Bears

Humble Eifert has made huge strides

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Humble Eifert has made huge strides

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The confidence Tyler Eifert has in his biggest decision, when he bypassed the NFL draft and returned to school to improve his skillset, is evident as he discusses his all-around game.
A lot of time, sweat and study have been poured into developing the Notre Dame tight ends blocking and route running this season.
Already an elite pass catcher before 2012, the humble senior wont try and quantify just how much his entire game has improved.
But he doesnt need to, as his coaches and teammates are more than willing to douse you with a long list of superlatives about Eiferts play. And then of course theres Eiferts 2012 Mackey Award trophy, awarded annually to the nations top tight end.
While Eifert wont say how much he has improved, he does admit he sees the difference whenever coaches pop in game film from previous seasons.
When I go back and watch (2011 tape) its just like, Yeah, what are you doing out there right now? Eifert said earlier this week as Notre Dame ramped up its preparation for its Jan. 7 meeting with Alabama in the BCS Championship Game in Miami. When we watch film on other teams, we see ourselves with teams weve already played, like Boston College, and you see yourself out there. Ive definitely gotten better every year.
Eiferts play in 2011, when he set a school record for tight ends with 63 catches and 803 receiving yards, made him aware success in the NFL isnt a far-fetched dream.
He already has been evaluated as a potential third-round draft pick in last Aprils draft. But with two years of eligibility left, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-product returned to campus in hopes of refining his game.
Tight end coach Scott Booker has no doubt Eifert made the right choice. Booker said Eifert has been determined since then to better understand his role as a blocker, to improve his blocking technique and how to improve his receiving routes.
Right off the get-go he did a great job of understanding where he wanted to improve, Booker said. Hes able to stay in there and block anybody in the country now and (you see) his ability to be able to separate from cornerbacks when hes out there one-on-one or inside getting separation from second-level defenders.
Said Eifert: I try to get better every week, try to watch the film and see what I did wrong and try to fix that stuff.
While Eiferts overall repertoire has clearly improved, it appeared earlier this season to come at the cost of his own offensive production. With the team in the middle of a quarterback transition from junior Tommy Rees to freshman Everett Golson, the opportunity for Eifert to make plays hasnt been as plentiful.
Eiferts production has picked up of late, but through the teams first five games he had only 11 catches and also saw his 22-game catch streak -- the longest among FBS tight ends -- snapped on Sept. 15 against Michigan State.
But through it all, if ever there was frustration on Eiferts end, wide receiver Robby Toma admits hes impressed because he has never heard a peep from the tight end.
'Eif' is one of the great examples of being selfless, Toma said. The first couple games I had more catches than 'Eif,' and he had a chance to go to the NFL. For him to come back and not complain about not catching enough balls, not getting enough touchdowns just spoke volumes to Eifs character.
Eifert has had little to complain about down the stretch. Twenty-two of his 44 grabs this season have come over Notre Dames last four games. Eifert also has the comfort knowing that 32 of his 44 grabs have resulted in either a touchdown or a first down.
Everett has done a great job of finding him and putting the ball where it needs to be placed and Tyler has done a good job of getting into position to make the plays, Booker said.
Despite it all, the gains he has made on the field and in the locker room, where Toma identified him as a leader because of his character, Eifert wont budge on just how much he has developed.
I dont know how much better Ive gotten, Eifert said.
Booker isnt as humble. He believes Eifert has a successful road ahead of him.
The sky is the limit for him, Booker said. You see a lot of guys in the NFL with the same skillset being very productive for a lot of different teams and a lot of different type of offenses.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.