Bears

Ryan Pace’s history could point Bears toward WR at No. 7

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Ryan Pace’s history could point Bears toward WR at No. 7

Bears general manager Ryan Pace was clear on one point of franchise philosophy:

“I don’t think you can have enough good pass rushers,” he said during the NFL owners meetings. “I think Seattle is an example of that. So if the right pass rusher is there in the first round, we’ll take that.”

What Pace, himself a former college defensive end, has done in his first pass through free agency as GM has been eminently consistent with his beliefs, particularly with a defense switching to a rush-focused 3-4 scheme.

But the growing question is whether or not there in fact is an “enough,” and whether Pace and coach John Fox are preparing to strike in a direction breaking from their respective experiences in New Orleans (Pace) and Denver/Carolina/New York Giants (Fox).

That looming other “direction” is wide receiver.

[MORE: Bears say goodbye to Charles Tillman as he reunites with Ron Rivera in Carolina]

It’s both a matter of what Pace has done — cut Brandon Marshall, sign multiple pass-rush options in free agency — and what he hasn’t done — pursue a top starter-grade wideout…yet.

And there are enough trace elements of elite-receiver targeting in Pace’s background to form more than idle musing that he would go there.

Securing

Both Pace and Fox come from organizations with draft traditions deeply rooted on defense. Fox was with the New York Giants when GM’s George Young and Ernie Accorsi also went for running backs high in drafts, which Fox continued when he went to Carolina.

But consider: Pace was hired in 2001 as a Saints assistant. New Orleans selected Donte’ Stallworth with the 13th pick of the 2002 draft, Devery Henderson in the 2004 second round, Robert Meacham 27th in 2007, and Brandon Cooks with the 20th in 2014.

All wide receivers.

The Denver Broncos chose defensive players with all four of their first picks in Fox’s tenure there. And Carolina’s drafts for Fox were defense-oriented at the top.

But the New York Giants used the No. 7 pick in 1997, Fox’s first year as Giants defensive coordinator, on Florida wideout Ike Hilliard. Last year, Fox’s last in Denver, the Broncos took wideout Cody Latimer in the second round.

Past choices in drafts don’t definitively show what GMs and coaches will do in the present or future. But the patterns that Fox and Pace witnessed and were part of represent some of their experiences on how successful franchises built themselves. All of which make the trails of breadcrumbs worth studying.

Looking for the 'enough'

Pace has been good to his and Fox’s words on pass rushers in free agency. Teams frequently address what they consider their primary needs in free agency, thus giving themselves options in the draft for best-available-athletes and/or a specific job (quarterback). Pace, Fox and the Bears went aggressively after rush-linebackers but notably did not address a gaping void at wide receiver created with the release of Marshall.

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That solution may lie in the draft, with the Bears among those hosting a visit by West Virginia wideout Kevin White earlier this month and expected to visit with Alabama’s Amari Cooper. Both are possessed of speed found nowhere on the Bears’ current wide receiver depth chart.

Already stocking pass rushers

Coincidentally, former GM Phil Emery’s signature signings in 2014 were defensive ends for a 4-3: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young. Pace has waded into his own first free agency with signings targeting pass rushers, but for a 3-4.

Pace’s acquisitions project to six new starters on defense: two-thirds of the defensive line (Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald), three-fourths of the linebackers (Sam Acho, Mason Foster, Pernell McPhee) and half of the safeties (Antrel Rolle).

The cluster of linebacker transactions, combined with the stated plan to move Lamarr Houston from end back to outside linebacker, spotlighted pass rushers: Acho, McPhee, plus Houston. Houston’s return from a torn ACL makes him less than a given. But the Bears also have Allen, David Bass and Young as competition for edge-rusher spots, in addition to Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin competing for roster spots on the inside.

Complicating the equation (and that is in fact one of ideas behind the switch to a 3-4: becoming complicated) is that both Acho and McPhee are mobile and have rushed from inside starting points.

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

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USA TODAY

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

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If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

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So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly fazed by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

If there was any doubt that the Bears are the most popular team in Chicago, allow the events of Wednesday to serve as further evidence.

After hitting the upright an astonishing four times in Sunday's win against the Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey practiced at Soldier Field Wednesday night. That's not the crazy part.

The Bears kicker taking to Soldier Field to practice on a weeknight drew multiple news helicopters. Both WGN and ABC 7 got footage of a kicker practicing.

Earlier in the week, Parkey said practicing at Soldier Field "can't hurt." Now that he went through with it, we can find out if he thought the extra reps ahead of Sunday night's game against the Vikings were worth it.

Who knows how this Bears this season will end, but the Bears are certainly back in the spotlight of the Chicago sports scene.