TE – The Bears have an excellent starting TE in Martellus Bennett, but they haven’t been able to find a consistent #2 since Phil Emery took over. The Bears have already signed, released, and then resigned TE Dante Rosario this off-season, so clearly they aren’t sold on his value. They did sign free agent TE Matthew Mulligan but he is almost strictly a blocker with only 16 catches in his 5 year career. I expected the Bears to draft a TE in the late rounds (preferably AC Leonard) but they didn’t and also didn’t sign one during the priority UDFA portion of the draft. They did invite one to rookie mini-camp and though he wasn’t very productive at the college level, TE Andre McDonald from Kansas St has NFL potential. The first thing you will notice about Alexander is his size. At 6’8, 278, he is bigger than most offensive lineman but he moves well. McDonald ran an unofficial 4.80 at his pro day which is ridiculous for his size. McDonald showed promise as a backup his sophomore year with 9 catches, 138 yards and a TD in limited snaps. He missed the 2012 season due to an off-field incident involving his dog biting someone and a probation violation. Coming into the 2013 season multiple sites had McDonald projected as a breakout player, but for some reason he just wasn’t involved in the offense with only 3 catches for 38 yards and split time with TE Zach Trujillo. McDonald is already an excellent blocker, not surprising with his left tackle frame, but he can really run and should be able to develop into a red zone weapon for the Bears similar to how the Lions use 6’7 Joseph Fauria. Let’s hope he’s not as douchey as Fauria.
T – The Bears are set at left tackle with last year’s free agent prize, LT Jermon Bushrod, stabilizing the position. Last year’s 5th round pick Jordan Mills was a pleasant surprise on the right side, but I thought the Bears might look to bring in some competition for Mills. After his very strong performance in week 1, Mills was graded negatively by Pro Football Focus for 8 games in a row. For the season he finished with only 4 positive games, a -31.1 overall grade, and ranked 58th out the 64 starting tackles in the NFL. He finished the season strong with a +2.4 cumulative grade over his last 4 games, but right now he is the weak spot on the O-line and I thought Emery would bring someone in to at least push Mills if not take his job. They did draft T Charles Leno in the 7th round but he may be better suited to the guard position and isn’t quite strong enough to be a factor as a run blocker. In the priority UDFA round the Bears signed T Cody Booth out of Temple. A former tight end, Booth only started at LT for one season but picked up the position very quickly. At 6’5, 280 he needs to put on some weight and get stronger, but he has very quick feet, long arms and showed a natural knee bend that allows him to keep his balance in pass protection. It may take Booth a year or two on the practice squad, but I think he has the natural talent to become an NFL tackle.
G – The Bears 7th round pick Charles Leno will most likely take James Brown’s role as a back-up guard on the 53 man roster because I don’t think he will make it through waivers for a practice squad stash. One guy who will probably end up on the practice squad, but has an NFL future, is Wisconsin’s Ryan Groy. He is a dominant run blocker who has a good burst off the ball, a strong punch and the nasty disposition I like to see in O-lineman. Groy’s technique needs work and he doesn’t move well laterally, but if asked to just dominant the man in front of him, he does pretty well. His lack of movement hurts him in pass pro and that will never be a strength for Groy, but if the Bears can improve his footwork enough that he is adequate in pass pro, his power run blocking could be as asset for the Bears.
C – Most analysts thought the Bears would draft a center in the late rounds until they surprised everyone with their signing of free agent center Brian de la Puente from the Saints. In 2012, de la Puente was the 2nd rated center in the NFL according to PFF and he was solid in 2013 as well (16th overall). With current center, Roberto Garza, expected to retire after the season, de la Puente is the heir apparent at the center position. The Bears will need a backup center in 2015 and they may have found their guy in C FN Lutz III out of Indiana St. At center more than any other position on the line, smarts and leadership are important. Normally the centers are making the line calls so they need to be smart enough to recognize defense schemes, blitzes, stunts, etc. FN Lutz III has the mental aptitude and leadership ability to take over the position. He’s been named an academic All-American, was a team captain and every article I’ve been able to find about Lutz mentions his leadership ability and the respect his teammates and coaches have for him. He’s not a slouch athletically either. He’s been named to both the 1st and 2nd team All-MVC his last two seasons, has the size (6’2, 287) to play in the league, ran a 5.04 which is better than average for the position and spearheaded a rushing attack that led the conference in both total yards per game (181) and yards per carry (5.3). It’s mostly a hunch, but I have a good feeling about Lutz III and think he has a future with the Bears.
KR/PR – It’s going to be strange watching Bears games without Devin Hester returning kicks and punts. It was really fun while it lasted, but the Bears need a replacement. They have a couple decent options on the roster including the unknown Chris Williams, free agent Domenik Hixon, and Eric Weems, but un-drafted RB/WR Torrance Hunt has an outside shot to win the job. Hunt is clearly the best athlete of the undrafted free agents but he may be a better athlete than anyone on the Bears roster. He ran a ridiculous 4.24 40 yard dash at his pro day, has a vertical leap of 43″ and a standing broad jump of 11.1″. That would have been the best overall performance at this year’s combine and there are no doubts that Hunt is an elite athlete. His athletic ability hasn’t yet translated to success on the football field though. Hunt started out at East Carolina as Chris Johnson’s replacement at running back, but he struggled with the Pirates. The Pirates tried Hunt at running back, slot receiver, cornerback and return specialist but despite a few big plays nothing really worked out and he transferred to Georgia Southern for his last year of eligibility. Hunt feuded with coaches at GSU and only played 3 games last year. In those three games he averaged 9.8 ypc, had 1 catch for 52 yards, and scored a TD in every game he played. Basically Hunt is a threat to take the ball to the house every time he touches it, but off-field issues, coachability problems, and the unique offensive schemes of both ECU & GSU have kept Hunt from utilizing his explosive speed and athleticism. Maybe the Bears can figure out how to use this guy? Either way, a guy with 4.24 speed deserve a shot to prove himself as a return specialist. Diontae Spencer, who I covered in the receiver section, will also be in the mix at returner.