Bears

Bears receivers making impact moves on and off the field

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Bears receivers making impact moves on and off the field

BOURBONNAIS — The offense struggled at times to run the football consistently but did manage to irritate the defense a little with enthusiastic celebrations after a number of scores in the tight red zone. That’s a “problem” coaches won’t mind.

Receivers

Kevin White gets the nod for Play of the Day. The rookie wide receiver, still on the PUP list with a shin injury, saw a young boy on the sideline, wearing a “13 White” jersey. White went over and gave the youngster a pair of receivers gloves. Guess what the lad probably goes as next Halloween.

Coaches are making even simple drills physical. Part of the tight end drills consists of a player ready to make a catch, but with two other tight ends using hand-shields to block his vision of coach Frank Smith until the instant before Smith fires a pass from about four yards away. Once the catch happens, a third tight end whacks the pass catcher with another shield and if the ball isn’t secured, it’s on the ground. Not a good thing.

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Wide receivers are run through a drill requiring them to hit and use moves to get around two standup blocking dummies. As they come out of the hits, coach Mike Groh delivers the ball, intentionally behind them or poorly thrown, and after the catch, they get a smack from an assistant trying to dislodge the football.

Not surprisingly for a Pro Bowl wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery is proving an extremely difficult cover for Bears defensive backs. Jeffery use a double move off the line to beat strong press coverage by safety Antrel Rolle, then caught a touch pass from Jay Cutler in the corner of the end zone. Jeffery shook free of tight coverage by cornerback Sherrick McManis but had the Cutler pass go through his hands.

Quarterback

The offense went through another turnover-free practice as Cutler and Jimmy Clausen kept the football fumble-free and out of the wrong hands even when a handful of passes were off their mark or broken up.

Cutler’s developing confidence with wideout Eddie Royal is readily apparent. Royal has won a number of battles for the football, something that endears receivers to quarterbacks. Perhaps as a result of no more Brandon Marshall, Cutler is clearly comfortable and familiar with the speed and cuts of both Royal and Jeffery.

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“I think when we throw Eddie in the mix, you’ve got a real viable guy that you can move around a lot,” Cutler said. “He’s got experience in the slot. He’s got experience outside. With Alshon, I think he’s had a great spring, a great summer. Kevin White, Marquess [Wilson]. We’ve got some guys that can make some plays in some different spots for us.”

Cutler passes produced a number of touchdowns in the short red zone, including touchdown tosses to Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner. 

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

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USA Today

The Way We Hear It: Khalil Mack will probably play after all

The Bears are back in Chicago and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in town! With a week of practice wrapping up today, here's what's been happening in the lead up to Sunday's Bears-Pats matchup: