Bears

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the wide receivers

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Wednesday's unit: the wide receivers.

1. Kevin White

Need we say more? Okay, we will. Or ... maybe not. You guys are already familiar with the career numbers for the 2015 seventh overall draft pick: Four games played. 28 games missed. 19 catches. 187 yards. Zero touchdowns. Two serious injuries and surgeries on his left fibula. Oh, and he’ll be working with three new quarterbacks and a third wide receivers coach in as many years. That. Is. A. Lot.

“It’s got to happen now,”  White said in June of a potential Bears career crossroads season. “I’ve got to turn it up. So to me, year three, it’s time.”

2. Who gets hot in the slot?

If Cam Meredith and White get through the preseason healthy (and with the Bears the past two seasons, a big “if”), the position battle turns to playing time in the slot, where Eddie Royal was supposed to be the answer in the Ryan Pace/John Fox regime. Ex-Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton was given the sweetest contract of a free agent trip (two years, $11 million, six million guaranteed) and has the most speed. Kendall Wright excelled with a 94-catch season with the Tennessee Titans under Dowell Loggains in 2013, until gradually sinking further into the doghouse. And Victor Cruz has the tape — two great seasons with the New York Giants. But the second of those was five years ago for the now-30-year-old, and he played a total of six games in injury-plagued 2014 and 2015 seasons. If this trio all proves something, and deserving of roster spots, that may only leave Josh Bellamy (who’s proven value on special teams) as the sixth receiver, along with White and Meredith.

"The more routes I run, the more I build a rapport with Mike [Glennon] and get myself out there learning the plays," Cruz said after his signing, "I think I have that potential to be the guy you saw a few years ago.

"We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity," said Wheaton. "A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove."

3. An unexpected, immediate-impact surprise?

Deonte Thompson had 22 catches when pressed into action last season, and has a history with new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni at Florida (2010), but now has competition after a year and a half as the primary kickoff returner. Rueben Randle had a 71-catch season three years ago with the Giants, helping them offset the loss of Cruz, but must overcome a “lazy” reputation after not hooking on with a team at all last season. Daniel Braverman was All-Bourbonnais a year ago, but the seventh-round rookie (and "future Wes Welker") got into only three December games, with zero catches. Wheaton-Warrenville South product Titus Davis (older brother of Titans' 2017 first-round pick Corey Davis) is only 24 and "retired" from New York Jets camp a year ago. A darkhorse (perhaps only for the practice squad) could be undrafted rookie Tanner Gentry, who has size (6-foot-2) and a catch radius after leading the NCAA with 49 deep target throws (22 receptions) from potential top 2018 draft pick Josh Allen at Wyoming last season.

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

The Bears' offense was bad last year. I know that. You know that. The Bears (hopefully?) know that. 

But *extremely 30 For 30 voice* what if I told you just how bad they really were? Would you be interested in that? You wouldn't be? Sorry, got a quota to hit. 

In a fascinating new study written by Rotoworld's Hayden Weeks, the lack of modern wrinkles in Chicago's offense are made painstakingly clear. Weeks took an analytically-slanted look at every NFL offense, and friends, it's a rough read: 

4th Down Aggressiveness: 23rd
Pass Rate on Early Downs: 9th
Pass Rate While Trailing: 13th
Play-Action Rate: 27th
Downfield Pass Rate: 16th
Middle of the Field Pass Rate: 5th
Pre-Snap Motion Percentage: 30th
Outside Run Rate: 20th
Shotgun Run Rate: 5th
Offensive Pace: 22nd

Overall, Weeks ranks the Bears as the 22nd best offense in football based on the above metrics. If there's any hope whatsoever, it comes from his short write up of Nagy's offense – but still, temper your expectations: 

If I incorporated the front office, the Bears would be much lower, but I think Nagy holds his own in terms of in-game analytics usage. He’s just been dealt a horrible hand at quarterback and with the offensive line. Nagy opted for a decent pass rate on early downs (9th) and while trailing (13th), plus uses shotgun a lot and targets the middle of the field (5th). There are a few things holding him back from jumping into Tier 3, however. The Bears weren’t aggressive enough on fourth downs (23rd) and didn't use play action (27th) or pre-snap motion (30th) nearly enough. Maybe the quarterback change sparks change.

Bears: Use play action! Just try it! I promise you'll like it. 

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Patrick Mahomes forever altered the sports contract landscape with his landmark 10-year, $450 million extension that became official this week. It made all the sense in the world to lock up the 2018 MVP whose team could very easily be coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles if not for a nail-biting loss to the eventual-champion Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship game. But Brad Spielberger, who does extensive salary cap research and writing for OverTheCap.com, believes Mahomes could have massively cashed in again if he took a different approach to these negotiations

Coming in, we knew this was going to be a groundbreaking deal in some respects... I really didn’t think he was going to give up that many years of control – it’s basically a lifetime contract. Again, I know it’s maybe up to half a billion dollars, so it sounds crazy to maybe question his thinking there, but in 5, 6, 7 years down the road, he probably could have gotten another deal that would have made this one look small in comparison.

Every team in the league would love this deal… every front office in the NFL would say, the fact that they have this much time on this deal is the best part about it. Again, it’s a monstrous deal and there are outs at certain points so it’s not so strict as to say he can’t get out of it or he can’t work with it. If I’m his agent, I would push for 5 years, $200M fully guaranteed; let’s go mega-Kirk Cousins on steroids, let’s change the game, and then let’s see if we can sign a deal for $50M a year when that one runs out.

The scenario painted there is an interesting one, and might have allowed Mahomes to reset the quarterback market twice in a decade… but we’ll never know. For more from Spielberger, including how the Mahomes deal impacts the Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson negotiations and what the Bears’ offseason moves tell him about the mindset of Ryan Pace’s front office, listen to the most recent edition of the Under Center podcast here or below.