Bears

First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears defense

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First Look: 2011 Chicago Bears defense

Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011
1:14 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Third in a series

What the Bears got from Jay Cutler, Mike Martz and the 2010 offense was less than bargained for, literally. But on defense, the return on investment was arguably more than expected.

Only three teams allowed fewer points than the Bears, and two (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) of those (Baltimore No. 3) are in the Super Bowl. The only team that allowed fewer rushing yards per game (Pittsburgh) is also in the Super Bowl.

Only Green Bay and Pittsburgh held opposing quarterbacks to a lower combined passer rating than the Bears (74.4). Only New Orleans (13) allowed fewer than the Bears 14 passing touchdowns and the Bears allowed more than one passing TD in just two games this season.

The Bears tied with Pittsburgh at No. 3 in takeaways with 35.

But as good as the 2010 Bears defense was, with members rating it at times as better than the unit that got the Bears to the 2006 Super Bowl, the plan is to upgrade it.

Priority area: Always up front

The Angelo personnel regime has invested draft picks in both offensive and defensive lines. Two No. 1s were spent on tackles (Marc Colombo 02, Chris Williams 08) and two No. 1s were invested on defensive linemen (Michael Haynes 03, Tommie Harris 04).

But the focus on defense sharpens in the middle and late rounds. In nine drafts Angelo has picked offensive linemen in rounds 2-5 just twice (Terrence Metcalf 02, Josh Beekman 07). The Bears have used sixth- and seventh-round picks on offensive linemen, where a hit is found money; they aim considerably higher on the other side of the ball.

READ: First Look - 2011 Bears offense

Angelo has picked 12 defensive linemen in those rounds, plus traded a third-round selection for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.

And the biggest free-agency signing in franchise history was Julius Peppers a defensive end, and at a time when end was not necessarily a critical need, given the presences of Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Alex Brown and Israel Idonije.

None of those were close to the level of Peppers but the pattern of keeping a strength strong was holding true. Safety was arguably a more critical need but was not a priority or value position in the Bears structure, and that spot was addressed with the first 10 pick going for Major Wright rather than pursue the likes of Antrel Rolle at stratospheric prices.

End game

The play of Peppers, sufficient to place him fourth in voting for defensive player of the year, was all the Bears had envisioned. If the sack total (8) was less than ideal, the overall impact was felt both in quantity (the defense with Peppers addition and Brian Urlachers return from injury became one of the NFLs best) and quality (Peppers was immediately elected with Urlacher as co-captains of the defense).

If anything, coaches might be questioned on why Mark Anderson was given so much playing time over first Alex Brown, then Idonije, when both were clearly the better all-around players.

Corey Wootton needed time to develop an NFL game but his development showed as the season progressed. And just as Gary Fencik will go down as the last person to catch a Joe Namath pass, Wootton will be remembered in NFL history as the last player to sack Brett Favre. But if that was the finish of Favres career, Woottons arrow is pointing decidedly in the opposite direction.

The Bears signed Nick Reed to a futures contract. Reed was a 2009 seventh-round pick by Seattle and played 16 games that season for the Seahawks when personnel director Tim Ruskell was in charge there.

Tackle troubles

Nose tackle Anthony Adams is a priority re-signing and the expectation is that they will fortify defense perhaps ahead even of offense; keeping a strength strong is a must.

If tackle play after Adams was not exceptional last season, it had significant positives. Henry Melton survived roster competition with Jarron Gilbert in training camp to become one of the bright spots as a pass rusher and was part of rotations both at tackle and end.

Matt Toeaina took Tommie Harris job early in the year and played his way into a multi-year contract extension. He saw Harris take the job back late in the season but did post his first 2 career sacks and fumble recovery and is set in the interior rotation. The Bears have hopes for former Kansas City ChiefCarolina Panther Tank Tyler, a third-round pick who started 19 games for Kansas City and signed to a futures contract.

READ: Coaching, draft & more

Harris return is very unlikely give his roster bonus, workout bonus and salary hits facing the Bears. He delivered some impact plays in spots but lost his starting job much of the season to Toeaina even though with fatherhood and other elements he matured through much of the past year.

I learned that its not what you go through, but its how you go through it that will determine the outcome, Harris said. You can either get in a situation where you fold if things are not going the way you want it, or you work harder to get out of that situation, and I learned how to persevere through that...

I grew up. I stopped pointing the finger at everybody else and I paid attention to myself, which was the most difficult thing to do."

Harris could return at drastically reduced money but the expectation is that he will look first for a change of scenery for a restart to a once very promising career.

The same applies to Marcus Harrison, a third-rounder who started nine games in 2009 and appeared to be an emerging force. But Harrison was active for only five games last season, took a major step backwards and needs a strong training camp at this point to stay on the roster.

Backer tracker

The organization is topped out on salary at the linebacker spot and has elite talent in place with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher. The concern is that both are on the wrong side of 30, but if there is falloff, it is difficult to discern in two of the NFLs savviest playmakers.

The issue at strong-side linebacker is another matter because of injuries. Hunter Hillenmeyer (concussion), Nick Roach (knee) and starter Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) were all down at different times last season and only Hillenmeyer is currently under contract.

Brian Iwuh is a top special-teams player (third in tackles) and has been a spot starter during his career, although his one Bears start was for Briggs and Roach is a stronger choice when healthy.

Roach was tendered at the second-round level last year and is no lock to return if a starter opportunity elsewhere presents itself. Tinoisamoa is again a free agent who, like Roach and Hillenmeyer, is a quality team presence. The question becomes how much the Bears can risk at a two-down position.

Secondary considerations

Not all that long ago the Bears believed they were set for several years minimum at cornerback. Significant multi-year financial commitments were made in Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher.

The plan effectively ended week one of the 2009 season when Vasher, after a shaky 2008, was benched along with safety Kevin Payne following a breakdown at Green Bay resulting in a Bears loss. Vasher started once more, in Game 16, but was cut in the offseason.

Zackary Bowman showed promise in Vashers place and was handed Tillmans job at left cornerback to open this season and Tillman shunted over to right cornerback. But Bowman himself was benched in the Green Bay game in week three, replaced by Tim Jennings.

The problem facing the Bears is that Jennings and D.J. Moore, whose play at nickel back produced 44 tackles, 4 interceptions, one for a touchdown, and a sack, is that neither is taller than 5-9. Add to that Tillman entering his ninth season at age 30 and the Bears have a looming need this offseason or next.

No player has been used in more positions than safety Danieal Manning but his future is likely outside of Chicago. The Bears floated contract possibilities with him during last season but Manning wasnt buying at the Bears price, particularly after being unhappy at the tender-offer situation that effectively took him out of any free agency opportunities last offseason.

Manning had perhaps the best season of his four in the NFL and will draw interest elsewhere. Whether it is to the level he seeks is problematic, but the Bears have Wright and Chris Harris in place and will not get into any bidding war.

Next: Special teams

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.

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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USA Today

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.