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Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

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Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011Posted: 11:30 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Maybe everyone is looking in the wrong direction with respect to the new kickoff rules. More than a few analysts and observers think the moving of the kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 may in fact benefit the Bears.

A lot.

The Bears dont have Danieal Manning anymore, Johnny Knox of 2010 (22.8 yards per return) was well short of the Johnny Knox of 2009 (29.0 ypr). Devin Hester is a threat anywhere anytime but hes returning punts and only handled 12 KORs last year. So the loss to the Bears kickoff-return game.Well see.

But look beyond that one phase.

As good as the Bears were returning kickoffs, they were among the NFLs worst at giving opponents field position after kickoffs: average start, 28.5 yard line, 27th in the league. Now, given Robbie Goulds leg strength, take, say, three kickoff returns and turn them into touchbacks. Starting point, the 20.

Put another way, every touchback Gould causes nets the Bears 8.5 yards of field position, using last years numbers for illustration purposes only.

And put into a bigger context: The Bears defense allowed a total of eight drives of 80 yards or longer last season. Every defense and its coaches will always take opponents starting at their 20-yard line.

Take this a step further: Every touchback theoretically starts those offenses 8.5 yards farther back, meaning that every defensive stop forces teams to punt 8.5 yards closer to their own goal line. And when they do punt, guess whos waiting 8.5 yards closer to the other guys end zone:

Devin Hester.

Bears considerations

Another reality to consider in the whole kickoff thing:

This years Bears coverage teams are young. No, they are young.

We may have four rookies starting on each phase kickoff returncoverage, punt returncoverage, said teams coordinator Dave Toub. Thats a lot.

Unreturnable kickoffs by Gould then cut down the chances for mistakes, breakdowns and other misfortunes that befall NFL newbies in any position.

Toub shakes his head a little and manages a half-smile as he says that. To put this in perspective, the 2011 Bears offense has one rookie (Gabe Carimi) starting. The defense has none.

So Toub is tasked with staffing his units, where every play is potentially a highlight-film score, with NFL kids who wont be allowed to be kids very long. Not at all, in fact.

Those will likely include Chris Conte, Dom DeCicco, Tyler Clutts, Mario Addison and others.

I played it all through college, DeCicco said. I stayed on kickoff and punt coverage every year. So its something Im comfortable with.

So who has more anxiety going into Sunday, Toub or the rookies?

The rookiesll be fine, Toub said, laughing, then adding the clincher for who will be the stress leader. I think.

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.

Pro Football Focus: Bears should sign Jameis Winston

Pro Football Focus: Bears should sign Jameis Winston

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had one of the most polarizing seasons in recent NFL history when he threw for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 2019. He was the first quarterback to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season.

His hard-to-figure-out year makes his pending free agency even more confusing. Does Tampa Bay have enough confidence in the former No. 1 overall pick to lock him up on a long-term deal? Are they better off using the franchise tag and buying another year of evaluation? Or should they just turn the page and move on?

Those decisions are far from being made at this point, but if Winston is allowed to test the open market, Pro Football Focus believes the Bears should go all-in on signing the big-armed yet mistake-prone passer.

Trubisky has struggled to generate any positive plays and is in Winston’s realm as far as negatively graded play rate. Winston’s decision making absolutely needs some work, but at his best, he is “ballin.'” Chicago isn’t in the position to grab a high quarterback prospect in the draft. They could get themselves Jalen Hurts in the second round, but that’s the best they’ll do. A one-year trial is the best option for the Bears, so buckle up and get ready for the ride Chicago — what’s the worst that could happen?

Winston's strength -- pushing the ball down the field -- would be a welcome site in Chicago, especially after Trubisky's brutal 6.1 yards per attempt last season. Winston, in theory, would take advantage of what wide receiver Allen Robinson does well, too, with an aggressive mentality that's led to high-end production for pass-catcher Mike Evans.

But are the Bears really going to invest more than $25 million on a one-year deal for a player as turnover-prone as Winston? Chicago doesn't have much salary-cap space as it is, and cheaper options like Bengals veteran Andy Dalton (albeit via trade) seem more realistic.

If Chicago is truly going to apply the Titans' model from 2019 to their offseason plan this year, Winston wouldn't make sense. But as we've learned with the way this front office has handled the quarterback situation over the last few years, not much seems to make sense anyway. 

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Bears gather intel on Temple center Matt Hennessy at 2020 Senior Bowl

Bears gather intel on Temple center Matt Hennessy at 2020 Senior Bowl

The Bears have an obvious need along the interior of the offensive line after the retirement of guard Kyle Long and the average-at-best play of his replacement, Rashaad Coward, in 2019.

The 2020 Senior Bowl kicked off its second day of practices Wednesday with the North team (coached by the Lions) beginning the afternoon with an aggressive session. It offered a great opportunity for Bears scouts to get a long look at some of this year's top senior offensive line prospects. 

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of 2020 NFL offseason

One player who stood out in one-on-one drills was Temple center/guard Matt Hennessy. He was arguably the best offensive lineman on the field and consistently stonewalled opposing defensive lineman regardless of their rush move (power, speed or a combination of both). Chicago took notice.

Hennessy was the target of several teams who used their post-practice on-field time to gather more intel; the Bears were one of them.

Hennessy has had some injury issues during his tenure as an Owl, but he's been a quality starter (center) for Temple over the last three seasons. Here's what The Draft Network's scouting report of Hennessy lists as his positive traits:

Possesses good size and length at the position. Football intelligence jumps off the tape each game. One of the most consistent pass blockers in the country. Excellent coordination with his hands, eyes, and feet. Consistently plays with good balance. Projects well to a zone-blocking scheme. Effective at walling off second-level defenders and reaching three techniques.

The Bears had issues at center last season when former second-round pick James Daniels went through some midseason struggles. It eventually led to a position switch with Cody Whitehair, who stabilized the interior (at least a little). 

But Hennessy, who started the week as a likely Day-3 pick, would be an ideal selection for a Chicago team that needs to just add talent to the position group. 

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