Your Chicago Bears: Preseason Week 1 vs. Miami

The Chicago Bears kickoff the John Fox/Ryan Pace era tonight at 7 PM CT off Lakeshore Drive with an exhibition matchup against the Miami Dolphins. For those who haven’t had an opportunity to make the trek down Route 55 to Boubonnais, this is will be your first look at the run-heavy Adam Gase offense and the Vic Fangio 3-4 defense…Albeit watered down, but still a first look.

The expectations for each year’s first preseason game are usually as follows. Maybe a series or 2 for the offensive starters. The first team defense may get a little bit more time as they are adjusting to a whole new scheme with players in new positions. Then it becomes time for backups and fringe players to show what they’ve got. Regardless, the players on both sides of the ball are going to carryout game plans from their respective coordinators for the first time, and that should be exciting for Bears fans.

Wednesday afternoon, the Bears released their first unofficial depth chart on the team’s website. Here are the different phases for the 2015 Bears squad, and what to look for while they get to hit someone else for the first time this summer.

The Offense

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.52.17 PM

Quarterbacks

Jay Cutler will start under center, as expected, with zero interceptions thrown all training camp. Gase has focused on running the ball in camp and playing to Cutler’s strengths which include rolling out of the box and throwing on the run. Cutler’s “see it, throw it” mentality works better when he can extend the play, and play-action should suit that better.

After Cutler exits, it will be his backup from a year ago Jimmy Clausen and undrafted rookie free agent Shane Carden from East Carolina. Clausen saw time in 4 games last season and 1 start before being concussed. The preseason is like the backup’s regular season with an opportunity to instill some confidence that he’s right for the job…or the general manager will look elsewhere.

Running Backs

As mentioned before, the emphasis of the Bears’ new offense will be on running the ball and Matt Fortesounds more than welcoming of that.

“When you run the ball, it’s more like an attack feeling,” Forte told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They like smash-mouth football, where you can bloody somebody’s nose and run and hit people.”

In contract year, Forte would much prefer that mentality as opposed to the RB-record 102 passes he caught last season. No surprise that veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is the second string back, but Jeremy Langford will have a chance to showcase his speed, pass catching, and third down strength. Daniel Thomas is the only other proven back and has out-shined both Ka’Deem Carey and Senorise Perry in camp.

Receivers

The Bears seem set at the position for the time being, despite 1st round pick Kevin White trying to return from a shin injury. Alshon Jeffery is the clear #1 receiver with Brandon Marshall gone, and Eddie Royal fills a need that has been missing for year as the slot receiver. Anticipate Royal to see a lot of targets during the season if Jeffery commands double teams.

With White on the sidelines, the stage is set for Marquess Wilson to try proving he can be a playmaker and also stay healthy. Josh Bellamy is a familiar name who will get plenty of snaps tonight, and return specialist Marc Mariani has impressed everyone in camp when he gets his reps with the first team.

Tight Ends

The Bears don’t have any fullbacks on their roster, so the tight end position gets two different slots on the depth chart. Martellus Bennett is the clear #1 while Dante Rosario gets listed first on the second line. Rosario will be in competition for second TE time against newcomer Bear Pascoe and 2014 preseason hero Zach Miller. Miller needs to prove he can make it out of the preseason in one piece, but could be an excellent red zone option if he can.

Offensive Line

The current starting offensive is the same as it was to break camp the past two seasons, with the addition of former Bronco Will Montgomery at center. Keep an eye on rookie Hroniss Grasu from Oregon, who ranked 2nd among centers in the draft and should get a lot of time with the twos. Jordan Mills is looking to bounce back from a bad sophomore season that was also plagued by injuries, but the massive Charles Leno will look to provide insurance to the tackle position. More than likely, Kyle Long will be mixing it up with somebody…because that’s what he does.

The Defense

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.52.51 PM 

Defensive Line

It will be very different from what Bears fans have seen for the last decade and a half. There are no longer “defensive tackles” and defensive ends fill the 5 technique on the line. Slated as the #1 nose tackle is Jeremiah Ratlif, who is one of the few D-Linemen with 3-4 experience. While he is penciled in at the nose, he can also play DE. Eddie Goldman was highly regarded coming out of the draft from Florida State and was expected to make a run for a starting spot at either nose or DE. He should get plenty of snaps tonight, but will have to prove he’s in shape enough to handle it. Previously, he left the field early in both camp and OTAs because he wasn’t.

I’m looking forward to how the two DL rookies from last year transition to end. Early reviews say Ego Ferguson was one of the most improved players from offseason workouts while Will Sutton  seems to be struggling with the move. Jarvis Jenkins is slated as the other #1 defensive end opposite of Ferguson. Jenkins is the only other DE with 3-4 experience besides backend defender David Carter. He’s a better run defender but hopes to prove he can get upfield quicker to prove he can rush the passer in Fangio’s system. Cornelius Washington will be one of the most interesting watches tonight as he has hung around the roster for the past few years without seeing much regular season playing time.

Outside Linebackers

It’s funny seeing the two biggest defensive signees from last season not only in different positions now, but one slated ahead of the more expensive one. Jared Allen is currently the starter ahead of Lamarr Houston and both are trying to prove they can learn a new position. I have a hard time seeing either one drop back in coverage which is why I anticipate they are going to get more pass rushing snaps than anything.

Purnell McPhee is this season’s big free agent signing and he describes himself as “violent”. Tonight we get our first look at how violent he can be for the Bears and how much chaos he can cause for opposing offenses. Sam Acho is set behind Purnell in the depth chart, but he’s probably a better OLB than both Allen and Houston. Willie Young will have the most to prove as he has had the toughest time changing positions. He’s always played a wide DE position and it has to be awkward playing without your hand on the ground when you haven’t done it for your entire career.

Inside Linebackers

No, you read that correctly. Shea McClellin the Bears starting inside linebacker alongside last year’s undrafted rookie free agent signee Christian Jones. Jones has always looked like a player who deserved to be drafted and given more respect, but McClellin is auditioning for his 3rd different position. This is the Shea-Train’s last chance to prove he isn’t a draft bust and so far he has shown Fangio this may be his natural position. If not, Mason Foster has plenty of experience and skill to fit in better. Jon Bostic has missed most of the offseason due to injury and is still catching up to learn the scheme and his position.

Cornerbacks

The Bears secondary is currently their weakest position in terms of depth, and maybe talent as well. Kyle Fuller has a full year under his belt, one that saw a lot of success in the first month and disaster the rest of the way. The Bears hope he can emulate that first month for an entire season. Tim Jennings is a former Pro Bowler, but is also coming off a rough 2014 campaign. Jennings has always been best in man coverage though, so the scheme change should be helpful. Alan Ball was priority signing for Pace in the offseason and will get plenty of time to show why next to Tracy Porter. 

Safeties

Many were surprised to see 2nd year safety Brock Vereen as one of the starting safeties, not so much of a surprise with Antrel Rolle. Ryan Mundy was expected to be one of the starters and will have to earn that spot beginning tonight. Keep an eye on the rookie out of Penn State, Adrian Amos, who was one of the best coverage safeties in the Big Ten a year ago.

Special Teams

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 2.54.40 PM

There’s not much to say about the Special Teams units other than the fact that they can’t be worse than last year’s. And on the cover of tonight’s program at Soldier Field is punter Pat O’Donnell. 

Follow along for updates and conversation on Twitter. 

Chicago Bears: Marshall Out, McPhee In. Now What?

Ryan Pace has made his first personnel moves to kick off his tenure as Chicago Bears GM.

It began with the trade of Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets for a 5th round pick.

Brandon Marshall vs. Vikes

In just 3 seasons with the Bears, Marshall ranked 11th for receiving yards (3,524) in Bears history, tied for 5th in touchdowns (31) and 8th in receptions (279). However, following an injury plagued 2014 season and accumulating off-field issues, Pace and new head coach felt it best to part ways with the former pro bowl receiver. The reception of this move has been polarizing among the team’s fan base, but the bottom line is that the Bears received compensation for an almost 31 year old wide receiver (Birthday – March 23rd) coming off multiple injuries and declining athleticism that they planned on releasing anyway. Marshall has also openly voiced how football is more of a platform than a passion, so at least he won’t have to fly cross country to record his weekly Showtime appearance. 5th round picks are no slouches either…unless you consider Carl Nicks, Richard Sherman, or Kam Chancellor as such.

The second big move came today as the Baltimore Sun reported that the Bears and OLB/DE Pernell McPhee have agreed to a 5-year/$40 million deal with $16 million guaranteed…also a 5th round pick.

Pernell McPhee

McPhee isn’t as sexy a name as Julius Peppers was when Lovie Smith rang his doorbell at midnight of the 2010 Free Agency start. McPhee’s skill set and versatility are VERY sexy though. Just 26 years old, McPhee is a pure pass rusher with experience as a defensive end and outside linebacker in Baltimore’s 3-4 system. He has also played end in a 40 front. McPhee has dealt with injuries to both his knees, but played in every game during the past 2 seasons. He recorded 7.5 sacks in 2014 while spelling for pro bowler Terrell Suggs, who was nursing an achilles injury.

The McPhee signing does 3 things:

1. It provides flexibility in the draft. The Bears needed an edge rusher and now they have one. A proven one. They put themselves in a position where they don’t have to draft a “need” but instead the best available player with 7th overall pick. That could be Alabama WR Amari Cooper. Bears could use another top-end pass catching talent. It could be Clemson’s DE/OLB Vic Beasley. You can’t have enough weapons to go after the quarterback on the field.

2. It gives new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio options in his unpredictable defense. McPhee has played every technique on the defensive line. He has stood up to rush the edge. He’ll even rush from the middle on 3rd down from a “chaos” look that you see with multiple 3-4 schemes. And chaos is good…That also opens things up for Fangio to assign positions to unknowns currently on the roster like Willie Young, Jared Allen, and Lamarr Houston.

3. It sets the tone for the type of players the Bears are looking for. The defense is in dyer need of a makeover. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, both Chicago Bears all-timers, are on the outs due to age and recent injury history. The average age for defensive starters was 29 while more than half were 30+ years old. The 26 year old McPhee adds youth, but also has a recent Super Bowl ring as part of his resume from 2012. There are other free agents with winning experience who would also fit the needs of the Bears roster.

What’s Next? 

The new NFL year and free agency officially begins today at 3:00 PM CT. Teams had already struck deals with high target players over the weekend.

DT Ndamukong Suh to Miami (6 years $114 million, $60 million guaranteed)

S Devin McCourty stays with New England (5 years $47.5 million, $28.5 million guaranteed)

WR Randall Cobb stays with Green Bay (4 years $40 million, $17 million guaranteed)

WR Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City (Total and years aren’t confirmed, suspected $11 million per year)

TE Julius Thomas to Jacksonville (Expected multi-year deal, $9 million per year)

C Rodney Hudson to Oakland (5 years $44.5 million, guaranteed money hasn’t been confirmed)

Note: Guaranteed money is key with NFL contracts. Rarely does anyone make their entire contract total.

So let’s look at the Bears’ needs and the targets to address them.

Defensive Line

While McPhee can be plugged in as a 5 technique DE, and one would assume Lamarr Houston would fit at the other side, the Bears still need a space eater in the middle to play nose tackle.

Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton – Former Broncos NT under Fox, stellar run defender. Interest from Raiders, Colts, Washington, and the Bears

Dan Williams – Cardinals DT who didn’t get enough playing time. Ranked 8th vs the run by Pro Football Focus. Interest from Giants, Lions, and Washington

Corey Peters – Falcons DT and 5 year veteran. Rebounded well after achilles injury.

Kenrick Ellis – Jets NT. Great 2 down run stopper.

Vince Wilfork – Patriots NT, 5-time pro bowler and proven winner with plenty and knowledge to share. Devin McCourty is trying hard to get him back.

Wilfork GIF

Inside Linebackers

In Fangio’s 3-4 scheme, there are two ILBs…one being the “Mike” (middle) linebacker and the other being the “Jack” backer who lines up weak side of the line. Opponents’ run games will be funneled inside for the most part and while the NT eats up space and OL, the ILBs will be responsible for finishing the plays tackling.

Bruce Carter – Cowboys LB who filled carried a lot of weight with Sean Lee out. Aggressive and uber-athletic. Would be a huge steal away from the Packers who are targeting him.

Brandon Spikes – Former Bills defensive captain yet was treated like a 2 down defender under Jim Schwartz. While he may be on back end of career, provides the violent thump a Fangio LB needs.

Mason Foster – Buccaneers LB who doesn’t fit in Lovie’s Cover 2, but is better built to take on anything funneled to the middle. Bears already linked to Foster.

Nate Irving – Broncos LB that Fox is obviously familiar with but coming off a knee injury. Still in high demand and being pursued by Cardinals. Powerful and prototype for 3-4 ILB.

Nate Irving INT

Cornerbacks

While the Bears do have Kyle Fuller and former pro bowler Tim Jennings, they weren’t all that great with them after the first month. Health reasons have proven you can’t have too many, and Jennings may be better suited for the nickel as he gets older.

Davon House – Packers CB expected not to return, well versed in Fangio’s system as the he was DC for Dom Capers previously. Excelled as slot defensive back last season.

Perrish Cox – 49ers CB who has off-field issues but obviously experienced with Fangio. Great instincts in coverage and reading receivers hips. Doesn’t allow much spacing.

Darrelle Revis – Obviously a big fish to catch in a small pond, but come on…Revis Island.

Darrelle Revis

Safeties

A glaring need for years with the Bears defense, the Bears already missed out on my first choice, Devin McCourty. Don’t necessarily need a playmaker but someone who is at least dependable.

Rahim Moore – Another former Fox defender who was very solid in 2014. Not as flashy as Earl Thomas but fits the “dependable” mold that would make the Bears comfortable.

Antrel Rolle – Giants safety that Bears are linked to. Very vocal about being reunited with University of Miami teammates Andre Johnson and Wilfork. Wouldn’t necessarily rule that out for Bears.

Da’Norris Searcy – Bills safety with run-stop and coverage skills. Young and wasn’t really an every down player, but certainly looked the part.

Mike Adams – Colts safety who does a solid job. Older player but could fit for a year or two and get it done.

Mike Adams

Wide Receiver

Obviously there’s an opening for another split out receiver after the Marshall trade. As mentioned earlier, drafting one is a likely possibility but why not add someone with experience. The preference for the Bears would be a speedster, somebody who can take the top off a defense. They didn’t have that guy last season and it made the Jay Cutler led offense predictable. Marshall and Alshon Jeffery weren’t burning past anybody for a much needed deep threat. But anyone with dependable hands would also do…before the draft.

Torrey Smith – Ravens receiver who has proven to be a risk/reward option for the past few years. Has dropping issues but can certainly stretch the field though and compliment Jeffery well.

Andre Johnson – Very similar career as Marshall production-wise, without the baggage. Doesn’t fit the burner mold but super dependable route runner. I’d blame his lack of touchdowns on his quarterbacks more than him.

Michael Crabtree – Former Heisman candidate that has shown promise but hasn’t met the ridiculous standards we all set for him. Change in scenery and pairing with Jeffery and Martellus Bennett could help him breakout.

Michael Crabtree

Running Backs

The Bears do have Matt Forte, but it wouldn’t be outrageous to start looking beyond the pro bowl “everything” back. Forte will be in the last year of his deal and at the very least will need a backup this season. Bears look to be very run-heavy this coming season, so a 2-back system would be beneficial to not go overkill with Forte touches.

Ryan Matthews – Chargers RB that has had difficulty staying on the field, but solid power runner when given opportunities. Not sure how much Matthews will garner on the market, but would make a great compliment to Forte and can make it an audition to take over after his contract is up.

CJ Spiller – Very similar situation to Matthews in terms of injury history and needing an audition, but a much better pass catcher and versatile offensive weapon. Spiller is also no stranger to the 2 back system.

Knowshon Moreno – Another back with injury history that could also be affordable because of that. Made his money with Dolphins after playing in Adam Gase’s RB-by-committe system and obviously familiar with Fox.

Knowshon Moreno

Of course there are more needs and other options the Bears could go with. Feel free to recommend your suggestions and follow along the Free Agency action with me on Twitter