Chicago Bears Free Agency Preview: Part II

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 27: Running back Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears runs past linebacker Bruce Carter #50 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium on December 27, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Matt Forte

By Bryan Dietzler

In the first posting, we reviewed 11 of 23 free agents that the Bears had coming out of a contract this offseason. In part two of our look at the Bears free agents, we will take a look at the remaining 12 free agents that the Bears have going into this offseason. There will be a look at how they performed in 2015 and what the Bears should do with them heading into this offseason’s free agency period.

Jacquizz Rodgers-RB-Rodgers had a decent start to the season seeing some spot duty from time to time but he broke his arm early on and was placed on injured reserve. He is a good back and can help out spelling the other running backs in short yardage and goal line situations. What happens with Rodgers could depend on what the Bears decide to do with Matt Forte because they will want to keep Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey and so Rodgers may be the odd man out depending on who else the Bears decide to bring in at the running back position. If they don’t keep Forte then Rodgers may be in the mix for this coming season. Look for the Bears to take a long look at Rodgers and see if he can be a part of their plans for the following season. Rodgers should get another shot in training camp to see if he makes the roster.

Patrick Omameh-G-Omameh saw some time in the lineup this season and his play was mediocre at best. He isn’t as good of a run blocker as he is a pass blocker and the Bears may want someone with a more complete set of skills than what Omameh has. The Bears will probably look elsewhere for depth at the guard position and let him walk in free agency this offseason. There are better options out there and the Bears should look at them.

Tracy Porter-CB-Porter stepped into the lineup for Alan Ball and did a remarkable job all season long. He could have almost been considered a shutdown corner for the way he played last season and the Bears would probably like to have him back. The problem with Porter is that he is getting up there in age and is somewhat of an injury risk so the Bears may, at the least, want to find some depth at the position. It’s a little bit of a toss-up as to what the Bears the Bears may do about Porter but it’s likely that they will sign him to another one-year deal and have him in as the starter opposite Kyle Fuller again in 2016. Hopefully Porter can stay healthy and can play up to the same level that he did in 2015 so look for him to be back with the Bears next season.

Sam Acho-LB-Acho started the 2015 season being waived but then he was brought back to the team and ended up being a starter at one of the outside linebacker positions as well as a solid player on special teams. Acho is a very positive player with a great attitude and while he may not be most talented player playing the position, he is solid and did well in 2015. The Bears will probably bring him back for another season perhaps as a starter or, if they find someone else to fill in, he could be a solid backup and a good special teams player. Clearly, the Bears should re-sign Acho and bring him back for another season.

Mitch Unrein-DT-Unrein played in spot duty this season and did have some good moments when he was able to see action. Unrein is not a starter and probably never will be in the league but he provides some needed depth at the position. The Bears could go either way with him this offseason and either bring him back to provide that additional depth or they could look elsewhere for help. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears bring him back for another season and have him be a backup at the defensive tackle position.

Chris Prosinski-S-Prosinski had some starting time in this season after Antrel Rolle went down with an injury and Harold Jones-Quartey didn’t play particularly well. The problem with Prosinski is that he didn’t play particularly well himself. He struggled and was eventually replaced by Jones-Quartey who played better than Prosinski at the end of the season. Prosinski did have some value on special teams but would that be enough to keep him on the team? The Bears may think that he provides good depth but he is certainly not a starting caliber player. Consider their retention of Prosinski a little bit dicey heading into the offseason. They may choose to re-sign him as a depth player and for special teams but if they feel they can find better talent elsewhere then they will probably let Prosinski walk. The Bears could go either way with him this offseason.

LaRoy Reynolds-LB-Reynolds saw some action for the Bears this season when injuries took hold of the linebacker corps and he actually played well when he was in the lineup. He received some praise from the coaching staff and was a quality player when he was in. The thing about Reynolds, though, is that he is not an every down starter and the Bears will be looking for some starting power in the interior of that linebacker group. Being that Reynolds did a nice job of filling in this season, the Bears would be wise to bring him back as a depth player and he could fill in if a starter goes out during the season. Look for Reynolds to be back with the Bears in training camp.

Nick Becton-OT-Becton didn’t see any action with the Bears last season as his role was strictly as a backup at the left tackle position. With Charles Leno Jr. and Jermon Bushrod at the left tackle spot Becton wasn’t needed. The Bears may choose to bring him back and give him a shot at being a depth player along the offensive line. Becton has some skill and ability and could fit in as a backup on the team. Consider it a toss-up for what the Bears will do with him this offseason. They could go either way here.

Sherrod Martin-S-Martin was active in 12 games for the Bears but wasn’t too productive having just three tackles. He is a special teams player for the most part but does provide some depth at the safety position for the Bears. He wasn’t good enough to crack the starting lineup at safety when there were injuries at the position so the Bears may choose to find some other players to fill their needs with depth at the position. Like so many other free agents the Bears have this offseason consider what they do with Martin a little up in the air as they could decide to bring him back for depth and special teams reasons or let him walk and bring in some additional talent at the position.

Deonte Thompson-WR-The Bears brought in Thompson to help on kick returns and when he was in there he did a decent job of returning kicks. The Bears may have found something with Thompson and will most likely re-sign him bringing him back as their kick returner for the 2016 season. He could also be a valuable asset as a backup wide receiver and showed a couple of flashes last year in that role. The Bears should bring Thompson back in training camp and have him compete for the kickoff return specialist position as well as a backup wide receiver spot.

Rob Housler-TE-Housler was brought in when starting tight end Martellus Bennett was put on injured reserve towards the end of the season. Housler saw some action but wasn’t counted on that much and didn’t see many targets. The Bears may have a shakeup at the tight end position this offseason if they feel that they can live without Bennett and all of his problems thus letting him go this offseason. That might leave the door open for Housler to stick with the team as a depth player giving him a shot at making the roster. Consider Housler’s status for next season “on the fence” depending on what happens with Bennett and what the Bears decide to do with their depth at this position.

Matt Forte-RB-Forte is perhaps the biggest free agent for the Bears this offseason and it’s difficult to gauge what the Bears are going to do about him. He had another solid season in 2015 (minus some injuries), has proven that even at the age of 30 he still has a lot left in the tank and could keep going for another couple of seasons. Chicago saw the emergence of Jeremy Langford Ka’Deem Carey and this might make the retention for Forte a moot point. Still, it would be nice for the Bears to have a three-headed attack with Forte in the lineup and have him complete his long and solid career as a Chicago Bear. What the Bears decide to do with Forte is a big mystery to this writer. Personally, they could go either way with Forte this offseason but the desirable way is to see him back in a Bears uniform.

Needless to say, the Bears have a lot of work to do this offseason to either re-sign these free agents or find additional talent to fill the holes that will be left by the departure of these players. Chicago has a solid front office and they should be able to get all of this figured by re-signing the right free agents and bringing in additional talent to fill out the roster. Keep an eye on the team this offseason as there will be many changes taking place.

Chicago Bears Free Agency Preview: Part I

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By Bryan Dietzler

The Bears are going into the offseason with 23 free agents on their roster and they have a lot of work to do. They have decisions to make as to whether or not to re-sign the player or let him walk in free agency and depending on how this goes for the Bears this offseason, they may have a lot of turnover on their roster. Chicago may choose to bring back some of the free agents that played well last season and on the flip side, they will probably let some of the 23 free agents walk and bring in new talent.

The following is a look at 11 of the free agents that the Bears will have coming out of a contract this offseason. There is a look at how they played in 2015 and a few thoughts on what the Bears should do with them this offseason. Should they re-sign them or let them walk? Let’s take a look.

Alan Ball-CB-The Bears brought Ball in last season thinking that he would be the answer to the cornerback position opposite Kyle Fuller. He played early on in the season and was very inconsistent and struggled. The Bears eventually replaced him with Tracy Porter, the position was solidified, and Ball played very sparingly after that. The Bears have a decision to make with him. Do they keep him around another year for depth or do they let him walk and find someone else to fill the small gap that would be left by his departure. Ball isn’t as good as the Bears thought he was going to be so it would probably be wise that they allow him to leave in free agency and find someone else. Look for the Bears to not re-sign Ball this offseason.

Shea McClellin-LB-McClellin had an up and down season playing at one of the two inside linebacker positions. He was the defensive signal caller while he was in the lineup but he struggled with his play at times and had some injuries. The Bears decided not to pick up his fifth-year option last season, which most likely is a telltale sign that the Bears don’t plan to keep him around. McClellin isn’t the ideal inside linebacker the Bears were hoping for and should bring in some additional talent at the position. If they feel that they can find other talent at the position, the Bears most likely (and should) allow McClellin to leave during the free agent period. It’s doubtful that Chicago will bring him back for another season.

Ryan Mundy-S-Mundy spent all of last year on injured reserve so there isn’t much to talk about in terms of his play. If he is fully healthy, the Bears may decide to bring him into training camp and give him a shot as a starter or a quality backup. Or they could chose not to bring him back and bring in other talent at the position. It would be good if the Bears gave him a chance at making the roster next season but that depends on how they feel about their depth at the safety position. Look for Mundy to get another shot in training camp this year.

Alshon Jeffery-WR-Jeffery is one of two big free agents for the Bears this offseason (the other being Matt Forte). Jeffery is the Bear’s best receiver as well as one of their best players and the Bears would be remiss if they didn’t sign him. But what is he worth? His 2015 season was spent on the sidelines with injuries and the Bears really didn’t get to utilize him that much. His play in 2015 is going to factor in to what the Bears decide to do with him in terms, resigning him, or letting him walk. The Bears really need to have Jeffery on the team because he provides them a great option at the receiver position. It is suspected that they are going to bring him back and either sign him to a long-term deal or apply one of the tags to him and bring him on for another season while they work out a long-term contract with him. Don’t look for Jeffery to be going anywhere next year as the Bears will work hard to bring him back.

Jarvis Jenkins-DT-Jenkins was brought to the Bears on a one-year contract and his contract has now ended. Jenkins played steadily and consistently for the Bears this season so they may want to bring him back and have him play another season. The Bears lack depth on their defensive line and Jenkins was good enough that he should stick around. Look for the Bears to resign him next season and have him in the lineup.

Sherrick McManis-CB-McManis’s year with the Bears was a difficult one, as he didn’t have a very good season. He saw spotty playing time and when he was in the lineup he didn’t perform that well. The Bears may be done with McManis at the end of this season and will probably not decide to bring him back next season.

Will Montgomery-C-Montgomery was the Bears starting center for the start of the season but was injured (broken leg) and missed the rest of season with that injury. Rookie Hroniss Grasu stepped in and played pretty well but the Bears had no backup at center and had to rely on Matt Slauson to play the position when Grasu was hurt. The Bears may decide to bring Montgomery back and have him be a backup to Grasu as the Bears really could use two centers on the team because of the injury risk. If Montgomery is healed and the Bears feel that he can fit their needs then look for him to return, quite possibly on another one-year deal, to be the backup to Grasu and play if necessary. Chicago should definitely bring him back.

Vladimir Ducasse-OG-Ducasse had an up and down season, mostly down, and the Bears may have been a little bit disappointed in his play. Ducasse is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker and the Bears will need someone with a complete set of skills to play at the guard position and be effective. It may just be one and done for Ducasse. Look for the Bears to take a long look at him this offseason and see if they want to resign him but most likely they will not bring him back.

Marc Mariani-WR-Mariani was both the Bears punt and kick returner for a while this season but was replaced on kickoffs by Deonte Thompson. Mariani still returned punts but he is not an “all-out” spectacular returner as some others might be. Where Mariani shined this year was as a backup wide receiver. Mariani saw some playing time this year with all of the injuries at the wide receiver position and he was very reliable catching passes for the Bears when he was in the lineup and he actually became one of the Bears most reliable receivers. Chicago may decide to bring him back for another season and have him return punts (if they cannot find a replacement for him) and be a backup wide receiver. Look for Mariani to be back with the Bears at least in training camp with a good shot at making the roster in 2016.

Josh Bellamy-WR-Bellamy, a backup wide receiver, was forced into action at times during the season due to injuries to the Bears starting receivers. Bellamy played well for the most part but he’s not the receiver that Jeffery or Eddie Royal is but he is a decent backup receiver and can play on special teams. The Bears may choose to bring him back next season because he knows the system and has proven that he can play when called upon. Like Mariani, look for the Bears to bring Bellamy back on a short-term deal with an invitation to training camp to try to make the roster.

Zach Miller-TE-Miller had somewhat of a breakout season in 2015 and played very well for the Bears. With the status of his counterpart Martellus Bennett up in the air the Bears may want to bring Miller back and have him available for next season. As long as he can remain injury free (he did have some minor injuries towards the end of the season) he could be very productive for the Bears. Chicago will almost assuredly bring Miller back for another season (they might even sign him to a multi-year deal) and look for him to be an important part of the Bear’s offense in 2016.

In our next posting, we will review the remaining free agents for the Bears and see where they stand heading into free agency and the rest of the offseason.

Chicago Bears Draft Preview: Reggie Ragland Profile

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By Bryan Dietzler

The greatest need for the Bears going into this offseason is at the inside linebacker position. The Bears struggled with that position during the 2015 season as injuries and ineffective play hampered the unit. Now, with starter Shea McClellin done with his contact and most likely not coming back and Christian Jones not playing as well as the Bears had hoped, they are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to the inside linebacker position. They need to get some help there this offseason or they will struggle there next year.

The 2016 NFL Draft has several solid linebacker prospects in it that the Bears could draw upon and find some talent to help fill the holes they have at the position. Right now, many experts consider Alabama’s Reggie Ragland the best linebacker in the draft. He comes from a strong program and has proven, repeatedly that he is a well-rounded player that could step in and start right away.

Should the Bears decide to choose Ragland if he is available when they pick at number 11 in the draft it would be interesting to get an inside look at Ragland. In this posting, we are going to look at the strengths and weaknesses of this captivating player and see what makes him tick. There is plenty of detail about Ragland himself and what kind of player he is as well as a look at how he might fit with the Bears.

Ragland has a ton of upside and potential for a player at his position. He took over when Alabama star linebacker C.J. Mosley left the team for the NFL and the Crimson Tide didn’t seem to see any drop off from Mosely to Ragland. When looking at the upside that Ragland presents, scouts notice that he has good size for the position. Ragland stands at six feet two inches and weighs 252 pounds. He has a large frame and is built to be an inside linebacker. Ragland is very tough against the run thanks to his physical nature and is one of the better run stoppers in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Ragland is a good tackler both in space and in traffic. He takes solid first steps towards the ball carrier and has the closing speed to close quickly and put a big hit on the runner. He is a very physical tackler, wraps up well, drives, finishes tackles, and is very strong at the point of attack. Ragland can take on blockers working off blocks well using his balance and anticipation of blocks. He sheds blocks easily at times and can avoid blockers when moving his feet. He has good, powerful hand usage that allows him to violently push blockers off him and beats blockers with a steady flow to the football.

Ragland has a strong physical presence and he is very tough when playing on the inside or the middle of the defense. He has the size and strength to stand up to the tough every down play in the NFL at a high level. He shows good instincts for the position and can locate the ball getting a jump on where the ball is going. He can find the ball quickly post snap and can diagnose plays. In pass coverage, he has good route recognition and has the ability to recognize route combinations. He also reads the quarterback, which allows him to diagnose plays quickly. While in pass coverage, Ragland can read and react making changes in direction that allow him to get to the receiver quickly and not let them gain too many yards. Receivers over the middle better be wary of Ragland as well because he can stick close to them and lays the lumber when they catch the ball.

Some other positives that Ragland has include his having a high football IQ. He is very smart when it comes to the game and plays with a level head. He can play sideline to sideline and has decent range. Ragland stays square to the line of scrimmage and doesn’t get cut off much from making plays. He has pass rushing skills as well as he was utilized as an edge rusher while in college. He is a true leader on the field as well as in the locker room and was an inspiration to his teammates.

While at Alabama, Ragland was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award (given to the country’s top linebacker) and he was voted the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last year. In addition, after a move to the middle linebacker position, Ragland was named All-SEC First Team and was a unanimous selection for First-Team All-American.

There are some drawbacks to Ragland however and here are a few to talk about. When it comes to pass coverage, which linebackers are often asked to do, Ragland does a much better job moving downhill than he does in reverse. With that, he never really had to open or flip his hips to turn and run downfield with a receiver, tight end or running back. He played zone, for the most part, in college and in the NFL (playing a middle linebacker, which is where he is most likely to go in a 4-3 defense or he will play on the inside in a 3-4) he will have to cover backs, receivers and tight ends. If he is unable to do that he will most likely not be in on passing downs and this will hurt his draft stock.

Still talking about pass coverage, while Ragland is fast he doesn’t appear to have the needed speed to cover receivers down the seams of the defense. As Alabama ran a zone coverage scheme last year he had problems with losing receivers when they got behind him in that type of coverage. Finally, he was a little stiff when covering man-to-man and grabbed at receivers too often. When it comes to range, Ragland doesn’t have ideal range and will get beat to the corners by faster running backs and he doesn’t have the range that some of the other linebackers in the draft do.

It has been observed that Ragland has good speed but not great speed and doesn’t have that explosive first step. Overall, he’s not an elite athlete but makes up for it with his skill and ability. When it comes to play action passes, Ragland has a tough time diagnosing that particular offensive play and he can get caught out of position and thus be unable to make the tackle. He is also, at times, a little slow to react to play action and that is a drawback.

When it comes to taking on blockers Ragland does struggle with bigger blockers at times and he gets outworked then driven back away from the play. When it comes to rushing the passer, he isn’t as well adept at getting in on blitzes or when coming from the standard defensive end position. Finally, a few of the other drawbacks that Ragland has include being overly aggressive on his angles and having problems breaking down in space. In addition, when he hits the ball carrier, he tends to go in without wrapping up tight and his form can be a little off.

Overall, Ragland looks like he would be a better fit in a 3-4 defense than a 4-3. He looks like he’s a much better inside linebacker than an outside linebacker and needs to play where he can stop the run and not have to rush the passer so much (although he could still be used in blitz packages). The Bears operate a 3-4 defense so Ragland would be a decent fit.

Ragland could come in to the Bears defense and be a starter at one of the two inside linebacker positions in his first year. He has the skill necessary to be able to upgrade the position from where it was at last year and he would provide a spark needed to get the unit playing better. Anyone would be a better upgrade at the inside linebacker position compared to what the Bears had last year.

With a good set of workouts and a solid combine, Ragland could end up being the top linebacker in the 2016 NFL and that might mean that the Bears may miss out on him at number 11. Still, he could fall to the Bears and be a welcome addition to the defense and a player that could step in and start right away for the Bears making their defense and their play at linebacker better. The Bears should show some interest in him and if they think he’s the right fit, draft him.

Chicago Bears Insider: First Round Mock Draft

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By Bryan Dietzler

The Bears are gearing up for the offseason and they have some work to do to get this team in shape to win more games and make it to the playoffs next season. Chicago has several areas of need on the team that need to be addressed and they will attempt to do that in free agency and in the draft. They have plenty of money under the salary cap to sign several free agents (or re-sign some of their players on one year contracts) if they chose to go that route and they have several draft picks which they can use to add some depth and potential starting power to their lineup.

The Bears will pick in the 11th spot in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and picking in that spot will give them options for taking some of the top talent in the draft. Currently their biggest needs sit at inside linebacker, guard and cornerback but they have other needs in other areas that could fill them with their first pick in the draft. There are several quality players that could fall to the Bears in the first round of the draft and we are going to look at five players that the Bears could take in the first round that would help them out immediately.

Reggie Ragland-LB-Alabama-The Bears biggest need is at linebacker (inside) and Ragland could be just the guy they are looking for to help them fill a huge void that they have. Ragland is perhaps the most pro ready linebacker at the position in the draft. If he lasts until the 11th pick in the draft (his stock is sure to rise with solid offseason workouts and a good combine) then the Bears would be wise to pick him up. He’s a solid all around linebacker that could help in the run game as well as rush the passer. He may be the best linebacker in the draft but will he be around when the Bears make their pick?

Myles Jack-LB-UCLA-Some people consider Jack to be either the top linebacker prospect in the draft or the second best (behind Ragland) and if Ragland is off the board at number 11 the Bears may choose to go with Jack and fill their need at linebacker. Jack is a fast player but is big enough to play well against the run. He can also rush the passer, which would be a plus for the Bears. With good workouts and a strong combine, Jack may prove himself even more worthy of being picked up at this point in the draft. Keep an eye on Jack through his workouts and the combine, as he will be an interesting player to watch.

Deforest Buckner-DE-Oregon-The Bears need to get help at the linebacker position but they also need help at defensive end. Getting help at this position does depend on what they do with some of their players signed to one-year contracts but for the value they may choose to go with a defensive end here. To help their pass rush they may choose to go with a seasoned four-year player like Buckner. Buckner has impressed during his time at Oregon and appears to be a good fit for the 3-4 style of defense that the Bears are running. He is an avid pass rusher, which the Bears desperately need.

Jaylon Smith-LB-Notre Dame-Going back to the Bear’s biggest need, linebacker, Chicago may have the option of selecting someone like Smith to come in and start. Smith is a complete all-around linebacker that can do almost everything that you need at the position. He has solid speed, is a good tackler and brings a bang when he hits opponents. He can also rush the passer, which gives him huge upside. Smith is also adept in coverage and that can work to the Bears advantage. The Bears should be showing some interest in him heading into the draft.

Robert Nkemdiche-DE-Ole Miss-This would be an interesting pick for the Bears if they decided to go with him here. He had some problems in school (he threw himself out of a window) but if he can prove that he is over his issues he might be a wise pick here at number 11. The Bears need help rushing the passer and Nkemdiche can provide that help as he has proven that he is a good athlete and a solid pass rusher. He works well at shedding blockers, has a powerful lower body and has very good hands and footwork. Nkemdiche is one of the better defensive ends in the draft and if he can overcome his character issues he could be a high to mid first round pick and the Bears would be lucky to have him.

The players reviewed here are just some of many prospects who could be first round graded players that could be available for the Bears at the 11th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. These players cover a couple position needs (including the one serious need at linebacker) and have been rated to be potentially available when the Bears make their pick. Any of these players would be good fits with the team and could step in and contribute right away.

One common characteristic that all of the players mentioned share is that they have been solid starters throughout their careers in college and this would be a huge plus for the Bears. Another advantage is that these players have major college experience and which helps giving them the background the Bears would want in a first round pick.

We will take a deeper look at each one of these players as the build-up to the draft continues and see how they would fit with the Bears, what positives they bring and what drawbacks they may have. Stay tuned for more information on these potential Bears.

Chicago Bears Insider: Top Three Biggest Draft Needs

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By Bryan Dietzler

The Chicago Bears season ended with the Bears not making the playoffs, which really wasn’t expected anyway in their first season under new head coach John Fox. It was expected to be a rebuilding year and that is exactly what it was. The Bears did better their record over the previous season by one game and seem to have started to head in the right direction. There is still much more to do however as this team still needs a lot of pieces and parts to make it a contender in 2016.

General Manager Ryan Pace is trying to build a team that’s going to be a winner for several seasons to come. He did well last offseason with the draft and with free agency bringing in some players that can help be building blocks for future seasons. Some of the good “finds” he had last year in both the draft and free agency include defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, safety Adrian Amos and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. There are some other players not mentioned that seem to be able to be building blocks for this team but they need more skill and ability at several different positions.

The following is a look at the top three positions on the team where the Bears need to get the most help and should look for help at these positions in the draft. There is some talk about the players currently manning the positions for the Bears and what their status could be like for next season.

Inside Linebacker-This could be the neediest area on the team going into the offseason. Injuries and ineffective play hurt this unit in 2015 and there just doesn’t seem to be anyone good enough to be able to step up and play the position well. One of the starters at the position, Shea McClellin, is out of his contract and may not be resigned. Christian Jones played a majority of the season and had his moments but the Bears replaced him with John Timu towards the end of the season (perhaps because Jones wasn’t playing well enough or perhaps they wanted to see more of Timu) and it’s tough to tell what the Bears will do with Jones next season.

The Bears not only need a good starter or two at the inside linebacker position but they also need some depth. Timu may be just about the only player that they have at depth at that position. Chicago will need to spend some time and effort on this position during the offseason and they could get some help through the draft. There are many solid inside linebackers in the draft and the Bears could chose a few to help them bolster that position. Look for Chicago to address this position through the draft this offseason.

Guard-The Bears have shored up one guard spot with Matt Slauson and he is a very solid player at the position. The other guard spot was vacated by Pro Bowler Kyle Long as he moved to the right tackle position and it appears as if he isn’t coming back to that other guard spot. The Bears used a little bit of a combination at that guard positon as the season went on but didn’t lock the position down well enough to say that it was effective. Their depth was tested at this position all season and they will need to do something to clean it up and make it much more solid next year.

The Bears could choose to look for some help at this position in the draft and bring in a strong potential starter for this position. While they have higher needs in other places, they could quite possibly find someone to fill the role and start next season. Look for the Bears to try to draft a guard, if not to be the starter, at least for depth.

Cornerback-A lot of what happens here this offseason depends on what the Bears do with their players on one-year contracts. Tracy Porter, one of those players on a one-year deal, had a strong season and may be brought back by the Bears for another season. If he is then that alleviates some of the pressure that the Bears will have on this position. If they choose not to bring him back then they will have a quandary here. Kyle Fuller got better as the season went on and he looks like a lock to start at one of the two positions but if Porter doesn’t come back, they will be hurting opposite Fuller. The Bears will need to find a starter and some depth at the position either through free agency or through the draft.

It’s very likely that the Bears are going to look to the draft to add depth at this position. They will most likely bring Porter back and have their two starters set going into the 2016 season but the depth at position is weak. Alan Ball doesn’t look like a long-term answer for depth or starting potential (remember he started the season and eventually gave way to Porter who played much better than he did) and the Bears don’t have much after Ball. Getting some help in the draft will go a long way towards shoring up this position.

The Bears have other needs but the three listed above are three of the most pressing needs on the team that could be addressed through the draft. The Bears had their first draft under Pace last year and while the jury is still out on some of the guys he did draft a few players that made a decent impact this season so hopes are high that will continue and he will have a strong draft this year. The Bears should build through the draft to provide youth that will carry with the team for several seasons to come. Drafting smart will help put the Bears in a better position to win for the long term.

Grading the Bears: The Defense and Special Teams

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By Bryan Dietzler

The Bears made an interesting move on defense once John Fox was hired. They switched from their traditional 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense and brought in former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The Bears, because they had played the 4-3 defense for so long, didn’t have the ideal personnel to make the scheme work well in its first year. The Bears drafted for the 3-4 defense and brought in some free agents to help make it work and while they weren’t one of the top defensive units in the league this year they were much more improved over what they had been the last two years.

The following is a list of grades for each position on the Bears defense. There is some insight into how some of the individual players did this year as well as a look at the specific unit as a whole. There is a very basic run down of how things might look for the 2016 season as well and what might need to happen in each area.

Defensive Line-C –The defensive line had some issues during the season but when players were healthy and in place they didn’t do too badly of a job. Rookie Eddie Goldman was a force in the middle of line for the Bears this past season and was playing very well up until he was hurt in the second to the last game. The rest of the line played marginal and injuries (Ego Ferguson) and a surprise release (Jeremiah Ratliff) left this unit hobbled. Jarvis Jenkins played well and some backups stepped in and provided good play at times.

The Bears may be in search of some additional talent along the defensive line this offseason and may try to bolster the line with that depth. There is also a question about Jenkins. He is on a one-year deal, which expires this offseason so it is not yet known if the Bears will bring him back. He is definitely worth another shot if the Bears decide do decide to bring him back. Most of their depth players are on one-year deals as well and it will be interesting to see how the Bears deal with that depth this offseason.

Look for the Bears to add some additional depth and possible starting power to their defensive line this offseason. They need to get much more solid on the defensive line so that they can be productive next season. Look for the Bears to do that this offseason.

Outside Linebackers-B – -The outside linebacker position was a little bit of a confusing one for the Bears this past season. While they got good play out of a couple of former defensive ends that were now standing up there was one outside linebacker in Willie Young, that wanted to be known as a defensive end. He got several sacks on the season and played reasonably well at his new position. Lamarr Houston played well collecting several sacks at critical points in games and had adapted to his new role. Sam Acho, who is in on a one-year contract, played very well for the Bears when he was in the lineup.

The Bears are going to have an interesting offseason at this position. Young, who as mentioned has made his case that he is a defensive end and not an outside linebacker, may not be back with the Bears if they appease his wishes to be a 4-3 defensive end. That would be a big loss for Chicago. Houston appears to be entrenched at one of the outside linebacker spots and remains under contract for next season. Acho, as mentioned, was on a one-year contract this season so the Bears may choose to either bring him back or let him walk.

The need is greater at the inside linebacker positon than it is at the outside positon but the Bears may choose to do some work here during the offseason to improve the position and make it stronger. Some of what they do have already is good but they will need to enhance what they already have and build upon that. There is a decision to make about Young and Acho so that will play into how things work out this season. If they can keep some of the talent that they have from this year and carry it over into next year then they should be farther ahead at the position.

Inside Linebacker-D-The Bears had their struggles at the inside linebacker position as injury and ineffective play brought the position down this year. Shea McClellin, who had been moved around a lot during his time with the Bears, finally landed at one of the inside linebacker positions and even called the signals for the team on defense this year. His play was somewhat solid but not spectacular. Christian Jones played well at times but fell off in his play towards the end of the year and was replaced by John Timu. Timu had a nice run of it during the last few games but isn’t a long term answer at the inside linebacker position.

McClellin’s contract is up this offseason and it’s a little bit up in the air as far as what the Bears are going to do with him. It’s most likely that the Bears aren’t going to bring him back and they will try to get some additional talent in there using the draft or free agency. Jones may not be the answer inside and Timu provides good depth but probably doesn’t have starting potential. The Bears are going to have to do something at this position in the offseason.

The draft may provide them with some starting power and depth at the inside linebacker position but the Bears may also reach out in free agency and try to fill the position that way. Expect some big changes here during the offseason.

Safety-C +-The safety position was solid in one spot as rookie Adrian Amos took over at the start of the season and played pretty well except for a few miscues at certain points in the season. He was named to a few All-rookie teams for his efforts and looks to be a long-term starter at the safety position. The Bears did struggle at the other safety position as injury and ineffective play really hurt them there. The planned starter for the season, Antrel Rolle, missed several games with injuries and was eventually placed on injured reserve. Chris Prosinski and Harold Jones-Quartey took over in his place. Prosinski had his problems but so did Quartey. Prosinski ended up taking over for Quartey and then Quartey ended up taking over for Prosinski as the season ended and Quartey had a big game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Quartey may add good depth to the position, he isn’t someone who is consistent enough to be a full-time starter.

The Bears have some decisions to make at the safety position. Amos pretty much has a lock on one spot but will they bring back the often-injured and aging Rolle to try to take over the other spot? The Bears may be done with Rolle after this season. Quartey and Prosinski are good depth players that are fine on special teams but may not be able to start long term for the Bears. Chicago may need to look at adding some depth and starting potential to this position in the offseason to enhance it and make it better than it has been. This continues to be a problem area for the Bears and has been over the last few seasons.

Chicago may want to look to free agency, once again, to fill this position. They could look at the draft but then they might not find too many good safeties in the draft this year as there isn’t a lot of talent at that position. Either sticking with what they have or finding someone in free agency may be the way that they go.

Cornerbacks-B-The season started rough for the guys at the cornerback position as ineffective play and penalties came but they soon subsided and this unit played better. The combination of Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter seemed to work well for the Bears as they helped the group to become one of the better units on the team. Fuller had a solid season and Porter played very well on most occasions batting down passes and covering the opponent’s best wide receiver. Their depth was a little shaky as Alan Ball, who was penned in to be the starter, didn’t work out and their nickel situation was hampered by health issues as the person that stepped up to be the better nickel back, Bryce Callahan, was injured towards the end of the season.

For next season, the Bears may see a similar look to what they saw this year. One of the problems they will have is that Porter is going to be a free agent this offseason and with his advanced age and some concerns about his health it might be likely that they don’t bring him back for another season. Porter proved he could stay healthy and be a force so they may choose to bring him back in 2016. Fuller should only get better and be solid next season. Depth is the issue. The Bears need to work on their depth at this position and get stronger.

Free agency or the draft may be the places the Bears turn to shore up this position. Ball may not be around next year and some of their depth may be gone. Hopefully the Bears feel that Porter is well worth re-signing and bring him back. If they don’t they will be looking for another cornerback to play opposite Fuller and may not have as solid of a player at that position to at least start the season.

Kicker-C-Robbie Gould had his struggles this season especially towards the end of it where his mistakes cost the Bears at least two games. Gould got back on track as the season ended and kicked pretty well. The Bears won’t be looking to replace Gould this offseason unless something drastic happens so look for him to be around in 2016 and hopefully kicking better than he did this season.

Punter-A-The punting game, not including the coverage units, was decent this season as punter Pat O’Donnell had a nice year. He got good distance on his punts and his hang time was decent. If the coverage units would have done better he might have had better averages. Look for O’Donnell to be the Bear’s punter in 2016.

Kick Return Unit-C-The Bears used Marc Mariani on kickoff returns to start the season and he wasn’t as effective as the Bears might have hoped. A little later on they put Deonte Thompson back to return kicks and he did a very good job for them as he had some long returns that helped the Bears gain good field position. Chicago needs to work on the kick return unit for next season. If Thompson sticks around, the Bears may choose to put him back there to return kicks in 2016. If not they will be looking for another return specialist unless they go back to Mariani (if he sticks with the team).

Kick Coverage Unit-C-The season started a little rough for the Bear’s kick coverage units but they solidified things and did better as the season went on. Special teams coach Jeff Rodgers helped to get this unit back in shape and he will have his work cut out for him again next year as the Bears will have some turn over at the bottom of their roster as this is where the special teams players come from. Look for some new faces on this squad heading into next season with hopes that this unit will be better in 2016.

Punt Return Unit-C-The punt return unit was manned by Mariani for the better part of the season and he had his moments. He had some fumbling problems that almost cost the Bears and he’s not too solid of a return specialist. The Bears may be looking to replace him in 2016 but there is no one on the roster as of yet that could probably do be a good fill in for Mariani. Could the Bears bring in someone during the offseason to add a spark to their punt return teams? It will be interesting to see what the Bears decide to do here during the offseason.

Punt Coverage Unit-C-The punt coverage units, like the kick coverage unit, had a rocky start to the year but things did end up getting better, for the most part. Like the kick coverage units, there is going to be some turnover at the bottom of the roster that is going to affect the way these units perform next season. Rodgers should be able to put something together that is effective and hopes are high that it will be a better season for this unit than it was in 2015.

The overall grade for the defense is a C +. They are on the verge of a B – because of the improvement they showed this year when compared to the past few seasons but this unit still left some plays on the field and could have performed better. With a few additional pieces and another year in the defense, this group should perform much better than they did in 2015. Health and the makeup of the personnel on defense will go a long way in determining what happens here next season.

The overall grade for the special teams is a C. They had their problems at the beginning of the season but got better as the year went on. Due to the turnover expected in the bottom half of the roster the units on special teams will look different than they did in 2015 but hopefully they will be able to put together some solid sub-units and have a good season in 2016. Let’s see what the Bears decide to do this offseason and see how it shapes special teams.

Grading the Bears: The Offense

Jay-Cutler-1

By Bryan Dietzler

The 2015 NFL season is over for the Bears and they failed to make the playoffs or post a winning record this year. They ended the 2015 campaign with a 6-10 record and lost most of their last few games. There were high notes on the season but there were many more low notes and the Bears have a lot of work to do to get things into shape for next season.

We will take a closer look at the offense in this article and give out position specific grades for each unit. There is also a little insight into how things might stand for next season.

Quarterbacks-B+-This was perhaps Jay Cutler’s best season as a Bear and maybe his best season in the NFL. He cut down on the interceptions and didn’t have a multiple interception game until the final game of the year. He helped move the ball down the field effectively and even did well when the Bears didn’t have their top receivers in the lineup working with the less than stellar talent he had to work with. He made good decisions and thrived in the new offense.

Cutler did miss a game and a half with a hamstring injury this season and former backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen took over for him during that absence. Clausen was not effective and the Bears lost the games that he played in. Chicago cut Clausen in the middle of the season and elevated David Fales to the active roster as a backup to Cutler. Fales didn’t see any action for the Bears this season.

General Manager Ryan Pace has stated that the Bears are going to keep Cutler around for 2016 and build the offense around him. With Cutler staying in place the team has also elevated quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggins to the offensive coordinator spot that was vacated by Adam Gase when he took the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins. So look for Cutler to remain with the Bears at least one more season as they attempt to put an effective offense around him and make things better in 2016.

Running Backs-A– -The Bears running back group saw an old face take a back seat to a new face as Matt Forte saw his load reduced this season due to injury and the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Langford. While Forte was out, Langford stepped in and did a nice job and showed the Bears that they have talent in Langford and that he might be able to take over for Forte if he leaves in free agency. Ka’Deem Carey also stepped in and made a few plays for the running backs this year.

The running game was effective for the most part this season when the Bears used it and we saw in their final games that the running game could really help them move the ball and keep possession of it. Next season, the Bears should use the running game more to complement the passing game and keep possession of the ball. Look for Chicago to feature the running game even more next season.

It’s hard to tell what is going to happen with the running backs next season. A lot of what happens will depend on whether or not the Bears decide to bring Forte back but the Bears may not re-sign him. That would leave them with Langford and Carey and while they are two capable backs, it would be nice to have Forte available for the Bears to keep the running back rotation going strong but that just may not be possible. The Bears will most likely head into the 2016 season with Langford and Carey and an option or two as backups to these them. It can almost be safely stated that Forte will not be a Chicago Bear in 2016.

Wide Receivers-D-The Bears wide receiving corps was much maligned during the season due to injury and ineffective play. Its stars, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Kevin White missed a lot of time due to injury and the Bears had to rely on third and fourth string wide receivers to carry the load for a majority of the season. Cutler did do well with what he had to work with but he did better when guys like Jeffery and Royal were in the lineup. If they could have had them for an extended period of time this season the Bears offense might have done better.

Some of the other guys did step up when called upon and played fairly well. Marc Mariani caught just about everything thrown his way and Josh Bellamy came up with some nice catches. Marquess Wilson was having a good season until he injured his foot and went on IR. Deonte Thompson showed flashes but was never fully committed to the offense so the Bears didn’t get a good look at him this past season.

The biggest question heading into this offseason is what are the Bears going to do about Jeffery? He is a free agent this offseason and while he hasn’t shown that he can stay healthy, when he is in the lineup, he really helps the offense. The Bears may or may not choose to keep him. If they don’t decide to keep him then they will hope that White is ready to step in and take over as the number one receiver. If they have both Jeffery and White available next season (if the re-sign Jeffery) the passing offense is going to be very potent.

Tight Ends-B- -The tight end position was up and down all season but could be looking up for them in 2016 depending on what happens with Martellus Bennett. Speaking of Bennett, he was on pace to have a decent season catching the football but was placed on injured reserve during the latter half of the season with a rib injury. His backup, Zach Miller, performed very well in most occasions but was deemed not healthy enough to finish the last game of the year. Health was a concern for the group this season.

Bennett may not be happy in Chicago and may be on his way out if he doesn’t get more money or if the team can’t talk him into staying. If he does go it will be a big loss and the Bears will need someone to step up and contribute at the position or they may have to find someone through the draft or free agency. Miller is only signed to a one year deal but it’s almost a sure bet that the Bears will bring him back for another season. Their depth at the position is weak and if they lose players there this offseason they are going to have to build at the position and make it stronger.

Offensive Line-C-The offensive line gets a solid C for this season. There were several changes on the offensive line as former guard Kyle Long slid in a right tackle and Jermon Bushrod spent most of the season on the bench as Charles Leno Jr. filed in nicely at left tackle. There was some switching around that had to take place in the interior of the line including guard Matt Slauson’ s move to center at times this season. They also had to remove Vladimir Ducasse from the starting lineup because he wasn’t an effective pass blocker. Different starting combinations sort of set the line back but they did well enough at times in both pass and run blocking.

The Bears might sport a different look on the offensive line next year depending on what they think of their existing talent. They may try to find some competition at the left tackle position and one of the guard positions to give them more depth and push the starters a little bit. It would appear as if Long is going to stay at the right tackle position for next year. So the Bears will have some continuity on the line (the center and Slauson’s guard position are pretty much set along with Long’s right tackle positon) but will have to do some tweaking to make on the line to make it better.

The Bears offense is on the right track, they just need to stay healthy, find a few more pieces and add some depth and they might be a better unit next season. It will be interesting to see how this part of the team reacts to Loggins being installed as the offensive coordinator for next season. Will he run a similar offense to what Gase had in place in 2015 or will it be different? Hopefully it’s somewhat similar so the Bears don’t have to learn an entirely new offense next season.

The overall grade for the offense is a C. The offense had a good go of it at some points in the season but overall they struggled. That was expected in their first year under a new offensive coordinator and system so fans shouldn’t be too worried that the Bears had their problems this season. If the Bears can continue in the same or similar offense that they had this season and grow and stay healthy then they should have a better run in 2016 and win more games.

Bears Name Dowell Loggains as New Offensive Coordinator

The Bears didn’t look far for their next offensive coordinator, naming quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to the position Monday, the Chicago Sun Times reports.

Loggains, 35, was the logical choice to replace Adam Gase, who left Saturday to become the Dolphins’ head coach. Loggains coached Jay Cutler to a career-high 92.3 quarterback rating in his first season after joining John Fox’s staff following a year in Cleveland. Loggains called plays for the Titans in 2012 and 2013.

“Dowell played a critical role on our offense last year,” Bears head coach John Fox said in a statement. “He’s an excellent coach with experience as a play-caller and a broad knowledge of offensive football. He has earned the respect of our players because they know he can help them get better.”

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