Four positions worth special attention as Bears camp looms


Four positions worth special attention as Bears camp looms

There are no unimportant positions on a football field, regardless of unit. One – quarterback – may be more important, but a glaring weakness elsewhere on offense can compromise that individual. An opponent’s return team absolutely will find the one incompetent member of the coverage unit. A defensive back is too often only as good as what goes on in front of him, and vice versa.

(Any doubts, see: Bears, Chicago; 2014).

Three overarching issues will in large part determine the success of the 2015 Bears, and those will be addressed subsequently by But four specific positions warrant close attention when training camp opens later this month and on through the preseason:

Defensive end

When the Bears signed Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young last offseason, the plan was to add a win-now edge pass rush out of a 4-3 scheme. Now the scheme is changed, Houston and Young have yet to practice following season-ending injuries last season, and Allen’s role or spot on the depth chart is still forming.

But the real question at the position lies at the end positions in the 3-4 scheme, spots that need to staffed by players closer in size and role to defensive tackles, not the speed rushers lined up outside offensive tackles.

[WATCH: David Bass discusses Bears' offseason on Kap & Haugh]

The Bears used a No. 2 pick on Eddie Goldman to staff nose tackle, and they have other options at that spot. What they don’t have are the fits like coordinator Vic Fangio had in San Francisco with Justin Smith (285 pounds) and Ray Collins. Ego Ferguson and Jeremiah Ratliff have been with the No. 1 unit but it is a critical position for the run defense that needs to be stout if Fangio is to have chances to display the creativity that has established him as one of the NFL’s elite coordinators.

“Your heart and soul in any defense, and the 3-4 is no different, the three down linemen to me are the heart and soul of the defense,” Fangio said. “If they're getting pushed around, it doesn't matter what you're in; we're in trouble.”

OL right side

The location of Kyle Long has been an obvious story line through the offseason, and the two-time Pro Bowl lineman has been at both guard and tackle through minicamps and OTA’s. But more is involved than just Long.

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod sat out practices in June, as did right tackle Jordan Mills, the starter at right tackle before a troublesome foot injury week 17 of 2013. The Bears signed guard Vladimir Ducasse from the Minnesota Vikings; the decision on Long can be assumed to factor in whether Ducasse is a better guard than Mills is a tackle.

Left tackle is the marquis position from the standpoint of pass protection to the quarterback’s blind side. But the majority of Hall of Fame defensive ends were left ends, meaning the ones who were bearing down right where the quarterback can see any protection breakdown.

The Bears are making changes to their blocking schemes; those typically always happen anyway with a coaching change. But sorting out the blocking where it’s most visible to quarterback Jay Cutler has to happen, and happen quickly.

“I look at tackles, while they have to be physical, I look at them as ‘skill’ guys,” said line coach Dave Magazu. “They better be able to protect the passer first, and maybe be a run blocker second."

Special teams

Special teams at times over the past two years had the appearance and feel of afterthoughts. Coordinator Joe DeCamillis was forced to deal with constantly changing personnel, rarely working with starting defensive players or top specialists in the coverage arts.

The result was that units that once ranked annually among the NFL’s best slipped into mediocrity. Coach John Fox hired Jeff Rodgers as special-teams coordinator with the Denver Broncos and was able to bring Rodgers to the Bears staff.

“There’s a lot of things to like about guys that make tackles or guys that did a good job with blocks or if they were penalty type guys,” Rodgers said. “You just try to identify those things, educate them on what we’re trying to do and move forward.”

Inside linebacker

So much attention has been on the outside linebackers because of the pass-rush component, that the inside two have been overlooked. They shouldn’t be.

Fangio’s top-10 defenses in San Francisco got sacks from Aldon and Justin Smith. But they had All-Pro’s NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis as their 245-pound inside linebackers.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The Bears have nothing approaching the Bowman-Willis tandem; no team does. And what they do have are Christian Jones and Shea McClellin lining up as the first unit, plus Mason Foster from Tampa Bay and potentially Jonathan Bostic coming off a back injury.

None of the four have ever started at inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the NFL level. Not that they’re intimidated by the challenge, but...

“I feel comfortable,” McClellin said as the offseason practices wrapped up. “I haven't played inside for a long time, but it's starting to come back to me, the instincts to play in there are coming back. Personally I'm feeling good… .It's not where we want to be, but we'll continue to build.”

Power Rankings Roundup: People are pretty apathetic about losing to the Patriots

Power Rankings Roundup: People are pretty apathetic about losing to the Patriots

While the notion of a "good loss" is more coachspeak than anything of real substance, it looks like NFL media agree. 

After a close loss to the Patriots -- about three feet close, to be exact -- Power Rankings makers aren't blaming the Bears too much. In fact, shoutout to our mothership, Big NBC Sports, for actually *raising* the Bears in their latest rankings. Thanks guys! 

Here's what they're saying: 

Ours: #17, down 4 -
You can do worse than barely losing to the Patriots, but what on earth has happened to Chicago's defense?

NBCSports: #10, up 1 - 
Bears went toe-to-toe with the Patriots and made it to the later rounds before taking one on the chin. No shame in that. #11, N/A - 
The opportunities were there for the Bears, who took it to the Patriots in the first half Sunday. The second half was a different story, as Chicago was stuck in catch-up mode.

Washington Post: #16, down 1 - 
The Bears came up a yard shy of a tying TD on the Hail Mary against the Patriots. This was a far less egregious loss than falling to Brock Osweiler and the Dolphins a week earlier. But it was still a loss.

ESPN: #13, down 1 - 
Need more from: RB Jordan Howard. Howard is averaging only 3.46 yards per rush, which ranks 41st out of 47 qualifying running backs. Bears running backs as a whole rank 30th with 1.45 yards after contact per rush, and Mitchell Trubisky has led the team in rushing in two of the past three games.

Sports Illustrated: #18, N/A - 
The Bears were 3-1 before starting a four-game tour of the AFC East. They need to take care of business against the Jets and Bills to keep pace in a tough NFC North.

Sporting News: #16, down 1 - 
Mitchell Trubisky and the offense have become a fun, unpredictable and mostly explosive roller-coaster ride, but the defense is showing it has plenty of leaks behind Khalil Mack.

FanSided: #17, down 2 - 
Mitchell Trubisky and those special teams were a disaster on Sunday.

Bleacher Report: #15, N/A - 
The problem is the Bears also have five tough divisional games remaining, including two with the Vikings. A date with the Rams also looms. However, if the Bears take care of business in the first four games mentioned, they will need to go just 3-3 in their remaining six matchups to go 10-6 and (presumably) make the playoffs.

Fantasy Football: 15 players to target on your waiver wire


Fantasy Football: 15 players to target on your waiver wire

We've crossed the halfway mark in the regular season for most Fantasy Football leagues, so it's officially crunch time.

As we get ready to make a push for the stretch run and with Bye Weeks in full gear, the waiver wire has never been more important in 2018.

If Nick Chubb is available in your league still, change that immediately. But considering he should've been scooped up in every league after Carlos Hyde was traded away from Cleveland Friday, we're more focused on guys who should be available and worth spending your free agent budget on.

Here are 15 guys worth targeting on the waiver wire:

1. Kenjon Barner, RB, NE

It appears Sony Michel has avoided serious injury, but he still will probably miss at least Week 8 and possibly longer. James White will see a larger role without Michel, but Barner suddenly goes from a guy not even worth sniffing at in Fantasy to a must-own. As soon as Michel left the game, Barner entered and tallied 10 rushes against the Bears defense. If you're desperate for a running back in Week 8, Barner might be a good add as he has a fantastic matchup against a Bills defense that just allowed 219 rushing yards to the Colts.

2. Chris Ivory, RB, BUF

LeSean McCoy was forced to leave the Week 7 contest with a concussion, opening the door for a decent game for Ivory (126 total yards on 19 touches). If McCoy continues to miss time, Ivory is the clear beneficiary, though it's not a great matchup in Week 8 against the Pats.

3. Danny Amendola, WR, MIA

It's been a while since Amendola was anything more than a tease in Fantasy Football, but the soon-to-be-33-year-old has had back-to-back good games while building a good rapport with Brock Osweiler. Amendola has hauled in 143 yards and a tuddie on 14 catches (18 targets) the last two weeks and while he is banged up, he practiced in a limited capacity Monday. If he can suit up Thursday, he should be the Dolphins' top target as both Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson are expected to miss that contest with their own injuries.

4. Raheem Mostert, RB, SF

Matt Breida and Alfred Morris owners must hate this guy, but Mostert has emerged from complete irrelevance to lead the Niners backfield the last two weeks. The 26-year-old has 23 touches the last two games while Morris has tallied just 9 touches (all in Week 7) and Breida has racked up 19 touches as he works through a bunch of injuries, including an ankle issue. It will be tough to predict how this situation will play out this week, but Mostert has been the only Niners back worth starting recently and this group of RBs now has the best matchup of the week against the woeful Cardinals defense. Mostert at least deserves to be owned, even if you're not comfortable starting him at the moment.

5/6. Jalen Richard/Doug Martin, RB, OAK

With Marshawn Lynch on IR, Richard and Martin should be owned in all formats just for the sheer possibility of a heavy workload. However, both are questionable Fantasy starts for Week 8 — even coming off a Bye. Richard should be the call in PPR leagues while Martin figures to eat up most of Lynch's carries. 

7. Tyrell Williams, WR, LAC

Williams is owned in hardly any league, but he's racked up 236 receiving yards and 3 TDs the last two weeks. He's not getting a heavy workload (only 8 targets in that span), but the Chargers love throwing deep to this guy and it's paid off in back-to-back weeks. Williams isn't close to being a safe bet as his value is completely contigent upon whether he catchs a deep bomb or not, but you could do a lot worse in your Fantasy lineups.

8. Martavis Bryant, WR, OAK

With Amari Cooper now in Dallas, somebody's gotta catch balls for Jon Gruden's Raiders. There's no guarantee that's Bryant, but he's slated to start Week 8 and he has the talent and resume to be at least a servicable Fantasy player the rest of the season.

9. Donte Moncrief, WR, JAC

The good: In 3 of the last 4 weeks, Moncrief has tallied at least 5 catches and 76 yards. The bad: In the other week during that stretch, he did not record a single catch on 3 targets. So there's clearly some risk here, especially considering the state of the Jags passing offense and QB situation. But Moncrief may be worth a pickup and start in Week 8 if you're desperate, as the Eagles have given up some of the most Fantasy points to opposing WRs. 

10. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF

Benjamin was drafted in most leagues but was unable to post as many as 10 Fantasy points in even full-point PPR leagues until Week 7, and that was a modest 11-point total. Nobody blames you if you've given up on Benjamin, but he finally topped 3 catches and 50 yards in Week 7 and has a rapport with Derek Anderson from their time in Carolina. 

11. Trenton Cannon, RB, NYJ

Who? Cannon is owned in 0.0 percent of Fantasy leagues, which makes sense given he had a grand total of 2 Fantasy points entering Week 7. But when Bilal Powell left the game with a neck injury, it was Cannon that stepped up with 69 receiving yards on 4 catches while Isaiah Crowell still handled rushing duties. If Powell misses time in Week 8 or beyond (neck issues are no joke), Cannon is the main beneficiary in the passing game and should be rostered in all PPR leagues.

12. Chris Herndon, TE, NYJ

The Jets' fourth-round pick from this spring is another no-name in the Fantasy world, but that's quickly changing after back-to-back weeks with a TD. Herndon has clearly become the top tight end for fellow rookie Sam Darnold, seeing 7 targets last week and hauling in 4 of those catches for 42 yards. If you're desperate for a TE or you're in a dynasty league, target Herndon now. 

13. DeVante Parker, WR, MIA

Parker has been worth absolutely nothing in Fantasy this year, finding his way out of the lineup on a weekly basis. But he's worth a speculative add in case he's traded by next week — like he wants — and he also receives a boost for Week 8 by default, as the other Dolphins wideouts are all banged up and Parker essentially has to play.

14. Jakeem Grant, WR, MIA

Notice a trend here? We're all-in on South Beach receivers this week. Same logic applies because of injuries to Stills and Wilson, but obviously all of Parker, Grant and Amendola will not be worth a Fantasy start in Week 8. This is still Osweiler and the Dolphins we're talking about. But Grant is fun with his gamechanging speed and has at least contributed in every single week of the season so far even before he's become an increased part of the gameplan, so his floor isn't "0" like Parker's or some of the other WR options on the market.

15. Colts D/ST

We can't end this without a defense/special teams unit, right? The Colts gave up at least 31 points for 3 straight games from Week 4 through 6, but they absolutely dominated the Bills last week and now draw a Raiders team that just lost its two best offensive playmakers over the last 10 days. There is no better D/ST to stream out there than the Colts, and they're available in more than half of leagues.

Bonus: Rishard Matthews, WR, NYJ

Matthews is reportedly signing with the Jets, who need some WR help. Matthews quit on the Titans earlier this season after they completely went away from him in the gameplan, but this is a guy that racked up 1,740 yards and 13 TDs from 2016-17. He's worth an add in all leagues just for the potential.