Pray the Bears Don’t Take a Pass Rusher in the First Round

Randy_Gregory-Spring_ball_2014_2014-03-30_17-38

Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer at NFL.com report that Randy Gregory‘s stock is falling precipitously as teams wonder if he’s got the mental makeup to make the jump to pro football:

“The situation for the Cornhusker All-American is like this: The natural ability is there; whether he can realize his considerable potential is another matter entirely. Those considerations, however, do not make Gregory unique in the draft nor in the league as a whole.

“‘It all depends on the organization, and what they have in place for him,’ said one NFC personnel exec. ‘There are quite a few players that have issues. It’s where you place football character over the things he can’t control. That’s the big thing to me.'”

“One NFC general manager said, ‘There are more negatives than positives.’

“And that’s remarkable, given that many scouts and execs spoken with during the past two months believe Gregory is the best natural pass-rusher in this year’s draft class.”

And I couldn’t agree more. The top four pass rushers past consensus top five pick Dante Fowler are Gregory, Shane Ray, Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree. Of the four, the only one I would have said belonged in the top ten picks based upon what you see on the field is Gregory. Now it looks like even he’s going to be a huge risk.

Many well respected media experts have the Bears taking a pass rusher in the first round of this draft. Here’s hoping that’s not the case. The guys I see have “bust” written all over them. That’s something the Bears can’t afford.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

NFC North Roundtable

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 8.56.49 AM

Adam Bringedahl (Detroit Lions), Brian Slattery (Green Bay Packers), Davey Randa (Minnesota Vikings) and I review hot topics currently affecting the NFC North and the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft in . We worked hard on this and I think it came out reasonably light and funny. Give it a listen and don’t miss the where all 32 representatives participated in a mock draft in preparation for the upcoming real thing tomorrow. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings | Leave a comment

Niggling Doubts About Antrel Rolle

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com interviews new Bears safety Antrel Rolle:

“‘I don’t think I was ever involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve,’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin, now in his 31st year in the NFL, said at the NFL Scouting Combine.”

“‘You just have to be yourself,’ [Rolle] said. ‘If you’re a guy that’s laid-back, then be laid-back. If you’re a guy that’s motivated and very enthused about what’s going on, then be that guy because you can be that energy. You can be that fuel for other guys.”

The Bears locker room could undoubtedly use more like Rolle. I can’t stress enough the comment of one opposing assistant coach who called the Bears “the biggest bunch of frontrunners in the league.” Players like Martellus Bennett, Jeremiah Ratliff and Matt Forte, who didn’t show up for the voluntary minicamp which is currently underway, aren’t helping dispel that impression. The bears need more like Rolle.

Having said that, I have to question whether Rolle is the guy to do it. In order to lead the team you need to also perform on the field. I recently caught the Giants week 7 game against the Cowboys last season on the NFL Network and took the opportunity to focus on Rolle. It wasn’t a good look. He’s lost a lot of range and his first step was frequently in the wrong direction. I’m told he performed better late in the year. Let’s hope so.’

Posted in Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants | Leave a comment

Hub Arkush: Draft Information Worth Noting

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com rips the process of putting together mock drafts. Justifiably. But then gives out some information that he thinks is reasonably reliable based upon sources were willing to go on the record on:

“One team’s general manager told me Monday morning he’s sure it’s no better than 50-50 right now that the Bucs are taking Jameis Winston. They might, but don’t bet the farm on it.

“Another individual who will be picking for his team told me cornerback Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest is one of the fastest risers on a number of draft boards right now as we count down to draft day.

“And one highly respected offensive coach told me, ‘Todd Gurley will be the best offensive player in this draft.'”

For what its worth.

Posted in Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment

If the Minicamp Doesn’t Affect the Draft, Why Have It Now?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune doesn’t think the Bears voluntary minicamp, which starts today, will affect their draft much:

“It’s difficult to imagine that much of what happens on the field will affect plans for the draft. General manager Ryan Pace isn’t going to lay eyes on Jay Cutler throwing the ball and decide he needs to be in position to choose Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.

“Coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio aren’t going to size up candidates at outside linebacker and come to the realization they’re a young pass rusher away from being where they need to be. Draft preparations have been made, and those opinions have been shaped by long meetings and longer hours spent doing film work. Three practices leading directly into the draft are not going to turn the team’s board on its side.”

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times says pretty much the same thing. One question neither bothered to answer is this: If it won’t affect the draft, why have it now? The Bears are the only team in the NFL having their first minicamp before the draft, not after.

I don’t have any doubt that all of the preparations have been made and the board has been stacked. But there is a reason the Bears are having that minicamp now. Fox has said repeatedly that he won’t really know anything about anyone until he sees the players hit the grass. Today, that’s what they’re going to do. It’s only positional drills but its live and they’re going to get to see them.

The Bears want a look at what they’ve got before the draft starts because it might affect what decisions they make in later rounds when they are choosing positions to make a priority. That makes the next couple days reasonably significant.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

Martellus Bennett. Again. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Regular readers of this blog will know that I participated in a mock draft with other fans around the country representing all 32 teams.  Former ESPN producer Jay Soderberg put us all together to explain our picks in a podcast.  The first 16 picks are located here.  I, of course, made the Bears pick at number seven.  I also came on and defended the Titans’ pick (though I didn’t make it).  Part two is located here where I helped discuss what Buffalo will do in the last ten minutes of the podcast (they were without a first round pick).
  • Former Super Bowl winning head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and I  see 100% eye to eye on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks at the Bears newly released schedule and says it looks like 7-9. I figure if the Bears split with the Vikings and Lions that sounds about right.
  • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com reviews the personnel record of Bears general manager Ryan Pace. Pace found some good offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft. Other than that, his record is disturbingly mediocre. Atkins isn’t too tough on him but he implies that Pace and Director of Player Personnel Josh Lucas need to do better if they want to turn the Bears around. I can only agree.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com rates the need to draft a quarterback as “low”, pointing out that even though Pace has said he’d like to draft one every year, they didn’t do it in New Orleans. But New Orleans had Drew Brees not Jay Cutler. It’s an interesting evaluation of the current roster situation.

    One of the things I’ll be most interested in seeing on Friday or (more likely) Saturday is if the Bears take a quarterback, particularly in the second or third round. Bears head coach John Fox and Pace have gone out of their way to not sound too thrilled with Cutler in their comments to the media. But, as I said yesterday, it’s actions that count not words. If the Bears draft a quarterback, particularly in a round high enough to reasonably expect said quarterback to start at some point in the future, then I’ll believe that Fox’s and Pace’s words are more than just a motivational ploy for Cutler.

  • Jeff Dickerson at ESPN actually had a fan ask him if it was possible San Diego would trade Philip Rivers for Cutler straight up. [head shake].
  • Dickerson also reports that Martellus Bennett isn’t showing up for voluntary workouts. Given that he just signed a new deal in March 2013, I think the odds are good this isn’t about his contract. It’s more likely Bennett saying to himself, “‘Voluntary’ means ‘voluntary’. I don’t feel like showing up so I won’t.”

    No one will argue that Bennett isn’t within his rights. We all know that Bennett marches to the beat of his own drum. I won’t repeat what I said in a previous post on Bennett last summer. Bennet apparently hasn’t learned much since then.

    If Fox didn’t know what a job he had in front of him building an esprit de corps amongst the players, he knows now. He wouldn’t have gotten far with Lance Briggs still on the team. I’m not suggesting they immediately trade Bennett (they probably couldn’t without it looking punitive, anyway) but you do start to wonder how far Fox will get as long a Bennett is still around, as well. I wouldn’t mind an extra pick in next year’s draft. If Bennett causes the same kind of trouble this summer he did last summer – and I’d say he’s on his way – we may not see him around for 2016.

Elsewhere

  • Rob Demovsky at ESPN predicts the results of each Packers game. He has them at 11-5. It’s entirely possible that at the moment they’d be favored in every game.
  • Matt Forte isn’t the only division player who has decided to forego offseason workouts. According to Michael Rothstein at ESPN, Lions safety James Ihedigbo won’t be showing up to any voluntary workouts until he gets a new contract. Ihedigbo was a fairly important component of the Lions defense last year. All indications are he’ll be there for the mandatory workouts and I doubt this will have much effect on anyone.
  • ESPN‘s Scouts Inc. has posted their board with all of the players they have a draftable grade on stacked by position. For those without and Insiders subscription I’ll tell you the first and most important relevant takeaway – they have 20 players with a first round grade. The round has 32 slots. Should be interesting.

One Final Thought

Mullin continues to point out the distinct possibility that Jimmy Clausen could provide a moderate level of competition for Cutler. Clausen “played creditably against one of the elite NFL defenses (Detroit) after four years of no-play and coming in with a short practice week after the Monday night loss to New Orleans, further shortened by Marc Trestman canceling the Wednesday practice before the Detroit game.” Bears head coach John Fox obviously likes Clausen a great deal personally despite his struggles in Carolina just as current Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has said he does. So there must be something there that makes people at least want him to succeed.

People think I’m pushing Clausen because I don’t like Cutler and don’t believe he’ll ever succeed at a high level. And they’re right. But I’m also not stupid. I know that Cutler will very likely win such a competition based upon talent. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that with a good showing in camp and in the pre-season, Clausen could see time at quarterback if Cutler stumbles. Clausen’s going to be a genuine alternative and the guess here is that the Bears are going to be only one more game like the one against New Orleans in 2014 from once again seeing him.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, NFL Draft, San Diego Chargers | Leave a comment

A Dissenting Voice on Ray McDonald

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Bears defensive end Ray McDonald has been cleared of violating the NFL player conduct policy by the league office. The Bears signed McDonald after three runins with the law in seven months. The first was an incident which involved him wrestiling with his pregant fiancee over a gun. The second was a domestic violence complaint also involving his fiancee. The third was a sexual assault accusation from a woman who is not McDonald’s fiancee. The league hasn’t cleared McDonald on the third incident yet.

Bears ownership initially rejected he idea of signing McDonald despite the support of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio:

“‘[Fangio] felt he was one of the leaders on the defense, him and [end] Justin Smith,’ [Bears head coach John] Fox said. ‘Teammates thought very highly of him, and you’re around your teammates a lot in this business.'”

Eventually ownership relented but only after McDonald sat down and talked to Bears president George McCaskey.

At the time the Bears signed McDonald, I said I would reserve judgement until some of my questions were answered. I think that no more information is going to be forthcoming so I can give my opinion now.

I make it a habit to judge people by their actions, not what they say. A lot of trouble could be avoided if more people followed that rule. People believe too easily what they want to believe and can be talked too easily into believing it.

The fact that Fangio and McDonald’s teammates were “shocked” tells me only one thing – that McDonald is a heck of a con man. If they were still shocked after it happened a third time then it tells me they’re stupid, as well. The fact that McCaskey relented based, not upon the facts in his file, but upon what McDonald said only re-enforces that opinion.

It’s obvious to me that McDonald is in a toxic relationship. It drove him to what amounts to two domestic violence complaints and one sexual encounter outside of whatever boundaries he’s set with his fiancee. As long as that relationship contiues, he’s headed for trouble. And given that she’s apparently had his baby, I’d say he’ll never really be extracted from it. And, of course, even worse is what that relationship uncovered – a tendency towards responding to bad situations with violence upon the weak.

I don’t know what McDonald has said and I don’t want to know. I want to hear what he’s done to clean up the mess he’s made of his life. Until I hear that, until I hear more than talk, I’m going to assume that his problems are going to continue.

I’m going to say up front that I’m a rare bird. Most fans in most places will forgive almost anything if the think it will help the team win. That includes Chicago, where fans once gave Scotty Pippen a standing ovation after an infamous incident in which he quit on his team and refused to enter a playoff game with 1.8 seconds left to play.

But personally, I’d honestly rather that the Bears were miserable at defensive end than have a guy like McDonald on the team. I think about rooting for McDonald this fall, a guy who apparently can’t keep control himself around women, and it makes me sick. That’s the way I feel.

Posted in Chicago Bears | 1 Comment

Drafting Pass Rush Is a Priority. But at What Price?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts up his mock draft. Here are his top 10 picks:

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

3. Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

4. Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

5. Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska

7. Bears: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

8. Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa

10. Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

It’s an interesting grouping if only because it breaks down into tiers which reflect Biggs’s priorities by position: quarterback is the first at one and two because that’s the most important, then pass rushers at three, five and six, and finally the other positions at three of the last four spots.

This is fine in that it almost certainly reflects the thoughts of virtually all fans, and I would dare say all NFL general managers as well. But the problem is that Biggs takes it too far.

Though he’s certainly not worthy of the two spot, I get the Marcus Mariota pick and it may well happen, though I’m guessing that if it does, its not likely to be the Titans picking there. However, prioritizing Dante Fowler over Leonard Williams, the best prospect in the draft, isn’t what I would call good thinking. In fairness to Biggs, he’s not the only media expert who believes Fowler will go first. But though Fowler’s a great prospect, Williams is the consensus best player in the draft and as close to a sure thing as you can get – he’s almost certainly going to be a dominant defensive lineman. He’s the smart pick.

But those two decisions aren’t nearly as surprising as taking Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory, both very risky prospects (for the top ten) over Amari Cooper, the most solid wide receiver prospect in the draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay recently did a live mock draft on ESPN and Beasley didn’t even make the first round.

slack_for_ios_upload

I, personally, like Gregory a lot but three failed drug tests, including one at the Combine, makes you wonder if he’s not an addictive personality headed for trouble.

Bud Dupree, Brandon Scherff and Kevin White all have their risks as well but of the three, Dupree is the riskiest. Brandon Scherff is at worst an outstanding NFL guard. White is a one year wonder but he (arguably) has more dominant physical skills. Based upon the mock drafts I’ve seen almost no one would take Dupree over White.

This mock highlights the conflicts that must run through every general manager’s head as they prepare for the draft. We’re all familiar with the idea of drafting the best available and how that often conflicts with drafting for need. Biggs has written many times that drafting the best available player regardless of need is a fallacy in the NFL – and I absolutely believe him. But this mock draft might take it too far. As important as pass rush is in the NFL, teams can’t afford to miss in the top ten picks. You can still draft for need but focusing on one position, admittedly a very important one, regardless of the grade on talent for the individual prospects sounds to me like it’s asking for trouble. Here’s hoping that the Bears don’t force a pick in order to fill a position in such a manner.

Posted in Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL Draft, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans | Leave a comment

Transition to the 3-4 Defense May Be Over Blown

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com makes me feel a bit better about the Bears transition to a 3-4 defense as he talks about the variations in the scheme:

“The original 3-4 defenses were very different from the 4-3 and even many of today’s 3-4s in that they were two-gap schemes while the 4-3 and many of today’s 3-4s are one-gap defenses.”

“In a traditional 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is responsible for both A-gaps, and the defensive ends, also known as five-techniques, are required to fill the gap between the guard and tackle on their side and to set the edge so that no running backs can get outside the tackles.

“When one of the three defensive linemen gets to the quarterback, that’s a bonus, as the principle pass rushers in the 3-4 are the linebackers, who will rush in various blitz combinations.”

“[Bears general manager Ryan Pace said] ‘[W]e’ll be base 3-4, that’s accurate and that’s what [defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is] comfortable with, but the best coaches, they find ways to maximize their players’ skill sets. I know Vic’s going to do that.'”

“What makes that possible is the evolution of the one-gap 3-4 schemes in which gap responsibility is spread between the three linemen up front and the linebackers.

“As an example, in this scheme the nose tackle will fill one of the A-gaps and the strong-side inside linebacker will be responsible for the other gap, which he will either shoot if the play comes through it, or flow in the direction of the play if it doesn’t.

“The key to this scheme is each player in the front seven must make a series of reads as the play develops. Gap integrity is a must.

“This scheme is primarily what Fangio used in San Francisco because he really didn’t have the traditional two-gap space-eaters there, either.

“Teams in the NFL today that play a 3-4 base scheme rarely stick strictly with one style or the other.”

Like many Bears fans, I’ve been able to find a fair bit of information about the traditional, two gap 3-4 defense. Finding information about the one gap form of the defense has been harder to come by. In that respect, this was a valuable article.

Until now, I’ve assumed the Bears would likely play one form of this defense or the other. But Arkush makes it clear that’s not necessarily the case. It seems that the Bears will slide in and out of the two different forms depending upon the personnel on the field. If Jay Ratliff is in as a nose tackle, he’ll likely be responsible for only one A gap while the strong side inside linebacker will take the other. If, on the other hand, it’s Ego Ferguson, they may have him two gap it. Indeed, its conceivable that the defensive linemen and linebackers up and down the line won’t all be playing the same style at once.

What this all means is that the Bears will be able to more easily adjust to the change in scheme than many would have you believe. The skills required to play the one gap style of the 3-4 are similar up and down the line to those required to play the style of 4-3 the Bears played last year. There are still problems but the Bears should be able to work around them. Add that to the fact that they’ll likely be in hybrid four man fronts in sub packages and the Bears won’t have too tough of a time adapting to whatever style Fangio decides to play.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment

Leonard Williams Would Make Bears Fans Smile

AP-NFL

AP-NFL

Todd McShay looks to bring great joy to Chicago in his latest mock draft:

Leonard Williams Chicago Bears (5-11)
COLLEGE: USC Class: Jr HT: 6-4 WT: 302 POS: DE

“Analysis: To be clear: Williams dropping to No. 7 here has nothing to do with my opinion of him as a player. He’s the No. 2 prospect on my board and I’ve had him ranked as one of the top players in this class since the preseason. But this scenario does show how he has the potential to drop a little bit if he gets out of the top two picks based on the needs of teams picking third through seventh. He wouldn’t fill a huge need for the Bears, but at this point he’s too good of a value for them to pass up, especially given how bad their defense has been the past two seasons. The Chicago Bears ranked 31st in the league in scoring defense? That’s just not right. Williams is an impact run-stopper and above-average interior pass-rusher who can play multiple roles in different schemes. If Williams isn’t available here, then WR Kevin White would be the pick.”

“He wouldn’t fill a huge need?” You’ve got to be kidding me. The Bears needs on the defensive line are probably they’re greatest. Regardless they’re need for impact players at any position is an overriding priority.

The Bears wouldn’t just dash to the podium to take Williams. They’d do cartwheels all the way. Heck, if there was more room in my living room, I’d do cartwheels.

Posted in Chicago Bears | Leave a comment