Benching WR Chase Claypool is Bears’ last option to spark better effort

Coach Matt Eberflus left the door open on making Claypool inactive against the Buccaneers, and Equanimeous St. Brown might provide what the Bears missed in Week 1.

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 Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool at practice.

Chase Claypool was targeted twice Sunday and didn’t have a catch.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Bears would think they’d be getting the absolute best out of receiver Chase Claypool now, if for no other reason than he has tens of millions of dollars on the line heading into free agency.

What the Bears got from him in the season opener against the Packers, however, was such a poor performance that they would be justified to bench him Sunday against the Buccaneers. It would be prudent, really, to get a better blocking receiver on the field in Equanimeous St. Brown and give Claypool a wake-up call.

The Bears spent all last season and the recent offseason defending Claypool’s sparse contribution after he caught 14 passes for 140 yards in seven games after general manager Ryan Poles traded a second-round pick (No. 32 overall) to the Steelers for him.

But that defense has thinned. When asked Wednesday whether Claypool might be inactive this week, with St. Brown likely playing in his place, coach Matt Eberflus left that option on the table, saying he was ‘‘looking at all possibilities.’’ That was a canned answer, but he certainly would have rejected it outright if he had been asked about DJ Moore or Darnell Mooney.

While Claypool’s minimal production as a receiver has been a letdown for the Bears, his blocking seems to bother them more. It’s not that he’s unable to block; it’s that he’s not trying hard enough and, perhaps, is disinterested in doing so.

‘‘When you’re blocking the perimeter like that, you have to have good technique,’’ Eberflus said of Claypool. ‘‘He’s displayed good technique in practice on that. That’s why we had him in those positions.

‘‘But perimeter blocking’s all about technique. It’s all about your angles. Your intensity, for sure — it’s always about that.’’

Claypool, who always has plenty to say on the field, declined to talk with the media after practice.

There would be a lot to ask.

How did he get blown up so badly by Packers cornerback Keisean Nixon when he was blocking on a screen pass to Mooney late in the first half? Nixon barreled through Claypool, who at 6-4 and 238 pounds dwarfs him by a half-foot and 40 pounds, and dropped Mooney for a four-yard loss.

On a run by Khalil Herbert in the first quarter, Claypool barely brushed shoulders with Packers linebacker Quay Walker as Walker made a beeline for Herbert to stop him for a loss of two. What happened?

Those were his most egregious lapses, but there were others. Claypool didn’t leave Eberflus anything he could defend.

“You all saw the plays,’’ Eberflus said.

Incidentally, Claypool is the Bears’ biggest receiver. St. Brown is 6-5 but weighs just 214 pounds. Mooney does a quality job at 5-11 and 173 pounds.

All of that suggests effort is the issue.

And without high-volume receiving production to offset that deficiency, Claypool isn’t giving the Bears much of a reason to stick with him. St. Brown isn’t a game-changer as a receiver, but neither is Claypool at this point, so there’s little to lose.

The first thing quarterback Justin Fields highlighted when St. Brown’s name came up Wednesday was his run-blocking, and the rest of his description sounded like a wish list of what the Bears need this week.

‘‘He’s really smart [and] he’s a leader in the receiver room,’’ Fields said. ‘‘Perimeter blocking, he’s really good at that. That’s probably one thing that we missed [by him being inactive].

‘‘He’s savvy, knows how to change directions pretty good, quality hands, and he’s always going to be on time with the quarterback. He’s going to run the right route at the right depth and be at the right place at the right time. You just get dependability.’’

That last word never seems to surface when people talk about Claypool. The biggest problem with his latest bad game was that it fit a trajectory he has been on for a while.

It’s always a red flag when a respected organization such as the Steelers unloads somebody, especially a player they drafted and developed. They needed receivers at the time, too, but were comfortable essentially getting a refund on the second-round pick they used to draft Claypool.

Claypool knows what his reputation is, too, and seemed intent on reversing it heading into training camp.

‘‘It’s the biggest year of my life, and I understand that,’’ he said. ‘‘If anybody thinks my work ethic isn’t matching that, they’re deeply mistaken.’’

It felt fiery then but falls flat in hindsight. He simply hasn’t backed up what he said.

Speaking of hindsight, there’s no do-over for Poles. He’ll have to own that trade as probably the worst miscalculation of his early time as a GM.

No one gets every decision right, but it’s imperative to be clear-eyed in handling the errors. Poles, to his credit, has done that by bringing in players to play ahead of former third-round pick Velus Jones and cutting backup quarterback P.J. Walker once he saw those moves weren’t working out.

Benching Claypool in hopes of sparking a better effort is the Bears’ last move to salvage this before moving on altogether.

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