Chicago Bears

Bears NFL Draft preview: Linebacker core set, but edge rushers always in demand

Bears NFL Draft preview: Linebacker core set, but edge rushers always in demand

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day and after could have in store. Second in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

From his arrival in Chicago, general manager Ryan Pace has placed a premium on staffing the 3-4 defensive scheme of coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio with impact linebackers. It began with the signing of rush linebacker Pernell McPhee and carried through the 2016 offseason with the signings of inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, then augmented by a trade up in the 2016 draft for edge rusher Leonard Floyd and the fourth-round pick of Nick Kwiatkoski.

The result has been a steadily upgrading defensive core. But none of the Bears' top five true linebackers (Willie Young's request to be dubbed a defensive end is here honored) was on the field for 16 games last season. McPhee started and finished the season sidelined with injuries (knee, then labrum), Trevathan was lost to knee surgery, Freeman was suspended four games, Floyd lost time to a calf injury and to concussions, and Kwiatkoski missed the preseason and the first two regular-season games with a hamstring pull early in training camp.

Trevathan tore his right patellar tendon against Tennessee on Nov. 27, and his recovery in time for training camp is problematic. Kwiatkoski, who performed well in place of both Freeman and Trevathan, figures prominently in the overall.

A core ostensibly is in place, though the stated operating premise is that pass rushers always will be added if possible. And the organization is expecting a next-level move by Floyd after seven sacks as a rookie.

"Obviously he's naturally going to continue to get stronger, and more durability I think will come with added strength," Pace said of Floryd. "I think he's going to continue to refine his pass-rush technique. Right now that first year is just kinda raw speed and raw talent. I think as he gets better with his pass-rush moves, using his hands and developing counters, I think the sky's the limit, because he's got everything you need physically and he's got the work ethic to learn all that. So I think dialing in some of his pass-rush traits are going to help a lot."

Rush linebacker Lamarr Houston is under contract and was the Bears' sack leader with eight in 2015. But he spent the 2014 and 2016 seasons on injured reserve with knee injuries, has a starting base-plus-workout price of $6 million for 2017 and turns 30 in June, making him a longshot to be on the roster come opening day.

Projected pre-draft starters

OLB: Pernell McPhee
OLB: Leonard Floyd
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
ILB: Danny Trevathan/Nick Kwiatkoski

Reserves: Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston, Christian Jones, Willie Young

Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

The Bears will always look to grab a pass-rush threat, and various scenarios could somehow conspire to leave Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, until now the consensus No. 1-overall pick, on the board at No. 3. The Bears have arranged a private get-together with Garrett, cast either as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 linebacker, and also had a private meeting with Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster. Trevathan's injury history — including during his time in Denver — has to be a concern, and Freeman turns 31 on May 1, making a selection of an elite inside linebacker a distinct possibility if the draft unfolds to leave one on the board for them, though not until Days 2 or 3.

Because of teams scheming to keep the Bears in nickel more than half the time, a hybrid edge rusher in the Floyd/McPhee mold will always be a priority.

Keep an eye on ...

Dylan Donahue, OLB/DE, West Georgia. At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, he's an impact mid-round prospect with special-teams potential. He got a post-combine invitation to meet with Fox: "At the formal meetings they don't really tell you a lot because they want you to feel awkward and uncomfortable," Donahue told the Billings (MT) Gazette. "The meeting with the Bears was really cool."

Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama. He was sent home from the Combine after a spat with staff but was Butkus Award winner in 2016. He had rotator cuff surgery that has dropped him on some boards, as have some character concerns.

Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M. With 31 sacks over three college seasons, Garrett is a 3-4 outside fit who would factor into rush packages immediately. The Bears would need the Browns and the 49ers to think quarterback at Nos. 1 and 2. Fox grabbed Von Miller at No. 2 in his first draft as the Broncos' head coach in 2011, so he knows what A&M rushers can do. "(Miller) probably has a little bit more skill than me," Garrett said during the Combine. "He's been doing it for a little bit longer. But I feel like I'm a little bit bigger, little bit stronger, and I'll catch up in that regard to skill."

James Onwualu, OLB, Notre Dame. He's a later-round prospect with special-teams capabilities. He had an excellent bench press (24) and vertical (38) at Notre Dame's pro day, but he's not an every-down candidate at 230 pounds.

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

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USA TODAY

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

After Mike Glennon had three first-half turnovers in the Bears' blowout loss Sunday in Tampa, Bears fans are more adament than ever that the team should turn to rookie Mitch Trubisky as its new starting quarterback. There are good arguments to be made as for why Trubisky should get the keys to the car right now, as well as for why it would be prudent to wait a while. Let's take a look at those arguments.

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ...

1. He gives the Bears a better chance to win

If you’re going to have a quarterback who may be prone to turning the ball over, why not go with the one who’s shown he can make more plays? That’s probably the biggest point in Trubisky’s favor right now, given what we’ve seen from him during training camp and preseason games. His accuracy, arm strength and mobility will translate to the NFL level no matter who he’s playing with or against, and he showed progress in the pre-snap operation of the Bears' offense throughout training camp. — JJ

2. The future has to start sometime

The Bears were obviously planning for the future when they selected Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in the draft, and that future has to start eventually. The Bears might not be ready to compete this season, but if you want that window to open as soon as 2018, you’ve got to give Trubisky the best chance to succeed in 2018 and that might mean getting him some experience in 2017. Think how much more ready Trubisky could be by opening day next season if he has nearly a whole season already under his belt. If it looks like games in which Glennon plays are going to be losses anyway, why not let Trubisky gain some valuable experience while the team is losing? — Vinnie

3. He can cover for defensive/special teams mistakes better than Glennon

It's true what Fox said in that Glennon was not the only guy making mistakes out there against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From Tarik Cohen's boneheaded muffed punt to the costly penalties by the defense, the Bears had plenty of problems on Sunday. But When those special teams and defensive mistakes were made, they were then compounded by Glennon's turnovers and inability to move the offense. Trubisky, should he play like fans believe he can, would theoretically take better care of the ball and sustain some drives, calming things down even following those bad plays in other phases. If the defense gets torched on a long drive and then Glennon goes three and out, that puts the defense in another bad position. If Trubisky follows that up with a long drive of his own, then the defense is much less likely to make the same mistakes again. — Vinnie

4. He can make the players around him better

As the NFL Combine began in Indianapolis in March, Fox talked about wanting a quarterback who can “raise all boats.” Trubisky flashed some of that boat-raising ability during the preseason, and elevating the play of guys like Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen could quickly negate any concerns about the players around him. — JJ

5. He’ll give the Bears hope

If the Bears exit September 0-4 — meaning they lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers — this season could feel D.O.A. by the time the Minnesota Vikings come to Soldier Field for Monday Night Football on Oct. 9. If Glennon isn’t performing well and the Bears are winless, making a change at quarterback could energize the team. While the locker room seems firmly behind Glennon right now, those players know who should be starting — and if they believe, at some point, that should be Trubisky, playing him could provide a boost. — JJ

... and five reasons Mitch Trubisky shouldn't start right now

1. He doesn’t give the Bears a better chance to win

Bears fans don’t want to hear this, but is there a chance Glennon really does give the Bears a better chance to win than Trubisky? John Fox keeps insisting that’s the case, even if it’s a hard thing to believe after Glennon’s miserable performance against the Bucs. But maybe Trubisky hasn’t yet mastered the offense. Maybe he’s not impressing Fox and his staff in practice. Maybe the success he had during the preseason was a result of the defensive competition he was going against. Fox believes Glennon gives his team the better chance to win, and as hard as that might be to believe, maybe he’s right. — Vinnie

2. The current roster would hurt his development

Look no further than what happened to Jared Goff last year with the Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher, feeling pressure to save his job, inserted Goff into the starting lineup in the 10th game of the season. The Goff-led Rams lost the final seven games of 2016, with the former No. 1 overall pick throwing seven interceptions against five touchdowns. Goff himself struggled, of course, but he didn’t have much help, as former Rams and current Bears running back Benny Cunningham pointed out to CSNChicago.com in August. Having a quarterback flail away with a flawed support system can be a confidence-ruiner with long-term negative effects. — JJ

3. The next two opponents

While it's possible that any and all starting NFL defenses are better than the ones Trubisky faced during the preseason, it's definite that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will be difficult competition for the rookie. Why begin Trubisky's NFL career with two games where he's in an especially difficult position to succeed? Sure, one day, the hope is that Trubisky will be able to handle whatever an NFL defense throws at him. But to ask a guy whose last meaningful football came against North Carolina State to try and make crucial decisions against the Pittsburgh Steelers is somewhat questionable. — Vinnie

4. Are we sure Glennon is bad?

Fox caused a Twitter uproar when he said it’s “really hard to evaluate somebody” based on two games. For Glennon, that’s one game in which he executed the Bears’ offense the way the team wanted (Atlanta) and one in which he didn’t (Tampa Bay). Those are Glennon’s only two starts since the 2014 season, for what it’s worth. While there’s no sugarcoating what Glennon did in Tampa, if that game turns out to be an aberration and the rest of his season looks more like the Atlanta game, he’ll continue to be the Bears’ starting quarterback. Giving things time is risky in a short 16-game season, but the Bears aren't throwing away months of evaluation of Glennon because of a couple sub-optimal preseason games and one bad one in the regular season.  — JJ

5. It's too early to deviate from the plan

Pace and Fox might not be Chicago fans' favorite people right now, but they do know football and made a preseason plan based on what they thought was best for the franchise's present and future. And no matter how much fans might decry that plan at the moment, it's hard to imagine that 120 minutes of football is enough to blow that plan up completely. When the season began, their belief was that the team is best served by Glennon playing and Trubisky being on the sideline. That belief still existing is completely understandable considering how early it is in the season. And with Fox potentially seeing his job on the line as the season progresses, sticking with that plan might help the Bears stick with him. — Vinnie

Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

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USA TODAY

Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

Charles Tillman isn't wasting time on life after football.

The former Bears cornerback — one of the best defensive players in an illustrious franchise history — is reportedly training to be an FBI agent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Tillman turns 37 in February and last played in the NFL in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. His age is an issue, as the Tribune notes, FBI guidlines stipulate a candidate cannot be 37 at time of appointment, meaning Tillman had to act fast if he wanted to become a special agent.

Tillman studied criminal justice at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. 

In his 12-year NFL career, Tillman appeared in 168 games, tallying 38 interceptions, 141 passes defensed and an incredible 44 forced fumbles. He jarred 10 balls loose in 2012 alone and earned his own wrestling move nickname for his ball-smacking prowess — the Peanut Punch.

Now Tillman apparently is taking his punching talents to Quantico, Virginia.