1st-and-10: The 2020 Bears spotlight is on ... Juan Castillo?

No doubt, Castillo’s role will be crucial. Even with the addition of Nick Foles, Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet, the Bears’ most important upgrade is arguably an offensive line that returns virtually intact from 2019.

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Right tackle Bobby Massie (70) missed six games because of injury in 2019. He and the rest of the Bears’ offensive line will be looking to regain their 2018 form under new line coach Juan Castillo in 2020.

Right tackle Bobby Massie (70) missed six games because of injury in 2019. He and the rest of the Bears’ offensive line will be looking to regain their 2018 form under new line coach Juan Castillo in 2020.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears traded for quarterback Nick Foles, signed tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Robert Quinn in free agency and acquired potential starters in tight end Cole Kmet and cornerback Jaylon Johnson in the second round of the draft. But it seems like the offseason addition they’re counting on the most is offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy rarely miss a chance to tout the impact of Castillo, who replaced the well-respected Harry Hiestand after last season. The firing of Hiestand wasn’t a big surprise after the offensive line and running game struggled in 2019. But getting an upgrade seemed unlikely. Apparently, coaching the offensive line is like the offensive line itself — some combinations work and some don’t.

And no doubt, Castillo’s role will be crucial. Even with the addition of Foles, Graham and Kmet, the Bears’ most important upgrade is arguably an offensive line that remains virtually intact from 2019. Rashaad Coward, who started 10 games in place of Kyle Long last season, will battle free agent Germain Ifedi and presumably 2019 undrafted free agent Alex Bars, for the starting job. Other than that, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, left guard James Daniels and center Cody Whitehair return.

The Bears are counting on Castillo to make the difference. Pace didn’t even have to be asked about seventh-round draft picks Arlington Hambright and Lachavious Simmons to tout Castillo’s impact.

“[Simmons’] size and length jumps out. He’s got 35-inch arms,” Pace said. “These are the type of guys that Juan Castillo loves to work with, just that body type.”

And when asked about free agents Ifedi and former Packers tackle Jason Spriggs, Pace again referred to Castillo as the key.

“[Spriggs is] still a young player,” Pace said of the 25-year-old, who was a second-round draft pick in 2016. “And I think what’s a little understated is the addition of Juan Castillo, too, as our offensive line coach and what he’s gonna bring to the table. We feel good there.”

At the rate they’re going, it won’t be understated for long. With growth-from-within being a key element to the Bears’ recovery from a season of regression, Castillo surely will be in the spotlight whenever the 2020 season begins.

2. It takes roughly three years to truly grade a draft (though not always — most experts had the Bears’ 2017 draft pegged the moment it ended). But the Bears’ 2020 draft received mostly B’s and C’s from national outlets: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (C+), NFL.com (B+), USA Today (C+), The Sporting News (C), NFL.com (B+), Pro Football Focus (B+), Washington Post (C+), New York Post (C-), Bleacher Report (C-).

3. Utah’s Johnson is one of those picks that looks better and better the more you analyze it. Just as safety Eddie Jackson was pegged as a Week 1 starter as a fourth-round pick in 2018, Johnson figures to be the opening-day starter at cornerback in 2020. And like Jackson, he’ll have the advantage of playing in a top 10 defense, with a particularly strong front seven.

Johnson is 28-1 to be the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year — not likely, but a value bet for a player almost certain to start in a defense loaded with talent.

4. Pace’s record on first-round draft picks is dubious at this point — 1-for-4, with linebacker Roquan Smith the lone hit, following wide receiver Kevin White (2015), outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (2016) and quarterback Mitch Trubisky (2017). But his record in the second round, while still developing, is much better.

If Johnson starts and Kmet plays starter’s snaps as expected, Pace could have six starters out of his seven second-round picks: nose tackle Eddie Goldman (2015), Whitehair (2016), Daniels (2018) and wide receiver Anthony Miller (2018). The only non-contributor is tight end Adam Shaheen (2017).

5. Kmet is a developing prospect who might not make a big impact as a rookie, but you have to like a guy who has the confidence to matter-of-factly compare his style to Rob Gronkowski without concern about raising expectations.

“A guy I’ve always looked to was Gronk and his physical style and play and being able to use his size at 6-6,” Kmet said. “It’s something that’s unique and something I feel I can do. His style of play is something I’ve tried to model after.”

6. Kmet is the first local player drafted by the Bears since Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour from Benet in 2010.

He also is the first local player to be drafted in the first three rounds since Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe from Holy Cross in 2007.

Kmet is the Bears’ highest local draft pick since Wisconsin offensive tackle Dennis Lick from St. Rita was drafted eighth overall in 1976.

Other notable local players drafted by the Bears include Dick Butkus (Vocational) third overall in 1965; Hugh Gallarneau (Morgan Park) in the thirdround (23rd overall) in 1941; Ed O’Bradovich (Proviso East) in the seventh round in 1962; Tom Thayer (Joliet Catholic) in the fourth round in 1983; Mike Pyle (New Trier) in the seventh round in 1961; Chris Zorich (Vocational) in the second round in 1991; and Tom Hicks (Willowbrook) in the sixth round in 1975.

7. As evidenced by the Trubisky pick in 2017, Pace doesn’t take any chances when he finds a player he really wants. Tulsa pass rusher Trevis Gipson was considered a fourth-round talent, but he also was rated the 223rd-best prospect by Kiper and projected to go in the seventh round in a couple of mock drafts. Pace traded a 2021 fourth-round pick for a fifth-round pick (No. 155) to get Gipson.

Gipson is the seventh player Pace has traded up (or in) on draft day to acquire. The others: Floyd (from No. 11 to No. 9) and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (from No. 117 to 113) in 2016; Trubisky (No. 3 to No. 2) and Jackson (No. 117 to No. 112) in 2017; Miller (a future second-rounder for No. 51) in 2018; and running back David Montgomery (No. 87 to No. 73) in 2019.

8. The Bears had their valued culture at Halas Hall in mind in this draft. Tulane wide receiver Darnell Mooney and Georgia Southern cornerback Kindle Vildor were team captains. And their top five picks were notable good-character guys, according to Dane Brugler’s scouting reports in The Athletic:

Kmet: “Hard to find a former coach or teammate who doesn’t talk about him in the highest regard, using words like ‘winner,’ ‘elite character’ and ‘once in a lifetime young man.’ ”

Johnson: “Already owns a professional demeanor, and his coaches say he owns the ‘appetite for work and improvement.’ ”

Vildor: “Well-respected by his teammates.”

Gipson: “[Head coach] Philip Montgomery: ‘He obviously is our team leader, not just defensively, but overall.’ ”

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Tight end Trey Burton signed a one-year, veteran minimum contract with the Colts last Wednesday, five days after he was released by the Bears.

Burton is recovering from offseason hip surgery, but he’s much less of a risk for the Colts at the minimum salary (around $900,000) than he was for the Bears — though the salary and cap relief was relatively modest. The Bears still are paying Burton around $3.1 million in guaranteed salary, with a $7.5 million cap hit split between the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

10. Bear-ometer (6-6) — vs. Buccaneers (canceled); at Falcons (canceled); vs. Packers (cancelled); at Titans (canceled); vs. Vikings (W); at Panthers (W); vs. Colts (L); at Jaguars (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Lions (L); vs. Saints (L); at Rams (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).

(Note: Though these are the Bears’ 2020 opponents, the actual schedule is expected to be announced in May).

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