Loss of Wilson Highlights the Bears Problem with Roster Depth

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes head coach John Fox after the news broke that Marquess Wilson broke his foot.

“‘I don’t know that you’re ever comfortable with depth,’ Fox said. ‘We’re kinda where we are right now. We’re always looking to improve. I think you have to be fortunate and stay healthy, and then you don’t have to have all that depth.”

Yeah, well, good luck with that.

The truth is that more often than not injuries are going to hit you as an NFL team. If you are going to compete consistently year in and year out, you need to have depth and overcome them. And depth is a major concern for the Bears.

In addition to the wide receiver situation, the Bears still don’t have a swing tackle and, with the retirement of Manny Ramirez and with Ted Larsen not present for minicamp, depth on the interior offensive line is now a concern. The Bears are also razor thin in the defensive backfield where arguably even the starters aren’t up to snuff. The depth at inside linebacker behind Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathon is also suspect.

The Bears are likely to be a popular pick amongst those pundits who are looking for a team to come out of nowhere to compete for a playoff spot. They have the second weakest schedule in the league, have strengthened their starting front seven and they have Kevin White back.

But don’t be fooled.

Sure, they could get lucky and remain exceptionally healthy for one year. But despite his statement, Fox surely knows full well that no one should expect that.

The truth is that the Bears still don’t have the talent to consistently compete and, even if a reasonable number of the players taken in 2016 pan out, they are still one or two good drafts away from being so.

Reading Between the Alshon Jeffery Lines an Exercise in Frustration

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Is Alshon Jeffrey‘s injury history being overblown in terms of contract negotiations?… — Jesse G., San Diego”

“I think the troubling thing about Jeffery’s 2015 season is he missed seven games with a string of calf, hamstring and groin muscle injuries. It started with the calf and he basically kept suffering soft-tissue injuries. Had Jeffery played nine games and missed seven with a broken bone of some sort, I don’t know that the situation would be viewed in the same light.”

I’m not entirely sure why this is. Is it because the players are expected to play through these injuries? I find that hard to believe since they will only tend to get worse without rest. Perhaps it’s because they tend to be recurring?

I don’t doubt that Biggs is correct here. But I think I’m supposed to be reading something between the lines and I don’t know what it is.

EDIT:  I’ve been thinking a bit more about this post since I put it up.  I’m thinking that the reason why Jeffery’s injuries being of the soft tissuse variety is important is that they are seen as being preventable.

Right or wrong, I think Jeffery is being pegged as being not in the best shape to play.  Assuming that’s the case, it understandable why there would be a difference between his soft tissue injuries and, say, a broken bone.

Jeffery and the Bears Apparently Far Apart on Long-Term Contract

Up until now, I’ve been assuming that the Alshon Jeffery contract situation was going to go according to the usual plan. Both sides stake out a position and neither moves until the last minute when a deal gets done just before the deadline, in this case July 15.

But now it appears that may well not be the case.

Multiple unnamed sources “with knowledge of the situation” have told the Chicago Tribune that Jeffery will likely play the coming season under the franchise tag with no long-term deal. This is a very disappointing development for Bears fans.

Jeffery is the only legitimate, established star on an offense that doesn’t have many of them. Sure, 2015 first round pick Kevin White is there but he’s unproven after being on injured reserve last year. Even if he turns out to be a good player you need more than one serious threat at wide receiver to make a good modern offense. The Bears may have that this year but it certainly sounds like no one should be holding their breath on the future after that.

The Bears want to see more from Jeffery in terms of his commitment to the team as well as to his own health before they throw big money at him. But other teams have been handing out huge, big money contracts like candy this offseason. As a good example, Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox recently signed a 6-year contract worth $103 million with $63 million guaranteed. Cox is a good player but that is huge money and players around the league are looking at it and drooling.

The odds are good that Jeffery is asking for the moon. And the problem that the Bears face is that if he hits the open market he may well get it.

To Maintain a Starting Job Grasu Has His Work Cut Out for Him

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“It’s likely that only one backup interior offensive lineman will dress for game day. With that in mind, might Ted Larsen, Manny Ramirez, Hroniss Grasu (probably not him) or Cody Whitehair (certainly not him) not make the team?”

“Let’s see how this plays out. We’re not going to get a real clear picture of things on the offensive line until training camp when the pads go on. My bet is Larsen gets first crack at left guard and the Bears expect him to win that job. I think that leaves Whitehair to push Grasu for the starting job at center. I could be wrong. We’ll learn much more as camp unfolds.”

This is the first suggestion I’ve seen in the press that Whitehair was a serious consideration for center but I doubt anyone is terribly surprised. It’s been reported already that he was spending time after practice during rookie mini-camp snapping balls.

As Biggs says, its too early to say anything for certain.  It was already a given that Grasu would be pushed by Ramirez.  But if the Bears also used a second round pick to draft a player to compete with Grasu, I’d say Grasu’s starting job is in very serious jeopardy.

The guess here is that Whitehair would make a very good center, probably better than Grasu.  Ramirez aside, the key will probably be for Grasu to prove that he’s a better center than Larsen is a guard, making him one of the best five linemen on the team.  That’s going to be an uphill battle.  At minimum, here’s hoping for Grasu’s sake that he’s not pushed around in the preseason again like he was last year.

Not Much Doubt that Eddie Royal is the Guy in the Slot This Year

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Kevin White, Alshon Jeffery and … in the slot?

“Bears first-round pick Kevin White

“That’s a good question and the Bears have a variety of options at this point after the draft. Right now, I’d be quite surprised if Eddie Royal wasn’t the slot receiver. For starters, his $4.5 million base salary for this season is fully guaranteed, so he’s not going anywhere. Royal dealt with some injuries last season and wasn’t the player the Bears were expecting but he’s got a track record for producing and a history of working well with quarterback Jay Cutler.”

I tend to agree with Biggs’ assessment here. Royal didn’t have a great season in part because of the injuries and in part because the Bears started him on the outside for the first month of the season.

One reason Royal came to Chicago is because he felt that he could be more than a slot receiver and the Bears gave him that chance. But it was obvious on October 4 when the Bears played the Raiders and they moved Royal back to the slot that’s where he belonged. Royal had 6 receptions for 80 yards that game after getting only 12 for 117 yards total for the first three games before that on the outside.

I think a lot of people are rooting for seventh round pick Daniel Braverman and at 5’10” he seems to have taken on the annual role of the little underdog, try-hard, white guy. He will compete, I’m sure, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Braverman is probably special teams and depth. When he’s healthy, Royal should be, and probably will be, the guy in the slot.

The Twilight Zone

Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently can’t understand why people want to read about the Bears in May:

“As I’ve perused Chicago newspapers and websites the past few weeks, I’ve seen tons of articles and photos about the team. I now know more about some of the Bears’ draft picks that any person not called ‘Mom’’ or ‘Dad’ should know. The amount of coverage didn’t come out of nowhere. It didn’t come from the whim of editors. It came from the insatiable appetites of a large group of readers.

“In other words, I’m blaming you.”

Go ahead. But I’ve got news for you. From my perspective it isn’t true.

Yes, the articles still appear on the Sun-Times and Tribune websites. But what am I supposed to do with the rest of my day?

Turn on the radio on a given weekend in May and all you hear is “Talkin’ Baseball” and “Inside the Dugout”.  Saturday , heaven help me, I swear I was actually reduced to turning on the White Sox game.

Morrissey can wonder and complain all he wants but we’re in the middle of the sports dead zone. As he points out, I have studied every teams offseason “grades” ad nauseum. I’ve seen everything I want to about baseball (very little). A players league like the NBA where the tail wags the dog and where discipline and team work long left the game in favor of highlighted individual play is a complete non-starter with me.

I need football games. Please let them come soon.

Bears Apparently Looking to Use a Blocking Scheme Which Is Primarily Zone

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times runs us through speculates about some changes in the 2016 Bears offense.

Some of them are obvious. For example, with a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, you can figure you’ll be seeing quarterback Jay Cutler stretch the field and throw the ball up for grabs deep a lot more this season. And with the addition of running back Jordan Howard, the power running game may be more prevalent.

But there was one potential change that I didn’t think was as obvious, though we have gotten a hint.

“[D]on’t be surprised to see the Bears running more zone blocking schemes, an approach [new offensive coordinator DowellLoggains embraced as the Titans’ coordinator.

“One reason the Bears cut Matt Slauson and drafted his presumptive replacement, left guard Cody Whitehair, was to increase the line’s athleticism — and its ability to block linebackers. [Kyle] Long’s return to right guard will help, too.

“‘It’s, get to the second level and produce at the second level,’ [offensive line coach Dave] Magazu said. ‘We can beat guys up, up front. But it doesn’t matter if you beat the hell out of the four down guys and the backer’s standing there and nobody can get to him.'”

Last year with the new coaching staff, the question of what the blocking scheme would be was raised frequently. The answer at that time was that it would be a mix of a little bit of everything. Now, in the staff’s second year and with more personnel of their choosing, we may be seeing what they really prefer.

I heard some speculation when Slauson was released that the Bears might be looking to move to more of a zone blocking scheme. This would seem to confirm it. Slauson was a wonderful power blocker. But the kind of athleticism that will be called for in what may be a primarily zone blocking scheme wasn’t his strength.

Many Points of Interest When Considering the Bears Running Back Situation

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune writes a very interesting article on the running back situation, focusing largely upon the hope that Jeremy Langford will emerge. There are a few things to note.

There’s a slight dichotomy when head coach John Fox and running backs coach Stan Drayton talks about using a backfield by committee approach. Drayton says, “[T]hey all bring a strength that can probably add up to what [Matt Forte] brought. Fox says something similar but slightly different, “Who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then situationally, it can be…whoever has a hot hand.”

Both men imply that the running backs will be used situationally but Fox emphasizes an approach that the Bears have used before, “going with the hot hand”. In previous years that’s what they’ve done, given one series to one back, then resting him by giving one or two to another. But with both men also emphasizing strengths and weaknesses and, particularly with the addition of power back Jordan Howard, they may alter that, for instance, by putting in Howard in short yardage situations and using Langford and Carey mostly in other situations that fit their skill sets.

How the Bears use their running backs will be interesting to watch this year.

Second, Campbell also addresses Langford’s relatively low 3.6 yards per carry. In the process, Drayton gives us his assessment and one more thing to look for in the coming season.

“He has a tendency to want to run narrow,” Drayton said. “His feet are too close together going through the line of scrimmage. So we’re working on just widening his base on contact, putting himself in a more powerful position to be able to attack through contact.”

Drayton wants Langford to gain 3 yards after contact on every run. We will see if he improves in this area.

Lastly, like many people, my assumption was that Ka’Deem Carey is in deep trouble. And he is. But I said that last year and he survived anyway. Carey runs about as hard as any running back you’ll find and Drayton certainly seems to still have interest in him. From Campbell:

“Drayton is pushing Carey to become more versatile, which means playing better on third down. That’s part of the Bears’ greater effort to replace Forte’s contributions in that make-or-break down.

“‘To me, he’s the wild card,’ Drayton said of Carey. ‘He could challenge everybody in that room at any given time.'”

Keep an eye on Carey on third down and, of course, for his continued development on special teams. Right now Carey is up against Jacquizz Rogers for the third running back spot and Rogers’ strength, besides bringing a veteran presence, is that he excels in both of these areas. Carey needs to show that he can replace what Rogers gives in order to beat the odds again and make the team.

Reviewing the Bears Depth Chart Heading into OTAs

As we come out of the draft and enter the OTAs, Kevin Fishbain at Pro Football Weekly thought it might be instructive to look at the Bears depth chart. I agree.


WR: Alshon Jeffery / Marquess Wilson / Cameron Meredith / Derek Keaton*
WR: Kevin White / Josh Bellamy / Deonte Thompson / Darrin Peterson*
WR: Eddie Royal / Marc Mariani / Daniel Braverman* / Kieren Duncan*
OLT: Charles Leno Jr. / Nick Becton / Jason Weaver
OLG: Ted Larsen / Cody Whitehair* / Donovan Williams*
C: Hroniss Grasu / Manny Ramirez / Cornelius Edison
ORG: Kyle Long / Ted Larsen / Manny Ramirez / Adrian Bellard*
ORT: Bobby Massie / Tayo Fabuluje / John Kling* / Martin Wallace
TE: Zach Miller / Rob Housler / Ben Braunecker* / Joe Sommers*
TE/FB: Khari Lee / Gannon Sinclair / Paul Lasike / Greg Scruggs
QB: Jay Cutler / Brian Hoyer / David Fales / Matt Blanchard
RB: Jeremy Langford / Ka’Deem Carey / Jordan Howard* / Jacquizz Rodgers / Senorise Perry


DE: Akiem Hicks / Will Sutton / Cornelius Washington / Kenton Adeyemi*
NT: Eddie Goldman / Terry Williams
DE: Mitch Unrein / Jonathan Bullard* / Ego Ferguson / Keith Browner
OLB: Pernell McPhee / Lamarr Houston / Sam Acho
ILB: Jerrell Freeman / Nick Kwiatkoski* / Christian Jones / Don Cherry*
ILB: Danny Trevathan / John Timu / Jonathan Anderson / Danny Mason
OLB: Willie Young / Leonard Floyd* / Roy Robertson-Harris* / Lamin Barrow
CB: Tracy Porter / Bryce Callahan / Jacoby Glenn / Taveze Calhoun*
FS: Adrian Amos / Omar Bolden / DeAndre Houston-Carson* / Demontre Hurst
SS: Harold Jones-Quartey / Deon Bush* / Chris Prosinski
CB: Kyle Fuller / Sherrick McManis / Deiondre’ Hall* / De’Vante Bausby / Kevin Peterson*

Weakest Position

I believe this is offensive tackle though a case could certainly be made for the defensive backfield positions. But the Bears have some younger players at cornerback and safety that may develop. I’m not so sure about tackle.

It’s not that I don’t believe in Leno and I’m certainly willing to give Massie a chance. But, unlike the situation at the interior offensive line positions where Larsen, Whitehair, Grasu, Ramirez and Long will battle it out for three spots, the situation at tackle seems to be the front line players and then nobody. And the starters certainly aren’t guaranteed top performers.  I don’t even see a swing tackle in the group.

It’s possible that the team is hoping that Fabuluje develops but even if he does, both he and Massie would be a problem if they had to step in on the left side. It’s also possible that the team believes that one of the interior players can move over to tackle in a pinch but, again, that’s not ideal.

Bottom line, I think we can expect the team to be looking closely at June 1 cuts and players that become available in training camp.

Strongest Position

This one came as a surprise even to me. It’s pass rusher. McPhee, Houston, and Young are all solid players. McPhee showed what he could do last year before being slowed by injuries and there’s every reason to believe that both Houston and Young are on the rise in their second year coming off serious injuries. Indeed, the Bears are reportedly working on an extension for Young. Add Floyd’s potential and a solid back up and special teamer in Acho and you’ve got a good group of players there.

I consider this to be a good sign. If you are going to be strong anywhere on your team, you want it to be at pass rusher. I don’t see it as a spectacular unit but I think there are players there that have provent that they can get the job done. The performance here, along with the ability to stay healthy at offensive tackle may be a key to having a successful season.

Bears Get Creative in Effort to Find Blocking Tight End

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Have you heard anything about the Bears moving defensive lineman Greg Scruggs to tight end? Cornelius Washington has Scruggs’ No. 90 now and Scruggs is listed on the Bears roster now as a tight end with No. 87. — @wasram

“That’s a sharp catch by you. The Bears asked Scruggs to change positions on May 2 at the start of the third week of the voluntary offseason workout program, according to a source close to the player. It also happened to be the first day the veterans were in the building after the draft in which the Bears were unable to add a tight end. Scruggs was probably a longshot to make the roster as a defensive lineman and he actually played tight end at Louisville during summer camp before his senior season when the Cardinals were short at the position… They’re looking for a Y tight end that can block. While Scruggs is listed at 310 pounds, he’s weighing 289 right now and if he didn’t look like he could handle the position, the Bears would have likely moved him back to the defensive line or released him.”

At almost 300 pounds, Scruggs could make a decent blocker but is unlikely to show the versatility to be a threat in the passing game. More and more, teams are desperate to find the versatility needed to make a good dual purpose tight end.

Teams will frequently try to convert larger wide receivers to tight end but hese players most frequently show the opposite problem: they can catch but they can’t block.

I’ve never understood why teams aren’t trying to convert the players who are most often tasked with defending these tight ends, the linebackers. They typically show about the same size and need the mobility for the position. Perhaps its because they rarely show ideal length. Still, there must be linebackers out there that are worth a try.