The Way to Answer a Simple Question and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune interviews Bears head coach Mark Trestman. Its pretty evident that Trestman is reticent about talking relationships with individual players. But ask him about team building and you get a soliloquy. I thought this section was particularly interesting:

    “And when we play on Sundays, if the talent is the same throughout the league — which it arguably is — which games are won or lost in the fourth quarter? If the coaches are all coaching at a high level — which arguably they are? So then what’s the difference? It’s that we treat each other well, the relationships we build.

    “When you hear players talk at retirement or they talk at the Hall of Fame, what do they talk about most? The relationships they had. The bonds. That’s almost universal. It’s the bonds. It’s not the touchdown passes, the catches. It’s the bonds. Those guys make the Hall of Fame because their bonds allowed them to win championships or have great success.”

  • Speaking of the Trestman interview, kudos to Wiederer for asking several times what he planned to do better. Fans learn a lot from these honest assessments and Trestman is just the right guy to give them. I also found this part to be a relief:

    “And by now allowing Aaron (Kromer) to pull back a little bit but still stay involved, but be in our quarterback meetings a little bit more is helpful. Just to have him for feedback because he’s so knowledgeable.

    “And that really helps me because I feel like I can tend to the full team a little bit more. I feel like we’re in place enough now where although I was around the defense and around the special teams, I felt like I wanted to be around them more. Loosening the reins and moving Pat Meyer into the (offensive line coach) position allows me to get enough of where we are offensive and defensively to interact with the players to have a sense that I’m involved and invested in all three phases. That can only help our accountability and our communication.

    “And I wanted to be in a place where I could be more supportive of (defensive coordinator Mel Tucker) and his staff. So those are some things I noticed and felt. And I felt that amid the injuries we had that I wanted to make sure that the next time around we would be doing a better job of constantly reminding ourselves that we have to develop every player on the team and do a better job with that. Then if we do get an injury bug, the guys who are going into games are more prepared. Those are some of the things I saw. I think that was an honest evaluation.”

    I expected nothing less.

    I’ve pushed hard for this in previous posts. I totally understand Trestman’s focus on the offense in his first year. There’s only so much you can do and you have to take care of the first things first. But now he has take advantage of the opportunity to coach the whole team. I’m glad he’s recognized the problem. I don’t think former Bears head coach Lovie Smith ever did.

    This is going to be an important year for Trestman as a head coach. This is the year he proves he can coach the whole team and not just a third of it.

  • Receivers coach Mike Groh on wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. From Wiederer:

    “He has elite level hand-eye coordination and body control. His extension for the ball is unmatched in my opinion. And then he has unbelievable hands. You know when you get into a very nice car, like an expensive German car, and you close the door and you feel that suction, that vacuum? That’s what his hands are like.”

  • My only criticism of Adam L. Jahn‘s list of 10 Bears players who are “on the spot” this year is that it he got to number 4 before he named a lineman. Make no mistake about it, as the line of scrimmage goes, so go the Bears this year. From the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Michael C. Wrightat ESPN.com has a few surprises on his projected roster. Going with only five wide recievers and two tight ends so you can keep 10 defensive linemen seems risky to me. He also has Khaseem Greene losing out to Christian Jones at linebacker.
  • Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com addresses the state of the Bears offensive line. He predicts a grim future for former hope for the future James Brown

    “With [Matt] Slauson missing the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery, [Ebon] Britton filled in at left guard. But once [Kyle] Long and [Jordan] Mills joined Slauson on the sideline out of precaution – Mills is coming off foot surgery – Britton moved to right tackle, with [Michael] Ola and [Taylor] Boggs at left and right guard, respectively. The odd man out was James Brown, two years removed from showing promise as a starting guard but a healthy scratch 16 times last season. Brown enters camp squarely on the roster bubble.”

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune has some good advice for those of us who will be paying attention to the position battle at free safety this summer:

    “Watch the exhibitions to see who tackles best — a major weakness among last year’s safeties.”

  • I thought this tid bit from Dan Pompei at the Bleacher Report was interesting:

    “The Bears are working with a sleep therapist in an attempt to maximize performance and enhance quality of life for their players. The therapist met with the team and had players fill out questionnaires about sleep patterns. Suggestions and sleep plans were drawn up for individuals. Some of the players who have gotten with the program are reporting feeling more energetic and alert.”

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN sums up the Bears problems on defense last year including one new reason for their ineptitude I hadn’t heard yet:

    “No Bears opponent scored less than 20 points last season. But injuries, inexperienced backups and ineffective coaching at some positions played a role, as did other factors such as limited practice repetitions for the defense. According to multiple sources, Chicago’s defensive players over the course of a week of preparation for an opponent typically received approximately half the practice repetitions they had normally taken under [former Bears head coach Lovie] Smith’s staff as offensive preparation had become a premium with the new regime.

  • Donovan McNabb is already a bitter old man. From CSNChicago.com.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

Chicago is a finalist to get the 2015 NFL Draft. But that’s not the only thing that caught my eye in this article.. It was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell‘s’ answer to the question of when a decision will be made. Via Sam Farmer for the Chicago Tribune:

“I believe the decision will come in late summer, but we’re not going to be bound by that. We’re going to do the right thing.”

That’s all I can ask.

I’m frequently put in a position where I’m trying to plan around another person’s schedule. One of the most irritating things that a person can do when you ask them about completion of a project is to simply refuse to give you an idea of when it will be done out of fear of drawing criticism if they can’t meet the deadline. This leaves you the with no clue as to when to expect it and no way to plan around them. To such people, I say look to no further than this as an example of how to handle such things.

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The Competition at Tight End and Other Points of View

Bears

“The Bears aren’t loaded at the position, but Wilson was beginning to look like a situational player before the [Achilles tear].”

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune gives me more fodder for this blog by answering your questions.  He’s got some interesting opinions about the competition at tight end:

With the release of Fendi Onubun, who is the favorite to back up Martellus Bennett at tight end? – Big D., Chicago, from email

Following the release of Onobun at the conclusion of minicamp last Thursday, the Bears added Jeron Mastrud to the 90-man roster, giving them five tight ends for training camp. That means four players will be vying for what will likely be two spots on the 53 behind starter Martellus Bennett. Dante Rosario, Matthew Mulligan and Zach Miller have been with the team since the start of the offseason. I can tell you that internally at Halas Hall the club feels better about the depth it has than the public does right now. Mulligan is an interesting player. He’s entering his sixth season and has good experience, appearing in 60 games over the last four seasons with the Patriots, Rams, Jets. At 6-4, 267 pounds, he runs better than the Bears expected and it will be interesting to watch him when the pads go on in training camp. He’s primarily a blocking tight end and if he moves better than former tight  ends Matt Spaeth and Kellen Davis, I think there is probably a spot on the roster for him. Rosario is in a better position this year too after the Bears traded for him during Week 1 a year ago. He was trying to learn on the fly as the Bears put him into action. Rosario had 182 snaps on offense (17.2 percent) and 352 snaps on special teams, which ranked second on the roster behind only linebacker Blake Costanzo.

“‘I have had more time to spend learning the ends and outs of the offense and everything else and special teams,’ Rosario said last week. ‘Not just that but getting to know the guys better and building a relationship. Kind of makes you feel like you fit in a little bit more.’”

First, I think “Big D.” has a pretty high opinion of Fendi Onobun if he thinks he was the favorite to back up Bennett before being released.

Like Biggs, I like Matthew Mulligan’s chances.  His specialty with the Rams and Jets was as what amounted to an extra lineman in running situations, a position that Ebon Britton played last year.  Britton is now listed on the Bears website as a guard and its obvious that the Bears have plans for Mulligan to fill that role this year.  If he can catch just the occasional pass he’ll be an upgrade.

  • Biggs also tells us why the Bears weren’t interested in bringing linebacker James Anderson back:

“Why didn’t Bears re-sign James Anderson? The Packer fumble? Faith in Shea McClellin? Maybe Lance Briggs didn’t like him? What’s the reason? — @mattahrens from Twitter

“It wouldn’t be fair to place blame on any one player for the fumble that wasn’t picked up against the Packers and Briggs doesn’t make personnel decisions, he plays football. When the Bears signed Anderson last year, the scouting report I got on him after a solid career with the Panthers was that he had a tendency to wear down in the second half of the season. I think we saw that play out last year with the Bears. Anderson, 30, was steady in the first half of the season and not as good as the schedule reached November and December. When you consider draft picks like McClellin as well as Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, yeah, the Bears need to see if they can get on the field and stick. It wasn’t surprising to me the Bears did not pursue Anderson in free agency. There are bigger pieces they need to replace on defense.”

  • Biggs also answers a question about why guard Kyle Long isn’t being moved to tackle.  I won’t bore you with a repetition of the “strength up the middle” philosophy of offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer except to say that Biggs reiterates it.  However, this portion about why Brain de la Puente won’t be starting at center any time soon was new and to the point:

“I also think you probably overrate de la Puente. He was a free agent and got little to no interest as a starter on the open market with the Saints actively working to replace him. That is what led him to take a backup job with the Bears on a one-year deal.”

I understand why fans might overestimate de la Puente.  But they have to understand that de la Puente has serious problems blocking the run.  The Bears are likely hoping that Kromer, his former line coach, will bring out the best in him.  But he’s not a better center than Roberto Garza right now.

  • Former Viking great John Randle has some advice for rookie defensive tackle Will Sutton:.  Via John Mullin:

“‘[Sutton] should start a book,’ Randle told CSNChicago.com recently at the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s ‘Chicago Salute to Greatness’ at the Glen Club in Glenview. ‘You’re ‘profiling’ guys, ‘stalking’ them. I gotta know [an opponent’s] strengths and his weaknesses.

“‘I kept a book, an actual book, of what I did with a guy, what worked, what didn’t. I knew people thought of me as a fast guy, so first play of the game, I’d line up wide and then bull rush. Next play, maybe stutter-step but then bull-rush again. Then maybe ‘hump[-move]’ him like Reggie White.’

“Then Randle laughed. ‘And then the next time, maybe I start raving about his kids or him being such a good dad. Keep ‘em off balance.’”

Elsewhere

  • Florio on the move of Rams first round draft pick Greg Robinson inside to guard:

“Robinson’s struggles aren’t a complete surprise to league insiders who had their doubts about Robinson’s ability to be dominant at the next level.  Robinson’s reference to the intensity of the playbook won’t surprise skeptics, either, given that Robinson dealt with a limited range of plays and protections at Auburn.  It makes the Rams’ risk even bigger, especially since they’ve moved Robinson to a position that typically doesn’t demand a top-five draft pedigree.”

Let’s also not forget that he’s also facing one of the best front 7’s in the game i practice, albeit only in minicamp.

One Final Thought

  • Soldier Field has always had competition for the wort field in football from Pittsburgh.  This won’t help them:

“Last summer a Kenny Chesney concert made a mess at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, with fights, arrests and trash all over the place.

“This summer the home of the Steelers has again hosted a concert. And the only thing different this year is that it was Luke Bryan instead of Kenny Chesney.

“But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. For a fuller picture, look at the video taken of the trash, drunkenness and debauchery. Last year, the Steelers weren’t happy about some of the fallout from the Chesney concert, which the team thought painted Heinz Field in a negative light. The Steelers probably won’t be happy about this morning’s mess, either.”

Be sure and take a look at that video.  These hillbillies are a piece of work.

 

 

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Trestman Still Seeing the Game from the Offensive Side and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that defensive backs coach Jon Hoke shoulders some of the blame for Chris Conte’s poor performance last year:

“Hoke said he should’ve done a better job coaching last year, when, he said, the Bears’ secondary would have benefitted from a healthier front seven.”

With coaching changes at the defensive line and at linebacker, it did occur to me that Hoke got a bit of a free pass last year.  My assumption was that, unlike those who were replaced, he’s a veteran coach who has shown in the past that he can do a good job.  Nevertheless, I’d like to know more specifically what he did wrong and what he’ll do better.

  • I thought this explanation that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker gave of what he wanted the linebackers to do was interesting.  It’s at the 14:00 mark in the following clip of his press conference last week and it’s worth a listen.  It sounds like getting someone to establish these principals was a major reason for the change in coaches at the position.

Tucker Presser

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times  quotes Bears head coach Marc Trestman on the value of toughness in the defense:

“‘Salty helps as long as your fundamentals and technique are sound.  Tough guys without system doesn’t work very good. It all goes together. That’s what makes great defenses. We think we’ve got the right guys to do it. We’ll see. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“The Bears hosted a group of agents including Drew Rosenhaus at Tuesday’s practice, allowing them to see their practice and overall environment.”

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times on the release of quarterback Jerrod Johnson:

“Clausen’s work was limited in minicamp. He spent more time with his helmet in his hand than throwing in drills. Johnson, meanwhile, seemed to get fewer repetitions than only [starting quarterback Jay] Cutler. He was cut hours after minicamp ended.”

I was a bit worried that after spending so much time with the team last year and in the offseason, Johnson was given the heave ho simply because the Bears drafted quarterback David Fales.  But it seems evident that Johnson was given every opportunity to show that he should stick before being released.

D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin may be competing for starting spots, but there should be enough roles for all in coordinator Mel Tucker’s defense. Bostic may start in the nickel package and Williams in the middle of the base defense while McClellin becomes the blitzing linebacker/situational rusher that Tucker envisions.”

“A year ago, veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije would have been a lock for the Bears. Now he’s looking for work after being cut after an uneventful minicamp spent mostly with third- and fourth-teamers. His departure is a sign of the improved competition.”

Elsewhere

“Changing duties: At one point during position drills, defensive line coach Mike Trgovac worked with the offensive linemen. A few yards away, offensive line coach James Campen ran the defensive line drill. That was something new this offseason, but it makes senses that a defensive line coach could give pointers to offensive linemen and vice versa.”

  • Michael Rothstein at ESPN.com gives some interesting reasons for why Brandon Flowers might be a risky proposition for a Lions organization that could use defensive backfield help:

“Multiple reports explained part of the concern with Flowers was he didn’t really fit in the Kansas City scheme implemented last season. It was one heavily reliant on press coverage from the outside cornerbacks. Well, this could be a problem for the Lions with Flowers. “All indications – including from [cornerback Darius] Slay himself – is that Detroit is going to be heavily aggressive this season and will likely use a lot of press coverage in man situations on the outside. This doesn’t mean Flowers wouldn’t be able to adapt to it, but signing him would be a risk in this scenario because of the money they would have to likely pay the former second-round pick.”

A combination of historically bad cornerback play and extensive use of press coverage wouldn’t seem to me to be a smart move in Detroit. We shall see.

“The question then turns to the type of talent the FXFL can attract as it starts play. The Canadian Football League and Arena Football League both have footholds as NFL alternatives. Moreover, though the NFL only has a seven-round draft, hundreds of undrafted free agents are signed by clubs in the spring. Also, with practice squads, the NFL already has an in-house developmental system.”

One Final Thought

Trestman continues to talk about adding toughness on defense.   At about the 4:40 mark he says, “We’re certainly seeing it from the offensive side.”

Trestman Presser

I’m a little disappointed in this comment. Trestman, in my judgment, badly needs to spend more time with the defense.  This is needed both to improve them through his coaching experience from the offensive side and to court them in terms of keeping them happy with what is still a relatively new regime.  Like Lovie Smith before him with the defense, effusive praise is given to Trestman from players on the offensive side of the ball.  But you hear those comments much less frequently from members of the defense, probably because he doesn’t work enough with them personally and because they subsequently, and somewhat naturally, get the impression that they aren’t as valued as the offensive players.  Good head coaches like Bill Belichick in New England coach both sides of the ball, not just the side they specialized in as coordinators. It was my hope that offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer dropping “offensive line coach” from his title was an indication that he would be taking on more of Trestman’s responsibilities with the offense so that Trestman would have more time to work with the defense.  But this comment indicates that Trestman still views the team from an offensive perspective.

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Probably Should Have Just Made Brad Biggs a Co-Author and Other Points of View

Bears

“As I look at the Bears’ schedule, I see two tough games: San Francisco and New England. Do you see any others and do you think the Bears will win the division and the Super Bowl? – LaVonte R., Chicago, from email

“I imagine you’ve stopped by after reading Steve Rosenbloom, huh? The Bears defeated the Packers in Marc Trestman’s first game as head coach in the rivalry. But Green Bay has won seven of the last eight meetings between the teams. Those two games would strike me as “tough.” There are some other challenging points on the schedule. The Bears should be a contender in the NFC but we’ve been saying that every spring for how long now? To get to the Super Bowl, they’ll have to find a way past some very talented teams in the NFC West in the Seahawks and 49ers.”

“General manager Phil Emery chose to stay out of the high-stakes safety market in free agency as Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward got big paydays. With bigger holes up front, the Bears wrote contracts with $34.35 million guaranteed to defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. If the front is dramatically improved, there will be less pressure on the back end.

“Skepticism persists. Senior Bowl director Phil Savage, the former GM of the Browns, ranked the safety tandems entering 2014 on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week. He had the Bears 32nd.”

I’m probably one of the few people in Chicago that likes what the Bears did at the safety position.  For one thing, like the Bears, I haven’t completely given up on Chris ConteRyan Mundy was a good, young pickup and, with Brock Vereen already running with the starters in mini-camp, I believe the Bears have laid a foundation for the future.  And they did it without breaking the bank.

  • Here’s another question for Biggs regarding an issue I know we all have a stake in:

“My question is in regards to tickets to home games.  I am planning on attending the Nov. 16 game against the Vikings. I’m struggling to decide what to do about game tickets. My airline is already reserved! I am bringing my 70-year-old aunt and grandstand seats do not seem feasible. What are the odds of snagging tickets through Ticketmaster when they go on sale? Any buzz yet when they will be available? – Tawnya C., Carson City, Nev.

“The Bears put single-game tickets on sale July 18 last summer and tickets went on sale on July 13 in 2012. Barring a change in plans, I’d expect the club to maintain a similar timeline this year. Generally, an announcement is made several days before the ticket window opens. My guess is tickets will be sold relatively quickly. Good luck.”

Elsewhere

“The pendulum always swings far with coaching changes, and this one was a textbook example. [Former head coach, Jim] Schwartz, at least from a perception standpoint, is fiery and uber aggressive. [Current head coach, Jim] Caldwell, from a perception standpoint, is calm and restrained. A disciple of Tony Dungy, Caldwell is not likely to get in any handshake smackdowns. He won’t tell fans where to stick it when he’s walking off the field. And he probably won’t spike many headsets. His steady leadership could bring out the best in a group that has been prone to crossing lines that should not have been crossed.

The Lions are talented and they’ve gotten better in the offseason. If they are actually more disciplined than they have been in the recent past they are going to be a handful.

One Final Thought

  • Yes, here is yet another question for Biggs.  If he’s reading this I’ll offer him half of everything they pay me to write these blog entries.

“Is there any chance the Bears play Jon Bostic in the nickel but start D.J. Williams and Shea McClellin in the base package? — @pmthompson9 from Twitter

“The only thing that will not change is Lance Briggs is going to be the starter on the weak side. Everything else is up in the air right now. From what I’ve seen through OTAs, they’re trying different combinations and allowing Bostic and McClellin to get time in the middle and on the strong side. I’ve maintained all along Williams is the man to beat out in the middle but this competition reaches the next level when training camp opens.”

This is all technically true.  But my impression is that McClellin is more likely to play in special situations than as a regular in the base defense.  This was backed up by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s statement in Wednesday’s press conference where he said that he saw McClellin as “more of a blitzer than a four down rusher.”  It’s at the 5:00 mark.

Tucker Presser

 

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Bears Working to Counter Issues of Depth

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Depth seems to be a key issue for NFL teams in playoff contention every year.  Where do you see the biggest depth risk for the Bears?  Wide receiver, offensive line or linebacker? – Pat G., Ortonville, Mich.”

“Depth is a factor but from where I sit it’s overblown. Victories on Sundays are typically determined by elite players. One scout a long time ago told me it’s about which teams’ blues (elite players are called blues by scouts) have a better game. That will determine the outcome of most games because reality is when front-line players are lost, it’s difficult to compete, period. The Bears have plenty of bodies at linebacker right now but only one locked in starter. That is a position to keep an eye on. They made a move to shore up depth at cornerback in the first round of the draft. Safety is a great unknown and there isn’t a lot behind Martellus Bennett at tight end. But under the NFL’s salary cap and with some players on the roster commanding high pay, it’s going to be downright impossible to feel covered with veterans at every position.”

I’m going to simultaneously agree and mildly disagree with Biggs here.  I think depth is an issue in that you at least need players who can step in and not be liabilities when your blues go down.  Having quality backups is important but, as he points out, your ability to add depth is limited by things like the salary cap.  So the difference in how teams make up for injuries to stay in the hunt comes down to what you can do with what depth you can get.

When quarterback Jay Cutler went down last year, I’d like to think that Josh McCown’s excellent play in his place was the result of good coaching. I’ve thought for some years that the Bears needed a head coach that had a background in coaching quarterbacks and was overjoyed when they hired one in Marc Trestman after Lovie Smith’s departure. If that’s the case, then whoever the back up is this year – and I’m betting on Jordan Palmer – will play every bit as well as McCown did and we’ll know the Bears were more than just lucky last year.

You might also note that the Bears went out and got the best offensive line coach they could find and made him offensive coordinator. That isn’t a coincidence as the performance of the line affects every aspect of the offensive play.  By the same theory, this bodes well for the depth there. And the new coaches for the defense will also help in this respect to prevent the total collapse we saw in the front seven last year.

Having said that, if Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall go down for any period of time, the offense is going to be in more trouble than most would under the same circumstances. No amount of coaching is going to overcome that loss. As Biggs points out, the depth at tightend is deplorable and its probably the most injured position in football. I’ve seen nothing from Michael Ford that makes me think he’ll be a decent starter and I’ve literally seen nothing of Ka’Deem Carey, period. So I’m not holding my breath on Matt Forte’s backups, either.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t get my hopes up that the offense won’t take at least a little bit of a fall this year when it is less healthy than last year (as is likely going to be the case).

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The Limited Use of Statistics and Other Points of View

“Right tackle seemed to me to be the weakest of the all the offensive starting positions in 2013. I believe an upgrade there would significantly improve the offense. Are they satisfied with Jordan Mills’ potential or is it possible they would look at Kyle Long or Eben Britton there with Brian de la Puente at right guard?  Mills looked OK to me for a late-round plug-in, but I didn’t see the long-term potential. – Jim G., from email”

“Mills, recovered from foot surgery just after the end of last season, lined up with the starters at Tuesday’s OTA open to media. Barring something unexpected, he’s going to be the player to beat out for that job. Coach Marc Trestman has said there are no plans to switch Long and Britton and de la Puente took turns running with the ones at left guard in place of Matt Slauson, who will be sidelined a little longer following surgery on his right shoulder.

“I think Mills has upside as a guy entering his second season. There are a couple things I like about him. For starters, he’s got some nasty to him. Watch him finish blocks, particularly in the running game. He’s also athletic and light on his feet for a right tackle and has long arms. Yes, he needs to get better and as a young players that starts with being more consistent. But in my opinion Mills has taken a bad rap for what to me was a surprisingly poor grade by Pro Football Focus. I’ve got a lot of respect for the work PFF does. Some of their analysis is certainly subjective. We’ve seen plenty of shoddy line play by the Bears in the not-too-distant-past. Remember Bernard Robertson and Qasim Mitchell? J’Marcus Webb never improved, at least on a consistent basis, after his rookie season. Webb got substantially higher grades from PFF than Mills did last year and I think most would agree Webb didn’t pass the eye test.”

Biggs points out one of my pet peeves when it comes to the analysis of performance of any player – the over-reliance on statistics.  As a research investigator at a university in Chicago, I can tell you that to a large extent – especially in situations like this – you can often bias the statistics to show what you want them to.

My Ph.D. advisor used to tell me that if you need statistics to tell you that your results are significant, he wasn’t interested in them.  Similar to the situation here, they need to pass the eye test first.

“Hoping you might put a question to Phil Emery at some point. In light of his talent and athleticism, any thoughts on moving Kyle Long to the tackle position, specifically left tackle? My thinking is he is too talented for guard especially after reading a quote from Gil Brandt where he said “guards are a dime a dozen.” I agree and think Long could excel at left tackle. Jermon Bushrod could move to right tackle and Jordan Mills could compete with James Brown at right guard. The O-line would be improved without adding anyone new. — Robert J., Pompano Beach, Fla.”

“I certainly think Long is athletic enough to play anywhere on the offensive line. One of the first questions I posed to coach Marc Trestman back in March at the owners meeting was about Long and where the team planned to play him this season. He said then the plan was to keep him at right guard and nothing has changed to this point. The only difference on the offensive line through OTAs has been Eben Britton and Brian de la Puente lining up at left guard in the absence of Matt Slauson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. Guards have long been considered one of the non-premium positions on offense and certainly exploring data of contracts by positions would support that. But I can tell you offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer feels very differently about interior offensive linemen. Kromer came from New Orleans where the Saints put an emphasis on their play from guard to guard on the offensive line. The idea is to ensure there is a secure pocket for the quarterback to step up into and deliver the ball.”

After watching the Bears offensive line over a number of years, I also tend to agree with this philosophy and although they still aren’t at the salary level of the tackle position, to my eye there has been a rise in demand for good guards over the last decade.  Giving up sacks from the outside is bad.  But allowing pressure up the middle to consistently get into a quarterback’s face is absolutely devastating, not to mention the effect of weak guard play on the run game.  I’ll go with strength up the middle every time.

“Why do teams keep a dedicated long snapper rather than just having a backup guard/center be the long snapper? — @jackbearmiller from Twitter”

“This question has popped in a few times and I think it is important to emphasize that long snapping is a true specialty and needed skill. It’s a precision exercise involving hundredths of a second and pinpoint accuracy. The average long snapper will have the ball in the hands of the punter in 0.75 seconds. Snappers with fastballs can come close to 0.6 seconds and you don’t want the snapper to be slower than 0.8 seconds. It requires good zip on the snap but it’s also imperative to hit the punter in the same spot every time. Accuracy becomes a real issue with backup snappers and one bad snap can swing a game. When special teams coaches evaluate the snap for field goals and extra points, they’re timing the entire operation from the snap to the time the ball leaves the kicker’s foot. A smooth operation should take 1.25 seconds or less. Some operations will take 1.15 seconds but a snap that is off line for the holder can ruin a kick and require an extra half-second. Rule changes preventing a double push by linemen have put an emphasis on edge rushers on field goals. The fastest edge rushers can be unblocked and still not get their hands on a kick that is executed in a clean operation of 1.25 seconds or less. This isn’t a task that a reserve offensive lineman could master and it would be foolish for a team to try to go through a season with anything less than a full-time specialist. A bad snap can cost you 50 or even 60 yards of field position on a punt. A bad snap can cost you three points on a field goal.”

One Final Thought

Biggs takes another question that I’ve heard allot:

“With Kyle Fuller doing well against players like Eric Ebron in college were you surprised to see him on the outside in nickel package? — @rayllis from Twitter”

“No. The nickel position is one of the most challenging positions to play on defense. Usually the most successful cornerbacks in the slot are veterans and introducing Fuller to the NFL on the outside probably makes sense. The nickel is a hybrid player as he replaces the strong-side linebacker, so you need someone capable of fitting in the run game. Fuller is considered a physical corner but Tim Jennings has been successful as a run defender. He’s got the short-area quickness and savvy to be productive on the inside. The move makes a lot of sense to me.”

Backing Biggs’ opinion up, Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune addesses the issue with Jennings:

“It’s an underrated skill and a different feel as a cornerback to slide from the outside into the interior. And while Jennings played inside in his early days in the league with the Colts, since arriving in Chicago he’s been an outside corner exclusively with guys like D.J. Moore, Kelvin Hayden and Isaiah Frey handling the slot duties.

“So now comes a different approach. Jennings insisted this week that he has no issues with the push to slide him inside in nickel and dime packages and that he should be adapted to the new role in no time. But again, the responsibilities are different, the vision required is different, the instincts needed are different.

“‘You have to be able to see a lot more things,’ Jennings said. ‘You’ve got to be able to see a lot more backfield sets. It’s a lot more reads. There are a lot more keys that you have to get. I’ve got to get used to seeing different people, different formations with my eyes and being able to see different things with my keys. …It’s kind of two-way, run-pass keys. It’s another linebacker position. But you’re just a cornerback so now you’re kind of matched up with the third wide receiver. Yet in certain situations, with certain keys, you’ve got to be able to fit the run like a linebacker.’”

I can’t emphasize enough that the Bears are under-going is a complete change in philosophy on the defensive side of the ball when contrasted to the last decade or more. In the past players have been expected to learn one position and play it well. Now they’re being asked to learn more than one position in different situations and to be able to play them all well. That’s much harder. You run the risk of being a jack of all trades and master of none.

Remember the Chris Conte mistake that ended the season last year. Although that was more of a miscommunication, don’t be surprised if you see more of those kinds of mistakes, especially earlier in the season.

The Bears are taking a huge risk.

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Tough Love for Lance Briggs and Other Points of View

“What is less known [than his prowess as a receiver] is Marshall has been a positive influence on others, including tight end Martellus Bennett. Last season when Bennett wasn’t seeing a lot of passes thrown his way, it was Marshall who got in his ear and helped him deal with his frustration and stay focused.”

If you had told me when the Bears traded for Marshall that he would not only put his troubled past behind him but actually emerge as an incredible team leader, I’d have never believed it.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune adds one of his usual insightful comments to an article highlighting the position battle at safety:

“[Brock] Vereen should get with defensive quality control coach Chris Harris. Harris was a rookie in 2005 when then-coach Lovie Smith promoted him to the starting lineup at halftime of the season opener at Washington. Why? For one thing, his safety partner, Mike Brown, said Harris had the defense down cold before the offseason program was complete. Vereen needs to get busy to accomplish the same feat.”

  • I had a bit of a problem with this part of an article from Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“[D.J.] Williams, [Jonathan] Bostic and [Shea] McClellin may actually be competing for one spot when it comes to frequent playing time. Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller is expected to have an important role, especially in today’s pass-happy NFL.”

These guys are actually competing for two spots. Admittedly this may depend on the definition of “frequent” as they’ll probably spend about half the time in nickel.

“Some of the linemen, including veteran Israel Idonije and 2012 sixth-round pick Cornelius Washington, are squarely on the bubble with OTAs opening.”

I’ve heard this sentiment frequently but I don’t think Idonije is on the bubble as much as most people think. Yes, age is not on Idoinije’s side.  But he’s a veteran presence amongst young defensive linemen trying to learn how to play  in the NFL.  He’s also exactly what the Bears are looking for in terms of versatility in that he can play both end and defensive tackle.

  • Former NFL safety Matt Bowen on the move  of Tim Jennings to nickel back:

“Jennings is a physical player who can fill versus the run front and pressure off the edge, and he has the short-area change-of-direction speed to match an inside or outside release against a slot wide receiver.

“I do believe first-round pick Kyle Fuller can play nickel, but given the demands and responsibility inside the numbers, aligning the rookie cornerback on the outside, where he can use the sideline as his help, allows the Bears to monitor his development this spring while maximizing Jennings’ talent.”

I think this is a smart move as long as Jennings can handle the work. As he told Biggs not long ago, playing two positions will require at least twice as much study and the ability to shift gears mentally depending on what package the Bears are in.

“During breaks in practice, receivers Alshon JefferyMarquess WilsonJosh Morgan and Eric Weems stood on the side catching tennis balls in both hands in rapid succession from offensive quality control coach Carson Walch. Interestingly, there weren’t many dropped balls during Tuesday’s practice.”

One Final Thought

Jahns quotes linebacker Lance Briggs on “the bite” of new linebackers coach Reggie Herring:

“I love the guy.  He’s intense. He’s kind of a throwback, [a] kind of coach that I always remember growing up [with]. So that part of the whole deal is in a weird way kind of comforting.”

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Optimism Reigns and Other Points of View

“If the draft is how you build a franchise, then why is there not more coverage of a teams’ scouts? I don’t mean fluff or assassination jobs, just journalism 101. How many current Bears scouts gave Jerry Angelo advice? How does the Bears’ scouting department stack up with the rest of the NFL and NFC North? – Kirk, Chicago”

“Most teams make their scouts off-limits to media so spending time with them to pick their brains about the draft, the prospects, their role in it and the big picture is difficult.”

I remember attending one Bears Convention back when they still had them and being fascinated by a question and answer session with then Director of College Scouting for the Bears, Greg Gabriel.  It was easily the best session I ever attended.

I don’t understand why scouts should be off limits to the media.  Are NFL teams afraid that they’ll reveal valuable information?  Or are they afraid that too much time spent with the media will mean less time scouting?

  • Biggs can safely consider this question to be a dead issue as far as I’m concerned:

“With all the versatile front seven players the Bears have could they be leaning toward a 3-4 going forward? — @huskysize from Twitter

“I thought we buried this question when the Bears publicly announced they were playing a 4-3 front. Jared Allen would not be at his best in a 3-4 scheme and he was the biggest defensive acquisition of the offseason. I don’t know that Jeremiah Ratliff is still cut out to be a 3-4 nose tackle. I don’t think Lance Briggs would be at his best in a 3-4 scheme and really Shea McClellin is the only linebacker ideally suited for that scheme with the exception of perhaps undrafted free agent Christian Jones. The 3-4 isn’t happening.”

I couldn’t agree more.  The Bears are likely to play multiple fronts and a three man line might occasionally pop up.  But I wouldn’t expect it with any regularity.

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com and I don’t always see eye-to-eye but I couldn’t agree more with this part of his assessment of the Bears offseason moves:

“Best move: Bringing aboard experienced veteran coaches on defense. Chicago was mostly a veteran group on defense in 2013, with the majority knowing the system so well they needed little guidance. When injuries hit, several young players were forced to play significant minutes, and some of the coaches on the staff at that time weren’t capable of properly teaching the inexperienced players. With the roster currently featuring so many young players on defense, it was important to hire experienced teachers/coaches, which is what Chicago got in Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt, who all have extensive backgrounds in multiple schemes.”

These new coaches are going to make a huge difference for the Bears defense this year.

One Final Thought

One more question for Biggs:

“ I really don’t think I’m being overly optimistic here when I say I think the Bears really have made the leap to a Super Bowl contender. When you think about how good the offense was last season, if the Bears had just an average defense, wouldn’t they have been one of the best teams in the league? It seems like they have improved the defense to the point that it might even be above average, and we should expect the offense to be better than last year with no significant losses and everyone having another year under the system. What do you think? – Dan, Skokie”

“The Bears should expect to be a playoff contender this season, as they have every year since appearing in Super Bowl XLI. Unfortunately, the Bears have underperformed and made just one postseason appearance in the last seven years. It’s going to be a challenge for the Bears to remain as potent on offense this season but they certainly have the personnel to do so and a coach with a vision that transformed things quickly on that side of the ball. Keep in mind the offense remained relatively injury-free in 2013 with the exception of quarterback Jay Cutler. The defense is more of a wild card and unknown.”

I’ve written already about the Bears luck with injuries last year on offense.  I’d also like to point out that the NFC North was miserable last year and that had an impact on the Bears success as well.  The Packers losing Aaron Rogers with much more serious consequences than the Bears had with Cutler’s loss.  The Lions and Vikings both have new coaches this year.

I know that this is the time of the year for hope but I would urge Bears fans to temper their expectations for this year.  Otherwise they might well be setting themselves up for serious disappointment.

 

 

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How “Welcome” Will Fuller Be?

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes head coach Marc Trestman on the entrance of cornerback Kyle Fuller into the locker room:

“Fuller said he’s looking forward to meeting the team’s veterans in the coming weeks. He had heard from [Tim] Jennings but not [Charles] Tillman.

“’I think we have a very welcoming locker room,’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘The guys in our locker room know that we won’t be the same team tomorrow…”

“’I’m sure the guys who have been in our locker room will be very welcoming to the guys and get them in a position and show them the way, show them how we do things here.’”

I’m not so sure how “welcoming” Tillman is going to be.  Everyone else might consider it to be a foregone conclusion that Fuller will eventually replace him on the roster but I doubt very much that he sees the Bears having locker room in 2015 without him.  Nickel back or not I’m sure he sees Fuller as the competition and he’s not going to fade into retirement without a fight.

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Kromer, Meyer, and Trestman All Expand Their Responsibilities in 2014

Apparently the Bears have cut the media loose on the coaching staff during their weekend rookie camp after a long vacation away.  Both head coach Mark Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer were questioned closely about Kromer’s title change (he’s now just the offensive coordinator and Pat Meyer is the offensive line coach):

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Both coaches emphasized the growth as coaches of both Kromer and Meyer as being the reason for the change.  I’ve little doubt there’s some truth to that.  But something tells me the change was hastened by the fact that Trestman feels the need to spend more time with the defense this season.  That means both Kromer and Meyer have to take on more responsibility.  How well they handle that responsibility will be yet another big factor in how successful the Bears are this year.

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