Bears

Ed Donatell has got the Bears' backs

Ed Donatell has got the Bears' backs

Youth is running rampant in the Bears' backfields. Both offensive and defensive. While Stan Drayton's group of runners consists primarily of backs with no more than two years of NFL experience in hopes of replacing Matt Forte by committee, Ed Donatell's group on the last line of defense at least has a couple of graybeards by comparison.

Antrel Rolle was supposed to come in and lead a year ago, but it was more vocal than on the field. Tracy Porter was the guy brought in just 14 months ago, and after one of the best seasons of his eight-year NFL career, he is back to play mentor, stay healthy, and drape the opposition's top wideout. But besides Sherrick McManis (seventh year) and Chris Prosinski (sixth season) — neither are locks to make the final 53-man roster despite their special teams capabilities — every other defensive back in camp right now has no more two years' experience at this level. And while there are expected improvements from offseason additions in the defense's front seven, many eyes now turn on the defensive back corps — shy on experience, and creating turnovers a year ago.

"It's a big challenge, but it's a lot of fun," said Donatell after Thursday's two hours of practice in 90-degree temperatures in Bourbonnais. "These guys are so willing. They're wide open to learning and they work together, and I think we're gonna be able to grab an energy from us all working together. That's going to make us a pretty solid group."

Despite the turnover deficiency (a franchise record-low eight interceptions, only four by defensive backs), the unit also ranked just 22nd in sacks last season, which doesn't help. The good? The defense still somehow rose from 30th in 2014 to fourth in pass defense (a bend-don't-break 224.6 yards per game). So now it's up to Donatell, who molded a quartet of young defensive backs in San Francisco to six Pro Bowl appearances in his four years there with Vic Fangio, to get this group to walk the fine line between aggressiveness and discipline.

[MORE: Bears go 'unscripted' in practice, giving offense game-like test vs. Fangio defenses]

"We want to come out with disciplined play. We don't believe it's an either/or — that you have to be unsound and leave your technique to produce takeaways," Donatell explained. "There's times when you have a non-aggressive angle we want you to go for the ball. When you don't, we want you to go for the tackle. When you have a deep zone, stay deep, when it's short, stay short. So stay within the defense. That's a non-compromising principle for us, and good things will happen."

But Donatell still expresses an urgency to make that leap intelligently, young or not.

"It's a mindset you create, it's a culture. There's no question about it here, and you've got a great measuring stick. You know, it was so great here (in defenses under Lovie Smith) a few years back, and we're looking to create that different places. It's not a switch you just turn on. It takes a little bit of time. We're not comfortable with waiting for it to happen. We want to speed it up and get going, where people have fun."

When all was said and done in 2015, a look at the starting lineups showed Donatell wound up relying on Porter, Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos in three of those spots, with undrafted free agent Bryce Callahan developing trust in the nickel package. The latter will be given an opportunity to compete for one of the outside spots this preseason, while the 25-year NFL coaching veteran praises the way Amos wasn't intimidated, took on greater responsibilities as his rookie season went on, and kept getting himself ready every week despite a shoulder injury that required surgery right after the season.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Here were some of Donatell's other thoughts Thursday.

On Fuller entering his third season:

"The biggest difference right now is he's more familiar with what we're doing, more sure of himself, which means he's going to react faster. We're always looking for them to `spike' the second year we have them, improve. He's getting used to the group of coaches we have, a new system, and right now he's on a path to keep improving."

On waiver pickup Harold Jones-Quartey rebounding from a mid-season benching to having excellent games in returning to starting safety the last two games:

"He was learning on the run. We gave him some game action, let him marinate a bit, then brought him back. But part of your talent, and we make no exception, is if you get the ball for us, there's a place for you in our defense."

On fourth-round draft picks Deon Bush and Deiondre' Hall, and sixth-round selection DeAndre Houston-Carson:

"We like them all. We've got a great room, but time will tell on that one. Time will definitely tell. We're excited for the preseason because that really tells us a lot."

Those games begin next Thursday, in the preseason opener at Soldier Field against the Denver Broncos.

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

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USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

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USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.