Dynasty on tap? Bears youth making huge impact

347637.jpg

Dynasty on tap? Bears youth making huge impact

Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010
3:24 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

They are playing largely spot-duty roles for the Bears in their first true NFL seasons. But the 2010 rookie class and a couple of other newcomers have made significant contributions to what is now a 10-4 playoff team.

The true significance, however, may lie in the fact that on a team led by veterans, the Bears have an emerging core of quality youth. Not coincidentally, they are all members of position groups led by some of the elite veterans on the roster: Chris Harris and Charles Tillman in the secondary, Olin Kreutz on the offensive line, Julius Peppers on the defensive line.

JMarcus Webb, right tackle

JMarcus Webb, the Bears seventh-round pick in this years draft, has secured the right tackle spot this season and for what looks like a long, long time. But it has been a season of major adjustments: to the NFL in general, to a new position, even to a whole different kind of coach.

Ive played a lot of left tackle so this was kind of throwing me to the wolves at right and Im having to learn a lot of things over again, Webb said. Its different as far as shifting your weight.

And then theres offensive line coach Mike Tice: Ive had some pretty tough coaches, Webb said, shaking his head, but hes the craziest and most intense for me, his intensity and his word usage.

Major Wright, safety

Third-rounder and safety Major Wright was hit with a succession of injuries almost from the outset of training camp that may have prevented him from shouldering his way into the starting lineup by now. Coming off the bench he has not had fewer than three tackles in any of the last five games and the Bears are 6-1 since his return from a hamstring strain suffered in the Dallas game.

Wright blitzed Minnesota quarterback Joe Webb in the fourth quarter Monday and the pressure contributed to an interception by Brian Urlacher. The play was nullified because Wright was flagged for roughing the passer, but even though he took the quarterback out a little bit, linebacker Lance Briggs said, it was good to see that aggressiveness.

Corey Wootton, defensive end

Defensive end Corey Wootton was drafted in the fourth round primarily for the future and as depth behind Mark Anderson and Israel Idonije. Anderson was cut, Idonije is in the midst of a career year with eight sacks, and Wootton has begun to appear on game days, with three tackles against New England and a game-ending sack of Brett Favre Monday night in Minnesota.

I think every week its been better, said Wootton, who is unlikely to be getting too many more Sundays off. Thats the good thing, just to improve every week, and thats what Ive been doing. But Ive still got some major room for improvement and thats what I want to do.

Henry Melton, defensive endtackle

Like Wootton, Henry Meltons first career sack was of Favre, in the Week 10 game between the teams. The defensive tackleend from Texas was the Bears fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft but missed his entire rookie season with an ankle injury suffered in preseason, making him a de facto rookie as well.

Hes got some real pass-rush stuff to him, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who has worked with enough elite pass rushers to know. Now its about consistency every day. Im looking at him outside and inside and rolling him around because if you suit seven men up or eight men up the guys in a backup role have to have position flexibility.

Melton has played four different defensive line positions in a single game and has emerged as a true part of the Bears defensive line rotation. He is 6-3, 260 pounds but hes got a hardness to him inside, Marinelli said. Hes a physical player. Hell hit.

D.J. Moore, nickel back

D.J. Moore has gone from afterthought rookie playing on special teams in just three games to the starting nickel back on one of the NFLs top defenses. He is tied for the team lead in interceptions, joining Chris Harris and Charles Tillman with four. He leads the defensive backs with three tackles for loss and put up his first career sack in the Detroit game.

The nickel position has an opportunity to make a lot of plays, said coach Lovie Smith. Having the right guy there, you can make a lot of plays. You have an opportunity to blitz like the linebackers, youre in pass coverage like the DBs and the linebackers, man coverage with wide receivers.

You get a chance to do everything and that position seems to be right at the point of attack a lot of times. D.J. has great instincts, as good hands as just about anybody on our team and right now hes just making plays.

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.