Chicago Bears

Bears NFL Draft Preview: OL core in place but looking for edge upgrades

Bears NFL Draft Preview: OL core in place but looking for edge upgrades

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 could have in store. Fifth in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation
 
Neither Bobby Massie nor Charles Leno Jr. established themselves as close to dominant edge blockers through the 2016 season. Massie struggled early before settling in over the last half-season; Leno was expected to take a definitive next step but did not. As a result, tackle was an offseason priority, and the Bears made a play for ex-Baltimore Raven Ricky Wagner before he was lured to the Detroit Lions on a five-year deal that set a new standard for right tackles. The Bears then targeted Tom Compton, primarily a backup over five NFL seasons and ostensibly in competition for the role of swing tackle.
 
The interior has been cited as a strength with the axis of Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flanking Cody Whitehair. Long is coming off serious shoulder and ankle injuries, elected not to have shoulder surgery, but is expected back in full to open the season. Sitton earned Pro Bowl alternate status. Whitehair stepped in when Hroniss Grasu tore an ACL in an August practice and missed just two snaps all season.

Projected pre-draft starters
 
LT    Charles Leno
LG    Josh Sitton
C      Cody Whitehair
RG   Kyle Long
RT    Bobby Massie

Reserves

Tom Compton, Cornelius Edison, Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush, William Poehls, Cyril Richardson.

Bears draft priority: Low
 
The "low" priority for the position stands in relation to need levels at other positions; the Bears need upgrades on the offensive line, most notably at tackle, and GM Ryan Pace has drafted an offensive lineman within the first three rounds in each of his two Bears drafts (Grasu 2015 third round, Whitehair 2016 second round).

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The problem this draft is that it is considered one of the poorest for offensive linemen. Loose evaluations suggest that the draft could go 15 picks or more in the first round before a tackle is selected. Compare that with: Four tackles went in the first 16 picks of the '16 draft. Three went top-13 in 2015, six in the top 24.  The 2014 draft saw four tackles picked in the first 16. Four tackles and two guards were picked among the first 11 of 2013.
 
This year, just finding a little quality depth will be an accomplishment.

Keep an eye on:
 
Forrest Lamp, G/T, Western Kentucky — One of several "top" prospects who may fall out of the first round. Lamp lacks some of the physical traits preferred in tackles but is willing to relocate. "I like to watch Ali Marpet, Cody Whitehair, Zack Martin," Lamp said during the Scouting Combine. "Those guys were all left tackles in school who got bumped inside. Similar to what I've been hearing [for myself], so I watched them all last year."
 
Cameron Lee, G/T, Illinois State — Bears arranged a private session with Lee, who started at both guard and tackle for ISU. The versatility is critical and attractive to teams looking to fill "swing" role inside or outside. Small-school prospect could drop into Bears' range on Day 3.

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

When the Bears signed Mark Sanchez March 24, some fans panicked that it meant Ryan Pace would avoid selecting a quarterback for a third straight draft. And when Pace boldly (or, stupidly, to some) traded up a spot to second overall to secure Mitch Trubisky for the future, those critics emerged, too. 

Sanchez signed as Mike Glennon's backup, and according to Pace Wednesday, that's still what he is. For the former fifth overall pick of the Jets, starting would be great. But he's only done that ten times over the past four years after starting all but two games in his first four seasons under the media microscope in New York.

"I thought this team was on an upper trend and it'd be great to help somebody like Mike," Sanchez said Thursday in his first interview with Chicago reporters. "I know they went through a serious injury bug last year and a lot of guys would be getting healthy."

The man is only 30, and things were never better professionally than in his fresh-faced, first two NFL seasons, helping the Jets win two playoff road games in both 2009 and 2010 (including one at New England) before getting knocked out in AFC Championship games on the road. Now, he's not considered a starter, unless it's an emergency.

"It has been a different role, and adjusting your perspective is not always easy, but that's the mental side of this game and that's why I love playing it, no matter what," Sanchez said. "I wanna be competing my butt off in practice, and then pushing the starter as much as I can."

With Tony Romo hurt yet again in Dallas last year, Sanchez was picked up as insurance by the Cowboys after the Broncos decided to go with two other young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, following Peyton Manning's retirement. But fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott's performance kept him on the field and Sanchez in a mentor role. Just as he will be with Glennon and Trubisky.

"Whatever it takes to win," Sanchez said. "And if that means getting him ready to play, and if that's what the role is, which is what it looks like here, then I'll push Mike, get ready to play myself and make sure he's ready to go in. It's been exciting working with him, because he can really play. I think he's a special player. He's decisive, he's got great feet for a big guy, and he can make all the throws so I'm excited to see how well he does."

Sanchez was Prescott in 2009, being chosen as a rookie over veteran options on a contending team.

"I had Kellen Clemens, Kevin O'Connell and Mark Brunell," Sanchez said of his NFL baptism under fire. "And all three of them, my first couple years, were amazing guys. Whether it was body language, footwork, where to live, where to eat, anything, you name it. We got so close. That kind of stuff transcends football when you get close off the field like we did those first couple of years, things take off. That kind of stuff I learned right away. We're still building that here."

There's no telling the degree of influence Sanchez may have had on Prescott's success. He arrived in Dallas late (after opening last preseason with a long touchdown pass to Demaryious Thomas at Soldier Field), too. But he hopes the NFL life lessons he'd been through, from winning, to butt-fumbling, to being cut, will help Glennon and Trubisky as he hope it did with Dak.

"That was a heckuva run," he said. "When you look at these teams, especially heading into year nine, you know from the first practice what you have, what you're searching for, what guys lead, what guys follow. You can feel it right away.

"It's a young team, but the emphasis is for the veterans to help push guys. Speaking from a number two role, I have to push Mike with everything I see. I had the conversation with Dak last year, 'Hey, I'll tell you everything I know, I'll push you as hard as a I can. But if at any point, you need me to turn it off, I'll do that. I'll shut up and won't say a word.' That's the same relationship I have with Mike and I'm pushing him hard, helping him compete, and I think he's gonna do really well.

"The best compliment you can give a rookie is not have to tell him to shut up," the USC product said of the seniority pecking order. "Just keep your head down and work, and that's really been his mentality. That's huge. And that's not easy, especially coming from where (Trubisky's) come from. The status you build as a college player... then a team trades up to get you, all those things, you start to believe all that.

"I remember getting ready to fly to divisional games, championship games, and two hours before the plane takes off I'm going to like, three different places. Popeyes Chicken, Quiznos, and I'm thinking, 'Geez, this is crazy.' But there's Brunell and Kellen Clemens saying, 'Just keep your mouth shut.  Do it or it'll be worse.' But (Trubisky's) done a great job. He's worked hard, doesn't say much and doesn't need to. Just keep working, keep learning, playing hard."

And despite his own desire to play, he won't fan the flames for change when Glennon has a bad practice, series or game. All four quarterbacks (including Connor Shaw) are ready to accept and follow the gameplan that's in place for the most scrutinized position in sports.

"There's no chance that happens here," Sanchez said of a divided room. "It's been defined clearly, and that's what you need. It's already been addressed by Ryan Pace, by Coach (John Fox), and you can't say it enough. You guys (the media) have a job to do, and I totally understand how papers sell, and some don't. Certain quotes, certain headlines, I've been around a bit, so I know. But we're not gonna have that issue because Mike's gonna play his butt off. If anything happens, I'll be ready. Mitch is gonna be ready. We have a great room so, I like where we're at and I like where we're headed."

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

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USA TODAY

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said.