The new look Chicago Bears have preached position versatility. Undrafted Free Agent Ryan Nall should fit right in
One of the more notable names from the Chicago Bears weekend of signing Undrafted Free Agents to the roster was Ryan Nall, a running back from Oregon State. However, with the increased position versatility being preached by Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy on offense, combined with the tape of Nall, it is tough to pin him down exactly as a running back.
Nall played the H-back role at Oregon State and played some running back and fullback. As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com notes, NFL teams are considering him at full back in the NFL.
Nall is a “get what’s blocked” runner who struggles to access the agility or burst needed to work outside the tackles. Nall does offer a fairly decisive downhill option with good vision who sees the hole and will hit it without dancing. Once he gets up a head of steam, Nall is able to finish with some power, but gaining the head of steam is challenging for him at times. Nall may offer some short yardage potential, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team try and convert him to a fullback or H-back in the pros.When looking at the Chicago Bears depth chart you start to wonder if a path to the roster is easier for him than even a player such as Javon Wims. Behind Jordan Howard is Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzel. Cunningham and Cohen are almost ensured to make the roster. Still, thinking of the three behind Howard you wonder what the team would do in power, and short yardage situations if he were to get hurt. Cohen, and Mizzel are small and while Cunningham is bigger than those two, he is much better in a shot gun, pass catching spot. The team is missing depth in the short yardage back role. Then you look at their full back situation. All they have is Michael Burton. Burton played 179 offensive snaps for the Chicago Bears last season. While it was nothing he did on tape that makes him cuttable, nothing he did on tape makes him worth keeping either.
Burton had four rushes and two receptions. He is not an option to pass or run. The Bears waste one of their five skill position players on a player who helps identify what the team is preparing to do on that particular play. Michael Burton is an old school, John Fox, here comes the run player.
Ryan Nall is today’s Michael Burton role. He is not quite as reliable as a blocker, yet. Still, he can take the dive from the full back spot. He can block, he can flare out for passes, and he can step back into the tailback spot, allowing one of those pass catching backs to motion into the slot.
He does not even need to be a much better player than Michael Burton to provide schematic versatility that is worth a roster spot over Burton. On top of that, Nall could make a player such as Mizzel expendable. What is a diet Cohen needed for? Cunningham is a pass catcher, Nall is a power back and they can back up Cohen and Howard in the same roles respectively. Ryan Nall could kill two birds with one stone and take over a roster spot for Mizzel and Burton. This will help free a spot elsewhere, where it likely is needed more.
Not much was known about Joel Iyiegbuniwe when he was drafted by the Chicago Bears in round four. What does the video say that he brings to the table?Who? Everyone across Bears nation looked at their television and asked the same question when the name Joel Iyiegbuniwe was read for the Chicago Bears fourth-round pick. Reach, bad pick, Mel Kiper said he’d go lower! I always find it fascinating that football fans are so willing to side with the opinion of Mel Kiper over their own General Manager. While I respect the opinion of Kiper and Ryan Pace, if the two disagree, I will decide for myself before blindly taking sides. So, what was found on tape, and did he warrant the selection?
Special TeamsFirst, let’s get special teams out of the way. Everyone immediately jumped to the conclusion from the very start that this was a special team move. He is an inside linebacker, we have Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, Chris Tabor must have slammed the table for this kid. This is not the only reason why they drafted him, but it does matter. While it is tough to see without the All-22 angles, it is true that he is likely going to earn a roster spot easily due to his special team’s prowess. Below is what you get from Iyiegbuniwe, who is nicknamed “Iggy” on special teams. First one down the field, swarming and attacking. In position to down punts inside the 20-yard line. So, no, the Chicago Bears did not solely draft a linebacker in the fourth round for his special teams. However, they can sleep comfortably knowing that as a floor, they did draft a player who can immediately help the roster in 2018.
Speed,Power, intelligenceWhen thinking future, Vic Fangio turned on his tape and is likely just as excited as Tabor to get to work with Iggy. The first things that Pace mentioned when it comes to Joel Iyiegbuniwe and what he brings to the field are speed, power, and intelligence.
Pace said that these traits jumped at him when he put on the tape. These are the same three traits that punched me right in the face as well.
IntelligenceLike Roquan Smith, Joel Iyiegbuniwe plays fast because he processes fast. He has a great understanding of angles and with his ability to read and react on the fly, the combination makes him a force to get into the backfield and make plays sideline to sideline and downhill. Below we see third and three. Iyiegbuniwe is lined up at the far right hash. Remember, the hashes are spread apart more in college. Still, a toss left and Iggy is off and running. He uses proper angles to shut off any type of cut back to the inside and closes in with the speed and power to make the stop short of the sticks.
When Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman went down with injuries, the team had a huge issue in the middle. Christian Jones is a fine linebacker but is not the read and react type. He had struggled with being the play caller and without Freeman or Trevathan beside him to keep him in line, he found himself out of place too often. Nick Kwiatoski showed good understanding in his limited time last season. Injuries happen and now to know that they may be able to have four linebackers who can step in and know how to man a show is a big upgrade to the depth of the roster.
SpeedThe reactionary quickness gives him a great ability to get into the backfield as well. When he gets going downhill, he is a missile propelled straight for his target. This is where his strong special team’s presence applies to the defensive side of the ball. Send him downhill with a stunt and a free run at the quarterback. He is going to close that gap quickly.
The Bears have a lot of issues at pass rusher opposite of Leonard Floyd. While they did not address edge high, they took a high upside bet and in the middle, they added Roquan Smith and Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who can make up for some of the pass rushing loss on the edges.
Iggy can also blitz off the edges. He lined up on the edge a lot, but will not be able to survive in that role in the NFL due to his size. He also does not have a pass rush arsenal. He got home with well-timed blitzes up the middle and off the edges, like the one below.
Like the play above, he is always beating blockers to their spot. Watch above again. The slot receiver and the center both have responsibilities to beat Iggy to the spot. He is much faster than them, reacts quicker to the snap and they do not have a chance. Again, the receiver tries to come in for the crack back. Way too slow, Iggy has blown this one up in the backfield.
PowerFor a 230 pound linebacker, he can definitely lay the thump. It helps that he is able to get momentum going so easily downhill and that he moves so fluidly through traffic. Still, there is willpower and determination in the way he finishes tackles. The play below is the perfect example of intelligence to snuff the play out and take the proper angle to the ball, the speed to recognize and attack and the power to finish with purpose.
Shed BlocksStill, as mentioned, his size is going to be one of his bigger detractors. When it comes to taking on blocks, he will definitely have work to do to transition his game to be a quality depth option in the NFL. In the play below, Iggy is lined up on the edge. The tackle gets his hands on him and game over. Iggy eventually rips free but is in a chase down mode by then.
Another play on the edge, but it shows some of the issues that he may have out in space, as he takes on a tight end. The tight end is able to flip his hips and seal the edge for his back. Iyiegbuniwe was unable to get free. Still, it is worth noting that out in space, reading and reacting in the linebacker role he had a better time of getting himself in position to free himself from blocks. A push-pull below gets him free when the guard gets hands on him. And against the pass, he again is able to shed a block in space and position himself perfectly to make a play on the ball. However, there will be the occasional wart. He was completely pancaked as he gets blindsided by the left tackle, 76. He was setting up to evade the center at the second level and was not prepared for what he was in store for.
CoverageLastly, is the question about how he will transition in coverage. A lot of what he did on passing downs was blitzing, whether it be off of the edge or in the middle. When in coverage, he typically just had the responsibility of the flats and curls. Moving out in space, in man was not something he would come into the being comfortable doing.
Who is Joel Iyiegbuniwe?As a floor, he is a special teams stud. As a ceiling, he can read and react as a new age BUCK who can blitz and get downhill with speed, rather than the old school thumper ways. It helps provide versatility. Still, he is not afraid to lay the punch. As a depth linebacker, his intelligence and understanding pre and post snap could be argued as an upgrade over Christian Jones. And, as a specialty pass rusher, he knows how to time blitzes and use his speed to get into the backfield in a hurry, which may help the lack of help on the edges.
So there is a need for Joel Iyiegbuniwe. He provides a year one upgrade, whether it be depth, special teams or situationally getting on the field. In the long term, he has the understanding of angles and reactionary quickness to get on the field for significant snaps. Vic Fangio has a linebacker to build up and the Bears nation may want to be a bit more excited, about the safe and sensible selection of Joel Iyiegbuniwe.
Many want to focus on who the Chicago Bears have acquired this offseason, and for good reason. The team has done a great job of adding new faces to the mix in both free agency and the NFL Draft with the hope they can turn around a franchise that has won just 14 games over the course of the last three seasons and has not made the playoffs since 2010.
Before fully embracing who will be wearing the navy and orange this season, it is always imperative to look back and see where the team is heading. Below we take a look at some of the biggest names who left the organization this offseason and where they currently stand.
LB Pernell McPhee (released) - signed by Washington
The first big signing of Ryan Pace's tenure as the team's general manager, McPhee had heavy expectations placed on his shoulders. Unfortunately for him, his knees could not live up to all that pressure.
He put together a strong first season in 2015, recording 53 tackles, six sacks, three pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble in 14 games with 12 starts. The following year is when his knee issues really started to take a hold of him, forcing him to miss all but nine games. During that stretch he recorded 16 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble. He missed all of training camp last year with another knee ailment but appeared in 13 games with five starts. He capped off the season with 21 tackles and four sacks. He was released by the team this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the Redkins this offseason.
SS Quintin Demps (released) - currently a free agent
The Bears were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with Demps after he put up a career-high six interceptions in 2016. Unfortunately for him, he appeared in just three games before fracturing his forearm. He ended the year with 12 tackles. In his absence, Adrian Amos reclaimed the starting job and appears set to be the team's starter at the strong safety position once again this season.
LB Willie Young (released) - currently a free agent
Signed to play defensive end in Chicago's 4-3 scheme in 2014, Young then found himself moved to outside linebacker in 2015. He put up 10 sacks, 6.5 sacks and 7.5 sacks in three seasons before only appearing in four games in 2017. In those four games he recorded seven tackles and two sacks before he was placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps. His release by the organization came as a bit of surprise considering his productivity prior to the injury this past season.
WR Markus Wheaton (released) - currently a free agent
Signed to give the Bears a deep threat in the passing game, Wheaton was far from that in his one and only season in Chicago. After signing a two-year deal with the Bears he only appeared in 11 games with the team due to injuries. He finished the year with three catches for 51 yards. Chicago released him earlier this offseason.
QB Mike Glennon (released) - signed by Arizona
A year ago the Bears were trying to sell hope with Mike Glennon. There was some hope that the former third-round pick could emerge as a bonafide starter in the NFL, but in four starts for the Bears he struggled. He completed 93 of his 140 passes for 833 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He also fumbled five times, losing three of them in the process. After his struggles in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers, Glennon found himself on the bench for the remainder of the season behind Trubisky. He signed a two-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.
DE Mitch Unrein (free agent) - signed by Tampa Bay
An unsung player throughout his time in Chicago, Unrein became a free agent this offseason and was quickly snatched up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a three-year deal worth $10.5 million. He came to Chicago in 2015 and appeared in 14 games with four starts that season, recording 18 tackles and one sack. After notching 26 tackles and one sack in 2016, Unrein capped off last season with 32 tackles and 2.5 tackles. He will help provide interior defensive line help in Tampa Bay.
WR Kendall Wright (free agent) - signed by Minnesota
Wright signed a one-year deal last season as a sort of "prove it" contract. In 16 games with four starts, Wright caught 59 passes for 614 yards and scored one touchdown. The numbers do not look great, but he was hands-down Chicago's most consistent contributor in the passing game last season. In Minnesota he helps give the team depth at the position and will serve as another weapon for new quarterback Kirk Cousins. His one-year deal is worth $1 million.
QB Mark Sanchez (free agent) - currently a free agent
Sanchez signed a one-year deal with the Bears last offseason. He saw limited time during the preseason and spent the entire 2017 season on the bench, never even dressing for a game last year. By most accounts, he is someone who worked as a de facto coach for Trubisky in the quarterback room. In early April he was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
WR Cameron Meredith (restricted free agent) - signed by New Orleans
In one of the biggest offseason stories of the year for Chicago, the Bears opted not to match the offer the Saints put on the table for Meredith. Coming off a 2017 season in which he missed the entire year due to ACL and MCL injuries, Meredith only received an original-round tender from the Bears. New Orleans took a chance on him and signed him to a two-year deal worth $9.6 million with $5.3 million guaranteed, far more than the $1.907 million tender the Bears extended him.
AuthorMatt Eurich @MattEurich
Anthony Miller has all the makings of a star NFL wide receiver. With Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy at the helm, could he rewrite the sad history of the Chicago Bears at that position?Don’t bother asking new Chicago Bears wide receiver who he thinks is the best receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft class. If you’ve read up on him at all, you already know the answer.
Miller, whom the Bears traded back into the second round to select with the 41st-overall pick, doesn’t lack for confidence or attitude. Good thing, too, because the Bears haven’t expected this much from a rookie wide receiver in a long time.
One almost wonders if the Bears’ release of Cameron Meredith was almost a necessary evil to spur Ryan Pace to acquire Miller, who should undoubtedly be better than the man he let walk to the New Orleans Saints. Then again, maybe not; we all know how Pace goes after prospects he loves.
But back to Miller, because it’s hard to overstate how big a deal this is.
The second-round pick out of Memphis is expected to jump right in as the No. 2 receiver alongside free-agent acquisition Allen Robinson. And one can only hope that he develops the kind of bond with Mitchell Trubisky that the greatest quarterback-receiver combos — Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison-type stuff — achieve.
And if he plays as big as the chip on his shoulder, he could completely re-write franchise history at the receiver position.
Let’s take a look into what makes Miller special and how he fits within this revamped Chicago Bears offense. (Also, thanks to Ryan Heckman for a few of these gifs!)
The Chicago Bears gambled with the contract of cornerback Kyle Fuller when they didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, and it appears they’re rolling the dice on another first round pick.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo, the Bears will not pick up the fifth-year option on the contract of 2015 first round pick Kevin White.
White missed his entire rookie season due to injury, and has since appeared in five games, including one last season. The receiver has 193 career receiving yards and 21 catches, and has not scored an NFL touchdown.
The Bears also declined the fifth-year option on Fuller’s contract last season, and he responded by having his best season as a pro, picking off two passes and defending 22 more as he became a strong corner for the Bears.
After the season, Fuller signed an offer-sheet with the Green Bay Packers that would guarantee him $18 million on a four-year deal, and the Bears opted to match the offer sheet and retain his services.
Ever since tweeting about the health issues he was dealing with on top of his eventual release from the Bears earlier this off-season, the writing was on the wall. Jerrell Freemanretired from the NFL today, per a personal statement from Freeman himself.
Freeman, 32, had been with the Bears for two seasons before injuries and multiple suspensions eventually derailed his career in Chicago. After signing as a free agent in 2016, he never quite lived up to the expectations originally set upon him next to Danny Trevathan and in the Bears’ defense.
Freeman was once a Division III athlete out of Mary Hardin-Baylor that went undrafted in 2008. After unsuccessfully attempting to catch on with the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, he moved on to Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the next three years. His patience and hard work was finally rewarded when the Colts signed him to a contract in 2011. That perseverance paid off with a six-year career where he amassed 415 tackles, 12 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, and four interceptions.
For a man that was once completely overlooked by every NFL team, that is remarkable production. As someone that was a quiet leader in every locker room he stepped in, that reflects well on Freeman.
With his family and health as the primary stated focus, Freeman moves on from football to take care of his top priorities. The journey with the NFL and playing a dangerous game professionally ends now, but the rest of Freeman’s life that he has to take care of is still on the horizon.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.
LAKE FOREST — Dating back to one year ago Friday night and the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace, who in his fourth season is still the youngest GM in the NFL, has created more excitement around his football team than the city of Chicago has seen from it since the Bears played the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC title game.
It started that evening when he traded the third pick in the draft, his third-round picks last year and this year and his fourth-round pick last year to draft QB Mitchell Trubisky.
It continued New Years Day this year when he decided to replace head coach John Fox and ultra aggressively out-hustled five other teams to hire one of the hottest young head-coaching prospects in the league in Matt Nagy, and then assembled an all-star coaching staff including Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell, Mark Helfrich, Brad Childress and Harry Hiestand.
With a huge splash in free agency that included signing WRs Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, TE Trey Burton and retaining his own star CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, he put an exclamation point on his commitment to building an explosive and dynamic Bears offense for the first time in decades and maintaining a top-10 defense.
Now in the last 24 hours, he’s added three more outstanding college football players in ILB Roquan Smith, C James Daniels and WR Anthony Miller, setting the local Twitterverse on fire.
Pace is on a roll, and those are things we know.
What we think we know is Trubisky showed enough in 12 starts as a rookie to suggest the Bears have finally found a franchise quarterback for the first time since 1985.
I believe Smith, along with Bradley Chubb and Minkah Fitzpatrick, is one of the three best defensive players in this draft and the Bears got him at eight. Daniels was the best center in this draft, although Pace says the Bears will start him out at left guard, and almost no receivers in this draft have had more buzz around them than Miller.
It is all really exciting, but let’s go back for a few minutes to what we actually know.
From Pace’s first three drafts, only Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, Pro Bowler Jordan Howard, Leonard Floyd, All-rookie C Cody Whitehair, a projected starter this year in Jonathan Bullard, Trubisky, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and maybe, maybe Adam Shaheen appear to have a chance to be part of the nucleus of a contending Bears team.
Free agency has been even tougher for Pace. On the current roster only Bobby Massie, Benny Cunningham, Dion Sims, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Amukamara and this year’s three receivers are likely to be important contributors.
So based on what we actually know, how close are the Bears to actually being legitimate contenders again?
I believe Trubisky, Howard, Cohen, Long, Whitehair, Shaheen, Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Fuller, Jackson, Robinson, Gabriel and Burton will all be better players this year — and some will be very good because of Nagy and this coaching staff.
I am really excited about Smith, Daniels and Miller, who I think can all be excellent pros and appear to be even better young men, and I think the Bears will be a much improved football team this year that will win eight or nine games.
But I know that they still won’t be close to the talent of the NFL’s best teams and they will now enter next year’s construction handcuffed with the absence of a second-round pick.
I continue to be a Ryan Pace fan, but he’s celebrating Nagy’s honeymoon right now, his is over, and I fear I know the quality of this roster is not equal to the excitement and buzz surrounding it.
The question now is can it catch up in time for this current regime to get to celebrate it?
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This article originally ran on profootballweekly.com.
Arizona Wildcats RB Nick Wilson signs with Chicago Bears as free agent Justin Spears / Arizona Daily Star
Another player from the Arizona Wildcats player pool signed with an NFL as an undrafted free agent. This time, senior running back Nick Wilson agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears, he announced on Twitter. Wilson becomes the fourth Wildcat to reach a deal as an UDFA, joining Jacob Alsadek (Packers), Gerhard de Beer (Bills) and Zach Green (Bengals). Wilson also becomes the first UA player to play for the Bears since running back Ka'Deem Carey, who last played in the NFL in 2016.
In 2014, Wilson set Arizona's single-season freshman rushing record, recording 1,375 yards with 16 touchdowns. Throughout his career, Wilson dealt with a plague ankle, knee and foot injuries. Wilson finished with 3.045 career yards and was seventh player in UA history to reach that mark.
Looking ahead to his pro career, Wilson joins a running back room of Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Taquan Mizzell and Benny Cunningham.
Over the summer, Wilson will have a chance to fight for a spot on the Bears' 90-man roster. The preseason training camp schedule will be announced in June.
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