'Best available' has Bears leaning toward pass rusher or DB as draft approaches

'Best available' has Bears leaning toward pass rusher or DB as draft approaches

With the 2017 draft now one month off, decisions are firming and options considered. And the Bears have given themselves interesting options at the No. 3 pick.
Adding quarterbacks (Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez), cornerbacks (Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper) and a safety (Quintin Demps) have the immediate effect of filling their most dire of the position needs and reducing the pressure to place need above quality, never a good situation.
Instead the Bears are positioned to stay with their preferred best-available philosophy, with strongest indicators pointing to a defensive player in a draft considered by many to be among the best-ever for defensive backs.
Which remains a need, two needs actually, even with free-agent additions.
The Bears do not have a proven elite-grade cornerback; Cooper is considered ascending, but Amukamara was signed to a one-year deal for a reason, Kyle Fuller missed all last season after ostensibly minor knee surgery, and Tracy Porter turns 31 in August and has just 3 total interceptions through two Bears seasons.

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The 2016 draft had five cornerbacks selected in the first 25 picks, led by Jalen Ramsey to Jacksonville at No. 5. Four went in the 2015 first round but none before Trae Waynes to Minnesota at No. 12. The 2014 class had five in the first 31 picks.
This draft is projected to have starter-quality corners as late as the fourth round but the Bears have those; they don’t have the definitive depth-chart-topper.
And they do not have a ball-hawking free safety, which GM Ryan Pace considers one of the most difficult positions to fill, and of which the 2017 has a couple.
"Obviously, the league has shifted toward passing quite a bit," coach John Fox said during this week’s owners meetings. "I think largely because a lot of the rules of the game for a long time there has been more yards per pass than more yards per rush.

"Because of that, you don’t need in many cases a big, banger box safety. When I was with the New York Giants in the late '90s, my safeties were 6-3, 220. Now [offensive] people are going to no-backs. Obviously, it’s not going to be a run. So you’re covering specialized backs, specialized tight ends. So you have to be more corner-like to play safety, as far as cover ability, range, defending passes way more than runs."
The Bears traded up to invest a Top 10 pick (and the fourth-round selection needed to move up from No. 11 to 9) in a pass rusher with Leonard Floyd. One could be available around No. 3 if edge rushers Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas don't go 1-2.

"I’ve always been of the belief that the best pass defense is the pass rush," Fox said. "There are a lot of different coverages, a lot of different schemes. But at the end of the day, when you’re putting pressure on the quarterback – and not just sacks – but pressing the quarterback puts stress on him to make errors. I think we still need to improve in that area. I think we have improved. But we still need to improve."

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame


Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

USA Today

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.