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."

Brett Favre says Nick Foles should start for the Bears

Brett Favre says Nick Foles should start for the Bears

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback and Chicago Bears nemesis, Brett Favre, offered his opinion on the Bears' quarterback competition during a recent appearance on Da Windy City Podcast, and suggested Nick Foles is the better option to line up behind center for Chicago in 2020.

His logic is based on an old-school approach to the game: wins.

"I look at it this way: How will Nick Foles play in Chicago? I don't know," Favre said. "I just base it off how they both have performed when they have been given the opportunity, and Nick Foles, I think, has performed better. 

"If you just based it off how they've performed in real game situations, obviously, Nick Foles won a Super Bowl. And played lights out. Just based off of that, Nick Foles is the better player."

Talk about a straightforward opinion. And it's one the Bears' brass might agree with, too. They wanted Foles so much that they traded for him in an offseason that included several quality free agents who wouldn't have cost the team a draft pick to acquire. That said, none of them had a Super Bowl win on their resume (sans Tom Brady) either.

How much stock should Bears fans put into Favre's opinion? It depends. If you're a believer in 'game recognizing game,' then Favre's opinion on Chicago's quarterback competition is as valid as any.

With no preseason games coming this summer, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace will have less tape to use in their decision-making process. As a result, they'll be forced to rely on a blend of  training camp performances and existing tape from the last couple of seasons. 

If they go back as far as 2017, it'll be hard imagining a scenario where Foles doesn't come away the victor. 

Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

Why Bears don't see need for 'voluntary bubble' amid COVID-19 pandemic right now

The Bears will not follow the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in creating a voluntary bubble, coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday, although it’s possible the team’s stance on one could change.

The idea of a “voluntary bubble” was first floated by the Saints, which have one set up during training camp. Players and staff can choose to sequester themselves in a hotel, only going to and from the team’s facility, allowing for something much closer to the true bubbles that’ve worked so well in the NBA, NHL, MLS and NWSL. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this week the team has a hotel set up where players/staff can stay during the season, too.

Because they’re voluntary, these team-sanctioned bubbles do not run afoul of the NFL-NFLPA’s agreement on the 2020 season. Although if one were set up, it's likely most (if not all) Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals would opt into it. 

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If the Bears wanted to set up a bubble, it wouldn’t seem to be difficult – there are plenty of hotels close to Halas Hall in Lake Forest (anyone up for an extended stay at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort?). But for now, the Bears remain confident in two pillars of their COVID-19 protocols: Their setup at Halas Hall, and their continued education of players, staff and their families about how to pull of a football season in the midst of a pandemic.

“I think for us, we feel really good right now with our quote-unquote ‘bubble’ that we have here,” Nagy said. “It feels very safe. There’s been a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get this set-up that we have. But also, we’re growing, too. I mean, if you came in here five days ago and looked at this complex at Halas Hall and the Water Payton Center, it’s totally different than five days ago. We keep adding to make it better.

“Ryan (Pace) and I joked, it’s like one of those whiffle balls that has all the holes in it everywhere. We keep finding holes and patching them up. That’s probably going to continue for the whole year. 

“So if there’s something that players bring to us or that we feel we can keep ourselves safe in one way or another, we’re gonna do that.”

The Bears, like every other NFL team, may need to be flexible, especially as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Illinois. What sounds farfetched now may not be so crazy in a month.

But Nagy believes the Bears can avoid an outbreak inside Halas Hall by following strict mask-wearing guidelines, social distancing whenever possible and preaching the importance of responsible behavior away from the facility.

“It always comes back to when you’re outside of this bubble of Halas Hall, you need to be able to be smart and be selfless, not selfish,” Nagy said.

MORE: Should the Bears quarantine a quarterback in 2020?

The Cubs can be viewed as a prime example of how to navigate a season without a bubble, having not had a member of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19 since returning to Wrigley Field in early July. It’s not impossible to pull this off so long as everyone buys in to an extreme level of personal responsibility – and, too, gets lucky in dodging such an infectious, insidious virus.

That kind of commitment (and luck) might just mean the Bears wouldn’t need to create a voluntary bubble somewhere in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

What also can help the Bears here too is their coach’s persistent messaging about and policing of mask-wearing inside Halas Hall, which hopefully will carry over into interactions away from the building. 

“The mask deal is real,” Nagy said. “This is my opinion, and just from what we see and what we hear. You hear a lot of people say, 'Well, you've gotta treat it like everybody has (COVID-19).' In my opinion, you've gotta treat it like you have it, right?

“If you treat it like you have it, you wear your mask and the percentages of spreading it can be a lot lower. When you treat it like you have it, that means everybody has their mask on in this building and that's what you're seeing with a lot of the teams having low test rates with positive tests, and that's how we're going about it.”