Bears

Bears NFL Draft Preview: More secondary upgrades needed than just FA additions

Bears NFL Draft Preview: More secondary upgrades needed than just FA additions

CSNChicago.com 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. Last in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

A focus of the offseason was unmistakable: Upgrade a secondary that was among the NFL's historically worst at generating takeaways. Less than one month into free agency the Bears had turned over three-fourths of the starting secondary, with no sign that the makeover of a defense that produced a record-low 11 takeaways was done.

The Bears cut veteran cornerback Tracy Porter after signing Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper as the presumed starting cornerbacks. The team also re-signed cornerback Johnathan Banks, a late-season pickup last year, and added B.W. Webb to that group, although the Bears become Webb's fifth team in five years, so expectations are tempered. Quintin Demps was brought in from the Texans to start at one safety spot. The other safety has been Adrian Amos, who has started 30 games in his two NFL seasons, played more than 1,800 snaps and has yet to intercept a single pass.

Bryce Callahan started five games at cornerback and another five as the nickel corner but, like Amos, is 20 games into his NFL career with zero interceptions and has yet to force or recover a fumble. Cre'Von LeBlanc was a promising waiver pickup from New England and becomes part of the competition at nickel.

The 2016 draft placed a mid-level emphasis on the secondary, with picks of Deon Bush, Deiondre' Hall and DeAndre Houston-Carson all drafted in the mid rounds but not staying healthy or on the field enough to make any appreciable impact. Add Kyle Fuller, the 2014 first-round pick and last No. 1 from a previous regime, to the non-impact ledger, missing all of last season because of an August knee surgery; the organization did not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, and the Bears are unlikely to keep him around as a backup with a $1.74 million base this year.

Pre-draft depth-chart'ing starters

CB - Prince Amukamara

CB - Marcus Cooper

SS - Quintin Demps

FS - Adrian Amos

NB - Bryce Callahan

Reserves: Johnathan Banks, De’Vante Bausby, Deon Bush, Kyle Fuller, Jacoby Glenn, Deiondre’ Hall, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Harold Jones-Quartey, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Sherrick McManis, Chris Prosinski, Rashad Reynolds, B.W. Webb.

Bears draft priority: High

Callahan, LeBlanc and depth like Banks and Harold Jones-Quartey may develop into serviceable NFL players but the Bears have had too much “serviceable” and not enough “elite” in their cornerbacks and safeties. The 2017 draft is rated as potentially one of the best-ever for cornerbacks, and two safeties – LSU’s Jamal Adams, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker – could lead to a rarity of both being picked in the top 10.

“I love Malik Hooker. I think he’s the best centerfield safety I’ve seen in years on tape,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who considers Adams a safer pick but not the ball-finder that Hooker is. But Mayock expressed serious concerns about Hooker’s injury history and durability.

GM Ryan Pace has placed a premium on a ballhawking safety and acknowledged that such a creature does indeed live within this year’s draft. During Pace’s tenure with the New Orleans personnel departments the Saints selected defensive backs with one of their top two picks in eight of the 10 drafts between 2005-14.

Those picks included safety Kenny Vaccaro at No. 15 in 2013, safety Malcolm Jenkins at No. 14 in 2009 and safety Roman Harper in the 2006 second round. Safety Josh Bullocks (second round, 2005) finished his career in the 2010 with the Bears.

Pace has selected four defensive backs among the 15 Bears picks in his two drafts as general manager. But two were fourth-rounders, one a fifth and one a sixth, and none were expected to be day one starters; Amos became a starter when neither Ryan Mundy nor Brock Vereen proved capable. He is unlikely to go that deep into his third draft before picking another.

Keep an eye on ...

Jamal Adams, S, LSU      Not the interception maker that Hooker was in ’16 but his 4.33-sec. time in a post-Combine 40 sent his stock soaring. A hitter and possibly a prototype strong safety rather than a ball hawk, but “I can play everything in the back end, whether that's covering in the slot, whether that's playing man-free, whether that's being in the A and B gap, filling that hole, or locking down tight ends,” Adams declared during the Combine. “I feel like I'm versatile to play everything in the back end, and that's what makes me a special player." ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has slotted Adams going 7-10 in the first round.

Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State     Bears arranged a private meeting but too much of a major injury cloud hangs over Hooker, arguably the best pass-defender among the safety prospects. “Hooker, he’s got a little Ed Reed in him,” Kiper said. “I think when you look at Hooker, he’s not that super-aggressive tackling safety, but you sacrifice a little bit now because the NFL is a pass-happy league. But he’s an adequate tackler.”

John Johnson, S, Boston College    Four-year player with excellent coverage skills and ability to make plays on the football. Good prospect if he lasts into third round.

Josh Jones, S, N.C. State         Another DB with whom the Bears set up a private workout. Jones had 8 interceptions over three productive college seasons and showed impressive (4.41) 40 speed at 220 pounds. Not rated as highly as Adams or Hooker but projects as a day one starter even coming via second round.

Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State  The consensus top cover corner but who has missed significant time in two seasons because of hamstring injuries, which are a red flag because of recurrence possibilities – which included another strain while running at the Combine. The fact that Lattimore later tweeted that it wasn’t a hamstring, but instead a hip flexor problem, made matters worse on some teams’ draft boards. Lattimore has elite speed and had 4 interceptions last season but the injuries have dropped him down in some first-round projections. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock projects Lattimore going within the first seven picks of the draft.

Ezra Robinson, CB, Tennessee State      The Bears thought enough of Robinson to meet privately with the alum from a program that has sent Claude Humphrey, Ed Too Tall Jones, Richard Dent and others to the NFL. If teams are satisfied with his mindset, he did intercept 5 last season and may be a mid-round bargain.

Thomas Jones tweets plan to fix Bears' struggling offense

Thomas Jones tweets plan to fix Bears' struggling offense

It didn't take Thomas Jones long to become a fan-favorite during his tenure with the Bears, which spanned three seasons from 2004-2006.  Jones, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft, resurrected his career in Chicago with back-to-back seasons over 1,200 rushing yards in 2005 and 2006.

So, when he speaks about how to improve the offense through the running game, coach Matt Nagy and the rest of Chicago's offensive staff should at least give it a listen.

Technically, Jones tweeted his plan to repair the Bears' struggling offense. But, the point remains.

"Nagy should learn the history of the Bears," Jones tweeted. "When they've won in the past it's because they ran the ball 1st! The fans & the makeup of the Bears is blue-collar. Hard-nosed, physical fundamental football. Limit turnovers, chew up the clock & let the defense get you the ball back.

"And where is their fullback? How can you run the ball in Chicago without a fullback in the game? When u have a fullback in the game the linebackers know they have to strap up their helmets. It's going to be a physical game & some of them don't want that. Can't make it easy for them."

To be fair, fullback is a nearly extinct position in the NFL. But Jones' suggestion runs deeper than that; the Bears need to at least appear like they want to run the ball in order to make the defense respect the threat of a running game.

"They NEVER try to establish the run which puts all of the pressure on a young QB who is still learning & trying to figure out who he's going to be in this league," Jones said. "The O line won't get into any rhythm if they don't run block enough & the defense can only hold up for so long."

According to Jones, Mitch Trubisky isn't ready to be the centerpiece of Chicago's offense just yet.

"Mitch is too young to have all of that pressure on him at once. He's talented but he's not ready yet. You have talented backs & an incredible defense. The O Line just needs to gain confidence run blocking in real-time. They have to establish a running game or things won't change."

Jones drew on some experience from the 2005 season when the Bears kept things pretty basic for then-rookie quarterback Kyle Orton, who enjoyed some moderate success that year. He also chimed in on the Trubisky vs. Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson debate.

"Everyone matures at different times in the NFL. He's not those other guys so comparing him to them isn't going to help them win games right now. Establish a run game & take pressure off of him. Simplify the offense by giving him basic pass plays like we did with Orton in 05."

So how do the Bears get their offense back on a winning track? You guessed it: run the ball!

"It's not a old times sake thing. It's football. Every winning team establishes some sort of running game. Even if it's running back by committee or a running QB. The more tired a defense is from having to chase & tackle the more mental mistakes they're going to make.

"Which gives you a higher chance to win the game. When you run the ball you can take more chances throwing the ball downfield, running specialty plays such as screens and reverses. The defense can't just lay their ears back because they know they can get gashed at any time."

Head over to Jones' Twitter page to follow along with his complete Bears breakdown. It's pretty epic and is a great reminder of just how passionate he is about this team, this city, and winning.

Power Rankings Roundup: The free fall continues, and the NFC North is really good

Power Rankings Roundup: The free fall continues, and the NFC North is really good

The Bears' two-game losing streak is doing them no favors in The Web's power rankings, but even pessimistic reviews haven't totally sold them off yet (thanks defense!). What's a bit more daunting, however, is how quickly the other teams in the NFC North are rising. Some fun road games ahead huh?? Here's what they're saying: 

NFL.com –– #15
Trubisky is clearly pressing as the pressure mounts on his shoulders. He's taken a big step back in his third season ... how long can Matt Nagy stand by the former No. 2 overall pick?

ESPN.com –– #16
The Bears no longer resemble a playoff team -- not with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Chicago's offense ranks 30th in total yards per game, 30th in yards per play, 28th in passing yards per game and 28th in rushing yards per game.

CBS Sports –– #16
Their offense is woeful at times and just won't allow them to win many games. The defense hasn't been as good the past two games either, which makes Sunday's game against the Chargers a must-win for both teams.

Sports Illustrated –– #17
Maybe Matt Nagy isn’t a cure-all. Maybe the defense is feeling the weight of carrying the offense and starting to crack (36 points to a backup QB with two weeks to prepare at home). Or maybe, just maybe, this team was never that good in the first place.

Bleacher Report –– #13
To say that the Bears are having issues offensively is an understatement. In Mitchell Trubisky's first game back from injury, he had fewer than 100 passing yards into the final quarter. Chicago had seven carries for 17 yards on the ground—for the game.

Chicago Tribune –– #18
Classes in Offense 202 need to be canceled. Nearly all the students are failing miserably. That’s reality when the Bears have yet to total 300 yards of offense in a single game. High-powered offenses will come close to that total in a good half.

Sporting News –– #19
When the Bears don't play good defense and can't run the ball, they're in trouble, because it puts games on the right arm of Mitchell Trubisky. They have a few schedule breaks coming up, but they need their third-year QB to play a lot better for that to matter.

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