Information on the New Bears Offense Is Gradually Revealed in Camp

Bears training camp only opened Friday and we won’t really have an idea of what is going on with the Bears offense at least until the pre-season games. Nevertheless information on the new Bears offense is already coming to light based upon the few practices they’ve had. John Mullin at writes a nice article describing the difference between last years offense. where the receivers had to make sight adjustments based upon the defensive coverage, and the offense this year where such adjustments will be minimal:

“Because receivers are not expected to make myriad ‘sight’ adjustments, they are able to focus on the whole and where their route, as called, fits the ‘concept’ of the play.

“'[Not having to read coverage] allows you to play faster and also to understand the whole concept of what’s going on offensively,” said wide
receiver Earl Bennett. “If you have a route that stays ‘on’ no matter what happens, I’m running my route to either get the ball or to free somebody else up.'”

“Now the receivers have their assignments, quarterback Jay Cutler knows them all and he makes decisions –- fast. The receivers make the concept happen by selling their routes –- hard.

“’If unconsciously you know that you’re not going to get the ball, your shoulders come up, which kills the play,’ Winslow said. ‘Because the moment your shoulders come up, that free safety looks someplace else.

“‘When you’ve got your shoulders down, running your route full speed no matter what the coverage is, maybe one read inside or outside, then it picks up the pace and puts pressure on that safety, who now has to pick somebody, and then your quarterback makes his decision.'”

Presumably not having to worry about sight adjustments will allow the receivers to concentrate more on such details running their routes.

Its also worth noting here that requiring the quarterback and the receivers read the defense the same way in order for everyone to be in the right place is a recipe for disaster in a situation where the quarterback already lacks trust in the receivers. This was rather obviously the case with Cutler last year. Eliminating these adjustments can only help that situation.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune also wrote an interesting article on the possibility that we may see more read option in the offense this year:

“From the shotgun formation with an offset running back, quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard have used mesh-point action that would be the starting point for a read-option play. It’s the kind of fake handoff designed to hold the second-level defenders or strong safety just a split second.

“Maybe it’s a sign of things to come in the build-a-Bears offense that Marc Trestman still is supplementing at Olivet Nazarene University.

“The quarterbacks have been running a dash (half roll) off the play fake, moving outside the pocket where a throwing lane should open off play action. When they hand the ball off, it’s an inside zone play much like what the Packers do with Aaron Rodgers on occasion.

“In the progression of a play, the next step would be a zone read for the quarterback, the kind of offense that shook up the NFL last season and sent defensive coaches scurrying to the college level this offseason for answers to stop it.”

“‘I don’t know,’ [back up quarterback Josh] McCown said. ‘We’ll see what happens with it. Obviously, it’s prevalent in our league right now so there are merits to practicing it if anything just to give your defense a look.'”

I have little doubt he could do it but I do very much doubt that the Bears will risk Cutler often by making him run the read option. Nevertheless, it is an interesting wrinkle to look for in what promises to be a more than usually interesting pre-season and season.

Webb’s Body Moves to Right Side But His Mind Remains the Same

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune quotes J’Marcus Webb on his move from the left tackle spot to the right:

“Coach [Aaron] Kromer has definitely put me in the right spot.  “Consistency comes just working hard every day, coming in with a purpose, listening, watching film and being a pro. It’s mainly technique, technique when you are tired.”

For the life of me I can’t figure out why the coaching staff believes a move to the right side is going to make Webb any better.  They are right in that his problem is lack of consistency.  But Webb is wrong about solving the problem.  Poor technique isn’t the cause.  Poor technique is the product.   Consistency for his is a matter of concentration and in my experience it isn’t something that can be learned.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

No Contract Negotiations in Season Carries Risks

There are a number of articles this morning in the local papers and on the blogging sites about the fact that general manager Phil Emery has decided that no negotiations for contract extensions will take place during the 2013 season.  This entry from ESPN NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert is typical:

“In telling reporters Wednesday that any contract extensions ‘will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season,’ Emery has guaranteed himself a team of highly-motivated players and also given new coach Marc Trestman maximum flexibility to evaluate the roster. At the same time, however, Emery has risked the traditional side effects of a team consumed by
individual contract status. He has also handed his highest achievers more negotiating leverage.”

There are a couple of things that surprise me about all of these articles.  One is that they all focus on what this means to quarterback Jay Cutler.  The most common refrain is that Emery will “happily pay up” for Cutler in the highly unlikely event that the Bears win a Super Bowl.  Emery’s not going to “pay up” Cutler for anything.  Right or wrong, the Bears will almost certainly franchise Cutler as quickly as possible if he performs this season.  And if I know my Bears, he won’t get a dime more in guaranteed money than is already guaranteed under that tag for the two years they can apply it.  The guy who will cash in, assuming both he and Cutler perform, is this year’s franchise victim, defensive tackle Henry Melton because if Cutler gets the tag, Melton can’t.

The second thing that surprised me is that no one mentioned the fact that half of the Bears starters will be playing for themselves as individuals in what is the ultimate team game.  Granted, that’s always true. Its one of the great paradoxes of team sport [1].  Place kicker Robbie Gould did finally articulate this even if none of the writers did.  Via Seifert:

“‘At the end of the day if you have all these guys [unsigned], they have to take care of No. 1,’ Gould told ESPN 1000 co-hosts Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright.

Its ironic that this is coming from arguable the only player on the whole team who can play entirely for selfish motives.  You kick the ball through the uprights, buddy.  The one guy who only has to put his head down and do his job as an individual is the only guy who always feels the need to sound off.  Gould can afford to be selfish and don’t fool yourself.  That’s exactly what he is.  A real team player would have done what the rest of the team is doing – kept his mouth shut and minimized distractions.  This has more to do with the fact that they wouldn’t extend his own contract in the off-season than it does with the fact that they aren’t extending the guys who have to actually play together as part of a whole.

That aside, I think he’s right.  Putting so many players in such a position exacerbates the problem and encourages selfish play.  Its bad enough if the occasional individual is doing it.  If a significant number of the potential free agents on this team lean more in the direction of making themselves look better at the expense of the team, it could be fatal, especially with a rookie head coach.

I’m not saying that Emery is making a mistake.  Given the Bears salary cap situation, you could argue that they have no choice, anyway.  But let’s get the story straight.

[1]: See North Dallas Forty if you’ve never watched it.  Every football fan will love it.

Brandon Marshall and What “Being Smart” Might Actually Mean

Adam L Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times writes about how the Bears will be taking it easy on contact in practice this summer.  Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who had off-season hip surgery, seems to be on board:

“’We’re gonna be smart,’ Marshall said. ‘I’m going on my eighth year [and have] had a few hip surgeries. Nothing major, but at the same time, we start playing games in September. So that’s what I’m preparing for.

“’It’s important to get out there with your teammates, build chemistry, learn the offense, get reps. But if I’m not healthy, all that doesn’t matter.  So I’ll listen to my body and go as it tells me.’”

Marshall didn’t practice this off-season despite the implementation of an entirely new offense.  Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that Marshall should be full go with no limitations now.  Quarterback Jay Cutler emphasizes the importance that Marshall be out there in his comments:

“‘We had Martellus (Bennett) out there, that was good,’ Cutler said. ‘We kind of wanted to see what he had. Had a bunch of tight ends. Joe (Anderson) had a good minicamp. We have guys coming along. But we have to get Brandon back up to speed offensively, learning the system. We have to get Alshon [Jeffery] back out there and get him up to speed. There are some key guys we have to get caught up.'”

Of course, taking it easy on Marshall’s hip is common sense.  But at the same time this situation is worth monitoring.   Working to be ready for September is fine.  But if Marshall’s “body” ends up telling him not to participate too often this summer in what are basically non-contact practices to learn a new offense, you have to wonder if he’s going to hit the target.

Brian Urlacher and a State of Confusion

English author Samuel Johnson once said, “While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.”  It sounds like something Brian Urlacher is going to have to keep in mind in the coming months.  Rick Telendar at the  Chicago-Sun-Times elaborates:

“Indeed, [Urlacher’s] in a bit of that hallucinatory It’s over/I’m not done! stage.  He says he’ll never come back to football. Then he lets this slip in the [TV host DaveDameshek interview: ‘My body feels good. Mentally I feel good. I’m excited to run out there and go through the grind of training camp and do stuff like that.’

“Present tense.

“Then he reverses field. ‘I’m sure I’ll miss it,’ he says. ‘’But right now I don’t miss it at all.’’

“When he’ll miss it is when training camp starts at the end of July, when the Bears take the field for preseason games, when the Green Bay Packers show up, when the air gets crisp and the tailgates are in full charcoal heaven. He’s never done anything else in the fall.

“He’ll feel the pain then. Not in his knees or back or shoulders or his once-busted wrist.

“He’ll feel it in his heart. Because — you never know — the Bears might win it all without him.”

I haven’t been able to muster much sympathy for Urlacher over the past couple months.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all of the years of effort for the team.  But I’ve been more than a little upset that he chose to be insulted when the Bears offered him an above market level deal.  As far as I can tell, he still blames the Bears, specifically GM Phil Emery, for his departure despite that.  How he comes to that conclusion  is beyond me.  Though Telendar tries to explain it all as a stage of grief where, like many players, Urlacher can’t accept that its over, I honestly don’t think it had to be over.  I think the guy can still play.  No one – not me, not anyone I know – really understands it.

I guess when you come right down to it, the truth is that Urlacher’s not the only one who’s been grieving.  I’ve personally been stuck at anger.  But I always knew I’d eventually get past it and, in reading this article, I’ve come to realize that the reality of Urlacher’s situation is about to hit home for for both him and us.  I still don’t understand it but I think I’ve finally made it to acceptance.  Here’s hoping Urlacher manages to do the same soon.

Rest in peace, Brian.

The Top NFL Assistants

Greg Gabriel at The National Football Post reviews the best assistant coaches in the NFL.

“Make no mistake about it: the NFL is a coach’s league.

“Except for maybe the quarterback position, the talent level from team to team is fairly close. The teams that have the best coaching staffs are the teams that have a chance to win. With that said, in my 30 years in the league I have come across some very good coaches — men that I have a huge amount of respect for because they have worked extremely hard to perfect their craft.”

It’s no coincidence that the only quarterbacks coach on this list (Pep Hamilton) will actually be an offensive coordinator this year. Good ones don’t last long.

Gabriel is a former Bears personnel man so there are a fair number of ex-Bears coaches on this list including current defensive backs coach Jon Hoke