Chicago Bears: Will short-handed defense rebound in week eight?

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With the Chicago Bears returning home in week eight to take on the San Francisco 49ers, there is a high likelihood that Chicago is without pass rushers Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Add in a groin injury for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and Chicago’s defense could be missing three integral pieces from its front seven.

If Hicks, Mack, and Quinn don’t suit up for the Bears, Chicago will need to rely on depth to beat San Francisco, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, good for 19th in the NFL. While the Bears defense allowed just three points in the second half of week 7 in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, another noteworthy stat from week 7 is that Chicago also failed to record a sack for the first time all season.

The Bears are hoping to redeem themselves in a big way on Sunday afternoon. A win against the 49ers on the heels of a solid defensive performance before what is expected to be a tough road matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a confidence booster heading into the bye week.

“You know, that’s part of this NFL, is, it’s a long season and that was week seven and obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted from a team perspective and certainly from a defensive perspective,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai via the Bears official YouTube channel. “But having said that, there’s also some things that we can build off of, off that tape. And there’s some things of swarm and particularly in the second half where the guys play with tremendous energy and good technique and fundamentals that we’re going to continue to build on.”

Chicago will need to get creative when it comes to putting together a good enough game plan. Can cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor forget a shaky performance where both defensive backs allowed a combined four passing touchdowns while the front seven gets back to sacking quarterback? A win could certainly alter the trajectory of the Bears season.

Despite questions, Ryan Pace sees CB as a strength for Chicago Bears

When the Chicago Bears announced a flurry of roster moves on Wednesday afternoon, cornerback was among the key positions that raised major eyebrows for many. The Bears moved on from veteran Kyle Fuller this offseason while opting to keep just five cornerbacks: Artie Burns, Xavier Crawford, Jaylon Johnson, Duke Shelley, and Kindle Vildor.

In a pass-happy league, investing in cornerbacks is a necessity. Chicago’s front office will rely on talents like Johnson and Vildor to keep the team afloat but the Bears still need to do some due diligence on the cornerback market, especially as the dust begins to settle with rosters being fully trimmed across the league.

“What’s neat about that is there’s a mixture of young guys and vets,” said Bears general manager Ryan Pace via the team’s official YouTube Channel. “So you think about the corner position with Kindle Vildor, like we’re excited about where he’s heading and how he’s playing. Excited about Artie Burns and then obviously, Jaylon Johnson, he’s going to be a really good player for us for a long time. That’s not even getting into the nickles.”

Pace isn’t wrong. There is a mixture of young guys and veterans at the CB position for the Bears. Bruns is a former first-round pick who missed least season due to a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Johnson had 15 pass breakups as a rookie, setting the stage for what will be an intriguing sophomore campaign. Vildor has been praised by defensive coordinator Sean Desai throughout the offseason as a player who’s earned the right to play in the NFL.

Pace’s vote of confidence in the cornerback room is merely a general manager who’s willing to back and trust every decision that was made this offseason. Fuller’s release to save salary cap space while going all-in on a room filled with mostly day two and three picks will be a key point of conversation throughout the regular season, especially if younger players don’t continue to develop at the rate that the Bears are hoping they will.

Chicago Bears Mailbag: Justin Fields, Trenches talk, and more

With the Chicago Bears‘ first preseason game set to take place on Saturday afternoon, Usayd Koshul answers various questions regarding the Bears in his latest mailbag.

1. Thoughts on the retooling process now that Justin Fields is QB1?

Really good actually. With Fields now in the fold, the Bears focus should shift to building around him on offense. As generic as that sounds, Chicago does have some players on offense in line for contract extensions next offseason. We all know star wide receiver Allen Robinson is due for a payday but don’t forget about OL James Daniels who’s heading into a contract year, along with running back David Montgomery who’ll be eligible for an extension next offseason.

Speaking of extensions, the Bears just picked up the fifth-year option for LB Roquan Smith. Here’s what I’ll say: Chicago needs to extend Robinson and Smith first, then focus on Daniels to keep the interior of the OL intact. To create additional cap space, designate OLB  Robert Quinn as a post-June first cut in 2022, a move that should create about $12M in cap space.

Fields adds flexibility to the Bears’ future plans. For a quarterback who’s got the potential to develop into a franchise-caliber player, all Fields must do is progress enough to the point where the Bears can lock up key players until it’s time to pay Fields, which will be a conversation for the 2023 or 2024 offseason.

 

2. Why can’t the organization commit to figuring out the OL?

Trust me, it’s a question that drives all of us crazy, myself included. If you’ve been listening to our weekly podcast, I’ve said that Ryan Pace neglecting the offensive line from 2017-2019 finally caught up to the Bears in 2020. Between that same span, the Bears drafted just two offensive lineman: Jordan Morgan (fifth-round in 2017) and James Daniels (second-round, 2018).

Pace has consistently shown that he’s always willing to go ahead and trust his own players, which is fine but at some point, you need to cut bait, rather than hold onto players too long, something that Pace has been notorious for doing. And guess what, Pace drafted two offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft (Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom) making it the second time in seven seasons that Pace has taken two or more offensive lineman in the same NFL Draft.

The blame starts with Pace but ends with the coaching staff. Why hasn’t the coaching staff been able to get the most out of guys like Arlington Hambright or Lachavious Simmons? Matt Nagy’s staff has developed undrafted free agents such as Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher but Nagy being an offensive-minded coach needs to make investing in the OL a priority.

To close out this question, I went back and looked at draft classes of the Kansas City Chiefs since Andy Reid arrived in 2013, the same year that Nagy was appointed as the Chiefs QB coach. Reid has drafted 10 offensive lineman since 2013, including taking two or more offensive line three times (2013, 2014, and 2021), while also continuing to develop at a high rate.

3. Offensive Explosion and an NFC North title?

This would be sweet. After spending a few days attending training camp at Halas Hall, I can tell you that the Bears are ready to surprise some people heading into 2021. The defense appears to be due for a bounceback season but the offense needs to get going if the Bears are contending for the NFC North title in 2021.

Nothing is possible in the NFL, let’s be honest but if Andy Dalton is starting against the Los Angeles Rams in week one, Dalton will need to play nearly perfect every week if the Bears want to have a shot at winning the division. Justin Fields’ playmaking ability does give the Bears a slightly more explosive offense and that’s because Fields mobility and 4.4 40-yard dash makes the Bears offense lethal on RPO’s, especially when David Montgomery is in the backfield.

The Bears offense should be more explosive in 2021, regardless of who’s at quarterback, so buckle up because it’s about to be a fun season.

4. Young, emerging talent on the roster

First off, I really appreciate the two-part question here but I’m going to answer just the second question about young talent on the roster. There’s a lot so let’s start by looking at the Bears 2020 draft class. The Bears had seven draft picks and I do believe three players (Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson, and Darnell Mooney) will be part of the Bears’ core moving forward. Keep an eye on OLB Trevis Gipson and CB Kindle Vildor as two solid options who could develop into serviceable starters down the road.

I also like OL James Daniels, the 39th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. If Daniels can stay healthy and put together a consistent season at left guard, he could earn a nice payday next offseason, cementing his status as a cornerstone of the offensive line. By the way, don’t forget Sam Mustipher, who’s looked faster and stronger throughout training camp. Mustipher has an opportunity to be a mainstay on the Bears’ offensive line, giving the Bears their first long-term starter at the Center position since Olin Kreutz.

Perhaps the most intriguing player on this list is 2021 undrafted free agent Charles Snowden, who has drawn comparisons to former Bears’ first-round pick Leonard Floyd. Snowden has been praised at training camp by coaches, which means that he could wind up as a hidden gem that develops into a contributor as early as 2022.

5. Let’s talk about CB2?

It’s hard to pick a winner right now when discussing CB2 for the Bears. It’ll come down to either Kindle Vildor or Desmond Trufant but I’d lean more towards Vildor, who’s drawn praise from coaches this offseason for his work ethic. Prior to training camp, Trufant being the surefire CB2 was something many expected, however, Trufant is only signed to a one-year deal worth $1M, with no guaranteed money, making him an easy cap casualty.

“Kindle showed that he belongs in this league, last year and the reps that he took last year,” Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “So I think he’s going to have a chance to compete at various positions. We’re going to have a lot of competition at the nickel as well. We’ve had guys that have played there in games.”

It’s still early but Vildor appears to be pulling ahead each day and with a strong showing in preseason and over the final two weeks of training camp, Vildor will have an opportunity to win the race outright.

 

Takeaways from Chicago Bears training camp: Friday August 6th

Friday morning saw the Chicago Bears kickoff the first of what will be three practices wearing pads heading into the weekend. After another day at training camp, here are some quick observations heading into the weekend:

  • If I had to pick a winner today, it’d be the defense. Friday marks the first of three padded practices for the Bears going into the weekend and the defense was clearly more fired up compared to the offense. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai has added some life to a defense that many seemed to be writing off throughout the offseason. 
  • Also, it’s getting harder and harder to evaluate where the Bears’ OL is really at compared to the Bears’ defense, especially with the injury bug stinging the OL. Offensive tackles Larry Borom and Lachavious Simmons are being evaluated for concussions, per multiple reports. The hope is that Teven Jenkins recovers fast enough with the Miami Dolphins coming to town for joint practices and a preseason game very soon. 
  • Former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was present in the building. Early on, there was some speculation that the Bears hired him in a consultant role, especially after the Eagles fired him at the start of the offseason. Pederson was on the practice field talking to Dalton and Foles, but Pederson was just visiting his old friend Nagy. 
  • Does anyone else find it completely odd that QB Nick Foles said on Tuesday that he’s a better version of himself compared to years past and yet Foles had multiple interceptions in practice today? Seriously, that’s got to be a bad look for Foles, who didn’t exactly dice up the third-string defense today. 
  • The pads were on today and the intensity was on another level. Akiem Hicks was clearly having lots of fun out there.
  • Won’t lie, CB Kindle Vildor had himself a strong day and continues to make a push for the starting CB2 job opposite Jaylon Johnson.
  • Both quarterbacks had really strong days today. Dalton will continue to be QB1 until the coaching staff decides to make a switch but Fields’ progress cannot be overlooked as there was noticeable improvement today.
  • This running back room, even with Tarik Cohen out continues to impress. Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert made some plays in practice today, making RB one of the best positions on the team throughout training camp.
  • Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin had another strong practice. He could be WR3 in this offense pretty soon.

 

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31 questions to Bears camp: Will Kindle Vildor emerge as CB2?

One name to keep an eye on when the Chicago Bears return to Halas Hall for training camp later this month is second-year cornerback Kindle Vildor. A fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Vildor started one game in 2020 but totaled 17 tackles and one pass breakup. Entering year two, Chicago has a major hole at CB meaning Vildor has a prime opportunity in front of him.

2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson is the only CB on the roster who’s guaranteed a starting spot. Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai did have strong praise for Vildor throughout OTA’s and minicamp, further adding to the intrigue that Vildor could possibly emerge as a surprise starter.

“Kindle showed that he belongs in this league, last year and the reps that he took last year,” Desai said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “So I think he’s going to have a chance to compete at various positions. We’re going to have a lot of competition at the nickel as well. We’ve had guys that have played there in games.”

A breakout season for Vildor in year two means that Chicago would have two young CBs locked up through 2024 but also head into the 2022 offseason with no significant need at the position, especially since Chicago doesn’t have a first or fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Despite allowing a completion percentage of 70.6 percent as a rookie, Vildor excelled as an open-field tackler, a stat that is best referenced by looking at his missed tackle rate of zero percent in 2020. Heading into 2021, open-field tackling is an area that should continue to be a strength of Vildor’s but he must also showcase the ability to be solid in coverage, shutting down opposing wide receivers.

Last season showcased why Vildor may be the next hidden gem that Bears general manager Ryan Pace drafted on day three. Despite seeing some ups and downs, heading into training camp, continue to keep an eye on Vildor as a player who could emerge very quickly.

 

 

31 questions for Chicago Bears camp: Is CB the biggest question on the roster?

With the calendar officially turned to July, we are just weeks away from the start of Chicago Bears training camp, which means that the 2021 regular season is approaching faster than ever. Cornerback was a positional group that underwent significant changes this offseason with  veterans Buster Skrine and Kyle Fuller being released.

The release of Skrine was justified but releasing Fuller led to questions about priorities on the Bears defense, despite Fuller’s cap hit of nearly $20M for the upcoming season. In a pass-happy league, the Bears opted to release a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, now leading to questions about the state of the position heading into 2021.

Outside of 2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, Chicago does have some veterans in Artie Burns and Desmond Trufant. Add in rookie Thomas Graham Jr., and second-year CB Kindle Vildor with 2019 sixth-round pick Duke Shelley and Chicago has a number of options at the position.

Trufant and Burns are the most experienced players in the Bears CB room, with both being first-round picks in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Johnson was a second-round pick in 2020, with Graham Jr., Vildor, and Shelley being day three picks.

Bears CB’s will have a fair share of star wide receiver’s to face in 2021. An already tough schedule is even tougher when tasked with facing individual talents like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry. Add in having to face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s clear the Bears will need to rely on veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson to cover up an unproven CB group.

Versatility is a quality that exists within Chicago’s CB group. Vildor, Shelley, and Burns can play on either the inside or the outside, giving the Bears multiple options when evaluating the position throughout training camp.

“We’re excited about developing some of these guys right now,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai on the Bears official Youtube page. “We like the volume and depth we got there. We got to play football.”

As Chicago prepares for training camp, what happens at CB should be of immense interest. If someone such as Vildor or Graham Jr. emerge, it’s fair to cross off CB from the list of needs Chicago will have to address next offseason.