Without question, the offensive line and the wide receivers are the two most important position groups that have to produce this season for the Chicago Bears to succeed. Outside of practice, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs was the first time we saw these players perform in an actual game.
Here are my thoughts about Chicago’s wide receivers.
If you listen to the national media, the Bears have the worst wide receiver group in the entire NFL. I do not agree with that. Yes, there are a number of inexperienced players, but there is also a large amount of talent that just needs a chance to perform.
In Saturday's game, several wide outs didn’t play because of injury. That group included Byron Pringle, who is out with a quad injury, N’Keal Harry missed with a high ankle sprain, and Velus Jones Jr. had an undisclosed injury. Harry will be out for at least another month and possibly six to eight more weeks, so we will be in-season before we get a chance to see what he can do. He may start the season on injured reserve depending on how he has healed when final roster cuts are made in a few weeks.
Bryon Pringle may miss another week or so, but he should be ready for the start of the season, and if that is the case, he will more than likely be in the top four receivers on this year's team. His camp and offseason performance has been strong.
Velus Jones is not only the fastest receiver the Bears have, but he is one of the fastest in all of the League. He’s looked good in practice. If he can practice today and tomorrow, he will probably play some Thursday vs Seattle. (UPDATE: Jones was back at practice on Monday)
Darnell Mooney only played a few series and had one reception for 26 yards. The catch was a leaping back shoulder grab when he showed an outstanding adjustment to the ball and sure hands. What was interesting was in the limited time he played, it was all from the slot, and at that position he could catch a number of passes this year. Even if he lines up in the slot a bunch, he should be the Bears leading receiver.
Equanimeous St. Brown wasn’t targeted on Saturday, but he was open quite a few times. He did pick up nine yards on a reverse and did a good job blocking on the perimeter. He was mostly lined up as the Z receiver, and in my mind he will open the season as the starter at that position.
Tajae Sharpe was a late addition to the team this off-season and played a strong game. Sharp lined up as the X receiver, was targeted twice, and he made two outstanding receptions for 44 yards.
I have followed Sharpe’s career for a while, and he’s a solid NFL receiver. He’s started 36 games over his career, has 117 receptions, and he can play on special teams. He may not be what you want as a starter, but he can be very good as a fourth or fifth receiver who gets 15 snaps a game.
Dazz Newsome, I felt had an up and down game. He is playing faster than he did a year ago and that’s a plus. He ran one reverse and picked up 13 yards. He also ran a nice corner route to get open for a TD. Where he faltered was the muffed punt and a dropped pass on an out route. In order for Newsone to make this club, he has to perform well on special teams. He played some gunner and was adequate, but I do not see a player who would be a starter at that important position.
Dante Pettis lined up strictly in the slot and showed a good burst off the line to get open on a corner route for a 25-yard gain. Dante also was used as a returner where he handled the ball well but both were fair catches. Because of his speed, he could be in the mix to make the roster.
The only other receiver I feel who has even a slight chance to make the 53-man roster is Isaiah Coulter, who had two receptions for 12 yards. What I did not see from Coulter was good route running and explosiveness coming out of cuts. If that doesn’t improve, then he’s a practice squad player at best.
All told, I felt the group as a whole played well. With a number of players who figure to be on their team not playing, the passing game was still relatively productive for an opening pre-season game.
Here are my notes about the Bears’ offensive line.
I was a little disappointed in the overall play of the group that started the game. The cohesiveness that is needed to win did not seem to be there. Like with the wide receiver group, there were a few players held out of the game. The backups, for the most part played well and showed they have a chance to help this team.
Center Lucas Patrick is out following thumb surgery, but he should be back in time for the opener. Newly acquired Riley Reiff also didn’t play, but with a short practice week before Thursday's game in Seattle, he figures to get plenty of snaps then. Veteran free agent signee Julie’n Davenport also did not play as the plan was to clearly play the young guys.
In place of Patrick was the much-maligned Sam Mustipher, and to be honest, I felt Sam played well. He was consistent in both the run and pass game and did not making any glaring mistakes. Sam is noticeably smaller this year, moves around much better, and looks more explosive. Mustipher will be on this team as he can play center or guard.
If there was a player I was disappointed with, it was Michael Schofield. In watching tape of him with the Chargers last year, he played well as both a run and pass blocker. In just his third snap on Saturday, he was clearly beaten by Chris Jones, who is one of the better DTs in all of football. He was beaten once again on a run block later, which was disappointing.
He played well on the rest of his snaps, but those two poor snaps stuck out, and he has to play better, or he won’t be a starter.
Rookie left tackle Braxton Jones played well in his NFL debut. There is a lot to like about Jones, as he clearly has the size, strength, and athleticism to be a solid left tackle in the League. All he lacks is experience. I don’t care what round he was drafted in; he has talent. If there is an area where I feel he needs to improve is when pass blocking he can get a bit tall. He needs to concentrate on sinking his hips a bit more.
Larry Borom continues to impress me. He was a fifth-round steal a year ago. While he’ll never be a Pro Bowl type tackle, a team can win with him. He is very consistent as a run and pass blocker and is beginning to play with confidence. Like with Jones, all he needs is experience.
Cody Whitehair was Cody Whitehair. He doesn’t stand out, but he doesn’t make mistakes. When we don’t notice him, that means he’s done nothing wrong.
I was surprised Teven Jenkins got as many snaps as he did, considering all the practice time he missed. He played about a half. The part of his game that stands out is his run blocking. He is consistently able to generate movement, and when he had to pull he showed he could get out in front of the play, adjust on the move and make a productive block. In the passing game, he had three reps where he gave up pressure, all because his pass set was a bit off, and he gave up too much to the outside. When an opponent tried to bull rush him he stopped them cold. His pass sets can be improved with practice reps.
With the way he was able to run block and pull, I would consider moving him inside to guard. He won’t have that speed pass rush to contend with and can dominate as a run blocker.
Rookie Doug Kramer played better than I expected. He made the line calls, stayed on his feet better than I saw when he was at Illinois, and played consistently in both the run and pass game. I still don’t feel he’s ready for prime time and will need a year on the practice squad, but he has upside.
Rookie Ja’Tyre Carter lined up at right guard and held his own. Carter is raw but talented. Coming from the FCS level of comp, he has never faced competition like he does in the NFL. I feel he has a bright future, but he may need a year on the practice squad. Because of his talent, he could show vast improvement the next two games, but then again, the Bears may want to “hide” him by not giving him many game reps going forward.
Rookie Zach Thomas got a lot of playtime at left guard, and like Carter, he held his own but didn’t stand out. He was beaten once in pass pro with a crossover move but otherwise did well. He has size, strength, and athleticism and just needs experience. With the Bears likely to keep nine o-linemen on the 53, Thomas may have to be a practice squad player. The next two games are important. Thomas may be more ready to play right now, but Carter has more upside.
Shon Coleman, Deiter Eiselen, and Lachavious Simmons are strictly camp players, in my opinion. One of Eiselen or Simmons may be kept around on the practice squad.