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.

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

James Daniels dubbed Bears' 2020 breakout candidate

The Chicago Bears offensive line wasn't good in 2019. It was downright brutal at times. And it's because of the unit's sub-par play that both guard and tackle have been mentioned among the top offseason needs heading into free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

But it wasn't long ago that James Daniels was a highly decorated second-round pick out of Iowa. In fact, it was just two years ago. The second-year starter had his ups and downs in 2019, but he may have the most upside of any of the starting offensive linemen slated to return next fall.

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Daniels posted the Bears' third-highest season grade on offense from Pro Football Focus (70.3) and was the team's highest-graded starting offensive lineman. At just 22 years old, the arrow is pointing up for him.

In fact, he was dubbed the league's breakout candidate at guard in 2020:

The Bears moved Daniels to center to start 2019, switching his spot on the line with Cody Whitehair, after he had played left guard the entirety of his first season. Daniels earned a 63.2 overall grade at center, which would have been good for 22nd out of 37 qualifiers at the position. Meanwhile, his 73.9 grade at left guard would have ranked fifth among 39 qualifiers. It remains to be seen how the Bears use Daniels in 2020, but it’s clear that he performed better at guard. As talented as he is at just 22 years old, another season with position continuity could have Daniels poised to break out.

It's often difficult to recognize one offensive lineman's positive play when the group, as a whole, struggles. But Daniels was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year for the Bears' big uglies, and he remains a key cog in an offense looking to take massive strides in 2020.

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Bears Season in Review: Roquan Smith

Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith was supposed to ascend into superstar status in 2019, and while he certainly had some flashes of elite play, his year will best be remembered for a strange deactivation in Week 4 and a torn pec muscle that ended his season in Week 14.

We still don't know the exact reason why Smith didn't play against the Vikings. The team called it a personal issue and refused to expand on why one of their most important defensive pieces didn't suit up. We've been left to speculate, which is never a good thing. We may never know what exactly went wrong that week, which naturally creates worry and concern about how much the team can actually rely on Smith on a week-to-week basis. 

Smith's season ended after 12 starts, 100 tackles, two starts, and one interception. He was inconsistent on the field; when he played well, he was lights out. But he had more than his fair share of missed tackles and head-scratching moments that looked nothing like the player the Bears drafted eighth overall in 2018.

Smith ended the year as one of the lowest-graded Bears on defense (24th). His 52.4 ranked 124th among qualifying linebackers on Pro Football Focus. Not good.

But analytics don't always tell the full story. Smith's sideline-to-sideline speed and missile-like penetrating skill set is and will remain an asset for the Bears defense. On pure talent alone, Smith has few peers in the NFL. He just needs to become a more consistent football player, both on and off the field.

We'll chalk up 2019 as an odd blip on Smith's career trajectory. Assuming he makes a full offseason recovery from is pec injury, he'll begin 2020 as one of the cornerstone pieces of a defense that remains one of the NFL's best.