Bears NFL Draft preview: Another early DL selection? Definite possibility

Bears NFL Draft preview: Another early DL selection? Definite possibility Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. First in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Akiem Hicks stands as one of the top free-agent signings under GM Ryan Pace, with Hicks starting playing 931 of opponents’ 1,012 snaps and netting a career-high 7 sacks while finishing fourth among Bears in tackles. Hicks likely earns a Pro Bowl trip but for the Bears’ woeful season overall.

Investing a 2015 second rounder at nose tackle (Eddie Goldman) and 2016 No. 3 (Jonathan Bullard) at end underscored the Bears’ commitment to being stout when offenses allow them into base 3-4. Goldman had ankle issues cost him most of last season and Bullard played like a wasted draft choice. The Bears cut non-factor Ego Ferguson and have gotten the max out of Will Sutton, an undersized favorite of the defensive staff but who missed the last seven games and played just 173 total snaps.

The Bears strengthened their interior with the signing of nose tackle John Jenkins, a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints while GM Ryan Pace was their player personnel director. Free agency took versatile rotation lineman Cornelius Washington to the Detroit Lions. The Bears did re-sign C.J. Wilson, who was on and off the roster last season but played in six games.

The defense overcame a number of significant losses to injury to be on the brink of top 10 against the run as late as game 10. But the Bears held only one of their final six opponents to fewer than 124 yards, and saw Green Bay (226) and Washington (208) trample a dispirited unit that held none of the final six opponents under 4 yards per carry.

Pre-draft depth-chart’ing starters

DE: Mitch Unrein
NT: Eddie Goldman
DE: Akiem Hicks

Reserves: Jonathan Bullard, John Jenkins, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Will Sutton, C.J. Wilson.

Bears draft priority: Moderate

Bullard was a major disappointment and gave little indication of being more than a reserve. Jenkins significantly upgrades the depth behind Goldman, but a need still exists for an end/5-technique capable of taking pressure off Goldman and Hicks.

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The draft class on the defensive line is considered strong, topped by Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, with whom the Bears arranged a private visit in addition to monitoring his Pro Day. A decision for the Bears is one regarding size and type; Bears defensive schemes need size in their 3-4 packages but ability to generate inside pressure when forced into 4-3 nickel sets.

The Bears have taken close looks at potential impact defensive linemen, and Pace has taken one within the first three rounds of both his Bears drafts (Goldman No. 2 in 2015, Bullard No. 3 in 2016).

Keep an eye on ...
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama: Rated as one of the straight-up best players at any position in the draft. An issue for some will be his having had surgery on both shoulders and arthritis concerns. "They said I have some arthritis in my left shoulder," Allen said during the Combine. "It's not really a problem now, but it might be a problem 15-20 years down the road so I'm not worried about that right now."

Takkarist McKinley, DE/LB, UCLA: Undersized but good production (10 sacks, 18 TFL) as senior in hybrid role, with ability to be physical presence. "My sophomore year and junior year I was a big defensive end," McKinley said. "So I was playing the '4' position rushing inside sometimes going against guards."

Chris Wormley, DT/DE, Michigan: Bears coaches had time with Worley at the Senior Bowl and has the versatility the Chicago schemes require. "I’ve heard a lot of different things – 4-3 defenses can see me as an end or a 3-tech tackle, and 3-4 defenses see me as a left end," Wormley said, "so there's a lot of versatility I think within myself, and that's what a lot of teams see as well."

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

Bears head coach Matt Nagy is beginning to find his identiy

What the Bears did to the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday’s 31-24 defeat of the NFC East leaders was significant because of the complete offensive performance.

Based on quality of opponent, gravity of game and player performance, it was quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s career-best game. The 31 points scored by the offense was the most since the mauling of a JV Tampa Bay team last year (when Trubisky threw a career-high six touchdown passes).

And against the Cowboys the offense came back from difficult in-game situations twice.

It wasn’t the Bears that appeared to be settling into an identity that has eluded them through too much of the Matt Nagy era.

Reasons behind the performance against Dallas – collective and Trubisky’s individually – were far from exclusive to this game. Tight-end play, receivers and line doing their jobs are repeatable positives that tell fans an offensive performance like this can and should happen again, more than once.

The difference against the Cowboys? Nagy appeared to be settling into his own identity.

With varying levels of proficiency, his players were running what he laid out and told them to. That changed dramatically against Dallas.

Over the third quarter of the season and into the fourth with Dallas, Nagy has operated less like a coach forcing players into his system and more like a coach molding the offense around his players.

Maybe it was seeing first-hand how miserably coach Matt Patricia forcing the Detroit Lions into his iteration of the New England defense has worked. The Bears’ 2019 turnaround coincidentally started against the Lions.

Whatever the reason, Nagy appeared less lock-stepped with a significantly flawed pass-intensive plan (Green Bay, Oakland, New Orleans losses) that his own personal quarterback nature may prefer. Maybe this is his more adult inner-coach is taking charge.

Players, Trubisky foremost among them, could be excused for feeling some uncertainty about their offense when their coach didn’t have a clear sense of what that offense is or wants to be.

Not a “blame game” situation, however. Nagy, an inexperienced head coach, had a green quarterback on his hands. Trubisky’s true capabilities, comfort levels, and weaknesses are still evolving. Nagy is also dealing with the same route-running, drops, O-line issues and such that plagued Trubisky.

Critically, Nagy’s play-calling has leveled out without lapsing into predictability. He has been less riveted to a game concept with no regard for results and been more adaptable.

When the Bears won three straight to finish the season’s first quarter, Nagy had the offense run the football 29, 24 and 33 times. When he and the offense languished through four straight losses, the Bears ran the football 17, 7, 38 and 18 times.

Since then Nagy has called 24-24-26-23-34 runs and the Bears have won four of those last five.

That doesn’t make Nagy a runnin’ guy. It does, however, make the team better and improves his quarterback’s understanding of the offense.

“Probably three to four, five weeks ago, somewhere in that range where you really started to feel, ‘OK, we're moving the ball,’” Nagy said. “We felt it against the Chargers [when the Bears ran 38 times]. We just weren't good in the red zone, right? But we felt like, ‘OK we're moving the ball,’ that we were limiting three-and-outs.

“And ever since then there's just a great confidence amongst the teammates. They're feeling it, we're feeling it and I think it's reflecting in the game.”

Nowhere more apparent than with Trubisky against Dallas and hopefully going forward.

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NFC Wild Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 14

NFC Wild Card Race: What Bears fans should be watching in Week 14

The Bears did their part to keep their playoff hopes alive on Thursday night with a 31-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, thanks in large part to quarterback Mitch Trubisky's best game as a pro. But a slow start to the 2019 season and a 7-6 record means they still need a bunch of help to get into the postseason.

Here are the games Bears fans need to watch this Sunday.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings - 12 p.m. CT (Only available on NFL Sunday Ticket)

The Vikings (8-4) currently have possession of the final NFC wild card and should maintain their position after facing the Lions (3-8-1) on Sunday.

Detroit is an absolute mess. Third-string quarterback David Blough will make the second start of his career, and while he had some encouraging moments against the Bears on Thanksgiving Day, the Vikings (unlike Chicago, who found out he was starting just moments before the game) have had a full week to prepare for him. Expect a bunch of turnovers.

It would be nothing short of a miracle if Minnesota blows this one. Expect the Vikings to move to 9-4 and keep hold of their two-game lead over the Bears.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks - 7:20 p.m. CT on NBC (Click here to watch)

The other key matchup Bears fans should have an eye on in Week 14 is the Rams (7-5) vs. Seahawks (10-2). The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Chicago because of their 17-7 win in Week 11, which means Los Angeles has to lose two of their final four games against Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco and Arizona (and that's assuming the Bears win out).

The Rams should have little trouble defeating the Cowboys and Cardinals, so it's critical Seattle gives Bears fans one of those two necessary L.A. losses.

Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins - 12 p.m. CT on FOX (Click here to watch)

Lastly, the Green Bay Packers (9-3) take on the Washington Redskins (3-9). Believe it or not, a Packers loss keeps hope alive for the Bears and an NFC North championship. A Redskins victory is highly unlikely, but they weren't supposed to defeat the Panthers last week, either.

It's pretty simple: Wins by the Lions, Seahawks and Redskins will make Week 15's game against the Packers one of the biggest regular-season games in a very, very long time.

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