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.

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

The 5 Bears players with the most to prove in training camp

1. Mike Glennon

Glennon is, for now, the Bears’ unquestioned starting quarterback — a role the Bears made clear he wasn’t going to lose after drafting Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in April. It would take a monumental effort from Trubisky — and a disappointing one from Glennon — for that to change. But Glennon has only attempted 11 more passes in the NFL than Trubisky since the beginning of the 2015 season, leaving plenty of uncertainty heading to Bourbonnais. Glennon’s three-year, $45 million contract is structured so the Bears could cut him for $2.5 million next spring, and with a highly-touted player developing behind him, he may not have as much leeway as his contract would appear to give him. As Glennon put it in May: “This is my year. There are no guarantees in the NFL.” The 27-year-old is well aware this year is his best opportunity to prove, either to the Bears or the rest of the league, that he’s capable of being a successful starting quarterback. That process begins in earnest this week. 

2. Mitch Trubisky

While it remains unlikely that Trubisky will be the Bears’ Week 1 starter, if he proves to be better than Glennon at the end of August…why would he not be the starter? It’s not a simple yes or no question, given Trubisky has to learn a largely different offense than the one he ran in college (unlike Philadelphia’s No. 2 pick, Carson Wentz, a year ago) and only started 13 games since leaving high school in Mentor, Ohio. But it’s the job of John Fox and his coaching staff to win games, and if they come to a consensus that Trubisky gives them a better chance of winning, then it would make sense for him to start. What’s more likely in reach for Trubisky during training camp is showing enough to the coaching staff to lay the foundation for him to play in 2017, either as a substitute or as a starter later in the season. 

3. Kevin White

Aside from the quarterbacks, it’s hard to think of a player with more to prove than White. It’s too early to label White a bust, given those two leg injuries limited him four games in his first two years, but the Bears at least need him to be healthy this year to start to figure out what they have in the former seventh overall pick. White was targeted 36 times before suffering his season-ending injury last year and averaged 5.19 yards per target, which was the third-lowest average among receivers with at least 35 targets in 2016. That's surprising for a guy who was drafted with such good speed, so not only will White have to prove he can stay healthy, but he'll have to prove he can be more productive within the Bears' offense. 

4. Leonard Floyd

While White may have the most to prove, Floyd probably has the highest expectations placed upon him in 2017. Floyd’s 7 1/2 sacks last year were promising, and he appears to be past the scary post-concussion malaise he suffered in January and February. If Floyd grows into a double-digit sack guy for the Bears this year, he could be the catalyst for some significant improvements for the entire defense (a better pass rush begets more opportunities for interceptions, etc.). But he’ll also have to prove the issues that led to those two concussions last year — chiefly, poor tackling form — are a thing of the past, and that he’s able to make that Year 1 to Year 2 leap the Bears think he can. 

5. Kyle Fuller

Fuller faces an uphill climb to make the Bears’ 53-man roster, so what he’s trying to prove may be of more value to finding a post-Chicago landing spot. Vic Fangio’s pointed comments about Fuller’s willingness (or lack thereof) to play last year cast doubt on his future, but he’s still still here after being neither cut nor traded in the offseason. The Bears declined Fuller's fifth-year option earlier this year, though, so training camp may be Fuller's last chance at sticking in the NFL, either with the Bears or elsewhere. 

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.