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.

For Willie Young, Bears contract extension more than just a simple business transaction

For Willie Young, Bears contract extension more than just a simple business transaction

BOURBONNAIS — Sometimes football is just a business. Sometimes it’s that and a lot more.

For Willie Young, the business side was taken care of late Friday night when the Bears added two years to his contract, projecting him as a Bear through the 2018 season.

The emotional side was still being taken care of on Saturday, when a former seventh-round draft choice was able to step back and realize what effectively a third NFL contract means to someone who was passed over time after time in the draft and never expected to be much.

“I’m slightly speechless right now but excited,” said Young, someone rarely at a loss for words.

“It means a lot,” Young said after a long pause, reflecting on how seventh-round picks rarely even make teams. “All the teams that passed me over ... My big thing is who I am and what the name on my back stands for.”

[MORE: Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension]

Young was able to call his family and give them the news, “We’re going to be in Chicago a little while longer.”

Just as his entry into the league was shaky, his tenure in Chicago was seldom secure before this weekend.

When Young signed with the Bears in the 2014 offseason, leaving the Detroit Lions, he did so assuming that he was coming in as a starting defensive end. That changed when the Bears landed Jared Allen to position opposite Lamarr Houston. That season ended nevertheless with Young leading the Bears in sacks (10) before suffering a torn Achilles late in the season.

Allen was traded away last season, giving Young a job opportunity as he was coming back from Achilles surgery. Trouble was, the defense Young was returning to had changed completely, and Young was now a linebacker, now with coverage responsibilities and playing in situations.

Despite that second major change from what he’d expected, Young still managed 6.5 sacks, second on the Bears. That, combined with his work through the offseason to date, convinced the Bears that he was more of a fit than even he perhaps thought once upon a time.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

The result was a two-year contract extension agreed to late Friday night and added to the final year (2016) Young had from his initial Bears contract which locked him up only through the end of this season.

“It feels good to reward somebody that’s worked as hard as he’s worked and overcome the injury last year, and the leader that he is out there mentoring our younger players,” said GM Ryan Pace. “I feel really good about it. It’s good for our locker room, it’s good for our team.”

Where he once struggled to fit in – and was not reluctant to say so – Young now is securely ensconced as one of the starting outside linebackers in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme. When the Bears go to a 4-3 in nickel situations, Young lines up as the defensive end he had been for his career.

“There’s not a big difference [between 3-4 linebacker and 4-3 end],” said coach John Fox. “I think that [‘don’t call me a linebacker!’] was a little tongue-in-cheek. Some guys up to a point have had their hand on the ground, it’s a little bit of an adjustment. But there’s way more carryover They are involved in coverage a little bit more but I think he’s adapted to it quite nicely actually.”

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

With Ted Larsen, Bears O-line doesn't yet need SOS call

The story from about five years ago goes like this: Ted Larsen and his girlfriend were out on the water, deep sea fishing, when they heard a Coast Guard warning about three kayakers in distress. Realizing the location was relatively nearby, Larsen immediately headed to the area, found the trio, and pulled them aboard before any other help could get there.

The Bears offensive line isn't in nearly as much distress, but after the retirements of veterans Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler before they would even play a game for them, along with Kyle Long going down on with a calf strain in Thursday's opening practice of training camp, the former Buccaneer and Cardinal may be an important lifeline on Dave Magazu's unit.

"We gotta get some depth there. We have very little depth," Larsen said earlier this week in Bourbonnais. "The guys we do have are good. I think it's just finding the five best guys we have and throw them out there. There's competition everywhere, obviously besides Kyle, so...I'm ready to play whatever position. I've started ten-plus games at every position inside. Wherever they need me to help the team out, I'm ready to go."

Which he wasn't back in June, missing the last half of OTAs and the entire three-day mandatory minicamp with a calf strain of his own. Long was on the sidelines Saturday watching practice without the boot he'd been wearing the previous two days in hopes of speeding the healing process. And while the team's encouraged it's not a long-term injury, flashbacks of Alshon Jeffery's struggles that began with a calf strain a year ago will force them to proceed cautiously.

[MORE: Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension]

As a result, Larsen's stepped in for Long at right guard when the original plan was to have him compete with second-round pick Cody Whitehair and Hroniss Grasu (who have one season of NFL experience between them) at left guard and center, respectively. In his six-year career, Larsen's started 34 games at left guard, 13 at right guard, and ten at center.

"As the unit gets better, the whole team gets better. I'm not scared of any rookies or younger guys. I've played a lot of games, some playoff games. We all have experience in this league. Whoever's out there is out there, whether I'm playing center and helping Cody, or I'm helping Grasu, or whatever it is. You don't want guys to play worse, you want `em to play better, so when you're in there, you're playing at a high level."

The Bears struck on the opening day of free agency to sign Larsen's Arizona teammate from the last two seasons, Bobby Massie, to become their new right tackle. Two weeks later, Larsen followed.

"It's a program on the rise," the 29-year-old explained. "Bobby had signed here.  We played together and it was just another opportunity to come in on a one-year ($1.65 million) deal. It's kinda what I wanted. Play well, have a chance to start, and be on a competitive team."

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

The deal came a day after Ramirez originally signed and a month before Whitehair was drafted and Matt Slauson subsequently cut. Things have changed again since then, and for a team adapting to more of a zone-blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, cohesion and communication and comfort is crucial before the regular season starts.

Larsen originally played alongside Willie Young as a defensive lineman at North Carolina State before being switched to the other side of the line his junior season. Larsen was a sixth-round draft pick of New England in 2010, but was subsequently cut. Young was a seventh-rounder by Detroit that year. As Young earned a two-year contract extension Saturday, Larsen hopes to prove his worth to the Bears this season, as well. While avid fisherman Young reeled in a new deal, Larsen shares the same off-field passion, part of the reason he was around to help rescue those kayakers.

"We actually were on a flight to Fort Lauderdale this offseason, same day. He was actually going to fish somewhere else and I was going to the (Florida) Keys. It's definitely a mutual interest, same for Bobby Massie - he's another big fisherman."

Who's the best?

"I dunno," Larsen answers. "We just do it for fun."

Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension

Bears sign Willie Young to two-year contract extension

Watch out Bass Pro Shops: Willie Young may be stopping in with a bag full of money.

The Bears announced Saturday morning they have agreed to a two-year contract extension with the veteran outside linebacker.

Young, who was heading into his final season of a three-year deal he inked with the Bears in 2014, is now signed with the team through the 2018 season.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

The 30-year-old Young finished second on the Bears last season with 6.5 sacks after switching from defensive end to outside linebacker in Vic Fangio's base 3-4 defense. Young notched a career-high in sacks with 10 during the 2014 season.

Young, originally a seventh-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, has amassed 97 tackles and 22.5 sacks in 141 career games.