Secondary, special teams receive high marks

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Secondary, special teams receive high marks

The Panthers, who average 336 yards per game, had put 306 yards and 16 points on the Bears with 6 minutes still to play in the third quarter. On a 90-yard drive from its six-yard line, for example, Carolina converted plays of 18, 25, 15 and 17 yards, and the Panthers had 10 plays of 15 yards or longer.
Carolina, converting just 31.7 percent of its third downs coming in, converted 10 of 19 (53 percent) against the Bears and were never completely slowed down in a game where the Panthers offense was on the field more than 30 of the first 45 minutes.
DEFENSIVE LINE D
Pressure on Cam Newton was virtually non-existent for too much of the game. Julius Peppers got a first-quarter sack and added another in the second plus two QB hits but no other D-lineman was credited with a hit of any kind on the highly mobile Newton.
Henry Melton forced a key third-down throwaway in the second half to end a drive. Shea McClellin registered a tackle for loss and Corey Wootton deflected a pass.
LINEBACKERS C
Carolina totaled 119 rushing yards between Newton and the running backs but averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher each had seven tackles, with Urlacher making one for loss in addition to breaking up a pass.
They and Nick Roach were active throughout with early hits on backs, although Newton, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams all had at least one run of 13 yards.
SECONDARY B
Maybe the Bears should only schedule big receivers. Steve Smith lit up the DBs for 118 yards and seven catches. His long was 47 and he was missed on throws by Newton on several other routes when he was open.
But Smith didnt score and Tim Jennings intercepted a Newton pass to Smith in the fourth quarter and returned it for a go-ahead TD, the franchise-record sixth this season. Jennings had a team-high eight tackles, all solo, plus a second interception and three passes broken up.
Run support early was strong from Charles Tillman and Major Wright. Chris Conte, who finished with eight tackles, was beaten badly when he took a poor angle on a 62-yard completion to Brandon LaFell to set up a field goal.
COACHING B
The plan was to emphasize rush lanes by both ends and tackles to contain Newton and be positioned for an anticipated increase in Carolina running the ball. The Panthers did try to balance their run-pass with 41 pass plays and 36 run plays, including five Newton scrambles which are virtually tweeners.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Robbie Goulds game-winner was the special-teams story of the game. There were several good sidebars, however.
KICKING A
Even if you miss one earlier from 32 yards, when you convert a 41-yard field goal through swirling win as time expires, when a miss means a loss, you get an automatic A from CSNChicago.com. Robbie Gould also put all four of his kickoffs too deep to be returned.
COVERAGE A
Adam Podlesh punted four times. One was fair-caught. The other three were downed. The Panthers had zero return yards for the game.
RETURNS A
A unique area to evaluate. Devin Hester came out with a clear plan to be more aggressive and popped an 11-yard punt return early. The Panthers were not going to give him chances to beat them on kickoffs and squibbed every kick. Key for the Bears was handling every one without mishap, contributing to an average starting position of the Chicago 32 after six kickoffs.
COACHING A
The coverage plans were drawn up by somebody. No one had a chance to make a tackle but one reason punts and kicks arent returned is because the coverage is too close and Dave Toub units are among the NFLs best.

Best of the rest: QB, DL among Bears' targets on Day 2

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Best of the rest: QB, DL among Bears' targets on Day 2

Leftovers sometimes get a bad name. Pizza, chili, fine wine -- sometimes they're better the second day or at least after a little time to reach taste peaks. Some NFL draft picks may  be better if allowed to age overnight. The Bears, sitting at No. 10 in the second round, hope that's the case.

The selection of Georgia’s Leonard Floyd addressed Need No. 1 for the Bears: a pass rusher to get them off the field with third-down plays. But Needs No. 2-through-whatever remain to be filled with best-available’s from a draft board already picked over in some key areas.

The Bears had the chance to trade up into the first round from their spot at No. 10 in the second, but chose to keep their powder dry for day two’s second and third rounds.

  • Quarterback

Pace uncharacteristically expressed positives about the 2016 quarterback draft class: “It really is a good class of quarterbacks, and they’re all unique and they’re all a little different,” he said. “I think some guys are going to have different perspectives of different flavors, but it’s a good class. It breaks after a certain point and then there are some middle round guys that are intriguing for different reasons. It’s just up to us to analyze that and rank that correctly and I think we have.”

The Bears had private meetings with 10 different quarterbacks this offseason, indicating more than a casual interest in finding the right backup for Jay Cutler.

Already gone: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch

Best remaining: Connor Cook, Michigan State; Kevin Hogan, Stanford; Dak Presott, Mississippi State.

  • Defensive line

The defensive tackle position is rated one of the best in draft history. The Bears used a No. 2 last year and landed starting nose tackle Eddie Goldman and hope to have Ego Ferguson (a 2014 No. 2) back from knee surgery to go on the other side of Goldman in the base 3-4. But the defense was one of the NFL’s poorest at stopping the run and even with new, veteran inside linebackers, the foundation is the front.

Already gone: Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Rankins, Shaq Lawson, Kenny Clark, Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Butler.

Best remaining: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama; Andrew Billings, Mississippi; Jarran Reed, Alabama.

  • Tight end

Pace described the tight-end class as just “OK,” and the Bears lost one of the NFL’s best in trading away Martellus Bennett. One the plus side: No team dipped into the shallow talent pool in the first round.

Already gone: None.

Best remaining: Hunter Henry, Arkansas; Austin Hooper, Stanford; Nick Vannett, Ohio State.

  • Defensive back

The Bears had myriad options to select a cornerback or safety with their first-round pick but addressed the need for pass rush instead. But seven teams went for the back-end of the defense first within the first 25 picks of the first round.

Already gone: Jalen Ramsey, Eli Apple, Vernon Hargreaves, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, William Jackson, Artic Burns.

Best remaining: Vonn Bell, Ohio State; MacKensie Alexander, Clemson; Maurice Canady, Virginia.

  • Other notables in Bears’ need areas

Cody Whitehair, G, Kansas State

Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Bears' Leonard Floyd: 'Comfortable doing...anything' in 3-4 scheme

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Bears' Leonard Floyd: 'Comfortable doing...anything' in 3-4 scheme

Leonard Floyd was a jack of all trades as a defensive standout at Georgia. Those types of players too often don’t do any single thing well enough to make any mark at the NFL level. But the Bears, and Floyd, think he can in fact be a master of all.

“I played outside, played inside,” said Floyd on Thursday night. “And I also did a lot of three-point stance as well as two, so I’m pretty comfortable doing pretty much anything in the 3-4 scheme.”

The Bears plan to use him as an outside linebacker, rushing the passer for a team that had no rushman with more than Lamarr Houston’s eight sacks. What that bodes for Houston’s future in Chicago, as well as that of outside linebacker Willie Young, who playfully refused to use the “L” word (“linebacker”) when talking about himself, is cloudy at best.

[RELATED: How the Bears landed on Georgia's Leonard Floyd]

Neither Houston nor Young was particularly effective in pass defense but “I’m pretty good in coverage, did a lot in college, covered the tight end,” said Floyd, who was credited with three passes defensed, same as Young, in 2015. “I feel like I’ll be fine at the next level.”

The Bears have no plans to set a heavier weight target beyond the 240’s that Floyd checked in at during the NFL Scouting Combine.

“The last thing you want to do is bulk this guy up and then you’re taking away what he does best,” said Bears GM Ryan Pace. “You see some guys put on too much weight too fast and they look stiff and they lose some of that twitch that makes them a special player. We’ve got to do it the right way. I’ve got a lot of confidence in our strength and conditioning coaches, our sports science director Jen Gibson, to get Leonard at an optimal playing weight to maximize his talent.”

But “I definitely want to add more mass to my body,” Floyd said. “I know Chicago has some of the best coaches in the league, they’re going to coach me up hard, and I’m excited to learn...

“I want to add more power to my pass-rush to go with my speed. That’s a thing I need to learn and pick up in the league.”

Buckeyes nearly match NFL Draft record with five first-round selections

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Buckeyes nearly match NFL Draft record with five first-round selections

Many expected a record-breaking night for Ohio State on Thursday, but the Buckeyes will have to settle for only five first-round selections in this year's NFL Draft.

In what was a phenomenal showing for Urban Meyer's program, five Buckeyes heard their names called during the first 20 picks in Thursday night's first round.

Ohio State came one selection away from matching the NFL Draft record of six players from one school being chosen in the first round, a feat accomplished by Miami, which saw six players taken in the first round in 2004.

Defensive end Joey Bosa got things started when he was selected by the San Diego Chargers with the third pick.

Teammate Ezekiel Elliott immediately followed when the Dallas Cowboys used the No. 4 pick on the star running back.

Cornerback Eli Apple made it three Buckeyes selected in the top 10 when the New York Giants took him at No. 10, instantly earning the new nickname of Eli "Big" Apple.

Offensive lineman Taylor Decker was chosen by the Tennessee Titans six picks later at No. 16, and linebacker Darron Lee rounded it out at five in the top 20 when he was picked by the New York Jets at No. 20.

It was the fourth time Ohio State has had five players picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.

The Buckeyes still have a shot at a modern draft record. Ohio State actually holds the record for the most players chosen in a single draft, with 14 players picked in 2004. As Cleveland.com's Bill Landis explained earlier this month, the all-time record is 17, accomplished by the Texas Longhorns in 1984, though that draft had 12 rounds. The 14 players sent to the draft by Ohio State in 2004 is a record under the current seven-round format.

Days 2 and 3 still figure to feature a lot of big-name Buckeyes. Top Ohio State talent not picked in the first round includes Vonn Bell, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, Joshua Perry, Tyvis Powell, Michael Thomas and Adolphus Washington.