Chicago Bears: Jon Bostic
1. Relax, it’s the preseason: Emotions run high for NFL fans no matter what time of the year. But preseason games don’t count for a reason. No, the Bears defense did not look particularly sharp in the first quarter as Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne guided the Jacksonville offense down the field with relative ease on multiple occasions. But again, it’s the preseason. As defensive end Jared Allen put it: “Look, this was an ugly game. But if we win this game in the regular season, we’re loving it, because you have to learn how to win ugly games. Better to have this stuff happen now as opposed to the regular season.” In 2010, the Bears’ defense couldn’t stop a soul in the preseason. That year seemed to work out pretty well for the team, if I remember correctly.
2. Bears lose valuable piece on offense: Now, when a key player is injured in the preseason that is an important development. Tight end Zach Miller was having an outstanding summer before he suffered what sounds like a serious foot injury Thursday night. Too bad. After Martellus Bennett, Miller had emerged as the next best threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Miller will be missed.
3. Jon Bostic flashes in run defense: When Bostic eventually puts it all together; he’s going to be a good NFL player. Bostic blasted Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 in the first quarter, in the process demolishing the Jacksonville offensive lineman that stood in his way. You can’t teach speed, and Bostic has an abundance of it. Say what you want about Bostic’s struggles last year, and there were plenty of them, the linebacker has showed the ability to make plays. Sure, Bostic needs to even out his game and improve on the mental aspects of playing linebacker, but his athleticism is off the charts.
4. Rookie punter looks tough to beat: Pat O’Donnell had a decent night versus the Jaguars. He had a 48.7 average and 48.3 yard net average on three punts with a long of 57 yards that happened when the Jacksonville return man slipped and fell down allowing the ball to roll. Tress Way also booted a 54-yard punt, but averaged 43.3 yards per kick with a 40.0 net average. Kind of seems like O’Donnell -- while not as consistent as he needs to be -- makes fewer fatal mistakes over the course of a game. The Bears probably have a higher level of trust in O’Donnell at this stage of the competition.
5. Return woes apparent: Say what you want about Devin Hester, the Bears never had a kick return controversy in the preseason. Some fans acted pleased when Hester left for Atlanta in the offseason, but there is a major void in the return game. Eric Weems has done little to impress in that phase of special teams (Weems remains excellent in coverage), and Chris Williams has been out with a hamstring injury. The Bears better have something else up their sleeve.
“It’s slowed down a lot for me this year,” Greene said. “I’m seeing stuff quicker. I’m being able to just be a natural football player and just use my instincts to react. The game definitely has slowed down. It’s fun now. I’m not overthinking it.
“The older guys always say that it will slow down once you get a grasp of the playbook and learn how to start studying opponents. Guys say those skills come with age and from the experience of doing it. I feel like from last year to this year, I’ve made a big jump as far as the game slowing down. I’m now able to read and react.”
The jury is still out regarding the number of linebackers the Bears plan to keep on the 53-man roster. With Briggs and Bostic already locks to make the team, the remaining linebacker spots are between D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn, Christian Jones, Jerry Franklin and Greene.
It will be interesting to see which players are pushed out if the Bears decide to keep six at the position.
Williams and McClellin appear safe if they stay healthy, but the picture is cloudy after the top four.
Greene figures to be intriguing because he has value on special teams where he recorded two tackles last year, in addition to defense. Senn is a core special-teamer, but isn’t considered much of a contributor at linebacker. The 6-foot-3 Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, had a rough game versus the Eagles, but performed well the first couple weeks of camp. Perhaps the potential upside of Jones proves too irresistible to resist if the rookie can be trusted on special teams. And Franklin, who also received increased reps in Monday's practice, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Bears, recording eight tackles.
Limited by the injury the last two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs), Palmer had full participation in the Bears' first of three mandatory minicamp workouts held on Tuesday, but he seemed to struggle with his accuracy at times, although Palmer reported no issues with his shoulder when he spoke with reporters after the practice.
"I felt great," Palmer said. "It was good to be back in the mix. I thought we had a pretty good practice today. [There wasn't] too much [rust]. It's still football. We're still wearing shorts and T-shirts, but it was good to be back out there with the guys."
Clausen signed a one-year deal with the Bears on June 7.
"I watched Jimmy when he was at Notre Dame," Cutler said. "Liked him. He was in a tough situation out there in Carolina. Offensive line was pretty rough; he was getting hit a lot. The system turned over on him. He throws the ball well. I didn't have any input on bringing him here, though. Once he did get here, though, he was in the quarterback room over the weekend three straight days grinding way, trying to figure out this offense. He was peppering me and David Fales, [quarterbacks coach] Matt Cavanaugh, all questions. So he's been working hard. I think he likes the opportunity he has here. He's a little bit humbled going through the experience of being on the streets and getting picked up again. He's got a good attitude. Training camp and preseason, we'll see how it works out."
Clausen's first task is sticking on the roster long enough to report to training camp with the club on July 24. But the odds of that happening seem promising. However, with five quarterbacks currently under contract, the Bears are likely to jettison at least one reserve quarterback in the coming weeks.
"I don't know if that's ever happened [going to camp with five quarterbacks], not in the times I've coached the position," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "These next two days are certainly critical; we've got to continue to analyze the situation. It would be hard to, we need legs at camp, but we'll see. We'll make that decision, and we don't even have to make that decision this week, we'll make it before the start of training camp. I think we've got five viable guys. You take Jay out of it and we've got four guys that are really competing hard and all have the requisite skill set to play in the National Football League, we've just got to continue to watch it and see how it unfolds."
Here are other observations from the Bears' opening minicamp practice:
• The Bears rested starting right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) after the second-year offensive lineman returned from offseason surgery in May to participate in OTAs. Mills called his absence "precautionary," but wasn't sure if he'd practice on Wednesday or Thursday before the team breaks for the summer.
"It's just a little precaution, nothing major," Mills said. "I'm 100 percent. I was kind of mad I couldn't go out there and practice today with them but the trainers know best. They just wanted to rest my foot a little bit.
• Safety Chris Conte, linebacker Khaseem Greene and defensive tackle Will Sutton were all excused for "family reasons" according to Trestman. Matt Slauson (shoulder) was present but continued to sit out. Safety Craig Steltz took part in certain individual drills as he recovers from an offseason leg issue.
• Veteran Kelvin Hayden was the Bears' fourth cornerback when the team went to its dime package on defense.
• Trestman called D.J. Williams "the lead dog" at middle linebacker, but 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic took reps with the first team at linebacker in the nickel package, and could definitely still challenge for the open outside linebacker spot if Williams manages to stay healthy and solidifies the middle in the club's base defense.
• Safety Ryan Mundy dropped an easy pick when a Cutler pass sailed off its mark close to the right hash.
• Linebackers Jerry Franklin and Christian Jones saw action with the No. 2 group. Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, has opened some eyes in the offseason program.
• With Mills out, Michael Ola spent time at right tackle with the starters. Brian de la Puente continued to take reps at left guard.
• Converted running back Jordan Lynch ran a wheel route out of the backfield and caught a diving touchdown pass from Johnson late in the session.
• Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller broke up a pair of passes in team drills.
• Brandon Marshall burned Tim Jennings for a long touchdown reception. On the play, the Bears had speedster Chris Williams lined up in the slot.
• The Bears invited numerous NFL player agents to Halas Hall on Tuesday to watch practice inside the Walter Payton Center. Agents are frequently spotted catching up with their clients at training camp, but rarely are large groups of agents permitted to observe a workout held at the team's facility.
"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.
"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."
Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.
Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:
• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.
• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.
• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.
• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.
• Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.
• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.
• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.
• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.
• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.
"He looks like an extra from a Dolph Lundgren movie, doesn't he?" Emery said. "He's looking good, looking trim and fit."
McClellin moved out to California for 12 weeks in the offseason to train with veteran performance coach Scot Prohaska where he dropped 11 pounds and reduced his body fat by eight percent. He reported to Halas Hall for the start of the offseason program two weeks ago at 252 pounds and 10 percent body fat.
"To be honest with you, I have never expected anything less than Shea and Shea was in tremendous shape when he came here last summer," Emery said. "Shea is a hard gainer in terms of putting weight on. And obviously we've put him in two different directions. Up and through the end of the season it was at defensive end. And to his knowledge he was a defensive end until we hired the rest of our defensive staff at the very last week of January.
The moment that we notified him that, hey, we're moving him to linebacker, he found the right person, he moved out to California and he attacked it with vigor. And that's what I would have expected out of Shea. And the end result of what he looks like is because of his efforts."
However, McClellin has not been promised a starting job at strong side linebacker. McClellin and fellow linebackers D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will have to compete for the two open linebacker spots next to perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.
"We're counting on him being part of that mix at linebacker and competing for the job. Nobody is going to be given a job; it's a full-on mix. The only person we've told has a job --the room has been told that -- is Lance Briggs. The rest of it is the best player wins."
While 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker as a rookie, Bears general manager Phil Emery has hinted on multiple occasions that Bostic may be better suited to one day move to outside linebacker.
“Maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability,” Emery told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” last December.
Khaseem Greene, a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, replaced Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker for seven games last year and seems earmarked for a role on special teams in 2014, unless the Bears suffer another rash of injuries at the position.
Former first-round pick Shea McClellin is expected to transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker.
So if the Bears are serious about potentially moving Bostic outside in the near future, the team needs to find help at inside linebacker, possibly in this draft.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2014 draft class and could be available when the Bears pick at No. 14 overall in the first round. But with greater needs at safety, cornerback and defensive tackle, the Bears could wait until the middle rounds to address linebacker.
If that is the route the Bears decide to go, Monday is an important day because Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is scheduled to hold a private pro day and run in front of scouts and NFL personnel people for the first time in the offseason. Skov, who declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, pulled a hamstring before Stanford’s pro day that kept him sidelined. He also did not run the 40 yard dash in February at the NFL combine.
Skov has dealt with injuries throughout his college career, but the 6-foot-2, 245 pounder finished last season with better overall numbers than many of the other highly rated linebackers in the class of 2014, including Mosley.
Skov recorded 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2013.
Another mid-round linebacker that could make sense for the Bears is Louisville’s Preston Brown, who began his college career at strong side linebacker before moving to the middle where he led the Cardinals in tackles back-to-back seasons. He had 98 stops, five sacks and 14 tackles for loss for Louisville last year.
“Moving to the middle taught me how to take control of the whole defense,” Brown said. “When you’re on the outside, you line up more at the line of scrimmage. In the middle, you sit back five yards and have to study what’s going on and make sure everybody is in the right place. You have to know everybody’s job.
"When you play Mike linebacker, you have to study a ton and learn the different shifts and formations. You have to be dialed in every snap, every game, because if you miss a check that could result in the other team scoring a touchdown. [Intelligence] is so important when you play middle linebacker.”
Brown has strong ties to new Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who served as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator from 2010-13.
“I love Coach Hurtt and he was one of my favorite coaches on the staff,” Brown said. “I would meet with him at least once a week and watch the run game and pick up some pass-rush moves from him. You could always talk to him if you had a problem. He was one of my favorite coaches.”
Five potential targets
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Shayne Skov, Stanford
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Preston Brown, Louisville
5. Max Bullough, Michigan State
The next five: 6. Avery Williamson, Kentucky; 7. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut; 8. Khairi Fortt, California; 9. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida; 10. Glenn Carson, Penn State.
Position grade: B
With one full-season under his belt, general manager Phil Emery took on the task of rebuilding the offensive line, while inserting youth into an aging defense that would be playing under a new head coach for the first time since 2004.
First-round pick: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
Number of picks: 6
How they did: Above average. Four of the six members of the 2013 draft class cracked the starting lineup last season, with Long and fifth-round choice Jordan Mills starting all 16 regular-season games. Bostic was thrown into the fire after veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams suffered a season-ending injury, and Greene had the unenviable task of attempting to replace perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed seven games because of a shoulder issue. Seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson played sparingly as a rookie, but is expected to have a much larger role in the offense as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2014. Cornelius Washington, a sixth-round defensive end out of Georgia, spent the bulk of the season on the inactive list.
Best pick: Long. When respected team captain and veteran center Roberto Garza calls it quits, Long will take over the leadership of the offensive line and be one of the key voices in the locker room. Although Long prefers not to talk about himself, he has a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. But what makes this such a great pick is that Long was a relative unknown coming out of Oregon, where he started just a handful of games. It takes guts to select a player at No. 20 overall who played only one year of major college football. Yet, the Bears did their homework, stood by their convictions, and were rewarded with likely the club’s best first-round pick since Tommie Harris in 2004.
Worst pick: Washington. But to be fair, he’s only been in the NFL for one season. There is a chance he improves his technique in the offseason and learns how to use his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage. Washington never really had a permanent position at Georgia, so he is considered raw. Obviously, the Bears did not feel comfortable enough to use Washington last season as a rookie even though the club badly needed help up front on the defensive line. With the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije, it will be tough for Washington to make an impact, or even to make the team in 2014. But it’s never wise to give up on a young player after just one season. Let’s see how it plays out for Washington when the team officially begins its offseason program on April 22.
"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."
After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.
"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].
"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."
The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.
The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.
While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).
"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."
Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.
Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.
"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."
Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.
"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."
Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.
Stats: Anderson became the first Bears player other than Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to lead the team in tackles since Barry Minter in 1999. The eight-year NFL veteran made 129.5 tackles and a career-best four sacks. Anderson registered 7.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, 10 quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.
The good: Anderson began the season with tackles for loss in three of the first five games. He meshed well with Briggs and Williams. Anderson’s four sacks tied for second on the team with Shea McClellin. The linebacker recorded a minimum of 10 tackles in six different games. Anderson’s even-keeled personality seemed to play well in the locker room with his teammates. His production (129.5 tackles) exceeded the modest one-year deal he signed in free agency. Anderson stayed healthy for the entire year.
The bad: Because of his lack of familiarity and experience within this particular defensive scheme, Anderson was unable to offer much assistance to rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene when the two rookies were obviously struggling to be in the correct spot after being pressed into action. Despite Anderson’s impressive statistics, he was part of one of the worst run defenses and front-sevens in Bears’ history.
2014 role: Unknown. Anderson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He is probably seeking a multiyear deal after taking a one-year contract to join the Bears. Anderson was not part of the group of players the Bears re-signed at the conclusion of the regular season. The market could dictate whether Anderson returns to Chicago.
The good: From a physical standpoint, Bostic proved that he belongs at the NFL level. Bostic can run. He had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of all the linebackers at the 2013 NFL combine, and can use that speed to chase plays down from the backside. Bostic can also deliver a hard hit. Bears general manager Phil Emery labeled Bostic the club’s second-best “striker” behind Briggs, a perennial Pro Bowler on the weak side. One of Bostic’s top plays in 2013 occurred in the Bears’ November win over the Baltimore Ravens when the first-year linebacker sunk back in coverage in the middle of the field and intercepted a pass. That sequence reminded many of how retired ex-Bears’ middle linebacker Brian Urlacher used to cut off the deep middle of the field with his uncanny speed and athleticism for 13 years.
The bad: From a mental standpoint, Bostic played like a rookie. He often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Bears had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, especially versus the run. When that happens, the linebackers usually assume a good chunk of the blame. After the Bears suffered many of their key injuries, it became commonplace for opposing ball carriers to reach the Bears’ secondary without even being touched, with many of those long runs coming right up the middle of the defense. The Bears allowed 2,583 rushing yards in 2013, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
Looking ahead: According to Emery, Bostic’s best chance for success in the future might be at outside linebacker. If the Bears re-sign Williams in free agency, there is a chance Bostic could move to strongside linebacker in 2014, with Williams in the middle and Briggs on the weak side. Shea McClellin may also figure into the mix at linebacker depending on the kind of front the Bears show opponents in a given package, but Bostic is a pure linebacker and needs to be on the field in some capacity. Best-case scenario is that Bostic learns from his rookie mistakes, and because of his speed and athleticism becomes a more complete, and consistent player in 2014. Bostic always seemed to have a good attitude and appeared to be well liked by his teammates in the locker room. The future does seem promising, but the Bears will expect Bostic to cut down on the amount of mental mistakes in his second NFL season.
The good: Before suffering a minor shoulder fracture that forced him to miss seven games, veteran weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was in the midst of another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Despite sitting out almost the entire preseason due to a calf strain, Williams appeared to be stabilizing the position until he went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 18. Anderson led the Bears with 129.5 tackles. Rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic, forced into the starting lineup because of all the injuries, had a solid game versus the Baltimore Ravens in November with eight tackles and one key interception. He could be an outside linebacker in 2014. Costanzo topped the Bears with 17 special-teams tackles.
The bad: Obviously, the injuries to Williams and Briggs really hurt, especially after the Bears decided to let veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach leave the previous offseason. Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene predictably struggled on occasion when pressed into action as first-year players. The Bears' linebackers were often in the wrong place and out of their gaps, which played a role in the team having the worst run defense in the NFL. Even when Briggs returned late in the season, he was never the same.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Briggs has one year left on his current contract and is scheduled to count $6.5 million against the cap. The Bears really need a big year out of Briggs, so hopefully whatever unhappiness still lingers from the firing of Lovie Smith can be put aside for the greater good of the team. The last thing the Bears need is for Briggs’ contract to become a distraction in the offseason since the club has so many other holes to fill on defense. Bostic and Greene are locked in for the foreseeable future with cap hits below $1 million next year. Williams appears to be a prime candidate to return at another veteran minimum/incentive laden deal.
Draft priority: Moderate. Even with the selections of Bostic and Greene last year and the possible addition of Shea McClellin to the room in 2014, the Bears shouldn’t pass up a talented linebacker in the mid-to-late rounds if one remains on the board. There is a chance Costanzo leaves in free agency, meaning the Bears could have a large hole on their coverage teams. Bottom line: There is always value in selecting a good linebacker, especially given the ages/contractual statuses of Briggs, Williams and Anderson.
Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Adrian Peterson and the Vikings will run for at least 275 yards against the Bears on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson:Fiction. If the Bears fail to stack the box with a minimum of eight defenders on every snap with the exception of third-and-long, then fire the entire coaching staff immediately after the game. The Vikings and Peterson are the NFL's 11th-best rushing offense (122.5) and the 25th overall passing offense (207.0). Make them throw to win. Last I checked, the Bears still do a decent job in the secondary defending the pass (No. 13), but are No. 32 out of 32 teams when it comes to run defense (145.2). If Minnesota tops 275 yards on the ground Sunday, there needs to be a formal investigation.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Peterson won't get a yard over 255. Seriously, the Bears, who have given up 123-plus rushing yards in six straight games (258 last week), will need to do some serious scheming to keep Peterson from winning this game. They've had some success in the past, but they just don't have the players. When your defensive line is Julius Peppers, projects and waiver-wire guys and your linebackers are two-thirds rookies, it's tough enough. But then you have breakdowns in gap discipline and, well, it's going to be a long day. Still, under 275.
Fact or Fiction: Chris Conte will be a Bear in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I understand the frustration over the safety position, but what Conte needs is competition, not to be flat-out released at the end of the season. Major Wright is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason so if he finds a team willing to pay more on the open market, let him go. But Conte's salary-cap number for 2014 is only $788,400. That's a reasonable figure for a player who will be 25 next year with roughly 40 career starts. Conte has made his share of mistakes this season, but his struggles have been magnified by the awful performance of the front seven. Were fans screaming about Conte last season when Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Lance Briggs were the three starting linebackers? That doesn't excuse the errors or poor angles, but Conte can be an effective free safety. However, I would strongly advocate the Bears have Conte compete for his job next summer. As we've written before, competition brings out the best in everybody.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears should have two new safeties. Look at how Phil Emery handled the offensive line this year. No more chances, no more "developing" the tackles of the "future." Just get rid of them and move on. The Bears' brain trust will say the right things now to boost up Conte and Wright, but I'm guessing we'll see a very different defense.
Fact or Fiction: Jon Bostic has shown enough to warrant a starting job in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I put Bostic in the same boat as Conte. Bostic is clearly part of the Bears' future, being a 2013 second-round draft choice, but to simply hand him a starting job next season seems a tad premature. To put it nicely, Bostic has not played particularly well the past couple of weeks. Maybe if he closes the season out on a strong note, the Bears will feel better about handing him the job next year. But I'd make him earn it. However, this is the NFL, and the trend in the league is hand high-draft picks starting jobs, even if they don't deserve them. So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Bears go that route with Bostic.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Though you wonder if he'll be in the middle. The Bears need wholesale changes on defense, but Bostic will be one of the few holdovers. He's been thrust into a difficult position, especially with the defensive line turnover, but he has the spark and he has the IQ to be a starter.
Fact or Fiction: Julius Peppers is playing his final season as a Bear.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Peppers seems like a goner unless he agrees to take a drastic reduction in pay in 2014. The Bears can't afford to carry a player on the 53-man roster with a projected cap hit of $18,183,333 unless that player is a franchise quarterback. Peppers has shown the ability to still have good games from time to time, but he is no longer one of the NFL's premiere pass-rushers. If you can no longer get to the quarterback, then you can no longer cash the really big checks. For a couple million dollars, I'd bring Peppers back for another season. But not for the $14 million he's scheduled to earn in 2014 under his current deal.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. His cap number is more than $18 million next season. Peppers has already had his contract restructured twice, but I wouldn't count on a third time. Peppers was a good signing, and he still his moments but the Bears need depth. It's best to use that money elsewhere. But hey, if he wants to play for a lot less money, I'm sure the Bears would be up to re-sign him. I just don't see it happening.
1. The Josh McCown story keeps getting better: We are witness to a truly remarkable NFL story. Just when you think McCown is about to fall back to reality, he goes out and posts a 92.9 quarterback rating against a tough Ravens defense. McCown has now attempted 101 passes without throwing a single interception. Do you realize how difficult that is to do for a backup quarterback in the NFL? Once again, McCown delivered with the game on the line, firing a strike to tight end Martellus Bennett for 43 yards that set up the game-winning Robbie Gould field goal. McCown is now 2-0 with a 100.0 quarterback rating in four appearances. Jay Cutler is the Bears’ clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, but there is absolutely no need for him to rush back from his high-ankle sprain before he’s ready. McCown has it under control.
2. The Bears are suddenly right back in the mix: Such is life in the week-to-week NFL. The Bears’ locker room was full of despair last week after their second loss of the season to the Detroit Lions that effectively put the Bears two games behind Detroit in the NFC North standings. But fast-forward seven days and the Bears are neck and neck with the Lions at 6-4 (Detroit still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker) following the exciting overtime win against the Ravens and Detroit’s disappointing defeat in Pittsburgh. Plus, Green Bay dropped to 5-5 with a loss to the New York Giants. With winnable games on the horizon versus the St. Louis Rams (4-6) and Minnesota Vikings (2-8), the Bears are poised to stay in contention for the foreseeable future. Of course, the vibe of the season could change again if the Bears are upset Sunday in St. Louis, but that’s what makes the NFL so great. With only a handful of elite teams, the second-tier outfits usually keep their fans interested until the bitter end.
3. Rookies deliver on defense: There are still gaping holes in the Bears’ run defense -- Baltimore rushed for 174 yards and one touchdown -- but the play of rookies Jon Bostic and David Bass can be best described as encouraging. Bass came up with the defensive play of the game when he managed to avoid a cut block and leapt into the air to intercept a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and return it for a touchdown. That sequence proved to be a turning point in the game for the Bears. Bostic later showcased his athleticism and speed by dropping into the middle of the field and snaring a Flacco throw for a big interception. Although the jury is still out on some of the Bears’ recent defensive draft picks, it was enjoyable to see a couple first-year players contribute to the victory.
4. Never a doubt with Gould: Despite the horrible weather conditions on Sunday, Gould went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, including the 38-yard game winner in overtime. Kicking at Soldier Field is not easy, but Gould has mastered the art better than almost anybody in the history of the franchise, with the exception of Kevin Butler. However, if Gould receives a new deal from the club in the offseason, he will eventually break all of Butler’s team kicking records. Gould is 19-of-20 on field goal attempt this season. As the weather continues to change and the games get closer as the season wears on, Bears fans will appreciate Gould more than ever. When called upon, Gould almost always comes through in the clutch.
5. Soldier Field workers deal with adversity: Soldier Field takes its share of abuse because of the grass playing surface, but the stadium workers responsible for evacuating the crowd during the weather delay deserve kudos. It is not easy to evacuate 60,000 people from their seats in a short period of time, but, from my vantage point, the workers got most of the stadium cleared before the really bad weather rolled in on Sunday. Now, I obviously cannot speak for what happened when the fans reached the covered areas of the concourses, but given the serious nature of the weather we experienced in the Chicagoland area, I thought the Soldier Field staff did its best to keep the paying customers as safe as possible. There was an issue in the upper deck on the northwest corner of the stadium, but that appeared to be more of a problem with the design of the stadium, not the effort or approach by the security guards charged with the task of getting fans to shelter. And, finally, the security guards tackled a Ravens fan who rushed onto the field during the delay. It was a good effort all around.
Week 11 Report Card: Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Bears did an OK job on the ground versus a physical Ravens defensive front that played without starting nose tackle Haloti Ngata (inactive). Matt Forte carried the ball 18 times for 83 yards, and the Alshon Jeffery end around, a staple in the Bears' offense, gained 17 yards on three attempts. Considering the opposition, the Bears shouldn't be ashamed by their hard-earned 104 rushing yards.
Taking into account the conditions on Sunday, Josh McCown's 216 passing yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions -- 92.9 quarterback rating -- look impressive on paper. McCown stepped up in overtime and delivered a 43-yard strike to Martellus Bennett that set up the eventual game-winning field goal. The veteran backup continues to display a knack for protecting the football. McCown hasn't tossed a single interception in 101 pass attempts on the season, and his poise in the pocket on Sunday was a major reason the Bears were victorious.
Baltimore entered the game averaging 73 rushing yards per contest but found success on the ground versus the Bears to the tune of 174 yards. Ray Rice, written off by many for his below-average play in 2013, carried the ball 25 times for 131 yards and one touchdown. One of the few saving graces for the Bears' defense was their goal-line stand at the end of regulation that forced the Ravens to kick a field goal and extend the game to overtime. But the rushing defense continues to be a serious problem for the Bears.
The Bears limited Joe Flacco to just 17-of-31 for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The middle of the field was open for much of the game but rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic did pick off Flacco down the middle of the field, while David Bass snared a Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown. The Bears also sacked Flacco three times -- Julius Peppers with two and Cheta Ozougwu with one. The Ravens' longest pass play went for 17 yards.
Robbie Gould is the master of the Soldier Field kicking conditions, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts despite the swirling winds. Adam Podlesh pinned Baltimore inside the 20 on two of his six kicks. The Ravens did little in their return game. A couple special teams penalties did hurt the Bears.
In hindsight, Marc Trestman probably needed to use his timeouts on the Ravens' final drive of regulation. That decision would have cost the Bears if the defense hadn't kept the Ravens out of the end zone and forced them to kick a game-tying field goal. But Trestman dealt with the long weather delay to the best of his abilities, and he had his team ready to play when it returned to the field. The Bears could have easily gone in the tank after the loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 10, but Trestman's group responded with a win that likely saved its season.
Coming into Monday night's game McClellin had 3 career sacks, before matching that number against the Packers.
More ribbing: Rookie middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic sports a long goatee, and as he stood in front of his locker, fellow rookie Kyle Long joked about the facial hair being made of Velcro.
Meanwhile veteran linebacker James Anderson said Bostic played well “by the hair on his chinny chin chin.”
Bostic finished the game with four tackles, and spent some time after the game speaking with Anderson in depth about how to defeat blocks from centers. Anderson to Bostic explained the importance of attacking the edge of the blocker as opposed to striking him down the middle.
Emery makes the rounds: General manager Phil Emery could be heard saying “it feels good” as he walked through a celebratory locker room patting players on the back headed toward the team's buses.
It's your birthday: Cornerback Tim Jennings strolled through the locker room and alerted anybody within earshot about the 31st birthday of return man Devin Hester. Jennings said he bought Hester a watch for his birthday, and later joked, “Yeah, right.”
Hester racked up 113 return yards on four kickoffs and a punt return. Hester's longest return of the day was a 29-yard kickoff return.