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Chicago Bears Q&A: Is it time to add an edge rusher? What young players are standing out at OTAs?

The Chicago Bears are finishing their second week of organized team activities at Halas Hall. Despite their offseason additions, they still have some roster deficiencies. Brad Biggs addresses concerns in his weekly mailbag.

It’s June 1. Do you think the Bears will be active this week or next for edge help? — @just_acy

Just because the Bears have not added a defensive end with a track record does not mean general manager Ryan Poles and his staff have not been working on this initiative. I expect the team to add a veteran edge defender at some point.

“We’re interested in a lot of free agents,” coach Matt Eberflus said Wednesday when asked if he would like to get some help at the position. “We’re interested in a lot of guys at all positions. We’re just excited about being able to look at those guys and potentially add as we go through camp and getting closer to the season.”

Does this mean something will happen this week or next? Maybe. Not much has changed in the three weeks since I wrote about options for the team at the position. You can scratch two of the 10 possibilities I referenced in the article off the list, and both would have been guys Poles would have had to trade to acquire. The Minnesota Vikings shipped Za’Darius Smith to the Cleveland Browns, and the New York Jets renegotiated the contract of Carl Lawson, presumably with the intent of keeping him.

The eight free agents mentioned in the article remain available. I would say 2016 Bears first-round pick Leonard Floyd and journeyman Yannick Ngakoue are the best on the list. Would either one transform this defense? No. Would either one keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night? Probably not. Would either one be a significant upgrade over what the Bears, who had a league-low 20 sacks in 2022, have? Without question.

One would imagine the longer this plays out, the better chance the Bears have of signing a player at a figure that is closer to their price. Elite pass rushers are not available in free agency in June, but Floyd or Ngakoue certainly would help and be a nice addition for defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

Any young players standing out in OTAs? — Howard L., Evanston

Young players tend to rise and fall throughout the offseason program, and this is all about giving them, especially the rookies, a base for which to begin from in training camp. Football without full pads on can be a little misleading. There’s no contact allowed, which is why they call it “football in underwear” at times. Occasionally stars of the offseason program, athletic players who look dangerous in space, disappear quickly when the pads go on during training camp.

That said, it was notable to hear from defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and safeties coach Andre Curtis about a handful of young players.

Hoke was quite positive about second-round pick Tyrique Stevenson, who had an interception Wednesday when practice was open to media.

“He uses his length well,” Hoke said. “He’s really, really instinctive. He has a way of getting his hands on a lot of footballs. He does know the game of football. It comes relatively — not easy, but he does understand concepts easier than some guys do, so it’s been a real plus.”

Hoke also offered unprompted praise of fifth-round pick Terrel Smith, who is also competing at cornerback, and seventh-round pick Kendall Williamson, a safety,

“He’s got a chance to really help us,” he said. “He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s smart. I’ve been pleased with his progress, for sure. I’m just talking really about the rookies. Kendall Williamson’s done a nice job. He’s another guy who’s smart, knows the defense, was a communicator. The young guys have done a good job. The older guys, I’m getting to know them a little bit better. It’s a good group of men, I do know that, and they work well together and they take coaching, which is huge.”

As far as Curtis, he highlighted the work of Elijah Hicks, a safety drafted in the seventh round a year ago. Hicks appeared in 15 games as a rookie, getting 168 snaps on defense, most late in the season. He was a core special teams player too.

“Hicks is coming on,” Curtis said. “He’s made a couple nice plays. He made another nice one (Tuesday). Year 2 for him and he’s a real sharp kid. His technique is improving. I just seen him coming in there and fighting for a spot. He’s going to compete. I like where he is mentally, physically. He’s making plays on the ball. You keep getting your hands on the ball, you will find yourself on this football team.

“I always get a little leery judging players this time of year because the pads aren’t on. I see Elijah improving. He’s changed physically. He’s a little more stout. He’s in a good spot.”

With Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, and DJ Moore all more than likely starting, who will be in the slot more often than not? — @_sgoudreau

Those project to be the three most-used wide receivers in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers). Mooney has yet to return from the leg injury that sent him to injured reserve and surgery in November. The good news is the organization has expressed confidence he will be ready to roll by training camp if not sooner. We’ll have to see how often the Bears use 11 personnel. They might want to use more 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) after the addition of Robert Tonyan.

In this trio, Mooney would be the likely choice to work in the slot. The Pittsburgh Steelers moved Claypool to the slot last season, and that wasn’t very productive for them before they traded him to the Bears. Moore was primarily an outside receiver for the Carolina Panthers. But you can bet offensive coordinator Luke Getsy wants to have flexibility in moving them around from time to time, especially as he looks for advantageous matchups in certain situations. Mooney was productive in the slot in 2021.

It feels like the Bears are preparing to let Jaylon Johnson walk after the season. They have drafted a cornerback in the second round in two consecutive drafts. Do you think the odds are higher they re-sign Johnson or let him walk? — @joshua726_gs

There has been more hand-wringing over Johnson the last few weeks than is really necessary. He skipped a good chunk of the voluntary offseason program. Defensive backs coach Jon Hoke said Wednesday that he expects to see Johnson soon. Johnson missed portions of the voluntary offseason program a year ago.

GM Ryan Poles has said he would like to see Johnson around into the future. That indicates the team has a desire to sign Johnson to an extension. Does that mean it will happen? Certainly not. It takes sides finding common ground to get a deal done. The Bears drafted cornerbacks in the second round in each of the last two drafts because they’ve been deficient in terms of talent and depth at the position for a while. If the Bears don’t extend Johnson, guess what? They will likely be in the market for a cornerback in free agency or the draft next offseason.

We’re going to have to wait and see where negotiations go — and the Bears have plenty of time to work through that — to get a better feel for what the future holds. I doubt Poles wants to negotiate with a player who isn’t in the building. It won’t be a bad sign if there’s no deal before training camp. Let’s take a deep breath and let some stuff play out.

How much of an effect did weak interior defensive line play have on sacks for defensive ends and interceptions? — @stewart_errol

The Bears were bad across the line — left to right and right to left — which is why we’ve seen an investment (even if somewhat modest) in defensive tackles. They signed Andrew Billings, a run-stuffing nose tackle in free agency and then used three draft picks on tackles. A penetating tackle can produce sacks for edge defenders by forcing the quarterback to roll out. A penetrating tackle can disrupt the pass protection faster than anyone because it’s such a short path to the quarterback. But let’s not make any excuses for the edge rushers last season. They were deficient when it came to rushing the quarterback, and I’m certain the Bears would be seeking major improvement if Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael had been rushing from the inside for the 2022 Bears.

Mostly I am reading the 2023 Bears will have eight to nine wins. If you were to speculate, what are the chances they go over or under this? For me, I am on the over by two or three. Under is zero. — @legendzombie

Most shops have the over/under total for the Bears at 7½ wins and some have juiced that total to the over, meaning you would get a more favorable payout if you bet the under. In the game-by-game predictions after the schedule was released, I projected the Bears to win eight games.

The schedule looks a little easier this season, although we said the same thing last offseason and it turned out to be a meat grinder for a club that was in full-blown rebuilding mode. Certainly the Bears should benefit with Aaron Rodgers’ exit from Green Bay. Most folks don’t believe the Minnesota Vikings will be as successful this season. The Bears are going to have to be a heck of a lot more competitive in the NFC North before anyone can think about them reaching 10 or so victories as you suggest. It could happen.

The roster is improved. There are still some holes on the roster, most notably at defensive end. We don’t know how a retooled offensive line and the young defensive tackles will perform. It’s anyone’s best guess how much better quarterback Justin Fields can be with a year of experience in the system and continuity with the coaching staff. It’s safe to peg the Bears between six and nine wins. Like I said, my projection was for an eight-win season. That would be a solid step forward coming off a 3-14 campaign that ended with a 10-game losing streak. It’s a very young roster, and there is room for growth.


Source: Berkshire mont

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