Published by Jerz on 3/19/2015
The Chicago Bears ended their 2014 campaign with more questions than answers. When lofty expectations go unfulfilled (after an off season of generous spending on your own and outside free agents) finishing the year with a 5-11 record can lead to immediate changes. Recording 2 of the worst defensive statistical seasons in your franchise’s 90 plus year existence puts an extra emphasis on that side of the ball. After the dust cleared on multiple moves that saw their GM, Head Coach and one of their top offensive producers shown the door, Ryan Pace (New GM), John Fox (New Head Coach), Vic Fangio (New D-Coordinator) and Adam Gase (New O-Coordinator) were left to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Nothing generates more enthusiasm for a fan base than the NFL Draft. Free Agency is boom or bust and we have annual proof that those who “win” in Free Agency and “on paper” seldom convert it to on field success (Ask last year’s Tampa Bay team). Anyone that has been around the game long enough will tell you that successful teams are built on the foundation of good players that are drafted and groomed by their respective organizations (See Seattle, New England, San Francisco and Green Bay, amongst others). The Bears are hoping to inject new life into a team that is on proverbial life support with holes on every level of their defense and a QB that doesn’t seem to value possession of the football.
I won’t dare to go out on a limb and say this new regime can fix this team and all it’s ills in one draft but there are some guys I’ve identified at the top of the that could make an immediate impact and bring an energy to this team and fan base that is much needed. The 5 players I’ve tabbed in the featured picture of this write up would each patch up a glaring hole that currently exists on this team. We’ll ultimately see what happens in Chicago on April 30th but it’s realistic that at least 3 of the 5 listed may still be on the board when the Bears are on the clock.
If we know anything about new Bears D-Coordinator Vic Fangio, we know his defenses are going to play hard, physical and fast (a combination we didn’t see enough of under the recently departed Mel Tucker). We know that the front 7 is “the spoon that stirs the pot” and gets everything going. Schematically, he employs a 3-4 or “30 front” with 3 down lineman and 4 linebackers with a combination of different gap assignments and coverage looks mixed in behind them. Much has been made of if the Bears currently have viable personnel on their roster that can be used in Fangio’s defense effectively (which still remains to be seen). You want speedy linebackers that can drop in coverage but more importantly fire through gaps on the blitz and crease the edge from the outside and get the passer. I have 2 defenders listed that fit that bill and the 1st is LB Vic Beasley out of Clemson…
The highlights above show the multiple ways Beasley can absolutely wreck an offense’s game plan (especially on 3rd downs). His combination of size, speed and athleticism working in a scheme that will only highlight his physical gifts would give the Bears a playmaker on defense similar to what the Packers have in Clay Matthews (think Von Miller too). As impressive as Beasley’s film is, he opened even more eyes when he showed up at the NFL combine about 11 pounds heavier than what he played at most of last season (around 235 pounds to 246 pounds) and was still every bit as explosive as advertised. His 4.53/40 yd dash, 35 reps of 225 lbs and 41 inch vertical jump are a can’t miss. The main concern here is that Washington (pick 5) and the Jets (pick 6) may covet the same type of player to add impact to their respective defenses. With Willie Young (Achilles) and Lamarr Houston (ACL) coming off of season ending injuries and Jared Allen getting up in age and coming off one of his least productive seasons statistically, Beasley would be weak side force this Bears defense desperately needs to wreak havoc opposite free agent signee Pernell McPhee.
I wasn’t as high on this idea as others but it makes perfect sense. I am more concerned about the defense than the offense (even with Jay Cutler and his high frequency of football giveaways) which lets you know how desperate this team is for playmakers on that side of the ball. In the last 3 seasons we’ve seen the exits of Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs with not much left behind to be excited about. Mariota makes things interesting for a couple of reasons. First thing it does is put pressure on Cutler to perform at a higher level with a legitimate go to option breathing down his neck (no offense to Jimmy Clausen or David Fales). Secondly, with Cutler presumably on thin ice, having a QB of the immediate future in the wings in Mariota makes the decision to move on from Cutler that much easier. Adam Gase (O-Coordinator) would be able add a few more wrinkles to his offense with an athlete like Mariota (who has Colin Kaepernick type speed) and underrated arm strength. A move like this shows that the Bears are serious about establishing a new identity at the position. Current Bear Kyle Long (and former Mariota college teammate at Oregon) calls him a “warrior” and would surely be a guy the team can get behind and fight for (unlike their current signal caller who I believe has all but lost his teammates). The financial circumstances associated with such a departure remain to be seen. Mariota does come with his own set of questions (how will he adapt to the Pro game, being the biggest) but if he is what a lot of analysts and observers believe he is, the Bears might be setting themselves up nicely for years to come at a position that they’ve been trying to get right for almost 30 years.
Kevin White is a name that has gotten some heat and his showing at the combine just added fuel to the fire. People say measurements are over stated, overrated and what have you but let’s face it, speed, power and agility are sexy. People wanted to see what the stat line of 109 receptions, 1447 receiving yards (13.3 ypc) and 10 TD catches was made of. White measured in at 6’3″, 215 pounds, ran well (4.35/40 yd dash), looked explosive (36.5 inch vert) and showed good strength (23 reps of 225lbs). Adding that type of talent to play opposite Alshon Jeffery (since the Bears helped make Brandon’s transition to commentator that much easier by trading him to New York) the Bears get younger and more explosive at the position. As big of a Brandon Marshall fan as I am, I wouldn’t be that mad anymore, if this were to happen. Adam Gase is sure to plug Alshon Jeffery in where Demaryius Thomas left off the last 3 years in Denver’s offense. With that said, picture Eddie Royal sneaking behind Martellus Bennett taking up all kinds of real estate and White opposite Jeffery. 3rd year WR Marquess Wilson would then find himself in competition to even make the team which would be a good problem to have. Gase looks to bring that same explosion in the passing game to a Chicago team that took several steps backwards from their 2013 offensive showing (half of the reason for that success did decide to take their talents to Tampa Bay so go figure). The issue here is if Beasley is available at 7 and White is too, I’ve got to take my chances with Beasley. White may be tempting to pass up if he somehow is passed over by the Raiders (who may opt for Amari Cooper instead). Do you pass on a possible Dez Bryant type talent for a Von Miller type? I think so. White is going to catch his share of TDs but Beasley puts your defense AND offense in position to score with the type of game changing playmaking he has at his disposal.
The Bears have a tradition at the Safety spot (Petitbon, Plank, Fencik, Duerson, Carrier, M.Brown) that has fallen on some hard times and could use thump on the back end to make WR’s arms get small. I’m not sure if Collins being so ahead of his peers is all because of his skills and abilities or because the crop is thin? On top of that, I’m not sure if I’d take Collins over Beasley either unless I had confirmation this kid is the next Earl Thomas. Heck, I’d even take the next Mike Brown (one of my favorite Bears safeties all time). There is no question that Collins would be fun to watch and give them another big play waiting to happen in the secondary (along with 2nd year CB Kyle Fuller). Collins finds the ball and sticks to ball carriers and receivers like a 6′, 228 pound magnet to metal and would be an obvious upgrade over anything they’ve had at the position in the last 10 yrs. I think if I’m the Bears and White and Collins or Beasley and Collins were the choice I had to make, I’m not taking Collins over either option. That’s not a slight to Collins in the least and would be one hell of a “consolation prize” if White and Beasley are off the board but then you’d have to consider this next guy.
Ideally, if this kid picks up 15-25 pounds of muscle and adds power to a very violent speed game, it could be problems. Gregory probably won’t get past the Redskins (who look to plug a pass rushing menace in where Brian Orakpo left the door open) or the Jets (Todd Bowles would love to turn Gregory loose behind Sheldon Wilkerson and Muhammad Richardson) but I wouldn’t be mad if he fell to the Bears (if Washington likes Beasley as much as others do). Gregory has great length (6’5″ 235 pounds) but needs to get in the weight room as much as he can if he wants to sustain the pounding he’ll get against NFL blocking every week. The Bears need a home run hitter on the edge and with the unknown of how well Jared Allen will adapt to the responsibilities and actions required in Vic Fangio’s 3-4, Gregory could be “Dawson in ’87”. Willie Young and Lamarr Houston are questions on the health and fit fronts (though Houston is said to look good in rehab and would be in the mix as an outside linebacker). If Gregory is available and is the pick, you still address your needs as if you picked Beasley (maybe look at WR, CB and S the next 3 picks in best order available). Gregory may lack prototypical strength, at the moment, but is in the mode of the likes of Jason Taylor, Jevon Kearse and dare I say Simeon Rice. These are the types of once in a generation pass rushers you don’t pass on unless you’re already set at those spots on your team which the Bears are not. Jared Allen is set to get 12.5 million guaranteed for 2015 so it’s safe to say he’ll be out there in the mix at outside linebacker as well. Only time will tell how good either of these 5 will be but each would be a considerable upgrade over what’s currently in place.
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