Bears

Are the Bears too young?

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Are the Bears too young?

Eventually any story about NFL players getting old is bound to be accurate. Just not right now with respect to the Bears, in the mind of the person whose future is most closely aligned with 30-something veterans like Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher.

The calendar is inexorable but looking at just the numbers is missing the far bigger picture, according to coach Lovie Smith.

Briggs, Peppers, Tillman, Urlacher, center Roberto Garza all received some level of Pro Bowl honor this week. None missed a single game in 2011. The four defensive players missed none in 2010; Garza missed two to have in-season knee surgery.

To me you have to first establish, are they breaking down? Smith told CSNChicago.com. And they are not. Julius Peppers I dont care what the Pro Bowl alternate status says is the best defensive end in the league. How many games did Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman miss?

Obviously you need young players to come along at every position at some point, but we are not seeing players breaking down at our core positions.

Young in many places

Smith is under no illusions about the need for a productive talent pipeline.

But the oldest of the Bears four top defensive tackles is 27 (Matt Toeaina), with Amobi Okoye, Stephen Paea and Henry Melton 25 or younger and Melton selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. The Bears have explored re-signing Okoye to a longer-term deal.

Smith got to a Super Bowl with an offensive line of veterans (John Tait-Ruben Brown-Olin Kreutz-Garza-Fred Miller), all of whom except Kreutz were free-agent hires.

Lance Louis is expected to resume a starting guard spot. Gabe Carimi, JMarcus Webb and Chris Williams are all draft picks and 26 or younger. Centerguard Chris Spencer is 29; recently re-signed guard Edwin Williams is 25.

Across the offensive line, and really over the whole offense, the guys in key positions are young, Smith said. You always reach a point where you do have to go through a transition at every position.

We have two first-round, young offensive linemen (Carimi, C. Williams). You look at JMarcus Webb, Lance Louis, theyre all first-contract guys. You like that. We have a young quarterback Jay Cutler is 28 and all our tailbacks Matt Forte, 26; Kahlil Bell, 25; Armando Allen, 23 are all young.

Corey Graham, the NFC Pro Bowl special teams selectee, is 27. Devin Hester turned 29 in November. Pro Bowl alternate kicker Robbie Gould turned 30 on Friday.

Transition process

Time will exact its toll. Urlacher, 33, is signed only through the 2012 season and if he is held out Sunday because of knee soreness, you may be looking at his eventual successor in Nick Roach, 27, whom some in the organization see as the prototypical middle linebacker in the Smith defensive schemes.

Linebacker, along with wide receiver and cornerback, will be the priorities of the offseason along with a pass-rushing defensive end. Receiver and cornerback are search areas for immediate-impact players.

But linebacker is a spot where the Bears hope a transition will work, as it has this year at safety, from veteran Chris Harris to youth in Chris Conte and Major Wright.

We transitioned this year at the safety position, playing a rookie in Conte, Major Wright getting more reps, Smith said. Our backup linebackers were new guys.

As for the longer-tenured veterans, theyve played a little bit, Smith said, but I feel like they have a lot more football left in them.

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

The 2019 college football regular season is over, which means the 2020 NFL draft season is right around the corner. Underclassmen are declaring by the day, all-star rosters are filling out and, of course, mock drafts are being published.

The really unique thing about the Bears in 2019 is how fluid their likely NFL draft needs have been. A few weeks ago, quarterback would've topped the list. Now? Not so much. Tight end, a position that's been non-existent in Chicago's offense all year, suddenly has two players (J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted) who've garnered some excitement.

Seasons like this year make trying to pinpoint which direction GM Ryan Pace will go in April's draft extremely challenging. According to the Draft Wire's latest three-round mock draft, the Bears will grab help for the secondary and offensive line in Round 2.

Their first selection (as of the start of Week 15) comes at No. 45 overall from the Raiders. Chicago uses that pick on Utah cornerback, Jaylon Johnson.

It's hard to argue this projection. The Bears may have a bigger need at cornerback by the time the draft rolls around than they do right now if they decide it's time to part ways with veteran starter Prince Amukamara. Chicago needs to make some difficult salary-cap decisions this offseason, and moving on from Amukamara would free up roughly $9 million in cap space. 

Johnson (6-0, 190) will be part of the second wave of cornerbacks to get drafted this year. He isn't a first-round talent, and barring an elite showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he should be available in the middle portion of the second round.

The Bears land offensive line help at No. 50 overall in this mock draft via Tennessee's Trey Smith.

A former five-star recruit, Smith's talent is undeniable. It's first-round worthy. His medicals, however, are not.

After dealing with blood clots in his lungs in 2018, Smith returned to action this season and was once again a dominant force. He projects as an interior player in the NFL and would be an ideal target for a Bears team that needs to add more talent at guard in their effort to replace longtime starter, Kyle Long.

Smith's medical history is likely to push him into Day 3, however, at which point he'll qualify as one of this year's best value selections.

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Matt Nagy thinks about the Packers a lot. 

He thinks about his first career game as an NFL head coach, at Lambeau Field, and how he’ll “never forget that day, that game, for so many different reasons.” 

He thinks about his first NFC North title, which was clinched when Eddie Jackson intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, avenging the season’s earlier loss.

And he thinks about Week 1 of this season, when millions of eyes tuned in on Opening Night to watch a supposed Super Bowl contender score three points, at home, in a loss to the Packers. 

“I try not to remember too much of that,” he said. “That was a rough one.”  

It just so happens that, this week, everyone else is thinking about the Packers too. On the surface level, it’s the 200th meeting in one the league’s most storied rivalries, and a pivotal game in this year’s race for the second Wild Card spot. There’s Aaron Rodgers, who Nagy called, “competitive as hell.” There’s a talented-and-maybe-underperforming defense, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the edges creating matchup nightmares for an offensive line that’s undergone more change than anyone. 

“We knew what kind of players they were,” he added. “They’re not unknown anymore.” 

If you wanted to get esoteric, there’s a great redemption narrative to Sunday’s game too. The Packers came into Chicago and exposed the Bears’ starters – who, you’ll remember, sat out the preseason. Things would get worse – so much worse – but the book was out on Nagy’s Bears, and it took them three months to recover. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now,” Mitch Trubisky said. “We’re a different team. There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Things have been different than Week 1, even if you couldn’t say that until Week 12. Nagy has admittedly found a better rhythm as a play-caller, and many of the issues that plagued the Bears in Week 1 haven’t been an issue lately. The tight end room is producing, they’re shifting through personnel groupings less, and the run game has stabilized – all vital components of the offense that best suits the 2019 Bears. It’s not what Nagy envisioned, but 202 ended up being formative in ways he never expected. 

“I feel like a better coach going through this for the players, for my coaches and just the way we communicate,” he said. “The honesty, the belief in one another; going through this is important and it'll help me in the long run, to be able to handle these type of situations when they arise again.”

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