Bears

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the defensive line

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the defensive line

With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The defensive line. 

1. Will Eddie Goldman stay healthy?

When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 320 pound Goldman has been a run-stopping menace in the defensive interior. But “when healthy” is critical here: An ankle injury limited Goldman to only six games and a total of 198 snaps last year. It’s not a coincidence, then, that with Goldman largely absent, Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranked the Bears’ run defense 28th out of 32 teams in 2016. John Jenkins was signed to back up Goldman, but the Bears need the former Florida State Seminole to be as healthy as possible in 2017. 

“We missed him and he was, I think, primed to have a good season,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said in May. “So if we can get him back to where he was, and a little bit better, I think we'll have a good player there.”

2. What kind of a player will Jaye Howard be?

The versatile Howard broke out in 2015 with 5 1/2 sacks, which earned him a two-year, $12 million deal from Kansas City. A hip injury limited him to only eight games last year, though he wasn’t particularly effective when healthy, notching just one sack and 24 tackles. The Bears signed Howard after Kansas City released him in the spring, hoping to add someone who could be a starter in Fangio’s base 3-4 and provide flexibility in nickel packages. If Howard is healthy and re-captures the form he had two years ago, then his one-year contract is a steal; if not, he at least can provide some depth at a cheap price. 

"I'm definitely coming out here with a chip on my shoulder," Howard said during OTAs. "Me and (Akiem) Hicks are already pushing each other. We're looking to have a big year and hopefully we can stay here together. Just watching him on film last year and what Jay Rodgers was able to do with him (career-high seven sacks), I'm hoping I can take my game to that next level as well."

3. Can Jonathan Bullard put a disappointing rookie year behind him?

Howard, Bullard and Mitch Unrein will compete to start alongside Hicks and Goldman, and ideally for Rodgers and Fangio, it’ll be a close competition. But that’ll only happen if Bullard can flush a meek rookie season (one sack in 296 plays) and prove he was worth 2016’s 72nd overall pick. Whiffing on on a third-round pick isn’t a disaster, but for a Bears team trying to build through youth, getting something out of Bullard would certainly be nice. 

“He understands more of what’s expected of him playing in the NFL, in the trenches,” Fangio said. “I don’t think he was quite ready for that last year, both physically or mentally. Emotionally I think he’s more ready. We’re hopeful that he does well.”

Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is in a contract year. And if he keeps playing the way he did in Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions, Ryan Pace better get ready to pay up.

Filling in for an injured Danny Trevathan, Kwiatkoski dominated the Lions offense to the tune of nine tackles, a sack and an interception. It was the second time this season that he stepped up in what could've been a crisis for the Bears defense. In Week 4 against the Vikings, Kwiatkoski filled-in for Roquan Smith who was deactivated shortly before kickoff for reasons still unknown. He was fantastic in that game, too.

But Kwiatkoski's performance on Sunday was borderline special. In fact, he was so good that he earned Pro Football Focus' highest grade of any linebacker in the NFL in Week 10 with a 92.4.

His ridiculous showing against Detroit pushed his season grade up to 88.2, which is second-best among Bears defenders with at least 100 snaps this season.

So, yeah, he's going to get paid.

Kwiatkoski's role moving forward is expected to change. He won't be coming off the bench filling in for Trevathan or Smith; he'll be starting for as long as Trevathan is on the mend. And with a starter's tag comes a week's worth of preparation by opposing offensive coordinators who will have more time to gameplan for his strengths and weaknesses. We'll find out real quick if his incredible flashes this season are sustainable as a traditional starter or if he'll be exposed in his newfound role.

Regardless, Kwiatkoski's emergence has been a bright spot in a season that's been lacking many of them so far.

Should the Bears consider signing Colin Kaepernick?

Should the Bears consider signing Colin Kaepernick?

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will work out for all 32 teams on Saturday in Atlanta in what's essentially a pro day organized by the NFL, according to ESPN NFL insider, Adam Schefter.

Kaepernick, 32, hasn't appeared in an NFL game since 2016 when he started 12 games for the 49ers and finished with a 1-11 record. His controversial social and political opinions became a lightning rod for debate as well as the presumed explanation for his inability to land with a team over the last three seasons.

Kaepernick said on Twitter that he's been preparing this opportunity.

"I’m just getting word from my representatives that the NFL league office reached out to them about a workout in Atlanta on Saturday," Kapernick tweeted on Tuesday. "I’ve been in shape and ready for this for 3 years, can’t wait to see the head coaches and GMs on Saturday."

The Chicago Bears are in midst of what feels like the last lap in the evaluation process of Mitch Trubisky, who after 34 starts and more than 1,000 passes as a pro still hasn't reached the expectations that come along with being selected with the second overall pick in the first round. His status as the team's starter for 2020 will likely be decided over the final seven games of 2019, and even if he posts respectable numbers to finish the season, the Bears are likely to at least add competition at the position this offseason.

Naturally, that begs the question: Should GM Ryan Pace consider Kaepernick as a potential solution to the quarterback dilemma in Chicago?

First, let's address the elephant in the room. This isn't about Kaepernick's politics or views on social justice. It's about football. For some Bears fans, his off-the-field opinions will render him untouchable. For others, it won't matter. And that's the beauty of the United States; neither opinion is right or wrong. It's a complicated situation that has many layers and no one article or tweet or facebook post will offer a reasonable solution. That's why Twitter is great; head over there if you want to debate that stuff. 

For now, let's just focus on football.

Kaepernick, in a way, would make a ton of sense for the Bears. If Pace isn't ready to bail on Trubisky just yet, adding Kaepernick would allow the team to continue rolling Trubisky out as the starter for the rest of this season as well as into the offseason program. After being away from the game for three seasons, it's going to take time for Kaepernick to get back up to speed. He won't pose a real threat to Trubisky until probably midway through 2020, if at all, but his presence on the roster will at least send a message to the team that it's no longer Trubisky or bust.

And that message wouldn't be smoke and mirrors, either. Kaepernick would provide the Bears with a viable option to replace Trubisky early next season if he continues to fail. There's no denying Kaepernick offers more upside than Chase Daniel as a potential in-season replacement for Trubisky, and the soonest he'd be ready to make that jump is probably right around the same time that the Bears would be ready to officially pull the plug on their former first-rounder.

Also, Kaepernick will cost pennies on the dollar compared to the other quarterbacks likely to be available this offseason. Even players like Titans backup-turned-starter Ryan Tannehill are setting up to cash-in this winter and while Kaepernick certainly represents a greater risk of failure because of his time away from the game, the cost to find out whether he can still play won't be nearly as much as what it will take to invest in someone like Tannehill, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater or Andy Dalton.

Kaepernick's last two seasons in the NFL weren't great (2015-16). He completed less than 60% of his passes and threw just 22 touchdowns in 19 starts. But when he was in the zone, he was one of the best playmakers at the position. He was 'Lamar Jackson' before Lamar Jackson, especially in San Francisco's 2012 playoff win over the Packers when he threw for 263 yards, ran for 181 and totaled four touchdowns. He was unstoppable, but that was also seven years ago.

Now in his early-30's, Kaepernick may not have the juice in his legs like he once did. And if that part of his game is gone, his erratic and inconsistent passing could just result in what the Bears are already getting out of Trubisky. And if you have two Trubisky-types on the roster, you probably don't have a quarterback.

That's why Saturday's workout is so important. Is he in shape? Does he still have that quick-twitch? If the answer is yes, he could be worth a flier, even if just to send a message to Trubisky.

Pace and the Bears should do their due diligence on Kaepernick, just like they should do their due diligence on every quarterback who will be available this offseason. At this rate, almost all of them will offer an opportunity to upgrade the position.

If Kaepernick proves he can make all the throws and still has the athletic ability to be a threat with his legs, a team will sign him. Whether or not that team will be the Bears is anyone's guess.