Bears

Prince Amukamara not ready to crown Bears wideouts yet, but 'both have great potential'

Prince Amukamara not ready to crown Bears wideouts yet, but 'both have great potential'

Prince Amukamara returned to Bears practice Thursday after attending to his wife's emergency surgery the day before. For the most part throughout his first Bears camp, he'll line up opposite either Cameron Meredith or Kevin White. The same goes for the other projected starting cornerback, Marcus Cooper, when he's been testing a hamstring he's trying to get back to full strength.

Cooper had his practice time opposite the great Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona last season, while Amukamara had the same in his final two years with the Giants opposite Odell Beckham, Jr. before spending last season in Jacksonville.

I approached both on their impressions so far about Meredith and White, not because they compare, because neither is close yet to those other two star wideouts. It was more to envision how high the bar for the Bears tandem might be, because Fitzgerald and OBJ have certainly set a standard.

Cooper is massive for a corner, 6-foot-2, and signed a three-year deal based on Ryan Pace's belief he has a high ceiling of his own after four interceptions a year ago.

He expressed after Thursday's indoor walkthrough in Bourbonnais that the potential is high for both based on the physical tools Meredith and White possess. But both are still very young in the NFL maturation process. Amukamara agreed.

"Both have great potential. I feel like, so far, they're our number-one and two guys. Don't ask me which is which. Both are different guys," Amukamara said.

"I think Kevin for sure is more of a deep-ball, big-play receiver, and Cam is very elusive for how big he is. He can definitely play in the slot and run great routes. I think they've been getting a great test going up against us at practice, but looking towards that first exhibition, the Broncos have an elite tandem."

Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib this week were graded as the best cornerbacks in "Madden 18," which may be starting to be more significant that All-Pro or Pro Bowl selections.

So does a guy like Amukamara "help" young receivers? Hey, it's been a running narrative the past couple of days: Bears receivers and their position coach.

"Mmmm, not willingly," Amukamara said with both a slight grin and slightly downward eyebrows. "But if they ask, or if I make a play, I'll say, `Hey, this is what I play here.' Or I'll tell them, like, `This is what Odell does,' and stuff like that, just cuz I know Odell is well-respected around the league and I played with him. Like, `Odell probably would've done this.' Or how he would've run his route."

Of course, these could very well be just two fresh faces playing the good teammate, pumping the kids' tires.  It's sometimes a long way between potential and proof. It's certainly there for an odd couple - one a seventh overall draft pick in 2015, the other completely undrafted that same year. White and Meredith are in the process of earning and learning. Let's see them get to September 10th, and find out if they're "1-2" at the starting gate.

Three questions for Bears CBs: Will continuity breed success?

kylefullerbears.png
USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears CBs: Will continuity breed success?

 

Pre-camp depth chart

Outside corner

1. Kyle Fuller
2. Marcus Cooper
3. Michael Joseph
4. Tyrin Holloway

1. Prince Amukamara
2. Sherrick McManis
3. Kevin Toliver II
4. Rashard Fant
5. John Franklin III

Nickel corner

1. Bryce Callahan
2. Cre’Von LeBlanc
3. Jonathon Mincy

1. Can Kyle Fuller build off a 2017 breakout?

A year ago, it would’ve been unbelievable to hear Fuller would be fifth highest-paid cornerback in the NFL by average annual salary, ahead of two guys (A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore) in whom the Bears had interest in free agency. This was a guy who — justifiably, given he missed all of 2016 with an injury — didn’t have his fifth year option picked up and wasn’t even assured of a roster spot coming into training camp.

But Fuller earned that paycheck with an outstanding season. Consider:

No cornerback was targeted more times than Fuller last year, even though only 51 percent of those targets were caught and he led the NFL in passes defended with 17, according to Pro Football Focus. Fuller held opposing quarterbacks to a rating of 69 when they threw his way, good for 17th among all cornerbacks.

“His preparation Is second to none,” fellow cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “How he prepares for games and how he anticipates what’s going on —  I feel like I prepared enough but when I watched him and how he does it before games there’s a lot I can learn from him and I’m just glad he’s back because he’s going to improve my game a little more and hopefully I can help him improve his.”

Why opposing teams targeted Fuller so much when Amukamara allowed a higher quarterback rating (89.1), didn’t have an interception and only broke up five passes is still a head-scratcher of sorts. But if Fuller wasn’t respected last year by opposing offensive coordinators, he will be in 2018.

So the goal for Fuller will be to be even more stifling when the ball is thrown his way. Adding a few more interceptions — he only had two last year, and both came in December — would go a long way toward him earning that four-year, $56 million offer sheet the Bears had to match.

2. Where will the interceptions come from?

The Bears are the only team in NFL history to record eight or fewer interceptions in three consecutive seasons, and Ryan Pace doubled down on an outside cornerback pairing of Fuller and Amukamara that only produced two interceptions in 2017. Nickel corner Bryce Callahan showed a bit of a playmaking streak last year with two interceptions (and a pretty sweet punt return touchdown in Week 1).

But that only accounts for four picks, a number which was equaled or eclipsed by 13 cornerbacks in 2017. All the pressure to get takeaways isn’t on Amukamara, Fuller, Callahan and a handful of reserves — Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos will need to contribute more too — but given the questions surrounding the Bears’ pass rush, increasing the interceptions generated from this unit will be important for the overall success of the defense.

So if you see Fuller or Amukamara pick off Mitch Trubisky in Bourbonnais, perhaps look at it as good thing (it’ll be a learning experience for Trubisky, too, which isn’t a bad thing either).

3. Will any of the intriguing UDFAs make the team?

The Bears, a little surprisingly, didn’t draft a cornerback in April, but did sign a handful of undrafted free agents that will have an opportunity to fight for a roster spot in training camp. Two players in particular will be interesting to watch in July and August: Kevin Toliver II and John Franklin III.

Toliver is a former five-star recruit who didn’t live up to that hype at LSU, only intercepting two passes in 31 career games. The 6-foot-2 Toliver has projectable size and length, but his lack of production was why he went undrafted after leaving Baton Rouge following his junior season. He’s the kind of high-upside guy undrafted free agent who could garner some attention in training camp with a few good practices, but will have to consistently prove to the defensive coaching staff and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor he’s worthy of a roster spot.

Franklin may be more of a long shot, but the former “Last Chance U” star nonetheless will be a fascinating watch in Bourbonnais. The former quarterback-turned-receiver is now trying to not only make an NFL roster, but is trying to do so while learning an entirely different position on the side of the ball on which he’s never played before. Franklin had a healthy perspective on learning how to play cornerback during OTAs and minicamp (https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/bears/last-chance-u-john-franklin-iii-chicago-bears-nfl-defensive-back-quarterback-wide-receiver), and the Bears saw something in his raw speed and athleticism to give him a shot on defense. It’d be a surprise if Franklin earned a spot on the 53-man roster, but it’d be one heck of a story if he even wound up on the Bears’ practice squad come September.

Allen Robinson appears on latest 'Big Guys in a Benz'

ar15.jpg
USA TODAY

Allen Robinson appears on latest 'Big Guys in a Benz'

New Bears wideout Allen Robinson appears on the latest episode of 'Big Guys in a Benz' hosted by Anthony Adams. In the episode, Robinson touches on a number of topics from growing up rooting for the Minnesota Vikings despite being from Detroit, his favorite Chicago baseball team and how he went about free agency.

When asked where the Bears were ranked when looking at teams in free agency, Robinson said the Bears were No. 1 on his list.

...especially once they hired coach Nagy, you know, I had been watching his work over the past couple of years and I know it's a system that I would definitely fit into and flourish in. 

As far as growing up a Vikings fan?

Bears fans can forgive Robinson as he grew up idolizing Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss. He went on to explain that once a year for his birthday he would get to go see the Vikings play in Detroit. Things came full-circle for Robinson when he was able to train for four weeks straight with Moss last summer, which Robinson said "took his game to the next level". 

When pressed to choose White Sox or Cubs, Robinson quickly responded "Cubs", making his allegiance to the North Siders known. 

And though the interview didn't touch on Robinson's ACL rehab, it did show how Robinson is quickly endearing himself to Bears fans as he prepares for a bounce-back season.