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Ranking the Bears: The Relevant Non-Starters (57-40)

| August 11th, 2020

When you get to the bottom of the Bears roster, you see a lot of familiar names who, for one reason or another, have never stuck as starters in the league. Many of the players in this grouping have stuck on as specialists but some are late-round draft picks who just haven’t had a chance to prove themselves yet.

57. Tyler Bray, QB

There isn’t a lot to say about Bray at this point. He won’t get any significant reps and is just about a lock for the practice squad. As far as emergency quarterbacks go, though, it could be a lot worse. Bray knows the offense and played well in the fourth preseason game last year. I’m still not convinced he isn’t better than Chase Daniel.

56. Abdullah Anderson, DL

If you’re looking for a candidate to be this year’s Nick Williams, Anderson might be a good bet. The former UDFA has impressed during camp and preseason and could be ready to crack the rotation. Appeared in six games for the Bears and got one sack.

55.DeAndre Houston-Carson, Safety

DHC doesn’t have the speed to ever be an effective safety, but he has been a regular contributor on special teams since his rookie season.

54. Eddy Pineiro, Kicker

The Bears obviously didn’t trust their rookie kicker in 2019 and he didn’t give them much reason to. He started strong and finished strong, but can he regularly make kicks beyond 40 yards? Can they even fathom 50-yarders? He has to prove it.

53. Patrick Scales, Long snapper

He’s a long snapper.

52. Lachavious Simmons, OL

His nickname “Pig” was almost enough to get him higher on the list. A big, raw athletic guard who might be able to play right tackle.

51. Arlington Hambright, OL

Hambright’s athleticism and college experience make him interesting. He fell off the radar more than anybody who played left tackle in college and showed a good athletic profile should. As of now, the Bears aren’t giving Simmons or Hambright a shot to compete at right guard, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if either ended up starting there in the near future.

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Ranking the Bears: Long and Longish Shots (85-60)

| August 4th, 2020


The Bears reported to training camp last week with a large number of guys you probably don’t need to know.

This is my fifth year ranking the entire roster and the bottom of the roster is as much of a guess as it’s ever been. There are a few names on this list that fans know, but none who can be relied upon in 2020. What you can tell by looking at the list is that GM Ryan Pace values physical talent at the bottom of the roster. It’s unlikely that any of these players will make an impact in the NFL, but they’re in Chicago for a reason.

85. LaCale London, DL

A local product from Peoria and Western Illinois. Has great size (6’5”, 280), but wasn’t really exceptional, even as the small college level.

84. Reggie Davis, WR

The former Georgia product clocked a 4.31 40-yard dash time ahead of the 2017 NFL draft, but has never produced on the field. He caught just three passes in preseason last year and never had more than 12 in college. He did have a punt return for a touchdown at Georgia, but had otherwise pedestrian numbers as a return man.

83. Dieter Eiselen, OL

A 2019 first-team All-Ivy Leaguer from South Africa. Probably a long shot, but certainly sounds like a good story.

82. Darion Clark, TE

Yet another tight end. Clark is a 26-year-old former college basketball player from USC. He’s 6’7” and 220 pounds, but seems like a long shot to make the roster.

81. Dino Boyd, OL

A UDFA in 2019, Boyd spent time on the Chiefs, Bengals and Bears practice squads last season. He’s short (6’3”), but had nearly 35-inch arms.

80. Trevon McSwain, DL

Great size (6’6”, 285), but little production at Duke. Finished his career with 7.5 sacks and 12 QB pressures. Did have five forced fumbles.

79. Ramix Ahmed, K

The Bears latest attempt to find a kicker from nowhere led them to the 25-year-old who played at Nevada. He has a shot to beat out Piniero, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good.

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ATM: Before Worrying About the 2021 Bears, Maybe Let’s See How 2020 Plays Out

| July 29th, 2020

The voices clamoring to replace Ryan Pace have grown louder this off-season, but the simple truth is this: we have to see what 2020 brings before making any determination on whether or not the GM should be employed beyond this season. Some of Pace’s recent moves haven’t been popular and some of his past moves simply haven’t worked out. But the criticism of the Bears has gotten out of control, especially considering they are coming off their best two-year stretch since Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were in their primes.

Like pretty much every Bears GM since the beginning of time, Pace missed at quarterback. Those who believe Pace should be fired for drafting Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes won’t be dissuaded. It is harsh but not entirely unfair.

Where the anti-Pace argument gets out of control is when he gets criticized for what most would consider good moves. Roquan Smith is a very good linebacker. Drafting him ninth wasn’t a bad move. Pace deserves credit for pulling the trigger on the Khalil Mack trade and for building one of the elite defenses in the league. (Especially considering he inherited the worst defense in franchise history.) While drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round was bad, getting something for a player who had no shot to make the roster was a good move.

Pace has found good players late in the draft and as bargains in free agency.  He has made many good moves, enough that the team has won 20 games the past two seasons and has a roster that should contend for a division title in 2020.

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ATM: Signs Point to Nagy Returning to Kansas City Roots

| July 21st, 2020

In a recent interview on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy, Louis Riddick, pal of Matt Nagy, indicated the team will be returning to the approach Nagy (and Andy Reid) had taken in Kansas City. That doesn’t mean what most fans think. While Nagy was hired in Chicago under the guise of being a quarterback whisperer who would finally modernize the team’s offense, the truth is somewhere in between. Yes, Nagy runs a modern offense with a modern passing game, but he got this gig by running the ball. That is exactly what he is going to try to return to.

Riddick worked with Nagy in Philadelphia and the ESPN analyst has maintained a close relationship with the Bears head coach. Riddick rarely indicates that what he’s saying comes from conversations with Nagy, but when he speaks confidently about the Bears approach, it’s a good bet that it comes with inside knowledge. He shared a number of nuggets in that radio spot last week, none more noteworthy then when he spoke about the Bears newfound commitment to running the ball.

“There’s going to be a marked difference in how that team is going to come off the ball running the football,” he said. Later in the interview, Riddick was more specific saying the Bears are going to be a “more physical running football team.”

That fits with what Nagy did with the Chiefs. In the five years Nagy was with Kansas City, they never ranked in the top half of the league in passing attempts. When Nagy took over play calling duties from Andy Reid in 2017, one of the big changes was feeding the ball to Kareem Hunt — the league’s leading rusher that year. After Nagy gave Hunt just nine carries in his first start – it should be noted they still scored 31 points as Alex Smith threw for four touchdowns — Hunt had 78 carries in the next three games before sitting out most of their Week 17 game.

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ATM: New Coaches Could Help Bears Solve Pettine Riddle

| July 15th, 2020

It doesn’t seem to matter how bad the Green Bay Packer defense is, the Chicago Bears can’t score on them.

That was supposed to change with Matt Nagy taking over, but it hasn’t.

In four games against Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the Bears have averaged a pathetic 14 offensive points and 324 yards per game — the latter being a total that was inflated when the team fell behind big in the most recent match-up. Considering Pettine nearly lost his job at the end of last season as his team has allowed 22.7 points and 354 yards per game since he took over, the Bears inability to score is downright confusing.

Yes, we know the Bears generally haven’t been a good offensive team for most of any of our lives, including the last two years. But they’ve done much better against the rest of the division. Mike Zimmer has had two top-10 units since Nagy came to the Bears, but the Bears have scored 19.5 offensive points and averaged 312 yards per game, both slightly better than the Vikings have allowed on average. Same goes for their performances against Detroit. (Also consider that the Bears have gone nearly full games against both Detroit and Minnesota with Chase Daniel.)

Whether it’s Nagy, Trubisky or somebody else, the Bears just can’t seem to solve Pettine and the Packers. But they may have hired the answers this off-season.

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ATM: Lack of Preseason Doesn’t Necessarily Hurt Trubisky

| July 10th, 2020

While many think a lack of a game action prior to the regular season would benefit Nick Foles in the competition to be the starting quarterback of the 2020 Chicago Bears, Mitch Trubisky still has the inside track. As of last week, the preseason slate was cut down to two and it doesn’t seem that anybody actually expects either of those games to be played. That leaves the Bears with only practice settings to determine their QB and Trubisky shouldn’t be ruled out.

When it comes to running plays correctly, adjusting protections and making accurate passes, there’s no question that Foles is superior to Trubisky. It’s the ability to run and make something out of broken plays that is supposed to even the playing field. The problem is, camp practice won’t allow that. When a play breaks down in practice, it is whistled dead and they move on to the next one.

But the Bears have to be absolutely certain he can’t play before moving on to Foles. And it’s unlikely Trubisky will clearly display that inability to play on the practice field. (He hasn’t in summers gone by.) The team does not want a situation where the second overall pick becomes someone else’s franchise quarterback. If the two quarterbacks are even close to equal in practices, Trubisky is going to get the chance to show that he is willing to use those legs and has made the necessary strides to be a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL.

Matt Nagy has said he made a mistake not playing Trubisky and other starters in the 2019 preseason. The team assumed their young quarterback would make plays with his legs. (How could they know he’d suddenly stop running?) Even before he injured his shoulder, Trubisky only had five rushing attempts in three games. The UNC product did begin running again late in the season with 22 rushes over the final month of the season, so there is reason to believe he will again in 2020. Did running equal some magic formula for Trubisky? Hardly. In those four games he had four touchdown passes and three interceptions. Nobody is arguing that he doesn’t need to improve as a passer, but that’s something he can show — at least somewhat — in practice.

With or without preseason games, the ball is firmly in Trubisky’s court. If he shows improvement as a passer, and a firmer handle on the playbook, in whatever form of training camp the team ends up having, he could get to start the regular season.

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Should Pace Get Another Shot at QB? History Shows Patience with Young GM Has Value.

| June 30th, 2020

As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.

The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.

The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.

And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.

Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.

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Despite National Negativity, Bears Outlook Not that Bleak

| June 23rd, 2020

National pundits be damned, the outlook for the Chicago Bears in 2020 and beyond isn’t nearly as bleak as some have made it out to be.

In a column published last week, supposed Bears fan-turned-national-football-writer Robert Mays essentially wrote that the Bears are stuck in mediocrity, with no way out. Most of his points ranged from “off the mark” to “WHAT?!”

Mays posits the absurd argument that even if Nick Foles plays at his Super Bowl MVP level the Bears have no shot at winning a Super Bowl. He determines the Bears would lose on the road to the Saints, a team that just lost a home playoff game to Kirk Cousins. But his general point is one with which most would agree. The Bears are more likely going to finish somewhere in the 7-11 wins range in the coming season. It’s what Mays extrapolates from that potential win total that seems out of touch, lacking historical backing. He believes it is “no man’s land”. It’s not.

The Kansas City Chiefs were in no-man’s-land not all that long ago, with a quarterback who could consistently get them 10 wins but never make noise in the playoffs. One could argue that the Bears are actually better off than Kansas City was then because they have a quarterback they know can win a Super Bowl. Realistically, Nick Foles isn’t the long-term answer. Mitch Trubisky probably isn’t either. But that doesn’t mean the Bears have to fold as a franchise.

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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Special Teams

| June 16th, 2020

The all-important third phase has mixed reviews for the Bears.

There is no question the Bears are the worst in the division when it comes to kickers, but they’re among the best when it comes to return men and punters, the latter not having much competition.

With an offense still expected to struggle, the Bears will desperately need this third phase to be productive.


Kicker

1. Detroit

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Chicago

While he’s 35 and coming off of a bit of an off year, Matt Prater’s ability to make kicks from basically anywhere puts him atop this list. Mason Crosby is coming off of a career year, but entered the season fighting for his job. His made field goal percentage seems likely to dip back down into the low-80s Dan Bailey also had to earn his job in camp, but he did so and missed just two kicks. He was three-for-three on 50-plus yarders.

The Bears still need to keep an eye out for a replacement for Eddy Pineiro, who not only had the worst field goal percentage in the division last year, but had maybe the easiest job with just nine field goals beyond 40 yards. He missed four of them.


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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Defense

| June 10th, 2020

If the Chicago Bears are going to be relevant in the NFC North in 2020, it’s going to be because of their defense.

Last week I published a ranking of the teams in the NFC North positions on offense and the Bears didn’t fair well. They were ranked last in two positions — including the most important in the sport — and weren’t first in any. While the hope and expectation is that the Bears climb out of the bottom-10 when it comes to offensive efficiency, the reality is that expectations going into 2020 should be that the team will still have its struggles and will very likely be the worst offense in the division.

But the defense is a very different story.


Edge

1. Chicago

2. Green Bay

3. Minnesota

4. Detroit

Not only are the Bears first in the most important defensive position, it isn’t really all that close. That isn’t to throw shade at Green Bay’s duo of Za’Darius and Preston Smith, but breakout seasons don’t necessarily put them ahead of two guys who have actual Hall of Fame credentials.

We need to start talking more about the Robert Quinn addition.

While it’s easy to focus on his down year with Miami, Quinn has 80.5 career sacks in 106 starts and has added 25 forced fumbles and 20 passes defensed. He averages more sacks per game than Julius Peppers did in his career.

What Quinn should do is take pressure off of Khalil Mack, who became the only front-seven defender offenses had to worry about last year after Akiem Hicks went down. Mack is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should be expected to return to that form. Even in a down year, he was among the league leaders in pressures.

There’s no question Za’Darius Smith is a star, his combined 35.5 quarterback sacks and knockdowns are incredible. There should be some question about if Preston Smith can repeat his 2019 season in which he got nearly a third of his career sacks.

The Vikings have some questions opposite Danielle Hunter. Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks last year, but those are all he has for his career. The Lions paid Trey Flowers to get to the quarterback, but he has never had more than 7.5 sacks in a season and he’s their best pass rusher.

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