Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Cornerback

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Cornerback

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 2:24 a.m.

By John Mullin

Seventh in a series

The defense had three players with four or more interceptions last season, the first time for that in a quarter-century and the only secondary with that distinction in 2010. The interception total jumped from 10 in 2009 to 16, and the Bears interception percentage ranked eighth in the NFL.

But passing yards per game allowed was 20th and there are issues looming in a key area of the Lovie Smith defensive scheme.
The Bears

The investment of a third-round pick last draft in Major Wright should take care of one safety spot for some years, and Chris Harris veteran presence was a positive at age 29. But Danieal Manning is intent on testing free agency after his best season and Craig Steltz was disappointing after having his best offseason, so starter-grade depth is missing at safety.

The bigger concern is cornerback, where Charles Tillman turns 30 after a high-impact career that saw him play 16 games for the first time since his rookie year. Zackary Bowman was given Tillmans LCB job but promptly lost it to Tim Jennings early in the year. Joshua Moore is a wild-card, a fifth-rounder last season who barely played but is considered to have real upside.

D.J. Moore justified Lovie Smiths belief in him and secured the nickel-back spot. But the falloff of Nathan Vasher over recent seasons set the defensive plan back substantially and the quest is on for a starting corner in an NFC North with Calvin Johnson in Detroit and a cluster of receiving talent in Green Bay.

Need: The Bears addressed cornerback with picks in a third round (Roosevelt Williams, 2002), second round (Tillman, 2003) and fourth round (Vasher, 2004). Since then only Moore (fourth round, 2009) came sooner than the fifth round. That is likely to change this year and could be a surprise first-round pick depending on the fall of the selections.

The 2011 draft

Two cornerbacks are expected to go inside the first 15 picks and then there are few sure things for various reasons. Chances of landing an immediate starter lower than the first 40 picks are doubtful but different systems require different player-types and at least one or two will be prime fits for the Bears.

Even Patrick Peterson out of LSU, the consensus top defensive back in the draft, comes with fit questions. Hes most comfortable in press-man, said draft analyst Mike Mayock. If you try to play him in off-man hes going to struggle a little bit.

Pro Football Weeklys Nolan Nawrocki projects Prince Amukamara from Nebraska going No. 11 to the Houston Texans and new coordinator Wade Phillips. Nawrocki also shows Colorados Jimmy Smith coming off the board No. 13 to the Detroit Lions, who, like the Bears, have some matchup problems to overcome in the NFC North.
The Best Bets:

( is taking Peterson and Prince Amukamara from Nebraska off the board far ahead of the Bears turn at No. 29.)
1. Aaron Williams, Texas Some mock drafts have the Bears taking Williams after the OLDL value is gone ahead of them. Williams has started at three DB spots and brings Tillman-like size (5-11, 204) to the CB spot.

2. Jimmy Smith, Colorado Some concerns about consistency but that applies to many, many collegians. Had some off-field issues but at 6-2, he is the physical prototype of the big corner.

3. Brandon Harris, Miami Size is a question after Harris measured sub-5-10 but has run 4.4 at 191 pounds and can play both cornerback and safety.

John "Moon" Mullin is'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 running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

Bears running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

The Bears have a fantasy football conundrum. Which of their running backs do they go with?

Jeremy Langford is listed as the starter. Then Ka’Deem Carey. Then Jordan Howard. Joique Bell was waived Monday, a clear statement that Langford is sufficiently back from the sprained ankle he suffered against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears have had three different leading rushers through seven games, which might be considered promising, except that none has established any sort of consistent identity with the opportunities.

The problem: in a production-based business, the depth chart is in inverse order of results. Howard is averaging 4.8 yards on his 73 carries and has a receiving and rushing touchdown. Carey is netting 4.7 on his 23, of which 10 came against the Green Bay Packers. Langford is rushing at the 3.7-yard average of his rookie season, but with two rushing touchdowns. Howard’s 14 pass receptions are nearly double the combined by Langford (5) and Carey (3).

And Howard has played 265 snaps, vs. 100 for Langford and 65 for Carey.

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But Howard was muzzled by the Packers and Langford is coming off a month’s worth of inactivity. And after averaging 116 rushing yards per game last season, the offense that was being committed to the run is down to 88 ground yards per game.

So who’s the Bears’ choice, because “committee” hasn’t exactly been the way, either. With the exception against the Jacksonville Jaguars when fullback Paul Lasike got a fourth-down rush for a first down, only once (Philadelphia Eagles) have the Bears had carries by all three running backs.

“When you look around the league, I don’t think many people are running it very effectively in general,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “I think in our division I think it’s maybe a little bit more important than it is league-wide. Again, to me the essence of football is still being able to stop the run and being able to run the ball. So we emphasize it quite a bit.”

If it’s being emphasized, that’s perhaps even more concerning. Better if the failed run game was due to neglect rather than an area of emphasis. And the reality is that it needs to succeed if the Bears are going to.

“We’ve got to keep running the ball well,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I don’t think we’re running the ball well the last couple of weeks as we wanted to. That three-game span we were doing OK [4.4 ypc. combined vs. Detroit-Indianapolis-Jacksonville].”

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

Jay Cutler returned to practice as he left it before the Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him for the past five games. He was back as the No. 1 quarterback.

But the landscape changed over those five weeks, at least outwardly, with Brian Hoyer filling in with a succession of 300-yard passing games and coach John Fox indicating that as long as Hoyer was performing well, he could hold onto the job.

Now Hoyer is gone to IR with a broken left arm suffered in a Week 7 loss to the Green Bay Packers and Cutler returns to a situation where his head coach’s endorsement and support has appeared conditional.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said on Tuesday. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

Fox has been ripped in some quarters for what was taken as creating a quarterback controversy. In fact, consistent with a competition mantra that has applied to every position since the end of last season, Fox supported each quarterback when their time was at hand: Hoyer when Hoyer was performing well, and Cutler now that he is back.

Bill Belichick made it clear that, regardless of how well Jimmy Garappolo played for his New England Patriots, Tom Brady would be back as the starter when his four-game suspension was over. Cutler has not established a Brady lock on the position.

Speaking about the running back situation, where one-time starter Jeremy Langford is returning from injury to find Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard in front of him, Fox laid out the NFL reality, which applies to the Cutler-Howard situation.

“Earlier in the season I mentioned that way back in the day, if you were the starter, when you got hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said. “Well, that’s not really the case as much anymore. It can be; you’re going to play the best guy and there’s competition to be involved in that.”

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The broader issue overhanging Cutler is whether the Bears plan to bring him back in 2017. This season has been bluntly described as a prove-it year for Cutler, who has no guaranteed contract money after this year, and Cutler has not proven a great deal in seven quarters of football, with a 75.7 passer rating, one TD pass and two interceptions.

Whether that is regressing from last year to levels closer to his career standards is what the next several weeks will reveal. At this level, the Bears would be unlikely to pay Cutler $15 million in 2017.

“I think those are conversations for the end of the year,” Cutler said. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [Loggains, offensive coordinator] and ‘Rags’ [QB coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up, score more points. That’s all we’re really trying to do and that’s all my focus is.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

As far as the best way to handle the inevitable questions about the future, “I think ignoring it is,” Cutler said. “I think it's going to be there; you can't completely ignore it.”