Chicago Bears

Hub Arkush: Title games feature ex-Bears, area connections

Packers tight end Robert Tonyan of McHenry catches a touchdown pass during the first half against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 8 in Green Bay, Wis.
Packers tight end Robert Tonyan of McHenry catches a touchdown pass during the first half against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 8 in Green Bay, Wis.

There will be plenty of local connections for Bears fans in action Sunday in the NFL’s conference title games, perhaps giving you an extra rooting interest depending on what part of the city or state you’re from, and possibly aggravating you a bit as to how the Bears let these kids get out of town.

Whether it’s proximity, philosophy or pure chance, none of the league’s remaining finalists has more Chicago-area connections than the Green Bay Packers.

Out of Crystal Lake, Marian Central and the University of Iowa, Bryan Bulaga has been the Packers' starting right tackle since the fifth game of his rookie season after the Packers drafted him 23rd overall in 2010.

Bulaga never had a chance to be a Bear, as their first-round choice was in Denver that year, the second of two No. 1s they traded for Jay Cutler.

Rockford's Dean Lowry starts at one of the five-techniques for Green Bay and was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Northwestern.

The Bears drafted Nick Kwiatkoski, Deon Bush and Deiondre Hall ahead of Lowry in the fourth round and Jordan Howard 13 picks after Lowry went to Green Bay.

Wheaton Warrenville South grad Danny Vitale is the Packers' starting fullback, and he was drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Northwestern.

Wide receiver Jake Kumerow (first cousin to Joey and Nick Bosa) is from Bartlett, defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster is from Plainfield and Northwestern, and tight end Robert Tonyan is from McHenry.

Lastly, you also will find former Bear Adrian Amos starting at safety for the Pack after a good season but not one in which he played up to the $9 million annual salary they gave him in free agency last spring.

On the other side of the field, the 49ers have extremely significant Chicago ties with starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois, starting running back Tevin Coleman from Oak Forest and starting guard Laken Tomlinson from Chicago and Lane Tech.

Some Bears fans were disappointed when the Patriots chose Garoppolo with the 62nd pick in the 2014 draft as the Bears were sticking with Jay Cutler and adding Josh McCown to replace Jimmy Clausen, but most predraft analysis had Garoppolo lasting into the third round.

The Bears had used the 14th pick on Kyle Fuller, so no complaints there, but would the 51st pick have been better spent on Garoppolo than Ego Ferguson out of LSU?

Phil Emery was fired eight months later.

Coleman is a player I longed for the Bears to grab in the 2015 draft, Ryan Pace’s first. Atlanta snagged him with the 73rd pick after the Bears took Hroniss Grasu (now a Raven) at 71 and then grabbed running back Jeremy Langford at 106.

It would have been nice for Tomlinson, the rare Chicago Public League player to reach the NFL, to be a Bear, especially this year with their issues at right guard, but he was over-drafted in the first round by the Lions.

Of course, you will all be rooting for the Bears' all-time leading scorer, Robbie Gould to get to his second Super Bowl, but how many of you remember that Raheem Mostert, the Niners' breakout star at running back, also was a Bear in 2016 before going to San Francisco?

What might have been here?

The AFC title game will not be nearly as impacted by local talent or connections, but a Titans first-round pick Corey Davis is from Wheaton, and backup offensive tackle Dennis Kelly is from Chicago Heights.

Like Mostert, Titans backup tight end Mycole Pruitt was also a Bear in 2016.

Kansas City’s sixth offensive lineman right now is rookie Nick Allegretti from Frankfort, and he is interesting because he is as or more promising at guard than Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars, played his college ball for Lovie Smith at Illinois and is a player the Bears scouted before taking Duke Shelley with the 202nd pick in the sixth round ahead Allegretti going at 216.

• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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