Projecting the Future

Yesterday, I described the uncomfortable feeling I had about how the Bears were going about “improving” the defense.  Apparently I wasn’t alone.

Here’s what Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune had to say as he urged the Bears to sign defensive end Jared Allen:

“Jared Allen has recorded double-digit sacks in each of the last seven seasons. That’s a right defensive end the way it oughta be.

“The way Julius Peppers used to be.

“The way the Bears need one to be.”

When you are talking about replacing the sacks generated by veterans like Peppers and, potentially, Henry Melton, Allen seems more like the guy conventional wisdom would indicate is needed.

The 2013 Bears defense was essentially the same as the 2012 version.  There was a lot of talent there.  With the new signings by general manager Phil Emery, that talent hasn’t been replaced “by the numbers”.

In thinking about this situation I realized that my uneasiness reminded me of the way I felt after Emery drafted offensive guard Kyle Long and linebacker Jon Bostic last year and defensive end Shea McClellin the year before.  Here’s what I said:

“Emery appears drafting by the numbers.  Like former Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt in the days when the Bears drafted the likes of John Thierry and Alonzo Spellman, Emery appears to be enamored with measurables that can be derived from workouts rather than what he sees in terms of play on the field.  He’s drafting ‘traits’ not football players.”

And it suddenly hit me:  what Emery is doing is what he’s done in the draft since he’s been here – he’s projecting future performance based upon “traits” and player development.

What traits is Emery looking for?  Here’s what he said about new defensive end Lamarr Houston: (via Melissa Isaacson at

“He’s a good pass-rusher.  When I looked at him versus the players that we have on our team, his two-year combined total disruptions is higher than anybody on our team. And I know I’ve used that word disruption and there are a lot of variations of what that means …

“The research from 2008 on [shows] when a pass play is performed without pressure, without a knockdown, hit or sack, the percentage of completion is about 64 percent. When there’s a sack, obviously it goes to 0. But with a hit or a pressure, it goes to 38.5. So those are significant when you talk about disruptions of a passer. And he certainly has had those.”

Similarly, here’s what Rich Campbell and Dan Wiederer at the Tribune emphasized about the signing of defensive end Willie Young:

“In his first year as a starter last year with the Lions, harass quarterbacks is exactly what Young did, recording 11.5 knockdowns and 15 hurries (according to STATS). But sacking them – he only had three in 2013 for six in his career – is another thing.”

Yes it is.

Emery continues to play a dangerous game.  Going from “pressures” to “sacks” is a line that is difficult to cross.  There are a lot of players that never do it.  Yet Emery continues to be completely focused on bringing in unproven youth not only in the draft, but now in free agency as well.  This involves projecting forward to what he thinks the player is on his way to, not taking the more sure route of buying what the player already is.  Perhaps he’s forced to do it by budgetary constraints.

In any case, he’s betting heavily on his ability to tell the future and the coaching staff’s ability to make it happen.  Sometimes it works out, as it did for Long.  Sometimes it doesn’t as it has yet to do with McClellin.  All we can do is hold our breath and pray that he knows what he’s doing.  We surely won’t be alone.

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