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.

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is quickly becoming an icon in American sports. The two-time American League MVP is enjoying another dominant season batting .335 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI.

On Tuesday, he took a swing at what Bears fans may consider a shocking NFL prediction.

“I’ve got the Browns having a better record than the Bears,” Trout told a radio reporter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout's comments were made in response the reporter "talking up" Chicago.

Both the Browns and Bears have had productive offseasons that involved headline-grabbing acquisitions on offense. Cleveland drafted QB Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, traded for WR Jarvis Landry, signed RB Carlos Hyde and drafted a backfield mate for him in Georgia's Nick Chubb. They added potential lockdown corner Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, too. Add all that to a motivated Josh Gordon ready to contribute for a full season, and there's good reason to be excited in Cleveland.

Still, it's hard imagining Trout can be that confident in a team that's won only one game over the last two seasons. And let's not forget what GM Ryan Pace has done this offseason, one that's been praised by analysts from all corners of the NFL universe. From new coach Matt Nagy to free-agent WR Allen Robinson and all the skill players in between, the Bears are ready to make a legitimate run in the NFC North.

Trout doesn't strike out much in the major leagues, but this prediction feels like it could be a back-straining whiff.

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is Matt Forte pushing for a coaching job with the Bears?

Is former Bears star Matt Forte going to be the team’s new running backs coach?

For now, that’s Charles London’s job, who was hired to head coach Matt Nagy’s staff earlier this year.

But on Tuesday night, Forte tweeted that he would like a coaching spot with Chicago sometime in the near future.

Serving as evidence, the now-retired running back responded to a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, which announced the Broncos’ hiring of former linebacker Demarcus Ware as a “pass-rush consultant on a part-time basis.” Forte tweeted at the Bears, saying that he is “available” to take on a similar role to Ware’s new Denver gig.

Forte’s tweet was relatively cryptic, and he never specified exactly what type of job he would want with the Bears. After finishing up a storied career this past season and solidifying his name as a Bears legend, Forte has proven that he could easily coach young running backs or even wide receivers at some point.

But isn’t this all just a joke?

Forte silenced the doubters by tweeting “I wasn’t joking” as a response to an article saying that his desire for a new occupation with the Bears was simply a gag. The former workhorse was also intrigued by a fan’s tweet asking “Coach Forte??”

The mere thought of having Forte back in Chicago with the Bears’ coaching staff sent fans on Twitter into a frenzy. In April, Forte came back to Halas Hall to ink his name on a one-day contract, successfully allowing him to retire as a Bear. Now, Forte wants a lengthier stay in the Windy City.

Ware’s role with Denver is not extensive by any means and, according to Schefter, he will work a pretty scattered schedule with Broncos players. What Forte’s role would look like with the Bears is completely unknown if his plan to coach becomes a reality.

Forte has the running back credentials to take on a coaching position. In eight seasons with the Bears, Forte racked up a combined 8,602 rushing yards, second to only the great Walter Payton. Forte’s 4,116 receiving yards as a running back, 12,718 yards from scrimmage, 24 games with 100 rushing yards and 25 games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage also ranks second behind Payton.

Maybe this will be a new development in Chicago’s offseason plans, but there is no real talk of bringing one of the team’s all-time leading rushers back to the team as of right now.

Last month, NBC Sports Chicago announced Forte will be joining the network as a Bears game day studio analyst for the upcoming 2018 NFL season. And we're not joking about that.