Tight End Usage, Lingering Free Agents, Creating Better Personnel Fits for Fields, and Other Bears Bullets

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Tight End Usage, Lingering Free Agents, Creating Better Personnel Fits for Fields, and Other Bears Bullets

Chicago Bears

Nothing slaps like the reality check of snow in April.

•   After a lengthy lull, the Bears are starting to pile up some useful depth signings. And while the additions of defensive backs Tavon Young and Dane Cruikshank or tight ends Ryan Griffin and James O’Shauhnessy (this morning!) aren’t going to move the needle for fans, these moves do something else. It takes a bit of a leap to jump to this conclusion, but I see these short-term signings as examples of what the Bears might want long-term. Hear me out:

→   Young and Cruikshank are versatile players in the secondary. Both have experience lining up in different spots in a given defensive formation. The flexibility to play different roles makes defenses that much more difficult to figure out. And if your defense can trot out multiple players who can do that, it can be helpful for a rebuilding defense that will rely more on X’s and O’s than Jimmys and Joes as the front office re-shapes the roster.

→   Griffin and O’Shaugnessy are rotational tight ends. Both have extensive playing experience, which could help guide teammates such as Cole Kmet (who just turned 23 and is on the younger end of the starting TE spectrum) and Jesper Horsted (who is just 25 and only 121 offensive snaps since joining the league in 2019). Adding a veteran presence without paying through the nose for it is a welcome departure from how the previous regime was handling the position.

→   At minimum, this way of operating is a refreshing change of pace (pun intended. Plus, it sets up positional battles for the summer. Hey, you gotta get to 90 players somehow.

•   When it comes to the tight end signings, it is worth noting that Green Bay ran 325 snaps featuring two tight ends in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 WR, 2 TE). That was the second highest total in the league last year. Only the Dolphins (whose top TE might as well be a WR) had more snaps out of 12 personnel. And, according to Sharp Football Stats, the Packers ran the highest percentage of successful plays (55%) out of that formation. The Bears were at 45 percent in the same sets. Obviously, other personnel on the field with that grouping matters. But it’s something to watch out for as the Bears piece together this roster.

•   Perhaps the Bears signing two veteran tight ends is a sign of things to come. Maybe we’ll see the Bears operate in this formation more often. Doing so could possibly create a path to creating more play action opportunities with different personnel types. Because two-TE sets giving off “we’re gonna run this” vibes, only to set up deep shots down the field for Darnell Mooney and a receiver to be drafted in 11 or 12 days from now would be a nice wrinkle to add for this offense.

•  As a reminder, Justin Fields was thriving in play action as a rookie:

•   Ah, yes, red-zone play action. What a concept!

•   Also, to have the concentration levels to do this while all-world linebacker Luke Keuchly hounds you on defense is impressive as heck:

https://twitter.com/BN_Bears/status/1516092373792612362

•   Kristopher Knox (Bleacher Report) shares a list of free agents who remain on the market and could still be key contributors in the right spot. If you’re looking for potential Bears fits, then left tackle Duane Brown, receiver Will Fuller V, and center J.C. Tretter are among the possible value plays Chicago could kick the tires on if the price is right. Safety Tyrann Mathieu and receiver Jarvis Landry are high-profile names who would fit any club, but I’m not sure those types of players wouldn’t be searching for teams that aren’t in building mode. All that to say that there are players worth signing in free agency, but it feels like fit is more important than name at this stage of the game.

•   Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks pops up on the list, too. Knox even lists the Bears as the “best fit” for the free agent. But after signing Justin Jones and Al-Quadin Muhammad, I don’t think bringing back Hicks is on Chicago’s radar. Between changing the front office, head coach, and defensive scheme, finding a fit for Hicks with the Bears is a challenge. On the one hand, that is frustrating. Few players embodied what the Bears are about like Hicks when he was healthy and playing. But on the other hand, Hicks might deserve a fresh start away from Chicago. Maybe that’s what he is looking for … to look forward and not behind. And if that’s the case, former teammate Allen Robinson appears to have extended an olive branch:

•   If Robinson can coax his former teammate into signing with the Rams in free agency for a contract that pays well enough, it could line the Bears back up for a compensatory draft pick in 2023. It would be cutting it close. And it wouldn’t be a gimme. But it would be better than the alternative. And it would be one last helpful contribution from a pair of former Bears on their way out the door.

•   Feels like a good time to pick up some discounted Bears gear:

•   This guy has been amazing from the get-go:

•   I’m gonna need the Bulls to (1) shoot better and (2) issue challenges on potential game-changing missed calls. It really felt like Billy Donovan missed a golden opportunity to change the complexion of Game 1 down the stretch had he made a call to challenge this foul:



Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.