Inside the Huddle: Daniel Brown, MyCole Pruitt strengthen TE mix

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Bears tight end Daniel Brown celebrates his first-quarter touchdown. (AP)

Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Tight end Daniel Brown knew the Bears would come calling because they had done so twice before. The third time would be the charm.

When Brown didn’t make the Ravens’ 53-man roster after the preseason, the Bears tried to sign him to their practice squad. Instead, he stuck with the Ravens because of familiarity.

But the Bears were undeterred. They tried to sign him off the Ravens’ practice squad in Week 4, but he was promoted to their active roster.

‘‘We kind of knew that Baltimore was doing that just to save me, and if they let me go, we were going to be gone,’’ Brown said. ‘‘We felt like Chicago was going to jump on it if [the Ravens] didn’t keep me. That’s kind of what happened. It’s always nice to be wanted.’’

The Bears successfully claimed Brown, an undrafted free agent in 2015, off waivers Oct. 24. A few weeks later, Brown made his Bears debut against the Titans and caught his first career touchdown pass. He has 12 catches for 87 yards in four games, including two starts, for the Bears.

‘‘Hopefully I can keep putting good stuff on film,’’ Brown said. ‘‘Hopefully I can call this a home for next year.’’

Rebuilding teams can’t wait until the offseason to improve their depth charts. It’s why the Bears claimed Brown and why they signed tight end MyCole Pruitt off the Vikings’ practice squad Dec. 13. Pruitt was a fifth-round pick in 2015.

At first glance, their arrivals were nondescript moves. But general manager Ryan Pace has improved the depth of a position that desperately needed it. Adding Brown and Pruitt is more about next season.

The 2017 draft is considered strong for tight ends, but adding a young one to go with veteran Zach Miller, who is on injured reserve with a broken foot, is no longer a glaring need. Other concerns can be addressed, whether it’s in the draft or free agency.

Pruitt and Brown are young players with upside, and they’re under team control. Pruitt signed a two-year contract, and Brown is a restricted free agent. Ben Braunecker, an undrafted free-agent signee this year, is also in the mix.

‘‘They told me it was a good opportunity to get on the field,’’ said Pruitt, who turned down an offer from the 49ers this season. ‘‘They liked certain things [about me]. I bring a little versatility to the room and am able to go in different spots and contribute.’’

Pruitt, who played at Southern Illinois, said the Bears told him they wanted to draft him in 2015.

‘‘They had a lot of positive things to say about me,’’ Pruitt said. ‘‘I’ve been here for a week and a half, and I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about this organization. I feel like it’s going to be a great relationship.’’

Brown, meanwhile, was inserted into the lineup after Miller was put on IR on Nov. 23. He quickly had grasped the X’s and O’s of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ offense and the expectations for him in it.

‘‘I was able to play confidently because I know what I’m doing,’’ Brown said.

Coordinator Jeff Rodgers also has highlighted Brown’s contributions on special teams, particularly on return teams.

‘‘He’s been good,’’ Rodgers said. ‘‘He’s got length. He’s got size. He’s got speed. He’s an intelligent player.’’

Brown and Pruitt might not turn out to be long-term answers, but they’ll get opportunities to prove they can be part of the young core Pace and the Bears are building.

‘‘I see a young team, a young nucleus, guys headed in the right direction,’’ Pruitt said. ‘‘This team obviously didn’t have as great a year as they wanted to, but there’s a lot of positives on film and in the attitudes of the guys. I can see that.’’


Old dog, new tricks

Things changed over the four games that veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman missed because of his four-game suspension for violating the league’s rules for performance-enhancing drugs.

“There are a lot of new calls,” Freeman said.

So Freeman, a five-year veteran, turned to rookie Nick Kwiatkoski for help. Kwiatkoski handled the defensive calls with Freeman out.

“He’s grown up a lot from the first time I was out there with him in the Dallas game [in Week 3] to now,” Freeman said.

Freeman watched every minute of every game he missed. He said Kwiatkoski’s growth is evident on the field, too.

“He’s a strong guy,” Freeman said. “When he comes downhill, he’s going to strike you. I’m sure everybody sees that, no question.”

A race to arms

Critics of quarterback Matt Barkley have focused on his arm strength. But offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains doesn’t see it as a problem.

“Solid. Good enough,” Loggains said. “Good enough in the NFL.”

Barkley might not be able to throw it like Jay Cutler, but Loggains can point to two throws where Barkley showed plenty of zip.

It includes Barkley’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Meredith earlier this month in Detroit. His throw split two defenders down the sideline.

The other is Barkley’s 27-yard pass to receiver Alshon Jeffery down the right seam early in the fourth quarter last week against the Packers.

Loggains said Barkley’s anticipation as a passer can make up for some of his physical limitations.

“He knows how to play fast,” Loggains said. “When you watch him play, he doesn’t play like a young guy. He’s getting through progressions. He’s really aggressive on the timing of the play.”

Goldman headsto IR

The Bears put another key player on injured reserve on Friday. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman became the 19th player put on IR by the Bears this season.

It’s a who’s who list that includes quarterback Jay Cutler, right guard Kyle Long, and tight end Zach Miller, among others.

Goldman was limited to six games this season because of a left high-ankle sprain. He initially suffered the injury in Week 2 against the Eagles. He then had multiple setbacks after a six-game absence.

The Bears’ second-round pick in 2015, Goldman lost roughly 15 pounds to handle an increased workload this season.

When healthy, Goldman is formidable run stopper, but he’s also flashed as a pass rusher. In 21 games, which includes 17 starts, Goldman has 40 tackles, seven sacks and seven tackles for loss.


254 – Redskins tight end Jordan Reed’s receiving yards in two career games against the Bears. He is questionable with a shoulder injury.

501 – Bears quarterback Matt Barkley’s passing yards in fourth quarters of games this season. It’s by far his most of any quarter.

87.3 – Bears running back Jordan Howard’s average rushing yards per game at Soldier Field this season. It’s 74.7 on the road.

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