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.”

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

USA Today

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Thursday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.

Howard can't get too comfortable in his first-team role. He's a few bad series from Cohen unseating him as the starter and becoming the most valuable weapon in Nagy's offense. The first-year coach is already having trouble hiding his excitement over Cohen, an emotion that will only grow once training camp gets underway.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.”