Chicago Bears

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the cornerbacks

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for the cornerbacks

With training camp starting later this month, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ units heading into Bourbonnais. Today’s group: The cornerbacks. 

1. What will two new vets bring to the defense?

When Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye’s price tags skyrocketed, Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper were signed to one- and three-year contracts, respectively, then Tracy Porter was released. Pro Football Focus ranked Cooper 113th out of 120 qualified cornerbacks in coverage last year, though he did pick off four passes. Amukamara had sort of the opposite season of Cooper last year, not intercepting a pass but providing steady coverage. Neither player is likely to be a permanent fix at cornerback, but for a defense with a relatively heavy veteran presence, each fit the Bears’ plans for 2017. 

“(Amukamara)’s just kind of that veteran, savvy consistent pro, and sometimes there is a lot of hidden production from him because he’s got his guy covered and they just don’t throw at him,” general manager Ryan Pace said back in March. “… Cooper is a raw player that I think is still ascending. He didn’t play corner until late in college and when you watch him each year he’s gotten better and better the more he’s gotten opportunities. He has really natural ball skills. It’s very easy for him to make a play on the ball.”
 
2. Can Kyle Fuller hit the reset button in his last shot with the Bears?

Ryan Pace confirmed back in April that the Bears will not pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller, who so far looks like a big swing and a miss by the Phil Emery regime. Fuller missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury and isn’t a safe bet to be on the Bears’ opening day roster, though defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said back in May he’ll be given an opportunity to be part of a “competition.” Still, the start of the 2014 season — when Fuller had three interceptions in his first three games — is well in the past.

3. Will the Bears regret not dipping into an ostensibly deep draft pool of cornerbacks?

This is a question that won’t be answered for a few years and is partly contingent on the development of both Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen. But it’s an interesting one to consider, given how strong this year’s class of college cornerbacks was (PFF analyzed it as being “the strongest in the past decade”). Eighteen cornerbacks were drafted in the first three rounds, 11 of whom came after the Bears drafted Shaheen with the 45th pick. But Pace stuck to taking the best player available on the Bears’ draft board, which meant snagging four offensive players with the team’s five picks.  

“I think it’d be difficult for us to say, man, we got a man graded this high, but ah man we really need defense, let’s step down here and take this player,” Pace said. “I think we’d regret that decision.”

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?