Bears

High risk lurks in rush-LB draft class for Bears, others

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High risk lurks in rush-LB draft class for Bears, others

The expectation at the outset of the 2015 offseason that new Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox would eventually target one of a strong class of edge pass rushers early in this year’s draft, presumably with the No. 7 pick of the first round.

And the 2015 draft’s first round that will play out this Thursday is rated as “strong” in this particular position group.

With the work already done in free agency to stock the linebacker spot in the planned-on 3-4 scheme — adding Pernell McPhee, Mason Foster and Sam Acho — the urgency is dialed back, if only slightly. The growing expectation is that the Bears will grab one of the top wide receivers if the chance presents itself.

“We’re going to target anybody that makes us better in the draft,” Fox said. “I think Ryan has the approach, which I am on board with, which is taking the best available player.”

[MORE: Bears QB Draft Preview: Beyond Jay Cutler...?]

If that player is judged to be one of the edge rushers, it will be a target with some considerable risk.

Someone, or two, from among Vic Beasley, Alvin Dupree, Dante Fowler, Eric Kendricks, Randy Gregory, Shane Ray and a couple others can be expected to emerge as an impact NFL player.

But not every team is convinced.

“It's interesting, because I've had a bunch of teams asking me about what I call the ‘edge’ class,” NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said in a recent conference call. “I think a month ago our perception was that there were going to be at least four guys going in the first eight picks. And now the perception is couple of those guys are probably sliding down a little bit.”

Indeed, while pass-rushing linebackers may appear less risky than quarterbacks, for instance, first-round picks in general have a roughly 50-percent success rate. Indeed, part of the Bears’ defensive difficulties of the past couple years trace in a small measure to one of those misses.

Examples: 2011 vs. 2012

The 2011 draft proved rich in the kind of rush-linebacker/end that the Bears and other 3-4 teams covet: Von Miller (to Fox and the Denver Broncos), Aldon Smith (to Vic Fangio and the San Francisco 49ers), J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan (to Pace and the New Orleans Saints).

All went within the first 24 picks of the draft and all but Clayborn already have been selected for at least one Pro Bowl.

[MORE: Bears CB Draft Preview: Competition coming for Tim Jennings]

But in 2012, another year with a supposed cluster of elite edge rushers, the results were distinctly less glittering. The run on them started at No. 15 with the Seattle Seahawks:

Bruce Irvin. Quinton Coples. Melvin Ingram. Shea McClellin. Chandler Jones. Whitney Mercilus. Dont’a Hightower. Nick Perry. All in the first round. Within the first six picks of the second round: Courtney Upshaw. Andre Branch.

Not one has been to a Pro Bowl.

Jones has been the class of the class, with seasons of 6-11.5-6 sacks. Irvin and Coples each has 16.5 sacks over their three seasons. Irvin and Jones have Super Bowl rings.

But McClellin, Perry, Branch and Upshaw have been major disappointments for teams that made them priority picks expressly to upgrade pass rushes. The Bears are not expected to pick up the fifth-year option on McClellin’s rookie contract, nor are the Packers with Perry’s.

Make no mistake…

The best linebackers in the 2012 draft class were inside linebackers: Luke Kuechly to Carolina, Bobby Wagner to Seattle, both Pro Bowl honorees.

But most edge linebackers chosen with No. 1 picks have a hierarchy of skill sets, and the 2015 group will be measured by it as well:

“Pass rush is the first thing that comes to mind,” Pace said. “Edge speed. The ability to hit the quarterback. And then also the ability to set the edge and get off a block. But pass rush is the number one priority.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the draft, Bears fans!]

The Denver Broncos chose a front-seven defensive player in with their first pick in the first three drafts while Fox was their head coach and a cornerback last year. As to whether he sees that pattern continuing in Chicago, Fox deadpanned at last month’s NFL owner’s meetings:

 “I think we’ll let you know in late April.” 

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

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USA TODAY

Putting Bill Belichick’s complimentary comments about the Bears in context

Bill Belichick had plenty of good things to say about Matt Nagy and the 2018 Bears during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. Some of the highlights:

 

On the Bears’ season as a whole:

 

“The Bears have lost two games, one on a game when they were in control of the game and another one they lost in overtime. This really looks like a 5-0 team to me, if you change one or two plays. You can say that about a lot of teams, but that’s the league we’re in.”

 

On Mitch Trubisky:

 

“I think he’s done a good job of getting ball to the players that are open or in space and letting them be playmakers. He has a lot of them. That’s the quarterback’s job is to deliver the ball to the playmakers and let them go. I think he’s done a good job of that. He’s a tough kid, which I respect. That’s what we would ask our quarterbacks to do, to make plays to help our team win, to get the ball to the players that are open and in space. It’s not about stats. It’s about doing what you need to do to win.”

 

On Tarik Cohen’s usage:

 

“He plays about a little bit less than 50 percent of the time and he’s in a lot of different places, he’s hard to find. He’s a dynamic player that can run, catch, really threaten every yard of the field from sideline to sideline, up the middle, deep. You can throw it to him, you can hand it to him and he’s elusive with the ball and he’s elusive to be able to get open so the quarterback can get him the ball. Those are great skills to have. Any one of those is good and he’s got several of them.

 

“He’s very hard to tackle. But they do a great job mixing him, not just putting him in the game but who he’s in the game with, what the combinations are and then where they locate him and so forth. There are a lot of multiples. It’s hard. Coach Nagy does a good job with that and he’s a special player that you gotta know where he is at all times.”

 

On Trubisky’s 54-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel on Sunday:

 

“That’s about as good a throw and catch as I’ve seen all year. The execution on that was like 99 out of 100. It was a great, great throw, great route, great catch. There was like a few inches to get the ball in there 50 yards downfield and that’s where it was.”

 

On Akiem Hicks’ impact, who played for the Patriots in 2015:

 

“He’s hard to block. It doesn’t make any difference what the play is, you can run to him and he’s hard to block. You can run away from him, and he makes tackles for loss on the back side. He’s quick and can get around those blocks when there’s more space back there because everybody is going to the front side. He can power rush. He can rush the edges with his quickness. He’s a very, very disruptive player. He’s hard to block on everything.

 

“I appreciate all of the plays he makes. He makes plays on all three downs, against all types of plays, whether it’s reading screen passes or power rushing the pocket to help the ends, to help (Leonard) Floyd and Mack and (Aaron) Lynch rush on the edge. He’s a powerful, disruptive guy. (Eddie) Goldman has done a good job of that. (Bilal) Nichols has done a good job of that too. They have some really powerful guys inside that are hard to block, and they change the line of scrimmage in the running game and the passing game. It really creates a problem, frees up the linebackers in the running game and helps the ends because the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket in the passing game.”

 

On Matt Nagy:

 

“Obviously he's done a great job, as has Ryan with building the team. They have a lot of good players. They have a really experienced staff and they do a great job in all three areas of the game. They're good in the kicking game, they're good on defense they're good on offense. They have highly-skilled players in all three areas.

 

“It's a well-balanced football team that does a lot of things well. Run the ball. Stop the run. Throw the ball. Rush the passer. Intercept passes. Return kicks. Cover kicks. Cover punts. They're at the top of the league in all those categories. Turnovers. Points off turnovers. It doesn't really matter what area you want to talk about, they're pretty good at all of them. That's why they're a good football team.

 

“Coach Nagy and his staff certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's not a one-man band. They're all doing a good job. It's a good football team. I'm sure there will be a lot of energy in the stadium this week. It will be a great test for us to go into Chicago and be competitive against them.”

 

While listening to Belichick rave about the Bears, this missive from former Patriots general manager Michael Lombardi stands out:

 

“Whenever Belichick tells the media on Mondays or Tuesdays that he has already moved on to the next game, trust me, he’s not lying. I worked with Bill for five years in Cleveland, and then during the 2014 and 2015 seasons in New England. Belichick treats every game like a Super Bowl; no detail is too small, no possible scenario or situation goes overlooked. I have heard Belichick break down a bumbling Jaguars team as if it was the reigning two-time Super Bowl winner and treat Blake Bortles like he’s the second coming of Aaron Rodgers. Belichick does it with tape to back up his claims, only showing his team the opponent’s greatest strengths. (With Bortles, I swear, he must have used George Lucas to doctor the video.) No Patriots opponent is underestimated or taken lightly — EVER.”

 

One of the myriad things that make Belichick the best coach in the NFL — and maybe the best coach in NFL history — is how he never takes an opponent lightly, and then how he’s so successful at scheming against what an opponent does best.

 

The Bears are undoubtedly better in 2018 than they were in the John Fox era, or when these two teams last met in 2014 (when New England waxed a moribund Marc Trestman side, 51-23). And a lot of Belichick’s points are valid – that throw Trubisky made to Gabriel was outstanding, for example.

 

But Belichick talks this way about every team he faces. And that, again, is part of what makes him the best at what he does.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: