Bears NFL Draft Preview: CB depth vulnerable vs. pass-first NFL

Bears NFL Draft Preview: CB depth vulnerable vs. pass-first NFL Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Tracy Porter would merit heavy consideration as Bears defensive MVP for 2015, apparent by the priority the organization placed on re-signing the veteran cornerback right at the outset of free agency. The three-year contract secured one starter, after he recovered from missing much of training camp and preseason with injuries, and Porter led the Bears with 22 pass breakups, high-pointed with five and an interception in the Thanksgiving night win at Green Bay.

Opposite Porter, Kyle Fuller has established himself with two seasons of 16 games, including 30 straight starts. Fuller struggled early last season, was admonished by veteran safety Antrel Rolle for his study and preparation habits, and finished the season strong, albeit with just two interceptions on the season.

The upshot is Fuller’s arrow pointing continually up heading into his third season, with a growing professionalism in the company of Porter and Rolle.

“[Fuller is] getting better and better,” GM Ryan Pace said during last month’s NFL owners meetings. “When we talk about Tracy, I think Tracy had a positive influence on Kyle. I feel like Kyle’s a guy that got more comfortable in the defense and got more confidence, so we feel like he’s still an ascending player who’ll be better in year two in this defense.”

Bryce Callahan was a pleasant surprise as an undrafted free agent, coming off the practice squad in mid-season to start three games as a third corner. Demontre Hurst has teased the lineup, starting at Tampa Bay, but hasn’t secured a regular role in his opportunities.

The Bears re-signed Sherrick McManis and gave him a shot at the third corner job, which he eventually lost to Callahan. Alan Ball was a bust after signing a one-year deal worth $3 million, opening the season as a starter but losing that job after three weeks and playing just 24 percent of the defensive snaps.

Bears draft priority: Moderate/high

There are 15 undrafted free agents in the Hall of Fame. A handful of those are cornerbacks (Willie Brown, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Willie Wood among them). The hero of New England’s Super Bowl win over Seattle was one – Malcolm Butler. And Denver’s Chris Harris Jr. never got a “we’re taking you” call during the 2011 draft but has been to two Pro Bowls

But relying on found-money prospects like Callahan, Butler or Harris is the exception rather than the rule, and counting on leftovers for top cover backs in a league tilted increasingly toward passing is at the very least dangerous.

Add to that the fact that Porter will be 30 on opening day and has only once in eight NFL seasons played all 16 games (2013, Oakland). He is on the post-peak side of his prime but playing with a savvy and style that could give him several more very productive years (the Bears are counting on it, based doing that three-year contract).

The Bears will have several top options available at No. 11 and multiple projects have them going for a cornerback that could challenge Fuller or Porter, a situation that would give the Bears three solid corners, more or less the NFL minimum given the volume of nickel snaps.

Keep an eye on ...

Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: Whether he’s the next Deion Sanders out of FSU remains to be seen but Ramsey has been projected anywhere from No. 3 overall to 10th. Prototype big (6-1, 200) corner but just 3 INT’s in three years.

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: First-round lock who also has been linked to Bears at No. 11. Consistent production through three seasons starting in elite SEC.

William Jackson III, Houston: Height (6+) and eye-popping speed (4.37 sec./40) may take him off the board before Bears’ turn in the second round.

Eli Apple, Ohio State: Another tall (6+) DB with mass (200) and production in two seasons starting. Expected to go in the first round after running 4.40.

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.”