Chicago Bears: Rookies
2013 Role: A sixth-round draft pick out of Georgia, Washington showed promise early but never seized a full-time role. The Bears listed Washington among the team’s inactives for the season opener against Cincinnati, and although he was active the next two games, the defensive end didn’t receive any playing time. Washington made his regular-season debut on Sept. 29 against the Detroit Lions, only to be put back on the shelf for the next three weeks as an inactive. Washington received playing time again on Nov. 10 against Detroit and contributed a tackle, but didn’t play the next week against Baltimore. The club made Washington inactive over its final six games. On the season, Washington played just 10 snaps.
The good: Washington possesses the physical attributes (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) to “transcend scheme” as general manager Phil Emery so often likes to say, because of his explosive power and speed off the edge. When Washington put all that together along with sound fundamentals, he certainly looked like the player the Bears hoped he’d be when they drafted him. Washington produced 76 tackles and 63 quarterback pressures in college, and flashed some of that ability in spurts as a rookie.
The bad: Washington played four different positions in college. So when the Bears brought him in to play defensive end in their four-man front, an adjustment period was expected. Fundamentally, Washington struggled to consistently execute proper hand placement and gain adequate leverage on opposing offensive linemen. When “he did it right,” Washington looked the part, according to one staffer. The problem was Washington didn’t do it right often enough, which is why in the midst of an injury-riddled 2013 for the defensive line, the Bears never called upon the rookie to play significant minutes. The team couldn’t trust him to make a meaningful contribution.
Looking ahead: Washington possesses the physical foundation of speed and explosive power. But he needs to use the offseason to sharpen fundamentals, in addition to adding some pass-rushing moves to his repertoire. At the moment, Washington remains a raw, developmental player, who needs to take a major step if he expects to gain the staff’s trust heading into 2014. There’s been speculation the Bears could experiment with a 3-4 front next season, and if that’s truly the case, Washington could potentially make a move to linebacker because he’s versatile enough to pull it off. If the Bears remain a 4-3 front, Washington probably won’t become an every-down defender next season. But he could contribute in a role as a designated pass-rusher on passing downs.
Briggs is expected to be held out at least six weeks as he recovers from a fracture in his left shoulder, leaving the team to make a choice for the potential replacement between Green, veteran Blake Costanzo and new additions Jerry Franklin and Larry Grant, who signed on Monday with the Bears.
A fourth-round pick out of Rutgers, Greene played one snap at linebacker during the club’s Oct. 20 loss to the Washington Redskins. With extra days to prepare for what could be his debut as a starter at Green Bay next Monday night, Greene admitted he’s fired up about the chance to see extended playing time.
“I am. I’ve played one snap of defense this year, and just having an opportunity to maybe get out there and be a starter and play way more snaps is enough in itself to be fired up,” Greene said. “I’ve just got to stay calm, trust the defense, trust the scheme, and also build some confidence in my teammates so they know I can actually go out there and compete if I’m the guy. I feel good. This is one day we all look forward to doing is being starters in the NFL."
To prepare for the task, Greene said he’s been able to rely on Briggs, who has acted as somewhat of a coach “to help me as much as he can,” in addition to fellow rookie Jonathan Bostic, who made his debut as a starter against the Redskins as a replacement for injured starter D.J. Williams.
Bostic and Greene have been roommates since joining the club.
“Tell you the truth, we’re really similar players,” Bostic said of Greene. “We’re going to depend on each other, we’re going to have to help each other. We have to do a lot of talking out there, get our chemistry back, what we had throughout preseason. It’ll definitely be a fun process; (we’ve) just got to keep going out there and having fun.”
At Rutgers, Greene started in 39 of 51 games, including a 2012 season in which he started 12 games at free safety and earned Big East Defensive Player of the Years in back-to-back years. Greene forced an NCAA-record 15 fumbles in college, and hopes to use those takeaway skills into Chicago’s starting lineup if given the opportunity.
But Greene also mentioned the need to be resistant to pressing too hard when asked about what he’s learned throughout a brief NFL tenure.
“It’s hard to win games in the National Football League. That’s what I’ve observed,” Greene said, “and also that you can’t try to do too much. If I’m the starter, I can’t go out there and try to be Lance and try to do too much because I’m not him. I can learn from him, and I’ve learned a lot from him. But I can’t go out there and try to force myself to make plays and stuff like that, or I’ll end up hurting the defense and the team.”
Here’s what Kiper wrote: “How would you have answered this question a week ago: 'Jay Cutler plays a full game against the Bengals -- how many times is he sacked?' The answer turned out to be zero, and Mills deserves his share of the credit. A lot of people have called Kyle Long the surprise stud on the O-line, but Long was just OK against Cincy, and it was Mills who has much greater positional value. In the fourth quarter, the fifth-round steal was involved in two critical plays. On fourth-and-1, the Bears picked up a key first down with Mills getting the necessary movement. On third-and-6, Bears RB Michael Bush didn't get the first down, but Mills sustained a block against Rey Maualuga and drew a personal foul penalty against Maualuga that iced the game. Great start.”
Mills definitely deserved mention for the performance in his NFL debut against Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who finished that game with three tackles and two quarterback hits. One of those hits came on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage when made a mistake and Long locked his eyes on Maualuga, which allowed Dunlap to come free.
Asked about his place on Kiper’s list, Mills smiled; happy to receive the recognition.
“When I saw it, Mel Kiper is one of the best sports critics in the world. So to see that, it was great that he thought of me as one of the top 15,” Mills said. “You can’t always pay attention to what you see online. You’ve just got to keep working.”
But undoubtedly, Mills gained confidence from the performance against Dunlap.
“I’m always my worst critic. I always think I did just O.K.,” Mills said. “But after seeing the film, I think I did a pretty good job not to give up any sacks to a person that just signed a contract extension for $40 million. He’s supposed to be their best pass-rusher, and he gave me his all. It wasn’t easy handling him, but just to come out with a win with my team and see everybody working hard across the board in all phases of the game, it was a great experience."
"I just have a mentality of never quitting, and that's what I try to do," McClellin said. "Today, my pass rushing wasn't very good, so I was kind of disappointed. I'm pretty hard on myself. So I've got to do better than that."
Perhaps McClellin's workout didn't go as badly as he put on after Saturday's session. During individual pass-rushing drills against offensive linemen, McClellin flashed speed off the edge and much of the burst the club raved about upon drafting him.
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At least, that was Harris' public stance before Wednesday's practice.
"I still am a starter," Harris said. "No, it just is kind of the way things are going around here. They drafted Major for a reason. Major is a very good player, and they drafted him in the third round. He's got to get out there, and the best experience is playing experience."
Wright played a few series in the opening week victory over Detroit, including the all-important final drive of the game. Speculation continues to center around Wright eventually earning a permanent spot in the starting lineup.
"The coaches feel we have three starting caliber safeties here, so we rotated in the back [end of the defense]," Harris said. "It's no different than what the defensive line does, the receivers do it. It's not a big deal."
It's commonplace in the NFL to use a variety of players along the defensive line or at wide receiver, but teams generally stick with one starting combination at safety.
But if Wright is medically cleared next week it will be difficult for the coaches to keep him off the field.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Despite wearing heavy bandages on his left hand aimed at protecting a surgically repaired left index finger, Bears safety Major Wright feels like he could handle live action, if necessary.
"I'll tell you the truth, with me, yeah I could go out there and play," Wright said Monday.
But the Bears refused to speculate about Wright's availability for the regular season opener against Detroit, even though the rookie is no longer wearing the special, no-contact jersey when media members are present at practice.
"Right now, we're just taking it day by day," Wright said.
This much is certain; Wright returned to practice last week in limited fashion, being held out of any contact drills. However, the safety can participate in individual drills and seven on seven, plus take mental reps, so it's not like Wright is sitting on the bench collecting dust.
"I've learned a lot sitting on the sidelines," Wright said. "[I've learned about] gaps, my quarterback reads, my zone drops, things like that are really important to us these days. I just sit on the sidelines with Craig [Steltz] and he's a lot older than me so he helps me out. He tells me to look at this, look at that and tells me to tell him the calls and stuff like that."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Physical mistakes on the football field are unavoidable.
It's the mental mistakes that tend to get players cut and coaches fired.
Busted plays, blown assignments, bad reads, poor communication; the Bears experienced every sort of mental breakdown possible against Arizona. Luckily, it's still the preseason, but time is of the essence.
"I had a bunch of them, so let's start with me," Bears veteran Desmond Clark said Monday. "I made some easy, simple mistakes, stuff that we can't tolerate or accept if we want to be a good team. But we'll be able to focus in and gets things right when it's time for [Cleveland] this week and going into Detroit [week]."
The easy explanation -- at least on offense -- is that players are still trying to grasp the new Mike Martz offense. Not true according to Clark, who is in the process of learning a new position, in addition to the new scheme.
"No, that's not the reason at all," Clark said. "We were messing up on simple things. You know, a play was going left, and you got me going right. Just simple things [caused] by a lack of focus, lack of concentration, whatever it is. But we'll be able to correct those things."
Bears wide receiver Devin Aromashodu had a slightly different take on the subject.
"We'll always have mental mistakes," Aromashodu said. "They'll be a mental mistake every single game we play in. [But] we really don't have that many, it's just that being a new offense, everyone is learning it, so it might be two people making a mistake on one play instead of it being one person. We'll always have mental mistakes whether it's our first year or tenth year in the offense."
The staff hopes Wright’s ascension continues Saturday against San Diego in his first live action against NFL competition.
“You love to see the ball skills, all that, but how do you perform under pressure?” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli asked rhetorically, referring to Wright. “So you want to have a trust factor that comes [from performing] under the bigger lights, so [you] can see how he functions within [the defensive] system. Once that starts happening, the big plays come.”
Wright appears to be on his way.
Running out of the Soldier Field tunnel last week to practice in front of the home crowd, Wright watched helplessly as adrenaline, brought on by more than 23,000 screaming fans, coursed through his body. Having been out most of the week because of a tweaked groin muscle, Wright fought the urge to lie to the training staff about his health.
The festive atmosphere at Solider Field stoked his competitive fire. Yet Wright – wisely -- didn't want to potentially sacrifice preseason games for one night of competing in front of the home crowd.
“It was definitely hard holding myself back from saying, ‘Oh, I want to go out there and play,’” Wright said. “That first time they went out there at Soldier Field, I wanted to get out there so bad. But I knew I couldn’t play because I just wasn’t ready. The trainers knew, too. So they just kind of guided me, helped me. I did a couple of things out there on the sideline like running and stuff. It was still hard for me to not be out there playing."
Wright returned to practice Sunday, and he almost immediately showcased the playmaking skills that generated the current buzz. Wright intercepted Dan LeFevour in the end zone Tuesday night during a red-zone drill, and he has rotated in with the starters since Monday, in part, because of injuries to Josh Bullocks (quadriceps) and starting strong safety Danieal Manning (hamstring).
Currently listed as a second-stringer on the club’s unofficial depth chart for Saturday’s game, Wright could make a serious play for more playing time -- potentially a starting role -- with his performance in the preseason opener.
“The depth chart will mean a little bit more after this game when we see the guys in game situations,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
The club believes Wright could remedy the takeover drought suffered by the club’s safeties in 2009. Five players at the position combined for only one interception and 14 pass breakups. The club was well aware of Wright’s prowess in run defense when they drafted him, but coaches have been pleasantly surprised with the rookie's knack for making plays against the pass.
“He’s doing good. He’s still a rookie, still makes rookie mistakes,” Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said. “But I think he’s gotten better every day. He learns every day, does a good job of taking notes in the meeting room. You can see improvement in him every day.”
Wright said he didn’t know whether he’d start against the Chargers, but admitted there’s more pressure to perform when he’s working with the first-team defense.
“It’s definitely a big difference because you don’t want to let your teammates down; guys like [linebacker Brian] Urlacher, [and defensive end] Julius Peppers. You don’t want to let those guys down,” Wright said.
Asked if he felt apprehension about working with the first team, Wright nonchalantly shrugged off the question.
“I’m not nervous. It’s the game of football,” he said. “I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo can't figure it out, either.
"I can't say specifically why [he hasn't been more productive since rookie season], because the guy works his tail off; great effort on game day," Angelo said Tuesday on "The Afternoon Saloon" on ESPN 1000. "He did do it his rookie year. He has great athleticism. The only thing I can say, and it's an opinion, I can't substantiate it, he presses. Maybe it's feel. Maybe the opponents saw something and figured something out. I can't really put a handle on it because it really is surprising to me, because he had that success.
"With the way he worked and that athleticism, usually you would say he would come close to that rookie year. But we're expecting and hoping to see a great year from him. It's more being able to finish a blocker when he gets up field. You have to have that little something, that little feel to make that little counter move, know when to pull the trigger. That's probably something he hasn't been consistent with or doing well enough."
In addition to speaking extensively about the fifth-year defensive end, Angelo delved into Brett Favre's retirement plans, Julius Peppers, and the pressure the organization faces in 2010 to produce a winner.
Angelo said, "I want to see it to believe it," when asked his thoughts on Favre. "It's still a long time before the season."
Regarding Peppers, Angelo said he doesn't "see any reason why he can't be the most dominant defensive lineman in the game this year. The expectations for him are very, very high. I'm looking for an MVP year out of Julius, and I would say if he were sitting here, he would say the same thing. The one thing that really impressed me about him personally is the way he worked in the offseason. He made every practice, the weight room, OTAs, whatever."
The organization enters a 2010 season in which it's believed that Angelo and Lovie Smith could be out of jobs if the club doesn't display marked improvement from last year's 7-9 finish. Angelo said the added pressure to produce a winner isn't keeping "anybody up later at night."
In fact, Angelo called it "great."
"Anybody can be average," Angelo said. "One thing I want to make sure to you and our fans , [is] you create the fear. Our focus is on the things we can control, the task at hand. The task at hand is winning the championship. We're not working any harder because of whatever the perception is of what we have to do. We know what we have to do. We're working hard at doing it, and we feel very good going into the season."
Angelo called quarterback Jay Cutler and offensive coordinator Mike Martz a pair that is "on a mission," adding that the marriage between the two has been close to ideal, in addition to touching on issues in the Bears' secondary.
Angelo said the club decided to switch cornerback Zack Bowman from the right side to the left side because Bowman "at this point is our most athletic corner." Bowman's move forced eight-year veteran Charles Tillman, who has started 94 of his 98 career at left cornerback, to the right side.
"Peanut's still a very good corner, and we have a lot of confidence in him. But Zack's done some very good things. We've all seen him do some things last year with interceptions. [The left side is] the cover position. That's the position where offenses go down field with the ball. We feel [Bowman] puts us in the best position to get those takeaways."
A: At this time of the year, the defense is always ahead of the offense. The mistakes witnessed on the practice field are more magnified during these offseason workouts because, to put it simply, the Bears are learning a brand new offense, while the defense has been playing in relatively the same system since 2004. I'm not saying you should enjoy reading about Cutler and Caleb Hanie throwing picks, but put it in the proper context. Wouldn't you rather see them tossing interceptions in May and June, rather then October and November? It would be foolish for any Bears fan to just assume the offense is going to work perfectly under Mike Martz, but give these guys a little time before coming to any drastic, negative conclusions about the direction of the offense.
As for Cutler, he's looked fine on the field. It's not like he is facing live action, so it's difficult to offer up an accurate evaluation of his decision making, but the guy can make every throw in the book. It's never been about talent with Cutler. The biggest issue: Will he continue to buy in to Martz and the new offense? So far, Cutler has been a new man in that department, working extremely well with his new offensive coordinator. If that continues, I expect a much better season from the starting quarterback in 2010.
Q: Jeff, I've seen you and other writers say Chris Harris is "better suited" to play strong safety. Please explain? -- Arie, Gurnee, Ill.
A: First of all, Harris publicly stated his preference to play strong safety during an interview with ESPN 1000 on the day of the trade. On top of that, there was genuine concern in Carolina that a previous knee injury robbed Harris of the speed and burst necessary to handle certain coverage assignments, which made him expendable from the Panthers' point of view. Taking all that into consideration, I think Harris can be a very good player for the Bears, because the defense sorely needs leadership at the safety position. Think of Harris as the quarterback of the defense, much like Mike Brown back in the day. It's important Harris remains on the field, but the Bears need to be careful they don't get exposed in coverage. I would not be surprised to see Danieal Manning and Harris periodically changing roles on the field, with Harris moving up into the box on certain plays. I've always taken issue with the whole "our safeties are interchangeable" philosophy, but this year, they better be -- at least if Harris and Manning remain starters.
Q: You keep mentioning the fact that Josh Beekman is taking reps exclusively at center. How has he looked at that position? Olin Kreutz only has a few years left in the league, so is it possible that Beekman could be the center-in-waiting, so to speak?-- Mike, College Station, Texas
A: Not to sound like a broken record, but without any live contact, it's tough to fairly judge any linemen during OTAs and minicamp. However, I think Beekman has a future at center if he stays with the Bears. Beekman is entering the final year of his original rookie contract, but with all the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement, it's unclear when he will actually reach free agency. If the Bears continue to hold his rights as a restricted free agent, then perhaps he sticks around long enough for Kreutz to retire. But if he somehow got cut loose, I think Beekman could certainly find a job at guard somewhere in the league. It would just have to be in the proper blocking system, one that places a premium on speed, pulling and cut blocks. Unfortunately for Beekman, it sounds like the Bears want a larger body to play left guard this season, decreasing his chances to fairly compete for the job in training camp.
Q: I've always admired Pisa Tinoisamoa, but all I'm hearing about is how Nick Roach is the starter unless Pisa can highly impress. Is this because Pisa has lost a step and doesn't bring what he did last year? -- Jake, Fontana Calif.
A: Jake, I really don't think that's the case. Roach is just a quality player, described by coaches as extremely quick and highly intelligent. In my opinion, the only knock against Roach the last two years was inexperience. He only played eight games his final year at Northwestern (2006), then had to wait almost two years before taking the field in a defensive capacity -- he played exclusively special teams at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. After starting 24 games the past two seasons, experience is no longer an issue. If Roach stays healthy, this should be the best of year of his NFL career. However, Tinoisamoa isn't going to simply roll over and concede anything to Roach. I've written this before: Strong side linebacker should be the best competition of training camp. But right now, Roach sits atop the depth chart because of his ability, not because Tinoisamoa has lost a step.
Q: What ever happened to the Bears' version of Adrian Peterson? Did he sign with somebody? -- Alexander T., Peoria, Ill.
A: Peterson remains a free agent after his contract with the Bears expired at the end of the 2009 season. It's probably just a matter of time before he gets another job, but his age and pay grade might be working against him. Running backs over 30 years old have a certain stigma attached to them, and Peterson turns 31 in early July. Plus, as an eight-year NFL veteran, Peterson's veteran minimum salary in 2010 would be substantially higher than a rookie or undrafted free agent back-up runner. Still, Peterson was always a solid special teams contributor, outstanding teammate, and talented change of pace running back. If he doesn't make a roster this year, then something's wrong with the system.