Bears need new D-line core forming around relative newcomers


Bears need new D-line core forming around relative newcomers

The Bears and the rest of the NFL live by necessity according to the next-man-up personnel philosophy. Player injured? Next man up. Player cut? Next man up.

But this is bordering on the absurd.

“Well, we brought in a new guy in Ziggy Hood,” said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with understated simplicity. “We’ve brought in a few new guys recently before Ziggy. We are going to figure it out and get our five best up for the game by Sunday.”

That’s one thing at the start of training camp. It’s potentially quite another doing it in-season, on the fly.

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In the wake of Ego Ferguson going on injured reserve Oct. 17 and Jeremiah Ratliff being released last week, the Bears just six games into the 2015 season have no hand-on-the-ground defensive lineman with more games in a Bears uniform than Will Sutton (19), a third-round pick in last year’s draft.

Sutton, in fact, has more games as a Bear than all the other Bears' defensive linemen combined: Eddie Goldman, six; Jarvis Jenkins, six; Mitch Unrein, four; total: 16.

The net result, with a veteran leader like Ratliff gone, is an entirely new leadership core to the foundation group of any defense.

“I’m the old guy now,” Sutton said, laughing. “It starts with me, Eddie and Jarvis, because we’re the three that have been here,” Sutton said. “So we’ve got to step up our play. The new guys that come in, we need to take it upon ourselves to get in extra meetings, get in earlier, stay a little longer, so when it comes to game days, they can come in and play right away.”

[MORE: Bears face a more dangerous, less AP-centric Vikings' offense]

Even the new core is not without concerns. Sutton suffered an elbow injury in the Seattle game and missed both the Kansas City and Oakland games. Jenkins left the Detroit game briefly with a head injury but did return.

And those were the situations that so far have ended well.

Ray McDonald, then a starting defensive end, was released May 25. The Bears lost Cornelius Washington to IR on Sept. 14. Ego Ferguson, who had knee surgery on Wednesday, joined Washington on IR last week. And then the Ratliff drama unfolded last Wednesday, followed by his release on Thursday.

“Me, Jarvis and Eddie are the three that have got to step up and go out there and be the leaders of that line,” Sutton said. “It’s going to be quite a responsibility but it’s going to be fun.”

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.”