Bears

Bears OL competition scenarios intensifying as draft approaches

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Bears OL competition scenarios intensifying as draft approaches

In the trough between the early weeks of free agency and the draft, another look is in order at the position group most responsible for the health of quarterback Jay Cutler and the career development of running backs Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford — the Bears offensive line.

This stems from a simple statement from Bears GM Ryan Pace that is being backed up by actions:

“[At] all these positions we’re going to keep trying create competition,” Pace said during last month’s owners meetings. “So that might be in the draft, that could be in the second or third wave of free agency.”

Coming from Pace, “in the draft” should be taken seriously. Over the past 11 years, with Pace in New Orleans for 10 and the Bears last year, his team has drafted at least one offensive lineman within the first six rounds, sometimes more than one, in nine of them. Five of those picks have come round-three or earlier.

Several major position points suggest themselves in the wake of the Bears’ offseason moves to this point:

Tackle

The main competitors: Kyle Long, Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie
And don’t forget: Nick Becton, Tayo Fabuluje

Coaching and personnel staffs may have been delighted with what Charles Leno Jr. gave them at left tackle last season, and with his year-one-to-year-two upside. But Leno no more played himself above competition than anyone outside of Kyle Long as far as a lock as a starter somewhere. And Long is his own story.

Long is effectively a huge wild card in the franchise’s overall, which bodes very well for both the organization as well as one of the NFL’s rising stars on the offensive line. Long will “compete,” but as he did last year, he represents a huge flex factor. One position “battle” last preseason was whether Vlad Ducasse was a better right guard than Jordan Mills was a right tackle; Long would play the other. When Ducasse proved better, Mills was cut and Long became a right tackle.

One scenario now is that Leno needs to demonstrate that he is a better left tackle than Bobby Massie is a right tackle. However that plays out, Long can project as the “other” tackle, again a big-picture Bears positive.

Think about it: Coaches have declared Long both a guard and a tackle over the past year-plus, meaning: Any conclusion that signing Massie from Arizona put in place the starting right tackle and allowed Long to return to right guard, scene of his two Pro Bowl years, may be premature.

[MORE: Bears to host defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in preseason opener]

Long will be at right guard, coach John Fox said, then held the door wide open. “He can play anything… . I just know he’s going to be real good somewhere and we’re going to put him where he can best help the team and I know he’d be open to that regardless.”

Doesn’t exactly sound like a lock clicking shut at right guard.

Will Long balk at a move? Not likely. Besides his team-first mentality, Long can read not only a defense, but also a spread sheet.

Kelechi Osemele signed a contract this offseason paying him $13.2 million per season; he is the only guard with an average annual tab more than $9.5 million. Nine left tackles — more than 25 percent of the position group league-wide — are at $9.5 million or more.

Tackle, where the adversaries are typically the edge rushers who are the fastest of front-sevens, requires not only a different skill set and body type, but also a different mindset than guard. That’s for another look closer to training camp. Best guess is that Long, a mauler but a true student of his craft, can do the required at both spots, including left tackle. In just three seasons, he already has.

Guard

The competitors: Ted Larsen, Manny Ramirez, Matt Slauson.
And don’t forget: The draft and late free agency

Veteran interior blockers Ted Larsen and Manny Ramirez hardly agreed to one-year contracts in Chicago, with a team coming off a 6-10 season, without strong assurances that both had more than cursory opportunities to start. Both have started at center and guard in their NFL careers. In fact, both have double-digit starts at all three interior spots, meaning both guard positions are realistically in play.

Matt Slauson did not have a year that precluded the Bears from signing those two guard/centers. The message is that he needs to play better than he did in 2015, a year that saw him forced to flip between center and guard.

Center

The competitors: Hroniss Grasu, Ted Larsen, Manny Ramirez
And don’t forget: Matt Slauson

The Bears currently have four players with NFL starts at center. That defines “competition.”

Like Leno, coaches and the personnel department were pleased with what Grasu gave them as a mid-round draft pick in his rookie season. Like Leno, however, Grasu showed the normal need for adding NFL-grade strength that most rookies exhibit, and he did not play himself beyond the reach of real competition, particularly with three missed games due to a neck and one with a knee injury.

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“The things that give me confidence in him is he’s a smart guy, he’s a hard worker,” Pace said. “So all the things that he needs to do, you’re going to see an improvement from Year 1 to Year 2.”

Slauson started 12 games at left guard and four at center and has started all 16 games in five of the last six seasons. 

Larsen is expected to open at a guard spot but “expected” is a fluid notion this offseason.

That’s been Fox’s and Pace’s idea all along.

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is quickly becoming an icon in American sports. The two-time American League MVP is enjoying another dominant season batting .335 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI.

On Tuesday, he took a swing at what Bears fans may consider a shocking NFL prediction.

“I’ve got the Browns having a better record than the Bears,” Trout told a radio reporter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout's comments were made in response the reporter "talking up" Chicago.

Both the Browns and Bears have had productive offseasons that involved headline-grabbing acquisitions on offense. Cleveland drafted QB Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, traded for WR Jarvis Landry, signed RB Carlos Hyde and drafted a backfield mate for him in Georgia's Nick Chubb. They added potential lockdown corner Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, too. Add all that to a motivated Josh Gordon ready to contribute for a full season, and there's good reason to be excited in Cleveland.

Still, it's hard imagining Trout can be that confident in a team that's won only one game over the last two seasons. And let's not forget what GM Ryan Pace has done this offseason, one that's been praised by analysts from all corners of the NFL universe. From new coach Matt Nagy to free-agent WR Allen Robinson and all the skill players in between, the Bears are ready to make a legitimate run in the NFC North.

Trout doesn't strike out much in the major leagues, but this prediction feels like it could be a back-straining whiff.

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is former Bears star Matt Forte going to be the team’s new running backs coach?

For now, that’s Charles London’s job, who was hired to head coach Matt Nagy’s staff earlier this year.

But on Tuesday night, Forte tweeted that he would like a coaching spot with Chicago sometime in the near future.

Serving as evidence, the now-retired running back responded to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which announced the Broncos’ hiring of former linebacker Demarcus Ware as a “pass-rush consultant on a part-time basis.” Forte tweeted at the Bears, saying that he is “available” to take on a similar role to Ware’s new Denver gig.

Forte’s tweet was relatively cryptic, and he never specified exactly what type of job he would want with the Bears. After finishing up a storied career this past season and solidifying his name as a Bears legend, Forte has proven that he could easily coach young running backs or even wide receivers at some point.

But isn’t this all just a joke?

Forte silenced the doubters by tweeting “I wasn’t joking” as a response to an article saying that his desire for a new occupation with the Bears was simply a gag. The former workhorse was also intrigued by a fan’s tweet asking “Coach Forte??”

The mere thought of having Forte back in Chicago with the Bears’ coaching staff sent fans on Twitter into a frenzy. In April, Forte came back to Halas Hall to ink his name on a one-day contract, successfully allowing him to retire as a Bear. Now, Forte wants a lengthier stay in the Windy City.

Ware’s role with Denver is not extensive by any means and, according to Schefter, he will work a pretty scattered schedule with Broncos players. What Forte’s role would look like with the Bears is completely unknown if his plan to coach becomes a reality.

Forte has the running back credentials to take on a coaching position. In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte racked up a combined 8,602 rushing yards, second to only the great Walter Payton. Forte’s 4,116 receiving yards as a running back, 12,718 yards from scrimmage, 24 games with 100 rushing yards and 25 games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage also ranks second behind Payton.

Maybe this will be a new development in Chicago’s offseason plans, but there is no real talk of bringing one of the team’s all-time leading rushers back to the team as of right now.

Last month, NBC Sports Chicago announced Forte will be joining the network as a Bears game day studio analyst for the upcoming 2018 NFL season. And we're not joking about that.