Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Mullin: 2011 draft could break nicely for Bears

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
2:36 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Spending some time on a call Thursday with NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock added to the growing sense I have that the 2011 draft could indeed break very nicely in the Bears favor.

As I discussed previously, one thing you want when youre down around No. 29 as the Bears are, is for the draft to have real quality depth at some positions not on your must-list. Mayock confirms that defensive end is one of these.

The other thing is for there to be a clump of quality players in the grade range where youre drafting. That helps avoid needing to reach, which very typically happens at offensive line in particular because the supply is far short of the demand. As Jerry Angelo says, O-linemen can go anywhere from one round to three rounds higher than their grade because of the position.

The Bears looking for offensive and defensive line quality. Mayock describes 011 as one of those years where around the 20s there is a clump of similar quality players that extends into the second round.

Ive got a deeper first round than Ive had the last several years and it starts because of the defensive line class, Mayock said. He cited Temples Muhammed Wilkerson (6-5, 305, 16 sacks over the past two seasons) as the kind of talent possibly going to be there in the 25-40 range.

Why thats important is that Angelo has traditionally worked to keep a strength strong, and defense is that strength. So if hes looking for upgrades over Tommie Harris, Marcus Harrison and Matt Toeaina, and defensive line is his first love, this is a name to monitor.

Depending on what youre looking for, if youre looking for a corner at the end of the first round, you might have a problem, Mayock said. If youre looking for a defensive end, defensive tackle or maybe an offensive tackle, youre in luck.

Its whether your need meets up with the strength of this years draft.

Last year the Bears first pick was in the third round. They needed a safety. Normally it is nearly impossible to realistically target a position in round three. But the draft had eight safeties graded at that level or above and the Bears landed one of them: Major Wright.

In 2008 the Bears were sitting at No. 14. They needed an offensive tackle, a coveted position. The tackle talent pool depth was sufficient for eight to be taken in the first 26 positions and all are current NFL starters. Seven are starting at tackle and one is a guard.

Chris Williams. But hey, hes a starter. And he could be a tackle again in 2011.

There wont be eight first-round-quality tackles in the first 28 picks, if the Bears are intent on addressing offense first again.

Carolina on his mind

Former Bear and new Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has taken over one of the NFLs youngest teams that lurched to a 2-14 record last season. That earned the Rivera the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and the surprise will be if, in spite of quarterback problems, Rivera doesnt stay on familiar ground defense with that No. 1 pick.

Were looking to fill holes on defense first, Chico to Mike Florio on ProFootballTalk.coms Live show Thursday. That tack served Carolina very well once upon an NFL time when they held the No. 2 pick overall and invested it in Julius Peppers.

Rivera emphasized the success that Carolina has had running the ball and said the organization is still looking at players on which to place its franchise tag. That prompted Florio to speculate that the early favorite for the tag would be running back DeAngelo Williams.

The player who clearly will not be tagged is wide receiver Steve Smith. At one time a definite franchise-grade receiver (he virtually did in Riveras 2005 Bears defense singlehandedly in the divisional playoff round), Smith has fallen from grace. As far as Smiths future in Carolina, where in-depth evaluations are in process, a lot of it depends on what happens in the next month, Rivera said.

Which sounds decidedly like Smith will at the very least be trade material, particularly when Rivera talks about going through the process and deciding whats best for the team and for Smith.

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 hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Focus on personnel issues in Bears-49ers matchup of NFL losers

Once upon an NFL time a Bears-49ers game held some consequence, sometimes great import. Even last season the San Francisco game was the Bears’ chance to reach .500 in John Fox’s first year (it didn’t happen, with the Bears defense allowing a long Blaine Gabbert TD run and Robbie Gould missing a 36-yard field goal for the win, all in the last 1:42 of a game the Bears had dominated statistically).

Now the game becomes another in a string of ones in which the opponent and even the outcome matter less than some specific personnel issues for a team trying to avoid losing four straight games for the first time under Fox.

Several of those personnel questions warrant watching because of the positions involved:

Matt Barkley, quarterback   

The Barkley Era unofficially began last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans when the former USC quarterback got his first NFL start and nearly became the third Bears quarterback to win a game in an otherwise dismal season. That did happen once, in 2007 when Brian Griese, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton also had W’s as starters.

Well, if not an actual “era,” at least the Barkley window opened, and will be open for the foreseeable 2016 future.

Barkley playing his way into a starting job in 2017 is not a front-burner thought — yet — although Kurt Warner once played his way from stocking supermarket shelves into Hall of Fame consideration.

Going against one of the only two teams with fewer wins than the Bears, Barkley’s chances are ostensibly better than they were facing the Titans, if only for “just being comfortable,” said Fox.

“Our opponent, Colin Kaepernick has been in for X amount of time. And like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. Hopefully. Just getting him more reps. More reps with the 1’s. I think there’s a drastic difference between him coming in as the back-up in Green Bay versus him being the starter last week against Tennessee. So hopefully he improves from his first start to his second start. That’s the plan and that’s what we’re working off.”

Quarterback is always a point of supreme interest and Barkley is playing for a shot somewhere in 2017. And the Bears want to know if some of the positives in the Tennessee game were real.

“With Matt, the biggest challenge was he wasn’t here in OTAs and training camp, so you don’t know him,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “He was out there running scout team, running ‘cards,’ so you know what kind of talent he has, but he never had gotten a two-minute — that was his first two-minute drill with the first group in a game situation.”

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Daniel Braverman, wide receiver

Braverman was a seventh-round draft choice who flashed in training camp but faded in games. He was elevated from the practice squad and is projected into a slot role with Eddie Royal injured again and the future unclear at that No. 3 wideout spot.

“There are not a lot of great slot receivers out there in the game,” Loggains said. “You’ve got to be able to move the chains, and you’ve got to be able to convert third downs and do those things and score in the red area. You have to understand coverages and leverages to be able to do that stuff. Those are the things that Braverman, coming into the NFL, his biggest challenge is.”

Daniel Brown, tight end

The season-ending foot injury to Zach Miller created another vacuum at a position the Bears have struggled to fill long-term: trading away the likes of Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen and even Mike Ditka. Brown caught his first career TD pass in the Tennessee game. With Miller’s injury history and age (32), the Bears have a need at the position.

“We thought obviously he’s a guy that has a skill set probably closet to Zach at this point to plug in and play,” Loggains said. “But he did a nice job, helped up on third down, helped us in the red area. Just his ability to catch the football, he’s played receiver before and he’s more of a pass-catching tight end.”

Kyle Fuller, cornerback

Fuller, who led the Bears with two interceptions last year, has been a starter at a position that is a defensive priority. He is coming back from August knee surgery and into a secondary that is takeaway challenged. His goals are basic at this point.

“Just getting back on the field and just performing,” Fuller said.