With the Bears drafting Kyle Fuller (which looks to me like a great pick) and considering they have two starting corners in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, do you think it is possible fourth-round pick Brock Vereen will be on the field more than Fuller this year? – Brad M., Gurnee, from email
If Vereen nails down a starting safety job, he potentially could log more snaps on defense than Fuller. That would bode well for Vereen’s future and potentially indicate the defense has solved a need area. I say potentially because we’ve seen too many one-year fixes at the position in the last decade. What the Bears need is sustained performance from players at safety. I would be careful not to minimize the significance of the nickel cornerback position, though. It’s called the 12th starter on defense for a reason. Bear in mind general manager Phil Emery said one of the factors in selecting Fuller was knowing whom the Bears have to face in the NFC North every season. I went back and took a look at playing time statistics for the division games in 2013. The nickel cornerback Isaiah Frey was on the field for 59.5 percent of the plays. While that figure doesn’t necessarily jump out, let’s consider how the position was used against the Packers and Lions. Against Green Bay, Frey was on the field for 105 of 133 snaps – 78.9 percent of the time. Against Detroit, Frey was on the field for 90 of 128 snaps -- 70.3 percent of the time. If the Bears can get significant playing time from Vereen in 2014, it will signal his career is headed in the right direction. I’d expect Fuller to be heavily involved and I’d warn against putting a ceiling on him, even during his rookie season. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be in position to push for a starting job.
What will happen if Jay Cutler gets injured? Obviously, the No. 2 guy gets inserted. But Jay has been somewhat fragile over the last few years, getting his bell rung and what not. So my question is how do the Bears get out from under the huge contract Jay recently got? – Peter S., Cary, Ill., from email
There is no easy out for the Bears when it comes to Cutler’s contract and that is a credit to his agent Bus Cook and an indication the front office is not overly concerned about the quarterback’s durability. The reported guarantee on Cutler’s contract was $54 million and here is how it breaks down: The $22.5 million for this season became 100 percent guaranteed for skill, cap and injury on the third day of the league year – March 13. At that same time, the $15.5 million Cutler is due in 2015 also became 100 percent guaranteed for skill, cap and injury. So, $38 million is fully guaranteed at this point. When you look ahead to the $16 million Cutler is due in Year 3 of the contract, 2016, it is totally guaranteed for injury right now. If Cutler is on the Bears’ roster on the third day of the league year in 2015, $10 million of that $16 million becomes guaranteed for skill and cap. If Cutler is on the Bears’ roster on the third day of the league year in 2016, the $16 million becomes fully guaranteed for skill and cap. So, the entire $54 million is guaranteed for injury right now and $38 million of the $54 million is guaranteed for skill and cap. The Bears are on the hook for big bucks to Cutler and now they’re eager for a return on the investment.
Why not let Shea McClellin compete at middle linebacker and keep Jon Bostic on the strong side? Bostic adds speed and power they need. I'd hate to see him benched. -- @NelsonMcElmurry from Twitter
The only definitive thing the Bears have said about their linebackers is Lance Briggs will be the starter on the weak side. I don’t think there is a clear depth chart elsewhere although I have maintained all along that D.J. Williams is probably the man to beat at middle linebacker. I don’t think McClellin has been ruled out at middle linebacker although he is not an ideal fit at the position. I would expect McClellin and Bostic to get a look in the middle and on the strong side. I don’t know that the power and speed you refer to with Bostic really showed up in the games last season, at least with any consistency.
Any chance the Bears put together a trade with a mix of vets and/or rookies to shore up the secondary? -- @DeBears340 from Twitter
There seems to be this undercurrent of discussion that the Bears could land Chiefs safety Eric Berry via trade. Berry is under contract for $8.417 million this season and the Bears don’t have anywhere close to the cap room that would be needed to fit in such a salary. I’m not sure what veterans the Bears have that would be expendable and would be attractive to another club. I doubt the club is interested in trading any recent draft picks, either. Prior to the draft, the Bears had $7.653 million of remaining cap space and I expect their rookie pool to be in the neighborhood of $5 million, meaning they will have roughly $2.6 million in cap space left over.
Can Brock Vereen win the starting position beating out a guy like Chris Conte? -- @jermaine611 from Twitter
The list of rookie safeties that have started for the Bears over the last decade isn’t a short one. Chris Harris, Danieal Manning, Kevin Payne, Al Afalava and Conte all worked their way into the lineup as rookies for former coach Lovie Smith, who showed no hesitation in playing draft picks. The problem was he never found a pick at the position that had staying power, especially after trading Harris because he wanted to acquire Adam Archuleta in an ill-planned trade. Sure, Vereen will have an opportunity to win a starting job. If he does, the key will be settling in and keeping the job.
What are your thoughts of the sixth-round picks? I thought they were brilliant since both will contribute short/long term. The media is bashing Phil Emery. -- @p_jacques from Twitter
Typically, teams fill holes at punter by going out and signing a veteran or holding a tryout for a variety of players, an exercise that usually leads to a veteran winning the job. Pat O’Donnell certainly has a leg up on competition for the job with Drew Butler and Tress Way, and the Bears put a great deal of stock in Joe DeCamillis’ expertise in this area. O’Donnell was the best punter in the draft but I don’t think he compares to someone like Jacksonville’s Bryan Anger, who was selected in the third round in 2012. As for quarterback David Fales, the other sixth-round pick, I think you are jumping to a conclusion that he will definitively have an impact on the roster in the short or long term. Fales has to make the team first and my thinking is if he does it will be as a No. 3. I doubt, at this point, the Bears would carry a rookie sixth-round pick as the primary backup to Jay Cutler. Maybe Fales will impress, but my hunch is coach Marc Trestman and Emery will want a more experienced option as the No. 2.
What undrafted free agent is most likely to make the team? -- @tassshaa from Twitter
Before the players take the field in rookie minicamp, that is difficult to say. And players who sparkle against the other rookies will have to continue to stand out when put in the mix with the veterans. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who is being converted to running back, will unquestionably generate the greatest buzz. Some scouts thought Wisconsin guard Ryan Groy potentially could be a fifth-round pick after starting 33 games over four seasons for the Badgers, who have a history of sending linemen to the NFL. Groy has good size but isn’t as athletic as you would like. One of the best paths for an undrafted free agent to make the 53-man roster is to play well on special teams, so perhaps one of the three linebackers (Alabama’s Tana Patrick, Florida State’s Christian Jones or South Florida’s Devekeyan Lattimore) will step up.
Any thoughts on why Phil Emery passed on Louis Nix as a run-stuffing tackle in favor of Ego Ferguson? -- @PaulPopernik from Twitter
This was one of the most popular questions this week with a lot of readers wondering why the Bears bypassed Nix, who they brought in for a pre-draft visit. Nix went 83rd overall in the third round, after Ferguson and one pick after the Bears drafted Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. I could not find a scout who didn’t believe Nix was best suited for a 3-4 defense, with most calling him an ideal two-gap nose tackle in that scheme. There also were concerns over Nix’s shape. He could very well flourish with the Texans. Meanwhile, scouts believe Ferguson has an opportunity to be a run-stuffing tackle in a 4-3 scheme with a chance to develop as a pocket pusher against the pass. The Bears drafted Sutton, another player that comes with questions about his ability to remain in shape, with the idea of having him thrive as a disruptive three-technique, a position that would not fit Nix.
Out of the eight draft picks and nine undrafted rookie free agents, the Bears came away with only one safety. Are they set at safety? -- @rodegu from Twitter
The Bears feel better about their collection of players at safety than their fans do, but let’s wait and see how this plays out. There are three ways in which more players could become available. First, we’re already seeing teams make cuts, shedding veterans that became expendable following the draft. Second, we’ll see more cuts in June with some possibly being for cap reasons and others because veterans have been pushed aside by younger players. Third, there will be an even larger group of players hitting the street in August and the first few days of September when roster cuts happen. Don’t overlook the fact the Bears will be looking at every name that comes across the waiver wire. I would pay particular attention to safeties, tight ends and maybe even a veteran running back or veteran quarterback.
What role is Isaiah Frey bound for now with Kyle Fuller coming in? -- @deepdischdeclan from Twitter
I see Frey being in the mix at cornerback and the nickel position. Fuller should be expected to claim the nickel spot, at the minimum, but competition is a good thing and it’s always best to push the depth chart from the top down.
The pick of Ego Ferguson was widely criticized. What about him made the beloved pick him so early? -- @dbrenegar from Twitter
For starters, Ferguson has good size at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, and that really sets him apart from what the team has on the roster at the position. He’s strong and is a rugged run defender. The Bears were last in the NFL in run defense last season, so finding an anchor in the middle for the base package made a lot of sense. They see upside to Ferguson, too. He’s not just a wall, he’s got some athletic ability. But his pass-rush skills are very raw and he’ll need to refine that part of his game. I talked to a national scout with another team who really liked Ferguson although he thought Round 2 was a little rich. As he said, “it’s all in the eye of the beholder,” though. No two draft boards look alike and the proof will be in how Ferguson performs on the field.
Who on the roster should be worried about their job based on the draft? -- @gcflatt from Twitter
The NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. With the exception of a few elite players with major contracts, every player is being pushed on the roster for a job. The Bears certainly added needed depth on the interior of the defensive line and that should push a veteran like Israel Idonije. The selection of offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr. in the seventh round probably pushes James Brown and Eben Britton. No question cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey will be challenged more with the addition of first-round pick Kyle Fuller. Running back Michael Ford has a challenge from fourth-round pick Ka’Deem Carey. The challenges are across the board.
Why did Christian Jones go undrafted? No true position? Is he a defensive end or linebacker? What are his chances to make the team? -- @JeffHahaha from Twitter
Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported last week that Jones failed a drug test at the combine. That is a significant red flag for NFL clubs because the drug test at the combine doesn’t come as a surprise. Every player headed to the combine knows it is coming. So teams have reservations about players who are not wise enough to make sure they are clean at what is basically a job interview. Jones started for three seasons with the Seminoles, playing as a linebacker for the first two years before moving to defensive end this past year. Most people projected him as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Bears are listing him as a linebacker and he measured 6-foot-3, 240 pounds at the combine, too small to play end. Jones’ instincts are considered average, at best, in talking to evaluators. I’m not sure what his chances are to stick on the roster but he will be an interesting player to watch.
Who is in more danger of not making the team, Stephen Paea or Nate Collins? -- @dxas06 from Twitter
Tap the brakes on reducing the depth at defensive tackle. Remember, the position was wiped out by injuries last season after taking a hit when Sedrick Ellis did a U-turn and retired before heading to training camp. Paea is in the final year of his rookie contract and while he lost his starting job at the very end of last season to veteran Jeremiah Ratliff, let’s see how new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni evaluates his depth chart. Collins is on a contract for the minimum, so neither of these players are making the kind of money that is going to make it prohibitive for them to remain on the roster as role players if they don’t crack the starting lineup.
It looks like the Bears will have to cut a decent defensive lineman. Can they get a draft pick for someone like Stephen Paea or Nate Collins? -- @Pbrady55 from Twitter
That’s a discussion for mid-August at the earliest. See above.
With all the defensive line transactions, how many linemen do the Bears keep come August? -- @bighurtNYC from Twitter
Typically, clubs keep nine or 10 defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. The Bears went higher than that at times under Lovie Smith. If a team goes on the low side, it has to feel good about having at least one quality swing guy, a player that can play end and tackle.
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