

Coach John Fox had a team meeting early last week and it wasn’t pleasant. Insiders say Fox was fed up with the stupid football being played. The question, however, even after Sunday’s overtime win over the Ravens, in which the Bears squandered an 11-point lead with a little more than four minutes to play, is who was paying attention and who wasn’t. Because not everyone is getting it.

The defense forced and recovered a fumble in the first half and supplemented that with its first interception for 2017 when Bryce Callahan snatched a ball off the hands of Breshad Perriman and returned it 52 yards to set up the halfback touchdown pass by Tarik Cohen.

Trubisky and center Cody Whitehair have some shotgun-snap issues to resolve but the Bears had just two penalties through the first three quarters, neither on the offense. Then Zach Miller was flagged for holding in the fourth quarter and the first possession of overtime effectively was undone when Bobby Massey. Jordan Howard going out of bounds allowed Baltimore time in regulation occasioned flashbacks to Marion Barber.

Worse, special-teams breakdowns gave the Ravens 14 points, one touchdown when no one thought to touch down Bobby Rainey, who got up and completed a 96-yard kickoff return; and another when punt coverage allowed a 77-yard punt return to Michael Campanaro.

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Cornerback may be a priority in next year’s draft but Kyle Fuller continues playing suspiciously like a first-round defensive back (which he of course was). The Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller’s rookie contract last April – understandable given Fuller’s decline over the past two seasons – but no one should be surprised if the Bears make a play to retain Fuller with either an early extension or a push ahead of free agency 

Fuller delivered a textbook one-on-one tackle of 251-pound Ravens tight end Ben Watson and followed that later in Sunday’s second quarter with a pair of superb pass defenses to force Baltimore to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal situation. And it was Fuller’s technically perfect coverage on Chris Moore that caused the deflected ball that went 90 yards the other direction on Adrian Amos’ first career interception

Prince Amukamara is on a one-year deal and Callahan is a restricted free agent. The Bears have a major positional need, and a chance to keep one of their own draft choices who’s now been three years in the Vic Fangio system.

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

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USA Today

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

The Bears will try to address one of their more glaring weaknesses — tight end depth — by giving longtime offensive tackle Bradley Sowell some work at tight end in the coming weeks of practice at Halas Hall. 

Sowell, a reliable backup swing tackle the last two seasons with the Bears, was targeted twice as a receiver in 2018 — first, on a nearly-intercepted Mitch Trubisky pass against the New England Patriots, and second on the famous “Santa’s Sleigh” touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. He also got some work as a fullback in the Bears’ Week 17 thumping of the Minnesota Vikings. 

“We felt like at the ‘Y’ position we could use some more depth,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s something we talked about at the end of the season. We discussed it and now we’re giving him a chance.”

Nagy’s assessment of the Bears’ “Y” (in-line) depth is accurate, if not even undersold. The athletic 6-foot-7, 312 pound Sowell will have a chance to be a backup to Adam Shaheen, who has missed 13 games in his first two years due to a string of injuries. Reserve tight end Ben Braunecker can play both the “Y” and “U” positions, and the Bears have a handful of undrafted free agents (led by Utah State's Dax Raymond) competing to catch the eye of the coaching staff in the coming weeks. 

The Bears’ offense struggled with two tight ends on the field last year, especially in Shaheen’s absence as Dion Sims played himself out of the league. It’s far too early to tell if adding Sowell to the tight end mix will help, but at this point, the Bears think it’s worth a shot. 

“He’s shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he’s very smart, he knows how to block and all that stuff,” Nagy said. “So let’s test it out and see. When I tell you he’s all-in, he’s all-in.”

Center of Attention

As expected, the Bears indeed will flip James Daniels and Cody Whitehair on the offensive line, with Daniels sliding to center and Whitehair to left guard. 

“We feel comfortable with it, so again, this is the time to test it out and see,” Nagy said. “It’s hard right now because we don’t have pads. So, we’ll get into training camp and see how that goes. But I feel pretty good about it.”

Daniels exclusively played left guard during last year’s regular season, with the Bears opting to hold steady with Whitehair at center for the third consecutive season. Whitehair, though, was drafted as a guard back in 2016 and only moved to center after the last-minute signing of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Daniels, too, starred as a center at Iowa and did get a smattering of preseason snaps there before fully committing to playing guard his rookie year. 

The change is the only planned one on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line, which returns every primary starter from 2018 (Daniels, Whitehair, Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Kyle Long). Perhaps the most significant change for this group, then, will be losing Sowell as its backup tackle. 

Windy City: Smoke Out?

Taquan Mizzell will work as a wide receiver during OTAs, with the now-former running back trading in No. 33 for No. 11 but facing an uphill battle to make the Bears’ roster. 

Mizzell does have a decent track record as a pass-catcher dating back to his college days at Virginia, but it’ll take a massive effort for the third-year player to crack into a crowded receiver room that already has a competitive battle brewing between Javon Wims, Marvin Hall and a group of undrafted free agents. 

While it’s too early to grant rookie running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. a roster spot, shifting Mizzell out of the picture does appear to create a clearer path for the seventh-round pick to stick with the Bears this fall. 

Bradley Sowell, Taquan Mizzell move to new positions at Bears OTAs

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USA TODAY

Bradley Sowell, Taquan Mizzell move to new positions at Bears OTAs

When the Bears reconvened for their first full team practices of the offseason, two players lined up at new positions on offense with new jersey numbers.

Offensive lineman Bradley Sowell is now wearing 85 and playing tight end, while running back Taquan Mizzell moved to wide receiver and will wear No. 11.

Both players have experience at their new positions from experimenting last season. Sowell actually played more snaps at tight end (30) than offensive line (13) in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus, most notably catching a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Rams on the play known as “Santa’s Sleigh.”

Mizzell lined up at wide receiver plenty last season too. Out of his 73 total offensive snaps, 33 of them came at a receiver position, according to PFF.

They’re both moving to crowded positions on the depth chart, but the team evidently is confident they’ll make a smooth transition.

Sowell’s move likely clears a spot for converted defensive lineman Rashaad Coward to take over as the third offensive tackle on the depth chart.

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