Deonte Thompson

For Bears' receivers and Mike Glennon, dropping the ball misses the point

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USA TODAY

For Bears' receivers and Mike Glennon, dropping the ball misses the point

The Bears classified six of Mike Glennon’s incompletions against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as drops, something coach John Fox used to bolster his argument that the entire offense needs to be better, not just the quarterback. Had those six passes been caught, Glennon would’ve finished with 37 completions on 45 attempts for probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 330-350 yards with at best a touchdown or two more than the one he threw.  

But that misses the point: Glennon still threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Whether he completed 69 or 82 percent of his passes wouldn’t have really changed anything. And it leaves out when those incompletions happened, too.

Only one pass that could possibly be classified as a drop happened in the first half — that when Glennon threw behind running back Jordan Howard, who couldn’t contort his body and hands to make a catch in the second quarter. But that was an inaccurate throw from Glennon. Could it have been caught? Possibly, but the ball placement could’ve been better. 

Other than that, the rest of the drops came in the second half — when the game was well out of reach. Wright, Bellamy and Deonte Thompson didn’t drop anything in the first half, and each made some solid catches in traffic. 

That doesn’t absolve anyone here, though, and that most of those drops came late in the game reflects poorly on the team’s effort level, even if that wasn’t necessarily a problem. 

“You could make a number of excuses,” tight end Zach Miller said. “You get late in the game, it’s playing down in a different environment, heat — it doesn’t really matter. You’ve just got to catch the ball.”

Four of those six drops were egregious, with accurate passes hitting receivers Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Tanner Gentry in the hands only to have the ball wind up on the ground. All of those came in the fourth quarter. 

Fox did bring up the two passes the Bears dropped from inside the five-yard line in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, which are more relevant for evaluating Glennon. Had Bellamy or Howard caught passes that hit them in the hands — Bellamy in the end zone, Howard at the one-yard line — the Bears likely would’ve been 1-0 heading to Tampa. But had any of those six balls been caught on Sunday, it only would've served to pad Glennon's already-flawed stat line. 
 

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

Evaluating the Bears’ pass-catching options with Kevin White going on IR

The Bears aren’t sure if Kevin White will return in 2017, with the star-crossed former seventh overall pick going on injured reserve with a fractured scapula.

Whether he does or doesn’t, though, won’t affect the question facing the Bears’ passing offense: Now what?

When training camp opened in late July, the Bears’ top three wide receivers were lined up to be Cameron Meredith (who’s out for the year), White (who may be out for the year) and Markus Wheaton (who didn’t play Sunday due to a fractured pinkie suffered in August). So where can the help come from, if it materializes at all?

Currently on the 53-man roster:

Kendall Wright didn’t catch his first pass Sunday until the fourth quarter. He’s a savvy route-runner who’s adept at getting open in space, but is primarily a slot receiver, which limits his opportunities to get on the field if…

— The Bears use more two- and three-tight end sets. Zach Miller was Mike Glennon’s second-most targeted player on Sunday (six times, with four catches for 39 yards), and coach John Fox made the point last week that when Miller was injured in 2016, he was the team’s best pass-catcher. Dion Sims caught two passes and could be utilized more as a big body up the seam. Rookie Adam Shaheen didn’t show much during preseason but played a handful of snaps, but he and his 6-foot-6, 270 pound frame could be molded into a useful weapon in certain situations.

“He’s getting better every day, every week,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last week. “We’ll just keep practicing. He’s going to fill a role for us right now and it’s a deep position for us so we’re fortunate that we can develop a talented player and he’ll have a role and that role will continue to grow as he’s ready to take on more.”

Deonte Thompson and Josh Bellamy haven’t been more than 20-catch, 300-yard receivers with special teams value in their respective careers, but may be counted on to do more going forward. Bellamy in particular played well late against the Falcons, and while a possible game-winning touchdown hit him in the hands, it looked like he was held and had his timing disrupted on that play.

— Ryan Pace said last week the Bears “we’re excited about adding” Tre McBride, a waiver claim from the Baltimore Ravens. McBride was inactive last week and only has two career receptions for eight yards. “He spent last week getting kind of oriented in our offense, he's a possibility,” coach John Fox said.

Markus Wheaton is “improving,” Fox said Monday, but has yet to practice without a club on his hand to protect his healing pinkie. He has the established speed to at least be a deep threat for opposing secondaries, but only played in three games last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a shoulder issue that required surgery in January. If he can return to the field soon, he could add an important dimension to the Bears’ offense, so long as he’s able to stay healthy.

“I haven’t played a lot of football yet,” Wheaton said last week. “I’m sure it’ll come quick once I start playing again.” 

Tarik Cohen was outstanding on Sunday, catching eight passes for 47 yards and plowing through cornerback Desmond Trufant for a 19-yard touchdown. But can the 5-foot-6, 181 pound Cohen hold up over a full 16-game season taking the kind of shots he did from the Falcons’ defense? He’s shown impressive toughness, but given his early status as the best playmaker in this offense, may need to be calculated about the risks he takes (i.e., going down/out of bounds against zone coverage to avoid the biggest of hits).

Jordan Howard wanted to improve his all-around game in 2017, but the drop he had near the end zone late Sunday hurt. He only had 13 carries, though, and if the Bears’ offense can find a way to be effective while making sure he’s fresh throughout games and the entire season, it’ll benefit this group as a whole.

Benny Cunningham has pass-catching ability as a third-down back, but suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. That may lead to waiver claim Taquan Mizzell, who caught 195 passes in college at Virginia, being active against Tampa Bay to fill Cunningham’s role.

Not on the roster, for now:

— Training camp star Tanner Gentry could be an option if the Bears elevate him off the practice squad. He has a better understanding of the offense than anyone the Bears could acquire from outside the organization, which could help him step in faster. But the Bears decided against keeping him on their initial roster, and he wasn’t claimed on waivers by any of the other 31 teams in the league. Perhaps Gentry develops into a solid player, but it’s worth remembering the last undrafted rookie receiver to make it with the Bears (Meredith) only had 11 catches for 120 yards in his first year.

— The free agent pool at this time of the year, obviously, is limited. Could someone like a Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught 36 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns last year, be an option? Possibly, though teams have had two and a half months to sign the former second-round pick and haven’t, likely due to off-the-field questions. Former Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson is out there, but tore his ACL last year and, at the age of 34, has seen his production sharply decline over the last three years. The Bears’ front office will continue to scour the free agent, and possibly trade, markets, but finding an impact guy in mid-September will be difficult.

“When injuries happen in the league is, how thick your roster is at that position and how fast you can get a guy schooled up?” Fox said. “We dealt with that more than our share last year and it's not unusual but we'll adjust.”

Where the Bears’ receivers stand after cut-down day

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AP

Where the Bears’ receivers stand after cut-down day

The Bears will, for now, move forward with five receivers on their initial 53-man roster: Kevin White, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Joshua Bellamy and Deonte Thompson. Victor Cruz and Tanner Gentry were the most notable cuts from this group.

White, Wright and Wheaton were all locks, while a key special teamer in Bellamy was always likely to be included in this group. Thompson had a productive preseason, which included that 109-yard return of a missed field goal against Arizona.

But this just the initial group, one that could change by the time the Bears return to practice on Monday at Halas Hall. The Bears, with third priority on the waiver wire (behind Cleveland and San Francisco) are likely to be active in seeking out another receiver, which could be why only five receivers made the initial roster.

The reality, though, is that if the Bears have a No. 1 target for Mike Glennon and/or Mitch Trubisky, that player is already on the roster. White will have the most pressure to produce, and even if that isn’t up to the expectations set on him when the Bears drafted him seventh overall in 2015, he needs to show more than previously has. White caught four passes for 32 yards this preseason, and had 19 catches for 187 yards in four games last year.

“He’s a great player and I think in talking to him he understands how good he can be, it’s just a matter of putting that work in out here on the practice field to reap those benefits,” Cruz said on Tuesday before being released over the weekend. “Obviously he’s been up and down with injuries, so this is the year where he has to take over and be the guy that they drafted him to be. I think he’s ready for that and I think he’s conscious of the pressure that’s on him and he’s relishing it.”

Wright has the trust of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains — who coached him in Tennessee — and converted a trio of third downs last weekend against the Titans on that opening 96-yard scoring drive Glennon engineered. He’s four years removed from that 94-catch, 1,079-yard season, but his production will need to be better than the 29 catches and 416 yards he had last year in Nashville.

The speedy Wheaton has the ability to stretch opposing defenses, but he’s barely practiced in the last month due to an appendectomy and a fractured finger. He’ll need to quickly develop a connection with Glennon — who’s been inconsistent on deep throws — if he’s ready or Week 1. 

It might be unfair to expect a lot out of the rest of this group: Thompson set career highs in receptions and yards last year, but that was with 22 catches and 249 yards, while Bellamy has had similar numbers the last two years to what Thompson did last year.

So this is the biggest question facing the Bears heading into the 2017 season: Can someone step up to fill the void left by Meredith’s injury? Outside help would be nice to add depth, but it’s unlikely a Josh Sitton-sized gift will come the Bears’ way in early September. If the answer to the question is yes, it’ll be because of an internal improvement.

“I feel like I’ve got to step it up a little more,” White said. “Everybody’s got to take their game to another level.”