Bears

Where are they now? As Bears' 2017 wide receiver room struggles to stay in NFL, current unit looks as deep as ever

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USA Today

Where are they now? As Bears' 2017 wide receiver room struggles to stay in NFL, current unit looks as deep as ever

Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley are each all but assured of roster spots on the 2019 Bears. That leaves a deep group of players competing for, likely, one roster spot.

Javon Wims, Taquan Mizzell, Marvin Hall and Emanuel Hall are the biggest names in that group, which also includes Tanner Gentry, Thomas Ives and Jordan Williams-Lambert. Gentry is, notably, the only leftover from the Bears’ wide receiver room at this time in 2017.

Two years ago during OTAs, the biggest question surrounding Zach Azzani’s room was if an over-the-hill Victor Cruz would make the team. Now? It’s which youngsters with some promise won’t make the cut come September. 

“This is the NFL, and we’re the Chicago Bears,” wide receivers coach Mike Furrey said, making a point larger than stating the obvious. “So realistically, we should have 10 guys in our room that have the opportunity to compete with everybody in that room. There shouldn’t be four guys and then a huge drop-off to the other six. We’re the Chicago Bears. Like, we’re in the NFL.”

Furrey is the first Bears receivers coach to return for his second year at that post since Mike Groh, who survived the Marc Trestman-to-John Fox transition for a year in 2015. He was followed by Curtis Johnson and Azzani, the latter of whom you might remember from some awkward moments with Kevin White during training camp in 2017. 

Perhaps the most interesting competition that’ll play out in the coming months — outside of kicker, of course — will happen at the bottom of Furrey’s unit. That aforementioned battle for what might be one roster spot will be heated during training camp: Each of the unreleated Halls possess top-notch speed, while Wims flashed a few times when given opportunities last year at the very start (in the Hall of Fame preseason game) and very end (Week 17 against the Vikings) of the season. 

“If you look at every single guy in our room right now, every single one of them could have long careers in this league,” Furrey said. “And that’s what you want. And that makes it hard on us to figure that out but again, you’re in the NFL, that’s what it should be like.”

That’s not what it’s always been like for the Bears, though. Consider what the members of that 2017 wide receiver room have done since the end of that season:

Kendall Wright (59 receptions): Did not play in 2018. He was released by the Vikings on cut-down day, then was signed and cut/waived twice by the Arizona Cardinals. He remains an unsigned free agent. 

Josh Bellamy (24 receptions): Caught 14 passes for the Bears in 2018 while serving as a core special teamer. He signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the cap space-rich New York Jets as a free agent in March. 

Dontrelle Inman (23 receptions): The Bears’ mid-season acquisition was out of the NFL until last October, when he signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 28 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns for Frank Reich's postseason-bound side, and caught all eight targets for 108 yards with a score in two playoff games in January. Inman signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the New England Patriots in the offseason. 

Deonte Thompson (11 receptions): Thompson was released by the Bears after appearing in five games, then went on to be the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills’ most productive wide receiver in 2017 with 27 catches for 430 yards with one touchdown. He appeared in eight games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018 before being cut and winding back up in Buffalo. The 30-year-old is now with the New York Jets. 

Tre McBride (eight receptions): Most notably, McBride and Bellamy got in a verbal altercation just outside the old Halas Hall wide receivers room — which was right across the hall from the media room. McBride was cut in November of 2017 and hasn’t played in the NFL since, and was waived by Washington in April after he signed a reserve/future contract there in January. 

Tanner Gentry (three receptions): The Bourbonnais fan favorite hung around the practice squad last year and remains with the team in 2019. He does, effectively, still have one more year of practice squad eligibility left, though he may face stiffer competition this year just to make the practice squad once the preseason ends. 

Markus Wheaton (three receptions): One of Ryan Pace’s bigger free-agent busts, Wheaton couldn’t stay healthy in 2017 and turned in one of the worst seasons a wide receiver has had since 1992. He played three total snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 of the 2018 season and remains unsigned. 

Kevin White (two receptions): He was healthy for the entire 2018 season, yet was inactive for seven games and only caught four of eight targets. White signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals in March. 

Cameron Meredith (zero receptions): The Bears declined to match the New Orleans Saints’ two-year, $9.6 million offer sheet for Meredith last spring, opting to use a second-round pick on Miller to replace him. Pace’s plan proved to be sound, too: Meredith only appeared in six games for the Saints last year due to a host of injuries, and had a scope on the same knee he injured with the Bears in that preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. He took a $2.1 million paycut this offseason and has yet to return to practice during OTAs. 

Victor Cruz (zero receptions): Cruz never played in the NFL again after being cut by the Bears and officially announced his retirement last August. He’s now an analyst for ESPN. 

Daniel Braverman, Titus Davis, Alton Howard (zero receptions): None of these players have appeared in the NFL since being released by the Bears on cut-down day in 2017. Braverman, a 2016 sixth-round pick, was most recently released from the Cardinals’ practice squad last December. 

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A thought here, which leads to another thought: There’s been some excitement over the last month about Emanuel Hall, the undrafted speed burner from Mizzou, even if he doesn’t have a clear path to making the Bears. He hasn’t participated in either of the OTAs open to the media in the last two weeks, making his uphill climb a little steeper when training camp begins in July. 

But two years ago, had the Bears had a player with Hall’s pedigree in camp, he would’ve had a path to not only making the team, but being one of Mitch Trubisky’s top targets his rookie year. 

Hall said he chose to sign with the Bears despite the loaded depth chart ahead of him largely because of Furrey — an awfully complimentary comment for a position coach. So the second thought: While the Bears’ talent at receiver is far better than it was two years ago, don’t discount Furrey’s impact on building the strength of this group. 

“I want my guys to be selfish to become unselfish,” Furrey said. “I want them to go build their careers and be the best they can be and become better. That’s going to help us, unselfishly, as a football team. 

“And so that’s kind of the mindset of me as a position coach when I’m sitting there thinking hey, okay, how do we do this, how do we do that, well let’s get this guy reps, let’s make sure everybody’s even-keel right now. And so if everybody else can see in this room that it’s not a drop-off from sixth to seventh, so the top six get all the reps. Right now we want to make sure everybody knows that everybody can play in that room. And if you don’t want to study, if you don’t want to learn what you’re supposed to be doing, if you don’t want to show up and be where you’re supposed to be when the play is called, next guy up. That’s a pretty good deal to have.”

Or, as Furrey re-iterated: “This is the NFL. This is the Chicago Bears. So we need to have 10 guys in our room every year that are competing for those spots, and that’ll make us better and make our football team better.”  

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

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USA Today

Pro Football Focus: Bears have NFL’s best run defense entering 2019

Pro Football Focus doesn’t seem to expect much regression for the Bears defense, at least when it comes to run defense.

PFF analyst Mike Renner ranked every team’s ability to stop the ground game, heading into 2019, and Chicago remains on top.

The team retained its entire front seven, top-to-bottom, with the exception of Sam Acho, who spent most of last season on injured reserve anyway.

One of the biggest keys, in Renner’s analysis, is Akiem Hicks, who was among Pro Football Focus’ top performers in the running game.

“The former Saint is proving himself one of the best free agent additions in recent memory,” Renner wrote. “His 13.3 run-stop percentage was the second-highest figure of any interior defender in the NFL last season.”

The Bears allowed the fewest rushing yards and rushing touchdowns of any defense last season, and the 3.8 yards per attempt they gave up was fourth best.

With the whole gang back together for 2019, the team is in a great spot to run it back under Chuck Pagano.    

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

The Bears will begin training camp next week without many significant position battles — outside of kicker, of course — which stands as an indicator of how strong a roster Ryan Pace has built. But that doesn’t mean there won't be some intriguing decisions to be made in a month and a half, especially involving depth at some critical positions. 

So here’s a pre-training camp stab at projecting what the Bear’s 53-man roster will look like on the night of Sept. 5:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Missing the cut: Tyler Bray

These two guys are locked in, leaving Tyler Bray to likely return to the practice squad for another season. 

RUNNING BACKS (4): Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte Jr. 
Missing the cut: Ryan Nall

Cohen, Davis and Montgomery are roster locks, leaving Whyte and Nall to compete for, likely, just one spot on the roster. Matt Nagy praised Nall during OTAs, and he could become a versatile option with the ability to play some fullback, but we’ll give the last spot to Whyte given his speed and the Bears’ focus on that trait in the offseason. 

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Marvin Hall
Missing the cut: Javon Wims, Emanuel Hall, Taquan Mizzell, Tanner Gentry, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Thomas Ives

Robinson, Gabriel and Miller are locks, while Patterson’s contract structure ($5 million guaranteed, all in 2019) and Ridley’s draft slot (fourth round) easily get them on the team, too. That leaves Javon Wims, Marvin Hall, Emanuel Hall and a handful of others to compete for what probably is only one more spot on the 53-man roster. There’s not much separating those three heading into training camp, though Emanuel Hall’s sports hernia surgery sidelined him during OTAs, putting him a little behind the curve. Wims is the incumbent here but didn’t get on the field much in 2018, while Marvin Hall played a little with the Atlanta Falcons over the last two years. We’ll give the edge to Marvin Hall for now based on his speed and meager experience, but also with the knowledge that the Bears’ sixth receiver likely won’t be active on game days unless of an injury. 

TIGHT ENDS (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell, Dax Raymond
Missing the cut: Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, Ellis Richardson

If Burton has to begin training camp on the PUP list, will he be ready for Week 1? Can Shaheen stay healthy for a full season? Those are perhaps the two biggest questions needing answers not only for this unit, but for the Bears’ offense as a whole. Burton’s 11th-hour injury prior to the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles limited how dynamic Nagy’s offense could be, while Shaheen’s preseason injury meant the Bears were ineffective when using 12 personnel during the regular season. The Bears need better depth behind Burton and Shaheen — Braunecker is a reliable special teamer with flexibility to play both the “U” and the “Y” spots, but can more much-needed depth emerge from a converted offensive lineman (Sowell) and a handful of undrafted free agents (Raymond, Bunting, Horsted, Richardson)? We’ll give Sowell (at the “Y” behind Shaheen) and Raymond (at the “U” behind Burton) the spots for now, but both will have to earn their way onto the roster during training camp. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen, Alex Bars
Missing the cut: Cornelius Lucas, Joe Lowery, T.J. Clemmings, Blake Blackmar, Marquez Tucker, Jordan McCray, Sam Mustipher

The Bears moved Sowell to tight end thanks, in part, to their confidence in the development of Coward — a converted defensive lineman — to take over as their swing tackle in 2019. He’s still under construction as an NFL offensive lineman and will have to beat out a handful of challengers, including a five-year NFL reserve in Lucas, but Coward has the edge for a roster spot. The interior reserves are less clear, though: Larsen was brought back in free agency but only has $90,000 guaranteed on his one-year deal, while Bars played for O-line coach Harry Hiestand in college but is coming off an ACL/MCL injury that led to him going undrafted in April. Any of the other reserves could make a push, or the Bears could look to add interior depth on cut-down weekend. For now, though, Larsen, Bars and Coward make the most sense to slide behind the same starting five the Bears had to end 2018. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Williams
Missing the cut: Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Daryle Banfield, Jonathan Harris

This is the Bears’ deepest unit, with the only battle to see who will make the roster and wind up inactive on game days, as Williams was for all but two games in 2018. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Chuck Harris
Cut: Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, James Vaughters

Irving flashed during 2017’s and 2018’s preseasons, and might need to do so again to secure his spot on the Bears’ 2019 roster. But consider this an open battle for reserve roles behind Mack/Floyd/Lynch: Irving has the inside track to one spot but will have to earn it; while whoever flashes the most from the Harris/Fitts/Betts/Vaughters group should get another. We’ll go with Harris here — maybe Mack can take his fellow Buffalo alum under his wing during training camp. 

INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Cut: Josh Woods, Jameer Thurman, Kevin Pierre-Louis

Woods might be as close to the bubble as anyone on defense, and could force his way on to the roster with a strong preseason and a commitment to special teams. But with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and he and Iyiegbuniwe being core special teamers, it’s hard to see Woods beating out any of those four for a spot right now. 

CORNERBACK (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver II, Duke Shelley, Sherrick McManis
Cut: Stephen Denmark, John Franklin III, Michael Joseph, Josh Simmons, Clifton Duck, Jonathon Mincy

There should be a strong competition among the reserve outside corners on this roster, with Toliver having the best shot but needing to fend off the raw athleticism of Denmark and Franklin as well as the talent of Joseph, who stuck on the practice squad last year after going undrafted out of Division III Dubuque. Shelley flashed during OTAs and minicamp during the spring and looks likely to wind up on the 53-man roster. While McManis worked at safety some during the spring, we’ll include him among the cornerbacks for now. 

SAFETY (4): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Doyin Jibowu

Barring injury and a more permanent move to safety for McManis, there’s little that’ll change in this unit between now and Week 1.

SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Joseph (PK), Pat O’Donnell (P), Patrick Scales (LS)
Cut: Elliott Fry, Eddy Pineiro, John Wirtel

Surprise! While the battle between Fry and Pineiro will dominate the headlines in Bourbonnais, the “winner” isn’t guaranteed to be the Bears’ Week 1 kicker. So not only are those two competing against each other, they’re competing against the field, too. In this scenario, the Cleveland Browns keep fifth-round pick Austin Seibert and cut Joseph, who made 17 of 20 field goals (with a long of 51 yards) for them in 2018. The Bears could try to swing a trade for Baltimore’s Kaare Vedvik here, too. The larger point, though, is this: Pace may have to look outside the organization for his Week 1 kicker, and there will be some talent — like Joseph — available if he does.