Bears

NFL Combine: QB's drawing all the questions

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NFL Combine: QB's drawing all the questions

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted: 10:38 a.m. Updated: 2:47 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Mallett left in a huff. Cam Newton held court. Colin Kaepernick might have wondered what he did wrong.

Such was the stuff of Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine here, which is probably about what you should expect from a day of divas (quarterbacks).

Kaepernick, a four-year starter at Nevada, was engaged by a hefty media throng, answering questions from all sides. Then the booming PA voice announced that Mallett, who left Michigan after one year and finished with two strong years at Arkansas, was available at a podium elsewhere in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Gone.

Thats what the Kaepernick media crowd was in roughly 10 seconds as the frenzy turned to Mallett. And on Mallett, as it turned out.

Mallett, already with an immature tag hung on him in some scouting circles, declared that he was not going to answer questions about allegations of drug use. Im not going to talk about that right now, he said to the first question about the rumors, stating that he would talk with teams about the subject if they needed to know (they will, Ryan, trust me).

A short time later, it was pointed out to Mallett that the questions wouldnt go away until he answered them. Well, the questions might not go away, but Mallett did.

Thanks, he said, and walked off the platform.

Newton was a whole lot more comfortable with his questioners, which was nearly everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium. The sea of seats was full long before Newton ever approached the podium, cameras were jockeying for position and angles, and you have to wonder what it will be like if the Heisman Trophy winner actually ever does something on the pro level.

Which hes planning on doing, clearly. He has recently isolated himself in San Diego working with, not one, not two, but three coaches: quarterback, strength & conditioning and speed. Hes working at dispelling the image that he is a spread quarterback and can work from under center and master 3-5-7 step drops.

I was motivated to be great, Newton said.

And speaking of great

Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi declared himself the best lineman in this years draft. Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson has higher ambitions.

Wilson comes out of Illinois, which produced Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus. And what he wants teams at the Combine to know about his game is simply that I have the potential to be one of the best ever, Wilson said. Im very confident in my game.

No, really? Likeable kid, though. Ya gotta love the attitude.

The coach Ron Zook said if you want to be one of those great guys, you have to do whats needed to be great, Wilson said. You have to do what people arent doing. You got to watch more film, youve got to exercise more, youve got to stretch more when youre at home and things like that. I take everything to note and I do those things.

Definitely love that attitude. And Butkus would love the do what people arent doing. Go for it, kid.

Are internal questions lingering for Cutler?

INDIANAPOLIS -- Questions will continue to swirl around Jay Cutler and his torn knee ligament probably until he and the Bears win an NFC Championship game or Cutler reaches some mythical performance feat that absolves him of doubt surrounding his exit in the third quarter of the Green Bay game. Its unfortunate and unfair, but perception is sometimes reality, or at least a reality.

But what Cutler and the Bears cant afford are any questions about the franchise quarterback lingering within his own locker room, and it is sounding like there may be a few.

Jim Trotter, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, has heard the questions from some players and shared those with CSNChicago.com Saturday.

.From players Ive talked to, there are some who were kind of like, Wow, really? What was it? Jim said. Now, theyre not going to come out publicly and say that, but thats the truth and, Im just being honest here, what theyre saying to me.

Jim is an elite national NFL writer, and very often the out-of-town guys will get things that arent divulged to localites. The thing to realize here, as Jim says very strongly, and he did see Bears games last season, is that he personally doesnt buy any notion that Cutler was really just begging out of a game in which he was playing poorly. And he wrote at the time that the criticism of Cutler was unfair.

I dont think you can ever question a guys heart, said Jim, who did not believe any quarterback endured more of a pounding than Cutler did in 2010.

Cutler and the Bears dont have an internal issue here. Indeed, the firestorm after the knee injury, particularly the bashings Cutler took from fellow players via Twitter and other venues, may have been an ultimate positive because the players closed ranks around Cutler.

Brian Urlacher was livid at the critics. Israel Idonije was still angry at the player criticism of Cutler when we talked the night I presented Idonije as Bear of the Year at the March of Dimes even two weeks ago.

And Lovie Smith was visibly upset when reporter asked about the whole Cutler-toughness thing. I talked to players Saturday as well to gauge any suspicions, even anonymously.

But at some point this may need to be addressed, and only internally; what outsiders think of Cutler really doesnt matter. Best guess is that it already has been, if only Smith standing up at a team meeting and demanding that anyone with even a shadow of a question speak up now or forever shut up about it. Which another best guess is that they will.

Cam Newton the Extra-Terrestrial?

About that glowing light on the chests of Cam Newton and two dozen other NFL Combine contestants.

No, it isnt a green version of E.T.s heartlight. Its a new workout apparatus incorporated by Under Armour into a fitted exercise shirt and its being used by Newton and others during the Combine. Heart rate, g-forces (scary to realize think of Newton and friends as generating rocket-sled power but there it is) and other particulars are picked up and can be projected onto a big screen.

Its not available to the general public yet, probably next year. But if it makes me look like Sam Hollenbach (check the video youll understand), Im in line already.

Huh?

Bears tight end Des Clark is dealing with a mess down home in Florida and its a little head-scratching on one level.

Police in Polk County, Fla., seized a rental property that Clark owns in Lakeland because of conduct by bad tenants ranging from suspected drug dealing to prostitution. Whats head-scratching is the rush to judgment by some that this is somehow a reflection on Clark personally.

As hes said, How can anyone think Id condone something like that going on in one of my places? This is someone who grew up in Lakeland, lives there with wife Denise and three kids, and has set up 88 Wayzcq Youth Organization to aid needy children under the dictum, Bridging Gaps, One Youth at a Time. Hes done football camps since 2002 for needy kids and gotten together 600 pairs of football shoes for kids who cant afford them. Heck, he even put together a bass fishing tournament last May to raise money for charity.

Anythings possible, I guess, but Ive known Des for quite a few years now, and if there are many individuals of better character around this business, I havent met them.

Well have full video on these but check out our conversation with National Football Post NFL analyst Matt Bowen regarding the various schemes the Bears employ and what that translates into as far as impact from draft picks and rookies.

Matt, who does superb insider breakdowns of plays, strategies and personnel for NFP, talked with me about the Bears one-gap defensive scheme and how a rookie can have immediate impact in that system. The Bears are looking hard at defensive tackle with that first pick (No. 29) and Matt folds in ideas relating to the 3-4 scheme that indirectly affect the Bears.

Because of the proliferation of 3-4s (nothing like both Super Bowl finalists using it to spur a copycat league that direction), undersized pass-rush linebackers have become premium items in drafts. So have wide-bodies for the nose tackle spot and bigger defensive ends for the edges.

The position that has been targeted less is the three-technique, the defensive tackle shading slightly to a guards outside eye, the Tommie HarrisJohn Randle type. The nose tackle (Anthony Adams) in the Bears scheme is the power point, tying up double teams.

Matt makes the great point that the decreased use of 4-3s and three-techniques can make more of those quality defensive tackles available for the Bears, who have nozipnada intention of veering from a 4-3 to 3-4.

Matt and I also looked at wide receiver and why that position so often has difficulty making an impact early. GM Jerry Angelo eschews investing high picks in wideouts because of the bust factor and Matt adds to that the problem that young receivers have, coming out of college play where coverage is more zone than press man, and they are required to instantly learn and perfect myriad routes instead of the handful that were sufficient against most college defensive backs.
Head case

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, son of former Bear and New Orleans Saint fullback Craig Heyward, on similarities between his father and himself: Using my head. Ive got to stop that. He was taking on linebackersIll be taking on tackles.

Good thought.

Tough assignment

FOXSports.com senior NFL writer and good friend Alex Marvez dropped by for a chat. A.M. and I visited during training camp and he confesses to the 6-10 prediction for the Bears (he wasnt alone on that one). He does an excellent retrospective run-through on the Bears from a national perspective, including some thoughts on how their 11-5 season really played out the way they did.

A.M. also sees the Bears facing a very difficult situation in 011 visavis the Green Bay Packers. Because of the Packers youth (not many teams have hit as consistently as the Packers have on recent high-round draft choices) and the veteran nature of the Bears core, this may be the last good chance for the Bears to overtake their rivals.

Check out the video for our full visit.

Friday was All-Bears All-The-Time for me, with Lovie Smiths contract extension, his podium appearance at the Combine and then an afternoon sit-down with GM Jerry Angelo. So check out Evan Silvas excellent run-through of goings-on at ProFootballTalk.com for a quick look at some of the bricabrac around the Combine.

Ill be doing a Video Mailbag a little later on Saturday so get any questions in and Ill try to get to things.

And Saturday is also going to be right out of that well-known Samuel Beckett play, Waiting for Cam. The Auburn quarterback, an on-going story all year anyway for various reasons, was the story of Friday for not holding a media session. But Newton is scheduled sometime Saturday now so well check back later on that.

Im actually looking forward more to visiting with Illinois Corey Liuget, a junior who some draft experts project as a possible Bears pick at No.29. Corey is viewed as a three-technique fit, something the Bears are looking for as Tommie Harris appears to be pretty well done in Chicago.

Pony up

Itll cost you a little more to see the 2011 Bears in person than it did the 2010 (and dont blame Lovie Smiths new contract; his deal for this season was already in place back in 2007).

The Bears announced price increases for all Soldier Field tickets, the first time for an across-the-board hike in three years. And in the event any games this season are cancelled, refunds will be paid to season ticket holders no later than 30 days after final determination of how many games will be played during the 2011 NFL season.

Non-club seat increases range from 5 to 15. Club seats will be raised from 10 to 30 per ticket. The Bears non-club ticket prices now range from 74 to 140 and account for approximately 85 percent of the seating at Soldier Field. Club seats range from 265 to 530.

Season ticket holders have the option to make their payment online with a MasterCard, Visa or Discover credit card. Payments made by check will continue to be accepted as well. Season ticket holders can log-in to their account and utilize the online payment option by visiting ChicagoBears.com.

The Bears 2011 home schedule includes match-ups against Atlanta, Carolina, Seattle, Kansas City, San Diego and the three NFC North rivals.

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 grades and needs: Is offensive line consistency a good thing?

Bears grades and needs: Is offensive line consistency a good thing?

2018 depth chart

Tackles

1. Charles Leno
Usage: 16 games, 99.3 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.9 million cap hit

Leno’s steady improvement since being picked in the seventh round of Phil Emery’s final draft continued in 2018, with the 27-year-old allowing 32 pressures on 634 pass blocking snaps — roughly in line with pressure rates of veterans like the Rams’ Andrew Whitworth and the Giants’ Nate Solder. Leno was solid as a run blocker, though as is the case with the rest of the line (and the coaching staff, and the running back unit) there’s room for improvement. 

His durability is important, too: The only snaps he missed in 2018 were in that season-ending win over the Minnesota Vikings, when Matt Nagy pulled a number of starters in the fourth quarter. The last time Leno didn’t play 100 percent of his team’s offense snaps in a game previous was Week 3 of the 2015 season. 

Meanwhile, Leno’s 2019 cap hit ranks 20th among left tackles, per Spotrac. The contract extension he signed prior to the 2017 season looked even better in 2018, as Leno continued to build on the upside he showed early in his career. 

2. Bobby Massie 
Usage: 16 games, 99.5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $3.8 million cap hit

Only three tackles with over 1,000 snaps allowed fewer pressures than Massie — those being the Chiefs’ Mitchell Schwartz, the Seahawks’ Duane Brown and the Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley. That’s good company in which to be. 

Additionally, only four tackles with over 1,000 snaps committed fewer penalties than Massie’s four, and he allowed just one sack, two hits and 23 pressures, per Pro Football Focus. With that backdrop, Ryan Pace’s move to sign Massie to a contract extension looks smart — especially given how his contract is structured, keeping his cap hit low in 2019. With Leno and Massie together again, the Bears can move forward with confidence their tackles will keep Mitch Trubisky upright again this season. 

3. Bradley Sowell
Usage: 16 games, 4.7 percent of offensive snaps, 17.7 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1.8 million cap hit

Sowell fits well as a swing tackle who was used in a few different ways last year: As a sixth offensive lineman (30 snaps, one of which was on “Santa’s Sleigh”), as a fullback (eight snaps, all in Week 17 against the Vikings) and in the slot (one snap). The question for Pace, though: Do all those traits make him worth keeping in the face of a potential $1.5 million in cap savings by cutting him?

The answer is, probably, yes. Sowell played well in 2017 as both a guard and a tackle, and his athleticism does allow Nagy to do some outside-the-box things with him. But without much cap space available, perhaps Pace will roll the dice with an unproven backup for cheap. 

4. Rashaad Coward
Usage: 0 games
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Coward had a trial by fire in 2018, when he had to learn how to play right tackle while largely lining up against Khalil Mack during mid-week practices at Halas Hall. He’s an intriguing prospect, one the Bears weren’t willing to risk losing by trying to sneak him onto the practice squad last year. Depending on the kind of growth he showed under the tutelage of Harry Hiestand, he could be back in a reserve role in 2019. 

5. Cornelius Lucas
Usage (with New Orleans Saints): 1 game, 5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Lucas is a five-year veteran who’s appeared in 37 games in his career, but only played in once in each of the last two seasons (lone starts with the Rams in 2017 and Saints in 2018). If the Bears were to part with Sowell, he’d have an opportunity to compete to be the team’s swing tackle this year. 

6. Dejon Allen
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Allen spent 2018 on the Bears’ practice squad, and the 6-foot-3, 290 pound Hawaii alum will have a shot at sticking around as a practice squad player again in 2019. 

Guards

1. James Daniels
Usage: 16 games, 70.9 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,579,581 cap hit

Daniels steadily improved throughout his rookie season, and acquitted himself well as the Bears muted the impact Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald had on their 15-6 win over the Rams in December. His future looks bright as the Bears seem to move forward with Cody Whitehair as their center and Daniels locked in at left guard. 

“We like where he's headed,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said last month. “He's a guy that again is kind of a quietly confident, he's naturally a quiet guy and the more you're around him, I think he just has that calmness. … We believe in him. It's not a situation where we are going 'Hey we have to turn this way or that way or the other.’ He's going to have some tough matchups and we expect him to win them."

2. Kyle Long
Usage: 8 games, 47.5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.5 million cap hit

Long seems like a candidate to have his contract re-structured, as the Bears value his presence but also may not be keen on committing $8.5 million to a guard — and a guard who hasn’t played a full season since 2015. The Bears declined to pick up Josh Sitton's $8 million option a year ago, opting to replace him with a combination of Eric Kush and James Daniels. 

When healthy, Long is critical to the Bears’ success running the ball. The good news is he said on locker cleanout day he feels confident in his health — “no knives this offseason,” he quipped. “It’s gonna be pretty awesome. Jettisoning Long, too, would leave a significant hole in the right side of an offensive line that otherwise is returning all of its starters from 2018. How the Bears approach Long in the coming weeks and months will be an important storyline to follow. 

3. Bryan Witzmann
Usage: 10 games, 49.6 percent of offensive snaps, 10.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Witzmann lent a steady hand in place of Long from Weeks 8-16, allowing only 16 pressures in 306 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He didn’t allow a pressure against the Rams in Week 14, and the Bears’ offensive line didn’t fall apart after he swapped in for the injured Long. He played in all five of the Bears’ games in December, which represented Jordan Howard’s best stretch of the season, too. The Bears could do worse with a backup guard. 

4. Eric Kush 
Usage: 15 games, 32 percent of offensive snaps, 14.9 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Kush began the season as the team’s starting left guard and struggled to run block consistently. He began rotating with Daniels in Week 4, then rotated with Witzmann in Week 9 and didn’t play an offensive snap after that. Based on that lack of usage, the Bears will likely move on from him this offseason. 

5. Willie Beavers
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Beavers, a former fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, has bounced around practice squads over the last three years, including the Bears’ in 2018. 

Centers

1. Cody Whitehair
Usage: 16 games, 100 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,344,180 cap hit

The Bears will need to work out an extension for Whitehair, who played every single one of the Bears’ offensive snaps in 2018 and earned a trip to Orlando as a Pro Bowl alternate. His steady presence, ability to read opposing defenses and good relationship with Trubisky is important for the Bears’ offense. 

What Whitehair’s extension could look like will be interesting to see, presuming he indeed signs one sometime between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season. Perhaps something similar (and a little richer) than the three-year, $27 million extension signed by Seahawks center Justin Britt (a 2014 second-round pick) will be the starting point. 

2. James Daniels
Usage: 0 snaps at center

Daniels played 122 snaps at center during the preseason but didn’t play at all there during the regular season. He’ll likely remain the team’s backup center going forward, though. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 5. Teams can always use quality offensive line depth, and the Bears will need to address their interior reserves, whether that means bringing back Witzmann or looking elsewhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears draft an offensive lineman, as Pace has done every year as the team’s GM (Hroniss Grasu and Tayo Fabuluje in 2015, Whitehair in 2016, Jordan Morgan in 2017 and Daniels in 2018). 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 5

Teams can always use quality offensive line depth, and the Bears will need to address their interior reserves, whether that means bringing back Witzmann or looking elsewhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears draft an offensive lineman, as Pace has done every year as the team’s GM (Hroniss Grasu and Tayo Fabuluje in 2015, Whitehair in 2016, Jordan Morgan in 2017 and Daniels in 2018).  

Previous needs & grades: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs 

Under Center Podcast: What should the Bears aim to accomplish at the NFL Combine?

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: What should the Bears aim to accomplish at the NFL Combine?

With the NFL Combine starting next week, JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan look at if the Bears should still focus their draft strategy on taking the best players available, or if needs at running back and/or kicker should supersede that.

Plus, the gang dives into what questions they want to hear answered from Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy next week and wonders if the thought of trading a draft pick for a running back is a good idea.

1:00: What questions do we want answered by Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy next week?

7:40: Do the Bears need to shift away from taking the best player available to drafting for need?

16:20: Robbie Gould is likely to get tagged by the 49ers. Now what?

20:45: Thoughts on trading a pick for a running back…like Cleveland’s Duke Johnson?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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