Chances of Resigning Kyle Fuller Looking Grim and Other Points of View

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

    Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, who do you like? Are any of them worth the eighth pick? Will they still be there in the second round? Can the Bears afford not to use the eighth pick on a Wide Receiver given there are no free agents worth talking about? — William K., Line of scrimmage Angeles, from email

    “It’s still early in the process for evaluating players and how they will wind up being slotted in the draft, but the consensus of most of the folks I have chatted with, and this is going back to last fall, is that Ridley will be the highest-graded wide receiver for most clubs. Depending on who you talk to there are one, two, maybe three wide receivers that will come off the board in Round 1. Of course, all of that could change if a couple of players blow up the scouting combine next month or fall on their faces with poor measurables and drill work. Kirk, from Texas A&M, has been compared to Golden Tate by some, and Tate is a pretty good wide receiver but not the kind of guy you would project coming off the board in the top 10 picks or maybe even the top half of the first round. Sutton has a chance to help himself at the combine. He has good size — listed at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds (we’ll see what he measures in Indianapolis) — and was super productive at SMU with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 31 career touchdowns. He did his work against defensive backs in the American Athletic Conference. He’s interesting, but I don’t know if he’s No. 8 pick interesting. To address your final question, the Bears absolutely cannot reach at No. 8 if they’re not in love with the player. Let me explain why. Yes, they have a glaring need at wide receiver and the position was woefully undermanned in 2017. You’re right, it seems unlikely some of the best free-agent possibilities will be available, and the Packers already took the best possibility off the market with an extension for Davante Adams back in December. But if the Bears reach for a wide receiver at No. 8 and it proves to be reach, what do they have in three years? They’ll have an overdrafted wide receiver who hasn’t lived up to the investment. If they draft a player at — pick your position — who does meet expectations of the draft slot, they’ve got a really good player in three years. What are you better off with?”

    I could not agree more.

    No matter what the need at wide receiver the Bears absolutely cannot afford to reach with this pick. Most of what I’ve heard from scouts and media experts indicates to me that there isn’t a sure #1 type receiver in this draft. To me that means most of these guys won’t be impact players. And an impact player is what the Bears need more than anything else, almost regardless of position.

    The key is to take the best available at a position of need. It needn’t be the greatest need and the Bears have enough of them to where there is no excuse for concentrating on a single group of players who do not give the team the best playmakers available.

  • Another question for Biggs:

    “I’ve read a lot of comments from fans and “experts” about how various players should be cut or signed or kept. But last year’s coaching staff really struggled taking advantage of players’ strengths. Shouldn’t it take some time for this staff to objectively evaluate what the players on offense can do? Was last year really a fair evaluation? What if Hroniss Grasu, just one example, can actually play center? — John R., Saigon, Vietnam, from email

    “You make some fair points that will certainly be considered by the Bears as they plot the moves that will lead them into the new league year beginning March 14. I agree that if they see an underperforming player from 2017 being a fit for what they would like to do, absolutely they will keep that player around. They have plenty of salary-cap flexibility, so that’s not going to sway them one way or the other. It’s about projection, fit and durability. I don’t know if Grasu is a great example because he remains under contract on his rookie deal and will almost surely be with the team heading into training camp.”

    Actually he’s a pretty awful example. Grasu just isn’t strong enough and he’s always going to struggle with a nose guard lined up right over him. In fairness, he’s not alone in that regard and I’m sure there are things you can do to help him. But Grasu isn’t going to suddenly emerge as even an average center no matter who the coaches are. He lacks stature and ability and coaches can’t work miracles where that is the case.

    If Gasu wasn’t a draft pick with a reasonably cheap salary, I believe he’d have been cut by now and replaced with an upgrade. That may happen this year.

  • Yet another good question for Biggs:

    “How do you see Ryan Pace filling the backup QB void with Mike Glennon most likely to be cut? — @nickmau91

    “My best guess is the Bears will seek a veteran to serve as the No. 2 behind Mitch Trubisky. You can’t rule out the possibility the Bears will use a draft pick on a quarterback, but considering the wealth of needs elsewhere and the benefit of having an experienced player in a reserve role, I tend to think they go the veteran route.”

    I think the interesting question here is what will the Bears do with the #3 quarterback slot. This is traditionally used for a developmental quarterback. Presumably in the Bears case, they’d be looking to develop a potential long-term back up. That could be a late draft pick but, if not, the Bears are going to be an attractive destination for the best undrafted free agents available.

    The Bears are rumored to be interested in former Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and they did talk to him at the Senior Bowl. But the guess here is that the only way they’d take him is if he had a very significant fall to the lower rounds.

    Not the most critical question about the Bears roster by any means. But, like the say, the most popular player on the roster is the back up quarterback.

  • One more:

    “Will Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen be limited this year, too, because they struggled to learn Dowell Loggains’ offense and now have to learn Matt Nagy’s? — @occamsdragon

    “I don’t think that’s fair to Cohen or Shaheen. For starters, I don’t think you can say Cohen struggled to learn the offense last season. Quite the opposite. He learned a ton. The Bears lined Cohen up all over the field and he did well at a lot of different positions. He played running back, slot receiver, he lined up on the outside at wide receiver and he learned responsibilities in the return game for punts and kicks. That’s a full plate right there. Were fans frustrated Cohen wasn’t involved more in the third-down package and the hurry-up offense the team used late in games? Sure. I get that. Cohen was also 5-foot-6, 181 pounds and had he blown a pass-blocking assignment or been flat run over by a pass rusher and quarterback Mitch Trubisky was injured, Loggains would have been on the first train out of town. That’s not something a lot of people were willing to consider when clamoring for Cohen to be used more. Can he be utilized more in the new scheme? No doubt. But he’s probably still a joker back no matter who is designing the offense. Shaheen was making the major jump from Division II and yes it took him some time to pick things up, but who didn’t expect that? Remember, Greg Olsen was a little slow to be assimilated into the offense when he was a first-round pick in 2007 coming out of a pro-style offense at Miami. I’d expect both players to be improved and productive in 2018.”

    In fairness to the questioner, Cohen did say himself that he had trouble learning the plays albeit, as Biggs points out, that’s partly because he was put in so many positions all over the field.

    My guess is that Shaheen has less trouble translating what he learned last year to the new offense. Though the scheme is different, a lot of what was difficult was undoubtedly just learning to play the tight end position to a professional standard after spending his college career at Ashland. The guess here is that a lot of it was simply learning how to block and how to use his body more effectively in the passing game. That will be something he won’t have to learn again regardless of scheme.

    I’m not too worried about either of these players struggling simply because they are in a new scheme.

  • Last one:

    “ What do you think the chances of re-signing Kyle Fuller are? Can’t have another homegrown player get away, a la Alshon Jeffrey last year. — @dwhite4120

    “That’s a great question and one that will be very interesting to watch develop in the coming weeks. The Bears can keep Fuller in place with the franchise or transition tag. Short of that, he will be headed to the open market and if I’m him, I’m seeing what my market value is before I make a decision about signing anywhere. The Bears have to weigh a lot of factors when considering their move here and Fuller’s performance during 2017 will lead them to think long and hard about keeping him in a Bears uniform. I’d hesitate a little comparing him to Jeffery because all of these situations have their own factors. Fuller’s situation is in a lot of ways very, very different from Jeffery, who emerged earlier in his career. Stay tuned.”

    It looks like the chances of the Bears re-signing Fuller are pretty grim. Jason La Canfora at CBS Sports is reporting that Fuller is likely to price out the Bears which I’m guessing means that they aren’t offering what he thinks is going to be his market value.

    Though Fuller was a valuable piece last year and it would be nice to have him back, its worth noting that most of the teams the Bears faced perferred to challenge him rather than Prince Amukamura on the other side. And then there’s that flakey situation in 2016 where the Bears thought Fuller was ready to play and he refused.

    I don’t find it hard to believe that the Bears aren’t offering what Fuller wants. But I do wonder if it’s the right call. We hear about the dangers of signing other teams cast-offs in free agency every year. Perhaps there’s something about Fuller that has turned the Bears off. But otherwise, if you are going to overpay someone, finding a way to pay your own guy seems like the way to go.

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Bears Have Plenty of Free Agents to Resign Under the Right Circumstances

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune runs through the list of Bears free agents . I have some thoughts on a few of these.

“Wide receiver (2): Dontrelle Inman: Is a fourth option in a quality passing attack. Made more than three catches in only three games.

Kendall Wright: Highly productive in final month of the season and could be a fit for new coaching staff but in a perfect world he’s the No. 3 and that has been the problem with the offense the last couple of years. The Bears have had wide receivers overslotted.”

I’d like to see both of these men brought back on reasonable deals.

Inman seemed to my eye to come on at the end of the season and he had 5 catches for 94 yards (18.8 yds/reception) in the last game against the Vikings.

It’s probably true that Wright probably is a #3 receiver but that made him the best receiver on the team whis year. He has a knack for getting open.

Having said that, Wright didn’t seem to do too well with the Titans after Dowell Loggains left Tennessee. He blamed this on no longer being able to improvise with his pass routes.

Wright reunited with Loggains this year and had success but now that Loggains is gone there’s no guarantee that Wright’s career won’t collapse again as it did the last time that happened. A lot will likely depend upon new head coach Matt Nagy’s willingness and ability to adapt to Wright’s style.

“Defensive line (2): John Jenkins: A fill-in on the line, he played sparingly in eight games. Could return as depth but would have to compete for roster spot.

Mitch Unrein: At 30, he had his best season with 32 tackles and 2½ sacks before a season-ending knee injury. Smart, dependable performer has trust of defensive coaches, and that matters.”

Unrein is a no brainer. Solid starter who can be depended upon to set the edge and stop the run. Not all defensive linemen need to be mad pass rushers in a 3-4.

It’s true that Jenkins didn’t play much but that’s because nose tackle Eddie Goldman stayed relatively healthy. When Goldman exited the line up with an injury in 2016, the Bears had no depth behind him and it showed.

The bet here is that either Jenkins is resigned to play the same role as Goldman’s back up or someone else is (or both).

“Cornerback (3): Prince Amukamara: Didn’t get the type of multiyear contract he was seeking in free agency so he signed a $7 million, one-year deal. Hard to see him getting the big money deal he sought after this past season but he was dependable and has value as a No. 2 starter.

Kyle Fuller: Contract season brought out what was far and away the best season for the former first-round draft pick. Bears likely will need to tag him to prevent him from at least exploring the open market, and he will be in upper tier of available cornerbacks meaning he should command north of $10 million per year.

Sherrick McManis: Led the team in point production for special teams players despite missing three games with a hamstring injury. He will seek another multi-year deal after finishing two-year contract. If Bears cannot re-sign him they need to find a special teams ace.”

It’s still a mystery to me why so many teams decided to throw at Fuller rather than Amukamara this year. It made sense at the beginning of the year but even after it became apparent that Fuller was having a career year, teams continued to throw to his side.

It’s possible that as good as Fuller played, most teams prefered to stay away from Amukamara because, despite appearances, they still considered him to be the better corner. And to my eye, there were certainly times when he did look very good simply in terms of staying with receivers.

If I’m general manager Ryan Pace and I can get Amukamura again under nearly the same contract terms, maybe even for more than one year, I do it.

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Picking Up the Option on Josh Sitton a No Brainer for the Bears

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reminds us that the window for the Bears to pick up their 2018 option on guard Josh Sitton begins Friday.  The decision must be made before March 9.

Sitton is arguably the Bears most consistent offensive lineman but he’s going to be 32 next season and missed 3 games last year with injuries. The option is for $8 million including bonuses and his dead cap number is only $666,667.  The Bears have plenty of cap space.

In my opinion it would be a mistake to fail to pick up this option. Not doing so creates another hole in the lineup on a team that already has a lot of holes to fill.

Many fans would like to see the Bears spend their first round pick on former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who might be the best player in the draft. However, it’s hard to justify using that pick to replace a good veteran guard rather than to fill an existing need. It’s also no guarantee that Nelson will be there for them at the 8th overall pick even if they wish to do so.  If the Bears wish to plan for the future at the position, they should either pick up a guard in the later rounds to develop or concentrate on getting something out of 2017 fifth round pick Jordan Morgan, who lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery last year.

The only way I see this happening is if the Bears sign Sitton, draft Nelson, then trade Sitton for another pick in the draft. It seems unlikely that they could pull that off and it wouldn’t be a great way to treat a veteran player. The Bears have typically avoided those sorts of moves.

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Charles Leno, the 2018 NFL Draft and the Perceived State of the Bears Offensive Line

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune discusses the possibility that the Bears will select an offensive lineman, perhaps in the first round. Biggs is at the Senior Bowl:

“[A] scout stopped in front of his hotel and said, ’I get why you’re asking me about Calvin [Ridley] but I think the Bears will draft a lineman.'”

“One of the first things general manager Ryan Pace must do is make a decision on the future of left guard Josh Sitton, who was a team captain in 2017. He has a team option for 2018 that must be exercised between Feb. 9, five days after Super Bowl LII, and March 9, five days before the start of the new league year. Sitton is due to earn $8 million with a $7.4 million base salary, $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses and a $100,000 workout bonus — but only if the team picks up the option.

“Next, the Bears will need to determine if they want to pay a $1 million roster bonus to right tackle Bobby Massie on March 16 when they will be three days into free agency.

“How the Bears navigate these decisions will provide clues for how the team will proceed in free agency and later in the draft when perhaps they will consider Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall pick or maybe an offensive tackle. They also could consider a guard in later rounds.”

“Perhaps the scout is right and they wind up going with a lineman in the first round. That seems more likely if they move on from Sitton.”

As I said in a previous post, one thing I don’t understand is why last year’s 5th round pick, Jordan Morgan is never mentioned in these conversations. Of course, the Bears would be fools to put all of their eggs in that basket and Morgan did spend the year on IR which undoubtedly limited his development. But still, you’d think the possibility that he could earn the job would at least be addressed.

But though I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the scout was talking about guard or replacing Massie, I’m not so sure. One thing I’ve noticed in talking to people who follow other teams, and, in particular, in the media outside of Chicago, is that people don’t think much of left tackle Charles Leno. Certainly they don’t rate him anywhere near as highly as the Bears evidently do.

For example, PFF mentioned Leno as being among the worst players in the league at his position in 2015. They also rated him just 42nd out of 76 qualifying tackles in 2016. Though that may have come up a bit this year its evident that they aren’t big fans and I think that opinion seems to be often shared.

Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly has been a particularly vocal critic locally.

I don’t think the Bears are sandbagging with Leno. I think they really like him and they have committed to him with a long-term contract. But his dead cap number drops dramatically in 2019 to only $2.7 million and it’s evident that the rest of the league generally doesn’t see what the Bears say that they do.   That might be affecting the way that scouts and general managers are expecting the Bears to go in this draft.

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Bears Will Have to dig Deep to Solve Their Wide Receiver Problem in 2018

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Will Kevin White and Cam Meredith be the third and fourth receivers or even make the team? This, assuming the Bears draft a wide receiver in the first or second round and acquire a star free agent. — @chuckietwoglove

I kind of doubt there are going to be a lot of “star” wide receivers available in free agency, but we will have to see what unfolds. It’s impossible to stack a depth chart right now and say who would be No. 3 or No. 4. I imagine the Bears will tender an offer to Meredith as a restricted free agent and, yes, White will be with the team this year. If they’re both healthy and playing like they were when they went down, you’d have to think Meredith would rate an edge ahead of White.

The way I see it now, the Bears are in big trouble at wide receiver.

Like Biggs, I see nothing coming in free agency that would resemble anything like a number one receiver. Biggs also thinks that the wide receivers at the top of the 2018 NFL draft offer very little potential, an opinion that is {echoed by Todd McShay at ESPN} though that opinion {is not universally shared}.

Generally speaking, it looks like general manager Ryan Pace has his work cut out for him. The guess here is that he needs to find a diamond in the rough in the middle rounds or the Bears will be playing with a bunch of number 2’s and 3’s but without a true number 1 receiver in 2018. Again.

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Why Does Everyone Love the Bears Hiring Harry Hiestand?

Everybody loves Harry Hiestand.

The Bears have drawn rave reviews for hiring Hiestand from fans, former players and media. From Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic:

NFL insiders declared it a coup for new head coach Matt Nagy to bring in Hiestand.

Many echoed what one league source said about Hiestand, “The best in the business.“

There’s a part of me that wants to accept this at face value. But Hiestand’s history has me wondering if this isn’t all just a part of the honeymoon period that follows the hiring of a new head coach.

Here’s the list of places Hiestand has coached:

East Stroudsburg (1981-1982)
Student assistant
East Stroudsburg (1983-1985)
Offensive line coach
Penn (1986-1987)
Tight ends coach
USC (1987-1988)
Graduate assistant
Toledo (1988-1989)
Offensive line coach
Cincinnati (1989-1993)
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
Missouri (1994-1996)
Offensive line coach
Illinois (1997-1999)
Offensive line coach
Illinois (2000-2004)
Assistant head coach/offensive line coach
Chicago Bears (2005-2009)
Offensive line coach
Tennessee (2010-2011)
Offensive line coach
Notre Dame (2012-2017)
Offensive line coach
Chicago Bears (2018-present)
Offensive line coach

See anything unusual? Let me make it easier:

East Stroudsburg (1981-1982) – college
East Stroudsburg (1983-1985) – college
Penn (1986-1987) – college
USC (1987-1988) – college
Toledo (1988-1989) – college
Cincinnati (1989-1993) – college
Missouri (1994-1996) – college
Illinois (1997-2004) – college
Chicago Bears (2005-2009) – pro
Tennessee (2010-2011) – college
Notre Dame (2012-2017) – college
Chicago Bears (2018-present)- pro
One professional team – the Bears.

If Hiestand is really the best in the business, why are the Bears the only professional team that was apparently clamoring to hire him?

In fairness there are a lot of possible reasons why Hiestand might be particular about the jobs he’s worked. It is possible, for instance, that his family is in Chicago. In that case, staying at Notre Dame would have been his preference after 2009 when, presumably, he was let go with former offensive coordinator Ron Turner. But then, if he was “the best in the business”, why didn’t former head coach Lovie Smith keep him on?

That’s a lot of reading between the lines and I could make up excuses and do more back and forth if I chose to. But you get the idea. There’s enough smoke here to make me wonder if there isn’t fire and I’m wondering if all of this praise of Hiestand isn’t just so much hype.

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Playoff Quarterbacks and Other Points of View

    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:”What do Ryan Pace and the coaching staff do during these playoff weeks? Are they still hiring coaches or staff? — @wiesnoski

      Matt Nagy is working to complete his staff, and the next step, especially for the new coaches, is to completely review the 2017 season. The new coaches need to have a thorough understanding of what they are inheriting so they can contribute in meetings, hatch a plan for free agency and plan for the draft. It’s a time-consuming process. Coaches who remain from last season will be completing their player assessments as they prepare for meetings that will chart the course of the offseason. Pace said something that made a lot of sense when Nagy was introduced: It will be nice to have a fresh voice and opinion about the roster. What’s good? What’s not good? What works? What doesn’t work? It’s not just Nagy’s voice — all of the new coaches will have input in the process, which is significant because the most difficult process any team has is evaluating its own roster. Former general manager Jerry Angelo used to drive that point home, and it’s true. It’s easy to look at another team and determine its weaknesses. It’s more difficult to self-scout and be completely honest.”

      I find this to be easy to believe. However, there are disadvantages to offset it.

      One of the problems that anyone who has tried to make an evaluation of anyone from video has run into is that they don’t know the plays and, therefore, don’t know who’s responsibility it was to do what. It is possible to infer this given the playbook but I doubt anyone can be 100% sure.

    • Biggs answers another:”What approach do you see Pace taking to improve the offensive line this offseason? Is the highest priority on stabilizing the interior or increasing talent at tackles? — @carl9730

      As I’ve written, the biggest decision the Bears have to make on the offensive line is what to do with 31-year-old guard Josh Sitton. The Bears hold a 2018 option that must be executed between Feb. 9 — five days after Super Bowl LII — and March 9 — five days before the start of the new league year. The option is for $8 million — $7.4 million in base salary with a $500,000 roster bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus. That’s the first domino for the line this offseason. If the Bears move forward with Sitton, you’re probably looking at a lineman being added during the draft, and then the team determining a path for a swing tackle. If the Bears don’t bring Sitton back, they need to determine if they want to keep Cody Whitehair at center and get a guard or consider Whitehair at guard and get a center.”

      I agree with all of this but the lost man here seems to be 2017 fifth round pick Jordan Morgan. Morgan was placed on injured reserve before the regular season started. No indication was given as to what the source of the injury was.

      Morgan is a big guy with a reputation for having some “nastiness” in his make up. Morgan played at Kutztown and hasn’t seen a lot of high level competition. How much he was able to develop this season probably depends upon the nature of his injury. Nevertheless, as a fifth round guard, I have to believe that they drafted him with the idea that he would develop into a starter.

    • Biggs with yet another one:”Do you think the Bears promised Fangio they would use the No. 8 pick on a defensive playmaker as a way of luring him back? — Corey S., Chicago

      No way. Pace would never make a promise like that, and the Bears have no way of knowing who will be on the board when they pick. Further, they have a lot of ground to cover before they complete draft evaluations, and what they do in free agency will likely shape the direction of the draft. I think you’re overthinking this one.”

      Totally agree.

      I like Fangio as much as anyone and I’m glad the Bears resigned him. The continuity is valuable and it helps. But it isn’t like good defensive coordinators with vast experience running their units aren’t out there. I’m not saying their a dime a dozen but they aren’t hard to find in the current climate where good offensive coaches who can coach quarterbacks seem to be the ones that are at a premium.

      Keeping Fangio was preferable but far from essential for success.

    • Rob Demovsky at ESPN.com describes why the Packers fell apart when their starting quarterback went down and the Eagles and the Vikings didn’t:“When [Minnesota quarterback Case] Keenum replaced Sam Bradford (who had replaced Teddy Bridgewater), he had 24 career starts under his belt. When [Eagles quarterback Nick Foles replaced Carson Wentz, he had 36 starts.

      When Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone in Week 6, the Packers were going with a first-time starter.”

      “But it runs much deeper than just the fill-in quarterbacks.

      The top-seeded Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and were No. 1 against the run. The Vikings ranked first in total defense and were second against both the run and the pass.”

      The bottom line is that the Packers either lacked talent or didnt’ develop it and once Roger went down, they were exposed.

      My gut feeling is that the Packers identified the problem correctly in that former general manager Ted Thompson paid the price and was kicked upstairs. Although he was let go, I don’t think defensive coordinator Dom Capers failed to develop it nor do I think the rest of the staff was responsible. There was flat out a lack of talent on the roster and everyone with eyes knew it.

    • The Bears have fired strength coach Jason George.George is apparently taking at least part of the fall for the Bears tendency to sustain a lot injuries, particularly soft tissue injuries. Though I have heard fans and media claim that George likely has little to do with it, I’m not so sure.

      The Bears had a marvelous record for remaining healthy when Rusty Jones was the strength coach under former head coach Lovie Smith. When Jones retired in 2013 the Bears consciously decided to leave his training regime largely behind in an effort to become “more powerful and explosive” with new coach Mike Clark. My interpretation was that meant, “bigger, more finely tuned muscle mass”. Going along with that, you would expect more stress on tendons and, to a lesser extent, ligaments. I think the Bears injury record since that time has borne that out.

      It will be interesting to see where the Bears go from here and what his background looks like. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was a Jones disciple or if he ran a system that was similar.

    One Final Thought

    Alden Gonzalez at ESPN.com points out that two of the four quarterbacks in the NFL conference championships this weekend played for – and didn’t play well for – former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

    Fisher is a former Bear and he undoubtedly did fine work in the locker room – something that is arguably more important than the in game coaching that so many fans tend to emphasize because that’s what they see.

    But above in game coaching and above relationships in the locker room, a coach is still a coach first. Fisher is a defensive mind that never found the right offensive coaches and never provided the environment needed to coach up and nurture a quarterback.

    Many will claim that the Bears have never had the talent to succeed because they’ve never had the talent at quarterback. That may be part of the problem but the truth is they’ve never had the tools to properly develop one either. They have now provided Mitch Trubisky with three quarterback coaches, Nagy, new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and whoever the quarterback coach will be, probably Dave Ragone. Here’s hoping they have provided him with the right ones.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers | 1 Comment

I’m Baaack – Thoughts on the Matt Nagy Hire

So first of all, I’m back.

My course at the school where I work is wrapping up and I’ve got a bit more time to write than I have had for most of this season. I will probably have to go through the same thing in August and September next year when I am course director of another new course but then after that I hope more time will be available to have some fun during the year.

Since my last post, the Bears have fired John Fox and hired new head coach Matt Nagy. Here are some thoughts.

Why Not Someone with a Little Experience?

I wasn’t overly happy about this hire. I don’t have anything against it but at the same time I’m not too thrilled with it or the process by which it came about, either.

What I see here is manifestation of something that I see a lot around the league. When you have a change in leadership in a front office and/or in a coaching staff you go out and hire the exact opposite of what you had before. I don’t know if that was exactly called for here.

I don’t mind that they hired an offensive head coach (as opposed to the defensive Fox) and I think it is generally a really good idea to hire a head coach with a background in coaching quarterbacks. It’s quarterback-centric league. But I wouldn’t have hired yet another first time head coach who is super young just because the last guy was experienced and older. It has all the markings of an over-reaction to the problems of the previous situation.

John Fox was on his third head coaching job and he’d already gotten the simple mistakes out of the system before the Bears hired him. That’s not to say that all of the decisions that he made were good ones. It probably didn’t help that he was a conservative head coach and that was, debatably, hurting the development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky.  But the decision that really hurt him the most was his choice of offense coordinator. Dowell Loggains, as Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune put it, ran an offense with plays but little in the way of scheme. That, along with the lack of talent at wide receiver on that side of the ball, resulted in a fairly low offensive output.

So I’m not saying that experience is everything. But it certainly can help avoid a lot of the problems that Matt Nagy is likely to run into in his first head-coaching job.

So if it were me, I’d have preferred to go with someone with more experience like Josh McDaniels or Pat Shurmur. Whether McDaniels wanted to come Chicago and leave a plum job with the Patriots is debatable. But my gut is telling me that they could’ve persuaded Shurmur to come here if they tried and had been willing to wait a little bit (see below).

Are All the Wrong Things All the Right Things? We’ll Find Out.

As it is the Bears have got a 39 year old head coach to go with an inexperienced, 40 year old general manager who is frankly doing many of the things that over the years I have been told are all of the wrong things for general managers to do.

The first prime example of that is falling in love with Trubisky to the point where in the 2017 draft he arguably traded away picks to move from #3 overall to #2 overall when he actually didn’t have to. Pace fell for Trubisky so hard that he felt that he had to do that if there was even the smallest chance that he might not be able to get him.

Conventional wisdom says that you don’t fall in love with draft prospects. First rounders are a 50:50 proposition whether you have fallen in love with them or not. To some extent, you have to let the chips fall where they may and do the common sense thing.

So it was somewhat disconcerting to see Pace do the exact same thing again when hiring his head coach. Pace obviously felt that he had to rush to hire Matt Nagy in part because the Indianapolis Colts might have been interested. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has a history with Nagy through his Kansas City connections so this does make some sense but at the same time, conventional wisdom says that you take your time when you’re hunting for a head coach. You make your move only after you’re absolutely sure that you got the right guy. You don’t rush it.

My guess is that the Bears also hurried this hire in part they wanted to get first crack at the assistant coaches that they wanted. Again, conventional wisdom says not to do that. Whatever else you say about John Fox, he assembled a pretty good staff in Chicago. He was able to do it, not because he rushed the process, but because he’s been around the league a lot and knows a lot of people. He has a lot of connections.

Assembling a staff is probably the most important thing you’ll do as a head coach. If you hire the right guy, he’ll do it right. On the other hand, does a young guy like Nagy who has only been a coach since 2008 (and even then it was it as an intern) and who has only worked for one organization going to have the connections to hire the right people to to get onto the staff? We’ll find out when the boys hit the field.

The Good: Copying the Rams Model

On the generally positive side, there are a lot of similarities in this hiring to what the Rams did when they hired Sean McVay last year.

Part of the plan in Los Angeles was to get a really good, experienced defensive coordinator to pair with him. In the case of the Rams, that was Wade Phillips, arguably the best there is right now.

In the Bears case, that guy is Vic Fangio and that’s probably another reason for rushing this hire, perhaps the only legitimate one. Fangio was under contract with the Bears until Tuesday and getting Nagy hired quickly gave them a chance to get an offer to Fangio on the record before he started titling to other teams. The end result was that he was hired, presumably as head coach of the defense.

Could they have found a good offensive coordinator if Fangio had turned them down? Probably. And probably they shouldn’t have rushed this hire just to get him. But having said that, it will be nice for the players to have the continuity and presumably it keeps much of the defensive staff intact. If nothing else, its a proven group.

Finally, and most importantly, they got a good young quarterback-centric head coach. A guy who, presumably, will be Chicago’s McVay. Pace almost certainly had a picture in his mind of what he was looking for and that picture presumably looked allot like Sean Payton. Certainly their backgrounds are similar as each was a borderline professional quarterback, Payton as a replacement during the NFL strike in 1982, Nagy as an arena league quarterback. But the similarities end there as Payton was far more accomplished as an offensive coordinator when the Saints hired him as their head coach than Nagy is now. We shall see if Nagy has Payton’s “fire in the belly.”

Hiring Nagy could be as good for Trubisky as hiring McVay was for Jared Goff. Assuming that Nagy runs an offense similar to what Andy Reid does in Kansas City, we’re looking at a highly structured West Coast offense where a lot of the quarterback’s decisions will be mapped out. Its a quarterback friendly offense where Trubisky will always know what to do and will have options to get the team into the right play.

Trubisky came to the Bears with a reputation for being very accurate and we have seen flashes of that on occasion. The football cognoscente believe that if he develops consistent mechanics, he’ll be a good, accurate, precision passer that will hit many of the easy, short passes that the West Coast offense can provide consistently.

Nagy’s also got a reputation for being able to adapt to the characteristics of his quarterback. He should be able to do better job than Loggains did of taking advantage of Trubisky’s mobility. We’ll probably see a lot more will roll outs and boot legs that will allow slower developing pass plays to take place and Trubisky to take off and run if he needs to.

Nagy did a nice job with Alex Smith and, probably more to the point, Pat Mahommes in Kansas City. We can hope that he brings that same expertise here and that Trubisky becomes all that the current regime thinks he can be.

If he does, then the process of hiring Nagy will be characterized as “decisive” by future critics. But for now, it feels like the Bears are going to have to be a lot luckier than usual to have found the right guy in such a rushed manner.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams | 2 Comments

Down and Out in Missouri

Dear all,

I’m sorry to say it but you may have seen my last post of the year.  A previous commitment kept me from posting game comments last week and now for two weeks running I will be out of town.  I will, therefore, not be able to post game comments again this season.  Commitments at work have basically kept me from posting anything else through the season and the blog has been barely alive lately.

The good news is that things will begin slowing down for me in mid-January.  This means that there should be plenty of offseason content.

And let’s be honest.  The offseason is going to be far more interesting than the end of this miserable year.  Until then, hang tough.

 

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

Quick Game Comments: Bears at Bengals 12/10/17

Defense

  1. The Bears came out covering the Bengals tighter than they did the 49ers last week. They also seemed to be playing closer to the line of scrimmage than usual to stop the run. It was an interesting decision considering that they were surely rotating their coverage over to cover AJ Green.
  2. The Bengals finally started to run the ball effectively against a beat up Bears front seven late in the first quarter. They easily worked their way down the field for a touchdown.
  3. The Bears defensive backs are going to look back at the dropped interceptions that they had in this game and really be kicking themselves. Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller (at least two) both dropped sure fire turnovers.
  4. The Bears have developed a bad habit of allowing teams to get first downs on third down right at the sticks. It seems like the coverage needs to tighten up in those situations.
  5. You can certainly understand why Bengals fans might be frustrated by Andy Dalton. His accuracy is about a inconsistent as it can be and still be from a NFL starter.
  6. Not a great day for AJ Green. The Bears corners had something to do with that but so did Dalton.

Offense

  1. The Bengals defense looked like they came out flat, probably because they were coming off of a huge game against the Steelers.
  2. The Bears came out running the ball pretty well. It didn’t take the Bengals long to start stacking the line of scrimmage and challenging the Bears to throw the ball. The Bears were glad to take the opportunity to finally do so against the soft, two deep zone that the Bengals like to play rather than the tight man to man they have been facing.
  3. The Bears did a pretty good job driving late in the first half but, as has been their wont, once they got into the red zone they couldn’t turn it into a touchdown.
  4. Mitch Trubisky looked good today and, if he wasn’t pinpoint all game, he was, at least, generally accurate. He seems to read the field well and seemed to be finding the open man, especially if that man was open in the middle of the field where he was easy to see.
  5. One thing I didn’t like was how often I saw Trubisky throwing off of his back foot. The throws weren’t horrible but he’s not driving the ball and the ball placement isn’t as good as it should be when he does it.
  6. It certainly helped that Trubisky was getting plenty of good protection.
  7. To my eye, Trubisky showed a willingness to throw into tight coverage that wasn’t always there earlier in the year as he was a bit more aggressive.
  8. Terrible drop in the end zone aside, Adam Shaheen had a good ball game to give all of the fans a little hope.
  9. Credit Michael Johnson with a couple good sacks but at the same time he took advantage of some miserable blocks.
  10. Both Tarik Cohen (over 10 yds per carry) and Jordan Howard (over 145 yards) Really ran with good vision today. Both had good days as the team as a whole had a good rushing day.
  11. It was nice to see the Bears reverse the stat that was most reflective of last game by dominating the time of possession instead of being dominated.
  12. Kendall Wright (10 receptions) had a really good day as well.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen (play-by-play), Brady Quinn (analyst) and Jenny Taft (sideline reporter) were your announcers. I love it when the Bears draw this announcing team. I always know with complete confidence up front that I can just turn the volume down and I won’t miss anything.
  2. Mike Nugent was short on the opening kickoff. Same thing with the kickoff immediately before half time after a Bears field goal. You wonder why they didn’t keep Pat O’Donnell doing the kickoffs, as he seemed to do a pretty good job. Nugent then proceeded to miss his first extra point with the Bears. Great start [eye roll].

    Tarik Cohen seemed to be having a tough time judging the ball on punt returns. Its possible the wind was up on the river front but either way he needs to be able to field those.

  3. Why is that seemingly every time Tarik Cohen pulls off a big play, the Bears manage to crush it with a penalty. They did it again in the second quarter as Cohen scored a touchdown on a 13 yard pass with a nice run after the catch. The Bears ultimately settled for a field goal after making a circus out of what should have been 7 points.

    Seven penalties in the first half. It’s totally ridiculous.

  4. Jordan Howard had a bad drop the first play from scrimmage for the Bears. Adam Shaheen dropped a touchdown at the end of the first half. That turned into a field goal.
  5. Eddie Jackson had a nice interception on a Dalton ball that was knocked into the air. That was followed by a nice job stripping the ball and recovering the fumble on a pass play near the sideline.
  6. The Bears did a good job of beating the Bengals at the line of scrimmage today on both sides of the ball. As is usually the case, the team that does that tends to be the better team overall for most of the game. That was the case today.
  7. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team more flat than the Bengals were today coming off of that Monday Night war with the Steelers. I hate to say it but there were guys out there that I frankly thought just didn’t care. It was just one week but that’s a team that certainly looked like it’s in need of an overhaul. Based upon what I saw I don’t like the look of Marvin Lewis’s immediate future there.
  8. The Bears were frustrating watch again this week, albeit for a different reason. For once, the young talent with Jordan Howard, Adam Shaheen, Tarik Cohen, Eddie Jackson and Trubisky was evident against a flat and wounded Bengals team. But their penchant for eliminating big plays with stupid penalties, ewspecially in the first half, held them back.

    There’s something here to work with. But these guys have got to execute better as a team.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Game Comments | Leave a comment