What the Bears Draft Picks Tell Us about the 2014 Defense and Other Points of View

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune interviews current LSU and former Bears defensive line coach Brick Haley about second round pick Ego Ferguson:

“Q: Does he project as a nose tackle in this defense in your opinion?

“BH: “I would think so. I am not sure what they are going to do. I think he can be a three-technique. He can do them both, and that is one of the good things about him.”

The key word used to describe almost every Bears pick in this draft was “versatility”. When describing Bears first round pick Kyle Fuller general manager Phil Emery used the word at least three times in less than 20 minutes. Area scout Jay Muraco emphasized it. As if it was all part of a script, even Fuller’s college coach, Torrian Gray, used it and Fuller himself used the term at least twice in describing himself.

The choice of Ferguson has important implications in terms of what kind of defense we can expect to see from the Bears this year. Most people understand how versatility would be important when choosing a defensive back. But it isn’t as obvious when considering a defensive lineman. The fact that Ferguson can play both inside and outside is important. Ferguson himself said that the Bears asked him if he could play a two technique tackle, where he would line up directly over a guard rather than in a gap, leading to the idea that the Bears will play some two gap fronts.

When examined within the context of what the Bears may have planned for this year, the Ferguson pick makes a lot of sense. In fact, in contrast to what most members of the media seem to think, the real surprise came when the Bears took defensive tackle Will Sutton in the next round. Sutton is a tad undersized and promises to be a bit more of a one trick pony as strictly a three technique tackle, though I could even see him as an end in a three man front if it came down to it.

In any case, its now evident that the Bears aren’t kidding around when they say they want to show a variety of defensive looks this year from game to game and from series to series. Its not just words now. Their actions via their draft picks back them up every step of the way.

  • The description of seventh round pick Dan Leno from the Chicago Sun-Times goes a long way towards explaining why the Bears valued him:

“Long-armed, athletic project for Aaron Kromer projected as a versatile backup — at tackle, guard or center — but also has the ability to be more than that in the right situation. Started at RT as a sophomore and LT as a junior and senior. Blocked a FG last season.”

Once again, that word “versatile” is used. Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune had this to say:

“As for Leno, he may face an uphill climb to make the roster. Both of the Bears starting offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills figure to be longer-term answers. Other tackles currently under contract include Eben Britton, Joe Long, Rogers Gaines and James Brown.”

I’m not entirely sure Wiederer is correct here. Jordan Mills was at best an adequate right tackle. Its true, you don’t draft a guy in the seventh round expecting him to start. But I, personally, wouldn’t be surprised to see Mills challenged and there’s nothing that I can see that says this guy can’t do it.

  • I thought the interview the Tribune’s Rich Campbell did with Ka’Deem Carey’s college coach, Calvin Magee, was insightful:

“Q: Why is he so hard to tackle?

“CM: First of all, he runs with a passion. He runs hungry. He runs like he’s angry. He don’t like being tackled. (Laughs) He’s a studier of the game. He understands angles, and he uses that. His preparation is just top notch.”

Carey isn’t fast but he looks to me like the kind of guy who has a lot of potential to succeed in the NFL. I strongly suspect that the reason he’s so tough to bring down is his low center of gravity. Shorter, stronger running backs like him are like bowling balls. Its going to be fun to watch him play.

  • Campbell and Wiederer also addressed sixth round pick, quarterback David Fales:

“Phil Emery on May 1 said he didn’t believe in drafting a late-round quarterback with the intent to eventually plan for him to be a starter. But Emery also has said he doesn’t like drafting players with a ceiling. Time will tell which applies best to Fales.“

I would say it’s almost certainly both. The Bears probably had a much higher grade on Fales than the sixth round. They, of course, have no intention of having Fales or anyone else supplant starter Jay Cutler but that doesn’t mean Fales couldn’t develop into a starter quality quarterback. As long as there are bad NFL teams, there will always be quarterback hungry NFL teams. The Bears could develop Fales, have him shine in the back up role, then trade him for value later as the Packers have been known to do for years..

One Final Thought

And finally, scouting punters doesn’t sound like rocket science. Emery via Wiederer and Campbell:

“When you first start scouting, all you’re told is look for the big leg, look for the tall guys, look for the guys where the ball really comes off the foot. And that’s what Patrick [O’Donnell is]  all about. “

Maybe people like you and I could do it after all…

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Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Obviously Thrilled to Be a Packer

Pay close attention to what Alabama head coach Nick Saben says as he comes out of the green room.  Classic.

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Bears in a Tough Spot at #14

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reviews his choices for the six defensive players that might be on general manager Phil Emery’s list topic at #14:

Aaron Donald
Ra’Shede Hageman
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Calvin Pryor
Kyle Fuller
Darqueze Dennard

There isn’t a single one of these guys except Donald that isn’t at least a slight reach at 14. And I’m not at all sure he fits what they’re looking for.

I hate the Bears position in this draft. I hope they can beat the odds and find some way to trade back.

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Bears Starting to Look Seriously at Highly Regarded Cornerback Prospects

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on the Bears history of drafting cornerbacks:

“If you don’t count Devin Hester, who was listed as a cornerback in 2006 but was drafted as a returner in the second round with the plan to switch him to offense from Day 1, the Bears have not used a pick in the first three rounds on a cornerback since Tillman was a second-round selection in 2003. In the 10 drafts since, 122 corners have been drafted in the first three rounds.

“No other team in the league has gone that long without picking one in rounds 1 through 3.”

“The Bears have been able to go so long without turning their attention to the position because of [CharlesTillman‘s longevity, the success of 2004 fourth-round pick Nathan Vasher and, more recently, free agent find Tim Jennings.”

Another reason is that the Bears were playing a base cover 2 defense for those years.  The cover 2 is predicated on getting a pass rush from the front four and using your defensive backs in zone.  High draft picks are spent on defensive linemen in such a system, not on cornerbacks who won’t be called upon to play much man-to-man coverage.

The fact that the Bears apparently are viewing the position as one that needs to be addressed with more urgency is yet another indication of the changes that are coming in the defensive scheme.  Although Tillman and Jennings are excellent, the Bears are going to continue to need big, athletic cornerbacks who are versatile and can cover in a variety of packages.

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Faster Than the Speed of Television

I was talking to a friend the other day about Game of Thrones.  I told him that, as is the case most of the time, the books are better than the show and that he should consider reading them.  He looked at me like I’d just suggested that he do the Iditarod with a team of schnauzers in his bare feet and said, “Dude, they’re about 900 pages long.”

Sometimes I feel like that’s what modern life is all about.  Progress isn’t about doing things better as much as it is about doing them faster.  Instant gratification is never instant enough.

We’re wrapping up,  the mock draft I’ve been participating in and the Bears picks are in the books.  To review, I took linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round and Deone Bucannon in the second.  The Bears have their safety, albeit an imperfect one, but they desperately need a defensive tackle that can start .  That means I either pick one in the third round or they burn me in effigy all over Chicago.

Here’s what my board looked like:

Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
Daquan Jones, DT, Penn State
A. J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
Brandon Thomas, OG, Clemson
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice

I think you see the problem.  The first four are, once again, offensive players (I love McCarron).  Jones will be a good defensive tackle but he’s strictly a two gap nose guard that can’t rush the passer and wouldn’t fit the Bears defense.  Then more offense until we get to Breeland, the best cornerback available.  There wasn’t another defensive tackle that I thought would fit the Bears for another 10 spots down my list (Shamar Stephen).

What could I do?  I took Breeland.

Once again, Breeland is a good value here.  He’s a jack of all trades cornerback who does everything reasonably well. He’s a tad short for my tastes but his versatility would fit in with the new Bears defensive philosophy, he’d provide much needed depth at the position and he’ll be ready to replace an aging Charles Tillman when the time comes to do so. Tillman was injured for a good part of last year even when he played. The odds are good Breeland would see some time on the field this year and provide immediate help.

I don’t regret the pick.  But I was left to take the best fourth round defensive tackle available.  Unlike the third round, there were several that I knew would fit and would be worth the pick (Stephen, Kelcy QuarlesWill Sutton and maybe Zach Kerr in that order).  And, indeed, Stephen fell to me, once again providing good value for the pick.

But you find your starters in the first three rounds and without a an early defensive tackle, the consequences were obvious.

The problem is that as the Bears general manager I have to draft for the long haul.  You can’t really judge a class until 3-5 years after the picks and if Breeland and Mosely become good starters with just one of those first three picks making a Pro Bowl, people would say that my draft was a pretty good one.

But no one waits that long.  My draft gets a C- from Mel KiperTodd McShay gives it a D and it gets a “You suck” from the Belgian judge, all on national TV.  And everyone will be at least a little bit irritated that they had to wait until the last day of the draft to get the grades.

Such, I guess, is the way of life.

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Safety May Not Be in the Bears’ First Round Future

Hub Arkush, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, looks at the Bears situation in round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft:

“Half the world wants to match three-technique defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the Bears, but for every list you’ve got that has him somewhere between 10 and 14, I’ll find you a list that has him somewhere between 22 and 40.”

I think you’re going to have a hard time finding many up to date lists that have Donald that low. My question about Donald is fit not talent.

“The last two members of the top 20 are probably safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but the problem for the Bears is they fall somewhere between 19 and 24 on almost every list.”

Truth. I know the Bears need safety help but I don’t think Bears fans should get their hopes up that they’re going to get one in round 1. Having recently gone through the mock draft process I can tell you that reaching for a safety was not something I wanted to do. And according to almost every site out there with up to date rankings, it would have been a reach. I’ll be surprised if Bears general manager Phil Emery wants to do that any more than I did.

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Bears Have to Stay Healthy on Offense to Thrive in 2014

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“What do you think is the more likely scenario: 1) With nearly the same offensive personnel returning, the Bears offense is even better this upcoming season in the second year of the Marc Trestman offense. 2) With a year of the Trestman offense on film for D-coordinators of the league to review more heavily, the Trestman offense will offer fewer surprises and revert to the mean. –Kevin, Chicago

“The Bears were very potent on offense last season, averaging 27.8 points per game to rank second behind the Broncos. Trestman has a better feel for his collection of talent now and certainly there is room for growth across the board on offense. Defenses probably have a better idea of what the Bears are doing too but I don’t see a significant drop off coming, especially if quarterback Jay Cutler remains healthy, which is a legitimate concern. Keep in mind the Bears were very healthy on offense last season with the exception of Cutler, who missed five games. That is always a wild card for every team on both sides of the ball.”

The last point is a huge one and one I’ve been worried about since the season ended. Expectations for the Bears offense are sky high this year but I think its possible that Beas fans should temper them.

Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery all stayed healthy last year. I have my suspicions that Martellus Bennett had some issues but if he did, he played through them. I feel a little better about the offensive line but no one should feel comfortable with the back ups at any of these other positions.

The depth of the talent pool on offense is disturbingly shallow.

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Mock Draft Round 2: If Only the Bears Needed Offense…

…but if ifs and buts were candy and nuts wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas.

As previously mentioned, I’m participating in a mock draft with 32 other knowledgable fans.  In the first round I took a very talented but less than ideal inside linebacker and middle linebacker of the future C. J. Mosley.  I was hoping to do better in round 2.

Here’s how the first 2 rounds shaped up before the Bears second round pick:

FISRT ROUND

Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney, OLB/DE, South Carolina
St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Jacksonville Jaguars Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Cleveland Browns Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Oakland Raiders Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Atlanta Falcons Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Minnesota Vikings Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Buffalo Bills Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
Detroit Lions Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
***TRADE*** St. Louis Rams (from Tennessee Titans) Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
New York Giants Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
***TRADE*** Tennessee Titans (from St. Louis Rams) Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Chicago Bears C. J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Pittsburgh Steelers Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
***TRADE*** Arizona Cardinals (from Dallas Cowboys) Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Baltimore Ravens Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
New York Jets Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Miami Dolphins Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
***TRADE*** Dallas Cowboys (from Arizona Cardinals) Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Green Bay Packers Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
Philadelphia Eagles Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
***TRADE*** Cleveland Browns (from Kansas City Chiefs) Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Cincinnati Bengals Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
San Diego Chargers Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame
Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis Colts) Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
***TRADE*** Kansas City Chiefs (from New Orleans Saints) Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Carolina Panthers Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
New England Patriots Dee Ford, DE/OLB, Auburn
San Francisco 49ers Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech
Denver Broncos Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Seattle Seahawks Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

SECOND ROUND

Houston Texans Derek Carr, QB, Fresno St.
Washington Redskins Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
***TRADE*** New Orleans Saints (from KC via Cleveland) Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Oakland Raiders Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Atlanta Falcons Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Jacksonville Jaguars Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Minnesota Vikings Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
Buffalo Bills Joel Bitonio, OT, Nevada
Tennessee Titans Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
New York Giants David Yankey, OG, Stanford
St. Louis Rams Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Detroit Lions Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
Pittsburgh Steelers Allen Robinson, WR, Penn Stete
Dallas Cowboys Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Baltimore Ravens Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
New York Jets Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Miami Dolphins Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

Top players left on my board were:

Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Corey Latimer, WR, Indiana
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT , Alabama
Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
Stan Jean-Baptiste, CB , Nebraska

Taking any of the first three was never a serious consideration.  I only include them in the list because it demonstrates something I noticed through out this entire process.  The offensive talent is unbelievable in this draft.  I could have had my pick of any one of multiple players at any point from the first round on that would help a lot of teams.

Unfortunately the Bears need help on defense and that is, of course, where I went with this pick.  At this point the Bears still needed a safety and a defensive tackle badly.  Not taking one of those here would mean that it would be unlikely that I’d come away with a starter at either or both of those positions and the draft would have been an abject failure.  Furthermore, if I passed on Bucannon, I wasn’t going to see another safety that looked like he was even close to a starter. In my opinion it was basically Bucannon or nobody and I “ran to the podium” to take him.  He was a good value here.

Having said that, he, also, is not ideal.  I had recently acquired safety Ryan Mundy penciled in as the starter at strong safety before this but he’d almost certainly move to free safety, a position which he’s played extensively in the past, with this pick. Bucannon would start with a floor as a good strong safety but the hope is that many of the scouts are wrong and that he can be as interchangeable as Mundy is. As I understand it from Bears general manager Phil Emery, versatility is the name of the game in the new Bears defense. This guy won’t be a bust but he’s only going to fit in with that philosophy if he shows he can cover receivers. Time will tell.

It’s a shame I couldn’t take an offensive player this high. I could think about it next round but defensive tackle is still a serious need.  And suicides are supposed to be more common at Christmas anyway.

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Inside the Head of Michael Vick Is a Scary Place

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com on Jets quarterback Michael Vick‘s apparent concession of the starting job to Geno Smith:

“Maybe Vick, who has had a hard time making up his mind about which jersey number to wear, will change his mind once or twice, or more often, as offseason workouts unfold and as training camp approaches. Or maybe Vick has been around Smith long enough to realize that the best way to win the job is to make Smith believe he’s already won it.”

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Playing GM Isn’t As Easy As It Looks on TV

English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.” The man wasn’t joking.

I’ve been participating in a 4 round mock draft with a group of fans associated with ESPN’s Football Today podcast. The results have provided a great deal of insight which I thought would be interesting to share.

First a little about the draft and the fans participating. There are 32 representatives, one from every team. Most of them (including me) were required to write an essay on the state of their team and then you had to be chosen based upon what you wrote to get the job. I was initially the runner up but it was essentially a tie and the original Bears representative bailed out so I was happy to step in. Given that history, you can see that most of these fans know what they’re doing. In line with that, for the most part the picks have been solid and well reasoned.

Here were the picks in the first round when the Bears’ turn came up:

Houston Texans Jadeveon Clowney, OLB/DE, South Carolina
St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins) Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Jacksonville Jaguars Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Cleveland Browns Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Oakland Raiders Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Atlanta Falcons Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Minnesota Vikings Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Buffalo Bills Eric Ebron, TE, UNC
Detroit Lions Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA
***TRADE*** St. Louis Rams (from Tennessee Titans) Hasean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
New York Giants Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
***TRADE*** Tennessee Titans (from St. Louis Rams) Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

This left me with a serious dilemma. The Bears primary needs were at safety and defensive tackle and as the Bears general manager if I didn’t take one of those, there were going to be howls for my head going up all over Chicago. And, indeed, had Ha Ha Clinton-Dix been there, I might well have taken him. But Clinton-Dix wasn’t there.

Just a quick side note. Most mock drafters have the Bears taking Aaron Donald here. As you can see, Bears general manager Phil Emery was right when he said last week that we “shouldn’t count” on Donald being there. He wasn’t.

To be bluntly honest, I’m not too sure Donald is the right pick for the Bears anyway. It’s true he’s going to be a very good 3 technique tackle. But he’s undersized, making him a one trick pony. Most people assume the Bears are still going to be running the same defense they ran last year when they recommend Donald. But I’m not too sure Emery wouldn’t prefer a tackle with more size, making him more versatile along the front.

Anyway, my board at this point stacked up this way:

C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
Darqueze Dennard, CB,Michigan State
Calvin Pryor,S, Louisville
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

Most people at this point would have taken Pryor just as Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune did this morning. In fact, Biggs and I mildly disagree because he took Pryor over Clinton-Dix. I had two problems with taking Pryor:

1. I really thought he should go somewhere closer to 20, not 14, and I thought he was a little bit of a reach at this spot
2. C.J Mosely was rated far higher than anyone else I had left to me. Mosely is easily a top 10 talent. No one else was close to that.

Had Mosely been a wide receiver, I would have passed without a second thought. But the Bears have a sneaky need at linebacker. Their current starters are Lance Briggs (33), whose contract expires at the end of next year, D.J. Williams, who is 31 but coming off of an injury and on a 1-year contract, and Shea McClellin, who is converting from defensive end. Jon Bostic, last year’s second rounder, is likely to compete with McClellin and it looks like his future might be at weak side linebacker as Briggs’ eventual replacement.

C.J. Mosley was at the top of my board and in my opinion he was a decidedly better player than my other options. He’s an ideal middle linebacker of the future and I saw no reason why he couldn’t eventually find his way into the starting line up over Williams. So I grabbed him.

Looking back on it, I made more than one mistake here. The Bears really needed a defensive tackle and I have a fondness for Hageman. Trading back was what I really needed to do but I assumed (and it was true) that everyone would be wanting to trade back. Therefore I knew it was unlikely that I would have a trading partner.

But the Packer’s rep contacted me after the pick and said he was hoping that Mosely would continue to fall to him, something I should have known. If I had it to to over again, I would have told him I was taking Mosely if he didn’t trade up with me. Then I might have had the 21st pick, a good spot to take Pryor if he fell (unlikely) or Hageman, who is the player I really wanted.  Worst case scenario you take one of the cornerbacks.  There’s no way a good player of some type who filled a need wouldn’t have fallen to me at that spot.

Hindsight is 20-20 and fortunately I have the benefit of it. Phil Emery won’t. I’ve been pretty critical of Emery’s draft picks in the past, especially McClellin two years ago. You can bet I’ll be a lot more sympathetic this year.

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