Chicago Bears: Tyler Eifert

Cutler-DaltonGetty ImagesChicago's Jay Cutler, left, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton lead their respective offenses against very stingy defenses.
Two strong defensive teams led by highly scrutinized quarterbacks in Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton set the scene for what should be a hotly-contested matchup between what are expected to be ascending clubs.

Marc Trestman makes his debut as an NFL head coach at Soldier Field on Sunday, leading a Bears team with plenty of roster turnover on offense, including a totally revamped line expected to better protect Cutler as he operates the club’s new scheme. That group will be tested by a Bengals defensive line, led by Geno Atkins, that accounted for 43 of the team’s franchise-record 51 sacks in 2012, and also paved the way for the defense to finish the season ranked No. 6 for fewest yards allowed.

Chicago’s defense in 2012 was even better, finishing fifth in net defense, third in scoring defense (17.3 points per game) and No. 2 in turnover differential while leading the NFL in interceptions (24) and total takeaways (44).

While home-field advantage can be key for teams, it's certainly been a factor in this series. The Bengals hold a 4-1 road record against the Bears and own a 6-3 series lead, which includes victories in their last outings (2005 and 2009).

Chicago hasn’t beaten the Bengals since 2001.

ESPN.com’s Matt Williamson and Bears team reporter Michael C. Wright discuss the matchup.

Wright: The Bears hope they fixed the offensive line with a combination of scheme (shorter drops for Cutler), beefed up protection with Jermon Bushrod at left tackle and a pair of draft picks in Kyle Long (first round) and Jordan Mills (fifth) at right guard and right tackle, and another weapon for Cutler to find down the middle of the field when he’s in trouble. But the inexperience of Long and Mills will be question marks against Cincinnati’s active defensive line.

It seems Cincinnati’s defense is built around Atkins, but how much of a factor are guys like Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson?

Williamson: Atkins is the foundation of the defense for sure and everyone thrives off his presence, but the Bengals have a lot invested in the defensive line now in terms of finances and draft picks. This is an extremely deep and talented group that makes the entire defense go. Dunlap might be a little underrated and Johnson a little overrated, but they form an impressive pair of defensive end. These three players, along with the rest of Cincinnati’s defensive front, will prove a very steep challenge for Chicago’s rebuilt offensive line in Week 1.

What can the Bengals’ defense expect from this new Trestman offense?

Wright: The Bears will utilize zone blocking in the running game, which should allow Matt Forte to pick his own holes. That should open up the passing game, where the Bears will use West Coast philosophies such as shorter routes and drops for Cutler so he can get rid of the ball quickly. Look for the Bears to also try to use Earl Bennett down the seams to exploit potential matchup problems, especially on traditional running downs where the Bengals might be using base personnel.

Speaking of the Bengals, they’ve made the playoffs in three of the last four years, but really haven’t made much noise. What are the expectations for this team now?

Williamson: Expectations must go up. They had yet another high-quality offseason and this team has an exceptional young core of players on both sides of the ball. They clearly play in a tough division, but going one-and-done in the playoffs yet again will not be considered a successful season in Cincinnati. I fear they will only go as far as their quarterback will take them. But Bengals fans have a lot to be excited about.

Do you think this Bears defense can defend A.J. Green?

Wright: They should be able to keep him from dominating the game. It’s likely the Bears match Charles Tillman up against Green, but if the receiver winds up in front of Tim Jennings, the team is confident he can get the job done, too. The Bears typically don’t double or shade coverage against players such as Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, so don’t count on seeing the Bears try that against Green. Cincinnati’s tight ends could be an issue now that they’ve got two good ones in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

With such a talented supporting cast, do you see Dalton as just a guy surrounded by weapons, or a blossoming young quarterback?

Williamson: He shows signs of blossoming into a solid young quarterback, and has been especially adept in the red zone, which is very noteworthy for a young quarterback. But I think he is more of the former. He is a limited passer who lacks great tools, and isn’t as accurate or on time with his throws as you would like for someone with his limitations. The Bengals knew this and landed two very “Dalton-friendly” receivers for him in Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Eifert should develop into an exceptional target in the middle of the field as well as the red zone, while Bernard provides an easy dump-off option for Dalton. With all the Bengals’ resources over the past two offseasons, it really surprises me that Cincinnati didn’t do more to challenge Dalton or greatly improve its backup quarterback spot.

Mel Kiper Jr. 2013 draft grades: NFC North

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
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Reading Mel Kiper Jr.'s grades Insider the morning after the draft is like a holiday tradition. No matter how much we all understand intuitively that it's impossible to project future success, we still want to know what the man who has spent three decades evaluating draft classes thinks of our favorite team's efforts.

You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire evaluation, but below is what I can sneak to you if you don't tell anyone:

Green Bay Packers

Mel's grade: B+

Kiper Jr. snippet: " I love what Green Bay got out of this draft, particularly at two spots -- defensive end and running back."

Seifert comment: The Packers really went after the running back position, drafting two backs -- Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin -- that many teams pegged as feature backs on their own. Franklin also hedges concerns about Lacy's durability. The Packers can feel confident that at least one of them will make an impact on 2013. Defensive end Datone Jones is a different-looking player than what the Packers currently have at the position, and fits into the league's trend toward longer and leaner even for 3-4 ends.

Minnesota Vikings

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "Hey, they got starters, but they needed to add impact in this draft considering they dealt [Percy] Harvin and had a few pretty big needs."

Seifert comment: A good portion of evaluating this draft will come down to whether receiver Cordarrelle Patterson pans out. The Vikings gave up their chance to draft a starting-caliber middle linebacker, among other things, by trading back up into the first round to draft him. The Harvin trade was a big motivator. Kiper really thought the Vikings needed to get linebacker Manti Te'o; I just thought they needed someone at that position. Seventh-round draft pick Michael Mauti could be a factor if he can recover from a third torn ACL. Regardless, three first-round draft choices give the Vikings a good chance at a high-impact draft.

Detroit Lions

Mel's grade: B

Kiper Jr. snippet: "The pivot point for how we see this draft in three years will be [Ezekiel] Ansah. If he's great, then it looks good. If he's not, and Dee Milliner thrives with the Jets, fans will wonder."

Seifert comment: It would be disappointing if the Lions didn't get at least two functional starters out of their first three picks. It doesn't matter who is on the field for the first play of the game, but you would like to see Ansah get as many snaps as he can for development purposes. Cornerback Darius Slay should compete with Bill Bentley to start opposite Chris Houston and, at worst, play in nickel situations that comprise more than half of most team's defensive snaps. And third-round guard Larry Warford should push hard for the right guard spot.

Chicago Bears

Mel's grade: C+

Kiper Jr. snippet: "My issue with [Kyle] Long isn't that he's short on talent -- he's not. I just wasn't in love with the value."

Seifert comment: We'll never know if the Bears would have been better off trading down to grab Long later or waiting until the second round. Kiper Jr. didn't like the decision and thought tight end Tyler Eifert would have been a better choice. I'm stuck here, because we all know how much help the Bears' offensive line needs. Solidifying an interior spot, if that's what Long does, will help quarterback Jay Cutler in a measureable way. That's no different in the big picture than what Eifert could do. We all can agree, however, that the Bears upgraded their linebacker depth significantly with Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.

Related: For fun, here are Kiper Jr.s NFC North grades for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts.

Bears: Another tight end?

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
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Let's review the timeline while we have a moment.

In January, general manager Phil Emery admits the Chicago Bears need to improve their mid-range passing game, an area often reserved for tight ends.

Hours after the free-agent market opens in March, the Bears sign veteran tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year contract. Veteran Steve Maneri, meanwhile, signs a one-year contract.

As the April 25 draft approaches, a number of respected mock drafters -- including ESPN's Todd McShay and the Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei -- predict the Bears will make Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert the No. 20 overall pick of the draft. Meanwhile, Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com reports the Bears have genuine interest in Stanford tight end Zach Ertz.

So what's going on here? Have the mock drafters forgotten about Bennett and Maneri? Do they really think the Bears would use one of their five draft picks to further stock the tight end position when more pressing short- and long-term needs exist at other positions?

Here's what I can tell you: The Bears aren't just working back from a deficit at the position. Statistically speaking, at least, they had one of the worst tight end situations in the NFL last season. As the chart shows, Bears tight ends had the NFL's lowest production in terms of receptions. Only two teams targeted their tight ends fewer times than the Bears.

Can Bennett alone spark a turnaround? (Maneri is generally considered a blocking tight end.) That might be a lot of pressure to put on one player who has caught more than 20 passes in only two of his five seasons. And it's worth noting that Bennett's contract, ostensibly worth $20.4 million, is probably better viewed as a one-year deal worth $5.315 million. Bennett's 2014 salary includes $4 million guaranteed for injury only, which means the Bears could release him if he is healthy after the 2013 season without owing him more money. (It will be guaranteed for skill as well as injury if he is on the roster on the third day of the 2014 league year.)

I don't think you could argue that tight end is the Bears' top need entering the draft. On the other hand, everything must be viewed in context. The Bears' pick at No. 20 overall puts them in good position to select the best tight end in the draft. Indeed, over the past 10 drafts, 10 tight ends have been selected in the first round. Only two, Vernon Davis in 2006 and Kellen Winslow in 2004, were selected higher than No. 20.

Pass-catching tight ends are a requirement in modern-day NFL offenses, and last year the Bears didn't have one. If they are serious about making it a strength of their offense, perhaps they do need more than one.

Bears draft preview: Tight end

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
4:07
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Tyler EifertCal Sport Media/AP ImagesTyler Eifert, the top tight end in the draft, might be hard for the Bears to pass up if he is still there at No. 20.
ESPNChicago.com continues its daily Bears draft preview series with a look at the tight ends.

The acquisition of veteran Martellus Bennett in free agency should have alleviated the need to add a tight end in the upcoming draft, but apparently the Chicago Bears might not stop there, judging from their interest in Stanford's Zach Ertz.

According to sources, the team is genuinely interested in Ertz as a second tight end. So, if there's interest in Ertz from the Bears, the club is surely also eyeing the draft's top prospect: Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame.

"Obviously, you see the Patriots with the two tight ends and how they utilize that," Eifert said. "An offense like that would be beneficial to me personally. I'm lucky to be coming in at a time where the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit in the passing game, but (I'm) also a guy that can stay in the game on every down and can also block (and) create matchup problems in the passing game."

With the roles of tight ends expanding around the NFL, and many teams utilizing more two tight end formations to exploit matchups in passing and running situations, it makes sense the Bears would consider adding another vertical threat to the equation. But would the Bears do that at the peril of not filling other perceived needs at linebacker, defensive tackle and along the offensive line?

It's a possibility, given the emphasis of the team to add an impact player, regardless of position.

"Last year we were in a very similar spot, and we had about seven players on the board that we felt good about, and we took one of them. I'm assuming now working through this process that that number will probably be seven to 10 that we feel good about," Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "We'll find the best player that can help us win now; the one that has the biggest impact now."

The next 10: 11. Joseph Fauria, UCLA, 6-7, 259; 12. Matt Furstenburg, Maryland, 6-3, 242; 13. Nick Kasa, Colorado, 6-6, 269; 14. Jake Stoneburger, Ohio State, 6-3, 252; 15. Mychal Rivera, Tennessee, 6-3, 242; 16. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota, 6-3, 240; 17. Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard, 6-1, 248; 18. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky, 6-5, 254; 19. Justice Cunningham, South Carolina, 6-2, 258; 20. D.C. Jefferson, Rutgers, 6-6, 255.

Position grade: C+

Analysis: Bennett's presence makes it less likely the Bears will use their first-round pick on a tight end, but Emery hasn't built a long enough track record to indicate whether he'll go against the conventional thought of adding a player at a position of need. New Bears tight ends coach Andy Bischoff has been vocal about the changing nature of the tight end position, and the need for the club to add a dynamic player at the position that can exploit defenses all over the field. Eifert and Ertz possess those qualities. Certainly, the Bears will be in the position at 20 to draft one of them. The club could also explore the possibility of moving back to a position late in the first round or early second, where they could still land a player such as Ertz. According to sources, at least one tight end is among the seven to 10 prospects the club is considering with its first-round selection.

Irish's Eifert could fit Bears needs at TE

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert is exactly the type of player the Chicago Bears are missing on offense.

Checking in at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Eifert’s greatest strength is his ability to use his size and speed from the tight end position to create mismatches downfield in the passing game. With 140 catches for 1,840 yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons for the Fighting Irish, Eifert might be the closest thing to Jimmy Graham or Aaron Hernandez in the 2013 NFL draft.

(Read full post)

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