2014 CHICAGO BEARS FOOTBALL PREVIEW
July 7, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
2014 Chicago Bears football preview
HEAD COACH: MARK TRESTMAN
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: AARON KROMER
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: MEL TUCKER
TOTAL OFFENSE: 381.8
DEFENSE PPG: 29.9
TOTAL DEFENSE: 394.6
TO MARGIN: +5
The Bears are four years removed from their last playoff berth and are making enough changes in both personnel and schemes on both sides of the football to where they are competitive week in and week out in the NFL. Last year Chicago went through the off-season changing an offense that went from one of the worst to one of the best in the league. Chicago went from 28th to 8th in total offense, 29th to 5th in passing yards and 27th to 4th in sacks allowed. With the offense heading in the right direction the Bears focused on defense that ranked 30th overall in 2013. The top three picks in this year’s draft were all committed to defense.
Chicago’s offense was the second best behind Denver in scoring points last year and the core of that offense is back this year. Quarterback Jay Cutler was signed to a long-term contract which will ensure he’ll run this offense in the foreseeable future. Cutler had is highest passer rating (89.2) in his eight years in the NFL. Cutler still has work to do after throwing 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Backup Josh McCown has taken his services to Tampa Bay so that leaves Jordan Palmer, rookie David Fales and Jerrod Johnson fighting for the backup spot.
Cutler will have big receivers in Brandon Marshall (6-4 230) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3 216) to throw to again this season after both made the Pro Bowl in 2013. Marshall had 100 receptions for 1295 yards and 12 touchdowns. Meanwhile Jeffery caught 89 passes for 1421 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 16 yards per catch. The receiving arsenal also includes running back Matt Forte’ who had a career-best 74 receptions for 594 yards and added 1339 yards on the ground. TE Martellus Bennett added 65 receptions and 759 yards. Chicago’s number three receiver Earl Bennett was released so that means 2013 seventh round selection Marquess Wilson will get every opportunity to be the number three receiver.
Chicago revamped their offense of line a year ago and the sack total went from 44 down to 30 in just one season. The starting five played in the same positions for all 16 games. Former first-round pick Kyle Long is penciled in at right guard, Jordan Mills will start at right tackle, Roberto Garza starts at center, Matt Slauson is penciled in at left guard and Jermon Bushrod will start at left tackle.
The one big change on Chicago’s defense is losing Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers who signed with a rival Packers after being waived by the Bears. DT Henry Melton was also released but the Bears feel their D-line will be better this year. Chicago’s signed free-agent and former Viking DE Jared Allen who had 11 ½ sacks last year in Minnesota. Allen is two years younger than Peppers and overall Chicago feels he will be more productive overall. Chicago also signed former Raider Lamarr Houston, one of the NFL’s best run defenders. Chicago also went out and signed ex-Lion Willie Young who will be joined by Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Nate Collins and rookies Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson to provide depth on the line.
The only sure thing at linebacker is seven time Pro Bowler Lance Briggs. DJ Williams was signed to a deal last year but played only six games after suffering a chest injury. Williams will have to hold off 2013 second round draft pick Jon Bostic who started nine games as a rookie. Starter James Anderson was not re-signed opening up a position for Shea McClellin to move from and to linebacker.
The secondary returns Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman at cornerback. Tillman has the size and ability to cover the league’s bigger receivers and Jennings plays bigger than his size (5-8). Tillman had a tricep injury last year that forced him to miss half the season that’s why the Bears drafted Kyle Fuller with their first pick in the draft out of Virginia Tech. The Bears left to find a way to clean up their safety positions after strong safety Major Wright was allowed to leave in free agency. Free safety Chris Conte must play better this year to keep his job but is recovering from shoulder surgery. Others who will be competing for starting position will be Danny McCray, MD Jennings, Ryan Mundy and fourth-round selection Brock Vereen.
Chicago saw excellent results after hiring offensive minded Marc Trestman to help quarterback Jay Cutler be more productive. The Bears have excellent skilled players and their line will be much better this year. If they can get any sort of improvement from their defense, Chicago should compete for the NFC title. Adding Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston will give their defense a huge boost.
Round 1, 14th selection overall
The pick: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech cornerback
The impact: Aaron Donald, the All-American defensive tackle from Pitt, who would have been an ideal fit in the Bears' defense came off the board at No. 13, right before the Bears went on the clock. So that left Bears general manage Phil Emery with a menu of secondary players to choose from in Fuller, safeties Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Darqueze Dennard. But Fuller's versatility and toughness stood out. He has the flexibility to play outside and slide inside to cover the slot. He has good awareness and is a sound tackler. And while the Bears still have Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman as starters at corner, Tillman is back on a one-year deal and Fuller immediately becomes the most likely successor. He also projects as a player who can easily emerge as the third cornerback in sub packages.
Emery says: “What makes Kyle unique is his combination of length and athleticism and versatility and smarts and toughness. It’s hard to find all those qualities in a corner along with somebody who has been really productive.”
Round 2, 51st selection overall
The pick: Ego Ferguson, LSU defensive tackle
The impact: After narrowly missing out on a chance to draft Donald to fill a need at defensive tackle in the first round, the Bears addressed the position on Day 2 by nabbing Ferguson. Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan came off the board Friday night before the Bears ever went on the clock. And so Emery ultimately went after Ferguson, who contributed 58 tackles, 3.5 for loss and one sack as a junior last season. Ferguson's size and athleticism are eye-catching. But he doesn't have a long track record of success and is figured to be something of a project at the position. Still, his ability to offer a run-stuffing presence was attractive.
Emery says: “With Ego Ferguson, we were very much looking for players who can be physical at the point of attack and help us stop the run. ... There's still a lot of upside in him. He's a very powerful, very strong, tough inside player. The things that kept coming up when you watched him against SEC tape was that he controlled the front. People could not run the ball up inside when he was on the field. And that was a big attraction for us.”
Round 3, 81st selection overall
The pick: Will Sutton, Arizona State
The impact: With the selection of two defensive tackles in succession Friday, Emery made it clear the success of his defense starts up front. With Sutton added to the defensive line a round after fellow Ferguson joined the mix, the Bears clearly have their sights set on stabilizing their run defense. Sutton is a two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, making up for his size (6 feet, 303 pounds) with quickness and good footwork. But managing his weight will be a priority. Sutton had a breakthrough junior season playing at 285 pounds, then seemed to slow a little when beefed up to 320 last fall. The Bears have an eye on keeping him much closer to his 2012 weight in the NFL and believe Sutton has shown the dedication in the pre-draft process in focusing on that initiative. Sutton weighed in at the combine at 303 pounds but said Friday he may be close to 290 now.
Emery says: “(The predraft weight loss) played a role. Because it says that he's dedicated toward improving himself. And when he sets his mind to something, he can accomplish it. There's a lot of pressure on young people. He wants to achieve. He was told by people that he trusted that he needed to gain weight and get bigger. And maybe he needed to gain a little bit, but not that much. And I think once he did, it was hard to get it back down. It affected his play. But you're still talking about somebody who was Player of the Year in his conference on defense.”
Round 4, 117th selection overall
The pick: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona running back
The impact: The Bears were figured to be in the mix for added running back depth in this draft and found a performer in Carey who has been majorly productive on the ground during his college career. But Carey also brings to the table the skill and willingness to be solid in pass protection, a top prerequisite for head coach Marc Trestman when he's assessing candidates to be the back-up to Pro Bowler Matt Forte. Over his final two seasons at Arizona, Carey rang up 3,814 yards and 42 touchdowns. He doesn't have blazing speed and has been criticized for exposing himself to too many hits with his running style. But with Michael Ford, an undrafted rookie in 2013, as the other candidate to back up Forte, Carey should find opportunity early to carve out a niche in the Bears offense.
Emery says: "Very good feet and eyes. That’s where it starts in terms of run skill. He’s one of the runners in the draft that we felt best about as far as a guy that really lowers his pads and has contact balance, that can really push through open-field contact and keeps his feet and keeps gaining additional yards. ... He’s a guy that you really have got to tackle. He’s not going down. You’re not going to trip this guy, he’s not going to go down by incidental contact. You’re going to have to tackle him, You’re going to have to wrap him up and bring him down."
Round 4, 131st selection overall (from Broncos)
The pick: Brock Vereen, Minnesota safety
The trade: Bears got Nos. 131 and 246 (7th round) in 2014; Broncos got No. 156 (5th round) in 2014 and fifth-round pick in 2015.
The impact: The Bears traded back into the fourth round to add Vereen to their safeties competition. He's a fast, athletic, instinctive free safety who dropped to the fourth round because he isn't long and his ball skills are unproven. At 6 feet, 199 pounds, the Bears likely will have Vereen add muscle. He has played cornerback, so there's the versatility trait Emery covets. He and first-round cornerback Kyle Fuller should allow defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to vary looks in the future. Vereen understands angles and is a willing tackler. His work ethic, character and intelligence are positive intangibles that should help him grow in the NFL. He also should be able to cover kicks on special teams as a rookie. He did not excel in college contesting throws against taller receivers. His 30 1/4-inch arms are relatively short, and his 8 1/4-inch hands are small. But with incumbent starting free safety Chris Conte on the last year of his contract, and free-agent M.D. Jennings playing on a one-year deal, Vereen has a quality opportunity to grow into an impact player.
Emery says: "He’s good in center field in terms of his reactive anticipation, kind of like a center fielder in terms of breaking on the crack of the bat. Good in coverage in terms of anticipating cuts and mirroring receivers, staying with receivers through their cuts. Good in terms of his angles and his fits against the run and supporting the run."
Round 6, 183rd selection overall
The pick: David Fales, San Jose St. quarterback
The impact: The Bears invested a sixth-round pick in a backup to starter Jay Cutler, presumably to establish some long-term stability at a position where the Bears have lacked it. Fales cites his anticipation, accuracy and mechanics as his best assets. The Bears like his toughness taking hits and the 72.5 completion percentage in 2012. His arm strength is good but not elite, and at 6 feet 2 he is shorter than the prototype. His intelligence and work ethic should help his growth. Fales joins veteran Jordan Palmer and first-year player Jerrod Johnson in the backup competition. Palmer and Fales are friends. They met last year as counselors as a passing camp, and Fales trained with Palmer for a week this offseason. Palmer, in a phone conversation Saturday, called Fales "a solid dude and a really cool guy" who will fit well into the quarterbacks room. Phil Emery on May 1 said he didn't believe in drafting a late-round quarterback with the intent to eventually plan for him to be a starter. But Emery also has said he doesn't like drafting players with a ceiling. Time will tell which applies best to Fales. In the meantime, coach Marc Trestman has a young quarterback to mold.
Emery says: "We’ve had our eye on David for a while. We definitely need to increase the competition for a backup spot on our roster at that position. ... We sent Matt Cavanaugh out to work him out late last week. Matt came away very impressed and when it came time at that spot in the draft, we really felt it was a good pick for the spot that we were in the draft. ... I don’t see it as we’re drafting a starter, I see it as we’re drafting a player that is going to compete for a roster spot, and I think it’s important to have competition as a backup."
Round 6, 191st selection overall
The pick: Pat O'Donnell, Miami punter
The impact: O'Donnell is now the favorite to win the Bears' punting competition, given the team's in him. He understands the importance of directional punting, and he told Chicago media Saturday that he has worked diligently on that part of his game. He played at Cincinnati for three seasons before graduating and transferring to be closer to his father, who had cancer and is now in remission. O'Donnell believes his experience in Cincinnati prepared him for the poor weather conditions he could face in Chicago. He's a strong guy, too. He bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times at the scouting combine. By comparison, Bears' second-round defensive tackle Ego Ferguson did 24 reps. Inexperienced pro punters Tress Way and Drew Butler were on the Bears' roster entering the draft.
Emery says: "We felt he was the best punter in this draft. A remarkable athlete, huge leg. He’s got linebacker stats in terms of the physical upside and the body type and that’s what you look for. When you first start scouting, all you’re told is look for the big leg, look for the tall guys, look for the guys where the ball really comes off the foot. And that’s what Patrick’s all about. This is a strapping athlete with a big leg who has not only kicked for yardage, but he’s kicked for average. And he’s kicked directionally, which is very important in the pro game."
Round 7, 246th selection overall
The pick: Charles Leno Jr., Boise St. offensive lineman
The impact: Leno, who's 6 foot 4 and 303 pounds, is a good athlete whose long 34 3/8-inch arms help him win blocks. He started his last 39 games at Boise St., a streak that included 26 games at left tackle and 13 at right guard. He's expected to compete for a backup role. To make the team, he must improve his lower body strength and his base anchoring in pass protection.
Emery says "We really need a person that has left tackle experience that can provide a quality backup (option) at that position. So that’s the roster spot that he’ll compete for as our backup left tackle.."
Bears 2014 schedule
Highlights of the Bears' 2014 schedule, which was released by the NFL Wednesday, include five prime-time games and a Thanksgiving match-up against the Lions in Detroit.
The Bears will open the 49ers' new stadium, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., in a Week 2 Sunday Night Football clash Sept. 14. Eight days later, Chicago will make the first of its two appearances on Monday Night Football Sept. 28 against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
The Bears will host Sunday home games against the Vikings Nov. 16 and the Buccaneers Nov. 23 before traveling to Ford Field for their first Turkey Day appearance since 2004.