First-and-10: After Mitch Trubisky, will Bears’ roster entice top candidates?
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Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is a great starting point for general manager Ryan Pace to lure a top candidate to replace John Fox as coach. But what else does he have?
The state of the Bears’ roster will be a focal point as Pace seeks a replacement for Fox, and it will be a question mark heading into the 2018 season regardless of who is hired. Is the arrow pointing up or down? Pace sees “a young core” with room for growth. Others see a roster that has not produced a player voted to the Pro Bowl in the last three seasons.
No doubt, the Bears’ young core lacks the concrete evidence that it is the foundation of a future playoff team. Outside of running back Jordan Howard’s Pro Bowl selection as an alternate last year and all-rookie honors for Howard, Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair, Pace’s draft classes are lacking credentials.
Asked about evidence of foundation players, Pace mentioned Trubisky, running back Tarik Cohen, safety Eddie Jackson and third-year nose tackle Eddie Goldman.
“It’s more what we see every day. And I hope our fans can see that, too,” Pace said. “I think we have a young core coming up that’s developing, and we just need to continue to add to that.”
It seems like the Bears are better off today than they were when Fox was hired three years ago. A list of the top position players 26 or under on each roster kind of indicates that.
2014: Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery, Chris Conte, Kyle Fuller, Charles Leno, Marquis Wilson, Jordan Mills, Ego Ferguson, Christian Jones, Will Sutton, Stephen Paea, Ka’Deem Carey, Michael Ola, Brock Vereen, Cornelius Washington.
2017: Mitch Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Eddie Goldman, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, Charles Leno, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Bryce Callahan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Adrian Amos, Jonathan Bullard, Adam Shaheen, Kevin White.
Overall, the latter group has more room for growth, but that’s hard to predict based on what we’ve seen so far.
“I think there’s things that we might see behind the scenes that are coming on that everybody else might not see,” Pace said. “Guys like Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris and Kwiatkoski … are making strides. The silver lining with these injuries is some of those guys getting to play more. I think those guys have gotten better with that experience.”
That might be true, but it still leaves the Bears in a similar spot as they were at this time last year — extolling potential and hoping for growth. It’s a critical year for Pace and the Bears, indeed.
2. If Pace is keeping all his options open, he has to at least give Jim Harbaugh a call. The former 49ers coach has denied interest in returning to the NFL, but after getting hammered on Twitter following Michigan’s disappointing season, you never know when the quirky Harbaugh will change his mind.
Harbaugh’s inability to develop a quarterback at Michigan is noteworthy but not disqualifying — he’ll have more to work with in Chicago. And it doesn’t erase his success with Andrew Luck at Stanford and Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers — not to mention three consecutive playoff appearances.
Harbaugh offers a lot of what the Bears are looking for, including an impact on players on both sides of the ball. And hiring Harbaugh might help retain Vic Fangio, who was Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator in his final year at Stanford and with the 49ers.
Harbaugh has a short shelf life, but after seven consecutive playoff-less seasons, the Bears need immediate success before worrying about sustained success.
3. Chiefs special-teams coordinator Dave Toub deserves a chance to be a head coach in the NFL. We saw in nine years in Chicago his head-coaching qualities — his attention to detail; his management of players on both sides of the ball; his ability to inspire performance from players, many of whom would rather be doing something other than special teams.
4. That said, the timing is off for Toub to return to the Bears. Unless they unearth the next Bill Belichick, the Bears need a quarterback-centric coach. With a huge disparity in offensive-defensive production, it’s often better to hire a coach on the weaker side of the ball — such as Dan Quinn with the Falcons, Sean McVay with the Rams and Doug Marrone with the Jaguars.
5. With the Bills (17 seasons), Rams (12), Jaguars (nine) and Titans (eight) ending playoff droughts, the Bears are one of four teams that have not been to the playoffs since 2010. The others are the Browns (15 seasons), Buccaneers (10) and Jets (seven).
6. There’s hope yet: The top five seeds in the NFC were not in the playoffs last season. The Eagles (7-9), Vikings (8-8), Rams (4-12), Saints (7-9) and Panthers (6-10) were a combined 32-48 (.400) last season.
The last 5-11 team to make the playoffs the following season was the 2008 Ravens, who improved to 11-5 in John Harbaugh’s first season. In fact, eight of the 13 teams to make the playoffs after winning five games or fewer the previous season had a first-year head coach.
7. This disparity in the running game best illustrates the potential — and ultimate failure — of the Bears to make the most of a bad hand this season: In their top eight rushing games this season, the Bears averaged 175.9 yards — No. 1 in the NFL; in their bottom eight rushing games, they averaged 47.6 yards — 31st in the NFL.
The Bears had four of the top 13 rushing games in the NFL, but also the two lowest and three of the lowest 11 rushing totals.
8. Remember Deonte Thompson? The former Bears wide receiver, who was cut in Week 6 to make room for rookie Tanner Gentry, is in the playoffs with the Bills. In fact, Thompson had 27 receptions for 430 yards (15.9 average) and one touchdown in 10 games with the Bills. Thompson had 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown in five games with the Bears.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Year Award: a no-brainer. Niners kicker Robbie Gould made 39 of 41 field goals (.951) and was third in the NFL in scoring with 145 points. And he beat the Bears with five field goals.
10. Bear-ometer: 8-8 — vs. Buccaneers (W); vs. Lions (W); at Packers (L); at Bills (W); vs. Rams (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Jets (W); vs. Seahawks (W); at Lions (L); at Giants (W); vs. Patriots (L); vs. Vikings (L); at 49ers (L); at Cardinals (W); at Dolphins (W); vs. Packers (L).
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