When Lovie Smith met with the media early in the weekends NFL Scouting Combine, he offered high praise for a number of his defensive linemen. Julius Peppers, obvioiusly. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. And Amobi Okoye, with whom the Bears had contract talks late last season and likely will have re-signed before the outset of free agency.
Not included in Smiths discussion were tackle Anthony Adams and end Corey Wootton. The former was inactive for much of the season either for reasons of injury or performance decline. The latter suffered through a second season of disappointment due to nagging injuries.
Omission from those kinds of even casual run-throughs is never a good thing and Adams became an early offseason roster move with his release after five seasons in Chicago, according to multiple sources.
The veteran nose tackle was signed as a free agent from the San Francisco 49ers in 2007 and was a 16-game starter in 2010, grading out behind only Peppers among defensive linemen, according to coaches.
He was re-signed to a two-year deal once the lockout lifted last summer but was sidelined with a calf injury for most of preseason and eventually was replaced as a starter by Matt Toeaina.
The Bears are looking hard for a pass rusher at defensive end, putting Woottons future sharply in question, with Chauncey Davis showing some flash late in the season and Israel Idonije a steady veteran who is a free agent but wants to remain a Bear.
It was sometime around a year ago that Kevin White’s season started coming off the rails as the rookie wide receiver began experiencing pain in his left leg that ultimately turned out to be a season-ending stress fracture. This week White and the Bears will reset with the startup of organized team activities (OTA’s) that run a handful of days per week, culminating in a mid-June mandatory minicamp before the Bears break until the July 27 opening of training camp in Bourbonnais.
Fewer storylines around the Bears to this point carry the individual significance as that of White, the team’s No. 1 draft choice last year with the intent of his becoming a linchpin of the offense for quite a few years.
Insiders said that White, in the closed portions of practice late last season prior to his being placed on IR, displayed jaw-dropping speed and burst, to the point of Jay Cutler joking that he couldn’t overthrow the kid. The decision to leave White shut down for the balance of the season had more to do with the Bears’ 5-8 record than health concerns; had the Bears beaten San Francisco and Washington and were within reach of the playoffs, White likely is put on the roster with an eye toward the postseason.
But none of that really matters in hindsight. What does matter is what White now does in an offense headed by a new coordinator (Dowell Loggains) and with presumed fellow receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal, each of whom had their own 2015 lost playing time due to health issues.
“It’s hard,” Loggains said during rookie minicamp earlier this month of any early impressions of White. “But I can tell you about his character, and he’s everything that we expected.
“He’s a hard worker. His attitude is contagious because he is very positive; he doesn’t have bad days. I think that between him and Eddie and some of the other receivers, they’re bringing out the best of each other, and competition does that. We feel good about the receiver room. It’s a deep room and they’re making each other better.”
Jay Cutler enters his eighth season with the Bears with expectations of bouncing back from the team's dismal 6-10 record a year ago.
And while Alshon Jeffery returns as Cutler's top target, general manager Ryan Pace continued to clean house by releasing running back Matt Forte and trading tight end Martellus Bennett to the Patriots.
The Bears will get wide receiver Kevin White back after he missed his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his left leg. The Bears also spent three draft picks on offensive players, including guard Cody Whitehair in the second round.
Cutler will use those weapons with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains after Adam Gase took the head coaching job in Miami.
So where do Cutler and the Bears' quarterback situation stand in the NFL? Rotoworld's Patrick Daugherty ranked all 32 teams based on current production, as well as age and injury history, and though the Bears improved it wasn't by much.
21. Bears, Jay Cutler
Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Jay Cutler is coming off the cleanest season of his career, but the man responsible, OC Adam Gase, has packed up and left for South Beach. Security blankets Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are gone, as well, stripping Cutler of much of the armor that fortified him against his disastrous 2014. Now 33, Cutler hasn’t appeared in all 16 games since 2009. On the bright side, 2015 first-rounder Kevin White is healthy after missing his entire rookie campaign, and Cutler’s coaching buddy Dowell Loggains is replacing Gase. Cutler showed last season that he still has good football left in the tank, but with his guaranteed money out after 2016, he is very much a year-to-year proposition for a team in rebuilding mode.
The Seahawks and Russell Wilson ranked first on the list, followed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the Panthers, the Colts and the Steelers.
Surprisingly, the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford ranked 11th on the list following a 7-9 season. Just as surprising, Teddy Bridgewater and the NFC champion Vikings ranked 24th, behind Cutler and the Bears. Bridgewater didn't explode in his second pro season but still managed to throw for 3,200 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record.
You can check out the rest of the list from Daugherty here.
While the Bears cut ties with veterans Matt Forte, Antrel Rolle and Matt Slauson sooner rather than later this offseason, they have done nothing to hint that the immediate futures of outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young project to be other than Chicago.
Just the opposite, in fact. Despite chatter that the Bears were shopping various veterans in the days around the draft, reports have the Bears not only open to extending Young’s contract, but also doing nothing with Houston and his nearly $6 million price tag for 2016. And John Fox is sounding like anything but a head coach who’s done with either edge threat.
“In year two, a lot of times there’s a big jump from freshman to sophomore, year one to year two, just in the scheme,” Fox said during the Bears’ rookie minicamp. “Two of our outside linebackers [Houston, Young] a year ago were coming off major injuries and really didn’t have an off-season. And they were making the transition from 4-3 ends earlier in their career to acclimating to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
“They’re going to have a full off-season this time around. So they were, and really everybody out there was, kind of new at outside linebacker because we got two new guys in free agency that we brought in, so there will be some growing pains.”
As the Bears headed into this offseason, with its Combine, draft and sundry transactions, the futures of Houston and Young were subjects of speculation. Team-leading sack totals (eight for Houston, 6.5 for Young) notwithstanding, the combination of salaries and age (Young turning 31 in September) put both at risk on a team looking to get younger and faster on defense.
Now, even with the expenditure of draft capital on Leonard Floyd, a decidedly Young-like outside pass rusher, the Bears do not appear inclined to let go of proven pass rushers.