Chicago Bears

How TE Bucky Hodges began his path to the draft by being Eric Ebron

How TE Bucky Hodges began his path to the draft by being Eric Ebron

Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges wasn't groomed to draw comparisons to Jimmy Graham. Before the 6-foot-7, 257 pounder caught 20 touchdowns and racked up 1,755 yards in Blacksburg, he was a four-star quarterback recruit with a better Rivals ranking than the likes of Davis Webb and Joshua Dobbs.

A month into his freshman season season, though, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster needed someone to "play" Eric Ebron, the former North Carolina tight end, on scout team. Hodges had worked as Virginia Tech's scout team quarterback, but Foster identified him as the perfect fit to mimic the future first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. As it turns out, Hodges stuck at tight end permanently. 

"(Foster) said I could emulate his game a lot so he asked me if I'd be cool playing tight end that week," Hodges said at the combine last month. "And I started playing it and I fell in love with the position and it stuck ever since."

If the Bears target a tight end on Day 2 of next week's NFL Draft, Hodges should be among the pool of players available with the 67th overall pick. The Graham comparison is lofty, but one made by Pro Football Focus:

"The pair share extremely similar size, athleticism, and Hodges has displayed exemplary versatility with Graham's big-play potential. Graham spent his first year in the NFL improving his blocking technique and, with that same level of organizational development, Hodges possesses the tools to become one of the better tight ends in the NFL." (via PFF's Draft Pass)

Like most mid- or late-round tight ends, Hodges isn't "complete" as in he's accomplished as a pass-catcher, but not as much as a blocker. Hodges played wide receiver for Virginia Tech in 2016 and, at least early in his pro career, having him in a game would likely be a clear signal to a defense that the offense will pass (Hodges said in Indianapolis almost every team has talked to him about being a tight end, not a receiver). 

Hodges, though, spoke at the combine like someone committed to improving as a blocking tight end. 

"I'm tough," Hodges said. "I'm not scared to put my helmet into anyone's face. If you're playing against me, I'm going at you the whole game—run play, pass play, that's the type of player I am. I'm still raw fundamental-wise and technique-wise, but I know I'm capable of it because of my work ethic and I'm pretty confident I'll be a good blocker."

Using a third-round pick on Hodges certainly carries some risk, but there could be a significant reward if he's able to develop and refine his overall game. And that's not bad for someone who picked up the position less than four years ago. 

"I'm a top tight end," Hodges said. "They're starting to understand it."

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

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Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ... and five reasons he shouldn't

After Mike Glennon had three first-half turnovers in the Bears' blowout loss Sunday in Tampa, Bears fans are more adament than ever that the team should turn to rookie Mitch Trubisky as its new starting quarterback. There are good arguments to be made as for why Trubisky should get the keys to the car right now, as well as for why it would be prudent to wait a while. Let's take a look at those arguments.

Five reasons Mitch Trubisky should start right now ...

1. He gives the Bears a better chance to win

If you’re going to have a quarterback who may be prone to turning the ball over, why not go with the one who’s shown he can make more plays? That’s probably the biggest point in Trubisky’s favor right now, given what we’ve seen from him during training camp and preseason games. His accuracy, arm strength and mobility will translate to the NFL level no matter who he’s playing with or against, and he showed progress in the pre-snap operation of the Bears' offense throughout training camp. — JJ

2. The future has to start sometime

The Bears were obviously planning for the future when they selected Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in the draft, and that future has to start eventually. The Bears might not be ready to compete this season, but if you want that window to open as soon as 2018, you’ve got to give Trubisky the best chance to succeed in 2018 and that might mean getting him some experience in 2017. Think how much more ready Trubisky could be by opening day next season if he has nearly a whole season already under his belt. If it looks like games in which Glennon plays are going to be losses anyway, why not let Trubisky gain some valuable experience while the team is losing? — Vinnie

3. He can cover for defensive/special teams mistakes better than Glennon

It's true what Fox said in that Glennon was not the only guy making mistakes out there against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. From Tarik Cohen's boneheaded muffed punt to the costly penalties by the defense, the Bears had plenty of problems on Sunday. But When those special teams and defensive mistakes were made, they were then compounded by Glennon's turnovers and inability to move the offense. Trubisky, should he play like fans believe he can, would theoretically take better care of the ball and sustain some drives, calming things down even following those bad plays in other phases. If the defense gets torched on a long drive and then Glennon goes three and out, that puts the defense in another bad position. If Trubisky follows that up with a long drive of his own, then the defense is much less likely to make the same mistakes again. — Vinnie

4. He can make the players around him better

As the NFL Combine began in Indianapolis in March, Fox talked about wanting a quarterback who can “raise all boats.” Trubisky flashed some of that boat-raising ability during the preseason, and elevating the play of guys like Kendall Wright, Deonte Thompson, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen could quickly negate any concerns about the players around him. — JJ

5. He’ll give the Bears hope

If the Bears exit September 0-4 — meaning they lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers — this season could feel D.O.A. by the time the Minnesota Vikings come to Soldier Field for Monday Night Football on Oct. 9. If Glennon isn’t performing well and the Bears are winless, making a change at quarterback could energize the team. While the locker room seems firmly behind Glennon right now, those players know who should be starting — and if they believe, at some point, that should be Trubisky, playing him could provide a boost. — JJ

... and five reasons Mitch Trubisky shouldn't start right now

1. He doesn’t give the Bears a better chance to win

Bears fans don’t want to hear this, but is there a chance Glennon really does give the Bears a better chance to win than Trubisky? John Fox keeps insisting that’s the case, even if it’s a hard thing to believe after Glennon’s miserable performance against the Bucs. But maybe Trubisky hasn’t yet mastered the offense. Maybe he’s not impressing Fox and his staff in practice. Maybe the success he had during the preseason was a result of the defensive competition he was going against. Fox believes Glennon gives his team the better chance to win, and as hard as that might be to believe, maybe he’s right. — Vinnie

2. The current roster would hurt his development

Look no further than what happened to Jared Goff last year with the Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher, feeling pressure to save his job, inserted Goff into the starting lineup in the 10th game of the season. The Goff-led Rams lost the final seven games of 2016, with the former No. 1 overall pick throwing seven interceptions against five touchdowns. Goff himself struggled, of course, but he didn’t have much help, as former Rams and current Bears running back Benny Cunningham pointed out to CSNChicago.com in August. Having a quarterback flail away with a flawed support system can be a confidence-ruiner with long-term negative effects. — JJ

3. The next two opponents

While it's possible that any and all starting NFL defenses are better than the ones Trubisky faced during the preseason, it's definite that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers will be difficult competition for the rookie. Why begin Trubisky's NFL career with two games where he's in an especially difficult position to succeed? Sure, one day, the hope is that Trubisky will be able to handle whatever an NFL defense throws at him. But to ask a guy whose last meaningful football came against North Carolina State to try and make crucial decisions against the Pittsburgh Steelers is somewhat questionable. — Vinnie

4. Are we sure Glennon is bad?

Fox caused a Twitter uproar when he said it’s “really hard to evaluate somebody” based on two games. For Glennon, that’s one game in which he executed the Bears’ offense the way the team wanted (Atlanta) and one in which he didn’t (Tampa Bay). Those are Glennon’s only two starts since the 2014 season, for what it’s worth. While there’s no sugarcoating what Glennon did in Tampa, if that game turns out to be an aberration and the rest of his season looks more like the Atlanta game, he’ll continue to be the Bears’ starting quarterback. Giving things time is risky in a short 16-game season, but the Bears aren't throwing away months of evaluation of Glennon because of a couple sub-optimal preseason games and one bad one in the regular season.  — JJ

5. It's too early to deviate from the plan

Pace and Fox might not be Chicago fans' favorite people right now, but they do know football and made a preseason plan based on what they thought was best for the franchise's present and future. And no matter how much fans might decry that plan at the moment, it's hard to imagine that 120 minutes of football is enough to blow that plan up completely. When the season began, their belief was that the team is best served by Glennon playing and Trubisky being on the sideline. That belief still existing is completely understandable considering how early it is in the season. And with Fox potentially seeing his job on the line as the season progresses, sticking with that plan might help the Bears stick with him. — Vinnie

Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

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Charles Tillman: FBI agent?

Charles Tillman isn't wasting time on life after football.

The former Bears cornerback — one of the best defensive players in an illustrious franchise history — is reportedly training to be an FBI agent, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Tillman turns 37 in February and last played in the NFL in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers. His age is an issue, as the Tribune notes, FBI guidlines stipulate a candidate cannot be 37 at time of appointment, meaning Tillman had to act fast if he wanted to become a special agent.

Tillman studied criminal justice at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. 

In his 12-year NFL career, Tillman appeared in 168 games, tallying 38 interceptions, 141 passes defensed and an incredible 44 forced fumbles. He jarred 10 balls loose in 2012 alone and earned his own wrestling move nickname for his ball-smacking prowess — the Peanut Punch.

Now Tillman apparently is taking his punching talents to Quantico, Virginia.