Draft 'misses' may prove to be surprise fits in new Bears D


Draft 'misses' may prove to be surprise fits in new Bears D

Teams – Bears included – fall upon hard times competitively, financially and just about every other area when they miss on high draft choices. Two seeming misses in last year’s draft, however, may have unexpected futures in a system dramatically different from the one for which they were drafted.

In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Bears invested second- and third-round draft choices in defensive linemen expressly intended to stock the pipeline with youth in a critical foundation part of the roster. Both Ego Ferguson (No. 2) and Will Sutton (No. 3) were ticketed, respectively, for nose tackle and three-technique in a one-gap 4-3 scheme.

[MORE: Behind the 3-4, even more changes loom for Bears]

Going into training camp 2015, the scheme has changed completely. But in a potentially intriguing twist, Ferguson and Sutton may not only NOT be draft misses, but also may each be in line to play the position the other was supposed to be playing.

“Little” Ego

Ferguson, once a 315-pounder, has dropped weight and been played at the defensive end slots in the new 3-4 system of coordinator Vic Fangio.

“I’m doing a little bit of everything,” Ferguson said. “They’ve got me playing all over the place so I’m just trying to learn. But I’m getting used to it.”

Bears coaches told Ferguson before he was drafted last year that the plan was to use him in part as a two-technique, playing head-up on a guard instead of shaded to a gap. Playing on the nose of the center (zero technique) seemed a natural transition.

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But the new coaching staff had broader options in mind, beginning with a smaller Ferguson.

“I lost about 15 pounds, to 298-298, just trying to get a little more pass rushing and being able to run around a little more,” Ferguson said. “I think 295-300 will be about right.

“They want you to be strong and explosive, not just big.”

Where there’s a Will… .

Sutton, whose college play at Arizona State declined sharply when he went up from 290 to 320 pounds, is still “undersized” by conventional NFL wisdom. But Sutton found himself at the nose-tackle spot during Bears offseason practices.

“Being at nose is a little different,” Sutton said, laughing, “but it’s something to learn and add to what I know. I’ve played nose here and there, but not in something like this.”

Although Sutton was drafted to be a speed-based three-technique, he had played in a two-gap 4-3 at Arizona State. Meaning: While he doesn’t bring classic mass at nose tackle, he is not unfamiliar with the blocker-control elements of the Bears’ new system.

“I’m not trying to get super-heavy, so I’m around that 290 now and feeling good,” Sutton said. “We’ve just got to get in the weight room and keep our strength up as we’re learning on the techniques.”

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.”