Beyond DE and WR, Bears will not be idle

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Beyond DE and WR, Bears will not be idle

The league-wide focus on the elite members of the free-agent class of 2012 has been on a handful of superstars who will command money that will confirm them as franchise players even without any teams tag designating them as such.

The Bears have made a pass rusher and wide receiver their two top needs but what happens after that will have some significant impact on the fortunes of a team that believes itself close to playing for a Roman numeral trophy.

In order of descending priority, three areas with anticipated Bears sightings:

Cornerback: The Baltimore Ravens did not sign Chris Carr, 29 this season, who played all 16 games in his first six years before missing seven in 2011. At 5-foot-10, he has experience but not a top-shelf starters price tag. Brandon Carr has not missed a game in four seasons as a Kansas City Chief as is a Charles Tillman-like 6-feet, 205 pounds. Carr also is someone with whom GM Phil Emery is very familiar from Emerys time in K.C.

Tight end: Lovie Smith has extolled the qualities and upside of Kellen Davis. Whether Davis is adequate to the expected role of a tight end in the offense of Mike TiceJeremy Bates is open to question, however. John Carlson, a former second-rounder out of Notre Dame, missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury suffered in a training-camp practice. Joel Dreesen could join Amobi Okoye and (possibly) Mario Williams from the Houston Texans to Chicago. Dreesen is rated a bargain by ProFootballFocus.com and the sixth-rated TE by the stats analysts at PFF with receiver skills.

Quarterback: David Garrard has been a starter (Jacksonville) who is working back from injury and willing to take a berth as a backup. Jason Campbells broken right collarbone re-opened the career door for Carson Palmer in Oakland and Campbell has been closely evaluated by the Bears. Campbell had the Raiders off to a 4-2 record before his injury and rates as the sleeper in efforts to upgrade the No. 2 spot at quarterback. Despite the lack of immediate activity on a new deal, Josh McCown is expected back to at the very least compete for a roster spot.

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Jay Cutler, Dowell Loggains face deepest test yet in Bears' third preseason game

Third preseason games come with added significance simply because it is the one practice game in which the starters play the closest to a full game prior to the start of the regular season. But for the Bears, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is potentially far more important for another reason.

The Kansas City game looms as something of a new tipping point in the one relationship that must function above all others for immediate success of the franchise:

The working relationship/bond between offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterback Jay Cutler.

The two-plus quarters that Cutler is expected to play will be the longest yet trial by fire for his trust in Loggains. The latter has been a coordinator previously in his career, but with less time and success in the position that most of Cutler’s previous list of coordinators.

And few of those relationships survived, let alone flourished once Cutler lost faith or belief in their messages, whether under an avalanche of sacks, poor play selection or design, or whatever.

Cutler put up the best season of his eight-year career in 2015 with Loggains as his position coach. Adam Gase was the coordinator, Gase came in with credibility from having worked with Peyton Manning in Denver. The credibility traced to not necessarily what Gase might have taught Manning, but rather because of what Gase undoubtedly LEARNED from Manning.

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Saturday’s test will be far short of the ones the regular season holds, when Loggains’ offense has been scouted and schemed for. But after a stretch of “quizzes” for Cutler-Loggains, this is a “test.”

Buy-in with Loggains?

Loggains has traction with Cutler – for now. Cutler was consistent in his compliments of Loggains last year, but it was Gase ultimately in his ear on game days. Indeed, the entire offense believed in Gase: “When I’m in the huddle…and we get a play call,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said at the time, “there’s never a time where we look at each other and think, ‘Oh [darn].’”

The NFL reality is that Loggains, who has stressed an even stronger commitment to running the football (Long and associates love that), has to earn, or re-earn that gut-level trust.

Most of all, from Cutler.

The lurching start to the preseason – the Bears’ 22-0 home loss to Denver, in which the offense with Cutler netted 13 yards in 10 plays, two of them ending in sacks of Cutler – was test No. 1. The Cutler-Loggains relationship appeared to emerge intact.

“We talked,” Cutler said. “We talked a lot about that game. I think the major point for us was, ‘Let’s not panic. Let’s not hit the fire alarm and put guys in a panic.’

“Because it was the first preseason game and we watched the film and a lot of the stuff that went wrong was because of mistakes… . So it was a matter of just kind of cleaning that stuff up and just going back to work. Which I thought we did a really good job of offensively [at New England]. Hopefully we can do that this week, too.”

Tough warm-ups

NFL schedule-makers did Loggains and the Bears no favors. Their first three preseason opponents – Denver, New England, Kansas City – were all top-10 run defenses. Meaning: The Bears are working to establish Loggains’ run-based offense right into the teeth of three of the NFL’s best at stopping that.

[RELATED: Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears]

The Bears want to run. But just consider: What if they can’t run against a monster Chiefs front that includes Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe and which held the Bears to 3.3 yards per carry, tied for their second-lowest of 2015, in their meeting last season?

Which then tasks Loggains with getting the offense to the right solutions, and those traditionally have not been – and should not be – solely found in Cutler’s right arm. The Bears streamlined and simplified Cutler’s decision-making last year, by design, and it was the right strategy, minimizing a Cutler weakness.

But now Loggains is front-and-center in those decisions. And Cutler has never appeared to suffer from an excess of patience through his career, even the new, more mature Cutler.

And not only WHAT Loggains tells Cutler, but also HOW he tells him, will matter. Gase was generally quiet; that worked. Loggains is very expressive, which Cutler said he now appreciates.

“He sets the tone every day,” Cutler said. “There’s never a gray area. He sets the tone, sets the standard, and if you don’t live up to that, meet those expectations, he’s going to be vocal, he’s going to let you know.

“As a player, that’s all you can ask for: A coach telling you how to do it, and when you don’t do it, you expect him to push you and help you achieve those goals.”

Preseason game No. 3 will be the biggest test yet for the synchronicity that is there now but needs to stand up to inevitable failures.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

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Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

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Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

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The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.