Bears

Moon: Packers game critical step towards a big goal

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Moon: Packers game critical step towards a big goal

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011
11:50 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

They were the new guys back in 2006, the young guys, and it came almost too easily.

And now, Devin Hester and Danieal Manning, rookies in 2006, and Chris Harris, who went to the playoffs as a rookie in 2005 and a Super Bowl the next year, are in a position to do what many of the greats of the game, including many, many Bears never did: return to a Super Bowl.

Dan Marino went in his second, lost and never went again. Wilber Marshall and Ron Rivera went to playoffs as rookies, a Super Bowl in their second year, and never got back there.

Its tough, Harris said. You have some guys with great careers, Hall of Fame players, who never played in a Super Bowl.

Hester didnt think getting to a Super Bowl was necessarily easy but I didnt think it would go like that, he said, shaking his head at the memory and at the thought of not even getting back to the playoffs since then. The team we had the Super Bowl I thought would be good for a long time.

Its a long season and every year something happens, every year it seems like theres a different team.

Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Olin Kreutz, Tommie Harris all know what it means to reach a Super Bowl and lose there.

And they are part of the reason why the Bears are unlikely to make the mistake of not treating the Green Bay game and the two weeks that follow as critical steps toward a goal that will never be taken for granted.

Its a long journey for this team, Hester said. This year, weve been doing pretty good. The record is looking pretty good right now. The bye, and everything is starting to show up. Our team is starting to do some great things, as far as offense, defense and special teams. We got a good shot.

Arguably the single most important player in the Bears playoff saga, Jay Cutler, has never been in uniform for a playoff game. He has never had the experience of anything beyond regular-season playing speed.

But his motivation should be perhaps greater even than for his teammates who have been there but lost.

I dont think anybody in that locker room is gonna be satisfied until we win a Super Bowl, Cutler said. So theres a lot to be done yet. But weve got to keep getting better. Weve got to keep working. Weve got to keep coming to work. Keep the drive.

That makes Sunday in Green Bay important. If the Bears lose the drive, they will lose before they ever make the Super Bowl that some thought would have come again by now.

Gone but

If the Bears were hoping to see more of Juaquin Iglesias in the future, theyll likely have their wish after the 2009 third-round pick was signed off the Bears practice squad Saturday by the Minnesota Vikings. Iglesias showed flashes back in training camp but was unable to demonstrate enough consistent playmaker ability to warrant a spot of the regular roster. Iglesias was inactive for all but one game in his rookie season.

Iglesias joins fellow No. 3 pick Jarron Gilbert on the former-Bears list, leaving the Bears with neither of their top 2009 picks. Its unlikely the organization is going to have serious laments on a bad draft, however.

Henry Melton (fourth round) is a force in the defensive-line rotation and possible successor to Tommie Harris as the three-technique in the Bears scheme. D.J. Moore, the Bears second pick in the fourth round, is the No. 1 nickel back and has 4 interceptions. Johnny Knox (fifth round) needs just 40 yards Sunday to pass 1,000. Guard Lance Louis has settled into a backup role but has shown some promise.

And the Bears No. 1 and first No. 3 picks of that draft? They went for Jay Cutler, who has begun to look every bit like the franchise quarterback the trade was intended to secure.

And one more thing.

I didnt make a call on this game earlier because I really didnt know how much the Bears would put into it, in terms of effort, personnel and both. The Bears really dont have anything to play for except what really matters, that being playoff preparations.

They have a quarterback who has never played beyond a regular season since high school and needs to not only stay sharp, but also needs to be better than he has been, because thats what playoffs are about quarterback play. The only player close to a starter that the Bears made inactive was receiver Earl Bennett and that because of an injury.

The other thing that playoffs are about is play on defense, and the Bears group has played progressively worse into this fourth quarter of the season. The Bears kept linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa active despite his chronic knee issues, if thats any indication of intent. The Bears had their usual list of inactives: defensive backs Craig Steltz and Joshua Moore; running back Khalil Bell; offensive linemen Herman Johnson and Edwin Williams; and defensive lineman Marcus Harrison.

The Bears will definitely take this game seriously, at least through the first half. But I dont think thatll be enough to beat a resurgent and overall very good Green Bay team.
Packers 27 Bears 21

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.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

No extra ’19 draft pressure on Bears GM Ryan Pace? Don’t believe it.

There is never – well, pretty much never – a time without at least some modicum of personal pressure in the NFL, whether it’s to win, develop, save money, whatever.

But some times are more pressurized than others or involve different pressures. So it is for Bears GM Ryan Pace.

Because one of the realities of sport, or lots of other endeavors for that matter, is that it is so often more difficult to stay at the top than to reach it a first time. Complacency can set in after success; opponents and other forces can chip away at what worked on the way up. Worst (or best) of all, expectations rise.

It is arguably much easier to go from three wins to six than to go from, say, 12 to 13.

When Pace was hired to replace Phil Emery, there were the obvious pressures: first-time GM, need to overhaul turn around a roster and culture, all that stuff. But expectations weren’t outlandish; short of abject collapse or some aberrant new level of dysfunction, the true expectations were not to reach the playoffs in 2015, for instance.

And every indication was that Pace was going to get a second coaching hire anyway if bridge-hire John Fox didn’t work out. Pace got an extension with the same win-loss record that got Fox fired.

The pressure then ratcheted up several notches with Pace investing the draft capital he did in Mitchell Trubisky, then hiring his own head coach in Matt Nagy. A consultant and senior management weren’t directing things in either of those cases. Those are on him.

So then Pace’s coach and quarterback went and won 12 games and were within a kicking malfunction of winning a playoff game. Accordingly, with all that, they sent the franchise into a draft (Pace’s first) without top-10 picks in early draft rounds. Pace has not gone into a draft holding fewer than two selections in the top 45 (2017).

This year, with the added expectations from a 12-4 season, Pace starts with none in the first 86.

Pace said this week that the pressure feels the same to him, and it probably does; no one puts more pressure on Pace than he does on himself.

But the expectations are there, or more accurately, the overall need is there, definitely there. After the better part of a decade without any, the Bears have some organizational momentum now and losing that invites dark thoughts.

“I feel like I feel like with fewer picks and with later picks, the onus is on us as scouts to hit on these picks, and to keep this momentum that we’ve got,” Pace said. “I feel like we have this momentum. To keep this momentum going…we need to nail this draft.”

But what if they don’t?

There are no unimportant drafts, or seasons, for that matter. But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that is the NFL, getting it right does matter. A lot.

The Oakland Raiders went 12-4 in 2016 largely on the fruits of GM Reggie McKenzie draftees Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack. McKenzie was Pro Football Writers of America’s NFL executive of the year and had a contract extension. (Pace received both of those in a 14-month span.)

The Raiders fell off to 6-10 in 2017, fired coach Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden, who traded away Cooper and Mack, and had McKenzie fired a week after the Raiders were the first AFC team mathematically eliminated from the 2018 playoffs.

Much closer to home, the Bears went to the NFC Championship game in 2010 with a team built by then-GM Jerry Angelo. They again stood atop the NFC North at 7-3 in 2011, at which point Jay Cutler broke his thumb and the Bears lost five of their final six.
Angelo was fired two days after the final ’11 game – a win at Minnesota, the last one of those before finishing 2018 with a victory up there.

Emery was fired after three seasons of decline from 10 to 8 to 5 wins from 2012-14.

Pace is in less than zero danger. Indeed, if the Fox hiring process vs. that of Nagy’s taught Bears management anything, it would start with the presumption that, left to his own devices, Pace is better at picking head coaches than a lot of other people around Halas Hall.

And the fact that 10 of the 12 Bears Pro Bowl’ers or alternates were Pace draft picks or trade/free agent acquisitions suggests that he has improved exponentially from first-draft selections of Kevin White and Hroniss Grasu.

Now all he has to do is do it again. And then again. And then….

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A Bears-centric draft guide to every running back in this year's NFL Draft

A Bears-centric draft guide to every running back in this year's NFL Draft

No position carries more interest and importance than running back as the Bears head into the 2019 NFL Draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville but won’t get underway at Halas Hall until Friday. While general manager Ryan Pace said the Bears don’t need to draft a running back, given all the scouting the Bears have done on players at that position, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will take one sometime before the end of Saturday. 

So with all the focus on this one position, NBC Sports Chicago compiled the big boards of eight major draft gurus/websites to put a wisdom-of-the-crowd spin on a running back ranking system. Sources used for these rankings: Josh Norris’ top 200, Pro Football Focus’ top 250, Dane Brugler’s top 100, Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50, Gil Brandt’s top 150 and Danny Kelly’s top 100, as well as complete big boards by ESPN and CBS. 

The results divide this class of running backs into a number of tiers based on where the Bears pick, which right now is Nos. 87, 126, 162, 222 and 238. Here’s what we came up with:

Tier 1: No chance

Member: Josh Jacobs, Alabama

Average rank: 28.1
Highest: 8 (Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com)
Lowest: 60 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 0

Every one of these eight rankings had Jacobs as its highest-rated running back. There’s a chance the Oakland Raiders use the 24th pick — which the Bears sent to them in the Khalil Mack trade — on Jacobs Thursday night. 

Tier 2: Dream scenarios with No. 87

Members: David Montgomery, Iowa State; Miles Sanders, Penn State

Montgomery average rank: 59.5
Highest: 43 (Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com)
Lowest: 79 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 0

 

Sanders average rank: 64.0
Highest: 45 (Gil Brandt, NFL.com)
Lowest: 86 (CBS)
Not ranked: 0

The dream scenario for the Bears would be having one of these guys be available when they go on the clock with the 87th pick Friday night. These two guys are comfortably the second- and third-best running backs in this year’s class when compiling all these rankings, and there’s a good chance a few teams ahead of the Bears will want a running back before that 87th selection. 

Tier 3: Realistic at No. 87

Members: Damien Harris, Alabama; Darrell Henderson, Memphis; Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic

Harris average rank: 86.0
Highest: 55 (Dane Brugler, The Athletic)
Lowest: 135 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

Henderson average rank: 87.0
Highest: 69 (Danny Kelly, The Ringer)
Lowest: 119 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

 

Singletary average rank: 91.7
Highest: 55 (Josh Norris, Rotoworld)
Lowest: 139 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 1 (Jeremiah)

 

We start to see some variance with these three running backs. Norris has Singletary (55) and Henderson (74) ranked ahead of Sanders (75), with Harris (103) lagging behind; Brandt has Harris (88) and Henderson (95) in his top 100, with Singletary (112) out of it. 

As with anyone in the draft, it only takes one team to like you, and while it’d be a shock if any of these three players jumped Jacobs, one could be drafted ahead of Montgomery or Sanders on Friday night (there’s been some buzz about Henderson climbing up draft boards lately, for what it’s worth). Still, if the Bears are targeting a running back with their third-round pick, some or all of these guys could very well be in Pace’s cloud. 

Tier 4: Options at No. 126 or No. 162

Members: Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M; Justice Hill, Oklahoma State; Bryce Love, Stanford; Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma; Tony Pollard, Memphis; Elijah Holyfield, Georgia; Dexter Williams, Notre Dame; Karan Higdon, Michigan; Ryquell Armstead, Temple; Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska

T. Williams average rank: 110.5
Highest: 76 (ESPN)
Lowest: 238 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 3 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

 

Hill average rank: 120.0
Highest: 72 (ESPN)
Lowest: 190 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 2 (Jeremiah, Kelly)

Love average rank: 120.4
Highest: 113 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 140 (CBS)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Anderson average rank: 125.3
Highest: 112 (CBS)
Lowest: 138 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Holyfield average rank: 130.7
Highest: 99 (CBS)
Lowest: 157 (Norris)
Not ranked: 5 (Pro Football Focus, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Pollard average rank: 140.3
Highest: 132 (Brandt)
Lowest: 244 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 4 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

D. Williams average rank: 148.0
Highest: 116 (Brandt)
Lowest: 177 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 4 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

Higdon average rank: 160.3
Highest: 149 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 182 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Armstead average rank: 166.5
Highest: 147 (Brandt)
Lowest: 181 (CBS)
Not ranked: 3 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Kelly)

 

Ozigbo average rank: 169.5
Highest: 73 (Norris)
Lowest: 305 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Now we’re really all over the board, which is how a glance at eight NFL draft boards would look like. Some may not include Ozigbo — who wasn’t invited to the Combine — while another team could have a third-round grade on him. Trayveon Williams could be a third-rounder on one team’s board and a seventh-rounder on another’s. With all these guys, it depends on how they’d fit what Pace and Matt Nagy believe would fit the Bears best. 

A few quick thought here: Love seems unlikely given his medical re-check revealed some lingering concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. The previously-injured running back the Bears would seem more likely to take out of this group would be Anderson. 

Tier 5: Seventh-round fliers

Members: Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky; Mike Weber, Ohio State; Miles Gaskin, Washington; Jalin Moore, Appalachian State; Jordan Scarlett, Florida; Travis Homer, Miami (Fla.); Alexander Mattison, Boise State; James Williams, Washington State; Darwin Thompson, Utah State; Alex Barnes, Kansas State

Snell Jr. average rank: 164.0
Highest: 116 (CBS)
Lowest: 212 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 6 (Norris, Pro Football Focus, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Weber average rank: 185.0
Highest: 139 (CBS)
Lowest: 219 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Gaskin average rank: 198.3
Highest: 147 (CBS)
Lowest: 243 (Pro Football Focus)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Moore average rank: 200
Highest: 191 (ESPN)
Lowest: 209 (CBS)
Not ranked: 6 (Norris, Pro Football Focus) Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Scarlett average rank: 204.0
Highest: 148 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 266 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Homer average rank: 208.8
Highest: 185 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 240 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Mattison average rank: 209.6
Highest: 150 (Norris)
Lowest: 295 (CBS)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

 

Williams average rank: 222.8
Highest: 127 (Norris)
Lowest: 281 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 4 (Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Thompson average rank: 247.0
Highest: 170 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 294 (ESPN)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

Barnes average rank: 264.3
Highest: 191 (Pro Football Focus)
Lowest: 327 (CBS)
Not ranked: 5 (Norris, Brugler, Jeremiah, Brandt, Kelly)

It’s hardly unprecedented for a running back drafted in the sixth or seventh round to make an impact — Chris Carson did for the Seattle Seahawks last year, for instance — but if the Bears draft one of these guys, expectations should be set accordingly. As in: It’d be a sign the Bears believe Mike Davis can take on a larger load, and that this player they drafted can fill a smaller role than, say, a running back drafted in the third round. 

Of note here: There rest of the players listed in Tier 6 are all ranked by only two services (ESPN and CBS). Exceptions were made here for Moore and Snell given their high rankings, and that Brugler has a fourth-round grade on Moore and a fifth/sixth-round grade on Snell, though neither were in his top 100. 

Tier 6: Priority free agents

Members: Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh; LJ Scott, Michigan State; Kerrith Whyte Jr., Florida Atlantic; Ty Johnson, Maryland; Wes Hills, Slippery Rock; Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State; Darrin Hall, Pittsburgh; Matt Colburn II, Wake Forest; Taiwan Deal, Wisconsin; Marquis Young, Massachusetts; Jaques Patrick, Florida State; Nick Brossette, LSU; Damarea Crockett, Missouri; Xavier Turner, Tarleton State; Joe Connor, Concordia (Mich.); Aeris Williams, Mississippi State; Khari Blasingame, Vanderbilt; Lexington Thomas, UNLV; Alec Ingold, Wisconsin; Craig Reynolds, Kutztown; Dominick Bragalone, Lehigh; A.J. Oullette, Ohio; Cullen Gillaspia, Texas A&M; Jordan Ellis, Virginia

 

That’s a lot of names! Perhaps the Bears could unearth a Phillip Lindsay-level undrafted free agent out of this group (want a name? Bruce Anderson). More likely, they won’t. But expect the Bears to sign at least one of the names from this group, or if someone from Tier 5 isn’t drafted (which is likely), as a free agent in the feeding frenzy that happens after Mr. Irrelevant is selected on Saturday.