Martellus Bennett. Again. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Regular readers of this blog will know that I participated in a mock draft with other fans around the country representing all 32 teams.  Former ESPN producer Jay Soderberg put us all together to explain our picks in a podcast.  The first 16 picks are located here.  I, of course, made the Bears pick at number seven.  I also came on and defended the Titans’ pick (though I didn’t make it).  Part two is located here where I helped discuss what Buffalo will do in the last ten minutes of the podcast (they were without a first round pick).
  • Former Super Bowl winning head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and I  see 100% eye to eye on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks at the Bears newly released schedule and says it looks like 7-9. I figure if the Bears split with the Vikings and Lions that sounds about right.
  • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com reviews the personnel record of Bears general manager Ryan Pace. Pace found some good offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft. Other than that, his record is disturbingly mediocre. Atkins isn’t too tough on him but he implies that Pace and Director of Player Personnel Josh Lucas need to do better if they want to turn the Bears around. I can only agree.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com rates the need to draft a quarterback as “low”, pointing out that even though Pace has said he’d like to draft one every year, they didn’t do it in New Orleans. But New Orleans had Drew Brees not Jay Cutler. It’s an interesting evaluation of the current roster situation.

    One of the things I’ll be most interested in seeing on Friday or (more likely) Saturday is if the Bears take a quarterback, particularly in the second or third round. Bears head coach John Fox and Pace have gone out of their way to not sound too thrilled with Cutler in their comments to the media. But, as I said yesterday, it’s actions that count not words. If the Bears draft a quarterback, particularly in a round high enough to reasonably expect said quarterback to start at some point in the future, then I’ll believe that Fox’s and Pace’s words are more than just a motivational ploy for Cutler.

  • Jeff Dickerson at ESPN actually had a fan ask him if it was possible San Diego would trade Philip Rivers for Cutler straight up. [head shake].
  • Dickerson also reports that Martellus Bennett isn’t showing up for voluntary workouts. Given that he just signed a new deal in March 2013, I think the odds are good this isn’t about his contract. It’s more likely Bennett saying to himself, “‘Voluntary’ means ‘voluntary’. I don’t feel like showing up so I won’t.”

    No one will argue that Bennett isn’t within his rights. We all know that Bennett marches to the beat of his own drum. I won’t repeat what I said in a previous post on Bennett last summer. Bennet apparently hasn’t learned much since then.

    If Fox didn’t know what a job he had in front of him building an esprit de corps amongst the players, he knows now. He wouldn’t have gotten far with Lance Briggs still on the team. I’m not suggesting they immediately trade Bennett (they probably couldn’t without it looking punitive, anyway) but you do start to wonder how far Fox will get as long a Bennett is still around, as well. I wouldn’t mind an extra pick in next year’s draft. If Bennett causes the same kind of trouble this summer he did last summer – and I’d say he’s on his way – we may not see him around for 2016.

Elsewhere

  • Rob Demovsky at ESPN predicts the results of each Packers game. He has them at 11-5. It’s entirely possible that at the moment they’d be favored in every game.
  • Matt Forte isn’t the only division player who has decided to forego offseason workouts. According to Michael Rothstein at ESPN, Lions safety James Ihedigbo won’t be showing up to any voluntary workouts until he gets a new contract. Ihedigbo was a fairly important component of the Lions defense last year. All indications are he’ll be there for the mandatory workouts and I doubt this will have much effect on anyone.
  • ESPN‘s Scouts Inc. has posted their board with all of the players they have a draftable grade on stacked by position. For those without and Insiders subscription I’ll tell you the first and most important relevant takeaway – they have 20 players with a first round grade. The round has 32 slots. Should be interesting.

One Final Thought

Mullin continues to point out the distinct possibility that Jimmy Clausen could provide a moderate level of competition for Cutler. Clausen “played creditably against one of the elite NFL defenses (Detroit) after four years of no-play and coming in with a short practice week after the Monday night loss to New Orleans, further shortened by Marc Trestman canceling the Wednesday practice before the Detroit game.” Bears head coach John Fox obviously likes Clausen a great deal personally despite his struggles in Carolina just as current Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has said he does. So there must be something there that makes people at least want him to succeed.

People think I’m pushing Clausen because I don’t like Cutler and don’t believe he’ll ever succeed at a high level. And they’re right. But I’m also not stupid. I know that Cutler will very likely win such a competition based upon talent. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that with a good showing in camp and in the pre-season, Clausen could see time at quarterback if Cutler stumbles. Clausen’s going to be a genuine alternative and the guess here is that the Bears are going to be only one more game like the one against New Orleans in 2014 from once again seeing him.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, NFL Draft, San Diego Chargers | Leave a comment

A Dissenting Voice on Ray McDonald

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Bears defensive end Ray McDonald has been cleared of violating the NFL player conduct policy by the league office. The Bears signed McDonald after three runins with the law in seven months. The first was an incident which involved him wrestiling with his pregant fiancee over a gun. The second was a domestic violence complaint also involving his fiancee. The third was a sexual assault accusation from a woman who is not McDonald’s fiancee. The league hasn’t cleared McDonald on the third incident yet.

Bears ownership initially rejected he idea of signing McDonald despite the support of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio:

“‘[Fangio] felt he was one of the leaders on the defense, him and [end] Justin Smith,’ [Bears head coach John] Fox said. ‘Teammates thought very highly of him, and you’re around your teammates a lot in this business.'”

Eventually ownership relented but only after McDonald sat down and talked to Bears president George McCaskey.

At the time the Bears signed McDonald, I said I would reserve judgement until some of my questions were answered. I think that no more information is going to be forthcoming so I can give my opinion now.

I make it a habit to judge people by their actions, not what they say. A lot of trouble could be avoided if more people followed that rule. People believe too easily what they want to believe and can be talked too easily into believing it.

The fact that Fangio and McDonald’s teammates were “shocked” tells me only one thing – that McDonald is a heck of a con man. If they were still shocked after it happened a third time then it tells me they’re stupid, as well. The fact that McCaskey relented based, not upon the facts in his file, but upon what McDonald said only re-enforces that opinion.

It’s obvious to me that McDonald is in a toxic relationship. It drove him to what amounts to two domestic violence complaints and one sexual encounter outside of whatever boundaries he’s set with his fiancee. As long as that relationship contiues, he’s headed for trouble. And given that she’s apparently had his baby, I’d say he’ll never really be extracted from it. And, of course, even worse is what that relationship uncovered – a tendency towards responding to bad situations with violence upon the weak.

I don’t know what McDonald has said and I don’t want to know. I want to hear what he’s done to clean up the mess he’s made of his life. Until I hear that, until I hear more than talk, I’m going to assume that his problems are going to continue.

I’m going to say up front that I’m a rare bird. Most fans in most places will forgive almost anything if the think it will help the team win. That includes Chicago, where fans once gave Scotty Pippen a standing ovation after an infamous incident in which he quit on his team and refused to enter a playoff game with 1.8 seconds left to play.

But personally, I’d honestly rather that the Bears were miserable at defensive end than have a guy like McDonald on the team. I think about rooting for McDonald this fall, a guy who apparently can’t keep control himself around women, and it makes me sick. That’s the way I feel.

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Drafting Pass Rush Is a Priority. But at What Price?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts up his mock draft. Here are his top 10 picks:

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

3. Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

4. Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

5. Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska

7. Bears: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

8. Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa

10. Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

It’s an interesting grouping if only because it breaks down into tiers which reflect Biggs’s priorities by position: quarterback is the first at one and two because that’s the most important, then pass rushers at three, five and six, and finally the other positions at three of the last four spots.

This is fine in that it almost certainly reflects the thoughts of virtually all fans, and I would dare say all NFL general managers as well. But the problem is that Biggs takes it too far.

Though he’s certainly not worthy of the two spot, I get the Marcus Mariota pick and it may well happen, though I’m guessing that if it does, its not likely to be the Titans picking there. However, prioritizing Dante Fowler over Leonard Williams, the best prospect in the draft, isn’t what I would call good thinking. In fairness to Biggs, he’s not the only media expert who believes Fowler will go first. But though Fowler’s a great prospect, Williams is the consensus best player in the draft and as close to a sure thing as you can get – he’s almost certainly going to be a dominant defensive lineman. He’s the smart pick.

But those two decisions aren’t nearly as surprising as taking Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory, both very risky prospects (for the top ten) over Amari Cooper, the most solid wide receiver prospect in the draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay recently did a live mock draft on ESPN and Beasley didn’t even make the first round.

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I, personally, like Gregory a lot but three failed drug tests, including one at the Combine, makes you wonder if he’s not an addictive personality headed for trouble.

Bud Dupree, Brandon Scherff and Kevin White all have their risks as well but of the three, Dupree is the riskiest. Brandon Scherff is at worst an outstanding NFL guard. White is a one year wonder but he (arguably) has more dominant physical skills. Based upon the mock drafts I’ve seen almost no one would take Dupree over White.

This mock highlights the conflicts that must run through every general manager’s head as they prepare for the draft. We’re all familiar with the idea of drafting the best available and how that often conflicts with drafting for need. Biggs has written many times that drafting the best available player regardless of need is a fallacy in the NFL – and I absolutely believe him. But this mock draft might take it too far. As important as pass rush is in the NFL, teams can’t afford to miss in the top ten picks. You can still draft for need but focusing on one position, admittedly a very important one, regardless of the grade on talent for the individual prospects sounds to me like it’s asking for trouble. Here’s hoping that the Bears don’t force a pick in order to fill a position in such a manner.

Posted in Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL Draft, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans | Leave a comment

Transition to the 3-4 Defense May Be Over Blown

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com makes me feel a bit better about the Bears transition to a 3-4 defense as he talks about the variations in the scheme:

“The original 3-4 defenses were very different from the 4-3 and even many of today’s 3-4s in that they were two-gap schemes while the 4-3 and many of today’s 3-4s are one-gap defenses.”

“In a traditional 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is responsible for both A-gaps, and the defensive ends, also known as five-techniques, are required to fill the gap between the guard and tackle on their side and to set the edge so that no running backs can get outside the tackles.

“When one of the three defensive linemen gets to the quarterback, that’s a bonus, as the principle pass rushers in the 3-4 are the linebackers, who will rush in various blitz combinations.”

“[Bears general manager Ryan Pace said] ‘[W]e’ll be base 3-4, that’s accurate and that’s what [defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is] comfortable with, but the best coaches, they find ways to maximize their players’ skill sets. I know Vic’s going to do that.'”

“What makes that possible is the evolution of the one-gap 3-4 schemes in which gap responsibility is spread between the three linemen up front and the linebackers.

“As an example, in this scheme the nose tackle will fill one of the A-gaps and the strong-side inside linebacker will be responsible for the other gap, which he will either shoot if the play comes through it, or flow in the direction of the play if it doesn’t.

“The key to this scheme is each player in the front seven must make a series of reads as the play develops. Gap integrity is a must.

“This scheme is primarily what Fangio used in San Francisco because he really didn’t have the traditional two-gap space-eaters there, either.

“Teams in the NFL today that play a 3-4 base scheme rarely stick strictly with one style or the other.”

Like many Bears fans, I’ve been able to find a fair bit of information about the traditional, two gap 3-4 defense. Finding information about the one gap form of the defense has been harder to come by. In that respect, this was a valuable article.

Until now, I’ve assumed the Bears would likely play one form of this defense or the other. But Arkush makes it clear that’s not necessarily the case. It seems that the Bears will slide in and out of the two different forms depending upon the personnel on the field. If Jay Ratliff is in as a nose tackle, he’ll likely be responsible for only one A gap while the strong side inside linebacker will take the other. If, on the other hand, it’s Ego Ferguson, they may have him two gap it. Indeed, its conceivable that the defensive linemen and linebackers up and down the line won’t all be playing the same style at once.

What this all means is that the Bears will be able to more easily adjust to the change in scheme than many would have you believe. The skills required to play the one gap style of the 3-4 are similar up and down the line to those required to play the style of 4-3 the Bears played last year. There are still problems but the Bears should be able to work around them. Add that to the fact that they’ll likely be in hybrid four man fronts in sub packages and the Bears won’t have too tough of a time adapting to whatever style Fangio decides to play.

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Leonard Williams Would Make Bears Fans Smile

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AP-NFL

Todd McShay looks to bring great joy to Chicago in his latest mock draft:

Leonard Williams Chicago Bears (5-11)
COLLEGE: USC Class: Jr HT: 6-4 WT: 302 POS: DE

“Analysis: To be clear: Williams dropping to No. 7 here has nothing to do with my opinion of him as a player. He’s the No. 2 prospect on my board and I’ve had him ranked as one of the top players in this class since the preseason. But this scenario does show how he has the potential to drop a little bit if he gets out of the top two picks based on the needs of teams picking third through seventh. He wouldn’t fill a huge need for the Bears, but at this point he’s too good of a value for them to pass up, especially given how bad their defense has been the past two seasons. The Chicago Bears ranked 31st in the league in scoring defense? That’s just not right. Williams is an impact run-stopper and above-average interior pass-rusher who can play multiple roles in different schemes. If Williams isn’t available here, then WR Kevin White would be the pick.”

“He wouldn’t fill a huge need?” You’ve got to be kidding me. The Bears needs on the defensive line are probably they’re greatest. Regardless they’re need for impact players at any position is an overriding priority.

The Bears wouldn’t just dash to the podium to take Williams. They’d do cartwheels all the way. Heck, if there was more room in my living room, I’d do cartwheels.

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New Schedule Offers Bears Fans a Chance to Get Some Rest

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reviews the newly released Bears 2015 season schedule:

“The Bears went from being a big draw for networks in prime time, playing five night games in 2014 and 12 over the three seasons before that, to getting just two this season. The first is a visit with the Chargers on ESPN’s ‘Monday Night Football’ in Week 9 on Nov. 9 and then they are at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night when the Packers will induct Brett Favre into their ring of fame Nov. 26.”

Alle-freakin’-luia. It looks like Bears fans are going to get to go to bed early more often this year (Biggs does point out that games would be flexed into prime time if – against all expectations – the Bears turn out to be any good).

The only minor problem I have is that this could throw off the Bears evaluation of quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler is notorious for falling apart in big games against good opponents. This was especially true in prime time last year. In other games he has a habit of looking pretty decent. You could argue that this increases the chances that Bears head coach John Fox could be fooled into thinking Cutler is a good quarterback.

But overall, I’m relieved and happy. Cuter’s situation will eventually work itself out. One way or the other, whether he’s actually better with the new coaching staff or not, the truth will eventually come out. And I’d rather get some sleep.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, San Diego Chargers | Leave a comment

Some Creativity May Be Required to Find Safety Help As Well

In , I highlighted the Bears need at safety. However, the safety class in this year’s draft is rather thin. I thought that Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com came up with an intersting solution to this delema in his most recent mock draft:

“Round 2, Pick 39 (potential trade-up):Connecticut CB Byron Jones

“For a feature on the safety position in our Chicago Bears Draft Preview magazine, Solomon Wilcots singled out Jones as a college corner with the athleticism and instincts to play safety in the NFL. Whether he is a corner or safety in the pros, a good defensive coordinator will find a place for the Combine workout warrior.”

As in the case of teams with a need at tight end, its clear to me that teams are going to have to get creative if they wish to find safties this year. Converting athletic corners that don’t excel in man coverage may be one option.

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Doug Buffone Was a Rare Bird

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Fred Mitchell and Peter Nickeas at the Chicago Tribune report on the passing of former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone:

“‘It seemed to me he was lucky that he never had any serious injuries while he played with me,’ Dick Butkus said. ‘He had like bird legs but a developed upper body. He was just a good guy and we had a lot of fun.'”

“‘Not only a great football player, a great person on the radio but more than anything, just a great individual,’ [WSCR operations director MitchRosen said. ‘Somebody that everybody loved. When you met Doug Buffone you fell in love with him, and that’s how we feel.'”

Many will tell you that they remember Buffone best for his play with the Bears or for his frequent rants on the Bears postgame show after a Bears loss. But I’ll always remember him best during his Saturday afternoon shifts when he was regularly hosting on WSCR. Buffone had a way of instantly connecting to listeners. He talked into a microphone but it was just like sitting across the table from him with a drink in your hand. You couldn’t listen five minutes without liking him.

I can only give Buffone the highest praise I can give anybody I didn’t know personally. I never met the man but I sure will miss him.

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Secrets to Success In Football No Different that Anywhere Else: Prepare and Grind

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” The guess here is that few people know that better than football coaches.

Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press quotes Sean Payton as he discusses having play calling duties pulled from him in his first year as an offensive coordinator under Jim Fassel with the New York Giants:

“Payton had been a coordinator before, in college at Miami (Ohio). But calling plays in the NFL was different, and Payton said he learned one thing above all else from that experience.

“‘You learn it’s fast,’ Payton, now the New Orleans Saints head coach, said at the NFL owners meetings last month. ‘There’s somewhere between 5 and 7 seconds per decision, and so you make 70 of them (a game), pretty soon you have a headache.

“‘But you learn it’s fast, you learn the mechanics with regards to the quarterback-helmet (communication system), and then quickly you begin to really appreciate Monday through Friday because that’s when — look, if you grind on that and put together a really clean plan, Sundays, I’m not going to say it can become easy, but it’s no different than preparing for an exam.'”

A lot of fans sit around and think that being a coordinator and calling plays in the NFL is a result of sitting in a booth and being brilliant. Payton’s quote highlights that its not. Its not any different than any job that you, I or Colin Powell would ever have. It’s the result of grinding through the week, preparing a game plan which in part consists of asking the question over and over again, “What do I do if this happens?”

Payton was fortunate. He was smart enough to learn from failure that preparation was what was needed and to have had the work ethic to do what was necessary. It’s a winning combination and I’ll bet that’s not news to anyone reading this. And yet we still watch what seem to be spur of the moment decisions all around us made like lightening and forget that they are the result of slow, methodical, put on your overalls work done well beforehand.

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Bears Might Not Want to Find Themselves to Be Too Much On a Rolle Next Season

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reviews the Bears situation at safety:

“Both general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox were ecstatic to land 10-year veteran Antrel Rolle during free agency, adding talent and stability to the defense’s back end. Rolle’s best days may be behind him, but he’s still a three-time Pro Bowl selection with sharp instincts, versatility and the leadership ability to rally those around him.”

“By most accounts, this year’s draft class is ultra-thin at safety with very few sure bets at the top. That’s why it was critical for the Bears to make progress in free agency and why Rolle’s arrival has put Fox more at ease. ‘He understands the game,’ Fox said. ‘He plays the game fast. He understands how to prepare for NFL football games. I think that is contagious.’ “

Wiederer concludes that the need at safety is “moderate”. I’m going to have to disagree.

Its now clear that Ryan Mundy belongs at strong safety despite some rumblings when he was signed that he could play some free. He’s turned out to be a reasonably sure tackler and run stopped close to the line of scrimmage and as long as he’s kept in that role, he’s fine.

But Antrel Rolle is a different situation. In watching video of last season, to my eye Rolle definitely left something to be desired in coverage at free safety for the Giants. I was far less “ecstatic” than Fox and Pace apparently are that the Bears are apparently counting on Rolle this year.  Frequently his instincts led him astray as he repeatedly took a step in the wrong direction and left himself out of position. And he’s definitely slowing down.

In fairness, Rolle played better late in the season than he did early. But I think there’s real cause for concern and the Bears need exhaust all avenues to look for more depth at the position sooner rather than laster. I know that the Bears are counting on Rolle to show some leadership with this team. But its awfully hard to do that if you can’t perform on the field yourself.

Posted in Chicago Bears, New York Giants | 1 Comment