A Shift in Culture: The Bears Team Will Be a Reflection of Its Leaders

Bears offensive guard Kyle Long talks about the culture change inside Halas Hall as offseason workouts begin. Via Chris Boden at csnchicago.com:

“The guys we’re playing for now are just older versions of us. They understand what we’re going through … They do a great job of balancing work and your life outside of football, and they’re also football guys. They’re crazy about it and John Fox is hitting biceps curls next to me, talking smack, telling me to put weight on the bar. I think we got the right guys in the building.

“They’re a bunch of ‘men’s men’ upstairs. They love football and everything that comes about with football. That’s apparent here.”

“We need to score more points than the other team, and defensively we need to allow less points than we’re scoring. If we can’t play defense, if we can’t play offense or special teams, good things aren’t going to happen. I feel we have the right people in the building to achieve that. It’s been very evident the past two days it’s a different culture here.”

How this will translate into wins, I don’t know. But the comments are interesting. Presumably Long means that the men upstairs are older versions of the players, themselves, not only as they are but as they should be.  The implication is that the team will be tougher because the coaches are tougher. That makes some sense.

Every team, almost no matter what the sport, is a reflection of its coaches, especially the head coach. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of personality this team emerges into next season with.

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Shelton the Best Available Based Upon Video. And That Makes Him the Best Available, Period.

danny-shelton

Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com evaluates Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton:

“Early on in the draft process, once we knew the Bears would be running a 3-4 defense, Shelton was the sexy choice for Chicago in mock drafts. Several draft analysts still peg him to the Bears, and it makes sense — any good, 3-4 defense needs a stout anchor to plug the nose.”

“There are three knocks on the Shelton-to-the-Bears narrative: one, as listed above, his Combine results bring questions to his short-area quickness. Two, Vic Fangio hasn’t necessarily needed a 330-plus-pound space eater in the middle of his defense (though, Isaac Sopoaga, the nose tackle from 2011-12 under Fangio, is 330 pounds). Three, and this is a line of thinking I can get on board with, is that Shelton is not the seventh-best player in the draft, and there will be better players available if the Bears stay at No. 7, like a pass rusher or one of the top wideouts.

“I’ll throw one more caution to those on the Shelton bandwagon — the first round is deep at defensive tackle, with players like Eddie Goldman, Jordan Phillips and late first-/early second-rounders Carl Davis and Malcom Brown. The Bears could trade down and get one of those players, too, or find a quality interior lineman at the start of the second round.”

A couple comments:

  1. The lack of short area quickness based upon Combine results is nonsense. Sheton shows amazing quickness for a man his size on video and both Fishbain, himself, and former Bears scout Greg Gabriel confirm that in this very same article. He’s not just a pile of blubber that will act as a run stopper. He’s going to supply pass rush.
  2. I agree that Shelton isn’t the seventh best player in the draft. In my mind, he’s the fourth best. Shelton has great instincts and pretty good intangibles that make him a playmaker and a very valuable commodity.
  3. Fishbain is right in that the Bears absolutely should trade down if they can. For one thing, if they can stay ahead of Cleveland ar 12, they can still get Shelton. For another, as much as I like Shelton, they need the picks more. If they get down into the area where an Eddie Goldman of a Malcom Brown become reasonable options, say in the lower 20’s, then that means they’ve picked up a lot of them.

I really dislike it when pundits downgrade a prospect based upon Combine results, as Fishbain is apparently doing here. All indications are that Danny Shelton is a heck of a football player. Absent a trade down – and its going to be tough to pull that off – I think Shelton is the best available in the seventh slot.

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The Dangers of Drafting a Vic Beasley

Todd McShay at ESPN evaluates pass rushing prospect Vic Beasley:

“I’m not as high on Beasley as some others are, because I didn’t see any power element to his game on tape. I also have a hard time putting a top-15 type of grade on a defensive front-seven defender that turns down contact and likes to pile-inspect. Yes, his production at Clemson was off the charts. And yes, his workout numbers are rare. I also believe he is a hard worker with good football character. But I just don’t see the value as a first-half-of-the-first-round draft pick. When it’s all said and done, Beasley might be best suited to play off-the-line in a role somewhat similar to that of Von Miller (Broncos) or Anthony Barr (Vikings).”

I couldn’t agree more. Beasley (below) concerns me on a number of fronts other those that McShay points out (all of which I saw myself when watching him last fall).

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Beasley is the very definition of a late riser who found himself floating up boards after the Combine. He was at best a mid-first round prospect before that because, as McShay points out, he had no power to his game. I’ll also point out that I thought his instincts were suspect. Then he showed up at the Combine 15-20 pounds heavier and he carried the weight well. Now teams apparently think he projects to show more power.

But the question is, “Will he be able to carry that weight through the course of an NFL season?” Once a player starts getting regular snaps with an NFL defense, the weight has a bad habit of melting off, especially if it isn’t natural for the player to be carrying it.

Beasley looks to me like the prototypical case of a player who you have to stick to the video on. He is what he was at Clemson. Suggesting otherwise is a dangerous game. If I’m the Bears, I’m not touching him with the seventh pick.

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Gabriel Not a Believer in Jameis Winston

Nate Atkins quotes Pro Football Now draft analyst Greg Gabiel who scouted for the Bears and Giants for 26 years on Jameis Winston:

Bill Parcells used to tell me, ‘You’ve only got to be sprayed by the skunk one time to know it stinks.’ I don’t trust Jameis Winston to comply. He has a fault. He doesn’t get it.”

Maybe. I still think Winston’s major fault is that he’s impulsive (on and off the field). I’m not convinced he’s a bad guy and I’m not convinced he won’t be able to stay out of trouble after he’s drafted. At least for the most part.

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When Is Due Diligence Called For and When Isn’t It?

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times profiles defensive tackle Danny Shelton:

“[G]iven that the team will morph into 4-3 defense on nickel and dime situations, the Bears could be cautious drafting someone who could be limited to two downs.”

“The 6-foot-2, 339-pounder has been compared to Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork. But he’s athletic enough that, growing up, he wanted to be Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.”

“He showed that athleticism when, in the rival Apple Cup matchup with Washington State this year, he barrel-rolled along the ground at line of scrimmage before the snap, lining up in a new position, and then sacked the quarterback.”

Having looked at some video of Shelton I can say that the comparison to Wilfork is a pretty good one. He’s plenty athletic and I think its entirely possible that he could be more than a two down player. But even as a two down player he’d be valuable. Finley points out that the Bears might be better off drafting a pass rusher – and they might. But there’s a decent chance that with proven 4-3 defensive ends like Jared Allen and Willie Young on the team, any pass rusher they take could well be restricted to being a two down player as well.

But here’s the paragraph that really caught my eye.

“Shelton talked extensively with the Bears at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine, and, he said, with a Chicago scout after that. His only official visit after the combine was with the Browns, though he said teams have learned enough about him during his showcases to not need one-on-one visits.”

Do the Bears do their “due diligence” by brining in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – two players who are unlikely to be there at the seventh pick. They bring in Mario Edwards and T.J. Clemmings presumably on the off chance they find a way to trade down. But they don’t bring in Shelton, who is likely to be there when you pick and who fits the defense to a T? And not just the Bears – nobody seems to be brining him in.

I don’t get this. Each team gets 30 visits with prospects. The Packers general manager Ted Thompson restricts his mostly to low round players and free agents who weren’t at the Combine. That makes sense. But if you are a team like the Bears, how do you decide which prospects you do “due diligence on” and which you don’t?

The process seems random. Hopefully its not.

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Draft Day Trade of Cutler? In Some Ways It Makes Sense.

Josh Alper at profootballtalk.com continues to speculate on the possibility that Jay Cutler will be traded. This is, of course, possible and if it is going to happen, it will most likely be close to or during the draft. But it’s highly unlikely to be directly connected to an attempt to obtain Marcus Mariota.

If the Bears do draft a quarterback that they feel could start in 2015 or even one they think they can be very confident will develop this year, they might still be able to trade Cutler for a bag of balls without, for instance, asking for some sort of quarterback in return. If they pass on Mariota, that team could be the Titans, who might want a veteran quarterback to pair with promising but still relatively unknown Zack Mettenberger. That would be some expensive insurance, though, and it’s unclear to me how Cutler would fit into that equation.  It’s possible that such a trade only happens if the Titans, contrary to their public stance, actually have doubts about Mettenberger (as everyone outside of Tennessee seems to have).

Bottom line anything is possible. This assessment of the Bears chances of trading Cutler on draft day from Adam Schein at nfl.com is right in line with that thinking:

“New GM Ryan Pace established that Cutler is the Bears’ starting quarterback, but let’s be honest: It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Is it hard to imagine the new regime looking for an opportunity to unload the mercurial signal-caller and his bloated contract? No, not at all.

“Let’s say a QB-needy team — Tennessee or Cleveland, for example — eschews the position early in the draft. Would either entertain the idea of ‘fixing’ Cutler if it only meant taking on his salary and giving up a low-round pick? The Titans need buzz and Cutler made a name for himself in Nashville while starring at Vanderbilt. Cleveland … well, you can never be sure what the Browns are thinking. So who knows?

“Would the Bears get rid of Cutler, even without addressing the position in Round 1? I would, if I were Pace, in a heartbeat. I’d look to draft a quarterback on Day 2 and possibly make a move for a vet. You cannot have John Fox preaching energy as Cutler sucks the life out of the Bears.”

What quarterback on Day 2?  How about Garrett Grayson? I love Grayson and I think the Bears should seriously consider drafting him. Read this article by Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post to see why.

“When I talk to NFL scouts, I tell them to let him show what he knows. He can run a pro offense, and I also tell them to put on the film,” [former Colorado State offensive coordinator DaveBaldwin said. “I tell them to watch the Boston College game, when he hurt his shoulder, hobbled to the line of scrimmage and wouldn’t come out. Or watch when we went down to San Jose State and he pulled his hamstring and had a great day. His toughness is what you want. And his knowledge of defenses is definitely what you should want.”

Insert Grayson and take out Cutler for a low round pick? I’d take that. In a heart beat.

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What if Marcus Mariota Actually Fell to the Seventh Pick? It’s Not an Easy Question Anymore.

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com makes the case for the Bears to draft Marcus Mariota if they get the chance:

“Mariota will need time to grow, which is just a continuation of the path he’s been on for years. In the two years between committing to the Ducks and becoming their starter, Mariota made football his life, transforming from an overly emotional teenager to one of the most stoic stars in the game.

“He drew Oregon’s gazillion plays on school notebooks so he could teach them to teammates in practice. He wrote his entire Heisman acceptance speech on a piece of photo paper so he could follow it in one of the toughest moments of his life. Process is his refuge.”

“You reach a point in staring into the eyes of a man that you start to see the person he’s becoming rather than the one he just left behind. In Mariota, you see all the tools – the 6-4, 225-pound frame; the 4.52 speed; the strong arm; and the instantaneous release – and maybe the question to ask isn’t if, but when?”

This is some nice insight in a well-written article. Mariota (below) has risen in the estimation of many evaluators in the media as they’ve had more and more time to study him.  It seems that many are realizing that he did more in the Oregon offense that translates to the pro game than they had originally thought.

Marcus_Mariota_vs._USC

Atkins seems to take seriously the idea that Tennessee would trade the second overall pick for the Bears pick and Jay Cutler. He doesn’t say so but I’m sure he realizes that the Bears would have to throw in more.

More likely the question of whether the Bears should take Mariota will come if he actually falls to the seventh pick. Last week I would have said, “Trade down and take the extra picks.” The Bears have needs all over the field and the opportunity to take more than one young, cheap playmaker with an extra pick or two would be too great to pass up.  But now I’m not so sure that Mariota isn’t going to be the answer at the most important position in football. For someone at least.

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Forte’s Absence Strengthens the Possibility that the Bears Will Draft a Runningback

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune explains the situation surrounding runningback Matt Forte‘s absence from minicamp:

“Forte announced via Twitter that he worked out at Bommarito’s, an athletic performance center in South Florida, and after the Tribune reported he was not present at Halas Hall, he took to the social media site again.

“‘Relax everybody,’ Forte wrote. ‘It’s called voluntary W/O for a reason. I’ve always been there especially when it counts!'”

“It is a delicate situation for new general manager Ryan Pace and [head coach John] Fox, who has typically used a committee approach to the position. While Forte has been tremendously durable and productive, he’s a high-mileage back with 2,260 touches since his rookie season of 2008.”

As Forte suggests, I’m relaxed about this. I don’t doubt he’ll be in shape after working out in Florida – there are few players I would be so sure about.

Forte_Camp_2009

However, Forte is missing the opportunity to work with coaches in the classroom as they install a new scheme. I’m not saying it takes a brain surgeon to figure out or that he couldn’t catch up. But it would be better if he were here getting familiar with new surroundings and new responsibilities.

With Forte not attending workouts and seeking what will be an expensive contract extension, you wonder if the Bears aren’t going to play hardball and have Forte play though the end of his contract. Its a good year for runningbacks in the draft and teams don’t like to take them too high. With Fox’s preference for a runningback by committee approach, and with Forte’s age and mileage, the Bears were bound to take one anyway. Based upon my experience participating in mock drafts and looking over existing ones in the media, I’d say there’s a very good chance one will be the best available player or nearly the best available player through the middle rounds.

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Bucking the NFL Trend at Quarterback

David Climer at The Tennessean looks into the validity of the rumors that the Titans will draft a quarterback of trade for Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers.

“Who, then, will be the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback when the regular season opens in September?

“[sixth round draft pick] Zach Mettenberger, of course.

“Look, I’m not telling you this is what should happen. I’m just telling you what will happen.

“This is how the Titans roll. They’ve got a plan and they’re sticking to it.”

“In short, [head coach Ken] Whisenhunt and [general manager Ruston] Webster think they pulled the steal of the 2014 draft. Titans brass see Mettenberger as a poor team’s Tom Brady. He’s the quarterback.”

I absolutely believe this. I’m not 100% convinced that they won’t trade a bag of balls for someone like Cutler as insurance (though I doubt it). But I genuinely believe that the Titans want to see if Mettenberger is their future and I don’t think they’ll draft a quarterback high in this draft.

If the Titans stick to their guns here, they’re gong to be bucking a serious trend. The general belief is that you find your NFL starting quarterbacks in the first and second rounds. Not much consideration is ever given to lower round picks anymore. Mike Huguenin examines the situation. Note that the Rams and Eagles both had two quarterbacks who started eight games:

“What we found among the 34 starters: Exactly half (17) were first-round picks, including five quarterbacks who were the overall No. 1 picks. In all, there were eight first-rounders who were the first quarterbacks selected in their respective draft, along with five first-rounders who were the second quarterbacks drafted and four who were the third signal-callers picked. (Two former first-rounders were injured, Arizona’s Carson Palmer and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, and another, Buffalo’s EJ Manuel, lost his starting job early in the season — meaning the 17 easily could have been 20.)

“Six quarterbacks were second-round picks, including two who were the second quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts.”

There’s a part of me that thinks its nice that the Titans are giving a sixth round draft pick a chance to develop. There’s an underdog quality to the story and I’m rooting for him. At the same time, like many others, I’m wondering what the Titans see in Mettenberger that most of the rest of the world doesn’t.

It could be very good news for late round quarterbacks if Mettenberger works out and the rest of the copycat NFL follows their lead. I think underrated guys like East Carolina’s Shane Carden are too often dismissed and deserve more of a chance. On the other hand, if the Titans are deluding themselves into thinking Mettenberger is a gem that he’s not, they’re going to be kicking themselves for not taking a quarterback in the part of the draft where virtually everyone else currently agrees that you find one.

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Jay Cutler and Another Example of How Statistics Can Be Worthless

I’ve heard over and over again about how Jay Cutler‘s statistics from last year are better than fans give him credit for. The Bears had the 16th best overall passer rating of any team in the league. Not too bad you say? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

jay-cutler-3

Cutler padded those stats with the third most yards of all NFL quarterbacks from screen passes. And where did “Mr. Clutch” rate in the fourth quarter only? The Bears were 26th. And that’s even after padding the stats in the second half of blowout losses to the Packers and the Patriots. From Steve Palazzolo at profootballfocus.com and from sportingcharts.com.

If you are going to use statistics to defend your argument, I’d suggest that you at least take a deep dive.  Even then, I’d say that if the number doesn’t pass the eye test, trust your eyes.  They do a lot better job of drawing conclusions from complex situations than a one dimensional number ever will.

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