Some Combine Thoughts and Other Points of View

Bears

  • I considered this comment from Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times to be interesting news:

    “The Bears have plenty of defensive holes, but that doesn’t mean Pace and Co. are being narrow-minded.

    “Some offensive lineman at the combine said they were told that the Bears are looking for interior line help.”

    This makes me wonder if many fans are going to get their way and see Kyle Long moved to tackle. They also need a plan for the future at center.

  • And this report from John Mullin at csnchicago.com was interesting as well:

    “As part of their evaluation process for [Bears quarterback Jay] Cutler, the Bears are going beyond the usual video reviews and expected to be reaching out for thoughts from some of the very offensive coaches who lost jobs in part due to Cutler. That group includes coordinators Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice and Aaron Kromer, plus former quarterbacks coaches Matt Cavanaugh and Pep Hamilton, now Andrew Luck’s offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts, sources confirmed.”

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall during these conversations. I’d hope that at least a few of these guys would be willing to characterize Cutler as the hopeless loser that he is. But my guess is that most of them will be kinder than they should be. Mullin certainly seems to think that the comments will be more centered around how to get the best out of Cutler but he’s working under the assumption that Cutler will be around next year. I’m not.

Elsewhere

  • I thought this article from Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times was going to be another one of those Jameis Winston Vs. Marcus Mariota columns. It wasn’t. In particular, this point about college quarterbacks who play in spread offenses was interesting:

    “It’s worth noting that two head coaches with stellar reputations for developing quarterbacks had polar opposite views on that subject.

    “‘I think it’s great training,’ the Packers’ [head coach Mike] McCarthy said. ‘There was a time when people felt that shotgun and all this wide-open offense in college would hinder a quarterback playing in the NFL because you had to teach them to get under center. The reality of it is pressure, third-down, key-situational football is the biggest challenge for a young quarterback. And I think these college programs have done an outstanding job of playing wide-open, asking the quarterbacks to do more and I think they’re much better prepared today than when I first got into the league.

    “Arians had a different viewpoint: ‘So many times, you’re evaluating a quarterback who has never called a play in the huddle, never used a snap count,’ [Cardinals head coach Bruce] Arians said. ‘They hold up a card on the sideline, he kicks his foot and throws the ball.

    “‘That ain’t playing quarterback. There’s no leadership involved there. There might be leadership on the bench, but when you get them and they have to use verbiage and they have to spit the verbiage out and change the snap count, they are light years behind.'”

    I find myself siding with McCarthy here. The things that Arians is emphasizing are things that can be taught to a conscientious student that works hard. I don’t think what McCarthy is talking about can.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune documents the many changes to the Packers this off-season. He quotes head coach Mike McCarthy on the matter.

    “When we had the opportunity to win the Super Bowl, I didn’t feel like, ‘Hey, let’s not change anything and keep going.’ I have seen it happen in the past. I have been part of that situation. I think you have to take each and every year and start over.”

    There is a large part of me that wonders if this wasn’t part of the problem for the Bears last year. Offensively I, at least, would have liked to have seen some different people on the line. You have to wonder if the lack of change on that side of the ball didn’t contribute at least a little to the stagnation that we saw there.

  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty doesn’t quite get it as he talks about being a college spread quarterback transitioning into a pocket passing league. Via John Mullin at csnchicago.com:

    “‘I am a pocket passer. I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket,’ Petty said. ‘That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that and the fact that I want to play within the pocket and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that.'”

    If desire to work out of the pocket was all that counted, there’d be all kinds of first and second day draft picks at the position. It isn’t about desire to extend plays by escaping the pocket. Lots of guys can do that. It’s about movement within the pocket to find throwing lanes while you are surrounded by men who are about 6’6″. It’s about being able to do that and that’s something that no one will know if you can do until you do it. It doesn’t help that most spread quarterbacks aren’t asked to do the other thing that’s absolutely essential – throw with anticipation.

  • Unlike people who have a life, I spend over 20 hours watching combine coverage on the NFL Network.  I don’t hold much with giving a prospect a lot more consideration because of a good combine performance.  But it is a good chance to learn something about the prospects by listening to what analyst Mike Mayock has to say about them. Here are a few observations:
  1. In my opinion there are four impact players at the top of this draft:  Leonard Williams, Winston, Dante Fowler, and Danny Shelton.  Of the four, only Shelton is likely to be there for the Bears.  He’s got a lot of phone booth quicks for his size and its obvious that he might even provide some pass rush.  If you are going to run a base 3-4 of the type that the Patriots run, requiring a big, 2-gapping nose guard, he’s your guy.
  2. Williams reminds me of a shorter version of Julius Peppers.  I consider that to be high praise.  If you listen to his peers, its well deserved.  When the defensive line prospects lined up for a picture, the photographer asked, “Whose going number 1?” in the same joking way that he might ask you or I to “say ‘cheese’”.  All of them pointed to Williams and said, “Leonard”.  That’s an endorsement you can take to the bank.
  3. The two most impressive quarterbacks whose name wasn’t Winston or Mariota were Bryan Bennett and Petty.  You could hear the ball whistle as it left Bennett’s hand and he really appears to be able to spin it.  Petty is what Mayock correctly called a “natural thrower”.  Both look to me like the kinds of guys who have the talent to develop into a starter if they have the right heads for the job.
  4. I was led to believe that one of Winston’s major problems was that his release was too long.  If it was, he solved it.  His release was quicker than Mariota’s.
  5. The tight ends are really supposed to be bad this year and never was that more evident than when you watched them go through the gauntlet drill.  The wide receivers run through this drill at speed and are often fluid, natural pass catchers.  Th tight ends ran through it at half speed and were dropping balls all over.  It was painful.
  6. Several mock drafts now have the Bears taking linebacker Vic Beasley.  Man, I hope not.  My impression of Beasley as I watched him play for Clemson was that he lacked instincts.  I’d hate to see him be taken by the Bears because of a good combine showing.
  7. I was a little insulted as Daniel Jeremiah posted his “franchise fits” for each defensive position group on Sunday.  The Bears should have been on every single list.

One Final Thought

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com opines this little piece of inconsistency:

Justin Houston, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Jason Pierre-Paul, Stephen Gostkowski and Charles Clay will be staying in Kansas City, Denver, Dallas, New York, New England and Miami, respectively, as the only players to receive franchise or transition tags this season.

“The biggest impact of those decisions is almost every team is now considering offers for Ndamukong Suh and Devin McCourty, and it would be a real shame if the Bears weren’t in on both.”

Why inconsistent? Here’s what Hub said about the Bears just 2 weeks ago before the announcement that they were going base 3-4 defense. Hub’s point was that the Bears need to rebuild, going younger and relying primarily upon the draft to improve:

“Forget free agency. If they’re staying in a 4-3 long term, they should re-sign Stephen Paea. That’s about it.”

He’s also repeatedly argued that the Bears should keep Cutler essentially because a weak free agent market means Cutler gives them the best chance to win. Since when is that a priority in a rebuilding year? Don’t you start searching now for a replacement rather than wasting a year with a guy you know can’t do the job? Even in a weak market you might catch lightening in a bottle with a guy like Matt Moore. Since when has Brian Hoyer had the chance to play with anything close to the offensive talent the Bears have? In fairness to Hub, other media members have made this argument with similar degrees of inconsistency.

Hub had it right the first time. It’s time to rebuild through the draft and let other teams throw around the stupid money. Given that teams like the Jaguars and the Raiders literally have to spend money to meet the minimum cap requirements, the price for players like Suh and McCourty could be especially insane this year. There will be plenty of players left over to fill gaps in the team after the initial wave of free agency is over.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Points of View | Leave a comment

A Scary Choice and Other Points of View

Bears

  • According to Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune cornerback Tim Jennings had minor arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He’s expected to be fine for the beginning of the Bears offseason workout program April 6. But then there’s this:

    “Jennings posted a tweet Thursday night asking his followers to pray for him. On Friday, he posted a picture of himself and alluded to the surgery. Those posts have since been deleted. The person with knowledge of the surgery would not confirm which knee required it.”

    If its a minor, routine procedure that won’t cause him to miss any time and, presumably, won’t affect his play much if at all, why all the secrecy?

  • I don’t know if this was assigned to Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times or if it was his own idea. But it has to be the worst example of lazy journalism I’ve ever seen.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com thinks its likely that the Bears will be selecting a pass rusher in the first round this year based upon the history of both head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He also points out that this would fit former Bears great Richard Dent‘s “Rule of three” for building a defense. It certainly makes sense that the Bears would be looking for an impact player in this area (along with virtually everyone else).
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times undertakes the down right depressing task of rating the Bears team needs. Perhaps not surprising, they’re all on defense. But let’s not sleep on offensive line, either. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock doesn’t like Marcus Mariota in that spot (via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times) but if the Bears like him, I can’t see how they take a pass on him.

    The good news is that with so many needs it won’t be hard to take the best impact player available at almost any position. Really, only running back is out of the question entirely with wide receiver and tight end being unlikely.

    The bad news is how perishingly little whatever pick they make is going to help. There’s lots of aging talent with little in the way of youth to provide hope for the future. Perhaps this is the dark before the dawn. But if it is, that sun may take a long while to break through.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

    “If the Bears are switching to a 3-4 defense, which position is the most vital in the first round? Nose tackle, pass-rushing outside linebacker or safety? — @Aronw1A”

    “1. Dominant defensive end.”

    “2. Impact outside linebacker.”

    “3. Run-stopping nose tackle.”

    “4. Strong-side inside linebacker.”

    “5. Situational pass rushing defensive end.”

    I was very surprised at this ranking. I had always heard that nose tackle was the highest priority simply because good ones are so tough to find. And, of course, everyone emphasizes pass rush which comes largely from the outside linebacker in a 3-4. These are, indeed, the needs emphasized by Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune in this article.

    My guess is that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had a big influence on the current thinking and that this list would have been different this time last year.

  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune suggests that the Bears overpay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb in free agency. I disagree. 1) The Bears are rebuilding and probably shouldn’t be signing anyone in free agency. 2) The Bears will never maximize the talent of a smaller speed receiver like Cobb with Jay Cutler at quarterback. He’s shown very well in the past that he can’t or won’t throw to such receivers.

    As Rosenbloom, himself, puts it:

    “The Bears don’t have [Packers quarterback Aaron] Rodgers, just to clarify. In fact, they have the anti-Rodgers, but at least with a guy like Cobb, Cutler’s killer interceptions would be deeper.”

  • Whatever else you say about former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher – and I’ve said a lot of unkind things – he had Cutler nailed dead to rights almost from the moment they met. That hasn’t changed. Via Brian Sandalow at the Chicago Sun-Times:

    “During an appearance Tuesday at Waukegan’s Robert Abbott Middle School, Urlacher was asked about the Bears’ regression and whether he was disappointed in the offense’s production. His answer —and his omission of a certain lightning rod of a Bear — was telling.

    “‘I don’t know disappointed; it just took a step back, I think, is the word,’ Urlacher said. ‘Great talent on offense at every position. Offensive line, receiver, running back, tight end, all great players. Just didn’t get the production that I guess the fans thought they should’ve gotten.’

    “Um, Brian. Forgetting somebody? You know, the guy behind center?

    “‘Great talent everywhere on their offense,’ Urlacher said.”

  • Finley describes the advantage to running the 3-4 defense (according to Fox):

    “Against spread offenses and empty backfields, Fox can drop eight players — including both outside linebackers — in a 3-4.”

    “The switch won’t be so dramatic in nickel and dime formations, when the Bears — who played less of the true cover-2 under Mel Tucker — likely will still deploy four down linemen. Besides, Fox said, the spacing for 4-3 and 3-4 sets are similar.”

    I might add that if you rush four (which you often will), then the offense won’t know where the fourth guy will come from.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com on Pace:

    “One thing he’s perfected in his first month on the job as the Bears general manager is the ability to look you in the eye and make you feel like he gets your job and that you matter and then to respectfully answer your question without telling you a thing.

    “It’s an NFL executive deal. It can drive you nuts, but the good ones all have it.”

    I’ve got news for you Hub. It’s not restricted to NFL executives.

One Final Thought

The two best quarterbacks in this year’s draft really make me nervous. Really nervous. Mariota’s flaws are well-documented and, because they are on field issues, we’ve all seen them and can evaluate them ourselves. But Jameis Winston is different. We’ve heard about the off-field issues and everyone likes to think that with all of the trouble that they’ve caused, he’s put them behind him. But apparently that’s not the case and you need only look at his last college game to understand that. Via Biggs:

“One NFC college scouting director pointed to the video of Winston walking into the Rose Bowl in January when he mimicked smoking a joint and passing it.

“‘That’s the one position where you can’t live with immaturity,’ the scouting director said. ‘Is the talent level so different between [Mariota and Winston] that you want to draft Jameis and have the immaturity issues he’s going to bring? You’re talking about the face of your franchise.'”

The lasting image I have of Winston during that game was the argument he had with head coach Jimbo Fisher in the fourth quarter. Winston completely lost his cool and you could read Fisher’s lips as he threatened to bench him. To say that Winston didn’t handle the situation well would be a serious understatement.

This guy has trouble written all over him.

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The Bears Will Have the Opportunity to Draft Their Quarterback. If They Want Him.

One of the most consistent reasons I’ve heard for not dumping quarterback Jay Cutler is that neither of the two top prospects in the draft will be there when the Bears pick in the first round. Greg Gabriel at the National Football Post tells you (indirectly) why this is likely to be a patently false assumption and why the Bears will likely get a shot at Marcus Mariota and, maybe, even Jameis Winston. If they want them at all:

“We are a week away from the Combine, and the first round quarterback hype is already high. Many of the draftniks and media have both Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota going in the top 10. Their thinking is that because they are the two most talented quarterbacks, they will automatically go that high. If you notice, it’s only the media and draftniks that are making these statements. No one from the NFL says a thing and they won’t until they get into the lying season full swing. Once you get to the Combine, you can’t believe a thing an NFL exec says about a prospect because 90% of the time they are lying.

“If you go back a year or 13 months, most of that same group had Teddy Bridgewater going, if not first overall, at least in the top 5. They also had Johnny Manziel as a sure-fire top 10. As we got close to the Combine, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles started to catch fire and by the start of that annual event, many ‘experts’ had all three of those quarterback’s being drafted in the top 10. The problem is the people making these predictions aren’t the ones making the decisions. While quarterbacks did get largely over-drafted for a number of years, in the last two drafts, they’ve been drafted just about where they should have been.”

Personally, I thought Bridgewater was under rated by NFL teams in the end (and his rookie season proved me right). But the point still stands. Everybody had NFL teams over-drafting quarterbacks last year just as they probably have them doing it this year.

I actually wouldn’t put it past Lovie Smith to over-draft Winston or Mariota. He isn’t dumb but i don’t think he’d know raw quarterback talent if it crept up and bit him in his nether regions.  I doubt very much that he knows what he’s doing and whether he will actually listen to the people that do is also highly doubtful. He’s a very stubborn man. In any case, which ever one Smith doesn’t take (or both) will fall, especially if its Mariota. That statement may surprise some but Mariota is a much bigger risk that Winston.

We can use notable failure Johnny Manziel as the ultimate cautionary tale for those wondering what the draft status of these quarterbacks should be. The comparison of Winston to Manziel doesn’t hold water because, though they share concern over off field issues, Winston has already shown that he can throw from the pocket with anticipation to a receiver. Immaturity aside I doubt very much that any quarterback accomplishes that without putting in some work, something that by all accounts the Browns were told that Manziel only rarely did. Mariota, on the other hand, compares well to Manziel on the field because hasn’t shown the kind of ability that Winston has. He worked from a spread offense and has never thrown from the pocket. His accuracy is also suspect. Winston has shown the traits on the field that you want to see. Mariota hasn’t and might never show them.

Both of these guys are over rated in the media right now. And it says here that one or both will fall to the Bears if they want them and (very probably) beyond that. In fact, if they do want one of them they might be wise to trade down (as Gabriel suggests that Jacksonville should have done before drafting Bortles last year).

There is one other factor to consider here and that’s why the quarterbacks tend to be over rated this time of year. The truth is that the opinions of draft “experts” like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are highly suspect. In addition to the fact that no one is telling them the real truth about any of the prospects and how they are actually viewed by the league, its worth considering that they are under immense pressure to increase ratings. And we all know that when it comes to the media and the NFL, it’s all about the quarterback. The minute these guys start talking about offensive tackles, you can practically feel producers getting nervous and you can practically hear them telling the on air personalities in their ears to get back “on point”. Setting up questions like “which quarterback will go number one overall” is where media outlets like ESPN make their money. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to over rate the quarterbacks.

I’m not saying don’t listen. I’m saying listen strictly for the entertainment value. Because it’s all hot air until April when the Bears finally are off the clock.

Posted in Chicago Bears, NFL Draft | Leave a comment

Keeping the NFL Combine in Perspective

The NFL Combine is upon us and as freaks like me set up their television recorders for the event, Field Yates at ESPN has a timely reminder for us:

“32 players NOT invited to 2014 Combine were drafted, while 111 players invited to Indy were not selected.”

Scouts for some of the better organizations in the NFL sometimes talk about “anchoring” their board. What that means is that these organizations get their scouts in a room pre-combine and go through every player they are interested in, assigning them the round that they think these players should be taken in (thus “anchoring” them to that spot). After that, the better organizations stick to this board, only tweaking it here and there based upon workout numbers and, sometimes, further tape study. They never let a player jump up or down by more than a round or so from here on out.

Bottom line, players can affect their draft status with a good combine showing, especially players with off the field issues in the interview room. But for most of the better organizations, it can really only be a tie breaker with all else being equal. Matt Miller at the Bleacher Report may have put it best:

“This reminder is for me as well as you: Don’t buy into the combine hype. Fast times in the 40-yard dash are impressive, but they have to be validated on tape.”

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The Price of Spectacle and the Spectacle of Price

The Chicago Tribune thinks that its hard to justify all of the trouble that having the NFL Draft in the city will bring. I’m having a hard time getting in line with their thinking.

What the Tribune isn’t considering is the city’s attitude towards professional football. You can rumble around about the Cubs, the White Sox and the Bulls but when you bottom line it, this is a football town. You don’t have to spend much time here to understand that most of the city breaths it all year around. Sure most of us won’t get in to see the actual draft. But the event itself with the festival in Grant Park is going to be a spectacle that’s going to bring far more entertainment to the populace of the city than the annual Jazz Fest or Taste of Chicago.

Sure, you’ll get south side and west side officials complaining about the money spent here that could be spent on the cities poorer neighborhoods. Jessie Jackson is due to be on camera any day now. I get it.  It’s his job to use events like this to highlight such issues just as its the Tribune’s job to play watch dog – and thus to sell newspapers – by pointing out that the city isn’t going to come away scott-free from the deal.  I’m sure the media is about to be deluged with economist after economist who will question whether the city will get back what it puts in. But the truth is that relatively few people are going to care that much. Far fewer than there would be normally for any other event.

City officials were drooling all over themselves to bring the Olympics here, something that would have cost a great deal more money and trouble with a great deal more risk for lost government revenue. They did that despite the fact that the majority of city residents weren’t in favor of having it here. So how much more should they try to bring something here that the people actually want?

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Why Bears Fans Should Be Thankful. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions. Included is the annual call for running back Matt Forte to be traded:

    “I don’t know how much the Bears could get in return for Forte when you consider he’s 29, he’s got 2,260 carries and receptions combined over the past seven seasons and his contract calls for him to be paid $8.2 million this season. Again, I’m not saying he can’t be a valuable performer both as a running back and as a receiver in 2015. I just don’t believe a team would be willing to fork over much to acquire him. Forte’s value is probably greatest to the Bears right now.”

    Every year somebody writes in and calls for Forte to be traded. And every year my answer is the same. Forte is the Bears best player right now. It would be insane to trade him, especially given that they’d never get what he’s worth.

    These are the guys you want to keep.

  • ESPN‘s Kevin Seifert and Matt Williamson rate the top 20 free agents this offseason. See any Bears on that list? That tells you everything you need to know.
  • According to the article, the Bears are estimated to have the tenth most cap space available in the league at roughly $25 million.

Elsewhere

  • Mike McCarthy is giving up play calling duties and by all accounts is going to be more of a CEO-type head coach next season. That’s led to quite a number of new titles on the coaching staff. Via Darin Gantt at profootballtalk.com:

    “They named Tom Clements associate head coach/offense, Edgar Bennett offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt quarterbacks/wide receivers coach, Mike Solari assistant offensive line coach.”

    As Gantt notes, throwing an extra position group on Van Pelt’s “a little curious”. The guess here is that McCarthy might be giving up play calling duties and Clements might be the offensive coordinator but that means McCarthy will be spending a lot more time with the quarterbacks, making Van Pelt literally a third wheel (with Clements also being a former quarterbacks coach).

    Rob Demovsky at ESPN says that the shift also means that McCarthy will be spending a lot more time in meetings for both the defense and the special teams. I thought these quotes from McCarthy were interesting:

    “‘And I will spend a lot of time with the special teams. Special teams needs to improve. It’s an area definitely of concern in the past.’

    “McCarthy referred to himself as ‘the third guy in the room now’ when talking about the special teams coaching staff, which includes new coordinator Ron Zook and new assistant Jason Simmons. Zook, who was the assistant last season, replaces Shawn Slocum, who was fired Jan. 30.

    “‘That culture’s going to change in there,’ McCarthy said. ‘I promise you that.’ “

    The Packers special teams were miserable last year. It sounds like McCarthy is going to make sure that there’s going to be a lot more kicking asses and taking names next year.

    I don’t have much doubt that McCarthy is doing the right thing here. It’s long past time for Clements to be a coordinator in more than just name and the best head coaches are the ones that coach the coaches. I think McCarthy will be pretty good at that.

  • I like former Bears and Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown well enough. But calling him “the best free agent quarterback available” is stretching it. From Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.
  • Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald gives this in depth breakdown of the Miami Dolphins as the NFL’s ultimate stagnant team. Its not a pretty picture and it makes you wonder if they won’t be headed towards a complete blow up in a few years as the roster ages with little overall influx of real talent.

One Final Thought

Of course, the Dolphins organization is a well oiled machine compared to the Cleveland Browns. Jason La Canfora paints a picture of unbelievable dysfunction starting with the meddling owner who insisted on drafting Johnny Manziel over the general manager’s preference for both Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater.

“The culture in the Browns building is toxic, I’m told. Morale is beyond low. If you can flee, you are fleeing. There is no shortage of individuals throughout that organization who would, like former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, get the hell out of there if at all possible. There’s an overwhelming sense of dread about the future and a fear that, come the end of the 2015 season, [owner Jimmy] Haslam will do the one thing he has managed to do with any consistency during his three-season reign — that is, blow up his entire building once again and fire everyone, in essence blaming all but himself for his sweeping failure.”

No matter who you root for in this league most of us can all be glad of one thing: you aren’t a Browns fan. This article is a must read for any fan who needs to feel better about the Bears current situation.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins | Leave a comment

Bears Biggest Need? It Says Linebacker Here. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • The Bears have re-signed cornerback Al Louis-Jean to a two year contract according to Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune. Louis-Jean will be one of the more interesting players to keep an eye on. He’s got all the tools and got plenty of playing time last year. This coming year will be when we should all be looking for him to take the next big step.
  • Another interesting thing to keep an eye on is whether Bears head coach John Fox will let Brandon Marshall do another season of Inside the NFL. It certainly sounds like Marshall is going to ask him. Via Ed Sherman at the Chicago Tribune.Like most of you, I’d just as soon see Bears players live and breath football with minimal distractions during the season. “Got Tuesday off? Go in and sleep at the facility anyway and tell your wife you’ll have sex with her in February.” That isn’t realistic, of course, and I honestly don’t know what kind of effect this has on Marshall’s play on Sundays.

    I will say this. When you are “the first in this space to do something like this” it probably means that other players thought there was something wrong with doing it. We’ll have to wait and see what Fox thinks.

  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com does a nice job of exploring the draft history of the Bears major front office and coaching personnel. Suffice it to say that Bears general manager Ryan Pace, Fox, and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio all have a history of drafting defense, the consensus need for the Bears at virtually every position. Fox also has offensive tendencies:

    “Where Fox’s predispositions become even more interesting is the commitment to running the football. The Panthers selected running backs in either round 1 or 2 in four of the eight drafts from 2002-2009, including No. 1’s in 2006 (DeAngelo Williams) and 2008 (Jonathan Stewart).”

    I don’t see the Bears drafting a running back that high. But an offensive lineman isn’t out of the realm of possibility if the right guy falls.

  • This has to be one of the most ridiculous Brad Biggs questions I’ve ever read in the Chicago Tribune:

    “With the Titans’ interest in Jay Cutler could there be a possible trade for the Titans’ No. 2 overall pick and take Jameis Winston? — @johnRstruck

    “…But I don’t think there is any scenario in which the Titans (or any other team) offer anything close to the No. 2 overall pick for Cutler. What would be the upside in dealing the second overall pick for a quarterback that will turn 32 this spring and has one career playoff victory? The problem with most imaginary trades that pop up in the mailbox is they rarely consider whether the deal is a value for both sides.”

    What the hell is wrong with you people?

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com disagrees with my assessment of the quarterback position:

    “I was asked earlier today, which current NFL veteran the Bears should pluck in free agency to challenge Cutler?

    “The answer is none. The last thing the Bears need or want is Cutler on the bench as a $17 million backup. That scenario could create locker-room, huddle and sideline issues even Henry Kissinger wouldn’t want to tackle.”

    Since when is Cuter that popular in the huddle? And what has he ever done to earn that team’s respect? I don’t accept this argument.

    Arkush has a thing for Cutler that I don’t understand. He raved about the fact that they started Jimmy Clausen in week 16 against the Lions despite the fact that Cutler was an absolute mess against the Saints the week before. I don’t know what it is he’s seeing but the Bears have to do whatever they can to find Cutler’s replacement as soon as possible. That includes exploring a free agent market where at least you don’t know the guy isn’t the answer.

    Arkush suggests that the Bears sign Jake Locker or Matt Moore and admits that Locker could possibly be an answer after 2015.

  • Arkush is asked about wide receiver Brandon Marshall‘s future with the team. My initial thought is that the Bears would b crazy to let him go – he’s their best receiver. Once again, Arkush disagrees:

    “If Pace and Fox are able to get an actual retelling of what a disaster that locker room and huddle were last year, and how much of it was because of Marshall, I can’t see how they could bring him back.”

    This time Arkush’s response gives me pause. I’ve seen very little with my own eye that indicates that Marshall shouldn’t be brought back and he certainly did play hard, even when hurt last year. But there’s a lot that can’t be seen by guys like me who aren’t on the spot every day. If Arkush has inside information about how disruptive Marshall was “in the huddle”, then maybe its worth bowing to his superior knowledge.

    There might be a better chance that Marshall will be let go than I initially thought.

  • Arkush also writes a fun article guessing which players will benefit from a potential switch to the 3-4. Some of the names were surprising. Here’s a good example:

    “At 6-foot-4, 256 pounds and quick as a hiccup, David Bass was born to be an outside rush linebacker with serious double-digit sack potential.”

    “Bass is an athlete and a playmaker who needs to play in space but has had a hand stuck on the ground his first two years in the league.”

  • You’ll find another interesting remark from Arkush in the offensive line positional review from csnchicago.com at about the 2:40 mark. Arkush thinks that the way to fix the offensive line is to move Kyle Long to left tackle, Jermon Bushrod to right tackle and to go out and find a right guard:

    There’s something to be said for this though I still like the philosophy of being strong up the middle to keep a clean pocket for the quarterback to step up into.

  • Barry Rozner at the Chicago Daily Herald nails the question of whether Jay Cutler should be a Bear next year:

    “Conventional wisdom, however, suggests the Bears will keep Cutler for at least one more season for several reasons, not the least of which is that they won’t find a better option to play the position in 2015.”

    “Cutler’s base salary for 2014 and 2015 became guaranteed last March, to the tune of $38 million. That money is already spent. Gone. Written off, much like the 2014 campaign when the Bears lost to Miami and fell to 3-4.

    “Cutler gets another $10 million guaranteed on March 12 and the final $6 million would be locked in around the same time next year.”

    “Or — if math isn’t your thing — $48 million for two years sounds so much better than $38 million for one.

    “Go ahead, you might as well laugh if the alternative is weeping.

    “While you’re pondering the genius of Phil Emery for handing that deal to Cutler, and George McCaskey and Ted Phillips for approving it, what do you really gain by spending that next $10 million?]

    “Yeah, see? This is where the trouble begins.”

    The answer is nothing. Nothing more than a wasted year spent with Cutler rather than in finding his replacement. Could they find anyone better? Probably not. But you don’t know that. Not if you don’t try.

  • How bad are the Bears prospects? Former NFL scout Matt Williamson, now at ESPN, rates each team in terns of the amount of talent aged 25 and under. The Bears rank 31st out of 32 teams, behind only the Redskins. Williamson highlights this pair as one of the Bears best 5:

    Will Sutton, DT (23): Sutton is an undersized 3-technique defensive tackle who relies on leverage and quickness and can be mauled by bigger offensive linemen and double-teams. He was just OK as a rookie.

    Ego Ferguson, DT (23): Ferguson played many fewer snaps than Sutton and is more of a nose-tackle type than a penetrator. Ferguson also has been underwhelming overall. It is a bad sign for the Bears that these two defensive tackles rank among the team’s best young prospects.”

    When asked about this article on the Football Today podcast, Williamson emphasized how shacked he was that the Bears were so depleted of good, young NFL talent.

  • Todd McShay‘s got a mock draft out and I think he’s making some sense this year. He has the Bears drafting Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton:

    “Analysis: It’s unclear what scheme new head coach John Fox and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio plan to run in Chicago — my guess is they’ll use something of a hybrid front — but if they plan to play any 3-4, they’ll need some capable bodies. Lamarr Houston and Will Sutton are best at penetrating and disrupting, and their strongest point-of-attack D-lineman, Stephen Paea, is a free agent. Shelton would provide a versatile, big body along the interior, as he commands double-teams against the run and can push the pocket as a pass-rusher. [Oregon defensive end] Arik Armstead is another option here, and the Bears also need help at safety and linebacker. But what will they do at the QB position?”

    Nose tackle makes a lot of sense for any team that is planning to play any 3-4, even in a hybrid scheme. Arguably Ferguson could provide some help here but the Bears would be wise to plan on drafting one anyway. You can’t have too many. The Bears also have a need at offensive tackle that is under rated nationally. Iowa’s Brandon Scherff is a possibility.

    Any way they go the Bears are going to get a good player here.

    McShay has Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota going #6 to the Jets but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he dropped further than that. Mariota hasn’t shown he can throw with anticipation from the pocket and, while that doesn’t mean he can’t do it, like Johnny Manziel last year, teams are going to be wary about drafting him too high.

  • Mike Imrem at the Chicago Daily Herald grasps at straws in an effort to make Bears fans feel better.

Elsewhere

  • Plans for the NFL draft in April are beginning to take shape. For once the city is scheduling something that I don’t mind seeing life downtown disrupted for. Via Jared S. Hopkins at the Chicago Tribune

One Final Thought

Csnchicago.com reviews the Bears linebacker position from 2014.

Many people will say that safety was the Bears worst defensive position last year but I would argue that the linebackers might have that distinction. They were absolutely wretched. The biggest problem is that they played with no instincts whatsoever. Though coaching might bear some responsibility for this my tendency is to believe that it was largely the fault of former general manager Phil Emery, who I think had a tendency to draft athletes rather than players.

It’s going to be interesting to see where new GM Pace goes in his first NFL draft. Unfortunately there aren’t many pure linebackers in the top 50 players though some of the “defensive ends” might be better as outside linebackers in a 3-4. Don’t rule out the linebacker position if there’s anybody at all available that deserves the spot. The linebackers are the beating heart of your defense, especially in the 3-4, and the Bears certainly lacked both talent and heart last year.

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Super Bowl Lessons and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher once again fails to convince me that his contentious exit from the Bears had to do with anything other than his own pride. Via Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune
  • Jared Allen thinks quarterback Jay Cutler takes too much “crap”. I agree. I think he should go somewhere else so he doesn’t have to take it anymore (but see the “Final Thought” below). From Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com runs through the lessons that he thinks the Bears need to learn from the Super Bowl. His major take home point was that they need a nose tackle. But I, personally, think that Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com nailed it on the head with this quote from Tom Brady:

    “It’s been a long journey. It’s just a great win. We left it all on the field. The key was mental toughness.”

    It certainly was. 10 points down with 10 minutes to go the Patriots dug deep to score two touchdowns to win. The Bears, on the other hand, were called the biggest group of front-runners in football by one opposing assistant coach last year.

    The Bears may need a nose tackle. But more than anything they need more mentally tough players at almost every position, starting with the quarterback.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune considers the question of whether wide receiver Brandon Marshall should be brought back.

    “The Bears have a similarly big-bodied wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery and the second-round pick from 2012 will enter the final year of his rookie contract eligible for a new deal. Jeffery, 24, had 85 receptions for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. What the roster lacks is speed at the position and maybe [GM Ryan] Pace, [head coach John] Fox and [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase will look to mix up the depth chart with some quick and shifty receivers like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who Tom Brady used to lead the Patriots over the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

    “The ideal might be to pair a big wide receiver with a faster and quicker receiver like Randall Cobb, Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders, who Fox and Gase used this past season with the Broncos in tandem with Demaryius Thomas, a larger 6-foot-3 target. Sanders is fast and possesses great change of direction, something you can’t say about any Bears receivers.”

    If you sign any of those guys you are going to need a quarterback who can and will throw to them and hit them in stride.   Cutler’s limitations make those kinds of signings risky propositions. Regardless, assuming he’s recovered from his injuries of 2014 the offense won’t be better without an All-Pro receiver like Marshall.

  • Odds makers are having fun setting up prop bets surrounding this year’s new head coaches. I find Fox’s placement on some of these lists to be curious. I would say that Fox’s chances of getting fired first are well behind Oakland’s Jack Del Rio and Buffalos Rex Ryan. I would also say that the odds that Fox will get in trouble first for an inappropriate comment are also well behind Del Rio’s and I would also place him below the Jet’s Todd Bowles and Atlanta’s Dan Quinn if for no other reason than they are virtual unknowns in terms of how they will handle the pressure. From David Just at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Elsewhere

  • If you ever wanted to know what is running through the mind of a really well-coached player, Super Bowl hero Malcom Butler gives you a clue by describing what he was looking at before he made his huge, game winning goal line interception. Via Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com:

    “[Receiver Ricardo Lockette] kept his head still and just looked over there, so that gave me a clue, and the stacked receivers. I just knew they were going to throw. My instincts, I just went with it, just went with my mind and made the play.”

    Butler is an undrafted rookie.

One Final Thought

Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com goes over a quarterback free agent class that isn’t quite as bad as I thought. Some of these guys like Brian Hoyer and Matt Moore might do significantly better than in previous stops in a run-oriented offense that has the offensive weapons that the Bears do.

Having said that, the Super Bowl taught me something. By no means would I ever call Russell Wilson a great quarterback but he still managed to get the Seahawks to a Super Bowl. Wilson has considerably more mental toughness than Cutler, which will always severely limit Cutler’s ability to take a team far into the playoffs. But I’m starting to come around on the idea that keeping him around and brining in one or more of these free agents to compete with him might not be a bad idea. This might allow you to start your championship quarterback search and still keep Cutler around as insurance in the (probably likely) event that you don’t find him. Financially, the worst case scenario is that you end up with Cutler as a very expensive back up but recent history shows that he’d likely still have to play at some point in that role. Drafting a quarterback to develop might complete the picture.

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Updated: Typical Cutler. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune interviews former Bears consultant Ernie Accorsi.

    That “we” is significant, I think. Accorsi must have liked the work he did here. He identifies himself with the organization even though technically his job is done. That bodes well for the Bears future with a young GM that will undoubtedly need some advice every once in a while.

    This is a great, wide-ranging interview, by the way. A lot can be learned about football from Accorsi’s thought processes. This section on how Bears general manager Ryan Pace came to be on his radar is a good example:

  • Former Bears returner Devin Hester needs to speak for himself:

    “The city of Chicago knows and disagrees with the situation they made. For a guy like Brian Urlacher, probably one of the top three or five names that ever played in Chicago — for his career to end like that, that’s tough.”

    I did not disagree with the way that Urlacher exited. Though we were all sad to see him go, he was given a fair offer and turned it down. Notably, no one else signed him and, as far as anyone knows, no one offered him anywhere near what the Bears did.

    Having said that, I look back on Hester’s exit with some regret. We’ll never know what kind of receiver he would have made here. He’s not a big “go up and get it” guy and he had a quarterback who was unable or flat out unwilling to throw to him. I think he could speak for the city of Chicago if he said we all wish him well in Atlanta.

  • These Tribune polls have been around for some time now and I’m rarely surprised at the results. Nor did which asks “Should the Bears tell Brandon Marshall not to do ‘Inside the NFL‘ next season?” did. Almost 90% of you said “yes”. There’s no actual direct benefit to Bears fans to Marshall being on. So the logical, selfish response would ordinarily be “yes”.Probably most of the voters assumed Marshall wouldn’t be around in Chicago so it wouldn’t matter anyway. There’s been a ground swell against Marshall since the season ended amongst both fans and media. His locker room outburst early in the season didn’t help but I’m sure most of it is lack of production in what was a miserable season.

    Don’t hold your breath thinking that Marshall will be gone. He was playing hurt most of the year and he’s one of the few players on the team that I thought played with the talent, the guts and the desire of a winner. I’m confident that I’m not the only one who knows it and I’m reasonably certain he’ll be back whether he’s on Inside the NFL or not.

  • Lance Briggs comments on the Bears coaching situation:

    “‘John [Fox], I think, he’s the right man for the job,’ Briggs said. ‘I’ve seen John over the years. He’s had a lot of success in the NFL. He understands the NFL. He’s a football coach.’

    “And former coach Marc Trestman?

    “‘Some things worked. Some things don’t,’ Briggs said. ‘Marc is a good man. I wish him all the success over in Baltimore. It just was what it was.'”

    Give Briggs credit. Since his last contract negotiation was over he’s usually said all of the right things. I just wish he’d done the right things more often.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio:

    “After joining the 49ers following a year at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh, Fangio waited until he saw his players in person after the 2011 lockout to make major decisions with his defense. That meant the plan didn’t unfold until after he had seen them on the practice field beginning in late July. Fangio didn’t want to have his opinion of players potentially shaped from film of them in a different scheme with different coaches. He waited to see the talent personally, plugged in players in the right spots and the 49ers’ defense took off immediately.”

    Assuming that we’re looking at a hybrid scheme, it looks like Bears defenders are going to have a lot to learn very quickly this year. Over the last decade, Bears players have basically been asked to play one basic position one way and do it extremely well. This is going to be a lot different. It should be interesting to see how well they adapt.

Elsewhere

  • For those who care the NFL’s full statement Friday about the ongoing “inflate-gate” investigation cane be found here.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com tells you exactly why I dislike Seattle coach Pete Carroll:

    “[Bill] Belichick was found to have violated league rules in “Spygate” and was fined $500,000, and the Patriots lost a first-round draft choice. Now he is implicated — although not charged — in the deflated footballs incident, and many are calling him a cheater.

    “Carroll built a dynasty at USC and then had it all wiped out by findings of rampant rules violations while he skipped town just ahead of the posse to take the Seattle job.

    “Asked about that on media day, Carroll responded he never talks about it because he still thinks the NCAA was wrong. Mmm huh.

    “Earlier this season Seattle was fined over $300,000 and docked two 2015 minicamp practices due to Carroll overseeing illegal practices this past summer.

    “I guess they’re both cheaters, but only the Patriots coach is being branded with the scarlet C this week. Is that because Belichick has won so much more than Carroll, or because Carroll is so much more media friendly?”

    Probably both. But neither excuses it.

One Final Thought

One has to wonder how the Bears expect Cutler to run an offense when this is what happens at home with the kids when Kristin Cavallari is away. Cavallari had apparently just arrived at the airport when this exchange took place:

Screen-Shot-2015-01-26-at-8.53.56-AM

Jaxon is 2 and Camden is 8 months old.

[Edit 2/1/15: After getting some comments from friends on this post it occurs to me that I need to point out that I am, indeed, joking.

My sister in law was pregnant with twins (they would have been her third and fourth child) and my mother was going on about how much fun it was. My father turned to me and said, “She doesn’t remember. You were 
three, your brother was two and we had newborn twins. There were evening where all I could do was shut the door, sit on on the bed and put my head in my hands.”

Don’t worry. I don’t like Cutler but I wouldn’t blame him for this.]

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Managing Expectations and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports this nugget:

    “[New Bears head coach John] Fox asserted Monday that one of his biggest attractions to the Bears job was to work for a storied franchise in a city that oozes football passion. And in that vein, he made it clear he intends to soon connect with several Bears icons, singling out Brian Urlacher and Mike Ditka.”

    “Said team President Ted Phillips: ‘It says that he understands our history and the tradition and making sure the great players that we’ve had in our past are still important today.'”

    Yeah. What it says is that he’s smart enough to know what ownership wants to hear.

    “Fox also took note of the franchise’s lone Lombardi Trophy, displayed in the Halas Hall lobby to commemorate the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl triumph.

    “‘That trophy,’ Fox said, ‘is kind of lonely out there.'”

    Its notable that George McCaskey actually uses that very phrase to describe the trophy when he takes people on personal tours of the facility.

    The McCaskeys take the history of the franchise very seriously and they were pretty close to Urlacher. They probably weren’t happy that Emery managed to anger Urlacher in the way the franchise parted company with him.

  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune comments on another thing that Fox said that caught my ear:

    “‘Football is a combative, physical game,’ new Bears coach John Fox offered in his plain-spoken manner. ‘It takes combative, physical people.’

    “Party’s over. Get tough or get out.”

    That fits with what we’ve heard. Looks like the Bears are going to be a lot more physical if Fox has anything to say about it.

  • With the hiring of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, the media has begun speculating about what personnel changes will be needed to run a 3-4 defense. This article from Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune is typical. The Bears don’t’ have much in the way of personnel that match up with a 3-4 scheme. But, as Biggs points out, they needed a lot of defensive personnel anyway. Nevertheless, they’ll be throwing away a number of good defensive linemen like Jared Allen that don’t fit the scheme well. This could lengthen the rebuilding process quite a bit. It will be interesting to hear what the players have to say about the change.Having said that, Fangio has shown himself to be versatile and virtually everyone agrees that even under the best of conditions he’d run a hybrid defense which shows its fair share of 40 fronts. They cold simply run a lot more of those looks the first couple years as they make the necessary personnel changes. That would be my guess as to what we’re in store for.
  • Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times the Bears have hired Josh Lucas as Director of Player Personnel. Lucas spent the last 10 seasons with the Saints, scouting the South region for the last two seasons.I hate to once again be the voice of pessimism here but Pace is going to have to look outside the New Orleans organization at some point to get the best people. He’s worked for one organization his whole career. I’d sure feel better about him if I thought he was better connected.

    My understanding is that consultant Ernie Accorsi‘s job was over when Fox was hired. I’d feel better if he was still around advising Pace.

  • The Bears new special teams coordinator is Jeff Rogers. Which probably means nothing to you at this point other than his name isn’t Joe DeCamillis. Via Mullin.
  • The Colts can only block the Bears from interviewing Rob Chudzinski for one more week. Via Darin Gantt at profootballtalk.com

Elsewhere

  • Those of you who are considering betting on the Super Bowl should think about this tidbit from Kevin Seifert at ESPN:

    “There is one initial tidbit to consider in advance of a Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl, which will be refereed by Bill Vinovich. (That’s according to multiple reports, including one from ESPN rules analyst Jim Daopoulos.) Since Vinovich returned to the referee role in 2012 after recovering from heart problems, he has been assigned five Seahawks games. Seattle is 5-0 in those games, including three victories by at least 20 points. “

  • I felt really bad for the Packers defense after their overtime playoff loss to the Seahawks. The Packers flat out outplayed Seattle for 56 minutes of regulation time and the Packer defense in particular played testicles out. They were all in, playing cover-0 for a good part of the game.I actually had the Packers picked to win. I’d heard that the Seahawks were “loose” last week to the point where you wouldn’t even have known they had a conference championship game coming up. They took the Packers lightly and, even though they lost, the Packers gave them all they could handle. The game was a joy to watch.
  • Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com passes on the news that Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay, has died:

    “It wasn’t easy. Verna told the Pacific Standard in 2013 that prior to that 1963 Army-Navy Game, networks needed about 15 minutes to cue up a film and show a play for a second time. To do it in 15 seconds required an innovative approach that featured some fits and starts and setbacks including vacuum tubes burning out and a replay having to be scrapped because the film they used had previously been used to record an I Love Lucy episode and Lucille Ball’s face could still be seen superimposed over the football field.

    Needless to say it wasn’t posted to the Internet.

One Final Thought

Wiederer quotes Fox:

“I’ve always been of the (mindset) of understate, overproduce. I’ve never predicted records. If I could do that I’d be at a race track somewhere.”

I’d say that’s the smart play. You could argue that high expectations – those of the fans, media and, especially, the players, were the biggest thing that killed the 2014 Bears. Remember “Cutler for MVP?”. It was a joke.

I think expecting to win is a good thing. But there are too many factors that can derail a team that isn’t as good as it thinks it is to allow such things to get out of hand. The Bears had a Super Bowl or bust mentality last year that was, in retrospect, only appropriate for the Super Bowl runner up. They hadn’t done anything, yet.

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