Bears

Bears changes at NT involve more than drafting Eddie Goldman

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Bears changes at NT involve more than drafting Eddie Goldman

During this year’s Scouting Combine, Bears GM Ryan Pace said that his early assessment of the roster was that the Bears had two players capable of anchoring the middle of the coming 3-4 defense. Ego Ferguson was a stout first-year player, and Jeremiah Ratliff had earned trips to Pro Bowls as a nose tackle.

In keeping with the fluid nature of so many positions, particularly on defense, things have changed. And are changing. It has to do with considerably more than just what transpired in last weekend’s draft.

Most immediately, the Bears used a second-round pick (39th overall) to add Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, a prototypical nose tackle and the biggest player on the Bears’ roster at 335 pounds. Goldman will not be handed the starting job day one but the defensive surprise of the offseason will be if Goldman is not the Week 1 starter.

He fits precisely the template of coach John Fox for a nose tackle in base 3-4.

[MORE: Bears position battles forming along O-line]

“You’re good on defense when you’re good up the middle,” Fox said. “I think we’ve got some good candidates there… a block-eater inside that’s tough and doesn’t get knocked off the ball.”

More interesting, however, is what now becomes of Ferguson and Ratliff. Because neither quite fits the classic mold of 3-4 “block-eater,” for slightly different reasons.

Ratliff, who did not attend last week’s voluntary minicamp sessions, is not expected to wind up at nose tackle after all. He can play the position. But because of his age (34 in August), size (305) and standing as the best pass rusher among the current defensive linemen, Ratliff projects to be at end where his rush skills can be put to maximum use, rather than hunkering down inside with a primary assignment of run stuffing.

Meanwhile, Ferguson has gone from a 4-3 backup nose tackle in 2014 to a 3-4 nose this year, and also has turned up at defensive end as well in the “Where’s Waldo?” shuffling of nearly every defensive lineman into nearly every defensive position. End or tackle?

“Just call me a ‘D-lineman,” Ferguson said, laughing. “That’s the best way.”

[RELATED: Ryan Pace continues scouting department overhaul]

Last year’s Bears coaches told Ferguson before he was drafted that one plan was to use him in part as a “two-technique,” playing head up on a guard instead of shaded to a gap. Ferguson started no games in 2014 as Stephen Paea had a breakout year that earned him a multi-year deal with the Washington Redskins.

But Ferguson has been the object of in-depth discussions and scenarios this offseason.

“We’ve talked about [Ferguson] a lot,” Pace said after the draft. “We project him as really nose and end. He can be both for us. So we don’t have him set at one position right now. He can be a nose or an end. He has position flexibility there, too.”

What becomes significant with Ferguson is his weight loss, to the point of being sub-300 pounds — not the stuff of nose tackles. It is weight loss by design.

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“I feel like this fits me,” Ferguson said. “I lost about 15 pounds, to 298-299, just trying to get a little more pass rushing and being able to run around a little more. I think 295-300 will be about right.

“They want you to be strong and explosive, not just big.”

The combination of Goldman, flanked by Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald in 3-4 base, with a lighter-quicker Ferguson jumping in with Ratliff on sub packages becomes an intriguing prospect in an overall scheme makeover.

“As far as body types, styles, all those things, everybody comes in different shapes and sizes,” Fox said. “And we’ll get a chance to evaluate it.”

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

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USA TODAY

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:

 

On the Bears’ season as a whole:

 

“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”

 

On Mitch Trubisky:

 

“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”

 

On Tarik Cohen’s usage:

 

“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.

 

“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”

 

On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:

 

“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”

 

On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:

 

“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.

 

“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”

 

On Matt Nagy:

 

“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.

 

“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.

 

“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”

 

While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:

 

“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”

 

One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.

 

The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.

 

But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: