Talking the Doubters Off the Ledge. And Other Points of View.

The Bears have completed their second preseason game and are moving o to their third, and most important (if any of them are important_ contest.  Here are ten thoughts on the team as they enter the most crucial stage of their offseason.

Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury — and the subpar play of the offensive line in the preseason opener — put the light back on Pace’s decision to release Slauson, who replaced Grasu and Will Montgomery at center on two occasions last season. They would have had the replacement for Grasu right there.

“Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Slauson was everything you’d want in a teammate with the Bears, a respected leader on and off the field. But Slauson didn’t grade out as well with the new regime as he did with the old. Even without Grasu, they Bears are confident they can grow better with [Cody] Whitehair at guard and Ted Larsen at center.”

It’s worth emphasizing that it wasn’t the the Bears didn’t think Slauson was good.  Anyone could see that he was.   It was that they were looking for more athleticism at the position because it better fit the blocking scheme that they want to run.  Last year the Bears mixed schemes in an effort to adjust to the players that they have.  You can’t, after all, do everything in one year.  This year, they wanted to get the players they needed to do what they want to ideally do.

It’s all part of the rebuilding process and though this may turn out to be a particularly trying step down that road, in the end the Bears believe that it will be worth it.

“I’ve already written off the season. Will they draft in the top 5 in 2017? — @jgboom23

“Don’t know that I am going to be able to talk you off the ledge here, but that’s putting a lot of stock in the preseason opener. I don’t think the Bears are ready to be playoff challengers this season, but stranger things have happened. You’ve got to keep in mind that teams that own the No. 5 pick in the draft are generally coming off really bad seasons. Since 2010, the team with the fifth pick has had either four or five wins and that’s a bad, bad season.”

Good grief, its a little early to be giving up completely.  I totally agree with Biggs that the defense should be improved, though there are significant concerns about the defensive backfield.  At minimum they could be fun to watch with a much improved front seven.

Let’s not forget that. Along with the rest of the NFC North, the Bears have one of the easiest schedules in the league based upon last year’s performances.  If they come out of this year with less than the 6 wins they had last year, I’ll be pretty surprised.

“Why did the offensive line look so terrible on Thursday? Is it the weakest position group on the team? — @KleinTime69

“I don’t think the offensive line is going to be the weakest position on the Bears. In fact, with some good health, I think the O-line could turn into one of the better units on the team by the end of the season.”

Could not agree more with this.  Assuming Ted Larsen gets his feet under him this could be a better than average offensive line, particularly compared to those around the rest of the NFC North.

However, I think the words “with some good health” need to be emphasized.  We haven’t seen Mike Adams or Amini Silatolu yet but what I’ve seen of the rest of the back up offensive linemen has not impressed me.  A rash of injuries at any position along the line could mean bad things for the offense this year.

  • Speaking of the offensive line, I was struck by a comment that  Kyle Long made about J’Marcus Webb when they were in training camp in Long’s rookie year, 2013.  Long was making mistakes and wasn’t correcting them and he hadn’t learned the playbook as well as he needed to.

“J’Marcus was just like, ‘You’re never going to be able to play if you don’t learn this,'” Kyle said. “He was laughing. J’Marcus and I are buddies. But he was telling a rookie, ‘Hey, you’re the first-round pick. If you don’t learn this, heads are going to roll.’ Whether that’s your quarterback or the head coach or the GM or the running back.”

Webb didn’t do much while he was here.  But this was probably the biggest contribution he could have possibly made to the team.

  • We heard plenty of questions from fans about the possibility that Daniel Braverman would replace Eddie Royal as the slot receiver this year as the hype around Braverman was built.  Braverman is an under-sized seventh round pick with speed that tends to light it up in non-contact practices and develop into “little engine who could”-type fan favorites.

But like so many of these types of players before him, Braverman disappeared once the lights came on and the contact began.  Despite Royal’s absence in the concussion protocol and having many chances to show what he could do in the first two pre-season games, Braverman has practically disappeared.

Eleven Bears have more receiving yards and the team has a glut at the slot receiver position.  Far from competing to start, it looks to me like Braverman may be in danger of not making the roster at all.  He will have one more pre-season game, the fourth, to show what he can do.  He’ll be worth watching closely.

  • Biggs had an interesting note about the Bears personnel groupings Thursday night.  The Bears ran nearly half of their plays out of a double tight end personnel grouping.  Biggs notes that the Bears ran only 198 plays total out of that grouping last year.

This grouping will undoubtedly help the running game and I’m sure that’s its primary purpose.  Biggs also notes that they had 4 snaps (15% of the total) with a fullback on the field.  But there’s a reason why Adam Gase rarely used it last year.  The Bears didn’t, and don’t now, have two good tight ends on the entire roster.  Zach Miller can catch a pass when healthy but he’s it.

There’s a new sheriff in town in Dowell Loggains.  But you have to wonder if this isn’t a sign that he’s going to do what he prefers over what the roster tells him to do.  The days of playing to the team’s strengths may be over.

It was unlike Bennett, who  always likes to entertain, and it was notable that former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin wasn’t available to the media all week either.  So, perhaps, it not too surprising that after Rich Campbell from the Chicago Tribune called Bennett’s refusal to meet with the media a “weak move” in this video, that Doug Kyed from NESN.com, who better knows how the Patriots do business, suggested that it might be a “team issue”.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hates distractions and one way to be absolutely sure nothing distracted the team and the players from football last week would be to refuse to allow the former Bears players to comment.  Chicago fans wouldn’t have been surprised if Bennett, in particular, would have created some complications had he been allowed.

“It wasn’t the offensive line. While Kyle Long played well and is clearly more comfortable back at right guard than he ever was at tackle, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie all struggled at times, and Larsen in particular looks like he may be a bit over-matched at center.”

I always try to read Hub’s comments because I think he’s willing to say thing that other people won’t.  But having said that, sometimes I wonder if he’s watching the same game I am.

The offensive line was much better against the Patriots across the board, particularly at center where Larsen appears to be settling in.  I think sometimes people get the impression that an offensive line is struggling when they’re zone blocking because its not generally the kind of mauling style where you get lots of push off of the line of scrimmage.  But generally speaking, I thought the Bears got push when they needed it, especially in the first quarter.

I’m not saying there weren’t hiccups.  There were and I’m particularly keeping an eye on Massie in pass protection. I also don’t think that the line hasn’t gelled into a coherent unit that is working together effectively, yet.  But their performance in the first half, like that of the offense in general, was at least average overall.

To my eye, center Ted Larsen played much better in the game Thursday night against the Patriots.  Its evident to me that Larsen really does have a feel for zone blocking and he does seem to be able to use an opponent’s momentum against him to open up holes.

Similarly, I thought back up Cornelius Edison also played better.  He needs to.  The competition behind him is likely to be fierce with the addition of former Colts Khaled Holmes.  Holmes is a former fourth round pick and the Colts had high hopes for him as a starter before finally giving up and letting him go.

This is not a trivial dilemma for the Bears.  Whoever wins the job is going to be one injury away from starting.  And injuries always happen in the NFL.  With the edge in experience, the tie should go to Holmes.  So Edison needs to take advantage of every snap he can get to show his potential.

  • Next week’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, is an interesting group.  The starters  took It to the Rams and their vaunted front seven on Saturday night on the first drive and though they struggled a bit more after that, they still managed to produce 17 point under quarterback Alex Smith before he ceded the ball to Nick Foles.   The Kansas City offensive line could provide an interesting test for the Bears front seven which the team believes has improved greatly.

Speaking of Foles, although his two possessions produced only 3 points, the team moved the ball while he was in the game.  Foles is in need of rehabilitation after a disastrous stint with the Rams and it should be interesting to find out if his old mentor with the Eagles, Andy Reid, can pull it off as the head coach of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley, should also present an interesting challenge for the young Bears defensive backs.  Maclin is no surprise but the 6’3” 205 lb Conley, drafted in the 3rd round in 2015, also flashed with 3 receptions for 66 yards.  Travis Kelce is also showing himself to be one of the best in the game and the Bears should find out fairly quickly if they’ve solved the issues they’ve had their first two preseason games covering the tight end.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Points of View | 1 Comment

Signs Pointing Towards Trying Season for the Bears Offense

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune suggests in this article that the Bears might consider trading for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garappolo next year.  Its widely believed that the first four games, which Garappolo will start in place of the suspended Tom Brady, will be a showcase for a trade in the offseason.

A couple thoughts on this matter.

First, I’m not entirely sure that the Patriots won’t want to hold on to Garapollo as long as possible.  Garappolo is signed through 2017 and Brady will be 40 when that season starts.  If you are going to trade Garappolo, you’d better have a plan in place to replace Brady at any point.  Father time is undefeated and he can win the battle rather quickly.  If Brady falls apart in 2017 you don’t want to be caught out.

Having said that, yes, if you are going to trade him, next season is the time to do it for Garappolo.  Keeping him would mean you’ve decided to let him test free agency and, absence a guarantee that he’d be starting for the Patriots, they’d almost certainly lose him.

Second, I’m somewhat disturbed by some of the subtle indications in this article that the Bears offense may be in serious trouble this year.  The sense of unease is almost palpable in this article and it confirms my own suspicion that there may be a lot of problems on the horizon.  The digs are subtle and no one is stating anything definitive.  But the suggestions that the Bears could be be deficient from the top down are undeniable.

“[A possible explanation for the poor offensive performance against the Broncos] could be that the offense, from top to bottom, wasn’t properly prepared in Bourbonnais under first-year coordinator Dowell Loggains. If that’s the case, the regular season will come in a hurry.”

“It would be hard to say that the Bears offense won the day Monday. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins dropped [quarterback Jay] Cutler‘s second pass in 7-on-7 drills and mishandled another sure pick in 11-on-11 work, and cornerback Justin Coleman dropped a ball Cutler threw directly to him during the two-minute drill. Cutler seemed to double clutch at times, likely a result of solid coverage.”

“While watching practice, the greatest discrepancy between the two rosters was at quarterback. Yes, you could say that about the Patriots against a lot of organizations. In this case, former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer is the presumed No. 2 for the Bears. Eastern Illinois rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill picked off Hoyer on the first snap in a two-minute drill.”

There’s a long way to go yet until the regular season and I have a lot of confidence in veteran head coach John Fox to handle things.  But having said that the statements above are not the comments of someone who is seeing signs of a competitive offensive team.  You can talk about deficient protection all you want but no one is hitting the quarterbacks in practice.  And if your troubles are at offensive coordinator and quarterback, there isn’t much hope that Bears fans are going to see a lot of looked for improvement in the offense this year.

Posted in Chicago Bears, New England Patriots | Leave a comment

Get Used to Seeing Blitzing in the Preseason. And Other Points of View.

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times has been around long enough to know better than to make this statement:

“Bears coach John Fox, who already has had to trot out a ‘Wally Pipp’ reference a week into camp, will downplay the injury situation and lean on the “next-man-up” philosophy — a flawed rationalization that implies that replacing any player is like changing a light bulb. In reality, the next-man-up often isn’t as good as the man he replaced — that’s why he was the “next man” in the first place.”

The next man up philosophy is not one in which you imply that the next guy can replace the starter with no loss in talent.  It means that the next guy (and the team) has to be ready to step up because injuries won’t be accepted as an excuse for losing, something every team in the NFL has to know and accept because injuries are a part of the game.

Injuries are not an excuse.  If you, as a coach, allow them to become one, your team is never going to win anything.

  • Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu had some interesting comments about left tackle Charles Leno when he was made available to the media.

“I think he’s so underrated it’s scary..”

I tend to agree.

People I talk to nationally don’t have many good things to say about Leno.  This is probably due to a combination of factors.

First, Pro Football Focus doesn’t rate Leno very highly.  They have him as the 55th best tackle in the league with an overall grade of 39.7  (top rated Joe Thomas has a grade of 94.3).  This probably has something to do with the fact that he was miserable as a right tackle before taking over on the left side in place of Jermon Bushrod, where he did much better.

Second, and related, there’s no name recognition there.  No one’s ever heard of Leno and they can’t believe that the Bears are justified in having such faith in a virtually unknown player.  That’s why people are going to PFF in the first place.

Lastly, and most damningly, national members of the media (and fans) often pop off about players without ever having concentrated on their play.  Sometimes without even having seen them play at all.  When you’ve got 32 teams to follow you can’t take time out to take a hard look at every offensive lineman.  So when one respected member of the media says something, most just pile on and repeat it without questioning it.  That’s probably a good part of what happened here.

The guess here is that there are going to be a lot of people around the country who are going to be surprised at how well Leno plays in 2016.

A.  I noticed that thought Kyle Long apologized for his role in the rumble on the night of the Bears Family Fest, Ted Larsen nor Lamin Barrow, the two primary combatants, didn’t.  In fact, Larsen was down right unrepentant.  “I’m not a guy who’s going to take crap from anybody or stand down,” said Larsen, who will replace the injured Hroniss Grasu at center. “So that’s probably the (gist) of it.”

B.  Though I can see why there’s a lot of hand wringing going on over this (guys could get hurt after all), there still aren’t any signs of trouble chemistry-wise within the team.   Comments by cornerback Tracy Porter are to the point.

“No one holds any grudges — no one’s fighting in the locker room,” he said. “It happens on the field. It’s done after that. And those same two guys that end up in the scuffle, they’re talking to each other in the locker room, laughing and talking.”

If the fights spill over into the locker room, then we’ll all know that this is a really big issue that needs to be addressed directly and firmly.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune had this to say about the competition at wide receiver beyond Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White:

“This is probably the most competitive position on the roster. I could see the Bears easily carrying six receivers on the 53-man roster. If [Eddie] Royal is on the bubble, it will cost a pretty penny to let him go. He is guaranteed $4.5 million this season, so chances are the Bears see if they can get some of that value.”

I can’t imagine that the Bears are thinking about letting Royal go.  It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but he was by far their best slot receiver last year and unless Daniel Braverman lives up to his fan favorite status, I don’t think that’s likely to change.

Royal is a veteran with under-rated speed and who has a talent for getting open.  I think Bears fans have a habit of under-estimating him because the Bears tried hard to put him n the outside after signing him as a free agent, a position he wasn’t suited for.

“The idea that free agent right tackle Bobby Massie will stabilize the O-line is silly. Massie, like most right tackles, is a big-bodied guy who really struggles against top-shelf edge rushers. That’s why the open market left him with a contract worth only $6.5 million in guarantees. The main benefit of Massie’s arrival is it moves fourth-year stud Kyle Long back to guard, where he’s more comfortable and where the Bears badly needed more athleticism.”

Truth.

Massie will be an interesting guy to keep an eye on this season.  He’s a definite upgrade only in that he’s probably an upgrade over Long at tackle and that Long is definitely a huge upgrade at right guard over Vlad Ducasse.  But that doesn’t make Massie good.

Its possible that Dave Magazu will solidify himself as a very good offensive line coach by making Massie into a very good right tackle this year where the Cardinals couldn’t do it.  But its more likely that offensive line is an area where the Bears still have some building to do before we’ll be able to call them a truly competitive team.

Benoit also makes a good point about the possibility of seeing Pernell McPhee at inside linebacker on occasion.  It’s a good read.

For the defense, this game was valuable.  They didn’t perform well but they were at least credible throughout the game.  There will be plenty to evaluate and plenty of teaching points to make.

But its hard to call the game anything less than a disaster for the offense.  The offensive line from the second quarter on was beyond bad.  How can you evaluate a quarterback like Connor Shaw?  What corrections can you tell him to make?  Run for your life faster?  How can you help wide receivers who aren’t getting reasonable chances to get open and catch the ball?  Or running backs who are stuffed in the backfield?

What are you supposed to teach these guys that is going to make them better next week?

The Bears offense was terrible but it was an exhibition and no one care about that.  What they do care about was the opportunity for the team to get better.  I don’t see that they have much chance to do that looking at Thursday’s tape.

  • Its not a point of emphasis in 2016-2017 but I was struck by the fact that a rules violation that I’d rarely seen called in the past got called not once, but twice in the Bears preseason game Thursday.

Each team got called when their gunner on a punt went out of bounds without being forced out.  It will be interesting to see if that non-point of emphasis point of emphasis gets carried over into the other preseason games and into the season.

“We’re not game-planning for a preseason game, so it was a couple of things we weren’t expecting,” Massie said. “If we had game-planned, it would have been a totally different story.”

Fair enough.  But In watching some other preseason games, I’m starting to think that this was one less excuse that should be used to explain the Bears terrible play.

In particular, the Steelers were at the Lions on the NFL Network Friday night and even though I only watched about half an hour before switching to another game, I can tell you that both teams blitzed aggressively and frequently on third down.  And more to the point, both teams offenses were prepared and handled those blitzes extremely well.  And the Lions are not a particularly good offensive line.

If I wasn’t used to seeing this, I think I’d better get used to it.  And so had the Bears.

  • Given that it was a preseason game, and the first one at that, it was everything I could do to keep from bashing offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. To see that safety blitz continue to work…

I’m really trying to give these guys a chance. But its my preseason too and, fair warning, I’m loading up.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos | 1 Comment

Quick Comments: Preseason Game, Broncos at Bears

I probably won’t do this for every preseason game but I’m so glad to have football back that I couldn’t help myself.  So here’s an abbreviated version of the game comments for this exhibition.

Defense

  1. Bryce Callahan totally blew the coverage on the first touchdown, settling down short as if he thought there would be someone over the top to pick him up.  Reports are that his job is far from secure.
  2. On the other hand, good awareness by Callahan when he came off of his guy to tip the pass that Jerrell Freeman intercepted in the first quarter.
  3. Freeman looked like he was struggling to cover the Broncos as they came over the middle.  That’s not his reputation.
  4. The Bears starters on defense were getting pressure but, as feared, the pass coverage was letting them down.  The pass rushers are either going to have to be a step quicker or the coverage is going to have to be better.  The pass rushers are also going to have to do a better job of finishing when they do get there.
  5. Mark Sanchez looked rather sharp as he guided the Broncos to their first interception.  Mostly accurate to the open guy.
  6. To my eye Trevor Simian wasn’t as sharp its the second team though he did make a nice play to escape pressure and complete a pass to get the Broncos in field goal range at the end of the second half.
  7. Paxton Lynch wasn’t asked to do a lot bu the looked like he belonged.  That’s probably good enough at this point.
  8. You kind of see why the Bears like Leonard Floyd.  He certainly is quick and he’s got long arms.  High effort guy.  But damn he’s skinny.
  9. It was entertaining to see Deondre Hall go into press coverage alone on throws to the end zone and defend the ball in the second quarter.  The Bears are obviously trying to get a feel for what he can do.
  10. Lots of missed tackles in the second quarter after the back ups got in  Lots to clean up.
  11. Cornelius Washington showed up tonight.  He needed to.  He’s in a tough fight to make the roster.  It was a shame to see him leave on a cart.

Offense

  1. Jay Cutler actually had some room on the first sack.  It looked like he panicked a bit in the face of the blitz.  It’s likely he doesn’t trust the reshuffled offensive line to handle that, yet, with some justification.  Here’s hoping that sense of trust gets better.
  2. Bears starters ran the ball for a paltry 1.8 yards per carry.  That’s not doing anything to alleviate any anxiety amongst fans about either the offensive line or Jeremy Langford, who got all of the carries.
  3. Cody Whitehair might need a little work snapping in the shot gun.
  4. The back up offensive line was simply putrid.  Martin Wallace flat out stunk.  So did Keith Browner and Gary Williams.  Nothing happened tonight to alleviate my concerns about the depth on this unit.  Their ineptitude made it virtually impossible to evaluate the players at any other position.
  5. We got to see two backs in the backfield for the first time in the second half when Jordan Howard entered the game.  We didn’t see much of it but it will be interesting to see how much more of that we get once the games count for real.
  6. I’m not used to seeing teams blitz the safety in the first preseason game but I’m a bit disappointed that it continued to work.  The offense didn’t look like they were ready for it and they didn’t adjust.  Preseason or not, that’s not good.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen, Jim Miller & Luo Canellis on the call.  They were OK for what they are.  Miller was soft in his criticism but I’ve certainly heard worse during the preseason and they don’t give you the job of announcing these exhibition games to be overly critical.
  2. I thought the starters were relatively clean but once the back ups got in, the penalty flags started to fly.  First pre-season game.  No need to worry yet.
  3. Special teams were up and down, both allowing a blocked punt and blocking one themselves.
  4. In summary:  lots to work on, folks.
Posted in Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Game Comments | 1 Comment

On the New Old Jay Cutler and Other Points of View

1.  The names on the injury report are accumulating to form a long list in what has apparently been a tough, competitive camp.  Two names that have been on the list for the majority of camp continue to slip under the radar, OLB Roy Robertson-Harris and ILB Nick Kwiatkoski.

Robertson-Harris hasn’t been seen on the field since the first practice.  That’s a long time to be ill.  He’s an undrafted free agent at one of the few positions that is deep with talent.  I have to believe that his chances of making the roster, not good to begin with, are now virtually nil.  His chances of making the practice squad are rapidly slipping away.

Probably more disturbing to the Bears is the absence of Kwiatkoski with a nagging hamstring problem.  Though the Bears are talented up front at inside linebacker with the acquisition of Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan, they are not particularly deep and the Bears drafted Kwiatkoski to fill that role and play special teams as he develops behind the veterans.  That plan is flying out the window and he’s going to be a liability on the roster if he doesn’t recover soon.

2.  Amongst the many question marks that were looming this, the play of center Hronis Grasu may loom as the largest.  Grasu struggled last year at center, being over powered far too often for anyone’s taste.  There are some generally positive reviews of Grasu’s performance on the training camp practice field in the press and head coach John Fox seems to think that things are looking up.

“He’s a very sharp kid,” Fox said. “[With regard] to develop the pro body, he’s added some bulk and strength. He is athletic ready. Combining that with some of the speed and the strength of his game is at a higher level. I like what I’ve seen from him so far.”

This is all moot now that it looks like Grasu will be out for the year with a torn ACL.  But looking forward to next year, one subtle thing that may help Grasu is a possible shift in the primary blocking scheme.

Speculation in the press is that one reason why popular left guard Matt Slauson was let go is that he didn’t fit what the Bears ideally wanted to do in that area.  Last year the Bears went with a mixture of schemes but the thought is that they’d like go go more zone blocking this year.

That could be good news for the still slightly under-sized but very athletic Grasu, who may find himself in a more comfortable position next year with techniques that better fit his style.

3.  Another big question is running back Jeremy Langford.  Langford is stepping into an offensive backfield without veteran Matt Forte and he’s being targeted to take up some of the slack.

Much was made of a few big pass drops last season but the biggest concern for Langford may be his 3.6 yards per carry.  He averaged only 1.13 yards after contact.  That’s second to last out of 47 players with at least 100 carries, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Coaches have been stressing to Langford the need to finish plays and have been trying to get him to fall forward for more yards.

“It’s just having that mindset to get yards after contact,” Langford said. “You do a lot of different drills in practice to keep your base wide, so in the games it kind of comes naturally.”

Langford’s yards per carry will be something worth monitoring during the preseason into the early regular season.

4.  Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times notes that “[quarterback Brian] Hoyer’s struggles in camp are starting to mount”.

Hoyer is with a completely new team and getting every think straight in terms of timing and cohesion with his receivers are expected to be slow.  These thing have a habit of rapidly coming together as he gets more reps to iron out his difficulties and to work with his teammates.  I’ll be more concerned if we’re seeing poor performances from him in the fourth preseason game.

With tight end Zach Miller entering the concussion protocol Monday, general manager Ryan Pace acknowledged that the team is more than a little concerned with its depth at the position:

“To be honest with you guys,” Pace said, “in Year 2 with where we’re at, you’re addressing a lot of needs and sometimes you don’t hit every single one of them. But there’s still a lot of avenues to continue to do that.”

I’ve already credited the Bears with showing some creativity when it comes to solving the problem at this position by converting defensive lineman Greg Scruggs to tight end.  We need to see more of that in the coming days and years.

In the mean time look for them to scan the waiver wire for pick ups as cuts start to be made on other teams.  One pro personnel boss has said that there were some teams with an excess at tight end but not many.

“Dallas, Green Bay, NYG, and Washington are heavy at tight end but don’t know if they are shopping anyone. Miami has a lot of bodies at TE but not great talent.”

The Bears traded a draft pick for Khari Lee last season and you have to think they are hoping that he’ll show something this year after serving basically as a blocking tight end last year.  So far he reportedly hasn’t had a good camp, having sprained his shoulder.  Nevertheless, its not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears will take another bite at the apple and try it again.

5.  Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune says that the young safeties, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey are making great strides through camp.

That may be true but in scanning the camp reports, I think it’s a bit worrying that I rarely see Amos mentioned.  He wasn’t around the ball much in pass coverage last year and the Bears are looking for him to take the next step.  He will be worth watching closely during the preseason.  It was somewhat comforting to see an interception mentioned here.  But I’d like to see more and I’m sure the Bears would, too.

6.  With Rolando McClain being suspended for the first 10 games of the regular season and not having reported to training camp, the Cowboys are on the search for linebackers.  One such option was examined Tuesday in former Eagle Emmanuel Acho, younger brother of Bears linebacker Sam Acho.

The coinciding Acho’s reminded me that, while the Bears will be scanning the waiver wire looking for cast offs from teams strong at tight end, other teams will be looking carefully at their cast offs from one of their strongest position groups – outside linebacker.  One such cast off might be Sam Acho and it brings up the possibility that one brother may replace another on the Cowboys roster.

Awkward.

7.  Reporters are finally getting past the puff pieces and taking a good look at the BEras roster.  Not surprisingly, Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly is getting a good start by justifiably questioning the offensive line.

Hub’s doubts about the offensive line are probably overly negative, which is not uncommon for him.  He suggested that Bobbie Massie “will be an upgrade over Jordan Mills – and maybe even [Kyle] Long at right tackle”.  Maybe?  He absolutely will.  Or he had better  be because Long was definitely not good last year.  And I can not emphasize enough how much of an upgrade Long is at right guard over Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh.

But where Hub hit the mark – and this won’t be the last we hear this and offensive line won’t be the last position we hear it about – is when he points out their lack of depth.  Once the starters go down virtually anywhere except running back and outside linebacker, we’re talking about a big dip in talent.

The guess here is that once the injuries start to hit, the Bears won’t fair well this year.  But no one is going to want to play them early.

8.  Though my worries about Robbie Gould aren’t big, I am mildly concerned.  He did miss some big kicks last year.  From Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune on Thursday.

“[Gould] attempted field goals today in a team period for the first time in training camp. By my count, he made 5 of 8 tries, all from inside 42 yards. He hit the left post on the first attempt from about 35 yards. The second attempt was blocked by safety Harold Jones-Quartey, and the third attempt hit the right post but went through the uprights. The Bears can get Gould attempts at Soldier Field on Saturday at the practice there.”

Gould did, however, make 14 of 14 at Soldier Field Saturday during Family Fest.

Nevertheless, Gould might concentrate better with a little competition in camp.  Watching him in warm ups before games, he loves to set up his kicks right next to the opposing kicker and compete with him on how many warm up kicks he can make from a given distance.  That kind of competition might be worth a roster spot early in the process in August.

9.  Guard Ted Larsen has been in four fights in nine practices and Fox says he’s getting tired of it.

“It was disappointing today,” Fox said. “That kind stuff happens a little bit at camp, but we’re getting too close to games. You’ve got to be able to control that and not lose control of your emotions. We’ve got work to do.”

Larsen didn’t do any fighting when he was a member of the Cardinals because players had to do gassers immediately.  If Fox really wants to prevent them, that might not be a bad policy.

10.  One Final ThoughtDavid Haugh at the Chicago Tribune and I don’t often agree but I’m on board with him when he expresses some doubts about how quarterback Jay Cutler will fare with new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

“‘I hate saying this, but I think we’re a little more similar than I’d like to be,’ Loggains said.

“In one of the strangest sentences you will read about the Bears in preseason, Cutler actually could have a calming effect on Loggains.”

I very much doubt that.  Cutler is handling off field matters better than ever.  I’ve pointed out before that he has grown since he got married and started having kids.  The last time I did that was January, 2014 – the offseason before he helped get Marc Trestman fired.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me seven times…

Nevertheless, I will continue to give Cutler credit for handling these situations correctly.  But that doesn’t mean that once the bullets start flying, he is going to be the calmest person on the field (nor should he have to be).

Outwardly he’s generally stoic but every Bears fan knows that Cutler generally needs some reassurance that the Bears coaching staff, particularly the offensive coordinator, know what they are doing and can guide him and the team out of whatever hole they find themselves in.

Most players need that.  But the guess here is that Cutler really needs it.  Otherwise, subconsciously or not, he’s going to conclude that its hopeless.

Adam Gase was obviously able to give that confidence to him and that enabled Cutler to show a resilience and mental toughness last year that we haven’t seen before from him.

Like Gase, when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, I assure you that Loggain is going to have to be the calm, logical voice with a plan.  If not, this won’t work.

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Ten Thoughts on the Bears after the First Week of Training Camp

As we finish the first week of training camp, here are ten thoughts on the Bears as they approach the pre-season.

1.  One of the players I’m most interested in following this offseason is Khari Lee.  Lee spent most of the season on the roster last year as a blocking tight end.  This year he’s in line to compete seriously for the second tight end spot behind fragile starter Zach Miller and the Bears need him to come through.

It didn’t help that Lee left the first training camp practice with a sprained AC joint.  However he’s back practicing with the team and, therefore, probably won’t be hurt by the set back as long as he doesn’t lose any more time.

General Manager Ryan Pace gave up a draft pick to get Lee last year as training camp broke and I have to believe he did so with the idea that Lee would be more than he currently has shown himself to be.  How he develops in the passing game will be a major factor in his future with the team.

2.  Bears head coach John Fox obviously isn’t being easy on these guys in training camp.  Former Bears he’d coach Lovie Smith in particular was notorious for running easy camps, especially late in his tenure.  Player’s coach Marc Trestman wasn’t much tougher.  But Fox apparently isn’t of the same mind.  Despite the heat index only being about 80 degrees on Thursday, Leonard Floyd, outside linebacker Roy Robertston-Harris and tackle Nick Becton each left the session because of illness.

“It’s a good indoctrination into training camp,” Fox said. “They don’t have the added weight. … Everyone is carrying 12 pounds extra (in pads). But all in all I thought our guys came back in pretty good shape. We’re not all there yet, but it was a good start.”

3.  As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, the competition along the interior of the offensive line will be fierce this season as four players, Hronis Grasu, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Amini Silatolu, compete for two spots, left guard and center.  Kyle Long is established as the right guard, assuming he is healthy when the season starts.

That’s all fine.  Competition brings out the best in players and, though you could try to bring in someone to compete at right guard with Long as well, no one would really take that seriously.

The problem is at tackle where Charles Leno and Bobby Massie literally have no one to compete with them.  These guys are not Kyle Long.  Massive is an average starter at best and, though Leno played well when the Bears finally moved him to left tackle last year, there’s no guarantee he’ll do it again.  The Bears really don’t even have a swing tackle with Nick Becton being the front runner for the job.

Unless someone emerges, the depth at this position looks very shaky.

4.  Having said that, I’m completely stunned that a Bears offensive line that ranked sixteenth overall by Pro Football Focus after last year’s season ended is now thirtieth in their preseason rankings going into the season this year.

This is a unit that moved Long back to right guard where he belongs and, in essence, replaced last year’s starters at that spot, who clearly didn’t belong starting in the league, with Bobby Massie who moves in for Long at right tackle.  Yes, they lost Matt Slauson at left guard but between Ted Larsen and rookie Cody Whitehair, the Bears have replaced him with players who better fit the scheme that they want to run.

Charles Leno starts the season at left tackle and that seems to be the thing that has outside observers most worried.  My opinion is closer to that of Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I don’t think he’s the question mark others make him out to be. Last year was his first as a starter, and he’s a seventh-round pick. He had good moments last year despite being in a new offense and facing capable pass rushers (i.e. Aldon Smith, Ziggy Ansah, Tamba Hali). But Leno’s development is essential.”

I would agree.  Leno obviously player much better last year once he moved from right tackle to the left and was a steady presence.

Even then, in terms of the PFF ranking, Leno finished the season in that position for the Bears and should be the reason for the down grade.

The Bears offensive line improved over the offseason and I see no reason why this group won’t be, at minimum, as good as the middle of the road unit that finished 2015 for the Bears.

5.  As usual, fans and media are mildly upset with John Fox as he won’t put a time frame on Long’s recovery from a calf strain.

“I don’t put time frames [on injuries] because I don’t know, so I can’t tell you,” Fox said after practice Friday at Olivet Nazarene. “We just take it day by day. When our medical people deem him healthy, he’ll be back. But they have all that [including an MRI] at their disposal.”

Having said that, it is being reported that the injury is not severe and that his return to practice should come some time this week.  That’s a relief.  Recovery times for muscle strains are highly variable and offer a huge risk of recurrent and more severe injuries when players return to play before they’re 100% recovered.  They can be frustrating to deal with.

Here’s hoping the team has it right and Long is back fully healthy sooner rather than later.

6.  One of the things about quarterback Jay Cutler that I believe may be under appreciated is ho smart he is.  Long raves about this aspect of Cutler’s personality in this interview with the Chicago Tribune.

“You look at his ability to learn and it’s special. You see a lot of quarterbacks and they hit that mental plateau. Jay never stops learning. It’s cool. It’s like when Neo was in the Matrix and all of a sudden it’s “Oh, I know kung fu now.” Well, Jay is that way. The guy learns new stuff all the time. That’s what makes him great.”

This brings the question.  Is Cutler actually too smart?

You have to wonder if Cutler’s intelligence isn’t one reason he has such a hard time getting along with his coordinators.  His problems with Marc Trestman need no review but Cutler’s history is a long one of struggling to respect his offensive coaches from Mike Martz to Mike Tice.  And its hard to respect someone who is ostensibly in charge when you are sure you know better than they do what needs to be done.  Bottom line, Cutler didn’t think these men could help him get better.

After establishing a good working relationship with former offensive coordinator Adam Gase last year, Cutler is back on a new horse with Dowell Loggains.

Loggains is known to be quite vocal during practice and that may not be a good thing if Cutler figures that he’s close to Mike Tice than Adam Gase.  Its obvious that Cutler doesn’t suffer fools and there’s nothing like having someone you don’t respect yelling what you think is nonsense at you and your teammates.

Bears fans better hope that the relationship Loggains established with Cutler as quarterback coach last year becomes stronger as he transitions into the coordinator role this season.  Because if it goes the other direction, things could deteriorate quicker than usual.

7.  As Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly talks about the five players he believes are key to the Bears rebuilding plan he offhandedly makes this statement:

“They swung and missed on [safety Antrel] Rolle and [wide receiver Eddie] Royal;”

The feeling on Rolle is one I’m in touch with.  He was only with the Bears one year, played in only 7 games and was slow to the ball at that.

But Royal is a different kettle of fish.  Royal didn’t have a great season in part because of the injuries and in part because the Bears started him on the outside for the first month of the season.  Once the Bears moved him from the outside into the slot where he belonged in the game against the Raiders last year, he had 6 receptions for 80 yards that game after getting only 12 for 117 yards total for the first three games before that.

Royal could turn out to be a good signing yet if he stays healthy and the Bears continue to put him into the best position to succeed.

8.  Give Alshon Jeffery some credit.  He has really handled questions about his contract well, calmly answering questions with quiet confidence that if he plays well it will all work out in the end.  The only quibble I have with Jeffery’s behavior is that he failed to show up for voluntary offseason workouts.  Had he done so and allowed the Bears to monitor his conditions and progress, he might have a long-term contract right now.  And, having signed his franchise tender, the Bears are paying him a lot of scratch this year.  The least he could have done is showed up to earn it.

Having said that, we aren’t talking about a Martellus Bennett situation here.  Jeffery seems to be on board with the team and all may be set up well for a good season for both him and the team if he stays healthy.

9.  I think everyone was glad to see Willie Young get a 2 year contract extension last week.  You, who was entering the last year of his contract with the Bears and had out performed it, offered preparation was one of the secrets to his success in the NFL.

“Guys that had been playing 10-12 years — I came in as a rookie, they’re taking 10 times more notes than I’m taking. I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. I learned that early on in my career. That’s part of my success right now, I mean that is my success. That’s the only way that I know how to play the game.”

The Bears pass rush is being under-estimated nationally and maybe even locally.  Most outside observers will acknowledge the talent and skill of Pernell McPhee and will recognize the importance of first round draft pick Leonard Floyd.  But few recognize the accomplishments of Young and Lamarr Houston last year.

Both men struggled to fully recover from injuries that they incurred last season.  Down the stretch, though, Young had at least one sack in each game from Weeks 11 through 15, finishing the season with 6.5 sacks overall.  Similarly, Houston had seven of his eight sacks in the final nine games.

If Houston and Young can continue the pace they set late last season and perform throughout the year, the Bears will have a formidable set of outside linebackers to deal with this year.

10.  One Final Thought from Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“My new favorite drill: coaches throw white towels at punt returners while they catch the ball. Receiver B.J. Daniels has seen it before. ‘I’ve had towels, bowling balls, basketballs, volleyballs, everything,’ he said. ‘Not bowling balls.’

Not bowling balls?  Really?

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Bears Running Back Position Is Probably Better than Most Think

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reviews the state of the running back position ahead of training camp. I’m going to pick a nit with the article (hey, what else is there to do right now?):

“[Jeremy] Langford practiced catching the ball during offseason workouts more than he did last season. [Ka’Deem] Carey also is working on his hands and his blocking techniques. The Bears probably can’t split either of them wide to create a mismatch against a linebacker like they could with [Matt] Forte, but they need them at least to contribute in conventional backfield roles.”

Actually the Bears did split Langford out wide on occasion last year and to my eye he did a reasonably good job.

My gut is telling me that both Langford and Carey are being under-estimated in terms of what they can do for the Bears. In particular, I’m aware that Langford’s 3.6 yards per carry wasn’t good last year. And, yes, he dropped a few passes. But according to the Bears each of these things is correctable and I tend to believe that.

When I look at a running back I want to see what kind of vision he has. Seeing the field and knowing where to go is instinctual. Unless the problem is something simple, like running with his head down, its something that you can’t teach. Langford seems to me like he has pretty good vision and as long as that’s the case, I think the chances are better than usual that he’ll show more good things as he applies the things he learned as a rookie entering his second year.

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Where is the Competition at Offensive Tackle?

John Mulllin at CSNchicago.com reviews the state of the offensive line ahead of training camp:

“The operative Bears word was “competition” throughout the offseason within every position group. With that mantra came turnover, and of the 14 offensive linemen presently on the Bears roster, exactly four were under Bears contract this time last year, and only one of those finished the 2015 season at the position he currently occupies. Of the 14, only one is older than 27, and that one (guard Ted Larsen) just turned 29.”

Truth.  And, the Bears did try to deliver.  For instance, by bringing in Larsen, and drafting Cody Whitehair, the Bears increased the competition at right guard and center. If the now retired center Manny Ramirez had stuck around, the competition would be even more intense.

But where is the competition at tackle?

Starters:
Bobby Massie (RT)
Charles Leno (LT)

Others:
Nick Becton
Adrian Bellard
Nate Chandler
Cornelius Edison
John Kling
Martin Wallace
Jason Weaver
Donovan Williams

So who, of this group, is going to step up and provide competition at offensive tackle for Bobby Massie and Charles Leno?  Hell, which of them even qualities to be the swing tackle?

My initial thought was the Bears were counting on Tayo Fabuluje to step up and perhaps try to take a starting job.  But though Fabuluje had the physical talent, apparently he didn’t have what it took mentally to make the grade and he was waived the offseason.

It is always possible that one of the “others” above will step up and impress in training camp.  The Bears need to hope so if they truly believe that competition at the various positions that they need to man is the way to getting better.

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Competition on the Offensive Line Will Span Multiple Positions

Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com previews training camp by reviewing the situation along the offensive line.  Fishbain surprises me in this article by suggesting that the only major position battle is at left guard:

“The only clear competition for a starting job on offense is at left guard between former Cardinal Ted Larsen and second-round pick Cody Whitehair.”

Fishbain goes on to suggest that the Bears are totally counting on Hronis Grasu, who struggled at times last year, to man the center position.  But that’s not the way I see it.

Multiple reports indicate that Whitehair was snapping the ball at mini-camp last month on the side and that he will have a shot at the center position.  I think its much more likely that this comes down to three players, Larsen, Whitehair and Grasu, for two jobs, left guard and center, with everyone else on the outside looking in entering camp.  And it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

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Who Is Choosing the Bears Coaches?

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the top 10 headlines of the off-season as we head into training camp.  I was caught off guard by his approach to this one:

“Tribune headline: Dolphins hire [offensive coordinator AdamGase as coach — [head coach JohnFox has lots of coordinator options”

“What it means: Gase’s exit was hardly a stunner. He had interviewed for five head coaching jobs — including with the Bears — the previous offseason. So [general manager RyanPace had been preparing to fill the coordinator role again. The Bears ultimately decided the in-house promotion of quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains made the most sense.”

This may be picky but I thought, as the headline implies, that Fox had full authority to pick his coaching staff.  But the text itself seems to imply that Pace had the significant role in the affair.  This is the first I’ve seen that suggested.

True, Pace almost certainly had some input.  And ultimately I’m sure his office crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s on whatever changes to Logan’s contract were needed.  But I’d be surprised if Fox didn’t basically tell him what was going to happen and that wasn’t about it.

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