Bears

2015 Grades: Bears DL did not play at level needed for top D

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2015 Grades: Bears DL did not play at level needed for top D

What the Bears have and exactly what they need, other than at nose tackle, is fluid. The line overall was respectable but did not play at the level needed for a top defense. The Bears ranked near the bottom against the run, giving up an average of more than 120 ground yards for most of the season and an unacceptable average of 4.5 yards per carry. Some of the reasons were obvious but the overall was not good enough.

The plan, once upon a time, was a three-down group of Ego Ferguson, Jeremiah Ratliff and Ray McDonald. None of those was on the roster after the sixth game. The subsequent three were Jarvis Jenkins, Eddie Goldman and Will Sutton. Of those, only Sutton was dressed for the Detroit game. It was that kind of year for the defensive line and position coach Jay Rodgers.

Because of nickel usage, Willie Young delivered a solid year once he recovered from his ’14-ending Achilles injury. Young’s six sacks in barely a half-season of full involvement was a positive for a team otherwise bereft of pass rush from its interior defensive linemen other than Goldman (4.5).

[MORE BEARS GRADES: Running backs ¦ Secondary]

Goldman was a hit as the Bears’ second-round pick in the 2015 draft and appears to be the anchor the Bears need in their 3-4.

“I think it started slow and then he had steady progress from a certain point on and played well overall the last two-thirds or half of the season,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “But he kept improving, which I think is important for a rookie; if they keep improving that’s a good sign. Hopefully we’ll have bigger and better things moving forward.”

Jenkins was solid most of the season but did not finish as strong as he started, with three sacks through the first four games. But he had just two more shared sacks over the final 11 before being inactive for the Detroit game. Jenkins is due to be an unrestricted free agent, wants to remain in the system, but is a decision for the Bears going forward.

Sutton impressed coaches when the pads came on in training camp and performed at both nose tackle and five-technique. He was a non-factor in pass rush and will need to take another step to remain in the ’16 plans. Mitch Unrein was an in-season pickup, played well enough to earn three starts, and projects as part of the down-lineman rotation next season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Newly signed Greg Suggs made a case for himself going into the offseason with a sack of Stafford to end the second Detroit possession. Bruce Gaston and Mitch Unrein were relentless in pressure, not always reaching Stafford but forcing two hurried throws for incompletions.

Ferguson is expected back from knee surgery after a solid start as a run-stopper before the injury at Kansas City.

The weakness against the run does not fall entirely on the line, particularly when linebackers were inconsistent at gap support. But the defense needed more stoutness at the points of attack from the front which exposed weaknesses in tackling deeper in the defense.

“Some of it’s due to letting guys get in the open field with the ball,” Fangio said. “That makes those tackles very hard to get down at times. When you break down early, it makes the end of the down that much harder.”

Moon's DL Grade: D

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.