By Chris Emma–
MOBILE, Ala. (CBS) — While the rival Packers played for a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Bears packed for a trip down south.
Being in the position of coaching in the Senior Bowl as the Bears this week in Mobile, Alabama is never desired. It’s a right for some of the league’s worst teams, and the Bears certainly qualified in having finished with an abysmal 3-13 record in 2016.
General manager Ryan Pace believes they won’t be in this spot ever again.
“We better take advantage of it while we’re here,” he said in early January.
The Bears believe they’re in position to be a playoff contender once again in 2017 with the right moves. First comes a critical offseason, which requires upgrading many parts of the roster.
John Fox and his coaching staff will lead the North team in Mobile, while Hue Jackson’s Browns staff will coach the South squad after Cleveland went 1-15. Pace and his team of scouts, plus video and medical personnel, will be hard at work in Mobile getting the best look at the prospects available for a first-hand look.
Here are five players the Bears should be keeping an eye on in Mobile:
Nate Peterman, QB, Pitt
A year after backing Jay Cutler as the Bears’ quarterback, Pace recently sat before the media and made his intentions seem all but certain. The Bears appear to be moving on from Cutler.
“Everything’s on the table right now,” Pace said earlier this month. “There’s the free agency, there’s trades, there’s the draft, there are current players on our team. Everything’s on the table. We got to analyze all that.”
With the No. 3 pick, the Bears have several ways they can work. First comes a thorough evaluation of the best options on the table. That’s why coaching Pitt’s Nate Peterman on the North team is ever so important this week.
The 22-year-old Peterman threw for 2,855 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions for an explosive Pittsburgh offense. He completed 60.5 percent of his passes and has shown mobility in the process.
Peterman is still viewed as a mid-round prospect at best, though the Senior Bowl has a way of moving players up or down. Peterman will be thrust into the spotlight, working for Fox’s North team along with Colorado’s Sefo Liufau and Iowa’s C.J. Beathard. Let’s see if his stock can rise.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
At receiver, the Bears have a decision to make on Alshon Jeffery’s future, they don’t know what they have in Kevin White and Eddie Royal is likely on his way out. Marquess Wilson could also be following out the door. Cam Meredith has impressed, but depth is lacking at receiver.
So let’s see of Eastern Washington standout Cooper Kupp can win over the Bears brass this week in Mobile. The potential is certainly there.
Kupp led the FCS with 130.8 receiving yards per game, and he posted 17 touchdowns on the campaign. In the process, Kupp set a Big Sky record with 117 catches on the season.
Kupp stands at 6-foot-2, and he doesn’t boast top-end speed, but the catching ability speaks for itself. He has a chance to prove himself this week against accomplished Big Ten cornerbacks like Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and Iowa’s Desmond King.
The Bears would love to add a pair of sure hands to their rebuilding offense.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
After twice delivering touchdowns on the national championship stage, O.J. Howard should be a known national commodity.
He’s headed south from Tuscaloosa to Mobile for the chance to show himself at the Senior Bowl. As one of the top offensive players on the field this week, Howard will have plenty of eyes on him at all times.
The Bears believe in what Zach Miller can be for them when healthy, but they would sure love to have a tight end tandem. Howard’s stock could rise fast as the top tight end in the draft class, and he could be considered if he’s available in the second round. Of course, he may go late in the first.
Howard is everything one could ask for physically in a tight end, standing at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds.
Isaac Rochell, DL, Notre Dame
For all the inconsistencies of the Fighting Irish defense in 2016, there was some great talent lining up.
Isaac Rochell was one of the best of the bunch, a 290-pound defensive lineman who seems to be an ideal fit as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense. That’s exactly what the Bears will be looking for in this draft, whether that comes with the third overall pick or later.
At No. 3, the Bears will likely have the option to take Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, the top 3-4 defensive end in the class. But if they would like to look in the middle rounds as well, Rochell is a great option.
Rochell racked up 56 tackles, including seven for a loss, in 2016. His quickness off the snap is clear, and his ability to disrupt is just what the Bears are looking for.
Desmond King, CB, Iowa
The Bears are in need of upgrades for every position in the secondary, with no spots earned. Free agency will likely bring two signings, but this defense needs to find help at cornerback.
This draft class is loaded with talent at cornerback, giving the Bears a chance to immediately upgrade. For all the potential of Desmond King, he’s not seen as a first-round lock. In fact, King could drop to the middle rounds.
King is a terrific athlete who made plays both in the Hawkeyes’ defense and return game. He finished 2016 with 58 tackles and three interceptions, showing he could be sound in coverage.