Bears

NFL free agency buzz: Bears reportedly in hunt for DL Malik Jackson

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NFL free agency buzz: Bears reportedly in hunt for DL Malik Jackson

Although general manager Ryan Pace created something of an impression this offseason that the Bears weren’t likely to be big-strike players in free agency, one Halas Hall insider told CSNChicago.com that with Pace stirring the brew, “expect the unexpected.”

That may indeed be the case, as one report out of Denver has the Bears on the short list in the serious hunt for one critical, high-priced member of the Denver Broncos defense that took Super Bowl 50 away from Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

According to Mike Klis at KUSA in Denver, the Bears are among four teams expressing “serious interest” in defensive end/tackle Malik Jackson, who followed a breakout season of 21 quarterback hurries, 16 hits and 5.5 sacks with a dominant Super Bowl performance that included a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Others in the competition for Jackson, whose price tag was anticipated to be in the range of $12-14 million per season, reportedly are the Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars.

[MORE: Martellus Bennett may have sabotaged options for Bears, himself]

If not Martellus Bennett for Bears, Colts' Coby Fleener now more available

The Indianapolis Colts’ re-signing tight end Dwayne Allen for four years and $29.4 million ostensibly points to his teammate Coby Fleener and his 54 receptions for 2015 hitting the open market, given the size of the Allen deal.

The souring relationship with Martellus Bennett was expected to have the Bears kicking the contract tires with a tight end, and Fleener already was high in the rankings of available players at that key position in the offense.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

RGIII out in D.C.; Adam Gase in line?

The Washington Redskins released quarterback Robert Griffin III, ending the story of one of the NFL’s great trade disasters, Washington having effectively sent eight players, including draft picks that turned into Greg Robinson, Alec Ogletree, Stedman Bailey, Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins — all on the then-St. Louis Rams roster last season.

One thought: Few teams are not in the market for at the very least a backup quarterback capable of winning games; more than a few could do with upgrades at the No. 1 spot.

Adam Gase’s reputation as quarterback whisperer after his work with Jay Cutler could make Miami an intriguing landing spot for Griffin, where Ryan Tannehill hasn’t missed a game in four years but also hasn’t had one winning season yet.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.