COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears enter the 2014 offseason with numerous holes that need to be filled on an aging and underachieving defense. With so many key contributors, including Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Corey Wootton, D.J. Williams, Charles Tillman, and Major Wright, set to hit free agency, the Bears defense is sure to look different next season.
Bears GM Phil Emery has already come out and said he anticipates having a younger defense next season and one way to easily do that is to rebuild it through the draft this May.
Each of the Bears six rookies saw action on the field in 2013, a rarity in today's NFL. Some made significant contributions while others struggled in the time they spent on the field. Let's take a look back to see how each of them did:
Kyle Long, G (1st-round pick): Long was seen by many as something of a reach. Having started only five games at major college football in his only season at Oregon, scouts questioned whether he was good enough to merit the first-round selection Emery used on him.
No one questioned his potential, however, to grow into a premier offensive lineman, either at guard or tackle. Long, the former Florida State baseball player and 23rd round pick of the Chicago White Sox, had exceptional size at 6'6 and 313 lbs. The former first baseman is an exceptional athlete who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.94 seconds at the 2013 NFL Combine.
Long started all 16 games for Chicago in 2013 at RG and was a quick learner, proving to be an aggressive blocker in both the passing and running game. Long was selected as a second alternate to the Pro Bowl before being selected to the game on Monday. His superior athleticism and physical playing style signal there is still room for improvement, meaning he could be a Pro Bowler for years to come. Hard to ask for more from a guy in his first season on the job.
Final Grade: A
Jon Bostic, LB (2nd-round pick): A three-year starter at Florida, Bostic became known for his punishing hits while manning the middle of the Gators talented defense. That didn't change when he joined Chicago, as Bostic provided Bears fans with this crushing hit against San Diego Chargers WR Mike Willie in the preseason.
But Bostic struggled along with the rest of the Bears defense when he was inserted into the starting lineup following the season-ending injury to D.J. Williams. Some of the struggles Bostic went through were a result of the lack of talent around him, as he was often washed down in traffic and largely ineffective while trying to chase down opposing running backs.
But Bostic's time at MLB may be finished, as Emery announced the Bears may look to move him to OLB next season. With Lance Briggs and possibly Shea McClellin already under contract in those positions, Bostic may only see the field as a starter in 2014 in case of injury. He showed promise in his rookie season, but Bostic could find himself in a battle for playing time in his second season.
Final Grade: C+
Khaseem Greene, LB (4th-round pick): Like Bostic, Greene was a highly productive college player while at Rutgers. Many draft analysts felt the Bears had one of the steals of the draft in Greene, who showed safety-like coverage skills despite weighing 240 pounds. His knack for forcing turnovers fit right in with the Bears' playmaking style of defense.
But, also like Bostic, Greene was thrust into the starting lineup following Briggs' injury and struggled. He appeared to be a step slow in the running game and was often timid in his desire to take on blocks. It's difficult for any rookie linebacker to start in the NFL, but especially when it's on a team as decimated by injuries as the Bears were.
Greene could find himself in a three-way race with Bostic and McClellin for the SLB position, so he could be relegated to special teams duties next season. He still has room to grow into a solid starter, but come use another season to get up to speed with NFL offenses.
Final Grade: C-
Jordan Mills, OT (5th-round pick): Mills exceeded everyone's expectations in his rookie season, as he was initially brought in from Louisiana Tech to provide depth at OT behind J'Marcus Webb. But Mills performed like a starter from the minute he donned a Bears uniform in rookie minicamp, and eventually beat out Webb for the starting RT position, much to the delight of many Bears fans.
The former basketball player showed fantastic footwork in the passing game, giving up only sacks while starting all 16 games next to Long as a rookie. He helped stabilize a position that the Bears had tried to fix for several years. He broke a bone in his left foot in week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, but the Bears expect Mills, who had surgery earlier in January, to be ready for offseason workouts in April.
Mills offered more value to the Bears than any other draft pick when you consider where he was selected in the draft. They appear to have found another starter along their offensive line for years to come.
Final Grade: B+
Cornelius Washington, DE/OLB (6th-round pick): Washington saw limited action in his rookie season, playing only 10 snaps for Chicago. But the Bears liked him enough as a pass rusher to spend a draft pick on the former Georgia Bulldog.
Another year in their system and a full offseason could lead to more playing time on the field for Washington, depending on what they do with their defensive line this offseason.
Final Grade: NA
Marquess Wilson, WR (7th-round pick): Wilson was a phenomenal college receiver at Washington State before leaving the program reportedly due to abuse by former head coach Mike Leach (Wilson later recanted those statements). While Wilson appeared in ten games in his rookie season, the 6'3, 194 lb. receiver only caught 2 passes for a total of 13 yards.
The Bears love his potential as a slot receiver, as he is an adept route runner and has shown the ability to beat press coverage from defensive backs. He will spend the offseason training with fellow WRs Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall.
There is some speculation that the Bears may look to cut WR Earl Bennett this offseason as a salary-saving move, meaning they would have an opening for the third WR spot. That decision could hinge on what they see out of Wilson this offseason.
Final Grade: NA
The Bears also had two rookies, DE David Bass and RB Michael Ford, who were not drafted by them that played significant roles during the season. Bass showed surprising strength in the run game while returning an interception for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. The Bears like what they have seen from Bass thus far, and could factor into their plans as they rebuild their defense moving forward.
Ford was used primarily on special teams as a gunner where he made five tackles. At 216 lbs., Ford isn't quite big enough to handle goal-line duties at running back if the Bears decide to release Michael Bush, so Ford will likely be relegated to special teams play next season as well.
Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
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