Bears

With 'tampering' period at hand, Bears have targets identified

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With 'tampering' period at hand, Bears have targets identified

The NFL’s period of actual free agency starts this Wednesday, Mar. 9. But the “real” free agency opens at noon on Monday when teams may legally begin talking to prospective free agents still under contract to their current teams, according to this memo from the league to its teams and obtained by ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio. Here is the nub of the deal:

“During the two-day negotiating period, all clubs may negotiate all aspects of an NFL Player Contract with the certified agent of any prospective UFA. However, a new club may not execute an NFL Player Contract with a prospective UFA until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 9, when the player’s 2015 contract expires.”

Of course, myriad teams have already had exploratory talks with agents for players; that’s what the Scouting Combine and telephones are for. The talking time was cut from three days to two since everyone knew by two what the deals were going to be anyway.

Regardless of when the de facto window for talks and deals opens, and irrespective of how good or bad the pending market may be, the Bears have had their targets identified long ago. GM Ryan Pace is a veteran of the pro personnel side of the game (beginning with the New Orleans Saints), meaning it has long been his job to have scouted current NFL players for game-planning as well as free agency purposes.

Put another way: Pace, his staff and by extension the Bears coaching staff knew before the end of last season who would look very good in Bears uniforms.

But from the dozens of current NFL players poised to become available, several make more sense than others at the specific need areas within the Bears’ roster.

Note: Because of the Bears’ intent to reshape the roster down age-wise, free agent rankings stayed generally sub-30.

Inside linebacker

Pace and coaches believe Shea McClellin’s arrow is still pointing up but Christian Jones, others were not answers.

1. Brandon Marshall, Denver, restricted free agent: Broncos could match offer; No. 2 in Broncos tackles.

2. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis: No. 2-ranked ILB by ProFootballFocus.com.

3. Danny Trevathan, Denver: Led Broncos in tackles, got lineup break from John Fox.

LB/DE edge rusher

Bears have Lamarr Houston in place with hefty contract plus Pernell McPhee but want – and need – more from short list.

1. Oliver Vernon, Miami: Dolphins transitioned him so they can match offer, but 29 sacks over 4 years...

2. Bruce Irvin, Seattle: Bears targeted him in ’12 draft before Seattle picked; solid if unspectacular.

Defensive line

Eddie Goldman is youth at NT but the DE/5-technique role is wide open. Jarvis Jenkins would be a quality re-sign.

1. Jaye Howard, Kansas City: Mauled Bears early in ’15 meeting with Hroniss Grasu; low mileage, high upside.

2. Akiem Hicks, New England: Massive (6-foot-5, 345 pounds) anchor alongside Goldman; drafted by Saints while Pace in New Orleans

3. Malik Jackson, Denver: Do Bears really want to get into this bidding war?

Guard

Matt Slauson is a fixture now but RG suffered when Kyle Long moved and Slauson gives flexibility. Bears see Charles Leno at LT.

1. Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore: Best OL on market can play guard or tackle.

2. Alex Boone, San Francisco: Nobody looks too good after 49ers’ 2015 but Boone is a two-time Pro Bowl alternate who can play tackle.

3. Jeff Allen, Kansas City: Quality blocker with versatility at age 26.

4. Brandon Brooks, Houston: Huge (335 pounds) mauler has started 30 games.

Cornerback

Bears hit with Tracy Porter, missed with Alan Ball, need to settle a key spot opposite Kyle Fuller, whom Bears control for 3 more yrs.

1. Janoris Jenkins, Los Angeles: Elite corner money could cost Bears needs elsewhere; how aggressive will Pace be?

2. Sean Smith, Kansas City: At 6-3, 210, may be best UFA corner, and KC may need too much money for others on good defense.

3. Casey Hayward, Green Bay: Notches below top two but solid; luring a Packer of of Green Bay never bad thing.

Tight end

Martellus Bennett situation throws TE situation into turmoil. Zach Miller a good re-sign but injury history means more needed.

1. Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Indianapolis: Colts not expected to have money to keep both. Both with upside, Allen better blocker but some injuries, Fleener a better receiver.

2. Ladarius Green, San Diego: Big upside to understudy to Antonio Gates, if Chargers let him walk.

Safety

Bears hit on Adrian Amos via draft but Antrel Rolle age, health now are issues.

1. Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland: Some ankle issues in ’15 but ball-hawk’er has 14 INT’s in 4 yrs., including 1 of Jay Cutler.

2. George Iloka, Cincinnati: Overshadowed by Reggie Nelson, has size (6-4, 225); out of Boise State with McClellin.

3. Rodney McLeod, Los Angeles: Smallish but a proven hitter from physical program.

Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event

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USA TODAY

Prince Amukamara and CDW surprise teens at MSI event

This past Saturday, Prince Amukamara provided a great surprise when he showed up during a graduation ceremony to honor high school seniors who had been a part of the Museum of Science and Industry's (MSI) "Welcome to Science" initiative.

Students listened to brief speeches from CDW Vice President of Networking, Digital Workspace and Security Solutions, Bob Rossi, a number of Bears employees and Amukamara. 

Students engaged in open discussions on how they can further their dreams with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  And through a donation from CDW’s Tech Fore! Kids program, students got perhaps the biggest surpise of all, as they were provided new laptops. CDW continues to help enable the MSI the opportunity to work with youth and further their interaction with STEM.

CDW Tech Fore! has done previous work with Chicago Bulls College Prep, and other schools and Boys and Girls clubs over time. The MSI's program looks to provide a diverse array of teens the chance to dive deeper into what it takes to have a career in science. On top of this, students are able to collect service leearning hours while simultaneously furthering their leadership and public speaking skills. 

Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'

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USA TODAY

Three compulsories loom as make-or-breaks for Mitch Trubisky Bears 'installation'

The popular focus of the Bears offseason has been on a new offensive coaching staff phasing in a radically different system and playbook, integrating new “weapons” brought other teams and other schemes, and fusing them all together around a trigger/detonator in the person of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

More than any of that, however, is Trubisky himself, the real linchpin “weapon.” All of the offseason additions, beginning with coaching staff, projects to make only marginal more impact than Dowell Loggains, Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman and Kendall Wright if Trubisky himself is not much, much better than he was last season.

In three primary areas.

In figure skating and diving, the obligatory must-do’s were called “compulsories” – basic skills at which competitors were required to demonstrate proficiency. For Trubisky, improvements in three specific compulsories are the keys to this young quarterback’s development.

Trubisky is in his own molten state, still a raw, largely unknown with fewer NFL starts (12) than all but four projected starting quarterbacks (Jimmy Garoppolo, Pat Mahomes, AJ McCarron, Deshaun Watson) for 2018, but the poorest record (4-8) of any other anticipated starter, those four included. “Work in progress” is an understatement.

The Trubisky “installation” is in fact massive. Beyond the specifics of scheme, RPO’s and all the rest, Trubisky will go to training camp with precious little shared game experience with virtually any of his chief so-called weapons. Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson weren’t Bears last year. Kevin White worked chiefly with Mike Glennon and the No. 1 offense while Trubisky was primarily with the 2’s. Anthony Miller was in Memphis.

But the Trubisky developmental group – coach Matt Nagy, coordinator Mark Helfrich, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, backup Chase Daniel – has three chief points of attention with what was drafted to be the foundation of the franchise:

Rediscover accuracy

For all of the positives coming out of his abbreviated rookie season, Trubisky completed just 59.4 percent of his passes – not good enough for an offense based in significant part on ball control with the pass. Substandard receivers account for some of the accuracy issues for a quarterback who completed 68 percent in his one year as a college starter. But Mike Glennon completed two-thirds (66.4 percent) of his throws in his four games throwing to largely the same group.

More to a larger point, the Bears were 2-4 when Trubisky completed less than 60 percent of his throws. His completion rate is nothing short of pivotal in keeping possessions sets of downs and entire possessions on schedule, converting third downs and resting his defense.

Nagy dialed back the offense at one point during OTA’s, Trubisky played faster “and you saw completions out there,” Nagy said, “and that's what it's all about.”

Only the Carolina Panthers reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Cam Newton) completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Slightly better statistically, Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz (60.2) was leading the MVP discussion before a season-ending knee injury, and Blake Bortles (60.2) had Jacksonville a fourth-quarter away from the Super Bowl. But the Eagles and Jaguars were top-five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. And Nick Foles got the Eagles to a Lombardi Trophy completing 72.6 percent in the postseason filling in for Wentz.

Tom Brady completed 63.9 percent as a rookie and never below 60 percent in 17 years as a starter. Aaron Rodgers, never below 60 percent in 10 years as a starter. Drew Brees, 15 of his 16 seasons at 60-plus, including the last 14 straight. Ben Roethlisberger, 12 of 14 seasons at 60-plus percent. Peyton Manning, 15 of his 17 seasons at 60-plus percent. Those five account for 17 Super Bowl appearances.

Trubisky was drafted to be that echelon of quarterback. Reaching that level begins with completing passes.

Stay the ball-security course

Trubisky may not have been dominant in any area as a rookie, but he bought into the emphasis placed on ball security by John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. He ranked 12th with a very respectable 2.1-percent interception rate. Of the 11 passers rated ahead of him, only Jacoby Brisset in Indianapolis failed to get his team to .500, and eight of those 11 were in the playoffs. Ball security matters.

And it is something to watch through training camp and preseason. Adam Gase made ball security the No. 1 objective with Jay Cutler when Gase arrived in 2015. Cutler went a dozen straight practices and his 33-pass preseason without throwing an interception. The carryover was obvious; Cutler had the best season (92.3) and second-best interception rate of his career in 2015.

The same is expected, and needed, from Trubisky for the new offense, and the “old” defense, to work.

“He had, I think was a three-to-one or maybe even a four-to-one touchdown to interception ratio in college,” Helfrich said. “That works. That’s a good thing. We need to continue that. We can’t put the defense in a bad situation, our team in a situation, because there’s times in the NFL they’re going to get you and I think a quarterback kind of has that innate ability to take care of the football versus turning it over when he, for lack of a better word, panics.” 

Trubisky lost two fumbles in the span of 12 games. Very respectable and a strong starting point for his year two.

Get the ball off on time

Trubisky in 2017 tied for fourth in percentage of pass plays sacked (8.6), a problem that might be laid at the feet of an offensive line forced by injuries into seven different starting-five combinations. Might, but far from entirely.

Nagy’s passing offense is rooted in timing. Receivers during practices have precision drilled into them, meaning being exactly where they’re supposed to be at precisely the instant they’re supposed to be there. Trubisky’s tutoring has stressed plays being on time.

Only the Buffalo Bills reached the playoffs with a quarterback (Tyrod Taylor, 9.9) taking sacks at a rate higher than 6.6 percent. Alex Smith went down at a rate of 6.5 percent running the Kansas City offense under Nagy and coach Andy Reid.

Trubisky’s mobility is an obvious asset for extending plays. But getting the ball out of his hands is the goal, and his decision-making and execution will be key in how long his line has to sustain blocks. Trubisky early on evinced a grasp of balancing the reward of rescuing a play under pressure against the risk of taking a sack.

“Ball security is very important so I'm just trying to take care of the football,” Trubisky said not long after taking over for Glennon last season. “But at the same time you want to stay aggressive and you could say the sacks are a result of that.”