New New Orleans: How Bears GM Ryan Pace is using Saints blueprint
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Three years into general manager Ryan Pace’s run with the Bears, the Saints are marching in.
Highlighted by quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s arrival, parts of the Bears’ roster reflect Pace’s 14 years with the New Orleans Saints.
Will Trubisky turn out to be the next Drew Brees? The Bears only can dream.
But Trubisky and other players who echo Pace’s past will provide more to watch this year at training camp. Players report to Olivet Nazarene University on Wednesday.
QB Mitch Trubisky’s accuracy
Saints comparison: Drew Brees
What Pace said: ‘‘It’s all the traits as far as leadership — how [Trubisky] is with his teammates, what his work ethic is like — and all the physical traits, as well as accuracy. All these top quarterbacks, it’s just their ability to quickly process defense, process coverage, find open targets, not panic under pressure [and] deliver accurate throws when there’s a noisy pocket and things are collapsing. Those guys all have those traits. And Mitch has those traits. Drew has those traits, and those are things we value.’’ (April 27, first day of the draft)
What we think: Examining Trubisky’s intangibles, particularly his leadership, will be difficult with Mike Glennon around.
Glennon has taken ownership of what might be his one season with the Bears. Trubisky willingly has taken a backseat.
The best way to compare Trubisky to Brees will come on the field. Brees, of course, is considered one of the most accurate passers of all time.
The Bears see similar traits in Trubisky, who completed 68 percent of his passes in his one season as a starter at North Carolina. He also threw 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
‘‘It’s a natural ability to throw to guys in position to make plays after the catch,’’ quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. ‘‘He has done a good job in college. And . . . we hope that transfers over.’’
For Bears fans who are dismayed that Trubisky might not play this season, consider that Brees played in one game as a rookie for the San Diego Chargers in 2001. That isn’t lost on Pace.
Because of their time together in New Orleans, Brees is Pace’s ultimate point of reference for evaluating quarterbacks. Like Trubisky at North Carolina, Brees came from a shotgun-heavy system at Purdue.
TE Adam Shaheen’s size advantage
Saints comparison: Jimmy Graham
What Pace said: ‘‘Half of the time, it’s like these tight ends [who played basketball] are going up for rebounds or are boxing out. I think [Shaheen] definitely has that. We talk about catch radius and making the catch when the ball isn’t always on target, and Adam definitely has the ability to do that.” (April 28, second day of the draft)
What we think: Shaheen, the Bears’ second-round pick from Division II Ashland (Ohio), has more football experience than Graham did coming out of Miami in 2010.
But it’s their size (Shaheen is 6-6, Graham is 6-7) and experience as basketball players that stand out on the field. They are special athletes and pose mismatch problems.
Graham played four years of basketball at Miami. Shaheen played at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (a Division II school) before switching to football.
Graham, the Saints’ third-round pick in 2010, became an All-Pro player in his second season, with 1,310 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
Throughout the offseason program, Shaheen used his size and leaping ability to overwhelm defenders. He still requires some polish, but the Bears envision him contributing this season.
‘‘He could be a great target,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘I think we have a really special group of tight ends in general, but Adam’s got that big frame. He has really good feet for his routes, and he’s got unbelievable hands.’’
WR Cam Meredith’s emergence
Saints comparison: Marques Colston
What Pace said: ‘‘Cam is a guy with a lot of upside. [It’s] the path that he took. Just to see him mature over the last couple of years, I hate to make comparisons, but I felt like I saw this happen with Colston a little bit. Cam just has a great attitude right now. He’s getting better. I love his skill set. I love his professionalism. I think we’re going to see him ascend.’’ (March 28, NFL owners meetings)
What we think: Pace’s comparison to Colston is true praise. Colston became the Saints’ all-time leading receiver after being drafted in the seventh round out of Hofstra in 2006.
Physically, Meredith (6-3, 207 pounds) poses similar challenges to those Colston (6-4, 225 pounds) did. But there are some differences to consider.
Colston was an instant success. He had 1,038 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie.
Meredith required time and training after he switched from quarterback to receiver for his final two years at Illinois State.
Colston also had Brees through his entire career. Meredith has had Jay Cutler, Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
Meredith is a threat after the catch, making him a perfect fit for Trubisky. Right now, though, it’s Glennon who is thrilled to throw to him.
‘‘He’s going to have a big year,’’ Glennon said. ‘‘You can tell [it] translated from quarterback to receiver. It seems like his path is only heading upwards.’’
RB Tarik Cohen’s playmaking
Saints comparison: Darren Sproles
What Pace said: ‘‘I was with Sproles and saw the value of that back. When you have a back like that on third down, it can be a mismatch problem for the defense because it’s hard to cover those guys. There are some similar traits, and I don’t want to put these expectations on these players. But [Cohen’s] quick as a running back. He’s instinctive as a running back. He was productive in every season he had [in college].’’ (April 29, third day of the draft)
What we think: There are similarities aplenty between Cohen and Sproles. It starts with their size — they’re both 5-6 — but it also involves what they do as players.
Sproles, who began his career with the Chargers, was never a featured back, but he was a mismatch for safeties and linebackers in coverage. He also was a reliable return man.
His best seasons came with the Saints. In 2011, Sproles led the NFL with 2,696 all-purpose yards, included a career-best 710 receiving.
Sproles didn’t become a significant contributor until his third season, but the Bears see Cohen competing as a return man — and more — immediately.
‘‘I love that comparison,’’ Cohen said. ‘‘Darren Sproles is a veteran in this league. He’s played 10-plus years. To be compared to the likes of him is such an honor.
‘‘I think I’m going to be finding a niche here in the offense. They’re drawing up some things they like me to do, and I’m getting a hang of all the things they want me to do. I feel like when I get that, I’ll be a factor in this offense.’’
G Jordan Morgan’s upside
Saints comparison: Jahri Evans
What Pace said: ‘‘Whether it’s a one-year starter or a small-school player or a guy coming off injury, we’ve thoroughly researched these things to feel good about them. In regards to the small school, we’ve all had players that we’ve been part of that have been highly successful. I look at Jordan Morgan today, but we took a guy in New Orleans in Jahri Evans who ended up being a great player from Bloomsburg. I think you believe what you see on tape. You have conviction on players.’’ (April 29, third day of the draft)
What we think: Morgan and Evans each had limited playing experience in high school before starring at Kutztown and Bloomsburg, respectively, in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Similar to Evans, Morgan also appears best suited for guard in the NFL after being a tackle in college.
‘‘He has a lot of traits that Jahri has, but Jordan is still growing and learning,’’ said Corey Woods, who was Morgan’s position coach at Kutztown before becoming offensive coordinator at Division II Limestone College in South Carolina. ‘‘He hasn’t even come close to touching his ceiling yet.
‘‘But just knowing Jordan, he wants to be the best Jordan Morgan. He wants to set a standard for himself. He has no limitations. He’s confidently going to push himself and hold himself to a high standard.’’
If that happens, the comparisons will continue. A four-time All-Pro player, Evans started every game as a rookie in 2006 after being drafted in the fourth round. It helped that projected starter Jermane Mayberry was injured.
Morgan will begin his career behind Kyle Long, Josh Sitton and Eric Kush. But as last season proved, injuries can add up quickly.
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