Bears

Steve Smith: Bears' Conte, Jennings 'not on my level'

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Steve Smith: Bears' Conte, Jennings 'not on my level'

Steve Smith likes playing against the Bears. One reason is that he doesn't think much of their defensive backs.

For the second straight game at Soldier Field, Smith reached the 100-yard plateau, in his mind because what he was facing in cornerback Tim Jennings and safety Chris Conte aren't his equals.

During the first half, Smith was seen jawing with Conte, but he dismissed both that idea and Conte.

"No, weren't jawing," a frustrated Smith said. "There's nothing for me to jaw with. What's his number? 47?" I know he plays for the Bears, but he's not on my level. Sorry. You can go interview him, though."

The criticism towards the Bears secondary didn't end there. Smith decided to take a shot at NFL interception leader Jennings.

"That touchdown was the best play he made all game on me, but it was a key moment and changed the momentum," Smith said. "I know you want to pump him up, but I've been kicking his ass every time I come up here and today was no different."

It was Jennings that had the last laugh once again on Sunday. His one touchdown against the Panthers is one more than Smith has had in last two meetings against the Bears.

Though Jennings took a different tack when discussing what it was like to go up against a Pro Bowl receiver in Smith Sunday afternoon.

"He's a Pro Bowl receiver," Jennings said. "He's been doing this for a while, he's going to make some plays. I had to step-up to the challenge and minimize his ability."

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

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USA Today

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

The Bears will try to address one of their more glaring weaknesses — tight end depth — by giving longtime offensive tackle Bradley Sowell some work at tight end in the coming weeks of practice at Halas Hall. 

Sowell, a reliable backup swing tackle the last two seasons with the Bears, was targeted twice as a receiver in 2018 — first, on a nearly-intercepted Mitch Trubisky pass against the New England Patriots, and second on the famous “Santa’s Sleigh” touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. He also got some work as a fullback in the Bears’ Week 17 thumping of the Minnesota Vikings. 

“We felt like at the ‘Y’ position we could use some more depth,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s something we talked about at the end of the season. We discussed it and now we’re giving him a chance.”

Nagy’s assessment of the Bears’ “Y” (in-line) depth is accurate, if not even undersold. The athletic 6-foot-7, 312 pound Sowell will have a chance to be a backup to Adam Shaheen, who has missed 13 games in his first two years due to a string of injuries. Reserve tight end Ben Braunecker can play both the “Y” and “U” positions, and the Bears have a handful of undrafted free agents (led by Utah State's Dax Raymond) competing to catch the eye of the coaching staff in the coming weeks. 

The Bears’ offense struggled with two tight ends on the field last year, especially in Shaheen’s absence as Dion Sims played himself out of the league. It’s far too early to tell if adding Sowell to the tight end mix will help, but at this point, the Bears think it’s worth a shot. 

“He’s shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he’s very smart, he knows how to block and all that stuff,” Nagy said. “So let’s test it out and see. When I tell you he’s all-in, he’s all-in.”

Center of Attention

As expected, the Bears indeed will flip James Daniels and Cody Whitehair on the offensive line, with Daniels sliding to center and Whitehair to left guard. 

“We feel comfortable with it, so again, this is the time to test it out and see,” Nagy said. “It’s hard right now because we don’t have pads. So, we’ll get into training camp and see how that goes. But I feel pretty good about it.”

Daniels exclusively played left guard during last year’s regular season, with the Bears opting to hold steady with Whitehair at center for the third consecutive season. Whitehair, though, was drafted as a guard back in 2016 and only moved to center after the last-minute signing of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Daniels, too, starred as a center at Iowa and did get a smattering of preseason snaps there before fully committing to playing guard his rookie year. 

The change is the only planned one on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line, which returns every primary starter from 2018 (Daniels, Whitehair, Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Kyle Long). Perhaps the most significant change for this group, then, will be losing Sowell as its backup tackle. 

Windy City: Smoke Out?

Taquan Mizzell will work as a wide receiver during OTAs, with the now-former running back trading in No. 33 for No. 11 but facing an uphill battle to make the Bears’ roster. 

Mizzell does have a decent track record as a pass-catcher dating back to his college days at Virginia, but it’ll take a massive effort for the third-year player to crack into a crowded receiver room that already has a competitive battle brewing between Javon Wims, Marvin Hall and a group of undrafted free agents. 

While it’s too early to grant rookie running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. a roster spot, shifting Mizzell out of the picture does appear to create a clearer path for the seventh-round pick to stick with the Bears this fall. 

Countdown to the NBA Draft: The best all-time selection at picks 1-30

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USA TODAY

Countdown to the NBA Draft: The best all-time selection at picks 1-30

We're counting down the days until the NBA Draft by looking at the best players selected at No. 30, 29, 28 all the way down to No. 1. Check back every day leading up to June 20th for a new player and a new all-time best pick.

No. 30: Jimmy Butler

No. 29: 5/23
No. 28: 5/24
No. 27: 5/25
No. 26: 5/26
No. 25: 5/27
No. 24: 5/28
No. 23: 5/29
No. 22: 5/30
No. 21: 5/31
No. 20: 6/1
No. 19: 6/2
No. 18: 6/3
No. 17: 6/4
No. 16: 6/5
No. 15: 6/6
No. 14: 6/7
No. 13: 6/8
No. 12: 6/9
No. 11: 6/10
No. 10: 6/11
No. 9: 6/12
No. 8: 6/13
No. 7: 6/14
No. 6: 6/15
No. 5: 6/16
No. 4: 6/17
No. 3: 6/18
No. 2: 6/19
No. 1: 6/20