Bears: Fangio settled on just one D-lineman at this point for 'Wave' approach


Bears: Fangio settled on just one D-lineman at this point for 'Wave' approach

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The intrigue playing out at linebacker in the Bears’ emerging 3-4 scheme — Jared Allen at linebacker? Shea McClellin? Christian Jones? — is being matched or exceeded by the position competitions going on in front of that group, the defensive line that is the starting point for a successful defense.

Linebacker, the question mark in the scheme appears to be considerably further toward resolution, however, than the defensive line.

Rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman is getting more time with top units. Ego Ferguson has settled into the new scheme nicely, moving from a 4-3 nose tackle to a potential five-technique working farther from the ball.

[MORE: Soldier Field session Saturday more than just another practice for Bears]

But right now the positions and reps taken at those positions are only prelude to what happens once the preseason games begin. Because right now the Bears have exactly one defensive lineman they are sure of.

“Well, we need to find our D-line,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Friday, adding, “coaches don’t pick the team, the players do.

“Somebody’s got to step out and be an obvious pick as to who’s the starters, who makes the team. Right now we have one really good player in Jay Ratliff. The other guys are fighting for that second, third, fourth, fifth and potentially sixth spot. There’s a good fight going on right now.” 

Not just the “who” is still in question. So also are the “how many” and the all-important “where” developments. No longer are the Bears breaking the defensive huddle and having the predictable front four putting hands on the ground.

Offensive lines are conventionally established based on “the five best guys will play.” The 4-3 lines similarly were “the four best guys will play,” with rotations as needed.

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The Bears need those positions after Ratliff to fill in because they are part of a “wave” philosophy.

The three best, “they'll start,” coach John Fox said. “If you look at most defenses in this league, the backup offensive linemen very rarely play unless it's an injury situation or an emergency. Not really the same case on the defensive line.

“Generally speaking. It's more of a ‘wave’ of D-linemen really on most defenses in the NFL now. There will be 5-6 guys that will be there. We'll refer to it as a wave. I think generally speaking, how it will develop with us yet I'm not sure until later, but that's something that Lord willing we get to.”

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.”