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Bears mailbag: Running back options, the offensive line and much more

Now that the smoke has settled from the NFL draft and the roster is at 90, we’ll dive deeper to answer your questions as well enter the long wait before the start of training camp.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

We are a little over a week and a half past the 2020 NFL draft and last week saw the Bears make some of their final finishing touches to their 90-man roster before they (hopefully) start training camp in late July. Among those moves were the signings of veterans Ted Ginn Jr. and Tashaun Gipson Sr.

With the Chicago Bears roster currently sitting at 90, there’s still room for moves. Certain spots along the depth chart are still player heavy, while others could arguably use more competition. While it’s unlikely general manager Ryan Pace is done making moves just yet, last week gave fans a good idea of what the roster will look like heading into late July.

Even so, there’s still plenty of questions to be answered including the right guard competition, how receiver will play out and much more. So, let’s get to it.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s fair to feel like the Bears invested very little into truly improving the right guard spot. Before the off-season started, that was an internal debate a lot of writers were having in terms of whether or not they would sink another big investment in this position group.

Ultimately, this will be a three-man competition with former first-rounder Germain Ifedi, last year’s primary starter Rashaad Coward and former undrafted free agent Alex Bars. I would actually argue that it’s a two-man competition with just Ifedi and Coward because I’m not sold the Bears truly like Bars as much as fans do. Especially with former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand out in favor of Juan Castillo.

I think it’s Ifedi’s job to lose. Although he hasn’t played inside at guard since his rookie year, I’ve always felt he was best suited inside, even coming out of Texas A&M. Some will regard him as a former first round pick with a higher ceiling, but I’m not one of those. As we’ve seen over the past few years, the Seattle Seahawks have made a habit out of taking second and third round (projected) talents in the first round. For me, Ifedi was no different. That doesn’t mean he won’t become a good player, because plenty of guards taken outside of the first round turn into good players. I’m just not putting in a lot of stock to him as a former first round pick. I do think him sliding back inside to a more natural position will do him good.

As a whole, I wasn’t remotely impressed with Coward and there’s a solid chance that he’s just better off as depth. Some forget that he was a former defensive lineman who just made the switch a few years back, so my money’s on Ifedi winning the job as he’s the better, more experienced player.

Much like the question above, I think it’s absolutely fair to wonder why the Bears didn’t do more to address their issues on the line this off-season. With that in mind, I think the easy answer from the Bears’ side of things is this; they are putting a lot of stock into their coaching changes. The obvious focus is Castillo, who takes over for Hiestand, but don’t discount the addition of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

One thing that head coach Matt Nagy did when he was first hired was somewhat break from the usual Andy Reid mold with his coaching hires. Normally, Reid is someone who brings people up and has familiar faces for his coaching needs, but Nagy didn’t really do that in 2018, and to a certain extent it’s clear that he feels like it burned him.

Familiarity with a complex scheme that comes from the Reid-tree is big, especially for a young coach and playcaller like Nagy.

I’m not going to try and sell anyone as to why we should expect the offensive line play to improve because I’m also in wait and see mode. With that being said, I do believe they are putting a lot of stock in getting the right coaching fits for this particular scheme. That’s what Castillo brings.

I would also note that the Bears have invested quite a bit into this offensive line already. They have a pair of second-rounders on the interior in Cody Whitehair and James Daniels and are playing both of their tackles (Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie) pretty good money as well. It’s not like these guys haven’t shown they can play at a higher level, but it’s also fair to say 2019 wasn’t a great look for that unit.

The team has made their thought process very clear in their moves that tell us they think coaching was a bigger issue than their personnel. Only time will tell if they were right.

I’m not overly sure that there will be another “series” of moves per se, but I do think we’ll see a few single roster moves (in smaller bursts) until we hit training camp in late July.

You bring up a good point that both running back and inside linebacker depth are still areas where the team could improve their depth charts. Especially at inside linebacker. I’m not personally sold that Josh Woods or Joel Iyiegbuniwe are exactly the guys you want as your first player off the bench. Especially when you consider that Danny Trevathan has played just one full season in his tenure with the team.

There are still a few veterans at the position that could make sense including Alec Ogletree, Preston Brown, Paul Worrilow (who the Bears had interest in a few off-seasons ago) or even someone like Mark Barron. I’d imagine as the off-season drags on a few more weeks, some of these veterans who were hoping for starting jobs will have to settle for a paycheck and a shot at an NFL roster.

Just a reminder, Kevin Pierre-Louis wasn’t signed until May 8th last year. So there’s still plenty of time to find meaningful depth, especially with this free agent market.

Much like inside linebacker, running back is another spot where a veteran could be added for competition sake. I think the bigger issue that the running back spot faces is that any veteran who was to sign in Chicago would automatically know that they wouldn’t see a ton of time on the field.

Unlike inside linebacker, the Bears have multiple options if David Montgomery was to go down. That includes Tarik Cohen or even someone like Cordarrelle Patterson, who has had success in short bursts coming out of the backfield as a runner.

That’s something I would keep in mind when looking at some of the veteran free agent options that include names like DeVonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell or even Spencer Ware. To me, Ware is probably the best overall fit due to familiarity and he would understand his role. The issue for him has been health, but as a depth piece I don’t think that’s a large concern.

My better guess is that they’ll stick with what they have until camp opens up and go from there. Currently, they have five names on the depth chart and likely Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and Napoleon Maxwell will battle it out for the final roster spot. I really like Pierce’s upside, so he’s my current pick to win the roster spot.

Going back to last year, I do believe that a fullback helped get the running game going at certain points. If you look at Reid’s offenses, he’s usually had a fullback. Namely, Anthony Sherman.

The follow up question to this Tweet was wondering if tight end J.P. Holtz could be that guy for the Bears in 2020, and I think you’re onto something.

Doing a deeper dive into the team’s current roster, I think that they’ll keep five of their nine current tight ends. Even with that, they’ll have some tough decisions to make. I do have them keeping Holtz as one of those five because of his versatility and what he was able to do last season when called upon.

I’m not sure Holtz will ever be a standout player, but he does have that “Swiss Army Knife” type of role about him and that could be a value to keep on this roster. So, to answer your question, I do think Holtz can and will be that guy for the Bears, but not as a full-time fullback.

I think it’s important to note that “grading” off-seasons or simply basing things on paper are always a bit of a crapshoot. For example, last year most thought the Bears would not only be a playoff team, but a Super Bowl contender (myself included). Obviously we know how that worked out.

What I will say is this... Out of any NFC North team, I believe the Detroit Lions have probably made the most improvements. At least on paper. With that being said, they were light-years behind the rest of the division and I still don’t believe with their current coaching staff, that they did nearly enough to bridge the gap in that regard.

Outside of Detroit, I would argue that the Bears have had the best off-season in the division. It hasn’t been flashy by any means, but I do think they’ve at least improved the majority of their holes and have gotten better in some areas.

With the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, I believe both teams stayed afloat at best. Minnesota lost a lot of veteran talent and while I believe they had an excellent draft, expecting a bunch of rookies to come in on Year 1 and replace that proven production is asking a lot.

With the Packers, I felt like they downgraded at both right tackle and inside linebacker and also had one of the wonkiest drafts in recent memory. I actually liked the Jordan Love pick, but not taking a single receiver in seven rounds for a team that needs a lot of help at that spot made little sense. On top of that, pissing off Aaron Rodgers is likely one of the last things you want to do if you’re Green Bay, and by all accounts that’s exactly what they’ve done.

When I look at what the Bears need to do to get back into the playoffs, it’s pretty simple; quarterback play and health.

Their defense may be better than it was last year. The additions of Robert Quinn and Gipson were big, and I don’t think it’ll be overly hard to replace Prince Amukamara’s production in 2019 with someone like Jaylon Johnson or Kevin Toliver II. With that being said, the most important part of the equation comes down to quarterback play.

Who wins the job? My guess is absolutely Nick Foles.

Even if Foles wins the job, can he regain his 2017 form and hold it for 16 games and a playoff run? Will the offensive line make the needed improvements? These are all questions that will need to be answered but keep in mind, this team went (8-8) with some of the worst quarterback play in the league last year. In theory, if you improve that, the offensive production will improve and in turn, their record will as well.

I’m not going to predict that the Bears will win the division, but I would also argue that they are right in the mix for the division title and absolutely in the mix for a playoff spot. Remember, starting this season the playoffs expand from six to seven teams as a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

First off, I respect Mike Clay and love the work that he does. With that being said, it’s natural to disagree from time to time and this is one of those times.

As I said above, record predictions and grading off-seasons are fun in the moment, but it means very little in the long run. So, I think that all of this type of stuff should be taken at what it is, simply entertainment and with a grain of salt.

With that in mind, it’s clear that Mike’s evaluation of the Bears’ roster and mine are different in a few key areas. Last week, he put out his grades/rankings for each positional value for each team. He had the Bears’ safety tandem (with Gipson) as below average. To me, that makes little sense considering Eddie Jackson is one of the best safeties in the league and Gipson is arguably a better fit alongside him than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was. In part because of his ability as a tackler and to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

Again though, this is simply someone’s opinion, so no reason to get too worked up over it. Just like we may believe the Bears have improved and are a playoff team, there are plenty of national analysts who believe the Bears are closer to a (6-10) team versus a (10-6) team. It is what it is, and it means nothing once games are being played.

There has been very little from Mitchell Trubisky’s “camp” all off-season. Despite what some may believe on Twitter, I’m not a Trubisky hater and I feel for him. At one point, he was the No. 2 overall pick and was supposed to be the savior for this franchise. Now in many ways he has become a national joke for the football world.

Not too long ago, Trubisky decided to go dark on social media. I think due to everything that transpired over the 2019 season, he has chosen to do that for the time being and I don’t blame him.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Trubisky is doing everything he can to improve his game and become the quarterback the Bears drafted him to be. The only real report to come out since the Foles addition was the NFL Network’s Tom Pelisserio reporting that Trubisky is embracing the competition and that the Bears “like his attitude.”

By all accounts, Trubisky is a good guy. What is in question is how good of a quarterback he can be. With that comes understanding the offense and ultimately, being able to translate what he practices out on the field.

I’d be surprised if we hear much one way or another until we get into camp and get to hear Trubisky speak for himself. Ultimately all that matters is what he does on the field (camp, preseason, regular season) and that’s how he’ll be judged in 2020.