Dynasty on tap? Bears youth making huge impact

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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.

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

No sign Bears locked into drafting a QB in 2017 as Ryan Pace underscores 'best available' tack

PHOENIX – NFL owners meetings, like the Scouting Combine, invariably involve hallway conversations regarding quarterbacks. Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick have a job? Why does Mark Sanchez have one? Will Jay Cutler take one? This year, despite a 3-13 record last season and a continuing slide toward irrelevance, the Bears are in intriguing part of those conversations, or maybe, whispers.

The reason, beyond the obvious fact that the Bears stand at No. 3 in a QB-lite draft, is because the Bears not only have done significant things at the position – cutting Cutler, signing Sanchez and Mike Glennon, not signing Brian Hoyer – but one NFL source said to keep an eye on the Bears as potentially being involved in at least one future blockbuster after this season.

More on that in a moment.

First of all, every indication is that GM Ryan Pace is absolutely NOT locked into or about to allow himself to be pressured into drafting a quarterback in 2017. Certainly not at No. 3, maybe not at all. Maybe this is pre-draft posturing, misinformation or misdirection, and Pace has said in the past that he wants to draft quarterbacks but hasn’t in his first two Bears drafts. But still:

“We’re going to draft the best players available, wherever that may be,” Pace said on Tuesday. “And if it’s a quarterback, it’s a quarterback. But we’re going to take the best players available. I think now some of those things are unforeseen. You can’t predict some of those things. But right now I like the way Sanchez blends with Glennon and with Connor Shaw.”

Whether the public likes Pace’s moves at quarterback, or whether they’re good, bad or anywhere in between is just offseason speculation for now. The NFL will start giving him meaningful feedback sometime this September. What Pace has in fact done, regardless of analyses at this point, like it or not, is create options for himself and his coaches. And those extend beyond 2017.

Some context here: Even with some measure of job security in the short term, Pace is tasked with winning in the future as well as the present. He has addressed the 2017 quarterback situation, if not spectacularly, with Glennon and Sanchez specifically. But think beyond ’17; because Pace is.

More context: GM’s and head coaches like and need options. Doubts about Glennon, Sanchez, Connor Shaw or some rookie notwithstanding, Pace has the Bears positioned with options, not necessarily good options, but arguably best-available for the most part.

A little more context: Dowell Loggains may not have quelled all doubts about his play calling, but Cutler, Hoyer and Matt Barkley all had their best NFL stretches, albeit short, under his stewardship. 

Pace has effectively positioned the Bears for not one or two, but as many as a half-dozen spins of the quarterback wheel looking for a winner. It is a place the Bears were not in for most of Cutler’s tenure outside of brief Hoyer and Josh McCown bursts.

Within this context, consider the Pace’s chances for a strike at THE priority position for the franchise:

Spin 1: Mike Glennon

Pace announced the former Bucs quarterback as the Bears’ starter. Probably is. But Matt Flynn was the Seahawks’ starter when they free-agent signed him away from Green Bay in 2012. He lost his starting job by the end of training camp to a rookie third-round draft choice, Russell Wilson.

The Bears chose Glennon over Cutler and Hoyer because of upside; if Glennon plays to his perceived ceiling, the Bears have him under contract for two more years.

Spin 2: Mark Sanchez

When all the cynical subsides, consider him a low-risk spin who has been good enough to stand a career 37-35 as a starter. McCown amounted to something and still is after age 30, even with bad teams. Hoyer played some of his best football the past two seasons, after age 30. If Loggains resuscitates Sanchez’s career at age 30… .

Spin 3: The rookie

How, where and even if – make that a big IF – the Bears make their first Ryan Pace draft pick of a quarterback doesn’t come around for another month. But whomever the Bears select, if they select a quarterback this draft, gives Pace another spin of the QB wheel.

Spin 4: Kirk Cousins

CSNChicago.com confirmed that the Bears called on Cousins’ availability, even with the specter of Washington’s franchise tag hanging over him. But as one NFL source noted, Cousins is on a one-year deal ($23.94 million tag guarantee), it is his second and presumably last tag, and he has spurned long-term Washington offers to this point.

Glennon’s contract commits the Bears to $16 million this year. After that, minimal guarantee. Sanchez, one-year deal. Cousins, one-year deal.

Next offseason… . 

Spin 5: Jimmy Garoppolo

The Eastern Illinois quarterback wasn’t deemed worth a No. 3 pick in 2014, in either round one or two. He hasn’t put enough on film to make him worth that pick now.

But if the Cleveland Browns don’t trade for him, or New England hasn’t turned to him and locked him up contractually, he would be an unrestricted free agent next offseason. It will take a long-term market deal but at least he wouldn’t cost a high No. 1.

Spin 6: Connor Shaw

He is already clearly getting a preseason look, as he did last year, and is ahead of evaluations that accompanied David Fales and some other Bears hopefuls. He’s found money if he develops into something, but Warren Moon, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner were all undrafted free agents, too.

Bears believe they got more than just a No. 2 QB in signing Mark Sanchez

Bears believe they got more than just a No. 2 QB in signing Mark Sanchez

PHOENIX – The signing of Mark Sanchez last week gave the Bears what they view as a bona fide No. 2 quarterback, something they have needed at least one of in each of the last seven seasons. Sanchez has started 72 NFL games vs. the 18 of Mike Glennon but GM Ryan Pace reiterated on Tuesday that Glennon is ensconced as the starter.
 
More than just finding a viable backup has been at stake in the Bears' quest for a backup, and in a clear statement of philosophy, Pace affirmed that intangibles played a significant part in deciding on Sanchez. Part of those specifically involved an assessment of how Sanchez would work off the field with Glennon.
 
"He's knowledgeable, he's smart and him and Mike have already kind of clicked," Pace said. "They're together and they're organizing workouts on their own and those kind of things are important.
 
"We've talked about it before: There's no more important room than the quarterback room and we put a lot of thought as to how that room blends together, especially with the number two position. Obviously we're evaluating the physical traits and what he can do physically but how they fit in as teammates, how they help each other, how they support each other. I think we've all seen really good rooms that are better as a whole because of the people that are in there. And maybe some rooms that don't click well together. I think we've created an environment not only with him but also with Connor Shaw where it's a room that can really click together and make each other better."

[MORE BEARS: No Bears move yet on CB Deiondre' Hall except maybe to safety]
 
While Pace and coach John Fox have preached competition throughout the depth chart, that does not appear to apply at quarterback the same way. Indeed, a true quarterback competition can divide teams and become a distraction cloud over more than just that one position.
 
Glennon in fact may not need a lot of external competition. He is effectively playing to restart his NFL career, with $16 million guaranteed for the 2017 season but only $2.5 million guaranteed beyond that on a contract with a top-out of $45 million over three years.
 
"I think it's good for them to always be pushing each other so there's competition," Pace said. "Glennon's our starter… but that doesn't mean they're not pushing each other throughout practice and I think that goes with Connor Shaw, too. So those guys are all competitive guys, we wouldn't want them if they weren't competitive, and I just think it's a healthy competition."