Bears

DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

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DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
9:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Observations in the wake of the Bears Tommie Harris release:

If there were not already tremendous need for them to score big in this years draft, the Bears now have just three of their No. 1 draft choices over the past decade still on the roster: Brian Urlacher (2000), Greg Olsen (2007) and Chris Williams (2008), and Urlacher was under the administration of the late Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelos successor.

They have just two from the drafts since Lovie Smith arrived.

Their chief target and standard for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, have that many from the 2009 draft alone: nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, plus tackle Bryan Bulaga from the 2010 draft.

And the footsteps coming up behind the Bears are from the Detroit Lions, who had that many in the 2010 draft alone as well: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Jahvid Best. Add oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions have as many in the last two years as the Bears in the last 11. Cause for additional concern is that since 2006 the Lions also have hit on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, tackle Gosder Cherilus and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The Bears do get a slight pass (literally) when you factor in a significant score from the 2009 draft in which they gave up their No. 1 in the deal for Jay Cutler. And their de facto No. 1 in the 2010 draft was Julius Peppers but they had to commit 91 in free agency for him.

But the Bears also have just three of their second-round picks under Jerry Angelo at this point: Charles Tillman (2003), Devin Hester (2006) and Matt Forte (2008), plus Danieal Manning (2006) if he is re-signed once the free agency rules are established. The death of Gaines Adams left the Bears with nothing from their 2010 No. 2 as well as a deep hole in spirit.

The Packers have wideout Jordy Nelson, running back Brandon Jackson, guard Daryn Colledge, wide receiver Greg Jennings, safety Nick Collins, and defensive end Mike Neal from 2010. That is all of the ones they made since 2004...

A player in the spotlight for the Bears now becomes Henry Melton. The 2009 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season on IR and showed flashes last season, with 2.5 sacks. He has enough speed and quickness to have worked at defensive end and is expected to be given a longer look inside as the three-technique. But he has played at no bigger than 280 pounds and unless he has playmaker abilities in the mold of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings DT now in the Hall of Fame, the Bears are at risk of being overpowered at the point of attack.

Matt Toeaina showed enough for the Bears to sign him to an extension last year. But he was edged back out of the starting lineup by Harris for the final six games, including the postseason.

And Marcus Harrison will need a dramatic reversal of trend to make the roster in training camp after slumping from nine-game starter in 2009 to 11-game inactive last season.

The Bears may be able to manage with another shuffling on the offensive line, moving Chris Williams back to right tackle, JMarcus Webb to left, Frank Omiyale to left guard, and either re-signing center Olin Kreutz or getting more out of Edwin Williams as Kreutzs replacement.

But defensive tackle, already a draft priority with Harris, just became an even bigger one without him.

Harris speaks

In the long run, Harris did need a change of team and he knew it as this season played out. Its one of those bittersweet moments but its something that Ive been prepared for for a long time, Harris told host David Kaplan Thursday on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Live".

He never had the baggage issues of Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Cade McNown or other players whose time in Chicago was cut short for more reasons of perception and PR as well as performance.

But his relationship with Lovie Smith wasnt in a good place and hadnt been for a several years. Frankly Harris had some growing up to do and at the same time, he hadnt felt that Smith saw him as growing up when he did.

It was more like father and son, Harris said of their relationship.

And sometimes you just have to move out of the house. For both sides sakes.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Contract decisions coming for Bears defense as questions hang over LB Danny Trevathan

Contract decisions coming for Bears defense as questions hang over LB Danny Trevathan

As 2018 came to its bumpy playoff-loss ending, the Bears could look toward the coming offseason without major crisis decisions looming for what was then an elite defense. They’d prepared contingencies for possible departures of safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan.

This offseason they will have further-reaching calls to make, beginning at inside linebacker where two of their top three players are coming out of a contract: Danny Trevathan, also off an elbow injury suffered against Detroit, and Nick Kwiatkoski, coming off a second defense-leading performance in a backup role.

The Bears made a decision earlier this year to keep Nick Kwiatkoski for the final year of his rookie contract. The former college teammate of wide receiver Kevin White had played his way under the NFL’s “Proven Performance Escalator” from $720,000 up to a fourth-year salary $2.025 million, a not-insignificant tab for a reserve linebacker on a defense fortified with major dollars invested on the line (Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks), at linebacker (Khalil Mack, Trevathan) and cornerback (Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller), with decisions pending at both safety spots.

Possibly before this season is done, the Bears could secure Kwiatkoski with another deal, particularly after Kwiatkoski has stepped in and keyed the defense in place of Roquan Smith (Minnesota) and on Sunday when Trevathan went down with a severe elbow injury.

“Right now honestly I’m not thinking about it because there’s a lot of football to play and it’ll take care of itself,” he told NBC Sports Chicago last week. “For me, I feel like whatever happens, happens.”

What has happened is that twice Kwiatkoski, until now a four-phase leader on special teams, has helped the Bears make their decision. Against the Lions, Kwiatkoski’s third-quarter interception, the first of his career, set up the Bears’ third, final and ultimately deciding touchdown.

“Ryan [Pace, GM] and his personnel guys, they created this depth chart throughout our team where when guys go down you're able to have guys step up,” said coach Matt Nagy. “Kwit has done that, and that's what it's all about.”

Kwiatkoski’s is not the only critical depth-chart decision the Bears have upcoming for their defense.

Besides calls like whether Amukamara is playing at a level commensurate with a $9 million base, or whether to go longer-term on a deal for safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris will be a restricted free agent. They picked up Leonard Floyd’s fifth-year option but now need to assess whether he is worth either $13.2 million this year or a long-term deal.

And defensive lineman Nick Williams, leading the Bears with six sacks, is going to be worth more than the $895,000 they landed him for this year.

But the Trevathan injury, besides presenting player and team with a difficult decision on injured reserve, also adds a complicating factor in determining where the quarterback of the defense falls among their priorities. His four-year deal, with $15.5 million guaranteed, averaged $7 million per season, with base salaries of $5.8 million in the last two.

There is zero question where the former Denver Bronco wants to finish his career.

“This city’s been nothing but good to me,” Trevathan said. “It’s all I think about, all I want to be. Chicago is a linebacker’s dream. It’ll take care of itself, I’m sure.

“Everybody has a role. I just wanted to do my job and be the best ‘Danny Trevathan’ I can be, and the best Bear I can be. That’s all I can do. My Mom always told me that things would take care of themselves if you work your tail off.”

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Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

Akiem Hicks talks patience and his friendship with Nick Williams

The Bears have been playing without Akiem Hicks since Week 4 when Hicks was placed on injured reserve after dislocating his elbow during the Bears trip across the pond to the play the Oakland Raiders. If that Week 4 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings feels like a long time ago, it’s because it has been, and the Bears have been feeling Hicks’ absence.

Hicks spoke at an event at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago this week about his time on IR and when he thinks he’ll be back on the field.

“I try not to make too many projections,” Hicks said. “I have no projections, I just want to be healthy and contribute to this football team.”

When asked about what he missed most while being on IR, Hicks kept his answer simple.

“Just being with the boys,” he said. “It’s a different feeling Saturday night at the hotel when everybody is getting prepared and locking in for the game and you’re sitting there spectating. As much as you try to involve yourself, giving them advice and pushing them in the right direction, the true moment, the battle, the competition you’re going to miss. You just have to accept that.”

“One thing that has improved on my time away is patience, I understand that it was my moment and I have to be comfortable with this time away.”

Hicks was asked about Nick Williams, who has been filling in for him at defensive end, with Hicks having nothing but kind words to say.

“Just a stud,” Hicks said. “He’s shown that he can be a dominant defensive tackle.”

Hicks certainly isn’t wrong. Nick Williams is currently leading the Bears in sacks, with six sacks to his name this season. Hicks also touched on the long-standing friendship he and Williams have shared over their two years as Bears.

 “Myself and Nick Williams have a long relationship over these past two years,” Hicks said. “It feels like we’ve been friends forever. He was very supportive of me throughout his time here. It’s unfortunate that I’m on IR, but it’s a great opportunity to be supportive of him as well.”

“If there was anybody who was going to come up for me and play the time that I’ve missed, I’m glad it was Nick,” Hicks said. “I challenge you to pick somebody in the crowd more excited than me when he makes a play.” 

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