Jordan Morgan

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

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USA Today

As offseason program begins, Bears' offensive depth chart comes into focus

The Bears’ offseason program begins Tuesday, with players allowed to report to Halas Hall for rehab, strength and conditioning work. Attendance is voluntary, and the first time the Bears’ non-strength/training coaching staff will be able to work with players will be during April 17-19’s voluntary veteran minicamp. 

But this week will be the first opportunity for Matt Nagy and his players to set the tone for the 2018 season, with OTAs and minicamps to follow over the next two months. So as the offseason program gets underway, here’s where the Bears’ depth chart stands, starting today with the offense:

Quarterback

1. Mitch Trubisky
2. Chase Daniel
3. Tyler Bray

The Bears could look to sign an undrafted free agent later this month to, at best, compete with Bray — who was only guaranteed $45,000 in his one-year, $795,000 deal, according to Spotrac — and at worst be a camp arm to have in Bourbonnais. Both Daniel and Bray know Nagy’s offense well, which is why they’re here. 

“So now you get Chase and Tyler that both know the offense, that are there to just from both sides help Mitch out,” Nagy said. “But yet, they’re both going to compete. So now Tyler goes in there. Tyler is very accurate, has a really strong arm with great accuracy. And really has grown into a really good person and than as a player, he hasn’t had a whole lot of opportunity. And now unfair to him at the end of the game there, you know, he had that one play, and there were some different conditions and different scenarios. That’s now who Tyler is, but he knows his role and he’s just going to help out Mitch.”

Running back

1. Jordan Howard
2. Tarik Cohen
3. Benny Cunningham

While there are some questions about Howard’s fit in Nagy’s offense — which requires its running backs to be reliable pass-catchers — the only running back in franchise history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career will have a prominent role in 2018. Cohen’s versatility fits a lot of what Nagy wants to do, and he’ll have more help around him this year than he did in 2017, when opposing defenses were able to double-team him without leaving themselves exposed. 

Cunningham reportedly will return to the Bears, which doesn't necessarily take Ryan Pace out of the market to draft a running back. But the Bears like Cunningham's leadership, pass protection skills and special teams play, all of which may be traits difficult to find in a mid-to-late-round running back.

But the focus on this unit is how Howard and Cohen can play off each other. 

“They’re completely different, right? But you can you use them in different ways,” Nagy said. “You can move them out and if they want to go ahead and try to cover you with a linebacker or cover you with a safety, that may predicate, dictate what you’re going to do offensively. I think you’re seeing that because of those two things, injuries and then because of positional flexibility of being able to get matchups.”

“X” and “Z” (outside) wide receiver

1. Allen Robinson
2. Kevin White

1. Cameron Meredith
2. Joshua Bellamy

Meredith isn’t officially back in the fold yet, as he remains a restricted free agent following the Bears’ decision to place an original round tender — worth $1.907 million — on him last month. Here’s reportedly attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, but hasn’t signed an offer sheet, which the Bears would have the opportunity to match. The Bears were prepared for this, though, and teams are able to present offer sheets to Meredith through April 20. 

“When we tendered him that way, we know these are some of the circumstances,” Pace said. “So we’re monitoring it closely. We know we’ll have a decision to make if an offer comes in, and we’re prepared for that.”

If the Bears were to lose Meredith, drafting a receiver would become a priority. But Nagy wants to give White every opportunity to succeed, and if the 2015 first-round pick makes the roster, he probably won’t be a part of Chris Tabor’s special teams units. That’s generally a requirement for reserve receivers — Bellamy is a special teams ace — and would mean that if the Bears do draft a receiver, he’ll probably be someone who can contribute on special teams. The point: Don’t look for the Bears to draft a receiver in the first round, and potentially not in the second round, either. 

“Zebra” (slot) receiver

1. Taylor Gabriel
2. Tarik Cohen

The primary responsibility for the “Zebra” receiver in Nagy’s offense is to play the slot, but it’s a versatile position that looks to be an ideal fit for these two diminutive, speedy players. Nagy said the Chiefs’ coaching staff scouted Cohen during the pre-draft process a year ago, though it didn’t sound as extensive as the Saints’ work on him.

“Y” (in-line) tight end

1. Adam Shaheen
2. Dion Sims
3. Ben Braunecker

“U” (split out) tight end

1. Trey Burton
2. Daniel Brown

The Bears are set at tight end, roster-wise, with Shaheen, Sims and Burton topping the depth chart and Braunecker and Brown solid special teams contributors. 

The boom-or-bust potential in this unit is huge — Shaheen and Burton combined last year for only 35 catches and 375 yards, but also combined for eight touchdowns. At best, Burton can be a highly-targeted matchup nightmare between the 20’s, with Shaheen an excellent finisher in the red zone. At worst, neither player takes the step the Bears envision, and the productivity from this position doesn’t improve much from 2017’s mediocre-at-best results. 

“(Burton) was the second, sometimes third, tight end in Philadelphia,” Nagy said. “Well, now we’re going to put him in a role where those numbers are going to be able to jump up. And that’s on us to be able to do that.”

Left tackle

1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell

Left guard

1. Eric Kush
1A. Earl Watford

Update: The Bears made official a one-year deal with Watford on Tuesday. The 27-year-old former Arizona Cardinals interior offensive lineman has played in 42 games, starting 22, in his four-year NFL career. 

Center

1. Cody Whitehair
2. Hroniss Grasu

Right guard

1. Kyle Long
2. Jordan Morgan

Right tackle

1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell

A few options are here as the Bears look toward the NFL Draft next month. If Quenton Nelson is available when the No. 8 pick comes around, re-uniting the former Notre Dame guard with Harry Hiestand would be a layup. Nelson projects as a longtime Pro Bowler, and with the pool of quality offensive linemen shrinking seemingly by the year, it doesn’t matter that he’s “only” a guard. 

But for those reasons, the chances Nelson makes it to No. 8 may not be good. The Bears could opt to draft an interior offensive lineman with their second-round pick — as they did with Cody Whitehair in 2016 — and have him compete with Kush, Morgan and/or Grasu in training camp. Or the team could stick with Kush, who played well in 2016, and perhaps look to draft Massie’s eventual replacement at right tackle. Either way, it’d be surprising if the Bears didn’t take at least one offensive lineman in the draft. 

Rookie review: How the Bears' 2017 draft class fared in its first preseason

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AP

Rookie review: How the Bears' 2017 draft class fared in its first preseason

This year’s crop of Bears rookies has, for the most part, impressed over the last month. There are a handful of immediate contributors and a couple of players who, with a little more time, could be key parts of the long-term turnaround Ryan Pace hopes to engineer. 

A look at the five players the Bears drafted, plus that one undrafted free agent who opened plenty of eyes in July and August:

QB Mitchell Trubisky (1st round, No. 2 overall)
Stats: 36/53 (67.9 percent), 364 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 106.2 QB rating

It’s hard to imagine Trubisky’s preseason going better than it did, save for those head-scratching passes he threw at the end of Thursday night’s preseason finale. Over the course of a heap of practice reps and four games, Trubisky sped up his timeline to make his regular season debut — in other words, he looked more ready to play than expected. 

Trubisky still needs to refine his pre-snap operation of the Bears’ offense, but he’s made strides in taking snaps under center (remember when that was an issue?) and reading defenses. There was no doubt from the moment the Bears drafted Trubisky that he’d be their quarterback of the future, but he showed over the last month that future can come sooner rather than later. 

TE Adam Shaheen (2nd round, No. 45 overall)
Stats: 6 receptions, 37 yards

Shaheen entered training camp having impressed during OTAs and minicamp, looking like a guy who could make an immediate difference in the red zone. But how big an impact he could make as a rookie was always going to be determined by how he fared when the pads came on. 

What those padded practices and games showed, though, is that the hulking 6-foot-6, 270 pound tight end from Division II Ashland still needs more time. Shaheen's invisibility in practices and games, and inclusion on special teams units, is a good indication of where he stands going into the season. He can still carve out a role if he makes strides in practice, but he’s squarely behind Zach Miller and Dion Sims on the Bears’ depth chart. 

S Eddie Jackson (4th round, 112th overall)
Stats: 2 tackles, 1 pass defended

No rookie will have a greater opportunity than Jackson, who looks in line to start at free safety Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons. The rangy Alabama product was frequently around the ball in Bourbonnais and nearly picked off a pass against the Arizona Cardinals. 

Jackson’s ball skills are what this turnover-strapped secondary needs, though questions about his physicality cropped up after he and Quintin Demps combined to whiff on tackling Taywan Taylor against the Titans for a big-chunk play on Sunday. 

RB Tarik Cohen (4th round, 119th overall)
Stats: 19 carries, 121 yards (6.4 yards per carry)

Few players improved their stock more during the last month than Cohen, who impressed not only with his quickness but with how hard the 5-foot-6, 181 pound running back ran. His 11-carry, 77-yard game against Arizona was an eye-opener, showing that Cohen could be more than a threat on third downs. 

Still, if the Bears use him as a change-of-pace guy on third down to start the season, he showed during the preseason he can make an immediate impact. He should get some work on kick and/or punt returns, too. And this is worth noting: Cohen didn’t catch a pass in three preseason games, leaving a solid area of his game untapped (and not on film to opponents). 

OL Jordan Morgan (5th round, 147th overall)
Stats: 4 games played

Morgan played with the backup offensive line and was as advertised — a former Division II player who will need time to transition to the NFL. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bears keep him on the 53-man roster or try to stash him on their practice squad over the weekend.

Tanner Gentry (undrafted)
Stats: 4 catches, 77 yards, 1 TD

Gentry very well could be one of the guys who played his way onto the 53-man roster with a highly productive preseason — both in games and practice — and willingness to be on special teams. He out-played the likes of Victor Cruz (6 catches, 28 yards, 1 TD) and Titus Davis (4 catches, 52 yards) and quickly developed a good rapport with Trubisky. 

That Gentry mainly stuck with the second/third-team offense — and didn’t get much work with Mike Glennon — could be a sign he might not survive cut-down day, though. He didn’t record a reception or a target in Thursday night’s loss to Cleveland, but did get plenty of special teams work throughout the game. 

The bigger question with Gentry is: Would the receiver-thin Bears really want to risk losing him to another team by trying to sneak him onto their practice squad? That we’re asking this question about an undrafted free agent is a good sign for Gentry, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good enough sign that he’ll make the initial 53-man roster.  

Undrafted free agents who could be practice squad fodder: WR Alton Howard, RB Josh Rounds, FB Freddie Stevenson, LB Isaiah Irving, OL Brandon Greene, OL Mitchell Kirsch, OL Dieugot Joseph, DL Rashaad Coward

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

This week marks the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, depending on how you want to look at organized team activities (OTA’s), the third stage of the NFL offseason culminating in the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. Teams are allowed a total of 10 OTA sessions, giving coaches a final look at players before the break until training camp convenes in late July.

The sessions also mark the first time that the players, who were finishing college semesters this time a year ago, will be introduced to the REAL NFL, the professionals already part of the August fraternity to which the draft picks and undrafted free agents aspire.

Well, maybe it's not the true first time some of the rookies will “meet” the pros.

During the brief rookie minicamp, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn did as all the coaches do: show his position group the film of them going through their drills. In the interest of accelerating the young players’ learning curve, however, Washburn went a step further.

[MORE: Bears QB coach Dave Ragone doesn't mind his type of turnover]

He followed the rookie film with the same drills being run by the pros, meaning the rookies could see how Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair and other vets did those same drills.

The difference was startling – as Washburn intended. The kids were being shown a new meaning for what they might have thought was “maximum effort.”

“That’s one thing coach ‘Wash and coach Ben [Wilkerson] have really been pushing to us — just making sure we’re doing everything to maximum effort, and always finishing near the ball,” said rookie lineman Jordan Morgan. “I feel like that’s stuff you hear at every level of football, but more so now, especially, it being the NFL.”

Rules limit the amount of work allowed vs. opposition, meaning how much Morgan might learn by going against a Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman or Pernell McPhee. But learning the every-play intensity at the NFL level may be difficult to comprehend for players who’ve obviously seen it done this hard before.

“The way the veteran guys run [the drills] is the way you’re supposed to do it,” Washburn said. “There’s a style of play, a work ethic you have to put into this. You can’t just get away with things because the guy in front of you is as good or better than you are.

“Scheme-wise, that has not been a problem, the way it has been with some rookies I’ve had in the past. It’s the day-to-day intensity and focus you have to put in for 16 weeks. That is a big adjustment.”

The NFL is replete with examples of college players arriving with elite physical abilities but not taking effort and learning intensity to the professional level. The Bears used the No. 8 overall pick of the 2001 draft on wide receiver David Terrell, who’d dominated on raw ability at the college level but never developed beyond a mid-level wideout.

Washburn saw something similar while coaching offensive line for the Detroit Lions.

“I had a rookie guard in Detroit who ate Hot Pockets and played video games at night,” Washburn recalled. “His rookie year he got by, played OK, but then had a big slump his sophomore year and said, ‘I gotta change my ways.’

“He absolutely changed everything and now he’s an absolute pro.”

If Bears rookies do anything video with their nights, Washburn intends for those videos to be the ways the pros do it