1. The Bears expect a different story on defense in 2014
By picking a defender in each of the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears completed a rebuilding process that began the moment the Green Bay Packers knocked them out of the playoffs in the final seconds of the final regular season game of ’13. Secondary and defensive tackle were the team’s biggest needs heading into the draft and both continued to be a focus throughout, as the Bears’ were committed to filling the holes that remained on defense.
2. Phil Emery’s big board is his, and his alone
Last year the Bears watched as seven offensive linemen were taken before their pick at 21 only to surprise many by taking the third guard of the night, OL Kyle Long. Many analysts deemed the pick a reach, concluding that there was far better talent available than the eighth offensive linemen off the board. 16 games into his career, Long has a Pro-Bowl appearance to his name, is one of the top rookies of his class, and has proved that Emery’s draft insight is far more valuable than the top paid analysts.
Emery made similar executive decisions in this year’s draft taking CB Kyle Fuller at 14, despite consensus that he was a late first round prospect, followed by the pick of Ego Ferguson in the second, a player many pegged as a 4th rounder. Though the Bears’ top picks may not be who you, or I for that matter expected, both were clearly on Phil Emery’s radar, which after ’13, is good enough for me.
3. Pat O’Donnel could very well be the Bears’ only Day 1 starter from the draft
In what I found to be a fairly surprising and uncharacteristic move, the Bears drafted the only punter taken in the 2014 draft, Pat O’Donnel, a first for the team since ’95 (Todd Sauerbrun, 2nd round).
After an underwhelming ’13 from Adam Podlesh, the Bears clearly want more production from the position (Podlesh is now in Pittsburgh) after the team finished last in average yards per punt last season (40.6 yards). It seems Chicago deemed O’Donnel their man, as he finished with the third-best yards per punt in all of D-1 football (47.1 yards). With 23 reps on the bench press at the combine, (third most of any non-linemen) O’Donnel has the physical tools to compete with any punter the Bears bring in and by opening game I expect him to be the Bears’ starter.
4. Once Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman retire, the 2006 Super Bowl squad will be no more
The Bears projected roster on defense looks something like this:
[table id=503 /]
Don’t be alarmed if several names are unfamiliar to you. Many Bears fans share your confusion. But it’s past time to accept that Chicago longer has any resemblance to the team that dominated with defense over the past decade. Tillman and Briggs (both have one year contracts) are all that remain.
5. The Bears expect great things from Marquess Wilson
Many thought Chicago would walk away from the 2014 draft a wide receiver richer after small signings within the position left much to be desired. Though the tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may be the most feared combo in the entire league, the league-wide adoption of the spread offense has made the one-two punch obsolete. Teams need more than two great wideouts to be a dominant offense in this league these days i.e., the Denver Broncos.
A few nice signings in the offseason (Josh Morgan and Domenik Hixon) certainly helped, but there’s no way either veteran can be relied upon on a week-in week-out basis. So why didn’t the team add another receiver to the mix via the draft? The only possible explanation: the Bears expect Marquess Wilson to make big strides in his sophomore season, as Jeffrey did a year ago.
6. The Packers, Lions, and Vikings all walked away stronger
TE Eric Ebron, OLB Kyle Van Noy, S Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams, TE Richard Rodgers, LB Anthony Barr, RB Jerick Mckinnon, and QB Teddy Bridgewater, all added to the division overnight. 8-7-1 simply will not get it done this time around. An improved NFC North sets the bar that much higher for the Monsters of the Midway in ’14.
7. The Bears expect Jay Cutler to play all 16 regular season games
Through his first five seasons with the Bears, Jay Cutler has missed a total of 13 regular season games. That’s not a terribly high number (Aaron Rodgers has missed nine during that same span), yet his durability has prevented this team from serious contention.
The franchise quarterback hasn’t played a full season since ’09, however, after signing a seven-year contract worth as much as $126 million, it is clear the Bears fully expect a 16-game season from the controversial quarterback.
With Josh McCown now in Tampa Bay, the Bears drafted David Fales in the sixth round to help get some depth at the position. But only a two-year collegiate starter, the prospect out of San Jose State will need time to be groomed into a legitimate NFL starter, making the pick nothing more than a long-term insurance policy. Though Fales threw for over 4,000 yards in ’12 and ’13, the Bears don’t expect him to touch the field in ’14. That they saved for their $18.5 million man.
8. The Bears expect Martellus Bennett to play all 16 regular season games
One position that continued to appear on Chicago Bear mock drafts, including my own, was tight end. Don’t get me wrong, Bennett was an outstanding pickup for the team in’13, but following New England’s success with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, two tight-ends sets have been embraced throughout the league. I simply expected the Bears to be next, but in the end the bigger needs were on defense.
With Marshall, Jeffrey, Wilson, Bennett, and Matt Forte, the Bears certainly have enough options air the ball out, the problem will be keeping them healthy. After Martellus Bennett, the depth at the tight-end is exceedingly weak as Fendi Onobun and Dante Rosario are the only backups. The team doesn’t have an easy replacement if Bennett goes down.
9. The safety problem may still be a problem
Bad safety play was among the primary reasons the Bears failed to contend in ’13 and in turn has become a catalyst for the team’s offseason moves and decisions. Following the signing of safeties Ryan Mundy and MD Jennings, the Bears used a fourth-rounder to pick Brock Vereen, brother of versatile Patriots’ running back Shane Vereen.
None of the additions are much of a home run per say, but hopefully the combination of the three will help solidify the Bears back side. The bottom line is the Bears can’t hope to contend if they can’t make stops downfield, as we learned in 2013, (opposing teams had a 55.3 completion percentage against Chicago on throws of 15 yards or more, by far the worst in the NFL).
10. 2014 here we come
In the end every move the Bears made in the offseason was with one goal in mind: to be a contender in 2014. With only one playoff berth since the 2006 Super Bowl appearance, Chicago is desperately trying to figure out what it takes to win in this ultimate team sport. Finding a successful balance between offense and defense has limited the team’s overall potential, as one got good the other went bad, preventing the Bears from contending year after year. Chicago hopes to end that trend in ’14 as the revamping of the defense combined with a few additions for the offense is designed to make this a more balanced team and a legitimate contender.
Chicago Bears 2014 Draft:
Round 1, Pick 14: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Round 2, Pick 51: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Round 3, Pick 82: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
Round 4, Pick 117: Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Round 4, Pick 131: Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
Round 6, Pick 183: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Round 6, Pick 191: Pat O’Donnel, P, Miami
Round 7, Pick 246: Charles Leno Jr., OT, Boise State