Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

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Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011Posted: 11:30 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Maybe everyone is looking in the wrong direction with respect to the new kickoff rules. More than a few analysts and observers think the moving of the kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 may in fact benefit the Bears.

A lot.

The Bears dont have Danieal Manning anymore, Johnny Knox of 2010 (22.8 yards per return) was well short of the Johnny Knox of 2009 (29.0 ypr). Devin Hester is a threat anywhere anytime but hes returning punts and only handled 12 KORs last year. So the loss to the Bears kickoff-return game.Well see.

But look beyond that one phase.

As good as the Bears were returning kickoffs, they were among the NFLs worst at giving opponents field position after kickoffs: average start, 28.5 yard line, 27th in the league. Now, given Robbie Goulds leg strength, take, say, three kickoff returns and turn them into touchbacks. Starting point, the 20.

Put another way, every touchback Gould causes nets the Bears 8.5 yards of field position, using last years numbers for illustration purposes only.

And put into a bigger context: The Bears defense allowed a total of eight drives of 80 yards or longer last season. Every defense and its coaches will always take opponents starting at their 20-yard line.

Take this a step further: Every touchback theoretically starts those offenses 8.5 yards farther back, meaning that every defensive stop forces teams to punt 8.5 yards closer to their own goal line. And when they do punt, guess whos waiting 8.5 yards closer to the other guys end zone:

Devin Hester.

Bears considerations

Another reality to consider in the whole kickoff thing:

This years Bears coverage teams are young. No, they are young.

We may have four rookies starting on each phase kickoff returncoverage, punt returncoverage, said teams coordinator Dave Toub. Thats a lot.

Unreturnable kickoffs by Gould then cut down the chances for mistakes, breakdowns and other misfortunes that befall NFL newbies in any position.

Toub shakes his head a little and manages a half-smile as he says that. To put this in perspective, the 2011 Bears offense has one rookie (Gabe Carimi) starting. The defense has none.

So Toub is tasked with staffing his units, where every play is potentially a highlight-film score, with NFL kids who wont be allowed to be kids very long. Not at all, in fact.

Those will likely include Chris Conte, Dom DeCicco, Tyler Clutts, Mario Addison and others.

I played it all through college, DeCicco said. I stayed on kickoff and punt coverage every year. So its something Im comfortable with.

So who has more anxiety going into Sunday, Toub or the rookies?

The rookiesll be fine, Toub said, laughing, then adding the clincher for who will be the stress leader. I think.

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: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

Bears: One-time starter Christian Jones willing to forge a new role in changing D

What’s wrong with this picture? Or maybe, what’s right?

Over the past two years, no Bear made more tackles than Christian Jones’ 196 – a total accomplished in spite of being shunted around in a death-spiraling 4-3 scheme under the Marc Trestman staff in 2014 and then moved inside as part of the John Fox/Vic Fangio 3-4 last season.

An undrafted free agent picked up by the Phil Emery regime out of Florida State, Jones also was third in special-teams tackles (11) in 2014 and contributed four last season along with four pass breakups and four quarterback pressures.

Then this offseason Jones could only watch as the Bears made replacing him (and Shea McClellin) a priority, signing inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. And suddenly Jones finds himself in a battle for a roster spot. He even saw his number (59) taken to one of the new guys (Trevathan).

It is not often that teams put replacing one of their leading tacklers high on their offseason to-do lists. But there it was.

“You can’t really get surprised,” said Jones, still among the most upbeat players to be found anywhere on the roster. “It’s the NFL, and they brought in two good players, and that’s going to help the team, the defense. I was all in for that.

“So it’s taking my role and doing the best I can with that.”

The trouble is, that “role” is fluid.

[MORE: Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus]

Coaches came to Jones early in the offseason and said they were moving him back to the outside. Fine. He was comfortable there before. Except that since the start of training camp, Jones has been something of a “Where’s Waldo?” character – inside, outside, try finding him.

If there’s an irony, it lies in the fact that not finding Jones a clear role sets him up as a piece of roster versatility that teams crave.

“We went and signed two inside linebackers in free agency and moved him to outside, and now we’ve kind of moved him back inside, so he’s kind of a hybrid,” said coach John Fox. “And sometimes you have to be that.

“There’s the old adage, ‘The more you can do… ,’ and there are a lot of those hybrid guys in different spots. It gives him an advantage, too, as far as offensive recognition.”

Fox and the Bears staff have placed a premium on attitude as well, and Jones has continued to be a factor on special teams, something not every three-year veteran and former starter embraces.

Jones thinks clearly: “You want to have a job,” he said, laughing. “That’s the main thing.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The bumping around between positions has not set Jones’ development back. Indeed, “I think it’s been somewhat smooth, and playing both, I’m getting a sense of the defense,” Jones said. “That helps a lot. It’s a good thing to know both spots because you never know with injuries, so in the long run it helps me and helps the team.”

When Jones was tasked with calling defensive signals in McClellin’s absence last season, it did not go overly well. Jones was benched by Fangio in Week 15 for inconsistency.

Indications are that something has changed. “I think there is a maturity difference, in my opinion,” Fox said.

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

John Fox could be excused for wondering if someone somewhere is sticking voodoo pins in a Bears doll. If it weren’t for bad luck, the 2016 Bears might have no luck at all. And now things have gotten worse, not better.

The Bears coach has overseen the M*A*S*H unit working to look like an NFL team while dealing with a sick bay situation that some days has made it seem easier to list the Bears who ARE practicing rather than the ones who aren’t.

Besides the injury tsunami that has beset them, the Bears this week are dealing with a flu/stomach virus that has hit as many as a dozen players, some more severely than others, and had one Bears higher-up facetiously (or maybe not) reaching for the Walter Payton Center door handle with his hand covered.

“We've got about six illnesses,” Fox said Wednesday, a list that included rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, right tackle Bobby Massie and fullback Darrel Young for the first time.

Not all of practice was a study of absenteeism. Kicker Robbie Gould capped off Wednesday’s indoor session with a 57-yard field goal, consistent with his standing as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Gould has converted a respectable 83.2 percent of attempts in the wind tunnel known as Soldier Field. He has converted 90 percent of his kicks in NFL stadiums with either a dome or retractable roof.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal practiced again on Wednesday wearing don’t-hit-me red jerseys throughout practice, emblematic of their return from preseason concussions. They represent critical elements in the Bears’ passing offense, with Royal signed to put in place a steady veteran for three-receiver packages.

“We’re at a point now where we’re like, 'hey, we’ve got some time here with you guys; let’s get you guys back to 100 percent,’” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We know what they can do on the field. It’s just a matter of us getting into game week and getting them back in the flow.”

How did Royal look coming back from his missed time? “Fresh,” Cutler said, smiling. “As he should be.”

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a minor foot injury suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”