Bears

Bears add offensive line depth as busy Saturday of signing continues

Bears add offensive line depth as busy Saturday of signing continues

Bears fans are probably following Kyle Long on Twitter anyway, but just as an early Thursday post foreshadowed Jay Cutler's official departure later in the day, his Saturday string suggested Falcons free agent offensive tackle Tom Compton was in town. He also hinted that Vikings wideout/Pro-Bowl kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson was here as well (and he did, indeed, visit the Bears).

Compton was signed to a one-year deal to be a swing backup/competition for Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie. His only season in Atlanta provided depth for the only o-line in the NFL that started all 16 games together, en route to a trip to the Super Bowl. The original sixth round pick of Washington out of South Dakota in 2012 has started 11 of 60 career games, nine of those with Washington in 2014.

That move came shortly after wide receiver Kendall Wright signed a one-year, $4 million deal to reunite with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, under whom he had his most success in his first two NFL seasons in Tennessee in 2012 and `13. He led Tennessee in catches (64, for 626 yards) after being selected 20th overall (the same year the Bears selected Alshon Jeffery in the second round). Next came his franchise-record 94 receptions for 1,079 yards in his sophomore campaign. But since then, the 5'10 Baylor product has seen his numbers (57, 36, and, most recently, 29 catches for 416 yards this past season) and playing time diminish, despite the drafting of Marcus Mariota in 2015. He figures to compete with Friday signee Markus Wheaton in the slot, especially if Eddie Royal is released.

The Saturday signing flurry began with three cornerbacks coming aboard. The reported agreement Friday with ex-Jaguar and Giant Prince Amukamara became official. That was followed by the re-signing of former Buccaneers second-rounder Johnthan Banks, who's been injury-prone the last couple of seasons and joined the Bears briefly at the end of last year. Then came 6'2 Marcus Cooper, who had four interceptions (one for a touchdown) in a career-high 13 starts for a second-ranked Arizona defense that was stung by injuries to the secondary.  His first three seasons were spent amidst another talented defensive backfield in Kansas City, and received a three-year deal from the Bears.

That trio joins Tracy Porter, Cre`von LeBlanc, Deiondre Hall, Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Sherrick McManus,  De'Vante Bausby and Jacoby Glenn in a cornerback group that will be heavy on competition, if not another addition at a position that is considered one of the strengths of this year's draft. Then again, it may indicate Ryan Pace may focus elsewhere in late April.

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from Week 1 of OTAs

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Takeaways from Week 1 of OTAs

JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis dive into a few interesting developments from OTAs at Halas Hall on Wednesday, including Bradley Sowell’s position change (0:30) and Leonard Floyd’s upside (5:30). Plus, hear from Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix about how the ‘Bama safety pair came to be re-united in Chicago (12:30). 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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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.