Bears

Re-drafting: A Bears tradition GM Ryan Pace must end

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Re-drafting: A Bears tradition GM Ryan Pace must end

Organizations can get themselves into difficulty when they feel forced to re-draft the same positions repeatedly because of injuries or misses on picks. The Bears under new general manager Ryan Pace hope they are not falling into another of those holes, but the incoming staff felt the need for a virtual do-over from the final draft of the Phil Emery administration.

Four of the Bears’ six draft choices were at the same positions addressed in the 2014 draft. Pace and the Bears stayed on point with their draft board but four of six repeat selections cannot be excused to coincidence or grades.

Pace wasn’t aware of the organizational do-over he was transacting. “It was really best player available all the way through,” he reiterated. “That’s how it fell. We knew we had a lot of needs.”

Therein lies the problem.

This is not a good thing. Position players have cycles if they are NFL caliber. If they don’t, the team has to draft or go into free agency for their replacement too soon in the overall cycle. And re-drafting too frequently involves reaching on a pick because it is being made specifically to fill a need.

In his first draft as Bears general manager, Ryan Pace nearly did a re-draft of the 2014 class left by Emery:

2014 (round) 2015 (round)
DT Ego Ferguson (2) DT Eddie Goldman (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey (4) RB Jeremy Langford (4)
S Brock Vereen (4) S Adrian Amos (5)
OT Charles Leno (7) OT Tayo Fabuluje (6)

Emery selected Ferguson and Will Sutton in rounds 2 and 3 last year. Because of either scheme change or performance – Ferguson fits in the 2015 plan, Sutton TBD – Pace and the Bears went into free agency to add defensive linemen Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald in advance of this weekend’s draft.

Despite drafting Shea McClellin at No. 1 in 2012 and Jonathan Bostic at No. 2 and Khaseem Green at No. 4, the Bears needed to go into free agency for Sam Acho, Mason Foster and Pernell McPhee. Even allowing for the switch to a 3-4, this is a significant number of replacements for Bears players drafted in the first four rounds.

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But Pace is necessarily less interested than mistakes of 2014 than with improving the hit quotient for 2015.

“What I’m excited about and what we talk about is there’s a lot of opportunities still going forward,” Pace said.

Dubious do-over history

The Bears were forced to reach for offensive tackles when Jimbo Covert’s career was cut short because of back problems. The real trouble came when they reached in the 1991 first round for Stan Thomas. When Thomas proved to be a bust, the Bears were forced to use a second-round pick on Troy Auzenne 1992. When Auzenne failed to secure left tackle, the Bears used another No. 2 pick in 1994 for tackle Marcus Spears – another bust.

At wide receiver, the Bears used a No. 2 pick in 1987 for wide receiver Ron Morris. The Bears used a No. 1 the next year for Wendell Davis, which should have set them up nicely in the pre-free agency era, but both Davis and Morris were out of football with knee injuries by 1993, when the Bears used the No. 7 pick of the draft for wideout Curtis Conway.

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The Bears selected safeties in 11 of the 13 drafts from 2002-2014, using picks as high as the second and third rounds. Despite selecting Brock Vereen last year and signing Ryan Mundy last offseason, the Bears made safety a priority in 2015 free agency, signing Antrel Rolle to start, and in the draft, using a fifth-round pick on Adrian Amos from Penn State.

Ideally, Amos helps stop that repeating pattern.

“Some safeties you don’t get to see enough isolated in ‘man’ coverage a lot,” Pace said. “But you do with him. We’re going to start him out at safety and have him there. In different packages he can have different roles but he’s a safety first for us.”

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

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AP

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

Brian Urlacher played his way into the pantheon of Bears linebackers and the Hall of Fame over his 13-year career in Chicago, leaving no question he belongs among the all-time greats.

Where he stacks up with the best of the best in team history is still up for debate.

Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson ranked the top 100 players in franchise history for the team’s official site, and Urlacher fell outside of the top 10.

Urlacher came in one spot ahead of fellow legendary linebacker Mike Singletary, but the greats of pre-merger era earned many of the top spots on the list.

Dick Butkus came in second to only Walter Payton, while old school legends Bill George and Bulldog Turner ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.

It’s difficult to compare linebackers that played 50 years apart, especially when stacking them up with players at other positions.

Urlacher is still near the top of the list of the best Bears ever. They just have so many all-time greats, the likes of Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Jimbo Covert just don’t have a spot in the top 10.

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