Bears

Bears inside linebacker jobs in short supply

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Bears inside linebacker jobs in short supply

Fourth in a series 

Who’s in: Sam Acho, Mason Foster

Where do they fit? Jonathan Bostic. Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones, Shea McClellin

Changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense ostensibly creates more job opportunities for linebackers. What the Bears have done this offseason, however, suggests that the new general manager and coach don’t necessarily view the returning options as what they need.

The Bears’ signing of Sam Acho from the Arizona Cardinals ostensibly added an outside linebacker with pass rushing on his resume. But Acho is 257 pounds and a physical presence as well, and coach John Fox is expected to play his four best linebackers regardless of position, and Acho as well as Pernell McPhee are not likely to be lining up at only one spot.

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

Which portends real pressure on 2014 starters to find playing time. If Acho, McPhee and Lamarr Houston are ticketed for linebacker roles, and the Bears also signed inside linebacker Mason Foster from Tampa Bay, then…?

The Bears’ Game 16 starting three linebackers now are effectively in a competition for one job opening. Jonathan Bostic, Christian Jones and Shea McClellin will be competing with Foster, a physical inside linebacker, ironically from Lovie Smith’s 4-3 at Tampa Bay.

Foster ended up with the Bears after some conversations with other teams, and he may be coming in on a mission after receiving just a one-year contract from the Bears and nothing better from anyone else.

“[Foster] is a guy who I think I liked coming out [in 2011],” said coach John Fox. “Obviously I’ve evaluated him on his pro tape. But right now, these guys who maybe didn’t get the huge contracts in free agency, my experience is they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got something to prove. And I’ve had a lot of pretty good one-year deals that have had great success.

“So he’ll get a chance to prove that. We’re building some competition at the linebacker position. So I’m looking forward to working with him… I’ve never watched him practice with us or “in our scheme.” But I’m looking forward to watching him compete and seeing what he can do for the Chicago Bears”

Bostic was ticketed for the outside in the former 4-3, while Jones and McClellin already were edge rushers. Jones had two sacks last season, McClellin one, Bostic zero.

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“Sometimes I feel like the ability to play in space is important for a 3-4 outside linebacker,” Pace said. “But if you had a pie chart, it’s actually kind of a small slice. The most important thing is the ability to rush the passer and then set the edge. Yeah, he can drop and play in space, that’s good, but primarily he’s just dropping out and covering the flat.”

Coaches are withholding public comment on exactly where some people will be stationed. And where some start out may not be where they finish.

McClellin will be embarking on his third different job quest in four years and he now needs to impress a third set of coaches in his short career. He was unsuccessful as a hand-on-the-ground end and only marginally more so as an outside linebacker. As far as his eventual position, “We don’t really know,” Fox said. “The biggest success I saw in him when he came out of Boise State was as a 3-4 outside backer.

“It hasn’t gone as well for him as far as position fit. In fairness to him, that’s not to be judgmental on anybody else, but I think the transition is we’re going to start him inside because it’s a harder position to learn as far as run fits and how they set in there. But he’ll be both. So we don’t really have a position per se for him. A linebacker is a linebacker. So he’ll get the opportunity to compete at both. But more than likely, we’ll start him inside.”

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

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Brian Baldinger: 'I'm not so sure anybody could've seen the jump that Mitch Trubisky is making right now'

On Thursday, Brian Baldinger released another video clip on Twitter for his #BaldysBreakdowns series, this one praising the recent play from Bears QB Mitch Trubisky.

Baldinger states that Trubisky is "making some kind of jump", referring to how impressed he was with Trubisky's play when compared to his rookie season. 

In the video Baldinger explains in the video how you expect franchise QBs to make a big leap from year one to year two, and a big part of that leap for Trubisky is being unafraid to make aggressive throws downfield.

Baldinger highlighted a play where Trubisky hit Taylor Gabriel 47-yards down the field, choosing to trust his wideout after he hit him with perfect ball placement despite tight coverage. He continued this theme later on in the video, showing Trubisky's TD strike to Allen Robinson, which was whipped right past a Dolphins defender. 

But Baldinger's video wasn't exclusively compliments for Trubisky. He discussed Tarik Cohen's effectiveness as a pass-catcher, saying that you "can't cover him" and comparing him to a Ferrari with his ability to go from first to fifth gear "about as fast as anybody."

He ended his video by showing Trubisky punishing the Dolphins for a blown coverage, hitting rookie Anthony Miller in stride for a 29-yard TD. Baldinger's point in including this clip was to show Trubisky's improved recognition, as he may not have spotted the blown coverage last year. Noticing when and how to take advantage of defensive sloppiness is one of the many things that seperate a "franchise QB" from a stopgap, and Trubisky is trending in the right direction. 

If Baldinger's breakdown is any indication, we should expect Trubisky to keep his incredible momentum rolling when the Bears take on the New England Patriots on Sunday. New England is 3rd worst in the league in passing TDs allowed, giving up 15 scores through the air in six games.