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Bears building blocks for 2016? Not necessarily who you think

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Bears building blocks for 2016? Not necessarily who you think

I had an interesting chat with the Comcast SportsNet Bears Pre/Postgame Live crew and the subject was “building blocks,” and whom the Bears have that fit that critical distinction. Because at 6-9, positives aren’t just lying around everywhere.

These are not simply players who will be Bears in 2016, but ones with both the impact talent and at the positions around which offenses and defenses are structured.

Meaning: The key is not simply who are the Bears’ best players, but where those players play. For example, Lovie Smith prioritized building blocks on defense as three-technique defensive lineman and weak-side linebacker. He had both in Chicago with Tommie Harris and Lance Briggs. Brian Urlacher was the bonus to form “elite,” and when you throw in an Alex Brown and Charles Tillman, now you’ve got something. But the building blocks at the pivotal positions are where it starts.

[MORE BEARS: Bears place Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Goldman on IR]

And so it is with the Bears. All clichéd talent-bashing notwithstanding, the Bears in fact DO have core pieces in-house. Most important, they in fact do sit in those key positions, and they are young, many from GM Ryan Pace’s first draft.

Not all are the obvious ones, though.

Defensive bedrock’ers

Eddie Goldman

Pernell McPhee

Willie Young

No slight of Jarvis Jenkins or Ego Ferguson or Will Sutton or anyone else, but the Bears now are a 3-4 team, which builds from a base at nose tackle. A question before this season, the one true building block emerging from this year, in that linchpin position, is Goldman. A dominant nose tackle is to a 3-4 what a disruptive three-tech is to a single-gap 4-3, and Goldman became a force who had pieces of five different sacks and 13 other quarterback hits.

The second spot of absolutes is pass rusher. The Bears have issues at inside linebacker, but that is less of a must-have building block than pass rushers in the John Fox/Vic Fangio scheme. McPhee was signed to be that signature sack guy, and his leadership character has emerged. He’ll have surgery to clean up a balky knee this offseason but McPhee was Pace’s biggest signing, at a bedrock position, and McPhee’s play before his knee betrayed him was building-block stuff.

But the third building block on defense is one that ironically didn’t see himself as one in this system when 2015 started.

[MORE BEARS: The problem areas the Bears cleaned up vs. Buccaneers]

Willie Young may not like being called or thought of as a linebacker, but if he’s playing like he has the second half of this season, Fangio can call him whatever he pleases. Someone who nets 6.5 sacks despite barely seeing the field the first half of the season is pure platinum, regardless of scheme, and Young is a core piece of the critically important nickel package.

And Young has emerged as a true leader, respected for performance, work ethic and personality.

“I think it goes to show you the kind of guys it takes to play in this league,” said Fox. “He came off a season-ending injury; that’s never easy, a lot of work that goes into rehabbing an Achilles injury just like any surgically repaired injury, learning a new defense, fitting into a completely different scheme – it’s not easy.”

Lamarr Houston, idle much of the early season, has come on with six sacks and established himself as an impact part of the Fox/Fangio defensive concept. But Houston has cap hits just short of $7 million in 2016 and 2017, and $8 million in 2018. The Bears have a decision to make on Houston and with McPhee and Young set, Houston is simply too expensive for a spot-player.

Adrian Amos at safety has been a steal as a fifth-round pick. But for safeties to be franchise building blocks, think Ronnie Lott, John Lynch, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed. Not sure Amos is quite that. And Kyle Fuller did little to play up to his hoped-for standard as a foundation piece at cornerback. The building blocks are up in front of those guys.

Offense skill set’ers

Jay Cutler

Jeremy Langford

Kyle Long

Matt Slauson

Kevin White

Offensively the key building blocks are in place and obvious. Cutler became a different quarterback in 2015 under Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains. And Langford has a place at the grown-ups’ table. Now.

The offensive line has its questions but also has two set-it-and-forget-it’s. Unless a tackle drops into the Bears’ lap this offseason, Long will be a tackle with more than seven days to prepare for his next opening-day start. “I would take 10 of him if there were 10 available,” Fox said. “I would take 10 Kyle Longs.”

Matt Slauson is set, at either center or guard. A ruptured chest muscle cost Slauson most of 2014 but also gave the rest of him a year away from NFL abuse.

“I feel better this year than I’ve ever felt,” Slauson told CSNChicago.com. “I’m stronger, in better shape than I’ve ever been. It did give me extra time [to heal].”

He added with a smile: “But I would have much rather been on the field.”

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And Slauson is the savviest all-around lineman on the roster. “If I’m called on to move over [to center], I’m happy to do it,” he said. “Now that I’ve gotten a lot of snaps there this year, I am a lot more comfortable with that move.”

Alshon Jeffery will be a marquee free agent and is expected to be in Chicago in 2016, possibly on a multi-year deal if the guaranteed money is palatable. But for a pivotal building block: White. He was drafted to be the centerpiece and a de facto hedge against losing Jeffery. He is the future.

Indeed, the prospect of pairing White with Jeffery won’t keep Gase from turning down a head-coaching job if one is offered. But having those two together should lessen a little of the sting if one isn’t, or if the ones offered are “no-way’s.”

“As far as our core guys that have been out there with us the entire time,” Gase said, “they have done a good job of progressing in the offense.”

Rams' trade for Jalen Ramsey will have a direct impact on Bears' season

Rams' trade for Jalen Ramsey will have a direct impact on Bears' season

The Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade for Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey Tuesday night, sending two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 fourth-round pick for the superstar defender.

It's the second trade the Rams have accomplished in one day. Los Angeles shipped CB Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens for LB Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick earlier on Tuesday, completing a makeover in their secondary that will have a direct impact the Chicago Bears this season.

The Bears travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams in Week 11 as part of a brutal five-game stretch coming off of their bye week. Ramsey makes it even worse.

The Rams had little choice but to pull off a mega-deal like this. They're entering Week 7 with the 19th ranked pass defense and an underwhelming 3-3 record, a far cry from the expectations for last year's Super Bowl runner-up.

Mitch Trubisky and the Bears offense will have their hands full on November 17. The combination of Aaron Donald on the defensive line and Ramsey in the secondary is as intimidating as any defensive duo in the NFL and is capable of destroying even the smartest and most efficient passing attacks. And that's not exactly Chicago's pass offense so far.

Trubisky, who's expected to return from a left shoulder injury Sunday against the Saints, hasn't proven this season that he's capable of staring down the barrel of a Donald-Ramsey alliance. It will be a ridiculously difficult challenge for a quarterback who's still finding his way as a pro.

Ramsey has missed the last three games for a variety of reasons, most of which appear as tricks to remain healthy in anticipation of a trade.  He's a two-time Pro Bowler and has nine interceptions from 2016-2018.

Now, Ramsey is an opponent on Chicago's 2019 schedule. 

Power Ranking Roundup: The bye week didn't do the Bears any favors

Power Ranking Roundup: The bye week didn't do the Bears any favors

The Bears didn't play last week, but did that stop them from falling in Power Rankings across The Web? It did not! Going into the bye on a loss never fails to stoke the panic. Here's what they're saying: 

NBC Sports Chicago -- #16
Their power rankings slide is because of how well other teams performed Sunday; Chicago doesn't feel like a top-15 team when compared to the rest of the NFL.

NFL.com -- #9
The Bears do have a player who's good at all that stuff when given a chance -- that would be running back Tarik Cohen, who already had nine such "big plays" through five games a year ago. In 2019? He has just one, despite being healthy and available each week. Bears coach Matt Nagy needs to get Cohen involved.

ESPN -- #16
Their vertical passing attack is limited with Mitchell Trubisky or Chase Daniel at quarterback. The offense has been equally ineffective on the ground. Chicago has gained eight or more rushing yards on just 10 running plays through five games.

Bleacher Report -- #10
Chicago had best make good use of this week off and get things figured out. Four of the team's next five games after the bye are against teams that made the postseason a year ago, including trips to face the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams.

Sports Illustrated -- #17
A Vikings win this week and strong starts from the Lions and Packers suddenly raises the stake Sunday’s game against the Saints. Unfortunately, New Orleans has a similarly great defense and a much better offense than the Bears.

CBS Sports -- #13
They come off the bye looking to generate more on offense. But it was the defense that also had some issues in London. That unit needs to pick it up as well.

USA Today -- #14
Coming out of bye, club currently just outside playoff picture hits brutal stretch with just two of final 11 opponents currently below .500.

Yahoo Sports -- #11
The Bears have only two games left against teams who are currently under .500. They face the Chargers and Giants, who are both 2-4 and not totally incapable. If the Bears make it back to the playoffs, it’ll be impressive.

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