Chicago Bears

Moon: How much has changed, really?

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Moon: How much has changed, really?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Posted: 11:50 p.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The kickoff rules changes will have implications beyond just the kickers and returners. Matt Bowen gives some interesting perspectives on how these will affect coverage units and players like Brendan Ayanbadejo or Corey Graham or Tim Shaw, all Bears coverage standouts and all who consistently delivered high-impact plays on Bears special teams.

But a veteran special teamer I chatted with Wednesday isnt so sure that anything really has been altered.

The biggest reason for his thinking is that the touchbacks still will be brought out only to the 20 rather than the proposed 25. So unless kickers are unequivocally able to pound kickoffs beyond the end line, the reality is that Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester, Danieal Manning, Leon Washington and others among the returner elite will be bringing balls out of end zones.

Why? Because it will be worth the gamble. If the ball were coming out automatically to the 25, thats a better return than most in the NFL average. But to the 20? Might as well take a chance, and Hester, Manning and others will.

And because coverage units are being restricted to a five-yard running start to getting downfield; they may be five yards closer when the ball is kicked but they will not have control over whether someone is bringing it out.

But watch where balls are being kicked by the better marksmen. With good conditions, a kicker will be operating five yards closer to the opposing end zone, and a special-teams expert said that will make it easier to target balls that force a HesterManning to go 10 yards laterally before they make a catch and can start upfield.

All of which points to the rules changes result in something far less than an elimination of the return.

Caming

Interesting observation from NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock regarding Cam Newton. Mayock guestd with Mike Florio on Pro Football Talk Live and said he expects the Auburn quarterback to go to a team picking in the top 10.

Meanwhile, Todd McShay with ESPN Scouts Inc. envisioned a scenario where the Bears wind up with a very, very good defensive lineman at a position they regard as a need area.

With Tommie Harris gone after several seasons of diminishing returns anyway, the answer may well lie in the person of an upsized Henry Melton, as noted here previously. That would be a good thing for the Bears, because the three-technique, the defensive tackle the Bears depend on for pass-rush pressure out of the middle, is not easy to find in the draft, and certainly not at No. 29 where the Bears are drafting.

Theres not many perfect fits for that three-technique for Chicago, McShay said, but you could see maybe a Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Ive got him going 14th to the Rams but after the Rams, theres not many teams looking for a true defensive tackle. I personally think hed be a better fit as a nose tackle in a 4-3but if hes there at 29 youd have to think long and hard about passing on a guy like Liuget.

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.

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

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AP

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

It's been a while since Devin Hester electrified the city of Chicago with his touchdown returns, but we got flashbacks of that Saturday night.

Deonte Thompson took a page out of the book of arguably the best returner in NFL history by returning a 109-yard missed field goal to the house as the first half expired during the Bears' second preseason game in Arizona.

It gave the Bears a 17-7 lead, and even had John Fox going crazy on the sideline:

Deonte Thompson, you are ridiculous?

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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USA Today Sports Images

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”