Bears draft preview: Lack of deep speed makes WR 'high' need


Bears draft preview: Lack of deep speed makes WR 'high' need Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin will be going position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2014 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Dispatching Brandon Marshall may have been a step toward upgrading the internal culture but it also eliminated the more than six pass receptions and 78 yards he averaged for the offense through his 45 Chicago Bear games. And no one contributed more to the offense than Marshall’s 31 touchdowns over the past three seasons.

Coach John Fox and coordinator Adam Gase are expected to tilt the offense toward more balance and running the football. But no offense gets better when it lose one of its elite impact players, and that’s where the Bears stand sans Marshall.

[MORE BEARS: Bears clearly thinking 'outside' the box at linebacker]

Alshon Jeffery averaged 87 receptions over the past two years and more than 1,200 yards. One question, however, is how much Jeffery benefitted from Marshall operating opposite him, because Marshall unquestionably required game-planning by defenses. Martellus Bennett has developed into a top-shelf option at tight end.

The Bears do not, however, have either a simple replacement for Marshall’s production or a receiver with the speed to challenge deep and require a secondary to honor the deeper regions of the field.

[MORE BEARS: Bears' lineup of 'bubble' players growing with each signing]

Marquess Wilson’s return from a shoulder injury in training camp was much anticipated. But Wilson started the final six games, three as a No. 3 receiver and three in place of Marshall, and produced just 17 total catches. And seven of those came in the game-15 loss to Detroit.

Wilson is a candidate for more playing time. But he is 6-4 and hardly the prototypical No. 3, more fast than quick, and not in the mold of someone who can work the slot as well as the edges.

Bears draft priority: High

Any roster with that has Bennett, Jeffery and Eddie Royal would seem to be well fixed for receivers. And the Bears are. To a point.

But Jeffery is entering the final year of his contract and Royal, who could work as a starter in base packages, is really a No. 3 receiver at this point in his career. The Bears are in need of speed on the outside. The last time they had the No. 7 pick of a draft, they used it for exactly that: wideout Curtis Conway.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans]

Royal filled one need but deep speed is still a need. The 2015 draft is deep at receiver, and with their earlier free-agency additions on defense, the Bears have positioned themselves to have the option of best-available. At No. 7, and with a void after Marshall’s release, wide receiver moves at or near the top of the Bears’ shopping list.

Keep an eye on ...

Amari Cooper, Alabama: At 6-1, 211, a proven producer in a top (SEC) conference and with polished skills. Played for Bears WR coach Mike Groh at Alabama.

DeVante Parker, Louisville: One big (6-3) reason for Teddy Bridgewater success but Parker posted by ’14 season after Bridgewater went to Vikings.

Breshad Perriman, Central Florida: May be the gem of round 2, at 6-2 and with sub-4.4 speed.

Kevin White, West Virginia: Flashed last season (109-1,447-10), has speed (4.35 “40”) but not a deep resume.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”