Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

When the Bears used their second-round pick on Division II tight end Adam Shaheen, it jogged coach John Fox’s memory to someone he saw develop 27 years ago.

In 1990, when Fox was a defensive backs coach for the Steelers, Pittsburgh drafted tight end Eric Green in the first round from Liberty University. Liberty, until 1989, competed at the Division II level, and Green went on to be a two-time Pro Bowler and catch 36 touchdowns in his 10-year career.

“You flash back when you’ve been doing it as long as I have,” Fox said. “I still have my senses, but every once in a while players will jump to mind. … (Green was from a) very small school but a big body.”

The Bears used three of their five picks in the 2017 NFL Draft on players who didn’t play at the FBS level: Shaheen (D-II Ashland), fourth-round running back Tarik Cohen (FCS North Carolina A&T) and fifth-round offensive lineman Jordan Morgan (Kutztown).

The step up in competition will be most stark for Shaheen and Morgan, both of whom dominated opposition that isn’t close to what they’ll face in the NFL every single week. Morgan had a taste of what facing better players is like at the Senior Bowl — where he was under the watch of the Bears coaching staff — and said after an initial shock, the transition wasn’t too difficult.

“There (were) some speed adjustments, adjusting to the talent level, but I think once I got used to that I kind of just started to take off from there,” Morgan said. “At the end of the day football is football no matter what division or school you’re from.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Eddie Jackson healthy, ready to bring center fielder range to Bears' secondary]

Some of the Bears more solid players on their current roster weren’t stars for a major college program, too: wide receiver Cameron Meredith played at FCS-level Illinois State, linebacker Jerrell Freeman was at Division III Mary Hardin-Baylor and defensive end Akiem Hicks emerged from Regina college in Canada.

General manager Ryan Pace observed how players from off-the-radar college programs can succeed during his time in New Orleans, too.

Specifically: The Saints in 2006 drafted Jahri Evans in the fourth round from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and immediately plugged him into their starting lineup at right guard. Evans, who recently signed with the Green Bay Packers, became a four time first-team All Pro and started 169 games with the Saints.

“You believe what you see on tape,” Pace said. “You have conviction on players. And especially, and I’ve said this before, when I feel like we have a consensus in our building on the player, those decisions are fun to make and exciting to make. And I’m really excited to see what some of these guys do on this stage because we’re confident in our abilities.”

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Trey Lance to the Bears? This 2021 mock draft thinks so

Barring some kind of career-year from Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, the 2021 NFL Draft will likely center around quarterback for the Chicago Bears. And while that's not necessarily good news for Bears fans, it could be worse. Next year's draft class will have a handful of quality quarterbacks with first-round grades.

In the latest mock draft from The Draft Wire, the Bears spend their first-round pick on North Dakota State darling, Trey Lance. The FCS standout is the apple of Draft Twitter's eye during the first wave of summer scouting, with some respected draft analysts like The Athletic's Dane Brugler ranking him ahead of Ohio State star, Justin Fields.

The Bears use the 12th overall pick in this mock on Lance. By the time April rolls around, and assuming Lance stacks another productive season on top of his remarkable 2019 performance, it's unlikely he'll be around outside the top 10.

Lance threw for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and a remarkable ZERO interceptions in his first full season starting for the Bison. But that's not all; he ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, too.

At an estimated 6-3 and 224 pounds, Lance checks all the early boxes for a franchise quarterback prospect. If he does end up leapfrogging Fields for QB2, he'll be a top-five pick.

But here's the catch: we just don't know enough about him yet. His 2019 season was fantastic, but it's the only one he has on film. And it was against FCS competition, which makes his projection to the NFL more difficult. It's a slippery slope to use Carson Wentz as an example to support Lance's ability to make the jump to the pros. Players like Wentz are the exception; they're few and far between.

It's only July, and the mock draft landscape will change multiple times between now and April. But if Trubisky and Foles fail to deliver in 2020, all mock drafts will have the Bears picking a quarterback. The only question is how high will the Bears be picking in Round 1, and which quarterback (if any) falls to their selection.

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair says he's excited to begin training camp at center

Cody Whitehair is comfortable and excited about playing center in 2020, a position that isn't new for him but also wasn't deemed his full-time home until midway through last season.

With 2020 training camp scheduled to begin in two weeks, Whitehair is feeling good about his season outlook now that he's back to being the quarterback of the offensive line.

"That's where I feel the most comfortable," Whitehair said on Bears All-Access. "Obviously I'm a team guy and I'll do whatever they ask me to do. If it happens to be where they need me to play a different position, whether that be July 28 when we come in the building or, you know, whenever that may be, you know I'm always down for it."

Whitehair has always been a team-first guy since joining the Bears as a second-round pick in 2016. The former collegiate tackle began his career at center before flipping to guard and then back to center last season. He played 561 snaps at center and 508 at left guard in 2019.

"But you know just being comfortable at that position and being played there for as long as I have in the NFL it's really exciting to be able to be there to start the season again," Whitehair said.

Whitehair will be counted on to keep the offensive line in sync and on task, especially in the run game.

"You want your offense to be able to count on that run and especially in obvious situations," Whitehair said. "You know, that's where an offensive lineman has really got to be, you know, at his best whether that be obvious pass or obvious run.

"So it's something we take pride in and in the run game everything starts up there upfront and making sure we can get a hole open for those guys in the backfield because when we do that we're going to be dangerous."

The Bears' offensive line was recently ranked 22nd in the league by Pro Football Focus with the caveat that they could become one of the NFL's 10-best units if it returns to the level of play we saw in 2018. Whitehair was a big reason for that productive season, and he logged all 1,139 of his snaps at center that year.