Bears

Bears training camp capsules: Tight ends

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Bears training camp capsules: Tight ends

History says Cutler will find TEs in his offense
Talk of truly involving tight ends in the Bears offense has been an annual rite since Mike Ditka. It nearly came to be in Ron Turners final year (2009) as offensive coordinator when Greg Olsen, the first Bears No. 1 pick used on a tight end since Ditka in 1961, led the Bears with 60 catches and eight touchdowns.
That all ended when Turner was fired and Mike Martz inspired the trade of Olsen to Carolina and the acquisition of Brandon Manumaleuna, effectively consigning the tight end to comparative insignificance.
Martz and Manumaleuna are gone. In their places are a Kellen Davis re-signed to a substantial contract (two years, 6 million, 2.7 million bonus), Matt Spaeth back beginning his second Chicago season and a fourth-round draft choice used for Evan Rodriguez, the highest pick of a tight end since Davis (fifth round) in 2008.
With the change in scheme from Martz to Mike Tice and de facto passing-game coordinator Jeremy Bates, who comes from the Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll schools of West Coast thinking, the opportunities are expected to be there in 2012 for a return of the productive tight end to at least the consistent 40-catch levels of Desmond Clark through the past decade.
Probably significantly more.
Cutler in the West Coast approach of Turner completed 88 passes to tight ends in 2009. With Bates in Denver, throwing to Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler, Cutler had 73 completions to tight ends in 2007 and 72 in 2008.
2011 in review
Davis led the Bears with five receiving touchdowns, continuing his career pattern of nearly one score every three catches. His 18 catches were spread over 12 games, although in no games did he and Spaeth combine for more than four receptions or 40 receiving yards.
It is a production level that the Bears appear committed again to adjusting sharply upward.
2012 Training Camp What to Watch
Depth chart
1. Kellen Davis2. Matt Spaeth3. Evan Rodriguez4. Kyle Adams
Mike Tice was an NFL tight end before going into coaching and his use of the position is expected to start becoming apparent in camp. And coach Lovie Smith is aware of what his offense has lacked.
I would say that all eight years I've been here that the tight end needs to be a big part of what we do, Smith said. We plan on doing that.
Smith also recognizes reality. The Bears didnt trade for Brandon Marshall and draft Alshon Jeffery in the second round to block.
As far as coming out this year, there are only so many receivers you can throw the ball to, Smith said. You can choose to make it your wide receiver. Or you can make it your running back or your tight end. But there are only so many guys, there are only so many passes to go around. You have to be smart with how you distribute those.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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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.