Da Bear Necessities' 2012 Chicago Bears Draft Preview

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/26/2012 01:54:00 PM | ,


While he's certainly made his mark in free agency (and with the trade for Brandon Marshall) in his first offseason as the Chicago Bears' general manager, the main reason Phil Emery was hired was to do something Jerry Angelo hadn't done much in recent years: find impact players in the NFL Draft.

There's no question that the Bears are a legitimate Super Bowl threat for the upcoming season, but there's also no question that the team is getting up there in age, and quality young talent is needed if they want to stay successful a couple years from now, and beyond. This is especially the case on the defensive side of the ball.

Brian Urlacher turns 34 in May.

Lance Briggs turns 32 in November.

Julius Peppers is 32.

Charles Tillman is 31.

Those are the core players of the Bears' defense, and time is running out on their careers, at least at the highly productive level we're used to seeing from them. And what's concerning is that there doesn't appear to be a young replacement lined up for any of those guys yet. Maybe a Geno Hayes or Corey Wootton improve enough to be such players, but nobody's betting on it at the moment.

And while you want to add depth and potential successors to those players, you're also trying to win a Super Bowl this season. This is a team ready to win now, and if a couple of players from this draft can make a positive impact immediately, perhaps that's what puts the Bears over the top this season. Emery's looking to find impact players for the future, but he's also looking to find players that can fill immediate needs, which could give the Bears a better chance to win a Super Bowl this season.

So, when looking at what the Bears should target in the draft, what position on defense could greatly help their chances to win a Super Bowl this season, but also address the need for talented youth at the position a few years from now? Defensive end, particularly one that's a dynamic pass-rusher.

It's crucial to be able to rush the passer in a division that includes Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Look at what the New York Giants' superb pass rush did to Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. And luckily for the Bears, this draft class is loaded with solid prospects at the position.

When the Bears select at the first round's 19th pick, defensive ends that could be available include Quinton Coples, Chandler Jones, Whitney Mercilus, Shea McClellin, and Nick Perry. Many intriguing defensive end prospects will likely be available in the second round as well, such as Andre Branch, and Bruce Irvin, a pass-rushing menace and combine freak.

However, there's other positions that could warrant a first round selection for the Bears, such as defensive tackle, and wide receiver. If defensive tackle Michael Brockers or wide receiver Michael Floyd fell to #19, it would presumably be hard for Emery to pass up either player.

Whatever the case, Emery should be in a good position to get one of the seven players the Bears are reportedly considering selecting at #19, and may even be able to find one of those players by trading down, an option I'd welcome in a draft where the top 15-60 prospects or so seem very comparable.


Let's look at where the Bears stand at each position as we head into the draft, and what round would be a good spot to draft that position, if at all:

Offense

Quarterback

With Jay Cutler, Jason Campbell, Josh McCown, and Nathan Enderle already under contract, the Bears are in as good of shape as any team in the NFL at the quarterback position. Cutler is still just 29 (turns that age on Sunday) and under contract through 2013 (and expect the Bears to sign him to another extension). Campbell may be the best backup quarterback in the NFL, and McCown is a capable third quarterback. Enderle didn't show much in camp, preseason, and practices last year, but the Bears may give him another year to show he's worth keeping around.

Draft round target: None.

Running Back/Fullback

Even if Matt Forte were to hold out, or the Bears were to unexpectedly trade him tonight/this weekend, they still have Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell at running back. Bush would be starting for some teams in the league, and Bell's shown to be a very capable backup.

At fullback, Tyler Clutts was an impressive blocker last year and I doubt the Bears are really looking for an upgrade here right now.

Draft round target: None.

Wide Receiver

The Bears finally have a true #1 receiver in Brandon Marshall, but there's still some major question marks at this position. Will Johnny Knox be able to play at all in 2012, and if so, will he be 100%? Will Devin Thomas (who was highly regarded as a receiver out of Michigan State) and Eric Weems be solid contributors on offense, or will they simply be special teamers? Will Devin Hester continue to develop at receiver and be able to be the vertical threat the Bears need if Johnny Knox is unable to play? I'm leaning towards the pessimistic side in regards to all of those things.

Draft round target: 1-4.

If Michael Floyd falls to 19, I'm taking him. Having both Marshall and Floyd in the red zone would be a nightmare for defenses, especially with weapons such as Forte, Bush, Earl Bennett, and Kellen Davis already in place. Jay Cutler would be one happy man.

Having said that, it's unlikely Floyd falls that far. Kendall Wright and Stephen Hill are each worth consideration in the first round, but the Bears would probably find one of the defensive ends to be a better way to spend their first round pick in this scenario. Although I will say that I'm higher on Wright for the Bears more than most seem to be, as I think he'd be a great complement to Brandon Marshall with his explosiveness, ability to get open, and ability to stretch the field, something that would be a welcome addition with Knox's season in doubt.

Like defensive end, this is a very deep draft at the wide receiver position. Prospects such as Alshon Jeffery, Brian Quick, Rueben Randle, and Chris Givens may be around when the Bears select in the second round. And there should even be quality wide receiver prospects in the third and fourth rounds.

Tight End

I'm a fan of Kellen Davis and it's not his fault Mike Martz hates tight ends. Davis, who turns 27 in October, is a great red zone target at 6'7", 267 pounds. He only caught 18 passes last year (again, thanks to Martz), but five of those were for touchdowns. Mike Tice wisely plans to utilize Davis more, and I think we'll see some great things out of the tight end this year.

But outside of Davis, there's not a very good pass-catching tight end on the roster (it appears). Finding a guy like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, or Jermichael Finley sure would be nice, but of course every other team is trying to find such tight ends these days too.

Draft round target: 2-7.

While every team wants to find a tight end like the players I mentioned, the tight end class this year is very weak. Coby Fleener could be selected at the bottom of the first round, but he's a bad blocker and will probably be drafted earlier than he should be due to teams wanting to find that next stud pass-catching tight end. Dwayne Allen is a solid all-around tight end, and could be around when the Bears pick in round two. Still, they may find other positions of need to be better to address that early. A late-round tight end with impressive measurables is a good bet here.

Tackle

There's no doubt that the Bears need to improve greatly at left tackle. They still seem to believe J'Marcus Webb can be that guy, but so far the results have not been impressive, and the position is too crucial to let subpar play continue for long. It's unlikely, but possible that the Bears consider moving Chris Williams back to tackle from guard, but since he's been solid at guard, the Bears will probably just leave him in position to succeed. 2011 first round pick Gabe Carimi will return from injury to play right tackle, and we can assume/hope the Bears are set there for a while.

Draft round target: 2-7.

If the Bears had the #3 overall pick, they would take USC left tackle Matt Kalil and not think twice about it. A franchise left tackle is the biggest need on this team, but you're unlikely to find that guy at #19. There's a few other tackles that could be taken in the first round, but none of them project to be left tackles. But, perhaps the Bears feel differently about that. But look for the to Bears wait until at least the second round to address tackle, and it's even possible they don't draft a tackle at all if they're not very high on any prospects at each scheduled pick.

Guard

With Chris Williams, Chris Spencer, Chilo Rachal, and Lance Louis already on the roster, they're in very good shape here depth-wise.

Draft round target: None.

There's far bigger needs on this team, which would surprise many that seem to think the Bears have the worst offensive line in history.

Center

Roberto Garza is 33, so a replacement will soon be needed here. The Bears will probably wait another year or two to address that issue though.

Draft round target: None.

A sixth or seventh round pick is possible, especially if the player offers versatility, but the Bears will likely focus on their current needs over the center position.

Defense

Defensive End

Julius Peppers is still playing at a ridiculous level, but is 32. Israel Idonije is a solid defensive end, but he'll also be 32 this year, and only had five sacks in 2011. Corey Wootton was drafted in the fourth round by the Bears in 2010, but he hasn't seen the field much in his time with the Bears.

Draft round target: 1-3. (Already explained why)

Defensive Tackle

Amobi Okoye and Anthony Adams are no longer on the team, so depth at defensive tackle is a major concern. Henry Melton showed some great things in 2012, especially with his ability to get at the quarterback (7 sacks) but is still raw at the position. Matt Toeaina is solid against the run, and the Bears used a second round pick last year to draft Stephen Paea. The Bears even kept Paea inactive for five games last season, so clearly they aren't sold on him yet.

Draft round target: 1-4.

Brad Biggs reported today that the Bears had in Fletcher Cox for a private workout, but Cox could go as early as #6 overall. There's no way he'd last until #19, so the Bears would have to trade up. And while the three-technique defensive tackle would be a perfect fit for a Bears defense desperately looking for defensive line help, I don't see Emery trading picks away given the Bears' needs.

Michael Brockers could be available at #19, and if that's the case, it would be difficult for the Bears to not make the pick. But, I think that this position will be addressed in the second or third round.

Linebacker

As I said, Briggs and Urlacher are up there in age and the Bears need to begin thinking about their replacements. But again, this team is trying to win now. Nick Roach and Geno Hayes are fine options at strong side linebacker, and the Bears don't use that position in passing situations anyway. Is it worth using an early-round pick on a guy that is rarely going to see the field this year, when you're trying to win a Super Bowl this year?

Draft round target: 3-6.

Find a linebacker with impressive measurables/instincts that will be able to learn behind two Pro Bowlers for a couple years, and ideally can contribute on special teams immediately. The Bears could live with ignoring the position in this year's draft, but if they do so, you're looking at a top draft need next year.

Safety

I feel that this position isn't getting enough talk. Chris Conte was very impressive in his rookie year and he seems very worthy of a starting job, but has Major Wright showed enough yet to be confident about him going in as the starter? Craig Steltz is a solid football player, but lacks the speed coveted in a cover-2, especially when looking at the receivers on the Lions and Packers.

Draft round target: 2-7.

Cornerback

A few weeks ago, this seemed like a major need. Then Emery went out and signed veterans Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite in free agency. Right now, these cornerbacks are on the roster: Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Hayden, and Wilhite. But, the Bears could definitely use some youth at the position, and they'll likely want some competition for Hayden and Wilhite in camp.

Draft round target: 4-7.

Kicker/Punter

Absolutely fine here.

Draft round target: None.


You can follow me on Twitter for much more on the draft, and all things Bears: @DaBearNecess.


Yesterday Phil Emery added depth to the offensive line with the signing of guard Chilo Rachal, and today, the Bears' first-year general manager boosted the linebacker depth with the signing of linebacker Geno Hayes to a one-year deal.

The Bears brought in Hayes, as well as linebackers Rocky McIntosh, Zac Diles, Bryan Kehl, and Gerris Wilkinson for a workout this week at Halas Hall. So clearly the Bears felt Hayes was the best fit of that group.

Hayes, 24, spent the last four seasons as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and started a total of 42 games over that time. A Florida State product, Hayes was drafted by the Bucs in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.

The 6'1", 226-pound outside linebacker had 64 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one interception last season. In 2009, he had a career-high 98 tackles, and in 2010, he had a career-high four sacks, as well as a pick-six.

Hayes figures to compete with Nick Roach for the starting strongside linebacker job, but most likely will serve as a backup. Whatever the case, the Bears desperately needed depth at the linebacker position, and at worst, Hayes would provide a quality backup to Roach/Lance Briggs/Brian Urlacher.

The rest of the linebackers on the team are Blake Costanzo (special teams ace), Dom DeCicco (former undrafted free agent), J.T. Thomas (Bears' sixth-rounder who missed the entire '11 season), Jabara Williams (former seventh-rounder), and Patrick Trahan (former undrafted free agent). Hayes is really the only backup you'd feel very comfortable with playing out of that group.

And looking long-term, this could turn out to be an impactful signing (even though he's currently on just a one-year contract). Urlacher is 33 and Briggs is 31, so the Bears really need to begin bringing in some youth at the position. Hayes is a nice start to that, but the Bears may still look to address the position in the draft next week.

Still, this move gives Emery some more flexibility heading into the draft, just like the Rachal signing did.

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Your 2012 Chicago Bears schedule, & my reaction

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/17/2012 05:59:00 PM

Week 1: vs. Colts (Sunday, September 9, 1 PM ET; CBS)

Week 2: at Packers (Thursday, September 13, 8:20 PM ET; NFL Network)

Week 3: vs. Rams (Sunday, September 23, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 4: at Cowboys (Monday, October 1, 8:30 PM ET'; ESPN)

Week 5: at Jaguars (Sunday, October 7, 4:05 PM ET; Fox)

Week 6: BYE WEEK

Week 7: vs. Lions (Monday, October 22, 8:30 PM ET; ESPN)

Week 8: vs. Panthers (Sunday, October 28, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 9: at Titans (Sunday, November 4, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 10: vs Texans (Sunday, November 11, 8:20 PM ET; NBC)

Week 11: at 49ers (Monday, November 19, 8:30 PM ET; ESPN)

Week 12: vs Vikings (Sunday, November 25, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 13: vs Seahawks (Sunday, December 2, 1:00 PM ET: Fox)

Week 14: at Vikings (Sunday, December 9, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 15: vs Packers (Sunday, December 16, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)

Week 16: at Cardinals (Sunday, December 23, 4:15 PM ET; Fox)

Week 17: at Lions (Sunday, December 30, 1:00 PM ET; Fox)


Now, after seeing the schedule, let's break down some notable things about it:

Five primetime games. Three of them are on Monday night (at Cowboys, vs Lions, at 49ers), one of them is on Sunday night (vs Texans), and one of them is on Thursday night (at Packers).

Playing a Thursday night game in Green Bay in the second week of the year is not a game I'm happy about, as that's a game you'd like to get a whole week of rest, practice, and film study for. It's also just asking so much of your team to play on a short week after the first week of the season.

I do like that the Lions and Texans games, which as we stand now are two of the three most difficult home games, are primetime games. It's very difficult to go into Chicago and win a primetime game, especially for a warm-weather Texans team in November. Additionally, the Bears will have a full week to rest and gameplan for the Lions, as it's following the bye week.

The schedule is very balanced. There's really no stretch (again, as we stand now, and of course at least a few teams will do better than we think) that should scare Bears fans on paper. Both Packers games are in between games that the Bears will be favored in (three of which heavy favorites).

Probably the two most difficult stretches would be week 7-11, and week 15-17. And when it comes to the week 15-17 games, so much can be different then for each team than it appears on paper now (injuries, teams disappointing, playoff positioning already secured up, etc).

Open against Andrew Luck (we assume) and the Colts. The NFL's worst team in 2011 will be at least a bit improved with Luck at quarterback, but a veteran defense should give a rookie quarterback hell in his first game, especially at home. The Bears will be 10+ point favorites in this game and losing it to start the season would be pretty inexcusable. Of course, Luck is a pretty special talent (and mind), so maybe he'll just be great from the start... but it's unlikely, especially with a subpar supporting cast.


Prediction: 11-5.

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After being unhappy for years about his contract situation while Jerry Angelo was the Bears' general manager, Lance Briggs signed a contract extension today in Phil Emery's first offseason as general manager. And Briggs made it clear that it was much easier to negotiate with Emery in charge:

"I'm grateful. I'm just very appreciative right now that the work has been recognized and that it (the deal) got handled as fast as it did. This is by far the least amount of time I've ever had (in talks) with the Bears," Briggs said.

Briggs also said that he knows he will retire a Bear:

"My dream is to retire as a Bear and I know that I will retire a Bear," he said. "I'm just excited right now. I'm so juiced that everything happened fast and I can focus on preparing for a championship."
The 7-time Pro Bowl linebacker is confident Bears will eventually reach a contract extension with Brian Urlacher as well:

"The Bears will do right by him," Briggs said. "He's coming off a great year. Hopefully we can play til we're 49 years old, if that's possible."

Good stuff all around.

Source: CBS Sports' Gene Chamberlain

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Bears agree to 1-year extension with Lance Briggs

Posted by Matt Clapp | 4/11/2012 12:03:00 PM | ,


The Bears and weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs agreed on a one-year extension on Wednesday. The seven-time Pro Bowler's contract with the Bears now runs through 2014.

In September, Briggs requested a trade after being unhappy the Bears hadn't given him a raise. There's no details yet on the money involved with this extension, but we can obviously assume that the money offered pleased Briggs, and he ultimately agreed to extend his deal with the team for another season. We can also assume that there will now be no more threats of holdouts from Briggs.

The hard-hitting linebacker will be 32 in November, but is still playing at a very high level.

In 2011, he had a team-high 147 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and one interception. The three-time All-Pro had 100+ tackles in seven of the last eight seasons, and has been remarkably durable, missing only four out of 144 games in his nine-year career.

General manager Phil Emery had this to say about the Briggs extension:
“We’re very excited for Lance and for the Bears. Lance has been a very valuable and productive member of our team; seven straight Pro Bowls is quite a record of success. This is a very positive step for our team in our efforts to win championships.”

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Minutes after I got done writing about the Bears signing cornerback Kelvin Hayden to a one-year deal, they signed another cornerback, Jonathan Wilhite, to a one-year deal.

Wilhite, 28, played 15 games for the Denver Broncos in 2011, starting two of those games. He had one interception, two pass deflections, 28 tackles, and two sacks. He also was a contributor on special teams, something that the Bears of course value greatly.

The 5'11", 195-pounder also played in 39 games (13 starts) with the New England Patriots from 2008-2011, after being a fourth round selection by them in the 2008 draft. As a Patriot, he had three interceptions.

Cornerback depth was a major concern for the Bears coming into today, but they now have five capable cornerbacks on the roster in Peanut Tillman, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Kelvin Hayden, and Jonathan Wilhite. All five of them started games at cornerback in 2011, so all of a sudden Phil Emery (who by the way is doing an incredible job in his first offseason as a general manager) has to feel very good about the position as he heads into the draft.

Still, as I said in the last post, the Bears need to develop a young, soon-to-be starter at the position with all of these players aside from Moore (who is best suited for the nickel back role) being 28+.

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The Bears made a move to bolster their cornerback depth today by signing free agent Kelvin Hayden to a one-year contract.

Hayden, 6'0", 195 cornerback, had two interceptions in eight games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2011. The seven-year veteran was a starting cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts from 2007-2010, and intercepted nine passes over those seasons, while deflecting 35 passes in that time as well. He's returned three interceptions for touchdowns.

Of course, he returned another pass for a touchdown in postseason play that Bears fans remember all too well- a pick-six on a Rex Grossman pass in Super Bowl XLI. Yes, he's that guy. He's also from Chicago, and played college football at the University of Illinois.

The Bears have been very interested in getting the cover-2-familiar Hayden for a few years. In fact, in 2009, he was their top free agent target, but he chose to re-sign with the Colts. He visited the Bears last season, but was just coming off neck surgery, and the Bears ultimately chose to pass on him.

But, finally, he's a Bear, and he adds depth to a position that greatly needed it after Zackary Bowman Corey Graham found new homes in free agency.

Peanut Tillman is locked into one starting cornerback spot, and Tim Jennings, who re-signed with the Bears a few weeks ago, will likely return as the starter opposite Tillman. Still, Hayden can provide competition (even if it's unrealistic that he'd get the job) for the second starting cornerback spot, and that would be a nice thing for motivational reasons after Jennings' play slipped late in 2011.

Even with this move, the Bears will surely look to add another cornerback in the draft. They greatly need to get younger at the position with Tillman being 31, Jennings turning 29 in December, Hayden turning 29 in July, and D.J. Moore unlikely to ever play more than nickel back due to his size.

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The NFL's 2012 preseason matchups were announced today, with exact details of the games' dates/times/television broadcasts still to come.

What we do know, is that the Bears will host the Denver Broncos sometime between August 9 - August 12, and the Washington Redskins sometime between August 16 -August 19. They will then go on the road to face the New York Giants on August 24 for a nationally televised game, and finish up the preseason August 30 at the Cleveland Browns.

So, to summarize:

Bears vs. Broncos (August 9- August 12, probably nationally televised because of Peyton Manning)

Bears vs. Redskins (August 16- August 19)

Bears vs. Giants (August 24, nationally televised for sure)

Bears vs. Browns (August 30)

Really, it's hard to imagine a more exciting preseason (well, as exciting as preseason can get, anyway) scenario for Bears fans.

The first game will be Peyton Manning's first game in a Broncos uniform, so that one will of course have plenty of attention from across the country. It will also feature the first game of former Broncos teammates Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall playing together in Bears uniforms. Oh, and it also features Caleb Hanie's return to Chicago!

The second game against the Redskins will feature the exciting Robert Griffin III, assuming that the Colts select Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. And in more former Bears quarterbacks returning to Chicago news, Rex Grossman is on the Redskins.

The third game will be on national television, at the defending champion New York Giants. And the third game is usually the one that is played the most like a real NFL game, with the starters playing into the second half. So, this will be a fun game featuring two of the NFC's better teams on paper.

And the fourth game against the Browns, with it being the 9th year in a row these teams will have faced each other to close out the preseason. So that's interesting... I guess.

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