Bears

Mullin: Don't close the door on anything

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Mullin: Don't close the door on anything

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 9:43 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
The Bear may not be able to have contact with their draft choices now that the selection ritual is finished. But those draft choices have something to say to or about the Bears.

What the Bears and did not address with their 2011 draft, the first time since the 1993 start of free agency in which the draft preceded a free-agency signing period, now begins to bring some situations into focus.

We are not shutting the door on any position, said general manager Jerry Angelo. The only position I would think we would do that to is the quarterback position. Other than that, we are going to look, no more than that.

Taking the offensive

The line was unsettled most of training camp and early last season for a variety of reasons, most of them bad. This year there is some uncertainty but at least with some considerably greater positives.

No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi leaves the Bears appearing amply set at tackle. Carimi and JMarcus Webb as the front-runners for the starting jobs and Chris Williams in competition for one of the offensive-line jobs, possibly back inside at guard. And Frank Omiyale served at right and left tackle last season so there is depth at this point.

The Bears still do not have center Olin Kreutz re-signed, nor a quality left guard, given that Omiyale right now may have the inside track on starting despite struggled badly in that new (for him) position in the 2009 season. Omiyales play at left tackle, like Williams at guard in 2010, was not good enough to keep the Bears from making the position their highest priority.

We still want to look at the offensive line, Angelo said.

Look for the Bears to pursue a veteran guard in free agency, although finding a quality player at an affordable price close to the season is problematic.

Putting it on the line
By selecting Stephen Paea out of Oregon State, the Bears addressed the interior of their defensive line, the No. 2 priority going into the draft. That may dial down urgency to pursue Green Bays Cullen Jenkins as a tackle, particularly with the way coaches are looking at a newly upsized Henry Melton.

But where does Paea play?

He has the power to play nose tackle, which could mark an end to unsigned free agent Anthony Adams time in Chicago. If Paea is slotted at the nose, then Jenkins as a three-technique becomes an intriguing thought.

But 4-3 teams do not often trade two draft choices for purposes of moving up to grab a nose tackle. What the Bears gave themselves with Paea is options in the form of someone who could play either tackle position. A nickel unit with Melton and Paea paired inside is potentially a better interior rush tandem than the Bears have had in several seasons.

It is not easy given the fact that if they are athletic and they rush, it is hard for them to do the nose tackle job in terms of the dirty work, Angelo said. It is more mental toughness than it is an athletic trait, so he has very good toughness.

If the Bears do pursue Jenkins, 31, he also can play end, but Julius Peppers is set, Israel Idonije gave the defense impact plays and eight sacks at the other end, and Corey Wootton was a fourth-round draft choice last year whose development continued through the season. Wootton was active for each of the final four games and registered the final sack of Brett Favre.

Paeas role models are speedquickness players John Randle and Warren Sapp rather than plodding power players.

I feel like Randle is exactly what I want to play like, and Warren Sapp, the quickness, not much of a ball rush type of person, Paea said.

Scheming advantages

While some critics ceaselessly pound the defensive scheme of Lovie SmithRod Marinelli as passe and hopelessly out of NFL fashion, indications continue to be that the trend of teams toward 3-4 defenses is helping the Bears defense.

The obvious has been the type of defensive linemen the Bears want: smaller, speed preferred over bulk. Fronts in 3-4s typically employ space-eaters, 320 pounds or bigger, even the ends.

That then leaves a talent like Paea, at 6-1, 305 pounds, available for a scheme like the Bears. Same with a Melton, who now is up to more than 290 pounds.

Mike Riley, Paeas coach at Oregon State, coached in the NFL and specifically called Marinelli about Paea. Rod I know hes the perfect guy for what you guys are looking for, Riley told Marinelli.

A misperception among critics is the amount of time Smith, Marinelli and the Bears use the Cover-2 scheme. But the Bears do use their safeties in throwback styles and frequently use a free safety in the traditional role of someone expected to be able to tackle but primarily able to defend the deep middle in pass coverage.

That safety position has great value now because our game has really changed, Angelo said. You cant take just the down-in-the-box safety. So, its hard to find a guy. He has to be a real good tackler, have good cover skills and he has to have better than average speed.

Its very demanding in terms of the traits that qualify someone to play the position. In a long version, we just felt like, because he is that hard to find, lets not look a gift horse in the mouth.

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.

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

Get used to the Bears being connected to just about all of the top tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft as the mock-draft season kicks into high gear.

The latest mock draft from the Draft Wire is no exception. In this two-rounder, the Bears snag Washington tight end Hunter Bryant at No. 43 overall.

Here's how Bryant's game profiles, via The Draft Network's scouting report:

Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he's best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders. If Bryant it put in such a flex role, look for early production and long-term starter status in the pros. 

Sure sounds like the kind of player the Bears could use in the passing game, where the entire tight end depth chart combined for just 44 catches last season. Trey Burton led the way with 14. It was a brutal year at the position.

Naturally, adding a playmaker who can expand Matt Nagy's playcalling toolbox is a critical 'must' for Ryan Pace this offseason, and a prospect like Bryant could be an ideal fit.

In Round 2 of this mock draft, the Bears add Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison. Like tight end, linebacker will be an area of need depending on what happens with free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. It's likely that one of them will return, but even with Trevathan or Kwiatkoski back in the fold, the Bears have to add depth behind the starters. Will they address that need as early as the second round? Probably not, especially with pressing needs along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

If, however, Harrison does end up being the pick, the Bears would be getting a strong run defender who doesn't project as an every-down player at this point in his evaluation. He's likely to slide into the third round, if not later.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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