Bears

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

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

CSNChicago.com 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.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.