Bears

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Solving the tight end problem

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Solving the tight end problem

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2015 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Few Bears position areas are as open to question. The tumult surrounding Martellus Bennett came to an end with the Bears dealing the tight end to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round draft choice. But while the deal concluded a choppy Chicago stint for Bennett, it didn’t resolve the Bears’ situation at tight end, one that appeared settled when the Bears signed Bennett for $20 million over four years in 2013. Bennett caught 90 passes in 2014, held out during the 2015 offseason, came back to finish behind only Alshon Jeffery with 53 receptions despite playing just 11 games, finishing the season on IR.

The Bears did re-sign Zach Miller, whose ascension emergence through the 2015 season appeared to be one source of irritation for Bennett because of the shift of focus away from Bennett. Miller finished with a career-best 34 catches, but continued his dubious record of never playing a full 16-game season as he missed the finale with a toe injury.

The loss of Bennett to the offense cannot be overstated. He was a strong in-line blocker as well as a 6-foot-6 target. The Bears have Miller, Rob Housler and Khari Lee, each with individual strengths, but none possessed of the complete skill set that Bennett brought to the position.

Bears draft priority: High

Whether the 2016 draft can provide a straight-up replacement for Bennett is a concern. The Bears made a run at New Orleans tight end Josh Hill but were thwarted when the Saints matched their offer sheet.

“It’s ‘OK,’” said GM Ryan Pace, with the Saints when they landed Hill as a 2013 undrafted free agent, used a 2010 third-rounder on Jimmy Graham and invested a 2002 sixth-rounder on John Gilmore, who spent six years with the Bears. The problem is partly the nature of the college game.

“The tight end, the way offenses are now in college, the tight end is becoming harder to evaluate,” Pace said. “A lot of the time those guys are spread out so you don’t get to see them in-line and blocking as much. So I’d say it’s ‘OK.’”

Not the kind of assessment that says the Bears, or anyone else, will find definitive answers at the position this draft. It will not be the first time.

No tight ends were chosen in the 2015 first round. One (Eric Ebron, 10th) went in the 2014 round and one (Tyler Eifert ,21st) the year before. None are expected to go that early this draft.

Keep an eye on ...

Jerell Adams, South Carolina: Played four years at Alshon Jeffery’s alma mater, 1 TD every 9.4 rec. “Jerell Adams is the most underrated tight end in this class,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

Hunter Henry, Arkansas: Consistent producer in 3 college seasons (116 rec.) with size (6-4, 255). May be best available from a poor crop.

Austin Hooper, Stanford: Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener establish that Cardinal TE’s can work at the next level. Hooper may be a steal in the mid rounds.

Dan Vitale, Northwestern: Listed as a fullback but has  been productive as a receiver, in the Ryan Wetnight mold. Excellent strength if not size (6-0, 240).

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

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USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21. 

Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.

All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.

The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players. 

The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.

Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons. 

Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.

Despite his disappointing sophomore season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.

It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.

We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.