Identifying Chicago Bears' 5 Most Improved Positional Units
The Chicago Bears have made a habit of circling a few problems in red ink each offseason and aggressively attacking them above all else.
It seems to be the preferred rebuilding method of general manager Ryan Pace. As a brief example, he targeted linebacker recently and ended up with one of the better interior one-two punches in the NFL thanks to Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, not to mention edge-rushers such as Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd.
Pace, playing with more cap space than most teams in the league this offseason, targeted several areas like this and made sweeping changes to the roster at key spots. Quarterback is the first that comes to mind, but it's far from the only spot the GM attacked well through either free agency and the draft, if not both.
Granted, this is a natural roster turnover for a team going into the third year of a significant rebuild. But the following areas are clearly improved—which doesn't mean they won't need addressing again soon, but they're leagues ahead of where they were a season ago.
Safety was arguably the worst position on the roster in Chicago a year ago.
Guys like Adrian Amos and others simply couldn't keep pace with a pass-happy league when the cornerbacks weren't holding up well on their lonesome and the injury-riddled front seven wasn't getting consistent pressure or stopping the run.
Pace clearly wanted to make sure the position wasn't so disastrous in 2017.
Free-agent addition Quintin Demps changes the complexion of the entire unit in a hurry. The veteran was the 12th-graded safety at Pro Football Focus last year and has tallied 18 turnovers over his four years of significant playing time so far.
In the draft, Pace went ahead and took Alabama safety Eddie Jackson, a prospect heralded for his range who will need to deal with some injury issues and generally adapting to the league before making a difference.
No matter how the coaching staff divides the starting duties this year, Demps is a veteran leader and major upgrade. Jackson can flash when on the field and develop into what the Bears think could be a long-term starter.
Pace wasn't going to address safety and leave cornerback untouched.
Corner, especially on the boundaries, was an absolute mess last year. Tracy Porter hobbled through the season while he could and Kyle Fuller never even took the field, leaving the position in disarray without adequate safety oversight.
The dire situation left fans wanting major free-agent names such as Stephon Gilmore. Instead, they got Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara.
This isn't as bad as it sounds. Yes, Cooper rated as the 106th cornerback at Pro Football Focus last year, but he did so while getting abused because defenses didn't want to throw at Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. There's a hint of upside here suggesting he'll be better off in press coverage under the guidance of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
It's the same story for Amukamara. The former first-round pick wasn't used well in Jacksonville last year, but there's a silver lining in that he's on a prove-it deal and in a scheme that should better put his skill set to work.
The newfound starters at the top leave depth at corner in a good situation. Cre'Von LeBlanc is a quality slot starter and others such as Fuller and Deiondre' Hall will compete for roster spots, which—on paper—should bring out their best.
Tight end was a wasteland for the Bears last year and one of the most obvious areas they would attack this offseason.
A shoddy quarterback situation didn't help, and the 6'5", 243-pound Zach Miller once again couldn't stay on the field thanks to injuries.
His situation and the depth overall prompted Pace to spend cash on free agent Dion Sims and use a draft pick on Adam Shaheen. Both figure to go into next season as the starters.
Sims is one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends who really started to come on as a receiver last year. Miami, per PFF, gave him a career-high 39 targets, which he turned into 290 yards and four touchdowns.
It doesn't sound like much, but Sims won't always need to make splashes through the air if Shaheen pans out right away.
Pace clearly loves the Ashland product and went ahead and spent the No. 45 pick on him, which could look smart in hindsight if Shaheen comes in and uses his 6'6", 278-pound frame to make meaningful contributions right away.
Even if the impact isn't obvious from both guys, Pace just put the roster in a position to be set at tight end for a long time.
Other than Cameron Meredith having a breakout year, little of note besides Alshon Jeffery's eventual departure happened at wideout for the Bears.
Meredith is now the No. 1 on the depth chart heading into 2017 and should improve on his team-leading 888 yards and four touchdowns from a year ago thanks to his developmental clip and better quarterback play.
Everything else about the depth chart feels fresh and optimistic.
Pace signed Markus Wheaton after his four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Primarily a deep threat there, his best year came in 2015 when he posted 749 yards and five scores over 16 games. Health has been a concern for the Oregon State product, but there's reserved optimism he can do more than simply stretch the field.
It's a similar vibe around free-agent add Kendall Wright. Primarily a slot guy, he has a single 1,000-yard campaign to his name, though injuries, an odd fit and what seemed like clashes with the coaching staff created a so-so tenure with the Tennessee Titans.
It's important to note, though, the best year of Wright's career happened under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who serves in the same role with the Bears now.
Observant readers will notice none of this mentions Kevin White, the 2015 No. 7 pick who missed his rookie year and only showed up in four games last season. For good reason—Bears wideout coach Zach Azzanni in an interview with Kevin Fishbain of the Northwest Herald, made it sound like the team still views the 24-year-old as a rookie who needs to work on the basics.
That black eye on the depth chart aside, the Bears have a better top three at wideout than they have had in years, with interesting depth behind it ready to fight for roster spots.
It's not hard to improve on Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.
Still, what Pace did at quarterback this offseason shouldn't be undersold. In a nutshell, Mike Glennon is a veteran with the upside of a guy who can start for years. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky is a high-end quarterback prospect who could well develop into a franchise quarterback.
That's painting in broad strokes, of course. Glennon has only attempted 11 passes since 2014, though he never received much of a chance to reach for his ceiling as a prospect while suffering through the miserable years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The truth of the matter is simple—Pace saw a 27-year-old quarterback he liked and thought he could be a capable starter, stopgap or otherwise. He went out and got him. And based on Glennon's flashes during his time on terrible rosters, it won't take him long to convince Bears fans it wasn't a bad move.
Then there's Trubisky. He's 6'2" and 222 pounds of potential thanks to a strong arm and ability to work through reads. Perhaps more important than anything else, he is athletic enough to escape crumbling pockets and keep his eyes downfield looking for targets (something another Pace favorite, Marcus Mariota, does well) before taking the ball down the field himself.
Maybe Trubisky starts in 2017. Maybe not. But Pace took two shots on a franchise quarterback this offseason and either could perform better in the short term than the quarterbacks the Bears fielded a year ago.
Better play right away and hints at future success will define Bears quarterbacks in 2017, which is nothing short of the best development of the offseason for the franchise and fans.