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."

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Matt Nagy calls Kevin White a 'great weapon' with a new future

Former first-round pick Kevin White hasn't caught a break -- or a touchdown -- through the first three years of his career. He has more season-ending injuries than 100-yard games and after an offseason focused on upgrades at wide receiver, White's future in Chicago beyond 2018 is very much in doubt.

Ryan Pace declined the fifth-year option in White's rookie contract, making this a prove-it year for the pass-catcher who once resembled a blend of Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant during his time at West Virginia.

He's getting a fresh start by new coach Matt Nagy.

"He is healthy and he's really doing well," Nagy told Danny Kanell and Steve Torre Friday on SiriusXM's Dog Days Sports. "We're trying to keep him at one position right now so he can focus in on that."

White can't take all the blame for his 21 catches, 193 yards and zero scores through 48 possible games. He's only suited up for five. Whether it's bad luck or bad bone density, White hasn't had a legitimate chance to prove, on the field, that he belongs.

Nagy's looking forward, not backward, when it comes to 2015's seventh pick overall.

"That's gone, that's in the past," Nagy said of White's first three years. "This kid has a new future with us."

White won't be handed a job, however.

"He's gotta work for it, he's gotta put in the time and effort to do it," Nagy said. "But he will do that, he's been doing it. He's a great weapon, he's worked really hard. He has great size, good speed. We just want him to play football and not worry about anything else."

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

Nagy on Trubisky: 'He wants to be the best'

The Bears concluded their second round of OTAs on Thursday with the third and final set of voluntary sessions scheduled for May 29-June 1. Coach Matt Nagy is bringing a new and complicated system to Chicago, so the time spent on the practice field with the offense and quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been invaluable.

"We’ve thrown a lot at Mitch in the last 2 ½ months,” Nagy told Dog Days Sports’ Danny Kanell and Steve Torre on Friday. “He’s digested it really well.”

Nagy’s implementing the same system he operated with the Chiefs, an offense that brought the best out of Redskins quarterback Alex Smith. The former first-overall pick went from potential draft bust to MVP candidate under Andy Reid and Nagy’s watch.

Nagy admitted he and his staff may have been a little too aggressive with the amount of information thrust upon Trubisky so far.  It took five years to master the offense in Kansas City, he said, but the first-year head coach sees a lot of similarities between his current and past quarterbacks.

"These guys are just wired differently,” Nagy said when comparing Trubisky to Smith. “With Mitch, the one thing that you notice each and every day is this kid is so hungry. He wants to be the best. And he’s going to do whatever he needs to do. He’s so focused.”

Smith had the best year of his career in 2017 and much of the credit belongs to Nagy, who served as Smith’s position coach in each season of his tenure in Kansas City. He threw for eight touchdowns and only two interceptions during the five regular season games that Nagy took over play-calling duties last year.

Nagy said Trubisky has a similar attention to detail that Smith brought to the Chiefs’ quarterback room.

"Each and every detail that we give him means something. It’s not just something he writes down in a book. He wants to know the why,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “He’s a good person that is in this for the right reason. His teammates absolutely love him. It was the same thing with Alex [Smith] in Kansas City.”

A locker room that believes in its quarterback is a critically important variable for success, one that Nagy already sees exists in Chicago.

"When you have that as a coach and when you have that as being a quarterback, not everybody has that, and when you have that you’re in a good spot.”