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.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

Bears' best rookies will have another learning curve

There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.

Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.

He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.

Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.

Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.

That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.

These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.