Sorry, “Source”, But the Bears Are Not the Browns

Jason Cole at the Bleacher Report says that the idea of trading quarterback Jay Cutler to the Tennessee Titans to take Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick is “gaining traction” within the Bears organization in the video below.

Cole is getting this from “a source he talked to over the weekend”. Who want to bet its quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who apparently helped push the Browns into taking Johnny Manziel last year?

I don’t believe this for a second. The last time there was a trade up in this kind of scenario, the Redskins gave three first round picks to the Rams to get Robert Griffin III. I refuse to believe the Bears are that stupid. Nor do I believe that Bears general manager Ryan Pace and Bears head coach John Fox would allow themselves to be bullied into taking such a risk because a “source” like Loggains or someone like him tried to drum up support for it. Say what you want about George McCaskey, he’s not dumb enough to demand that the Bears take Mariota because someone other than the general manager wants him.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns | 3 Comments

Whose Problem Is It Really?

LeSean McCoy

Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com quotes runningback LeSean McCoy (above) on his former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly:

“‘[Buffalo] is more of a NFL type of feel,’ McCoy told NFL Media’s Kimberly Jones on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access. ‘Being with Coach (Andy) Reid for so long … you get used to that. A player’s coach. An NFL type of atmosphere in the locker room and around the facility. And for two years in Philly it wasn’t like that as much. Not in a negative way, but it was different. It was more like a college feel.'”

“‘I don’t think he likes or respects the stars. I’m being honest,’ McCoy said Monday, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘I think he likes the fact that it’s ‘Chip Kelly and the Eagles.’ … It was ‘DeSean Jackson — a high-flying, take-off-the-top-of-the-defense receiver.’ Or ‘The quick, elusive LeSean McCoy. I don’t think (Kelly) likes that.’

Translation: “Kelly didn’t treat me like a pro because he didn’t ‘just let me do what I wanted.” Or, put another way, “Doesn’t he know who I am?”

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I don’t have a single doubt that Kelly (above) has a big ego. To a certain extent it comes with the job. But I also don’t have a single doubt that he’d love to still have McCoy.

My read on this is that McCoy was at least as big of a problem as Kelly was or will ever be. His running style didn’t fit what Kelly wanted him to do and he refused to accept authority and adapt to the scheme. If that is what having “more of an NFL feel” is all about, I want no part of it.

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Some Creativity May Be Required For Teams Seeking Tight Ends in the Draft

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Tom Carpenter at ESPN highlights one of the more interesting things to look for inthe upcoming draft: where Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams (above) will go. Anyone who watched the combine knows that the tight end class is pretty grim and Williams is generally considered to be the best of them.

“Why is Williams’ draft stock slipping?

“Like most young tight ends — he is just 20 years old — he struggles at times with his blocking and route running.”

“Williams also reportedly came off a bit immature and self-centered during NFL combine interviews, as he struggled to give good answers to some difficult questions.”

The Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints are all picking late in round 1 and may be tempted to take a chance on Williams.  The Bears cold also use a second tight end opposite Martellus Bennett.

There is an alternative. In the mock draft that I’m participating in the Atlanta Falcons representative took wide receiver Devin Funchess as a tight end instead of taking Williams. Funchess is 6-4 1/2, 232 lb and if he can learn to block, he could be tough to stop as a receiving tight end. Teams needing pass blocking tight ends might even resort to converting offensive tackles or linebackers.  It will be interesting to see if that’s what teams decide to do instead of taking a risk on the borderline tight end prospects that are available up and down the draft.

Posted in Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints | Leave a comment

Hidden Quarterback Gems? There Might Be Some for the Bears.

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East Carolina’s Shane Carden (above) is a puzzle to me. I get the impression talking to many fans that they like Carden because they think he’s an underdog – a small guy who could make the kind of story that can be a source of inspiration to the average guy. Former Bears director of scouting Greg Gabriel practically slots him into that category as he summarizes Carden’s chances in the NFL:

“Overall, I see Carden as a very good college player who lacks the top traits needed to be a starter at the NFL level. He is smart, instinctive, and a leader. He just lacks the necessary physical traits. He can become a very good backup who will win some games if needed. If he becomes a starter, he will be a guy you are looking to replace. He is a good third day selection.”

Fair enough. But there’s a problem when you look at the details of Gabriel’s evaluation:

  1. “Slightly undersized” at just under 6-2, 218.
  2. Average athlete with average speed. Plays faster on tape.
  3. Agile with quick feet.
  4. Excellent production in college.
  5. Some wind up but above average arm strength.
  6. Smart, good instincts, good decision maker.
  7. Top notch intangibles. Leader, top worker.

So what’s not to like? A 5 second 40 time? Good grief, since when do you have to be Michael Vick to throw from the pocket? And 6-2 doesn’t exactly make him Doug Flute.

Curious, I took a look at the video of the East Carolina – North Carolina game below.

This is a great tape to look at. Carden was under good pressure from the North Carolina defense. He wasn’t perfect, as you can see. But there’s a lot of good here. His arm is plenty strong enough and he throws a pretty deep ball.

Generally speaking, Carden didn’t panic under pressure. As Gabriel implies, he actually is a pretty good decision maker. He scans the field and frequently throws to his second or third receiver in a progression.  Even an interception early in the game was a ball thrown to an open man.  This is crucially important, as highlighted by the comments of former 49er coach Bill Walsh:

“The ability to read defenses is not something that players have learned to a high degree coming out of college. Even if they have, the pro defenses are very different. But most systems require quarterbacks to look at primary and secondary receivers, usually based on the defense that confronts him. You can see if he locates that secondary receiver — or maybe even an emergency outlet receiver — with ease or with a sense of urgency.

“This should work like a natural progression, not a situation where it’s — “Oh, my gosh, now I must look over here … no, over there.” You can see which quarterbacks handle these situations with grace. These are the types who have a chance to perform with consistency in the NFL.”

I think I see that here.

He was often reasonably accurate on some tough throws under pressure. There weren’t many anticipation throws but North Carolina defense covered the East Carolina receivers well and often forced Carden to throw into NFL-type, tight coverage – which he did reasonably well.

Carden feels the rush pretty well most of the time. Perhaps most impressive to me, he also moves well in the pocket to avoid it while keeping his eyes downfield.

On the downside, he does have a windup and his release isn’t as quick as I’d like. But the ball comes out reasonably quickly all things considered. He must have shortened his release quite a bit before the combine where I didn’t even notice it. He also occasionally stares down receivers.

The current quarterback class has been much maligned after some showings at the Senior Bowl that reportedly weren’t good. But I’m starting to think that there are some underrated jewels in this draft. Looking beyond more highly rated prospects like Bryce Petty and Brett Hundley, I see a lot to like in Carden and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.  I haven’t even gotten around to looking at Sean Mannion yet.  Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune sees the Bears’ quest for a quarterback as “almost the impossible dream”.  But the Bears might be in better shape to take a good quarterback in this draft than anyone knows.

Posted in Chicago Bears | 1 Comment

On the Vanishing Fullback Position

Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post says that the Broncos are going old school under new head coach Gary Kubiac by bringing back the fullback:

“‘Everyone wants to be an innovator. No one thinks you can get a head coaching job if you are just turning around and handing the ball off. It’s not sexy. But when you need to run out the clock and get those tough first downs, some of those spread offenses can’t do it,’ [Broncos fullback Howard] Griffith said. ‘You have to be able to run. Some people consider it old school. It’s just football, and you need a fullback.'”

I think most teams agree.

The power running game is still healthy and ever-present in the NFL and it just makes sense to attempt to overload the point of attack with blockers. There’s no better way to position a man to do that than to line him up in the backfield where he can read the situation and provide help at the most effective point. Renck elaborates:

“Griffith found himself in an unusual position with the Broncos. He was an electric college running back at Illinois but embraced a selfless role. His vision as a runner helped him as a blocker for Davis. He anticipated how plays would develop, freeing him to pick up weakside defenders off the script.

“‘It’s funny, because I have run into O-line coaches, and they want to know what our calls were on the backside plays. There was never any calls made. We just knew from the defensive alignment where I would go,’ Griffith said. ‘It happened by accident in practice, and where I picked up the most dangerous guy on a play, and we just kind of took it from there.'”

The “disappearance” of the NFL fullback is overrated. It’s true that more than ever teams like to spread the defense out with an extra wide receiver or run more double tight end sets, which puts the big men in a better position to run a pass route. But 23 teams still used a fullback last year and of the teams like the Bears who are left and who don’t list one on their roster, almost all still have plays that call for one. They just line up a “tight end” in the backfield who they have designated to be the fullback on those plays. That would be Dante Rosario on the current Bears roster.

No matter what you call it, the fullback isn’t going anywhere. Except where the ball is.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos | Leave a comment

Totally Inept… And Still Better?

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I’ve been as tough as anyone on the Browns.  And its well deserved because they really are the definition of dysfunctional. Pat McManamon at ESPN elaborates:

“From general manager Ray Farmer being suspended four games because of illegal in-game texting, to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving with two years left on his contract, to first-round pick and expected face-of-the-franchise quarterback Johnny Manziel finishing rehab, to former All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon facing another suspension for substance abuse, headlines have not been kind to the Browns. And that was all within the past few months.

“‘Let’s face it,’ [owner Jimmy Haslam] said, ‘it hasn’t been the smoothest start in the world.’

“Since the family bought the team for just more than $1 billion in October 2012, the Browns have been through three head coaches, three general managers, seven quarterbacks and (in two full seasons under Haslam) 21 losses in 32 games.”

And yet with all of that, Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com had to admit this:

“[I]t’s hard to dispute that those moves made the franchise look like it didn’t know what it was doing.”

“On the other hand, the Browns really did take a step forward on the field last season. Granted, a 7-9 season isn’t ‘a step forward’ in most places, but in Cleveland it is. That was the Browns’ best record since 2007.”

How bad is it when a franchise can be about as inept as it gets – a total embarrassment for an entire city – and yet it’s still an improvement?

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Better Lives Through Chemistry

Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked about his thoughts on the Bears offseason moves. I find one aspect of his response to be interesting:

“What’s a little troubling for me is the fact the Bears have added 12 new players off other teams with the majority of them signing one-year deals. On one hand you worry about how all the new faces and personalities will mesh. But on the other, that concern is assuaged somewhat by the fact that everybody in that locker room, regardless of how long they’ve been Bears, is coming into something new under [Bears head coach John] Fox and [Bears general manager Ryan] Pace. So that situation could actually bolster chemistry and camaraderie between the players and all the new staffers.”

Team chemistry is one aspect of what Pace has done that I hadn’t considered much. And if there’s one thing that needed to change about this team, it was the chemistry. Last year’s team was soft as butter with one opposing assistant coach calling them “the biggest bunch of front-runners in the league”.

We all know that the Bears have purposely added natural leaders like veteran safety Antrel Rolle. But a lot of the chemistry remake was probably to some extent inadvertent as Pace and Fox were just trying to fill holes with stopgaps. Nevertheless the effect is probably going to be real. Bear fans have every reason to believe that this will be an entirely different team with an entirely different attitude, especially on defense where the turnover is greatest. In my mind, that can only be a good thing as there was no place to go but up.

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Road to Front Office Relationship Success Filled with Potholes

Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com is surprisingly definitive after highlighting former 49er Jeff Garcia‘s comments on the current state of the team:

“Garcia said the decision of [owner Jed] York and [general manager Trent] Baalke to fire Harbaugh reminds him of his own playing days, when York’s father and then-General Manager Terry Donahue decided to fire Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 season. That turned out to be a disaster, as the 49ers wouldn’t have a winning record for the next eight years — until they hired [Jim] Harbaugh.”

I can only agree.

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The capacity of team management to make a mess of a good thing all over the league amazes me. In this case, pride and control were undoubtedly the major factors. Harbaugh (left) and Baalke (right) are both the kind of men that simply refuse to compromise. It ruined their relationship and is well on its way to ruining the team.

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Though the differences were likely more fundamental you have to wonder whether former Broncos and now Bears head coach John Fox (left) and Broncos General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway (right) didn’t do the same thing. The guess is that Fox wanted to return to his roots – a run oriented defensive team, while Elway wanted to remain the high-flying passing team that the Broncos became through 2/3 of last season until quarterback Peyton Manning got hurt. The parting was amicable but the effect may be the same – I think it’s unlikely that new head coach Gary Kubiac will be as good at it as Fox was nor do I believe that the loss of offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be without effect. Add in the loss of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to the Raiders as head coach and you’ve got the recipe for a serious decline.

ESPN

ESPN

The relationship between Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) seems to be off to a good start. Philosophically they seem to share the same vision. That might what Elway and Fox started with but Fox likely subordinated his vision to Elway with the acquisition of Manning.  Baalke and Harbaugh probably got off to a good start, too.

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. The key to prosperity will be that both Fox and Pace be reasonable people (unlike Baalke and Harbaugh) who are both very good at what they do. That will engender respect and that will lead to continued willingness to compromise without loss of quality. They also need to stay in agreement philosophically through seasons of change. A dose of early success wouldn’t hurt.

That all seems like a lot to navigate over a course full of obstacles. But if the Pace and Fox do it, they’ll be set up for the kind of long-term success that has eluded some wonderful relationships that started so well and then went south to the ruin of all.

Posted in Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers | Leave a comment

Bears-Bucs Philosophical Clash – Who Will Be More Competitive in 2015?

According to Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com the Buccaneers have thrown away $50 million on defensive backs over the last couple years:

“Friday’s trade of safety Dashon Goldson became the third time the Bucs have cut bait on a secondary player who had been an enormous investment for the Buccaneers. The Bucs signed Goldson to a huge contract two years ago, only to trade him to Washington for the paltry compensation of swapping a seventh-round pick for a sixth-round in the 2016 draft.”

“The Bucs also traded their 2013 first-round pick and 2014 fourth-round pick to the Jets for Darrelle Revis, paid Revis $16 million, and got one season of work out of him. After spending last season with the Patriots, Revis is back with the Jets.

“And the Bucs used the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft on safety Mark Barron, who lasted two seasons in Tampa Bay before the Bucs traded him to St. Louis for a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick. The Bucs paid Barron more than $10 million before getting rid of him.”

Of course the problem is that when the Bucs hired head coach Lovie Smith (below), they switched to a cover-two scheme that doesn’t call for a large investment in cornerbacks like Revis. Safety is one of the most important positions on the field. Goldson and Barron didn’t fit the scheme because it calls for a special type of safety that can quickly read the situation and cover a lot of ground to get into the right spot.

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What’s interesting is that the Bears are also in a position where they invested a large amount of money into players like Jared Allen and Willie Young – 4-3 ends that were meant to rush the passer with their hands in the dirt. They spent a third round pick on Will Sutton, a three technique tackle that arguably doesn’t fit a 3-4 scheme either.

But there are two factors that make the Bears situation different. First, the Bears will spend up to 60% of their time in sub-packages which call for a four man line. Though frequently mentioned, this factor is largely underplayed in the media. A guy like Allen could come in handy rushing out of such a formation in passing situations if he bounces back from a miserable season last year. All of their signings over the last couple years could play in these packages and be of great value there.

That leads to the second point – the scheme is more versatile and can use players with different talents to advantage. Not only can the scheme accommodate, to an extent, linemen who can penetrate rather than strictly playing two gaps. That may leave room for guys like Sutton if they can adapt. And lets not forget the advantage of letting last years signee Lamarr Houston (below) roll back to the position of outside linebacker which he should be far more comfortable in than the role of 4-3 defensive end that the bears slotted him into last year.

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Both the problem and the advantage of having a defensive coach like Smith is that they stubbornly insist that it be their way or the highway on defense. That keeps things simple but it costs both time and money as players who don’t fit are replaced.

Smith got a year’s head start over Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox. And though the record was the worst in the league I thought they were surprisingly competitive last year in most of the games I saw. But you still have to wonder if the Bears won’t rebuild faster and be better off in the end by being more flexible.

The race is on. It will be fascinating to see which philosophy wins.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment

Cutler Trade Good for Almost Everybody. Almost. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Elliot Harrison at nfl.com constructs his all-under 25 team. Guess how many Bears are on it?
  • Rob Demovsky, Green Bay blogger at ESPN, thinks the Bears signing of Pernell McPhee was the worst NFC North free agent move to date. Ben Goessling in Minnesota thought it was the Eddie Royal signing. Michael Rothstein in Detroit thought it was Ray McDonald. Clearly the Bears are making a great impression around the division.
  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune sets a fan who continues to make excuses for quarterback Jay Cutler straight as he answers your questions:

    “Will the Bears use more rollouts and bootlegs? It’s certainly a possibility. But the idea that the Bears didn’t do that under Marc Trestman, Mike Tice, Mike Martz and Ron Turner is flat out wrong. Everyone runs the boot game.”

    “To expect Cutler to change dramatically as a player with more bootlegs in the offensive scheme would be a miscalculation in my opinion. Look at how many offensive coaches he’s already worked with. Do you think every offensive coach the Bears have hired as been inept and incapable of coaching offensive football? The answer to that is no. Cutler is going to be who he’s been. If he can cut down on the number of turnovers, he has a chance to remain on the field.”

    I continue to be amazed by the number of fans who continue to make excuses for Cutler after six years of up and down play. Cutler was surrounded by about as much offensive talent as any quarterback in the NFL could reasonably expect to have. He had a head coach who believed in him at the beginning of the year and was as easy and as accommodating as any he’ll find to work with. He’ll never be any better than he was last year.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com likes Missouri defensive end/outside linebacker Shane Ray better than I do.
  • Arkush also sings the praises of Bears general manager Ryan Pace‘s free agency moves but wisely ends the article with the critical question: “Now, can Pace draft better than his predecessors?” Pace is using free agency to set up the draft but the draft is where you really have to execute.
  • I’m not entirely sure why Jeff Dickerson at ESPN thinks that Bears safety Brock Vereen doesn’t fit the “aggressive, hard-hitting mold that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and secondary coach Ed Donatell are known to prefer in safeties”.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune gets a little more information about the blocking scheme that the Broncos ran on the offensive line last year from new center Will Montgomery. It sounds like a little bit of everything depending on the situation.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

Chase Goodbread at nfl.com points out that the Bears trade for Cutler apparently benefited teams all over the league – seemingly everyone but the Bears.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Points of View, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment