How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

This week marks the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, depending on how you want to look at organized team activities (OTA’s), the third stage of the NFL offseason culminating in the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. Teams are allowed a total of 10 OTA sessions, giving coaches a final look at players before the break until training camp convenes in late July.

The sessions also mark the first time that the players, who were finishing college semesters this time a year ago, will be introduced to the REAL NFL, the professionals already part of the August fraternity to which the draft picks and undrafted free agents aspire.

Well, maybe it's not the true first time some of the rookies will “meet” the pros.

During the brief rookie minicamp, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn did as all the coaches do: show his position group the film of them going through their drills. In the interest of accelerating the young players’ learning curve, however, Washburn went a step further.

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He followed the rookie film with the same drills being run by the pros, meaning the rookies could see how Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair and other vets did those same drills.

The difference was startling – as Washburn intended. The kids were being shown a new meaning for what they might have thought was “maximum effort.”

“That’s one thing coach ‘Wash and coach Ben [Wilkerson] have really been pushing to us — just making sure we’re doing everything to maximum effort, and always finishing near the ball,” said rookie lineman Jordan Morgan. “I feel like that’s stuff you hear at every level of football, but more so now, especially, it being the NFL.”

Rules limit the amount of work allowed vs. opposition, meaning how much Morgan might learn by going against a Leonard Floyd, Eddie Goldman or Pernell McPhee. But learning the every-play intensity at the NFL level may be difficult to comprehend for players who’ve obviously seen it done this hard before.

“The way the veteran guys run [the drills] is the way you’re supposed to do it,” Washburn said. “There’s a style of play, a work ethic you have to put into this. You can’t just get away with things because the guy in front of you is as good or better than you are.

“Scheme-wise, that has not been a problem, the way it has been with some rookies I’ve had in the past. It’s the day-to-day intensity and focus you have to put in for 16 weeks. That is a big adjustment.”

The NFL is replete with examples of college players arriving with elite physical abilities but not taking effort and learning intensity to the professional level. The Bears used the No. 8 overall pick of the 2001 draft on wide receiver David Terrell, who’d dominated on raw ability at the college level but never developed beyond a mid-level wideout.

Washburn saw something similar while coaching offensive line for the Detroit Lions.

“I had a rookie guard in Detroit who ate Hot Pockets and played video games at night,” Washburn recalled. “His rookie year he got by, played OK, but then had a big slump his sophomore year and said, ‘I gotta change my ways.’

“He absolutely changed everything and now he’s an absolute pro.”

If Bears rookies do anything video with their nights, Washburn intends for those videos to be the ways the pros do it

Early look at 2017 Bears depth chart

Early look at 2017 Bears depth chart

After a 3-13 season, Bears GM Ryan Pace left no stone unturned trying to upgrade the franchise during this past offseason.

With an abundance new faces at several key positions, the Bears will head into training camp this summer with some key positional battles to keep an eye on.  

Here's an early look at the 2017 Bears depth chart in order of positional ranking:

OFFENSE

QB

Mike Glennon
Mark Sanchez
Mitch Trubisky
Connor Shaw

It would be shocking to see the Bears come out of the Soldier Field tunnel in Week 1 with anybody but Mike Glennon leading out the starters. Even after an impressive rookie minicamp, Mitch Trubisky is still a work in progress that the Bears coaching staff will need to handle with care if they want him to succeed in being the long-term quarterback of the future. Mark Sanchez's veteran presence gives him a leg up on Connor Shaw to make the final 53-man roster come September.

RB

Jordan Howard
Benny Cunningham
Jeremy Langford
Tarik Cohen
Ka'Deem Carey
Joel Bouagnon

Coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season, Howard is entrenched as the Bears' starter heading into the 2017 season. The Bears added a sorely needed speed dimension to the group with Darren Sproles clone in rookie running back Tarik Cohen. The Bears also brought in veteran Benny Cunningham who could unseat Jeremy Langford as Howard's backup. 

WR

Cameron Meredith
Kevin White
Markus Wheaton
Kendall Wright
Josh Bellamy
Deonte Thompson
Daniel Braverman
Rueben Randle
Tanner Gentry
Titus Davis
Jhajuan Seales

It won't be easy for the Bears to replace Alshon Jeffery's production, but Pace added depth to the group with the signings of Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. If Kevin White can bounce back from injury and show flashed of why he was a Top 10 pick in 2015, and either Wheaton or Wright emerges as a solid No. 3, the Bears could have a formidable group behind last year's breakout star Cameron Meredith.

TE

Zach Miller
Dion Sims
Adam Shaheen
Daniel Brown
Ben Braunecker
MyCole Pruitt
Franko House

The Bears got much stronger at tight end with the signing of Dion Sims and the selection of "Baby Gronk" Adam Shaheen in the second round of last month's draft. It will be a crowded group in Bourbonnais, and if Zach Miller can stay healthy, the Bears have the personnel that can cause major mismatches for opposing defenses. 

FB 

Freddie Stevenson

Undrafted free agent Freddie Stevenson is the lone wolf at fullback after Paul Lasike was waived. Stevenson served as the lead blocker for All-American running back Dalvin Cook. He had 292 total yards and seven touchdowns with the Seminoles.

RT

Bobby Massie
Tom Compton
Mitchell Kirsch

RG

Kyle Long
Cyril Richardson

C

Cody Whitehair
Hroniss Grasu
Taylor Boggs

LG

Josh Sitton
Eric Kush
Jordan Morgan

LT

Charles Leno Jr.
Bradley Sowell
William Pohels
Joseph Dieugot

If the Bears are fortunate enough to make it through preseason without any key injuries, they will go into Week 1 with all but one — Cody Whithair took over for Ted Larsen in Week 4 — of the same starters that they began 2016 with against the Houston Texans. The Bears have reliable backups in Eric Kush, who could play both guard positions, and veteran Tom Compton. The wildcard on the offensive line is third-year pro and former third-round pick Hroniss Grasu who missed all of 2016 with a torn ACL.

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DEFENSE

DE

Akiem Hicks
Jaye Howard
Mitch Unrein
Jonathan Bullard
C.J. Wilson
Kapron Lewis-Moore
Rashaad Coward

If free agent signing Jaye Howard can rebound from a hip flexor injury that cut his 2016 season short, the Bears could have lethal end duo in Howard and Akiem Hicks (7 sacks in 2016). The Bears also have quality depth in veteran Mitch Unrein and 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard.

DT

Eddie Goldman
John Jenkins

When healthy, Goldman has been a dominating presence on the interior of the Bears defensive line. If Goldman were to miss any time, the Bears have mammoth nose tackle John Jenkins (6-foot-3, 359 pounds), lurking in the background. 

OLB

Pernell McPhee
Leonard Floyd
Willie Young
Lamarr Houston
Sam Acho
Dan Skuta
Roy Robertson-Harris
Hendrick Ekpe
Isaiah Irving

Injuries aside, Leonard Floyd looked every bit the part of a Top 10 pick with seven sacks in his rookie season. Health questions remain, but the Bears have a deep stable of outside linebackers behind Floyd in Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. The final spot on the 53-man roster could come down to a three-way battle between veterans' Sam Acho and Dan Skuta, and second-year pro Roy Robertson-Harris.

ILB

Jerrell Freeman
Danny Trevathan
Nick Kwiatkoski
Christian Jones
Jonathan Anderson
John Timu
Alex Scearce

Jerrell Freeman, and his No. 1 Pro Football Focus grade, return to anchor the Bears' inside linebacker group. Danny Trevathan's ruptured patellar tendon could cause result in missing the start of training camp. If Trevathan misses any time during the regular season, he'll be replaced in the starting lineup by Nick Kwiatkoski who showed promise in his rookie season. Christian Jones has the edge for a roster spot over Jonathan Anderson and John Timu due to his ability to impact the game on special teams.

CB

Prince Amukamara
Marcus Cooper
​Cre'Von LeBlanc
Kyle Fuller
Bryce Callahan
Sherrick McManis
Johnthan Banks
Rashaad Reynolds
B.W. Webb

The Bears will likely have two new starting cornerbacks in 2017 with free agent acquisitions' Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Both Cre'Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan showed growth in 2016 and could battle it out for the starting nickel corner job. Unless he has a big preseason, former Phil Emery first round pick Kyle Fuller could be the odd man out in the secondary.

FS

Adrian Amos
Eddie Jackson
Deiondre' Hall
DeAndre Houston-Carson

Adrian Amos took a step back in 2016 and will be challenged by fourth-round pick Eddie Jackson for the team's starting free safety position. One intriguing player to watch will be Deiondre' Hall, who is expected to make the switch to safety after playing cornerback during his four years at Northern Iowa and in his rookie season with the Bears.

SS

Quintin Demps
Harold Jones-Quartey
Chris Prosinski
Deon Bush

Free agent signing Quintin Demps will provide a dose of veteran leadership in the Bears secondary. Demps, who turns 32 later this summer, should serve as a stopgap until the Bears find a long-term solution at strong safety. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

K

Andy Phillips
Connor Barth

P

Pat O'Donnell

LS

Patrick Scales

Connor Barth recovered after a shaky start to his Bears career in 2016, but he'll be challenged in camp by undrafted free agent kicker Andy Phillips. A former member of the United States National Ski Team, Phillips converted 84 percent of field goals and missed just one extra point during his time at Utah. If he performs well in preseason, there's a good chance he'll dethrone Barth as the Bears starting kicker due to his age and contract status. As of now, neither Pat O'Donnell nor Patrick Scales have any roster competition to worry about. 

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

Quality more important than quantity for Bears in 2017 NFL Draft

NFL teams typically wants as many draft picks as possible. The theory: The needier the team, the more picks required for those needs.

Not sure that this is the true situation confronting the Bears in 2017, however. In fact, something nearly the opposite, a variation on a less-is-more theme, is truer.

For the Bears approaching the 2017 NFL Draft, quality is more important than quantity. “Best available” player is fine, but for a team in major need of true impact difference-makers, a “best-possible” player is paramount. How GM Ryan Pace and his personnel posse accomplish that will be one of the most closely watched and far-reaching dramas of this draft. Because it may require some creativity on the clock, with a dizzying array of scenarios popping up in front of them by virtue of possible picks by the Cleveland Browns at 1 and San Francisco 49ers at 2.

Pace already has been about the business of giving himself the option of going after best-possible rather than simply waiting, staying with the draft board and selecting best-available.

The Bears were among the NFL’s most active teams in free agency. That has taken care of some “quantity” issues (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end), with an eye toward freeing the draft for the pursuit of true excellence, something too few Bears drafts have managed to secure (which is how teams miss playoffs nine times in 10 years and find themselves on third different GMs and coaches in the span of six years).

As he has always had within the context of the overall direction of the football franchise, Pace has a draft plan. More specifically, he also has a structure within which to execute that plan.

Draft “bands”

Besides an overall top-to-bottom ranking of players, the Bears establish various “bands” of players they identify as being worth a pick at a certain spot. Not all players in the band are graded equally, and the Bears may move to trade up if a significantly higher-graded players in the band is within reach, or if they fear other teams leap-frogging them to grab a targeted player.

But the bands allow the Bears to weigh trading back and still being able to select one of the talents in that band. With the Bears sitting at No. 3 this year, the first band in this draft will be a small one.

“We’ll have an elite group of names that we’re confident will be there [at No. 3],” Pace said at the recent owners meetings. “Three names, yeah. But beyond that, [we say,] ‘OK, there’s some pretty good depth in this draft, too, so are there scenarios’ — and it’s easier said than done — ‘where we can trade back.’ Those things’ll be discussed.”

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They’re being discussed right now. The phone in Pace’s Halas Hall office has been increasingly active the past couple weeks — calls ingoing and outgoing — and will become more so this week as the Bears and most of the NFL take the temperatures of trade ideas going into the start of the draft Thursday night. It happens every year about this time: general managers looking to satisfy sometimes-conflicting objectives, one of adding draft picks via trades down where possible, and the other of adding best-possible players, sometimes necessitating trades of picks or players to move up.

For the Bears, this year is a bit out of the ordinary, if only because they hold the No. 3-overall pick in a draft considered extremely talent-rich at certain positions and extremely less so at others. Loosely put, a position such as cornerback is rated deep enough that quality starters can be had even down into the fourth round, so teams likely need not trade up to land a blue-chipper. Conversely, the quarterback position, the one most often targeted for round-one trades up, is short of consensus elites, so again, teams are less likely to trade up to secure one.

The Bears are in position to select a franchise quarterback but opinions vary widely on whether there are clear ones to be had as high as where the Bears draft, as the order now stands. Pace, who established last year his willingness to trade up for what he considers “elite,” is like any other personnel executive in wanting more selections.

The Bears do not want to slip out of a band entirely. When they sat with No. 7 in the 2015 draft, the Bears identified a quiver of eight players deemed worth the seventh-overall pick. Those ranged from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Amari Cooper to defensive lineman Leonard Williams, and included Kevin White, one of two from the eight not already selected by that point.

Because the goal was a player judged to be elite, trading down was not a realistic option because of the risk of getting none of their targets and instead settling for the next, lower tier of prospects.

Dealing with market forces

But what will the market allow this time? 

“Yeah, and based on the talent of the guys in those bands, what it would require for us to go back?” Pace said. “Those things are all being talked about and studied now, and we’ll keep on fine-tuning it.

“But you’ve got to have a partner willing to do that, too.”

Pace has been a willing partner for trades either up or down, sometimes in the same draft.

Last year, holding the 11th pick, the decision was made to trade up to No. 9 because of their grade on Georgia edge rusher Leonard Floyd, and the concern that either the New York Giants would take Floyd at No. 10 or another team would leap-frog the Bears and grab him. The Bears wanted a pass rusher and the falloff from Floyd was viewed as significant. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson was the next edge rusher taken (No. 19), he was less the speed player that Floyd was, and concerns about Lawson’s shoulder issues proved valid, requiring offseason surgery that cost him most of his rookie season.
 
On day two, Pace traded down twice with an eye toward landing one of his top second-round-band talents: Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.