Bears

Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
2:36 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Spending some time on a call Thursday with NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock added to the growing sense I have that the 2011 draft could indeed break very nicely in the Bears favor.

As I discussed previously, one thing you want when youre down around No. 29 as the Bears are, is for the draft to have real quality depth at some positions not on your must-list. Mayock confirms that defensive end is one of these.

The other thing is for there to be a clump of quality players in the grade range where youre drafting. That helps avoid needing to reach, which very typically happens at offensive line in particular because the supply is far short of the demand. As Jerry Angelo says, O-linemen can go anywhere from one round to three rounds higher than their grade because of the position.

The Bears looking for offensive and defensive line quality. Mayock describes 011 as one of those years where around the 20s there is a clump of similar quality players that extends into the second round.

Ive got a deeper first round than Ive had the last several years and it starts because of the defensive line class, Mayock said. He cited Temples Muhammed Wilkerson (6-5, 305, 16 sacks over the past two seasons) as the kind of talent possibly going to be there in the 25-40 range.

Why thats important is that Angelo has traditionally worked to keep a strength strong, and defense is that strength. So if hes looking for upgrades over Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison and Matt Toeaina, and defensive line is his first love, this is a name to monitor.

Depending on what youre looking for, if youre looking for a corner at the end of the first round, you might have a problem, Mayock said. If youre looking for a defensive end, defensive tackle or maybe an offensive tackle, youre in luck.

Its whether your need meets up with the strength of this years draft.

Last year the Bears first pick was in the third round. They needed a safety. Normally it is nearly impossible to realistically target a position in round three. But the draft had eight safeties graded at that level or above and the Bears landed one of them: Major Wright.

In 2008 the Bears were sitting at No. 14. They needed an offensive tackle, a coveted position. The tackle talent pool depth was sufficient for eight to be taken in the first 26 positions and all are current NFL starters. Seven are starting at tackle and one is a guard.

Chris Williams. But hey, hes a starter. And he could be a tackle again in 2011.

There wont be eight first-round-quality tackles in the first 28 picks, if the Bears are intent on addressing offense first again.

Carolina on his mind

Former Bear and new Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has taken over one of the NFLs youngest teams that lurched to a 2-14 record last season. That earned the Rivera the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and the surprise will be if, in spite of quarterback problems, Rivera doesnt stay on familiar ground defense with that No. 1 pick.

Were looking to fill holes on defense first, Chico to Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk.coms Live show Thursday. That tack served Carolina very well once upon an NFL time when they held the No. 2 pick overall and invested it in Julius Peppers.

Rivera emphasized the success that Carolina has had running the ball and said the organization is still looking at players on which to place its franchise tag. That prompted Florio to speculate that the early favorite for the tag would be running back DeAngelo Williams.

The player who clearly will not be tagged is wide receiver Steve Smith. At one time a definite franchise-grade receiver (he virtually did in Riveras 2005 Bears defense singlehandedly in the divisional playoff round), Smith has fallen from grace. As far as Smiths future in Carolina, where in-depth evaluations are in process, a lot of it depends on what happens in the next month, Rivera said.

Which sounds decidedly like Smith will at the very least be trade material, particularly when Rivera talks about going through the process and deciding whats best for the team and for Smith.

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.

Bears have good news on Trey Burton, but tight end questions linger

Bears have good news on Trey Burton, but tight end questions linger

DECATUR, Ill. — The Bears do not expect Trey Burton to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list, clearing up a question that’s lingered ever since the team revealed the tight end underwent sports hernia surgery earlier this year. 

But while Burton will participate to some extent in camp — general manager Ryan Pace said the team will be “smart” about his workload — the Bears will nonetheless have some important questions to answer about their group of tight ends in the coming weeks. 

Specifically: The Bears can help Mitch Trubisky be a more efficient and productive quarterback by being more effective when using 12 personnel (two tight ends, one running back). It’s an area of the offense Matt Nagy wasn’t able to maximize in 2018, with Adam Shaheen missing more than half the season due to a foot injury and a concussion, and Dion Sims proving to be ineffective when he was on the field. 

“It's all predicated based off of matchups, and so who are you going against and do you like your tight ends or do you like your other skill guys,” Nagy said. 

Ideally, Shaheen will be more available than he has been over his first two years in the league, during which he’s missed 13 games. The same goes for Burton: The Bears’ offense struggled to overcome his sudden absence in the playoffs, with the trickle-down effect being the Philadelphia Eagles successfully limiting what Tarik Cohen could do in that loss. 

The Bears like their receivers — it’s arguably the deepest unit on the team — and primarily used 11 personnel last year (three receivers, one tight end, one running back) with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller the primary targets. With Cordarrelle Patterson and Riley Ridley now on the roster, it’s may be unrealistic to expect the Bears to use 12 personnel any more frequently than they did last year (17 percent, which was even with the NFL average). 

But when the Bears do use 12 personnel, there’s room for improvement in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. While in 12 personnel in 2018, the Bears averaged about a yard per carry and two yards per pass attempt less than league average; Trubisky and Chase Daniel combined for a passer rating of 85 in 12 personnel, about 17 points lower than the league average. 

The point here is that throwing out of 12 personnel is, per Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview, is more efficient than throwing from 11 personnel. It makes sense: 12 personnel forces teams to play their base defense instead of having five defensive backs on the field in nickel. Getting the athleticism of Burton and Shaheen matched up against linebackers more frequently would seem to be a positive for the Bears. 

The Bears liked what they saw from Shaheen during training camp last year before he injured his foot in a preseason game, and Pace was pleased with how the 2017 second-round pick looked during spring practices. 

“Very encouraged last year, very encouraged in the preseason, and he knows this, he’s just got to stay healthy,” Pace said. “He’s had a great offseason. He’s just got to keep on stacking positive day after positive day. Same thing with Trey. And we’re excited about (Ben) Braunecker. There are a lot of younger pieces in play. We’re excited to see that play out. 

“Nagy utilizes the tight end position a lot. Part of it, especially for Shaheen, is just staying healthy.”

Shaheen still is a relative unknown, though. The Bears haven’t seen him handle a large workload much — he played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps in a given game just three times in his career. He’s only logged 17 receptions and 175 yards since entering the league; Burton surpassed those totals against the AFC East in 2018 (four games, 18 receptions, 195 yards). 

Bradley Sowell (a converted offensive lineman) and the group of Dax Raymond, Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted and Ellis Richardson (undrafted free agents) are even more unknown in terms of tight end depth, too. How the Bears are able to develop depth at both the “Y” (in-line) and “U” (move) tight end positions in Bourbonnais will be an important storyline to follow. 

Last week, we looked at how passing to running backs on first down can help Trubisky and the Bears’ offense be better in 2019. Consider better production from 12 personnel to be another path to the kind of critical offensive growth the Bears need. 

As Bears' critical kicking competition starts back up, Ryan Pace is keeping his options open

As Bears' critical kicking competition starts back up, Ryan Pace is keeping his options open

DECATUR, Ill. — The Bears will report to Bourbonnais for training camp on Thursday with everything on the table regarding their kicking competition — well, everything but making a trade for Robbie Gould. 

Elliott Fry or Eddy Pineiro could emerge from training camp and four preseason games as the clear-cut choice to be the Bears’ placekicker when the 2019 season opens Sept. 5 against the Green Bay Packers. Alternatively, both could not do enough to convince Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and the Bears’ brass that they’re the solution to the most glaring weakness on an otherwise Super Bowl-caliber roster. 

So not only will Pineiro and Fry be competing against each other, they’ll be competing against a group of kickers around the league who could wind up on the trading block or the waiver wire in the coming weeks. 

"We’re watching all the teams, all the competitive situations around the league — one of them will be kicker," Pace said. "We’re just watching that progress as we go forward. We know right now where we stand, where some of those battles are occurring. We’re watching those. And I’m sure there will be ones that will pop up that might surprise us."
 
The first 11 questions of Pace and Matt Nagy’s pre-training-camp press conference on Sunday involved the kicking position in some way, an indication of a few things. 

First and foremost is what’s at stake for the Bears with this kicking battle. 2018’s season ended well short of the Super Bowl when Cody Parkey’s 43-yard kick double-doinked off the uprights at Soldier Field; if the 2019 Bears — with a stronger roster — suffer the same fate, it’ll go down as one of the biggest, most gutting disappointments in franchise history. 

Second is an indication of how deep the Bears’ roster is: What else, really, is there to talk about in terms of training camp battles besides kicker? There will be a heated competition at the bottom of the team’s wide receiver depth chart, and the Bears need better play (and better health) from their tight ends. But this is a strong, talented roster across all units — except for kicker. 

That’s not to say the Bears aren’t without their questions, from how good Mitch Trubisky will be to how the defense adjusts to Chuck Pagano’s scheme to how this team handles the high expectations created by 2018’s success. But those are topics that’ll play out during the regular season; the kicking battle has to be solved by Week 1’s kickoff. 

And final reason for the "hyper focus," as Pace put it, on the kicking competition is the overwhelming interest in the topic from fans. Bears chairman George McCaskey said on Sunday his team’s kicking situation has come up in every interaction he’s had with fans over the last six and a half months. 

“Thanks for the reminder,” McCaskey said he’s responded. “We’re working on that.”

How the competition between Fry and Pineiro plays out in Bourbonnais and then into preseason games will be fascinating to follow. Nagy hinted during the spring at throwing some curveballs at each kicker, and while he said Sunday he doesn’t plan on calling for field goal attempts on third down during preseason games, he did say he’s going to do what he can to make sure each kicker gets as many chances as possible to be evaluated. 

“We need to figure out this position, right? We need to understand it’s a crucial spot first we’ve got to get right,” Nagy said. “I think the more opportunities that you have for these guys to prove who the are and what they could do, we’ll take ‘em. 

“So there may be some questionable playcalls in the preseason. I’ll just leave it at that and we’ll go from there.”

For now, Pace characterized Fry and Pineiro as “even” heading into training camp. So may the best kicker win, whether he'll be in Bourbonnais on Thursday or not. 

“Those guys are going to battle it out,” Pace said. “Obviously we’re scouring the waiver wire as we go forward. And it’s kind of open competition.”