Bears looking beyond rookies for defensive boost

Bears looking beyond rookies for defensive boost

With only one 2017 draft choice spent on defense, and that player — Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, fourth round — being held out as part of rehab from a broken leg suffered last October, the defensive report on this weekend’s rookie minicamp would be ... well ... maybe later.

More to the bigger Bears point than the influx of rookies is the virtual tsunami of veteran players that point to likely no fewer than six new starters from the lineup that finished the 2016 season.

The number might have been as high as seven but middle linebacker Danny Trevathan’s return from a ruptured patellar tendon, suffered in the Nov. 27 loss to the Tennessee Titans, is problematic at this point.

“I think that's in question whether he'll be ready [by training camp] at that point,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.

But the defense, which stumbled badly when nose tackle Eddie Goldman was out with an ankle injury, has added two starting cornerbacks – Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper — plus a starting safety – Quintin Demps — and added mass on the defensive line with Jaye Howard and John Jenkins.

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The key, however, projects to be Leonard Floyd, whose otherwise standout rookie season (7 sacks) was hampered by two concussions and a total of four missed games.

“He’s got a foundation of a year behind him, and he was only available about half the time last year,” Fangio said. “He had a bunch of those little injuries that interrupted his progress throughout the season. Hopefully with the year under his belt, getting in better shape, better condition, and take off. If he stays healthy, I feel good about him.

“He had a nice stretch there. I don’t remember the exact games, maybe it was like Game 9-12 where he was practicing and playing and you could see him coming. Then he got dinged twice in the last two games, or the last four games and it interrupted again.”

The Bears did not pick up the fifth-year option on cornerback Kyle Fuller, a distinct longshot after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury and clearly not a favorite of this coaching staff. But Fangio is declaring “competition,” which could give Fuller a shot at restarting a career that has faltered badly.

“Absolutely, I mean, it's wide open,” Fangio said. “I hope to see Kyle healthy and out there running around. Moving like he's 100 percent, and we'll go from there.”

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for tight ends

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Thursday's unit: the tight ends.

1. Will Zach Miller make the 53-man roster?

Miller didn’t play a single down from 2012-14, and has missed seven games in two seasons with the Bears, but he’s been productive when on the field: 110 targets, 81 receptions, 925 yards and nine touchdowns. But the Bears signed Dion Sims to an $18 million contract and then drafted Adam Shaheen in the second round of the draft, moves that seemingly put Miller in a precarious position heading into Bourbonnais. Not helping Miller’s case is the Lisfranc fracture he suffered last November, which kept him sidelined through OTAs and veteran minicamp in May and June. He’d be a valuable player for the Bears to keep around, but at the same time, training camp could be a perfect storm for Miller to be among the cuts.

“They’re going to cutting it close for training camp,” coach John Fox said of Miller (and Danny Trevathan) in June. “But right now they’re right on target and that’s kind of what we expected all offseason.”

2. What can we expect from Adam Shaheen?

Shaheen was among the bright spots during May and June, hardly looking like someone who played his college ball at Division II Ashland while going against NFL defenders. But those were just shorts-and-helmets practices without any contact, so it’d be premature to project anything about Shaheen off of them. The real test for Shaheen will be when he puts the pads on in Bourbonnais and gets his first experience with the physicality of the NFL after a few years of being head and shoulders — literally — above his competition in college. It’s unlikely Shaheen will live up to his “Baby Gronk” hype in Year 1, but if he handles training camp well, he could be a valuable red zone asset for Mike Glennon as a rookie. 

“You don’t know until you put the pads on,” Shaheen said. “That’s what I’m excited for.”

3. How productive can this unit be?

Between Sims — who had a career high four touchdowns last year with the Miami Dolphins — and Shaheen, the Bears have two new, big targets for an offense that tied for 24th in the NFL with 19 passing touchdowns a year ago. If Miller sticks around, this group would have enviable depth. But even if he doesn’t, the Bears liked what they saw from Brown last year (16 receptions, 124 yards, 1 TD in six games). There are fewer questions about the tight ends heading into training camp than the receivers, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Glennon leans on this unit, especially early in the season. 

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

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USA TODAY

BearsTalk Podcast: Analyzing Mitch Trubisky's contract as rookies arrive for camp

On Ep. 56 of our BearsTalk Podcast, Chris and JJ discuss Mitch Trubisky’s contract, question marks about the final 53, go over the Vikings off-season with Dawn Mitchell from Fox-9 Minneapolis, and go “Off the Grid” on  JJ’s recent engagement.