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.

First and Final Thoughts: The Bears still have a bunch to play for

First and Final Thoughts: The Bears still have a bunch to play for

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz and Producers Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thought on Week 15

J.J. Stankevitz: Not that this was lost on Sunday, but give the Bears credit for the resiliency they showed after squandering an 11-point lead and allowing the Packers to tie the game at 14 late in the third quarter. The Packers are a below-average team, but still have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who's beat them so consistently over the last decade. But these are games good teams win -- not everything is going to be pretty or a comfortable wire-to-wire victory. That the Bears took a 10-point lead behind offense, defense and special teams shouldn't be lost, either. Sunday was another good win in a season full of them. 

Paul Aspan: Following up on what JJ wrote about Mitch Trubisky laying the blueprint for a Super Bowl run if he plays the way he did on Sunday  - 20-28 (71.4%),  235 pass yds, 2 TD, 0 INT  -  I did a little digging into the Trent Dilfer’s (2000 Ravens) and Brad Johnson’s (2002 Bucs) of the world. Here’s a look at the postseason numbers for quarterbacks playing with some of the best defenses to win a Super Bowl since 2000.

2000 Ravens  - Trent Dilfer in 4 playoff games: 35-73 (47.9% !!!), 590 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT

2002 Bucs -  Brad Johnson in 3 playoff games: 53-98 (54.1%) 670 pass yds, 5 TD, 3 INT

2013 Seahawks - Russell Wilson in 3 playoff games: 43-68 (63.2%), 524 pass yds, 3 TD, 0 INT

2015 Broncos - Peyton Manning’s corpse in 3 playoff games: 51-92 (55.4%), 539 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT

Those numbers are gross, and they all won a ring. Wilson is probably the best blueprint for Mitch, and that ballpark is well within reach. Say what you want about offenses taking over, but look no further than the last few weeks from the Saints and the Rams to see that we might not witness a bunch of 50-pointers in the playoffs. I still don’t love the idea of the Bears pulling out a win in the Superdome – especially not with two completely unnecessary gadget plays completely backfiring – but you’re sayyyyying there’s a chance.

Cam Ellis: Leonard Floyd isn't the best or most valuable player on the Bears' defense, but he deserves a whole bunch of credit for his improved play this season. He's put together back-to-back best games of the season against the Rams and the Packers, and he was arguably the most disruptive player on the unit during Sunday's NFC North clincher. He's been a monster of the last two months: 23 tackles, seven for a loss, four sacks, nine QB hits, two passes defended, and one interception for a TD. 

He also was the man behind Soldier's loudest moment of the game: 

Considering many were whispering bust coming into the season, being named Pro Bowl alternate seems like a fitting tribute to his impressive year. 

First Thought on Week 15

Stankevitz: Don't count the 49ers as a win just yet. It's not just that they've beat the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks over the last two weeks -- that's a Broncos team that had legit playoff aspirations and a Seahawks team that will go to the playoffs -- but it's how they've done it. Start with this: Kyle Shanahan is dialing up some excellent calls for Nick Mullens, and his quarterback is delivering on them. Mullens, over the last two games, completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 607 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 106.0. Keep an eye on the status of running back Matt Breida, too: He's been an important part of the 49ers' offense, though is dealing with an ankle injury. The chess match between Shanahan and Vic Fangio will be fascinating to watch in a game the Bears need to take seriously to keep their hopes alive of swiping a first-round bye from the Rams. 

Aspan: So the Seahawks look a little less scary huh? I also can’t wait for the 49ers to be the “team to watch” again next season with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo.

As for this week’s game, I’m just looking to see Mitch stack another consistent, solid outing and continue to build his confidence heading into the playoffs. It’s kind of a weird spot, similar to the Giants game (granted without Chase Daniel) – on the road, against a team that seemingly has nothing to play for - I don’t expect it to be a walk, but I’m pretty confident in a win.

I tried to figure out the best case Week 16 playoff scenario results for the Bears, so I checked out this chart and now I am totally lost. As broken as the Rams look, a first round bye still looks like a long shot, so I’m of the mind that as long as the Bears are likely heading towards the 3-seed, I think it’s in their best interest to be able to rest up in Week 17 with a possible back-to-back against the Vikings on Wild Card Weekend looming.

My potential Wild Card Weekend dangerous opponent rankings:

1.       Eagles – This would mean the defending champs are coming in hot, with that destiny feel again.

2.       Vikings – That 3rd matchup, especially factoring in a back-to-back, is always tricky.

3.       Seahawks – If they end up 6th instead of 5th, they could be reeling a bit. But they’ve been there.

4.       Redskins - LOL.

5.       Panthers – obligated to include them since they’re not eliminated yet.

Ellis: I always find it fascinating to listen to teams try and dance around playing for seeding versus playing it safe. After Sunday's win the Bears continued stressing that they weren't satisfied, and the Rams' newfound vulnerability suddenly puts them in an interesting spot. You'd think LA could handle Arizona and San Fran to end the year, but a 13.5-point dog just went into The Coliseum and won on Sunday night, so crazier things have happened. A bye plus the Rams/Vikings at home sounds pretty nice, but after you already dodge two bullets with last week's Eddie Jackson and Aaron Lynch injuries, just how much more do you want to push your luck? This just feels like it's all leading toward a *weird* final Sunday matchup against Minnesota. The Vikings might be playing for their playoff lives, the Bears might be playing for top seed, and there's a nightmare scenario where the Bears losing in Week 17 means they'd get the Vikings 6 days later. The division is clinched, so now the games get stressful. 

The Bears will deservingly be well-represented at the 2019 Pro Bowl

The Bears will deservingly be well-represented at the 2019 Pro Bowl

The Bears had five players named to the 2019 Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday: Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, outside linebacker Khalil Mack, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and returner Tarik Cohen. 

The Bears also had seven players named as Pro Bowl alternates: Mitch Trubisky, Trey Burton, Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan and Leonard Floyd. 

Those five players represent the biggest haul of Bears named to a Pro Bowl since 2013, which was also the last time a Bears defensive player made a Pro Bowl (that year was Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long and Tim Jennings). 

For the five players who did make the Pro Bowl roster, though, the honor is not only about personal achievements, but what this team has accomplished so far in 2018. Hicks, for example, was deserving of a Pro Bowl spot in 2017 — only the Bears were 5-11 and largely irrelevant in the NFL landscape. 

But with that success, which started with an NFC North title clinched on Sunday, the players who made the Pro Bowl are all hoping to not actually play in the game, which comes sandwiched between the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. 

“Definitely want to play in the Super Bowl over the Pro Bowl,” Cohen said Tuesday afternoon. 

Here’s how these five players earned the recognition of a Pro Bowl roster spot:

Khalil Mack

Key stats: 12 1/2 sacks, 6 forced fumbles

Biggest game: Week 3 at Arizona (2 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QB hits, 1 forced fumble)

No player has had more of a transformative effect on his new team than Mack has had for the Bears in 2018. He’s the best player on the league’s best defense, consistently tormenting opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators with his ability to generate pressure. Less noticeable but important, too: Mack has been outstanding in run support, helping turn the offenses he faces into one-dimensional attacks against which he can pin his ears back and get after opposing quarterbacks in ideal pass-rushing downs. 

Mack is probably behind Aaron Donald for NFC defensive player of the year honors, but there’s a legitimate argument to make that he’s been the most important defensive player in the NFL this year. The Bears were already a good defense before the Oakland Raiders traded him on Labor Day weekend; with him, they’re a great defense that stacks up to some of the best in franchise history (1985, 2006). 

“Mack did a lot as far as his style of play, his work ethic and even his presence,” Jackson said. “When he’s on the field, guys triple team, double team him and release free guys up to be one on one or even with pressure, rushing the quarterback, they gotta throw the ball out fast when they see him coming off the edge. So he really helped us in a major, major way and we appreciate him for it.” 

As for the biggest game: It’s hard to pick one, with both of Mack’s games against the Green Bay Packers standing out. But that Arizona game is regarded as a turning point for the season by some in the Bears’ locker room, and what Mack did was critical in sealing a 16-14 win, even over a team that would go on to be one of the worst in the NFL. 

Akiem Hicks

Key stats: 6 sacks, 32 “stops”

Biggest game: Week 11 vs. Minnesota (1 sack, 5 TFLs, 2 QB hits)

Those “stops” are defined by Pro Football Focus as running plays that constitute a loss for the opposing offense, and no defensive lineman has more of them than Hicks. As has been the case every year he's been with the Bears, he’s proven to be an elite run defender with a nice knack for getting to the quarterback. The combination of Hicks and Mack has been hellacious for opposing offensive lines, who can’t double team both of them. Even if neither gets a sack, the amount of un-clean pockets opposing quarterbacks have had to deal with has been staggering thanks to the work put in by these two players. 

But Hicks’ success isn’t just about Mack. He should’ve made the Pro Bowl in 2017, and is just as good — if not better — in 2018. It’s about time Hicks was recognized as one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. 

For Hicks’ biggest game: He thoroughly bullied the interior of Minnesota’s offensive line and made sure Kirk Cousins had to throw, which resulted in a ton of defensive success for this group. As Matt Nagy said the day after the game of Hicks’ performance:

“You could feel it. For him to really play the way he played…we knew he could do well, he’s been that way all year wrong, he’s a big man, he’s powerful and when he turns it on he’s tough to stop.”

Kyle Fuller

Key stats: 7 interceptions, 21 passes defended

Biggest game: Week 12 at Detroit (8 tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended)

Fuller topped all cornerbacks in fan votes, this despite not having a Twitter account to promote himself and get votes based on retweets — “I look at it like what you do on the field is what does it,” Fuller said. “I mean, all that stuff helps, but that’s not me.”https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bears/bears-pro-bowl-leading-cornerback-kyle-fuller-happy-let-his-play-do-talking)

Fuller is tied for the league lead in interceptions and has more passes defended than any other player this year. His emergence has been remarkable, going from being an injured afterthought in 2016 to a solid player in 2017 to one of the league’s best at his position in 2018. Not only is Fuller paid like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, he’s playing like one, too. 

We’ll give Fuller’s best game to what he did against the Lions on Thanksgiving, mostly for the game-sealing interception he had in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Bears were worn down and in need of a big play, and Fuller delivered it.   

“A great player, he’s got great situational understanding, great ball skills to be able to finish and somebody that has certainly made a lot of plays,” Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I got a lot of respect for him.”

Eddie Jackson

Key stats: 6 interceptions, 3 defensive touchdowns

Biggest game: Week 11 vs. Minnesota (1 interception, 1 touchdown)

Jackson’s pick-six of Kirk Cousins — and the orchestra he conducted afterwards — was a seminal moment for the 2018 Bears, cementing this team as not only one of the best, but one of the most fun teams in the NFL. The ballhawking instincts the Bears bet on with a fourth-round pick in 2017 have blossomed in 2018, with Jackson second in the NFL with six interceptions. He'll likely finish the regular season with that total after suffering an ankle injury against Green Bay on Sunday, though the Bears don't believe the injury is season-ending, meaning there's a chance he returns for the playoffs. 

The five defensive touchdowns he has in his two-year career are more than double what anyone else has in the same timespan. In fact, Jackson has the most touchdowns of any defensive player over the last four seasons — and that’s for a guy who spent 2015 and 2016 in college at Alabama. In fact, since 2010, only five defensive players have more touchdowns than him: Aqib Talib, Janoris Jenkins, Malcolm Jenkins, DeAngelo Hall and Captain Munnerlyn — and all of those players were in the league in 2010 besides Jenkins, who debuted in 2012. 

“Hell of a player, young guy,” Mack said. “I didn’t know he was that young. He’s so mature. He attacks the game like a 10-year vet. It’s very impressive.” 

Tarik Cohen

Key stats: 413 punt return yards, 8 total touchdowns

Biggest game: Week 15 vs. Green Bay (Two punt returns, 53 yards)

Let’s be honest here — Cohen is in the Pro Bowl not only because he’s a solid punt returner, but because he’s one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NFL. Cohen’s 413 punt return yards lead the NFL, and the 44-yard return he had on Sunday against the Packers all but sealed the Bears’ 10th win of the season. 

But where Cohen has become a legit star in the NFL is what he can do all over the field, be it running, receiving, returning or throwing. His “Oompa Loompa” touchdown throw to Anthony Miller against the New York Giants was remarkable, just as a 70-yard dash on a screen for a touchdown was against the New York Jets. He’s one of the most fun players in the NFL to watch, and should be a blast to see participate in the Pro Bowl (that is, unless the Bears make the Super Bowl). 

While Cohen does not have a punt return touchdown this year, he’s been smart about taking what’s in front of him. He’s averaging 13.3 yards per return and has been happy to take a 10-15 yard gain rather than risking a loss while trying to break a 50-yard return. 

“When you can have a punt returner knock off a 94-yard touchdown run and he gets nothing else, and his number is still very, very high,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “That’s why I don’t look at stats. I look at the tape, and the tape will tell you the story. And I think his tape shows he has been very consistent. He’s done a nice job with his decision-making skills, and he’s a guy when the ball is in his hands anything can happen. Those to me sound like Pro Bowl traits and qualities.”