Bears

Rookie minicamp means first look at Bears' 2015 draft class

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Rookie minicamp means first look at Bears' 2015 draft class

The constant around-Chicago question of the past week - “So, whaddya think of the Bears’ draft?” – starts getting a meaningful answer on Friday with the advent of the rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. But with no pads and three of the Bears’ six picks being linemen, the truly meaningful answers will have to wait until July 29 when the Bears open training camp in Bourbonnais.

In the meantime, however, orientation for the draft picks and undrafted free agents is the real job of coaches as they introduce individuals who were college football players seven days ago into the ways of not only the NFL, but the coaching staff of John Fox.

“Our expectations are high for these guys,” said GM Ryan Pace coming out of one draft day. “There’s a lot of opportunities in front of them.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears agree to terms with draft picks Kevin White, Eddie Goldman]

More for some than others, and not just for the draft choices. Undrafted free agent quarterback Shane Carden from East Carolina will be taking his first NFL steps in a competition for a roster spot with David Fales, a sixth-rounder in Phil Emery’s final draft (2014) as Bears GM.

No. 1 pick Kevin White was drafted to replace traded-away Brandon Marshall at wide receiver. No. 2 Eddie Goldman is ticketed for nose tackle, where the Bears have no one at his size (6-4, 335 pounds) anywhere on the defensive line, nose or otherwise.

Center Hroniss Grasu at No. 3 begins his center career behind Will Montgomery, brought in from Denver where he played for Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, albeit just for the 2014 Broncos season, plus his rookie season (2006) with Fox in Carolina. But Montgomery is 32 and has not sufficiently established himself as a linchpin of offensive lines with the Broncos, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

After the top three, the expectation for the remaining picks as well as the undrafted free agents is for them to be factors on special teams as depth. Given the recent litany of injuries in all three phases, there will indeed be the opportunities of which Pace spoke.

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Running back Jeremy Langford (fourth round) rates as the favorite to secure the No. 2 running back job. Since Langford has played defensive back during his time at Michigan State, “there’s flexibility there positionally,” Fox said.

“He’s played on defense before. Sometimes that comes into a factor as far as fourth down or special teams. The guy’s tackled somebody before. He’s been in that kind of environment.”

Fifth-rounder Adrian Amos comes in behind veterans Ryan Mundy and Antrel Rolle at safety and into competition with Brock Vereen from the 2014 draft. Offensive lineman Tayo Fabuluje will be looked at as a guard and tackle, with a chance to unseat right tackle Jordan Mills.

It would not be the first time an unheralded late-round pick emerged as a first-year starter on the offensive line. J’Marcus Webb was a 2010 seventh-rounder and the starting right tackle by game five of that season. Webb in turn lost his job (and roster spot) to Mills, a fifth rounder in 2013.

“When [Fabuluje] is at the right weight, we feel really good about him,” Pace said, “and there’s a lot of upside potential as well.”

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

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USA Today

Bears grades: High marks for Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, and Khalil Mack

Quarterback – A-
We’ll start with the bad, being the interception that ended the Bears’ first drive on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. Trubisky admitted after the game that he was trying to extend the play and “didn’t make a smart decision.” Otherwise, he was efficient through the air; he threw the ball better against the Lions, but his all-around performance on Thursday night, against a better team, makes it feel like the Cowboys’ win was his best game of the year. The Bears aren’t falling over themselves to tell us what, but something finally clicked during that four-game losing streak, and Trubisky looked way more comfortable in the offense than at any point prior. Mike Pettine, Mike Zimmer and Andy Reid will all have a better knowledge of how to scheme the Bears, but having Trubisky playing at his highest level of self-confidence going into the toughest stretch of the season is never a bad thing. 

Running Backs – B+ 
Montgomery’s stats (20 rushes, 86 yards, 1 fumble) could be seen as underwhelming, but truth be told, the Bears will take the rookie averaging almost four-and-a-half yards a carry any game of the year. The fumble came at a bad time in the game on a bad part of the field, but as Nagy even admitted afterwards, they gave him the ball on the very next play – the Bears aren’t concerned. Tarik Cohen (3 rushes for 7 yards) had an all-around quiet night, but weirdly struggled with fielding punts. The offense has shown it can win featuring either, but still struggles finding room for both simultaneously. 

Wide Receivers – A- 
It was a strange night for pass catchers. Seven different guys had catches, and Tarik Cohen led the team in receptions (6). No one had more receiving yards than JP Holtz, who got 30 of his 56 yards on one screen pass. Two of Allen Robinson’s five catches were touchdowns from inside the 10, and Riley Ridley had his first NFL grab. Jesper Horsted had four catches for 14 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson had one catch for twice as many yards (33). None of it made any sense, but it worked (?), and was kind of fun (!). 

Tight Ends – B 
Horsted is clearly earning the coaching staff’s trust, and even if the JP Holtz passing revolution ends up being a fluke, the Bears now have 60 minutes of tape to point to as evidence that yeah, the tight ends really *are* that important to this offense. It wasn’t perfect: Horsted got flagged for two false starts, admitting after the game that the Cowboys’ front seven was the best he’d seen and noting that Robert Quinn had “incredible speed” and DeMarcus Lawerence had “strength like I’ve really never seen before.” It’s absolutely still a work in progress, but the Bears finally have a tight end situation they can work with. 

Offensive Line – B
The Bears passed for 242 yards and rushed for 151, so credit for both of those starts on the line. They allowed the Cowboys’ pass-rush to sack Trubisky twice and hit him three other times, but the quarterback stayed upright for most of the game, and the line did a great job moving the pocket for him on some of his rollouts and scrambles. Charles Leno got much of the (deserved) credit for sealing off Dallas’ edge rusher on Trubisky’s touchdown run, but James Daniels also does a great job of keeping the gap open. They even stayed away from penalties, too. 

Defensive Line – C
Zeke Elliot is still very good, but it was a generally forgettable performance from the defensive line on Thursday night. Elliot ran for 81 yards on 19 rushes, which is not entirely the D-line’s fault but nonetheless not great. No one on the line had more than one tackle, which, again, not great. The Bears were able to sack Dak Prescott twice, but those sacks came from Khalil Mack and Eddie Jackson. Akiem Hicks, come on down! 

Inside Linebackers – B+ 
Nick Kwiatkoski was the only Bears player to finish the game with double-digit tackles (10), and Kevin Pierre-Louis (4 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 TFL, 2 Pass Deflections) filled in admirably for Roquan Smith, who left the game after suffering a pectoral injury on the first drive of the game. Kwiatkkoski hasn’t missed a beat since becoming the starter in Danny Trevathan’s absence, but ‘KPL’ has only started one game in his career – back in 2015 with Seattle. Matt Nagy wouldn’t comment on Trevathan’s availability going forward, but reading the tea leaves over the last couple weeks would indicate that there’s a chance he’s back before the season ends. Chuck Pagano’s going to have to get real creative if it’s KPL-Kwiatkoski for the rest of the way, but on Thursday they provided some optimism. 

Edge Rushers – A 
Another quiet game for Leonard Floyd, but if you’re of the He-Impacts-The-Pocket camp, Thursday was fine for you. Then, of course, there was Khalil Mack: 

A! 

Secondary – B- 
Kyle Fuller and Kevin Tolliver tied each other for second-most tackles (7) of anyone on the Bears’ defense Thursday night. Fuller was particularly good, and Tolliver held his own in relief of Prince Amukamara, who was out all week with a hamstring injury. Prescott ended the night 27-49 with 334 yards, and Tolliver admitted after the game that some of the garbage time yardage that Dallas piled up left a bad taste in the secondary’s mouth. Eddie Jackson had a sack, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had six total tackles too. Teams have been able to break off big passing plays against them more often of late, but no one’s playing exceptionally poorly. 


Special Teams – B+
Eddie Pineiro had seven points (4 XP’s, 1 FG) and has continued to bounce back since his poor performance against the Rams. Pat O’Donnell only punted four times but landed all four inside the 20-yard line. Tarik Cohen fumbled two punts, but was fortunate enough not to lose any. Cordarrelle Patterson did Cordarrelle Patterson things on kick returns. It was nothing too exciting, so it gets the least exciting grade possible. 

Coaching – A
The Bears ran the ball more often than they threw it, which almost definitely makes Matt Nagy scream into his hands when no one’s watching. But to his credit, he’s adjusted to what this personnel does well, and that’s a credit to his ability as a gameplanner that got so frequently panned earlier in the year. David Montgomery got 20 touches, Trubisky got the ball out early and often, and multiple Bears players talked after the game about how there was a better attention to detail through all four quarters. They clearly had a beat on Dallas’ defense: Trubisky even mentioned that on his option touchdown run, the offense easily recognized the Cowboys’ ‘squeeze-and-scrape’ concept. All this starts with Nagy, so he earns high grades for the week. 

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

J.P. Holtz provides spark Bears have been missing at tight end

Trey Burton's nagging injuries and Adam Shaheen's lack of development created a tight end crisis for the Bears through the first half of the 2019 season, but with Burton on injured reserve and Shaheen seemingly no longer in the team's plans, someone had to rise from the ashes and take over the starting job.

Enter J.P. Holtz, the 26-year-old unknown commodity whose under-the-radar signing with the Bears was hardly noticed by the fanbase. GM Ryan Pace claimed Holtz off waivers on Sept. 11 after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins, where he spent 2018 and the start of 2019 bouncing between the practice squad and active roster.

Holtz initially entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh. He signed with the Browns in May 2016 and spent the end of that season on Cleveland's practice squad. 

Needless to say, Holtz's journey to the Bears' starting lineup has been anything but traditional. But in Week 14's game against the Dallas Cowboys, he provided the Bears' offense with its first legitimately productive game at tight end. Holtz finished Thursday's game with three catches for 56 yards and had the longest catch of any Bears receiver (30 yards). He was the highest-graded player on Chicago's offense, per Pro Football Focus. His 79.2 grade was better than Burton's top mark in 2019 (67.6) and would've qualified as Burton's third-best game of 2018, too. 

Holtz out-snapped fellow tight end Jesper Horsted, 37-31, and appears to have taken a slight lead over Horsted for reps moving forward. That said, both players have surprisingly looked like better fits for what Matt Nagy wants to do in his offense than either Burton or Shaheen. Horsted had four catches for 36 yards on Thursday.

Holtz and Horsted combined for seven catches and 92 yards. That's more yards in one game than Burton managed in the eight games he played, total.

It would be unfair to expect similar production from Holtz from here on out considering he was never a pass-catcher at any point in his career. In college, Holtz never topped more than 24 catches in a season and recorded a career-high 350 yards his senior year. But we've seen players' roles change once they get to the NFL before. Take 49ers superstar George Kittle, for example. His career-high in receiving yards at Iowa was just 314. We know what kind of weapon he's turned into as a pro.

No, Holtz isn't the next Kittle. But he doesn't have to be. He just has to be the guy we saw Thursday night who made plays for an offense desperate for a playmaking tight end.

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