Chicago Bears: Latest Combine News and Rumors
All of the NFL has been focused on the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this past weekend and through this Tuesday, as representatives from each and every team are on hand to focus on the prospects for the upcoming draft.
While the prospects have been getting the majority of the press since last Thursday, coaches and general managers have also laid out some blueprints on how they plan to conduct their business this offseason.
Here are the latest combine news and rumors for the Chicago Bears from over the weekend in Indianapolis.
Defensive to Remain a 4-3 Base
After having one of the league's worst defenses in 2013, the Bears will likely take a proactive approach on improving that side of the ball for 2014.
There was some speculation on whether the team would switch to a 3-4 defense, considering the hiring of new position coaches Reggie Herring and Paul Pasqualoni, who have prior experience with 3-4 defenses. However, according to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com, the team will continue to use a 4-3 base front but try to offer more multiple looks.
Phil Emery said, according to Mayer:
Right now our priority is adding playmakers on defense. We need to enhance our defense's ability to make game-determining plays. The No. 1 goal of our defense will always be to score points because when your defense scores your chances of winning are astronomically high compared to when they don't.
The team lacked playmakers in 2013 due in large part to injuries and inconsistent play in all three levels of the defense. By sticking with the 4-3, the Bears can continue to use some of the personnel they still have and then build their defense accordingly.
The team will likely try to become more creative by not always giving the opponent a 4-3 look, but according to Emery, the Bears will remain with that as their base defense in 2014.
Shea McClellin to Compete at Both Strong-Side and Middle Linebacker
While the Bears hinted at former first-round pick Shea McClellin moving to linebacker earlier this offseason (h/t Chicago Sun-Times), the team made the move official last Thursday at the start of the NFL combine, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.
In his statements to reporters on Thursday, Phil Emery noted, “He will be our biggest linebacker, so that gives him versatility, along with that subset of athleticism and speed.”
McClellin has had a disappointing first two seasons in the league and will try to resurrect his career as either a strong-side linebacker or middle linebacker.
Marc Trestman commented on McClellin's move, saying:
Shea is really excited about the opportunity to get off the ball, to be able to run and do some things. That doesn’t mean Shea won’t be a pass rusher. With his skill set, his speed, I’m really excited to see how this thing evolves with him.
McClellin has looked like a man out of position since coming into the league, offering the skill set of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense more so than a 4-3 defensive end. The hope is that he can excel standing up compared to having a hand in the ground and that the team can eventually find value from the former first-round pick.
Former NIU Quarterback Jordan Lynch Met with the Team
Despite the Bears locking up Jay Cutler to a long-term deal in January, their backup quarterback situation heading into 2014 is still up in the air.
Last year's backup Josh McCown has reportedly drawn some interest from the New York Jets, according to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta, so it is conceivable that he could not return in 2014. Third-string quarterback Jordan Palmer is also set to become a free agent, possibly leaving Jerrod Johnson, who signed a reserve/futures contract with the team, as the only backup.
If the team fails to re-sign McCown and/or Palmer, it could be in the market to find a veteran backup but could also to select a quarterback late in the draft.
While finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting was a major accomplishment for Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, his ability to be an NFL-caliber quarterback is questionable. Despite this skepticism, he decided to continue to work out at quarterback at the combine instead of trying his hand at other positions, telling ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson over the weekend:
I’m a quarterback first. I always say I’m a quarterback first and I’ve been proving people wrong ever since I started playing. There is no doubt in my mind I will continue to do that. What I tell teams is that they are going to make a huge mistake if they don’t put me at quarterback.
Revealed later during his interview, Lynch did mention meeting the Bears over the weekend. While players speak with many teams during their time in Indianapolis, maybe the Bears see something in Lynch that others do not. Marc Trestman has a history of working with quarterbacks in the past and maximizing their talents, but Lynch may end up being a tough player to develop.
If he is willing to move on from being a quarterback, then the Bears could possibly try to develop him at another position if they select him late in the draft, but only time will tell.
Bears Interested in Bringing Henry Melton Back
After the 2012 season when he finished with 33 tackles, six sacks and a trip to the Pro Bowl, defensive tackle Henry Melton was hit with the franchise tag when the two sides could not agree upon a long-term deal.
He started the first three games of the 2013 season until he tore his left ACL and was out for the remainder of the season.
Despite the missed time, the team is interested in him returning in 2014. During his press conference at the combine, Phil Emery said, per ESPN: "We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process. He's made progress. He's made positive progress."
Marc Trestman also praised Melton's progress, telling the media in his press conference:
He's in every day early. 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].
Money will be the biggest factor in trying to re-sign Melton this offseason, but for a team that has such little depth along the defensive line, it may be in the Bears' best interest to bring back a guy who has been productive when healthy.
Timmy Jernigan Is Garnering Most Buzz as a Potential 1st-Round Pick for Bears
It has been no secret that the Bears need to upgrade their defense after an abysmal 2013 season, which saw them finish dead last against the run.
The biggest area of need in 2014 will be along the defensive line, and many NFL writers have pegged Florida State's Timmy Jernigan to the Chicago Bears recently in their mock drafts.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock helped grow the Jernigan-to-the-Bears buzz by saying in his teleconference with reporters last week (h/t Chicago Tribune): "I think Jernigan is a guy that if he was sitting there when the Bears were on the board at 14, I think you’d sprint to the podium."
Jernigan was asked over the weekend about the buzz about him going to Chicago in various mock drafts and said, according to the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell, "I’m just staying to true to the process, man, just keeping my head down and grinding it out."
Even if the team decides to bring back Henry Melton this offseason, Jernigan would be a welcome addition to a defensive line that only has Stephen Paea set to return at defensive tackle in 2014.