Surprising New Positional Placements Already Show Themselves as Training Camp Opens

John Mullin at csnchicago.com posts the intriguing idea that some of the draft picks from the Phil Emery era that appeared to have been on their way to busting might actually benefit from the scheme change on defense. In particular he makes a good case that Will Sutton, who was universally considered to be a on the way out as a misfit in the 3-4 scheme, might find a place in it. Perhaps even more surprising, he’s being tried at nose tackle, not defensive end:

“Although Sutton was drafted to be a speed-based three-technique, he had played in a two-gap 4-3 at Arizona State. Meaning: While he doesn’t bring classic mass at nose tackle, he is not unfamiliar with the blocker-control elements of the Bears’ new system.”

Mullin further reports that Ego Ferguson, who I considered to be a natural fit at nose tackle, was asked to lose weight to play defensive end.

I will be fascinated to hear what the reasoning is for putting each of these men into their respective positions. Though teams typically talk about making do with lighter men at nose tackle when they don’t have the classic, massive body type available, I’m surprised that they actually putting the lighter Sutton at nose tackle by choice while asking the heavier Ferguson to lose weight to play end.

Obviously there’s more to placing these players into their positions that body type. For instance, perhaps Sutton is more sudden with tight movements whereas Ferguson moves with better speed given more space. In any case, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and/or defensive line coach Jay Rodgers have seen something to change up what we all thought were slam dunk decisions.

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Are the Bears Really the Worst Team in the NFL?

I’m sorry for my long absence from this space but they’ve been asking me to work for a living this summer and my life has been busy.  You may, however, rest assured that I’ve been following Bears news very closely.  To prove it, I’ll quote this article from this morning’s Chicago Tribune by Bernie Lincicome which asks the question from which this post takes its title:

“This Bears team is no better than the one that lost its last five games, and probably a worse one, a team that has permission to be as awful as it should be, a team marking time until it can rid itself of [quarterback JayCutler, lose the well worn Matt Forte as well, and become relevant again.”

I recently represented the Bears on a podcast where the host asked me what I thought would be a good year for the Bears.  He stated that though the Bears were down, he still thought they would place third in the division.  It was everything I could do to keep from laughing at him.

Most fans around the NFL really don’t understand why the local fans are so down on the Bears.  That’s because they didn’t have to watch them every week for the last 10 games of last season.  Some of those fans from other cities might, maybe, have seen their teams blown out, giving up 50 points in a game.  Less would have seen a game where almost all of those points were scored by halftime.  I’d venture that none of them have ever had to see it two game weekends in a row in their entire lives.

As a Patriots fan, that host will never know what its like to have a quarterback and his girl friend flash up a “51” signal on Twitter after a defeat of his team.  Very few others will have any idea what its like to see such a thing followed by having the quarterback for the team’s biggest rival complain about having a sore back from standing on the sidelines and watching for so long the very next game.  The Chicago Bears weren’t just a bad football team.  They were a laughing stock.  A soft, squishy, weak, roll-over-and-play-dead laughing stock.

Fans from other places see the Cubs and the White Sox and the Bulls and the Blackhawks and they don’t understand.  Once training camp starts, all anyone talks about around here is football.  To endure a season like the one last year literally left people not wanting to get out of bed on Monday.

I say this to you in dead seriousness.  As bad as they were last year, I’d have rather been a Tennessee Titans fan than a Bears fan.  At least they were competitive and fought in every game.  Indeed, even the much maligned Buccaneers managed to hang tough most of the time.

I don’t mind rooting for a loser.  But I can’t stand rooting for a loser that consistently goes belly up and quits.  That’s what the Bears did last year for most of the last 2/3 of the season.  They disgraced the citizens of a tough-minded city that literally lives and dies with the sport.

Will they be the worst team in 2015?  It depends.  Virtually everyone agrees that you aren’t going to be able to depend on the defense.  New coaches will help but the last I checked, coaches still need talent to win football games and proven talent outside of defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff is hard to come by on that side of the ball.

Fans like to point to the proven talent on offense and there’s a lot to like at the skill positions.  Lincicome may not think much of Forte but I do.  And there’s tight end Martellus Bennett, assuming he doesn’t let his contract situation affect his play.  And I like Alshon Jeffery better than any wide receiver in the division outside of Calvin Johnson.  People like to point to the Packers Jordy Nelson but fail to account for the fact that Nelson has Aaron Rodgers and that Jeffery has never had a quarterback throw him open in his entire career.  That’s because Jeffery has Cutler.  And as good as some of the players on that offense are, I can’t imagine Cutler finally learning to throw with anticipation to a receiver or becoming any more mentally tough at the age of 32.  Add that to a renewed reliance on the running game without revamping the offensive line that couldn’t block for it last year and I can’t imagine this team will ever ride the back of the offense to win when it counts.

But these problems won’t be what will determine whether the Bears are the worst team in football in 2015.  What will make the difference is what made them the worst team in my book in 2014.  Given that they won’t be able to get out there and play linebacker for them, the real challenge that this coaching staff faces is to instill some guts in this group.  If they do, I would call that progress.

On the other hand, if this team doesn’t find itself some heart, we’re in for another unwatchable nightmare.

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Disconnect #1: The Bears Will Have Offensive Success Running the Ball

I’ve never been one to post too this site simply for the sake of posting. And I haven’t posted much lately largely because there isn’t much to post about. The offseason is just that and if you need any evidence for the paucity of interesting information about the Bears, look no further than the crap that passes for “news” at the Chicago Sun-Times lately.

Nevertheless, there are issues that fans will want to pay attention to as training camp starts next month. One that hasn’t gotten much attention is the growing disconnect that I see between what the coaching staff plans to do and what the talent on the team will allow them to do. In fairness, most of this is based upon media speculation. Coaches don’t usually just volunteer to lay out all of their plans (on the record), even those that exist before the pads come on.

Issue number one for me is the Bears apparent plan to run the ball more this season. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad plan, at least ordinarily. And its generally recognized that you do need to at least attempt to run the ball a certain percentage of the time to keep defenses honest.  But when the coaches talk about it, you have to wonder if they’ve actually watched the film from last season.

The Bears ranked 21st in yards and 23rd in total points last year but they were 27th in rushing, near the bottom of the league. Matt Forte set a league record for receiving yards by a running back. Most fans and some members of the media attribute that to former head coach Marc Trestman‘s reluctance to run the ball. But few people bother to think about why he was reluctant to run the ball.

Facing frequent two deep safety coverage for most of the year in 2014 with seven or less in the box, the Bears were in a prime position to gain yardage on the ground. Yet time after time, they were stopped in their tracks. The reason is simple: they couldn’t block it.

Even before the last season bloggers such as myself were calling for changes on an offensive line that was exceptionally healthy in 2013. Those changes weren’t made and the Bears paid the price.

Once again, few changes have been made to the offensive line in the offseason for the Bears this year despite the fact that neither left tackle Jermon Bushrod nor right tackle (for now) Jordan Mills have been healthy. Indeed, the line has arguably taken a step back with Will Montgomery stepping in for Roberto Garza at center. Even if rookie center Hroniss Grasu takes the job, he’s undersized and the odds are good that run blocking isn’t going to be his strength.

So it’s a great plan but the question remains, “How are the Bears going to run the ball more?” The only real hope is that a change in blocking scheme will allow an offense filled with personnel that play with more finesse than power to maximize their potential. But its a slim hope, one that most fans and, more to the point, most of the coaches shouldn’t bank on. How healthy the offensive line is and how they perform heading into the season will be one pretty good indication of how the offense as a whole will go. But even then, a plan based to heavily upon success in the running game seems to be one fraught with peril.

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The One-Sided Nature of the NFL Compensation Structure Explained

John Mullin at csnchicago.com takes a thoughtful and interesting look at the contract situations of both running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett. One general statement that he makes stands out to me:

“Understand that the matter of contracts are anything but simple, much more complicated than just declaring, ‘you’ve got a contract, you have to honor it.’ The problem with that, as Brian Urlacher once correctly noted, when teams want (read: ‘demand’) a player to take a pay cut, the public rarely applies that dictum to teams, only when a player is demanding a pay raise. That’s just the nature of the NFL compensation structure.”

Make no mistake. By “public” Urlacher and Mullin both mean “fans”. And there’s a reason for this bias.

The advent of free agency was a great boon for players in all sports leagues where it exists. But it’s created a bit of a problem for them as well. Any player anywhere can, and frequently does, choose to leave. That means that the only thing a fan knows he can depend upon to be there in future years, assuming there’s good support, is the team. And that makes most people fans of the franchise, not the individual players. Add on the fact that the player might be saying, “I want more money” but fans hear, “I want you to pay more for tickets” and you’ve got your explanation for the one-sided nature of public opinion.

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The Bears, Ray McDonald, and Another Example of How Nice Guys Finish Last

English journalist Evan Davis once said, “Nice guys finish last. But we get to sleep in.” You’d like to think that this was true of Bears chairman George McCaskey on the Memorial Day holiday yesterday. But given that now former Bears defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested at 7 AM, I kind of doubt it.

I wasn’t too thrilled with the signing of McDonald from the beginning and wasn’t too surprised that he ended up on the police blotter again. What I was surprised by was the wide range of reactions in the press this morning, especially when it comes to McCaskey’s culpability in the matter.

I rather objected to the implication made by David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune that McCaskey should take all of the responsibility for the misstep:

“The Bears signed the troubled defensive end in March anyway, ignoring the pattern [of run-ins with the law] and taking an unnecessary risk because their gullible chairman, McCaskey, met with McDonald and talked to his parents. They still thought Ray was a swell guy, which was good enough for McCaskey.”

Haugh makes it sound like McCaskey actually pushed for the signing when he, in fact, rather hesitantly agreed to it.

On the other side of the coin I found the attempt of Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com to excuse the Bears organization over this to be both amusing and insulting to my intelligence:

“But before you rush to judgment of George McCaskey, Ryan Pace and the Bears organization, do yourself a favor and Google the story of Brian Banks.

“He’s the young man from Long Beach who lost his scholarship to Southern Cal to play linebacker, and instead spent five years in prison and the last 10 years as a registered sex offender after being falsely accused of rape by a woman who has since completely recanted the allegation.”

To my knowledge, Banks was accused of running afoul of the law only once. Not three times in seven months.  That’s more than an isolated incident where a guy was wronged.  That’s a pattern.

Arkush’s defense is more understandable when you remember that he came out strongly in favor of the McDonald signing in March. So he’s not really excusing the Bears for their misjudgment. He’s excusing himself.

Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times probably had the most balanced view point when addressing the situation. He quotes McCaskey from last March after he was asked if he had talked to the alleged victim in McDonald’s December sexual assault arrest:

“‘An alleged victim, I think — much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation — there’s a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say,’’ he said. ‘But our personnel department had done its work looking into the background and the incidents. And we had the benefit of two coaches who had been with him with the 49ers.’’

“One of those coaches was new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. What do you expect from a football coach? The chairman of a billion-dollar business should know better.”

The chairman certainly should have. Actually both of them should have.  The question is, “Why didn’t they?”

Mike Imrem at the Daily Herald may have the answer as he tries to put together what was running, first through the head of McDonald, then McCaskey’s response:

“Think about it: Being caught in a lie isn’t a big deal after being caught in more serious transgressions.

“You might as well keep saying you didn’t do it until some sucker believes you.

“McDonald found a true believer in George McCaskey.”

“George McCaskey believed what Ray McDonald was babbling, and others in the organization believed what they wanted to believe.”

And therein lies the problem. Everyone from McCaskey through Pace and head coach John Fox to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wanted to believe. Athletes everywhere know that’s true of most people by the time they become professionals. People want them to be winners. They want to believe them. So it makes it easy for them to look you in the eye and tell you what you want to hear. They’re generally good at it.

I’m convinced that George McCaskey is genuinely nice guy. I think he’s a nice guy from a nice family that grew up in a nice environment. And like most nice guys, McCaskey probably believes that most other people are nice guys like him. That becomes a problem when it buts up against a crappy world with con men like Ray McDonald in it.

There are a lot of people this morning that are pointing out that the Bears damaged themselves with this. That Fangio’s relationship with the Bears (and the rest of the league) is damaged. That Pace’s relationship with McCaskey is damaged. That the Bears reputation and that of its chairman is damaged. But there’s one good thing that will come out of it. The next time an athlete waltzes into McCaskey’s office, looks him in the eye and “impresses him with his sincerity”, he’ll be a little more cynical when the facts don’t jibe with the words.

The next time no one, from McCaskey through Pace down to the coaches, will be quite so willing to believe. That will make them tougher to fool. And that can only benefit the Bears.

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A Matter of (the Wrong?) Opinion

Sam Monson at profootballfocus.com reviews what he thought were the biggest reaches in the draft. I think this one might surprise most Bears fans:

Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
#39 Overall to Chicago.

“Goldman is the classic example of a player who looks like he should be fantastic, but just isn’t. You read scouting reports on him and you wonder if they have been written just by looking at his sheer physical size and whether they bothered to actually turn on any tape whatsoever. Maybe throw on a quick highlight reel just to confirm it…

“The trouble is that Goldman does not play to his physical ability very often at all. He is regularly credited as a player that can ‘take on double teams’, but unless you are happy with him taking them on by being driven off the line and crushed by two blockers, then that’s not exactly a positive of his. Goldman was the 45th-ranked defensive interior player in this draft class when looking only at run defense grade. As a pass-rusher he was almost exactly average – in the entire FBS!

“Even those grades are kind to him because around half of his positive grade came in one game against Louisville, who might well have the worst starting center in the nation.”

I find this opinion to be mildly disturbing.

I did actually “throw on a quick highlight reel”. In fact, I did quite a bit more than that. I won’t claim to have watched every game – almost certainly not as many as Monson – but I thought I’d watched enough to get a good idea of what the Bears had and I liked what I saw.

Indeed, one of the tapes I did watch was the Louisville game. Unlike Monson, I thought Goldman did a worse job there than he did against Florida, a better team. If Goldman was getting knocked back into the linebackers very often, double teamed or not, I didn’t see it.

I’m used to disagreeing with “experts” who are hired to evaluate players and who frequently do a lazy job of it.  I’m pretty sure many of them simply work in an echo chamber where they parrot back what other “experts” say until it becomes “the truth”.   The problem is that Monson isn’t one of those guys. In fact, he has a bad habit of being right.

The fact that I’m agreeing with the “experts”, who almost universally loved the Bears pick of Goldman, and disagreeing with Monson doesn’t make me wrong. But it does make me second guess myself. Because I’ve been wrong before. Frequently. Let’s hope this isn’t one of those times because the Bears are going nowhere without a good run stopper at nose tackle.

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NFC North Starters and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers my question about whether Bears draft pick Adrian Amos is more of a threat to Ryan Mundy or Antrel Rolle. My assumption when I asked this question was that Rolle would play free safety, as he did last year with the Giants, and that Mundy would play strong safety where the Bears would take advantage of his good tackling efficiency. Amos would fit better at free. But to my surprise, Biggs indicates that there is some question about whether Rolle will be at strong safety. Rolle might fit better as a strong safety as to my eye his range is decreasing. But this wouldn’t play to Mundy’s strengths. Who plays what will be an interesting question to keep an eye on when training camp starts.
  • Biggs also answers a question about whether the Bears will keep four nose tackles with the signing of undrafted free agent Terry Williams. The question assumes that Jeremiah Ratliff will play nose tackle, something I’m not too sure he’ll be doing. He could also play end. Another thing to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Conor Orr at nfl.com predicts the Bears starters for 2015. I thought it was interesting that he has Hroniss Grasu moving immediately in as the starter at center. Many think Grasu will need a year of seasoning at guard and/or on the bench before being asked to handle the duties at center. Orr also says that the Bears have “sneaky depth” along the defensive line. I fail to see that.

Elsewhere

  • Orr predicts the 2015 starters for the Lions. I’ve been predicting a fall for the Lions this year for a while. The long standing problem of a poor defensive backfield and the new problem along the defensive line with the departure of Ndamukong Suh could be a very problematic combination for them.
  • Orr thinks that there’s a lot to like about the Vikings starters. Unlike the Lions, they seem to have finally solved their chronic problem at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Combined with a strong front seven they’re going to be tough on defense. They finally have a quarterback to go with Adrian Peterson on offense. ’nuff said.
  • Orr points out that the Packers didn’t entirely solve their two greatest problems this offseason – weaknesses at cornerback and inside linebacker. He doesn’t think first round draft pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, will be ready to start as a rookie. The Packers coaching staff will once again have to earn their money this year.
  • Orr also pens an article in which analysts Brian Baldinger and former cornerback Solomon Wilcots discuss what the New York Jets are going to do with what is suddenly an excess of good defensive linemen. Leonard Williams unexpectedly fell to them in the draft and he was too good to pass up. The conclusion? Go to the 4-6 defense. This is a fascinating read as both analysts speculate that the combination of the right personnel, the right coach and the right defense to stop the suddenly resurgent power running game in the NFL all combine to make this an interesting possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this Jets defense. It has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com says that the owners meetings are mostly hot air insisting that there aren’t many real stories to be had there. One thing I’ll take issue with is his statement on the race that the Rams, Chargers and Raiders are in to get to LA. He insists that “the reality is none of those teams is any closer to L.A. today than is has been at any time in the past”. On the contrary. The reality is that Stan Kroenke is well on his way to building a real stadium which is going to have to be filled by a real team. Someone’s going to do that. We’re a lot closer to seeing at least one team leave than in times past.

One Final Thought

One other thing in Hub’s article that I’m going to choose to take issue with is his continued, emotional defense of the Patriots in the “deflate-gate” scandal. Particularly his statement that Tom Brady and the NFLPA will “take their case to court as they did with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and a truly unbiased judge will throw out the suspension completely after exposing it and the Wells report for the farces they are”.

I’ve stayed away from this as far as the blog is concerned because, after an initial gut reaction on the topic, I’ve decided that I’m not too worried about it. It’s not about football. It’s about the business that surrounds football and I’m not too interested in promoting that.

Nevertheless, I must say that I’d be very surprised if this went to court because in that case Brady would be forced to turn over his electronic communications under subpoena. That’s something I doubt very much he’d be willing to do given that he wouldn’t do it when he and his agent had control over what got turned over during the Wells investigation and wouldn’t do it. The Rice and Peterson cases were different – no one was withholding evidence. And let’s be honest, that’s what this case is all about now. When you are the NFL and you are charged with the investigation of a rules violations (or anything else) and you don’t have subpoena power, you are entirely dependent on the cooperation of everyone involved. That means you have to throw the book at teams that lawyer up in an effort to affect the outcome of the investigation and/or withhold evidence. It’s the only card the league can play in order to allow them to keep order in the league. As was the case with the Saints’ “bounty-gate” scandal, that’s what’s behind the severity of the punishment here.

In any case, I think we may be looking at a situation where Brady would prefer that the doubt about his guilt persists, even if the fact that he didn’t completely cooperate with the investigation does, as well.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams | Leave a comment

Some Truth in Those Damned Lies

As many long time readers of this blog know, I’m a firm believer in the well known Benjamin Disraeli proverb that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

But having said that, it can be interesting to take a look at what statistics complied from a neutral party can tell us. Such is the case, I think, with Pro Football Focus‘s look at 37 NFL starting quarterbacks from the 2014 season when they were or were not under pressure, especially when it comes to quarterback Jay Cutler. These stats were spit into two posts – one about how quarterbacks handled pressure of any type and one about how they handled the blitz.

The first surprise that I got was that Cutler rarely faced pressure ranking 26th in this category. That jibs with the fact that teams rarely blitzed him – he was 32nd. It seems that teams saw no reason to blitz Cutler and that they were right.  Those are two miserable statistics for a quarterback that led the league in interceptions last year.  Notably he was equally bad whether he was blitzed (32nd) or not blitzed (34th).

But here’s where it gets interesting. Cutler wasn’t actually that bad when under pressure of all types, ranking 16th. In fact, he was much worse when NOT facing pressure – 36th out of 37 QBs rated.

What does this tell me? It looks to me like Cutler is better when he faces pressure because the play breaks down unexpectedly. In fact he’s great at it. Those plays actually make up the difference in the rankings between when he’s facing pressure simply due to the blitz and facing pressure of all types. It’s probably no coincidence that these are the plays that Cutler doesn’t have to think about. The protection just falls apart and he’s forced to react, usually by running. But the minute that you ask him to think – read a blitzing defense or, probably even worse, having a defense drop into coverage and make him find the open receiver, he’s helpless.

The Bears aren’t going to go far with a quarterback who can’t read a defense and my first conclusion is that Cutler has to eventually go – no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog. But there’s more to it than that. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has spent his recent years working with quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is strictly a pocket quarterback and is well known for reading a defense and making adjustments at the line. He’s practically a coach on the field.

But the stats seem to me to confirm what many fans have said for some time now. While there are serious disadvantages to relying on it long term, in the short term, Cutler is probably going to be better if you make him think as little as possible with no audibles and if you roll him out and let him create. This is going to make him the anti-Manning. The first problem that Gase faces is simply recognizing this. By all accounts, Cutler comes across as being very intelligent in the meeting room and its only when you get him out on the field in a game situation where he has to make decisions on the spur of the moment under pressure that his weaknesses come out. Even if Gase sees the problem its going to be interesting to see how he makes the adjustment to a quarterback whose strengths are diametrically opposed to what he’s become used to.

Bottom line, the Bears offensive is going to have to be radically different from what the Broncos ran last year if they are going to see any success. Whether Gase comes to that realization and how he executes the change if he does is something that Bears fans will want to keep an eye in the coming year.

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No Holes but the Soil Is Pretty Loose

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com answers your questions:

“From @chwtom: What do you see as the biggest remaining holes on the team? Any options to fill those?

“There is no proven depth behind Matt Forte or Martellus Bennett and I don’t think Jordan Mills is a starting tackle in the NFL. On defense there are bodies everywhere, but I don’t see proven, qualified candidates for one of the starting safety jobs or the nickel spot, and we still have no idea of there’s a legitimate edge rushing spot on the roster.

“My concern in order is safety, right tackle, nickel corner, pass-rushing outside linebacker and of course quarterback.”

I wouldn’t stop at depth behind Forte and Bennett. I don’t see quality depth anywhere on this roster with the possible exception of pass rusher and offensive line. And pass rusher is a funny one because, as Arkush points out, there are so many bodies there that I almost have to assume more than a couple will work out as decent backups but have to wonder whether any will be decent starters.

At defensive end the Bears have Jarvis Jenkins, Ray McDonald and possibly Jeremiah Ratliff and… nobody. At corner they have Kyle Fuller, Alan Ball, Tim Jennings and… nobody. At safety they have Atrel Rolle and Ryan Mundy and a roll of the dice with draft pick Adrian Amos. And at wide receiver they have Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, Kevin White and… nobody.

Hub’s opinion of the starters at safety and nickel is debatable.  I don’t like all of the players but I don’t think that the Bears have any “holes” left per se.  They have starters for every position. But assuming that they have the usual number of injuries, they’re going to run out of quality players pretty quickly. The Bears coaching staff is really going to have to earn their money if they are going to make something out of backups that have never shown that they can do anything. Unless the team is extremely lucky, we’re going to find out how capable they are of doing that fairly quickly.

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What to Do with the Middle of the Bears Offensive Line?

Jeff Dickerson at ESPN is reviewing the Bears position-by-position. He starts with the offensive line where he highlights the guard position:

“Two-time Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long and left tackle Jermon Bushrod should return to their customary spots in the starting lineup, although Long has the ability to eventually move outside to tackle if necessary. Veteran left guard Matt Slauson is completely recovered from a torn pectoral muscle that caused him to miss the final nine games of 2014 — Slauson also missed three games last season due to a high-ankle sprain. When healthy, Slauson is an above-average NFL guard and is a strong contender to retain his starting job.”

The fly in the ointment here is draft pick Hroniss Grasu. Grasu is considered to be the future at center and there’s the remote possibility that he could beat out Will Montgomery for that job. But center is a tough position to learn and most people believe that Grasu will be a guard for at least a year before moving to his natural position. If he moves into the starting lineup there, the assumption that it would be at right guard with Long moving to left tackle and Bushrod replacing Jordan Mills at right tackle. But as Dickerson reviews Slauson’s injury history above, you have to wonder what the Bears are thinking on the left. Is it possible that Grasu could move there in place of Slauson?

Slauson is entering the second year of a 4 year contract with $4.9 million guaranteed. The dead space on the cap would be $1.252 million if he was released which would make it unlikely that he would fail to make the roster. But that doesn’t guarantee a starting job. It’s also possible that Slauson would make a decent right tackle.

A move to left guard for Grasu might be more likely because it is considered to be an easier position to play for a rookie to play.  It generally results in fewer one-on-one blocks than the right guard position. And there’s no guarantee that Long would be as good at left tackle. You could argue that having a Pro Bowl right guard is more beneficial than an average left tackle – which Bushrod already is.

I’ve a sneaking suspicion that if he’s not starting at center, Grasu’s 2015 will be spent as a reserve.  The Bears are undoubtedly going to do more zone blocking but they are still going to mix it up and I doubt that Grasu has the size to play guard on either side of the line as well as the current starters. But if he moves into a starting roll this year you have to wonder if it will be more likely to be in place of Slauson rather than Long.

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