As the second week of OTAs continues on for the Chicago Bears, here are a couple stories coming out of the team’s offseason workouts that I found interesting:
Jake Long visits the Bears
After releasing last year’s 6th round draft pick Tayo Fabuluje yesterday, the Bears are in the market for another tackle to provide competition during training camp. Enter Long, the former #1 overall pick of the 2008 draft who previously held the left tackle position in Miami and St. Louis and was brought in to work out for the Bears today.
— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) June 2, 2016
He’s currently looking for work after the Rams released him following an ACL tear in 2014 and the Atlanta Falcons let him walk after one season. Given his injury history, Long’s price tag likely won’t be that high should the Bears choose to pursue him—his contract with Atlanta last year was worth just north of $1.5 million over that one season.
Depending on his current health, he could at the very least be a talented camp body should the Bears feel the price is right. Best case scenario: the Bears could get a very experienced swing tackle or possible upstart at one of the tackle spots if he regains some of the form that made him the first pick in the draft. At a price like $1.5 million per year, that doesn’t seem too unreasonable to take a chance on.
Charles Leno Jr. is ready for his chance
If the Bears were to sign Long as potential competition at tackle, however, don’t bank on Leno Jr. feeling overly worried about it. In regards to the Bears not bringing in a left tackle via free agency or the draft, he had this to say to the media: “They believe in me so now I’ve got to repay them…I know I can play against anybody in this league.”
Additionally, he mentioned that offensive line coach Dave Magazu plans to play the five best offensive lineman on the roster and that he simply “has to be one of those five.”
At this point in time, it’s difficult to say whether or not anyone currently on the Bears’ roster—aside from possibly Kyle Long—could conceivably play left tackle better than Leno Jr. at this point. Barring any new moves, such as signing Jake Long, Leno Jr. will be the favorite to start the season there.
After flashing some potential in an uneven season last year backing up Jermon Bushrod, we’ll see if his proclamations are true. For now, though, we can at least say his sock game is on point…
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 1, 2016
Everyone loves Akiem Hicks
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) May 26, 2016
Hicks was brought in this offseason after splitting last year between the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots and certainly figures to help out as a space-eater in the Bears 3-4 front. Listening to his teammates, they seem to think he could be more impactful than just being a rotation body.
“You’re not going to move that guy,” said inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, a fellow incoming free agent. Similarly, Danny Trevathan, the Bears’ prized pick up of free agency, called Hicks “a mountain. To see him in front of me and to not have linemen come up on me, it’s a great feeling.” Why’s that important? “That’s what linebackers want, you want to roam around and just hit and attack,” said Trevathan.
After switching from being in a 4-3 front with the Saints to a 3-4 with the Patriots, Hicks quietly had a very productive year, ranking in Pro Football Focus’ top ten free agent interior lineman this offseason based on his work under Belichick (who apparently badly wanted Hicks to stick around).
So far, Vic Fangio’s been liking what he’s been seeing: “He’s got brute strength. He’s a very strong guy. And I like the effort he plays with.”.
Interestingly, so does one of his practice foes, Kyle Long, who played Hicks during his Saints days: “Gosh, he’s improved leaps and bounds,” Long said. “He’s just so creative now — he’s got a lot of moves.” If he lives up with the hype, Hicks could be a major steal for the Bears than perhaps most of us anticipated.
Grasu looking to play “faster”
At first glance, one might think, “what about all that bulk you were supposed to add in the offseason?” upon reading that phrase. Well don’t worry: Grasu packed on 15 pounds in the offseason and is up to 310 overall, though we’ll have to see how that translates to functional strength.
What he’s referring to, actually, is more about comfort in the Bears offensive system rather than physical aspects (though getting a little quicker never hurts). Last year’s 3rd round pick admitted to enduring a steep learning curve last season and not feeling fully comfortable with his execution. “Last year I caught myself thinking too much, just thinking if I’m doing the right thing or not, if I made the right call or not,” Grasu said. “But now I’ve got it down.”
Bears C Hroniss Grasu is up to 310 pounds. Says he will be even quicker because of playbook knowledge. pic.twitter.com/FEzfar2QB8
— Aldo Gandia (@AldoBarkeeper) May 26, 2016
Grasu’s tentativeness last year was to be expected, given the fast-paced, more free-flowing scheme employed during his time at Oregon. With a year of experience (and a little more weight) under his belt, he will be better equipped to deal with his impending competition for snaps with free agent acquisitions Manny Ramirez and Tim Larsen as well as 2nd round draft pick Cody Whitehair.
Given the Bears’ preference for playing the five best linemen, those four players will be battling for two spots: center and left guard. We won’t know more until the pads finally come on in training camp, but at the very least, Grasu appears to have done his part in the offseason. The rest as all performance.
Willie Young’s return may be more likely than we thought
This could possibly just be posturing and hedging his bets, but here’s a nugget from Young yesterday when asked about his ongoing contract extension talks with the Bears:
Willie Young: "I would like to finish my career up in Chicago." Young & #Bears have been talking contract extension.
— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) June 1, 2016
While reports placed the likelihood of Young returning to the Bears squarely at 50/50 previously, this would certainly give the idea that Young is leaning toward returning to the Bears on a two-year extension if he likes the dollar figures enough. And as I discussed earlier, if both parties can reach a consensus, the Bears can only get better from there.