Chicago Bears

DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

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DT a priority for Bears even before Harris' departure

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
9:05 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Observations in the wake of the Bears Tommie Harris release:

If there were not already tremendous need for them to score big in this years draft, the Bears now have just three of their No. 1 draft choices over the past decade still on the roster: Brian Urlacher (2000), Greg Olsen (2007) and Chris Williams (2008), and Urlacher was under the administration of the late Mark Hatley, Jerry Angelos successor.

They have just two from the drafts since Lovie Smith arrived.

Their chief target and standard for the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, have that many from the 2009 draft alone: nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, plus tackle Bryan Bulaga from the 2010 draft.

And the footsteps coming up behind the Bears are from the Detroit Lions, who had that many in the 2010 draft alone as well: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and running back Jahvid Best. Add oft-injured quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions have as many in the last two years as the Bears in the last 11. Cause for additional concern is that since 2006 the Lions also have hit on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, tackle Gosder Cherilus and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The Bears do get a slight pass (literally) when you factor in a significant score from the 2009 draft in which they gave up their No. 1 in the deal for Jay Cutler. And their de facto No. 1 in the 2010 draft was Julius Peppers but they had to commit 91 in free agency for him.

But the Bears also have just three of their second-round picks under Jerry Angelo at this point: Charles Tillman (2003), Devin Hester (2006) and Matt Forte (2008), plus Danieal Manning (2006) if he is re-signed once the free agency rules are established. The death of Gaines Adams left the Bears with nothing from their 2010 No. 2 as well as a deep hole in spirit.

The Packers have wideout Jordy Nelson, running back Brandon Jackson, guard Daryn Colledge, wide receiver Greg Jennings, safety Nick Collins, and defensive end Mike Neal from 2010. That is all of the ones they made since 2004...

A player in the spotlight for the Bears now becomes Henry Melton. The 2009 fourth-round pick missed his rookie season on IR and showed flashes last season, with 2.5 sacks. He has enough speed and quickness to have worked at defensive end and is expected to be given a longer look inside as the three-technique. But he has played at no bigger than 280 pounds and unless he has playmaker abilities in the mold of John Randle, the undersized Minnesota Vikings DT now in the Hall of Fame, the Bears are at risk of being overpowered at the point of attack.

Matt Toeaina showed enough for the Bears to sign him to an extension last year. But he was edged back out of the starting lineup by Harris for the final six games, including the postseason.

And Marcus Harrison will need a dramatic reversal of trend to make the roster in training camp after slumping from nine-game starter in 2009 to 11-game inactive last season.

The Bears may be able to manage with another shuffling on the offensive line, moving Chris Williams back to right tackle, JMarcus Webb to left, Frank Omiyale to left guard, and either re-signing center Olin Kreutz or getting more out of Edwin Williams as Kreutzs replacement.

But defensive tackle, already a draft priority with Harris, just became an even bigger one without him.

Harris speaks

In the long run, Harris did need a change of team and he knew it as this season played out. Its one of those bittersweet moments but its something that Ive been prepared for for a long time, Harris told host David Kaplan Thursday on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Live".

He never had the baggage issues of Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Cade McNown or other players whose time in Chicago was cut short for more reasons of perception and PR as well as performance.

But his relationship with Lovie Smith wasnt in a good place and hadnt been for a several years. Frankly Harris had some growing up to do and at the same time, he hadnt felt that Smith saw him as growing up when he did.

It was more like father and son, Harris said of their relationship.

And sometimes you just have to move out of the house. For both sides sakes.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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?