Bears

Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

653354.jpg

Buccaneers make stunning choice for new coach

From Comcast SportsNetTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have hired Rutgers' Greg Schiano to become the team's next coach. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik confirmed the five-year contract Thursday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ESPN first reported the Bucs had hired Schiano. The 45-year-old Schiano has been with the Scarlet Knights for 11 seasons, taking them from college football laughingstock to a program that has had winning records in six of the last seven years. He was an assistant coach in the NFL with Chicago from 1996-98. The Bucs fired Raheem Morris on Jan. 2 after a 4-12 finish that included 10 straight losses to end the season, most of them by double-digit margins. The collapse following a promising 4-2 start came only a year after the NFL's youngest team went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs. Dominik said in an earlier e-mail to the AP that "many candidates have been notified that we are moving on." The Glazer family that owns the team interviewed at least 10 candidates for the opening, including Oregon's Chip Kelly, who was offered the position before turning it down earlier this week. The Bucs also talked to former NFL head coaches Mike Sherman, Brad Childress and Marty Schottenheimer; Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski; Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray; Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer; Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who accepted the head coaching opening with the Miami Dolphins. An 11th known candidate, ex-Dallas Cowboys coach and current Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, canceled a scheduled interview with the Bucs that would have taken place while the Texans were in the playoffs. It's not the first exhaustive search the Glazers have conducted for a coach. The Bucs pursued Steve Spurrier before hiring Tony Dungy in 1996, then tried to lure Bill Parcells and Steve Mariucci to Tampa Bay before trading two first-round draft picks, as well as a pair of second-rounders and 8 million cash to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for the opportunity to negotiate a contract with Jon Gruden after the 2001 season. Gruden led the Bucs to their only Super Bowl title the following season, but Tampa Bay hasn't won a playoff game since. The Glazers fired him three weeks after the Bucs lost the final four games of 2008 to miss the playoffs, and promoted Morris as his successor. Tampa Bay went 17-31 under Morris, who served as his own defensive coordinator. The Bucs allowed a franchise-record 494 points in 2011, including 31 of more in seven of the last eight games. In addition to fixing a defense that's been rebuilt over the past two drafts, getting young quarterback Josh Freeman back on track with be a priority this offseason. Freeman threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interception in 2010, his second year in the league and his first as a full-time starter. The 24-year-old passed for 16 TDs vs. 22 interceptions this season. The timing of the move could put Rutgers in a bind with national signing day less than a week away. This is a pivotal time in the recruiting process, with coaches locking up commitments from high school prospects who make those agreements official by signing national letters of intent starting Wednesday. Schiano's contract with Rutgers runs through 2016 and pays him around 2.35 million per year. He played linebacker at Bucknell, but never in the NFL. His first big break in coaching came at Penn State, where Joe Paterno hired him to coach defensive backs in 1991. He was at Penn State through 1995, before being hired by the Bears. Because of his success at Rutgers, there had often been speculation for years about Schiano possibly replacing Paterno when the Hall of Famer was done coaching. But when Penn State was looking for a replacement after firing Paterno amid a child sex-abuse scandal involving one of his former longtime assistants, the school hired Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Schiano has been courted by several other colleges during his time at Rutgers, most notably Miami and Michigan. Michigan pursued Schiano after Lloyd Carr retired in 2007. Schiano passed and the Wolverines hired Rich Rodriguez. Schiano's first four seasons at Rutgers produced losing seasons, but the program he took over was practically at rock bottom in major college football. Before he was hired, the Scarlet Knights played in only one bowl game in their history. Schiano brought structure and discipline to a program that sorely lacked both on every level. Not only has Rutgers become a consistent winner in the Big East, but the Scarlet Knights have regularly been among the top teams in the country when it comes to graduating players. He also helped secure funding for multimillion dollar upgrades to Rutgers' facilities, including a major stadium renovation. In 2005, Rutgers went 7-5 and the next season the Scarlet Knights were 11-2. They have played in six bowls under Schiano, winning five, including a victory over Iowa state in the Pinstripe Bowl to cap a 9-4 season in 2011.

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

hicks_thumb.jpg
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.