Thursday, December 08, 2022

Chicago Bears Q&A: Where’s the Roster Lacking Most? What is the ceiling and floor to protect Matt Eberfluss?

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The Chicago Bears are in week 2 of organized team activities, and as with any team in the early stages of rebuilding, questions abound on many positions. Brad Biggs’ weekly beer mailbag covers the running back, secondary, and offensive line—and begins by asking where the biggest holes are.

Now that the first few rounds of draft and free agency are over, where do you think the roster is lacking the most? Is there currently a player available who will meet those needs or will they have to wait until the Precision Cut to fill those holes? — @theengineer_dan

The Bears certainly hope that they will have players on their roster who can prove themselves this season and emerge as options beyond 2022. There are valid questions in the offending line. Is Larry Borom a starting-caliber player, especially in left tackle? Could Teven Jenkins be fit for this offense, his first look coming on the right tackle? Who will play the role of the perfect guard? As far as the rest of the offense is concerned, are the broad recipients good enough to be productive? Are there positive early signs from Justin Fields that the coaching staff has provided evidence that he will be making a significant step forward in his second season?

Without significant investment on the defensive line, with the exception of pass rusher Robert Quinn, can the bears not only intercept the run, but also the run to a passer-by? Is there a high-caliber nickel cornerback on the roster? Can free safety Eddie Jackson bounce back from a few seasons that weren’t up to the level of his contract? Bears have players for all of these positions, and some will go ahead and give good answers. How much remains to be seen? Few will fall short and there will be a clear need to enter next season, when general manager Ryan Poles will have cap space, cash and more draft picks.

I don’t expect unexpected solutions via Precision Cuts. Generally, players that other teams let go can serve as bridge players and depths. It is less common that what a player has let loose can be a real building block for the future. Try to be patient with the process. The roster will be developed over the next 15 to 16 months before the start of the 2023 season.

Which positions have the greatest shortage? I would say offensive line, wide receiver and probably defensive line. But we haven’t seen the beer in full pad or preseason yet, and the real answers will come during the regular season.

Has the Bears struck a deal with David Montgomery after this year or do you think they finally let him walk? I’m factoring in the emergence of Khalil Herbert. It was a small sample size but given the situation, you know. — @runbackdave

With what Montgomery’s market will look like after this season, it’s hard to know how he will perform in the new offense. As a general rule, running backs are largely replaceable. This is probably the easiest position on the roster for help from other than experts. The San Francisco 49ers have used a variety of backs with great success, and this is a similar offensive system.

Montgomery has been solid for the Bears, but for him to prove real value in this offense, he has to be more dynamic and productive as a pass catcher. With the exception of someone like Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans, running behind the paychecks now is a multi-faceted threat. For me, it has less to do with how Herbert performs this season and more to do with what Montgomery does.

Ryan Poles may have successfully remade the secondary on the cheap. The linebacker and defensive line core also looks solid, with some promising players. What do you think could be a defensive roof/floor for this roster? — @jmcdavitt

I think you are talking about defense in 2022. I agree that the Bears made some strong moves in the secondary by drafting cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jacen Brisker in the second round. They’ll make some rookie mistakes – that’s natural for any first-year players – but the Bears have broken out of the pattern of looking for experienced bridge players at the back end, at least in those two places.

There are legitimate questions in the defensive line. It lacks a signature interior player—someone like Tommy Harris, who was on the same plan last time the Bears played the Tampa-2, or DeForest Buckner, who played for Matt Eberfluss with the Indianapolis Colts. This defense requires some specialized players to play at a high level because you are sacrificing size for athleticism, and that makes defending runs challenging.

Are the Bears going to keep Robert Quinn for the season? If they do, will they get the record-setting 2021 edition or the 2020 edition? Free Security Eddie Jackson is coming off some subpar seasons. There are reasonable questions about who will handle the nickel position, which should be viewed as a starter. The range is probably middle of the pack for this group in 2022, and it could be attainable as the Bears don’t face the toughest schedule in terms of quarterbacks. The floor is a little lower than that.

Why is Jaylon Johnson taking on another team’s reps? — @wustinwields1

The coaches wanted to see some other players who have been involved in the entire offseason program. Matt Eberfluss said don’t read too much about who is playing with which unit in May and this is good advice in this case. Aberfluss said a week earlier he hadn’t seen enough of Johnson on the field to say a whole lot about him. He was quite excited when asked about Johnson on Tuesday.

“I’ve seen him for a week now and I love what I see,” Aberfluss said. “He’s spinning really well. He’s going to have a good change of direction. He’s got really good hands. He’s in good shape, as you know. So now really looking at his coverage ability and it’s a good spot.” But we are just working with him and trying to assess his skills and we will train him as we go.

Barring a few unexpected, Johnson will start with second-round pick Kyler Gordon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson is running with people at the mandatory minicamp in mid-June, if not sooner. There is nothing wrong in conveying this message to the coaches that those who come regularly for volunteer work will get their first chance for evaluation. It’s probably motivational on some level.

Is there any hope that Kindle can keep up with Wildor CB1? I know it is OTA. — @just_acy

It looks unlikely as Jaylon Johnson enters his third season and second-round pick Kyler Gordon is already on the cusp of a consistent start. A realistic best position for Wildor, who struggled on points last season, is to have a competitive training camp and preseason and position himself to be a top backup from the outside.

What is the probability that one of the rookie offensive linemen starts week 1? — @dwcprodz

It seems like a long shot. It looks like the Bears are running with Larry Borom on left tackle and Teven Jenkins on right tackle — or at least it’s headed in that direction for the start of training camp. I highly doubt the Bears have a decent offensive tackle that will prove he is ready to start in Week 1. The best chance — and again, I don’t think it’s a high probability — is one of the rookies to come into the mix for the right guard job, where Sam Mustifer and Dakota Dossier spend most of their time with the guys.

There’s still a chance that a newcomer will come along with a shot at the perfect guard job, and remember, sometimes those things run late. Bears fell into adding guard Josh Sitton to the starting lineup in 2016 after the Green Bay Packers released him over Labor Day weekend. When GM Ryan Poles used four Day 3 picks on the offensive lineman, it was with the idea that one or two of them could push for a spot in 2023. You can’t rule it out, but it’s incredibly hard to guess now because they don’t have pads.

Any crap about how Charles Snowden is doing? He appears to be the fastest, tallest, smartest, effort-tough defensive end in what Matt Eberfluss calls the system. Some of the pre-drafts even saw him as a 2 day pick. Apparently his broken ankle put the teams off. He certainly has measurable. – John R., Vietnam

I haven’t heard Snowden coach alone, but legends Robert Quinn and al-Qudin Muhammad haven’t participated in a voluntary portion of the off-season program until this time – at least from what the media is allowed to see – which has led to a handful of Granted other players more rep, more exposure and in some cases more time with the first team. Training camps and presidencies will be bigger for players like Snowden, a holdover from the previous regime. Spring is important for Snowden to show he can pick up on the techniques the coaching staff is highlighting and can understand the defense. When it comes to turning the corner and actually coming after the quarterback, he has to wait until he walks the pads at training camp.

“It’s hard for me to assess certain things at this time of year,” said Matt Eberfluss. “Assessing pass rush is hard because it’s a little easier for runners to get around because there are no pads, but once you put pads on and those tackles can really block them, I think when You really measure what it is. Same thing in an ongoing game. How do you actually measure an ongoing game as well?”

How do you think they are going to work with Khiris Tonga? Will they still make him tackle the nose or try to take him to the three tech? — @chicagostatmuse

Tonga, a seventh-round pick in 2021, was a nice surprise for the Bears as a rookie, appearing in 15 games and logging 216 defensive snaps (23%). He was a perfect fit as a nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme, so the new front has a bit of projection for him. The Bears listed him last season at 6-foot-4, 338 pounds, and he has yet to adjust the measurements for returning players.

When I asked defensive line coach Travis Smith what the target weight is for Tonga this season, he said it’s a decision that involves the mighty staff and the powers that be above it. For comparison, the Colts did not have a defensive lineman above 314 pounds (veteran tackle Grover Stewart) at the start of last season. Tonga certainly isn’t a three-tech, but he has a chance to play nose to nose in this defence, even if it differs from manning that spot in 3-4.

“The biggest thing before us is to make sure we try first,” Smith said. “We can fix everything else. And so as long as our guys – whatever their weight – (are) able to run and play consistently at a high level, I’m good with it.

“He’s walking well. For a big guy, he has really great legs. (period) Remember the dancing bear. We’ve got some big men who can walk, stay on their feet. We want our big players to play sideline to sideline. We’re a penetrating, vertical, edge-setting defense, but we run. All four of us. We want all four to run. For as long as they can, their weight Is good for me.”


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