Bears pass protection at risk of second Aldon Smith nightmare


Bears pass protection at risk of second Aldon Smith nightmare

He’s baaaacckk.

The last time the Bears saw linebacker Aldon Smith he was abusing tackles Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb on the way to sacking former Bears quarterback Jason Campbell 5.5 times in a 2012 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Smith added seven quarterback hits and four tackles for a loss, plus two forced fumbles. One game later Carimi was out of the lineup and two games later he was a guard.

That was the last time the Bears saw Smith — until Sunday.

The No. 7 pick of the 2011 draft — which put him under the direction of then 49ers coordinator Vic Fangio — signed with the Oakland Raiders this offseason after serving a nine-game suspension last season, and being released in August by the 49ers following a DUI arrest.

[MORE BEARS: Jay Cutler practices again, says he's 'day-to-day']

The problem for the Bears is that the problem is not just Smith. The Raiders used the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft for rush linebacker Khalil Mack, creating the same kind of pass-rush peril that Smith and Justin Smith brought to bear in the 2012 humiliation of the Bears.

John Fox saw Mack up close twice last season as coach of the Denver Broncos.

“I saw him last year as a rookie,” Fox said. “He’s a tremendous young player. That’s why he was such a high selection. He’s got great speed off the edge. He converts speed to power as well as anybody. He’s an outstanding player.”

The 49ers put Carimi, Webb and the protection schemes in distress by flipping Smith back and forth, changing sides, and the Raiders are doing the same with Mack and Smith. Depending upon who lines up where, Mack or Smith will be the problem right in front of novice tackle Kyle Long.

“They do a good job of rotating those guys,” Long said. “If Aldon Smith’s off the field, then Khalil’s on the other side and they bring somebody else in. They have a lot of options and when you have good edge rushers it gives you a lot of options.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears vs. Raiders brings old coaching friends head-to-head]

The Bears’ situation may move from difficult to dire if left tackle Jermon Bushrod is unable to play or even hampered. Bushrod, bothered by back issues, could not finish the Seattle game and has not practiced this week because of what are now listed as concussion and shoulder injuries.

Without Bushrod the left side of the protection against Mack, Smtih and whatever else coach Jack Del Rio and the Raiders devise will fall to Charles Leno, Jr., who was unable to hold down the right tackle spot to coaches’ satisfaction this preseason.

“All these guys know they are one play away from being the starter,” Fox said. “It doesn’t matter which position you are talking about. That’s why you keep 53 men. You have 46 in uniform on Sundays. We’ll address that as the week wears on.”

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.”