More Addition By Subtraction May Be on the Way

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Will Martellus Bennett still be on the trading block after camp begins? — @huskies714″

“The problem with trading Bennett right now is it would really thin out the depth chart at the position. The Bears have six other tight ends on the roster — Dante Rosario, Blake Annen, Jacob Maxwell, Zach Miller, Bear Pascoe and Brian Vogler, an undrafted rookie free agent from Alabama. Bennett had a career-high 90 receptions last season and the other six have combined for 202 catches in their careers: Rosario (116), Miller (46) and Pascoe (40). Unless the Bears simply don’t want Bennett, I find it hard to believe they can improve their team in 2015 by trading him. I don’t know that they would get a huge return in trade for him either. Remember the Bears got a third-round pick from the Carolina Panthers for Greg Olsen on the eve of training camp in 2011. My guess is Bennett is on the roster and a key cog in the passing attack.”

Though I agree with Biggs that the depth chart is thin at the position, I would question his assertion that the Bears can’t “improve their team in 2015 by trading him”. Biggs, himself was the one that wrote last summer about Bennett’s apparent problem with authority during training camp. His absence from voluntary minicamp because he wants more money two years short of his contract expiring says an awful lot about whether his “me first as an individual” attitude has changed. Bennet’s maturity level is obviously still questionable.

There was a lot of talk after the Brandon Marshall trade about “addition by subtraction”. The Bears may be in a similar position with Bennett now. As was the case with Marshall, its unlikely that they’ll get Bennett’s apparent value in a trade. But improving the Bears locker room has to be a priority as a new regime takes over and tries to reshape the Bears attitude as a team. Getting Bennett out of it may be a key to doing that.

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Bears Rebuilding Defense for the Long Haul

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Too many years ago the Bears professed to coach to the strengths of the players. They also pretended they could improve upon weaknesses and, where they could not improve the players’ skills, they could employ strategy to limit the expression of players’ weaknesses. To the point: We’ve been hearing and reading about the Bears’ intent to convert from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 defensive front. As I look at the roster of the defensive front, I see a treasure trove of talent. I see Jeremiah Ratliff, Will Sutton, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, David Bass, Jared Allen, Ego Ferguson and Cornelius Washington (forgive me if I’ve forgotten some). And, now the Bears have Eddie Goldman. Given those players as a base, I wonder why the apparent jump from considering a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense? — Eugene L., Libertyville,

“You make a fair point but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has had tremendous success running a 3-4 scheme and being part of 3-4 defenses in the past. There is never going to be a clean slate for a team to make such a change but I think you can make a pretty good case that the Bears were at as good of a point for a switch as a team could be coming off last season. Fangio isn’t going to ask these players to do something they can’t handle. With Pernell McPhee and Houston, I think they’ve got capable starters at outside linebacker. Allen, in my opinion, will probably best fit as a pass-rushing end in the sub packages. The others on the line, Ray McDonald and Jarvis Jenkins incluced, will sort themselves out. A 3-4 front provides more variety when it comes to pressure packages. Some readers have been clamoring for a move to a 3-4 for several years. It’s going to be interesting to see how the defense unfolds.”

Biggs says a lot when he states that the Bears were “at as good of a point for a switch as a team could be.” The decision to make this conversion likely in part has to do with the reader’s assertion that the Bears had a “treasure trove of talent” on defense.

The Bears poor defensive performance last year was for one or both of two reasons: 1) The talent was lacking and/or 2) the coaching was lacking. It’s probable that the Bears front office and coaching staff figures that they can do a better job than last year’s staff and there will be some improvement just because of that. Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Fangio who apparently agrees:

“‘We’re going to have to make our own building blocks,’ he said Saturday, his first public comments since his January hiring. ‘But I think any time you come to a new place, the first job is to make the players you already have better. That’s our job, No. 1, before you talk about free agency and the draft and whatnot.

“‘So we need to make the guys that we have here, better.'”

But obviously the Bears also concluded that wasn’t going to be enough to over-come the defensive deficit that the teams faces within the division. Combine that with Fangio’s likely preference for a 3-4 and the decision was made.

I think the Bears were making a staement with this switch. Don’t get your hopes up for the defense to instantly enter the top ten in the league. They obviously opted for a long-term rebuilding because they didn’t think they had the talent to pull such an improvement off. I would concur.

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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune relays the text of offensive coordinator Adam Gase‘s responses to questions at the coaches’ press conference yesterday:

“On if he has a sense of how he can help Cutler, particularly when it comes to protecting the ball:

‘Well, I think he’d be the first one to tell you we’ve got to get better in that area. I know this: you don’t want to overemphasize it because then everybody starts thinking about it and the next thing you know, you start turning it over. I learned that lesson in 2013. We kept talking about it and talking about it, and we kept turning the ball over.

“‘So, one of the things we have to do is, you practice it in individual, and you let those drills work for you. And I think more times than not it works out the right way.'”

I’ll believe it when I see it. From what I can see, Cutler’s troubles with turnovers come from poor decision making and, to a lesser extent, from trying to throw with anticipation to the wrong spot, something he rarely tries to do anyway. I question whether you can coach a quarterback into making the right spur of the moment decisions in game action just because there’s a limit to how many of those situations you can (or should have to be able to) anticipate as a coach. Better preparation might help but I can’t imagine that it’s going to solve the issue.

One thing Gase can do is limit Cutler to safer routes. But that, of course, limits the entire offense and the poor progress moving down the field that the offense made seemingly in each possession last year is a testament to what happens when you have to do that too much.

Whether Cutler’s tendency to turn the ball over comes from an innate mental deficit or whether its something that can be coached out of him in his tenth season will be interesting to see. Here’s hoping it’s the latter. But I’m not holding my breath.

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Positions Along the Defensive Line are In Flux After the Draft

John Mullin at csnchicago.com describes the changes along the defensive line that will accompany the arrival of new nose tackle Eddie Goldman:

“[Jeremiah] Ratliff, who did not attend last week’s voluntary minicamp sessions, is not expected to wind up at nose tackle after all. He can play the position. But because of his age (34 in August), size (305) and standing as the best pass rusher among the current defensive linemen, Ratliff projects to be at end where his rush skills can be put to maximum use, rather than hunkering down inside with a primary assignment of run stuffing.”

Mullin probably has the right of it. Even though he made the Pro Bowl at the position, I don’t think the Bears ever ideally wanted Ratliff as a nose tackle.

There’s a lot of talk about the defense being a hybrid and how it will do fine with linemen playing one gap – which is true. But as we watch the defense come together, the truth comes out. The Bears are going to prefer big two gapping linemen and will likely resort to those who play one gap in the base defense only when personnel makes it a necessary compromise.

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Adrian Amos – Strong Safety or Free?

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune documents which Bears veterans are threatened by the arrival of the new rookies:

“Round 5: Penn State safety Adrian Amos.”

“Put on notice: Brock Vereen and Ryan Mundy.

“The details: Sensing a theme here with Emery draft picks potentially being squeezed out by prospects in his successor’s first draft class? Vereen’s versatility, unselfishness and value on special teams gives him a chance to hang around on the 53-man roster when fall arrives. Furthermore, the Bears’ depth at safety remains thin. So Vereen still could win a role as a key reserve.

“Mundy’s case? He was a reliable defensive contributor throughout 2014 and projects to be the opening-day starter again in September opposite Antrel Rolle. But Mundy joined the Bears last year on a two-year contract that will expire in March. So if he’s anything less than superb this season and/or Amos shows a quick ascension, the sands in the hourglass may start to accelerate.”

I have to take mild issue with Wiederer here on Mundy, a strong safety who rates highly in terms of being a sure tackler. Not that the position couldn’t be upgraded but Amos is by all accounts a player who excels in coverage with good range.  As Wiederer suggest, you could argue that good man coverage skills could fit Amos in the lineup as a strong safety.  And he did play close to the line of scrimmage in college.   But I think his range along with the criticism that he’s not as physical as the Bears would like make him to be make him a better free safety.   I’ll be surprised in the Bears don’t start him in that position. This would make him a much bigger threat to Rolle, a player who’s considerably older at 32 and .

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The Wages of the One True NFL Sin

Singing chef Nick Diamos once said, “Everybody lies, but it doesn’t matter because nobody listens.” I’m going to assume that he never met anyone directly associated with the NFL.

Dan Hanzus at NFL.com quotes new Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory:

“Gregory said he has successfully stayed away from marijuana.

“‘I haven’t touched it,’ he said. ‘I’m feeling real good, too. This is a high in itself, to be honest. I’m high on life right now, and I don’t want to lose this high.'”

And why, exactly, should we believe that?

Randy_Gregory-Spring_ball_2014_2014-03-30_17-38

In my opinion, Gregory was the best pure pass rusher in the draft. However,he failed two drug tests in college and one at the Combine that he absolutely knew was coming. Having said that, the failed tests weren’t the real problem.

NFL teams think they can handle almost any player issue at least to a large extent. Short of murder, anything can be spinned. Got a player with a drug issue? Send him to rehab and spin it.

Gregory’s major problem and the reason he fell so far in the draft wasn’t the failed drug tests. It was that he lied about it at the Combine, telling teams that he hadn’t lit up since November. Teams might be able to handle any player problem but they can’t do that if they don’t know about it. The guess here is that the one thing every team absolutely demands from a player is the truth no matter what. And the one cardinal sin you can commit is failing to do so, especially before they’ve even bound themselves to you with a contract.

If I’m the Cowboys, assuming I don’t have Gregory under body guard 24 hours a day, I’m having him tested on demand with the understanding that he can refuse, but any refusal to take one will be considered a failure. Because you can’t take his word for it – or anything else – otherwise.

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Grasu Will Have to Show that His Best Attributes Extend Beyond High Character

grasu

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears center Hroniss Grasu‘s offensive line coach at Oregon, Steve Greatwood:

“Hroniss first and foremost has been an outstanding teammate and an outstanding leader in this football program. He’s one of those young men who is universally respected by all teammates and not just his position group.”

This interview is great but I’m a bit concerned. Given several opportunities to talk about Grasu’s athleticism, Greatwood took a pass. Grasu is already kind of small and needs to gain weight. I wanted to hear how he was going to adapt physically to the NFL and didn’t get any of that.

Its really nice that Grasu is a high character guy and I think the Bears can’t have too many leaders. But he’s going to have a hard time leading anyone if he’s getting bowled over by bigger nose tackles in the NFL. He’s already got great technique by reputation and that will help. But he’s going to have to use his quickness and ability to move to overcome some of the hurdles he’s going to face. Here’s hoping he has the physical skills to handle the load.

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Brief Impressions: 2015 NFL Draft

  1. Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
  2. There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
  3. I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
  4. The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
  5. On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
  6. I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
  7. I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
  8. Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
  9. Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
  10. One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
  11. There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.

    The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.

Posted in Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins | Leave a comment

You Can’t Walk Off the Island

I heard a joke the other day that I’d like to pass along as we all consider the consequences of what the Bears did in the NFL draft over the last few days.

Joshua was a devout man who had fallen on hard times. Finally, having exhausted all avenues, he fell to his knees and prayed, “Lord, please help me win the lottery or else I’ll lose my business.” But that week Joshua didn’t win. He then knelt down again and said, “Lord, please help me win the lottery or I’m going to lose my house.” But Joshua still didn’t win the lottery. Finally, Joshua fell prostrate and begged, “Lord please, please help me win the lottery, or my wife is going to take the kids and leave me.” Suddenly the wind began to blow and there was a loud roar. The sky opened and a voice boomed, “Joshua. Buy a fucking ticket.”

Jeff Dickerson at ESPN comments on the Bears draft:

“Riskiest move: After Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, this quarterback draft class was weak. Still, the Bears need to eventually find a future replacement for Jay Cutler. Pace had the opportunity to grab UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley in the fifth round but instead chose Penn State safety Adrian Amos. Hundley went a couple spots later to rival Green Bay. If Hundley eventually becomes a starting quarterback somewhere in the league, the decision to ignore quarterback on Day 3 might haunt the Bears.”

This is a football blog but that doesn’t mean that lessons can’t be learned from other sports when examining the situations that football teams find themselves in. In baseball, Dominicans are known throughout the major leagues as free swingers at the plate. When asked about his tendency to take his rips at borderline pitches once in 1986, Dominican shortstop Rafael Ramirez explained, “You have to swing like a man. You can’t walk off the island.”

The Green Bay Packers had a quarterback in Brett Favre when they took a swing anyway and drafted Aaron Rogers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Now they have their quarterback for years to come in Rogers. And still they draft quarterbacks to develop, knowing that you just can’t have too many players at the most important position in football.

On the other hand, the Bears actually need a quarterback.  Virtually everyone outside of Chicago knows it and those inside simply can’t face the fact that Cutler isn’t going to turn into something different in his tenth year in the league.  Bears general manager Ryan Pace talked before the draft about “ideally” drafting a quarterback every year. But when his time at the plate came, instead of taking his swings, Pace stuck to his board. This is usually something I would strongly advocate. But not in this case.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like quarterback Shane Carden. I really do – much better than most football experts. But those football experts are going to be the ones with Carden’s fate in their hands. No one signs an undrafted free agent expecting him to be their quarterback of the future.

You can draft and draft and draft every other position on the field.  But you aren’t going anywhere without a quarterback.  And I don’t care if you try in a weak free agent market or in a weak draft class,  you aren’t going to find one by failing to take your swings at the position.

Even with a quarterback in hand, the Green Bay Packers continue to take their swings at the plate knowing that no one gets a hit without trying. The Bears…

Ryan. Buy a fucking ticket.

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More Than Usual, the Bears Draft Was All About the “Develop” Part of “Draft and Develop”

To describe the Bears draft class as a whole, the word “projects” is probably too strong. But it’s clear that the Bears top draft picks are going to need a great deal of work.

Let’s start with first round receiver, Kevin White. White has great size and physical ability but when you look at him on video, the thing that stands out is how raw he is. The West Virginia game versus Maryland, below, give you a good idea of what I’m talking about:

White uses his big frame well to get physical with corners and get open. And he uses it to block well, too. But you have to ask yourself how far this will take him against the better athletes in the NFL. White’s route running needs work and at times its down right atrocious, looking like you or I playing catch in the back yard.

White had only two seasons of division I football and he really only produced in one (last year). He needs to work on all of the little things that other receivers like Amari Cooper are well on their way to mastering – footwork, getting off the line of scrimmage and, especially, working on all of the routes in the vertical tree and making them all look the same.

Second round defensive tackle Eddie Goldman is better but its a similar story. He’s a true junior who just turned 21 in January. He hasn’t played as much football as you’d like and on occasion it shows. Note the game against Louisville below.

The great thing about this video is that it shows tremendous effort from Goldman. He’s extremely active in the middle of the line. The problem is that he’s so active that he literally takes himself out of the play on occasion. Discipline in a two gaps scheme is something Goldman is going to have to learn. The good news is that he may already be well on his way to doing that. Note this game against Florida a month later.

Goldman is much more disciplined here, holding the middle consistently agains double teams on almost every snap.  As general manager Ryan Pace noted in his Friday press conference, Goldman plays with great pad level and leverage and it’s especially evident in this video.  His pass rush took a step back in this game, though.

Note that Goldman has a reputation for taking plays off but I certainly didn’t see it in these games. The worst I can say is that he got tire late and it showed. Conditioning may be an issue but he may find himself rotating out more often in the pros, at least initially.

Finally, there’s the Bears third round pick, Hroniss Grasu. Grasu is different from Goldman and White in that he’s a four year starter for Oregon. He’s a bit under-sized but takes advantage of good technique to move larger defensive linemen out of the way (by reputation – I couldn’t find video online of Grassu to confirm this myself). Grassu’s problem is that he’s a center and, therefore by the nature of the position, unlikely to contribute right away in that role. The odds are that he’ll need a year of development and work in the weight room, possibly as a guard, before replacing Will Montgomery as center as the heir apparent.

These prospects, along with true sixth round developmental project, offensive tackle Tayo Fabuluje, are all promising. But Bears fans are going to have to wait to see it they attain their true potential – possibly more than one year. In the mean time, the Bears coaching staff is going to have to earn their money with these guys.

I think Bears fans can give the team the thumbs up for drafting good athletes with potential. For now.

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