Bears have rare chance for 'elite' D


Bears have rare chance for 'elite' D

During the NFL Scouting Combine last month, former NFL safety and current National Football Post columnist Matt Bowen visited with in the wake of coach Lovie Smiths press session.

Bowen had heard Smith discuss (to a limited point) what the Bears wanted for next season. What he also heard, in between the lines of the requisite we want to get better everywhere, was a stronger emphasis on upgrading the pass rush beyond the everywhere group.

Bowens conclusion at the time was that a course of action should be to look in free agency for the impact wide receiver the offense craves, where the Bears would be getting a proven pro vs. a far less certain rookie who cant be projected to have top-shelf numbers this first year. Then the Bears should be all over an edge rusher in the draft, which has a number of them.

And Bowen is going one step further in NFP with a statement that the Bears should be after Houston Texans end Mario Williams as a chance to pair with Julius Peppers for a truly rare combination of elite rushers in a defense built on just that.

Beyond the obvious of simply pointing to a really good player and saying, get him, the Williams scenario is a shot at something the Bears havent come close to since Richard Dent was at one end and Dan Hampton at the other.

Dent himself once said that all elite defenses have three true pass-rush threats, whether specific individuals or in a combo pack (like with a Ray Lewis). Dent-Hampton-McMichael. Eller-Marshall-Page (Minnesota). Greene-Greenwood-White (Pittsburgh). Davis-Jordan-Aldridge (Green Bay). Jones-Martin-White (Dallas).

The Colonels Rule of Three can be argued, but not what Williams could mean opposite Peppers. As noted previously, Williams has never won anything with the under-achieving Texans. But with Peppers and Henry MeltonAmobi Okoye, the Bears have the building foundation for a very, very good defense. Very.

Forget about the age theme with the defense. Charles Woodson is older than Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman or Brian Urlacher. So is Ray Lewis.

The issue isnt whether the defense is too old. Its whether its good enough up front, which is why Smith rightly has pass rush as the high priority he does.

Getting Reggie White was a rare fortuitous chance that the Packers grabbed. So is a chance to pair Peppers with someone his equal or better as a pass rusher.

Whether if that someone is Williams or a first-round draft choice, a double-digit edge rusher added to what the Bears already have in place is arguably as much a golden opportunity as may come again in quite some time.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.