Hoge: The Football Column, Week 4

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John Fox and Ryan Pace. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

John Fox and Ryan Pace. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the NFL, organizations can be quick to pull the trigger. The pressure to win is enormous and, in many cases, the egos are even bigger.

Chip Kelly only got three years in Philadelphia. Lovie Smith only got two years in Tampa. Mike Pettine only got two years in Cleveland. Marc Trestman only got two years with the Bears.

You could argue these moves were justified, but that’s not always the case.

Here in Chicago, frustration seems to building among fans with head coach John Fox after the Bears are off to their second straight 0-3 start. The case for regression isn’t that hard to be made, considering last year the Bears started 0-3 against the Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks — three playoff teams. This year, they’ve lost to three quarterbacks with 10 combined career starts as of when they played them.

But patience is going to be needed. Even though Bears chairman George McCaskey expressed urgency two years ago when he fired Phil Emery and Trestman and declared his mother, Virginia, was “pissed off,” he’s going to give Fox and general manager Ryan Pace the necessary time to fix a deeply flawed roster.

The reality is, Emery and Trestman left behind a mess that even Pace and Fox likely didn’t understand the depths of when they took their respective gigs in Lake Forest. In 2014, it was clear Emery’s roster construction was bad. Nearly two years later, it looks even worse than was previously thought.

Only ten of Emery’s 20 draft picks remain in the organization. Three of those players (Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson and Marquess Wilson) are on injured reserve or PUP. Only four (Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery, Charles Leno and Pat O’Donnell) are starters, and that’s including a punter. The other three (Ka’Deem Carey, Will Sutton and Cornelius Washington) are reserves.

Since Pace and Fox arrived, they cut ties with Brock Vereen, David Fales, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Jordan Mills and Shea McClellin — all Emery draft picks. Fuller and Ferguson’s futures appear in doubt too.

Going back even further, there are zero draft picks remaining from the pre-Emery era. That means there is just one player — Alshon Jeffery — who was drafted by this organization in 2012 or earlier.

There just wasn’t much for Pace and Fox to work with when they got here. And, as they took a year to evaluate was left, they likely realized it was worse than they thought.

That’s why it’s hard to blame the Bears for being 0-3 again — especially with injuries claiming Jay Cutler, Pernell McPhee, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and Jeremy Langford. There just isn’t enough depth here to stomach those severe losses.

And yet, there are still opportunities to show progress is being made. Like last year, the Bears have a beatable Week 4 opponent at home in the Detroit Lions and there are plenty of reps available to go to young players Pace and Fox brought in.

It might not be pretty — in fact, it will probably continue to be ugly at times — but there are still 13 weeks to show growth with a very young, developing roster.

Patience. Unfortunately, you’re going to need it.

Three Key Questions: 

1. How will the Bears respond? After a lifeless first half in Dallas, the Bears actually showed some fight and put together a decent second half. Tight end Zach Miller admitted that at halftime the team knew they were getting “embarrassed” on national television for the second week in a row and they chose to fight back instead of lay down. Will they carry that fight into Week 4? Somehow this team needs to find a way to put four good quarters together.

2. How healthy will Alshon Jeffery be? The wide receiver is listed as “questionable” for the second straight week, but this time he also has a hamstring injury. Jeffery was on the injury report Wednesday and Thursday with the same knee issue he played through last week, but Friday he was listed with the hamstring. Already down their starting quarterback and top two running backs, the Bears need their No. 1 wideout to play and play well.

3. Win or lose, will the Bears see progress with their young roster? Kevin White needs to show continued improvement after a solid game in Dallas. Leonard Floyd needs to be more visible. Deiondre’ Hall and Nick Kwiatkoski need to play more. Deon Bush too. There are plenty of injuries on the roster. Finding reps for these younger players shouldn’t be a problem, but they also need to take advantage.

Prediction: Lions 26, Bears 23

Last year the Bears started 0-3, but came home and beat the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field. That’s the Bears’ only home win with John Fox as head coach. Like that game, this is a winnable contest for the Bears. Unfortunately, they are just so banged up right now and until they prove otherwise, it’s hard to believe they can put together four full quarters of winning football.

Around The League

Let’s hope talented wide receiver Josh Gordon gets the help he needs. The Browns announced Gordon is entering rehab. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be severing ties with the troubled wideout soon … The Bears’ Week 5 opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, play in London Sunday against the Jaguars. Just something to keep in mind next week as the Colts will need a little extra recovery as they prepare for the Bears … The Jaguars, meanwhile, will get a bye week before visiting Soldier Field in Week 6 … The Vikings were my upset pick at Carolina last week, but I just have a feeling things will be a little tougher Monday night against the Giants. There’s a little bit of a letdown factor in play here, while the Giants will be very motivated after a tough loss to Washington. The Vikings may win, but I think the Giants (+4.5) will keep it close …The Cardinals (-8.0) over the Rams is my “lock of the week” as I think Arizona is going to be angry after losing to the Bills last week.

NFL Draft Game Of The Week

No. 3 Louisville at No. 5 Clemson (+1.5) — 7 p.m. CT on ABC

The best game of the week is also the best NFL Draft game of the week. Clemson has six or seven players who could be drafted in the first three rounds of the draft, including coveted quarterback Deshaun Watson. For Louisville, it’s never too early to try to figure out how speedy quarterback Lamar Jackson fits in the NFL. He’s a year away from being eligible for the draft, but he’s an exciting puzzle scouts are eager to figure out.

NFL prospects to watch:

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Clemson WR Mike Williams
Clemson RB Wayne Gallman
Louisville OLB Devonte Fields
Louisville SS Josh Harvey-Clemons
Louisville WR James Quick

The Saturday Itinerary

Here’s what I would be watching if I was sitting on my couch all day Saturday:

11 a.m. (ABC) — No. 22 Texas at Oklahoma State (-2.5) 

This is a good opportunity to learn more about Texas, which beat Notre Dame, but then lost at Cal. Oklahoma State is in a little bit of a down year and this is a game Texas should win if they are really making progress.

NFL prospect to watch: Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph

Alternate Games: Notre Dame at Syracuse (+10.5) on ESPN; Northwestern at Iowa (-13.5) on ESPNU

2:30 p.m. (ABC) — No. 8 Wisconsin at No. 4 Michigan (-10.5)

Wisconsin was dealt a big blow Thursday when they decided star outside linebacker Vince Biegel needed foot surgery. Still, this is by far the best test Michigan has seen this season.

NFL prospect to watch: Michigan LB/DB Jabrill Peppers

Alternate Games: No. 11 Tennessee at No. 25 Georgia (+3.5) on CBS; Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska (-20) on ESPN 2

7 p.m. (BTN) — No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana (+6.5)

Let’s be clear, Louisville-Clemson will be the No. 1 primetime option on the itinerary, but this Big Ten game serves as an OK chance to do some channel flipping. Michigan State will be hungry to bounce back after losing big to Wisconsin at home, but Indiana’s offense will provide a stiff test.

NFL prospect to watch: Indiana OG Dan Feeney (game-time decision)

Alternate Games: Missouri at LSU (-13.0) at 6:30 p.m. on SEC Network; Arizona State at USC (-10.5) at 7:30 p.m. on FOX

The Nightcap: 9:30 p.m. (ESPN) — Arizona at UCLA (-13.5)

Upset Alert: 7 p.m. (BTN) — No. 17 Michigan State at Indiana (+6.5)

The Top 10

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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