Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Mitchell Trubisky. Backups — Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray.

Trubisky displayed poor footwork and inaccuracy at times last season, while completing less than 60 percent of his passes. It’s an area he must work at, but actual receivers and an offense that tends to cause conflict of assignment within secondaries can help his accuracy. Mastering the RPO game for Trubisky shouldn’t be as hard as for some quarterbacks because he ran something similar at North Carolina. He has yet to show he can simply drop back and throw deep with consistency and accuracy, or put the ball in jump-ball situations for a taller receiver like Allen Robinson. Despite Trubisky’s inexperience, he’s started 10 more games than the two backups combined — and Daniel is going into his ninth NFL season. Both Daniel and Bray are system players who ran the attack in the past, but Bray doesn’t possess much mobility or experience and Daniel is badly undersized.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Jordan Howard, FB Michael Burton. Backups — Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell, FB Ryan Nall.

Howard might be less of a workhorse in an offense that likes using running backs in the passing game. Howard is a hard runner who excels after contact, and has no problem powering it between guards like many of the runs in this RPO style attack require. However, he was at his best in the past running the outside zone and this is more of an inside zone. Also to be determined is how he’ll adjust to riskier read-option handoffs required in the attack. Cohen is exactly the type of speedy, elusive player who can benefit from Nagy’s imagination, but isn’t a hard inside runner. The question is how this offense can operate with more predictable backs and no multipurpose back like Kareem Hunt was with the Chiefs.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Trey Burton. Backups — Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown, Colin Thompson.

Burton plays the “U” position rather than a straight-line tight end. The Bears can line him up in slots, in the backfield or on the line. It’s a position of huge importance within this offense because it’s utilized so much. Sims’ role is more straight-line tight end and as such he’s unlikely to see diminished playing time, although it could happen if Shaheen develops in his second year. At first, Shaheen will be more of the short-yardage and goal-line threat envisioned for him by the last coaching staff — a role largely unfulfilled. Bears depth at this position is excessive, with Brown capable of playing the role as well.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel. Backups — Kevin White, DeMarcus Ayers, Josh Bellamy, Marlon Brown, Matt Fleming, Bennie Fowler, Tanner Gentry, Garrett Johnson, Anthony Miller, Javon Wims.

The group assembled by Ryan Pace includes virtually every type of player, and Robinson is the key. His leaping ability led to a high average yards-per catch before his knee injury with Jacksonville, and the Bears have lacked this weapon outside since they let Alshon Jeffery leave in free agency. Gabriel’s blazing speed out of the slot seems a perfect complement to Robinson, while White fits both as a big receiver but one with speed — although he’s never had the chance to show it. Bellamy’s ability to be a key special teams contributor could give him an edge for a fifth receiver role on game day, so the competition for one or two spots might be fierce.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Charles Leno Jr., LG Eric Kush, C Cody Whitehair, RG Kyle Long, RT Bobby Massie. Backups — T Dejon Allen, T Rashaad Coward, G James Daniels, C Hroniss Grasu, G Brandon Greene, T Matt McCants, G Jordan Morgan, G Will Pericak, T Bradley Sowell, G Earl Watford.

Experience and depth permeate this line, although the blocking scheme is changed a good deal. The obvious shortcomings are the tackles are only average at best, but a healthy Long and Whitehair’s ability to bounce back from a subpar second year could determine whether this is one of the division’s most effective groups. The emphasis remains strength between the guards to let Trubisky step up in the pocket, but the run-pass option requires the line to be more effective at point of attack. Kush’s ability to rebound from a knee injury is another key. Although Daniel can play guard, the long-range projection is for him to be at center.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LDE Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, RDE Jonathan Bullard. Backups — DE Roy Robertson-Harris, DT Abdullah Anderson, NT John Jenkins, DT Bilal Nichols, DT Bunmi Rotimi, DT Cavon Walker, DE Nick Williams.

As long as both Hicks and Goldman are healthy, there are no questions with this group. Hicks stepped up last year to near Pro Bowl status as both a run stuffer and pass rusher, while Goldman appears close behind. Goldman is entering a contract year so he’s likely to be all the more motivated. Bullard has much to prove, as well, as he ascends to the starting lineup following the departure of Mitch Unrein. What defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wants — and needs — is for one of the defensive linemen to prove effective as the 3-technique in the sub package. The Bears are in the four-man rush more than their standard 3-4, and they’d like to develop more of a quickness threat from the other interior pass rusher to complement Hicks. The depth here is more experienced now than in the John Fox era, and able to withstand an injury or two.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Leonard Floyd, ILB Danny Trevathan, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB Aaron Lynch. Backups — OLB Sam Acho, ILB Roquan Smith, OLB Kylie Fitts, OLB Isaiah Irving, OLB Jordan Anderson, ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, ILB John Timu, ILB Josh Woods, OLB Kasim Edebali, OLB Elijah Norris, OLB Andrew Trumbetti.

Floyd takes over the leadership duties outside as well as chief pass rushing threat. Even if he’s beaten by a blocker, his speed and tenacity make it a matter of time before he gets a sack if the quarterback doesn’t unload. The pass rush off the other side remains a guessing game. Lynch had a strong season in this defense with the 49ers, then mysteriously vanished after Fangio came to Chicago. His return to being an all-around edge who can defend the run and rush is a key on defense. For two years, the Bears have suggested Irving will have a breakthrough year. Now he has to do it. Acho’s role is more that of veteran fill-in and special teams player. The inside is more capable of blitzing the A-gap now with Smith. His speed and quick-twitch abilities were apparent in non-contact offseason work. It should be only a short time before he unseats Kwiatkoski for a starting spot. Smith’s speed also makes him potentially more capable of dropping deeper to guard seam routes, a weakness the inside linebackers had last season. If Fitts can display an ability to contribute in pass rush as a rookie, it will solve the major problem facing this group.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Kyle Fuller, FS Eddie Jackson, SS Adrian Amos, RCB Prince Amukamara. Backups — CB Marcus Cooper, S Deon Bush, S DeAndre Houston-Carson, DB Bryce Callahan, DB Cre’Von LeBlanc, S Deiondre Hall, CB Sherrick McManis, CB Rashad Fant, CB John Franklin, CB Doran Grant, CB Jonathon Mincy, CB Nick Orr, CB Kevin Toliver.

A surprising team strength last year, they benefited from a strong pass rush until getting their bearings. The question is whether Fuller can continue progressing toward lockdown status after getting his new contract, or whether he’ll become satisfied and complacent. Also of concern is when this group will start to make interceptions. For three straight seasons under Fangio the Bears have had eight interceptions, matching their franchise record low each time. And that hadn’t been a knock on Fangio’s defenses in the past. It can only be construed as a personnel issue. Jackson seemed to address issues about his inability to be physical, while Amos came from benched status to one of the more effective safeties in the conference. Amukamara blankets without making interceptions. There is plenty of depth, with Callahan and LeBlanc both experienced at nickel back and safeties who can play cornerback, as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters — K Cody Parkey, P Pat O’Donnell, LS Patrick Scales, KR-PR Tarik Cohen, P Ryan Winslow, PR Eddie Jackson.

Since getting rid of Robbie Gould, the Bears have bounced from kicker to kicker — while Gould has gone 49-for-51 on field goals. They’ve landed on Parkey, who proved consistent at 91 percent last year in Miami, while making six of his seven career plus-50 attempts. O’Donnell was rewarded with only a one-year contract after showing steady improvement, and will have a stronger camp challenge than in past years from Winslow. At issue is whether O’Donnell can be as much of a directional punter as new special teams coordinator Chris Tabor likes. Tabor is a Dave Toub disciple and former Bears assistant. The team liked long snapper Patrick Scales’ consistency before a torn ACL last season. The only issue now is if he’s healed and ready to contribute on punt coverage. Cohen was an unknown last year as a return threat and showed quickly he could both learn fielding the ball and how to put his elusiveness on display. It’s possible they may look for an alternate kick returner, but it’s a good bet they want the ball in Cohen’s hands as much as possible. Jackson is also a viable punt returner, although doing this and then playing deep safety the next down is too much of a strain.




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