Chicago Bears

Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

First, truly sad notes...

On top of news that Gale Sayers is battling dementia and that Lance Briggs is talking of symptoms he links to CTE comes the very sad news that former 49ers tight end Dwight Clark has ALS. Clark, co-author of "The Catch" with Joe Montana, put the information out on Sunday night that he has the dreaded illness that has afflicted a number of former NFL'ers.

Take a moment before you read any further. Maybe hug your wife/husband/kids, call someone you haven't talked to in too long, something...

OK, now you can read some more...

After the initial crush of a less than spectacular 2017 free agency pool, the Bears have quietly continued to work at the task of upgrading themselves from the nightmare that was 2016. To wit:

Healing their own

How much better would the 2017 Bears be if they added a wide receiver with a top-10 draft pick, an emerging standout nose tackle at the center of their defensive line, a Pro Bowl guard, and they committed $24 million on a middle linebacker to anchor the defense?

Because those are among the projected starters the Bears anticipate getting back in 2017 from season-ending injuries: Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long and Danny Trevathan. Injuries were not an allowable "excuse" for the travails of 2016, but to critique the Bears without those four, plus the occasional Zach Miller, is silly.

The Bears' run defense allowed 4.8 yards per carry without Goldman, 3.8 with him, which would have ranked among the NFL's best. The Bears allowed 30 or more points in five games last season; four of those occurred when Trevathan was out injured.

And White, coming off season-ending bone breaks his first two years, leading the team after four games last season, is part of the plan, but how much is yet to play out. "He's rehabbed, been cleared medically," said coach John Fox. "He's a guy I think that's got good size, quickness, explosion, big hands. I think yards after catch can be a positive. But at the end of the day he has to go prove that. It's going to take some time. We've got time, and he's healthy."

Looking for new kids

Whether through the No. 3 or No. 36 picks or subsequent picks, or iterations spawned via trades, the Bears already are reportedly setting up some of their 30 allowed visits with prospects. The early names are on defense, and from Alabama: defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ruben Foster.

The process has been ongoing, obviously, involving the Senior Bowl, Combine, Pro Day's and soon the trips to Halas Hall. Notably, and not surprisingly, the Bears met at the Combine with Miami's Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, Pat Mahomes from Texas Tech, Nate Peterman from Pitt and North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky. And that's not including the task force the Bears sent to watch the workout of Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

Also notably, according to WalterFootball.com, the Bears' Halas Hall pre-draft guest list last year included Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair, their No. 1 and No. 2 picks.

More, many more, to come.

Vet looks

The Bears signed a backup nose tackle (John Jenkins) last week and also had former Washington defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois in for a visit last weekend, first reported by ESPN's Josina Anderson last Thursday. Jean-Francois tweeted about getting used to cold weather again but was then off to Seattle for a visit with the Seahawks.

Visits don't always turn into signings, but just as he did with the addition of QB Mike Glennon, GM Ryan Pace is making moves that dramatically lessen pressure to draft for position need. With Jenkins in place and if the Bears could secure Jean-Francois, for instance, using the No. 3 pick on Alabama's Allen seems increasingly unlikely.

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Can Markus Wheaton fix what ails the Bears’ offense?

Markus Wheaton was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and wasn’t on the Bears’ injury report Thursday, signaling that the 5-foot-11, 189 pound speedster will make his Bears debut Sunday against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s not the solution for the Bears’ offense, but he could be part of it. 

For an offense that’s woefully lacked someone who can reliably stretch the field, Wheaton can at least provide the threat of going deep. Two years ago, while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wheaton averaged 17 yards per reception. Mike Glennon’s longest completion this year went for 22 yards. 

“It definitely adds another dimension,” Glennon said. “It’ll be great having Markus back.”

But Wheaton only played in three games last season (four catches, 51 yards) and, at his best, averaged 48 catches, 696 yards and four touchdowns a year from 2014-2015. Is it fair to expect Wheaton to be a big part of the Bears' offensive solution given he hasn't played much recently, and was limited to only a handful of reps in training camp and preseason practices due to a pair of freak ailments?

Maybe not, but with the Bears 0-2, he's the best hope they have at a skill position. 

Wheaton needed an emergency appendectomy the first weekend the Bears were in Bourbonnais — “I thought I had to poop,” Wheaton said, maybe providing too much information, before realizing the excruiating pain in which he was in was something worse. Shortly after returning to the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University, Wheaton fractured his pinkie finger in gruesome fashion (he said the bone was sticking out) when he was awkwardly grabbed while trying to catch a pass. 

That Wheaton broke a finger wasn’t only significant for his ability to catch passes. Consider what his former quarterback — Ben Roethlisberger — had to say about what makes Wheaton an effective deep threat:

“He’s got a very good ability of using his hands,” Roethlisberger said. “When you’re trying to stretch the field, you’ve gotta have some little techniques to help you get open because DBs can run as much as receivers can. So you gotta be able to use your hands to swim, kinda, get some swiping, get the hands off, I thought that he really had some good technique when it came to the deep ball and getting away from DBs.”

Roethlisberger and Wheaton shared a good rapport in Pittsburgh, with the quarterback clearly communicating to the receiver what he expected timing-wise in his routes. It’s been a challenge to develop something similar with Glennon given the lack of practice time, but Wheaton said putting in extra work after practice has helped. 

If Wheaton and Glennon can get on the same page, perhaps that can lead to at least some deep ball attempts. The Bears have to find a way to prevent opposing defenses from stacking the box and focusing on stopping Jordan Howard, who only has 59 yards on 22 carries this year. 

“We're going to face overpopulated boxes, we know that,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “There's going to be seven, eight guys in the box every time and we have to execute better and it comes down to that.”

According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, only three of Glennon’s 85 pass attempts have traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The only completion of those was Sunday’s garbage-time touchdown to Deonte Thompson, which was caught near the back of the end zone. 

The threat of Wheaton going deep won’t be enough, though. Glennon still has prove he can complete those deep balls — the last time he completed a pass of 25 or more yards was on Nov. 2, 2014 (though he’s only attempted 96 passes since that date). 

But Wheaton feels ready to go and is confident he can do his job — which, in turn, could, in a best-case scenario, help his other 10 teammates on offense do their jobs, too. 

“It’s been a long time coming,” Wheaton said. “I’m excited and hopefully this is the week.”

Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon

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AP

Kris Bryant is all aboard the Mitch Trubisky bandwagon

Count Kris Bryant among the Chicagoans who are calling for Mitch Trubisky to start at quarterback for the Bears.

OK, that may be a bit extreme as Bryant simply said he would supporting giving Trubisky a "shot", but still:

After a rough game for incumbent starting QB Mike Glennon last week, most of Chicago has been clamoring for the No. 2 overall pick to get some snaps under center.

Why wouldn't the crown prince of Chicago baseball get in on the noise?