Not Much Doubt that Eddie Royal is the Guy in the Slot This Year

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Kevin White, Alshon Jeffery and … in the slot?

“Bears first-round pick Kevin White

“That’s a good question and the Bears have a variety of options at this point after the draft. Right now, I’d be quite surprised if Eddie Royal wasn’t the slot receiver. For starters, his $4.5 million base salary for this season is fully guaranteed, so he’s not going anywhere. Royal dealt with some injuries last season and wasn’t the player the Bears were expecting but he’s got a track record for producing and a history of working well with quarterback Jay Cutler.”

I tend to agree with Biggs’ assessment here. Royal didn’t have a great season in part because of the injuries and in part because the Bears started him on the outside for the first month of the season.

One reason Royal came to Chicago is because he felt that he could be more than a slot receiver and the Bears gave him that chance. But it was obvious on October 4 when the Bears played the Raiders and they moved Royal back to the slot that’s where he belonged. Royal had 6 receptions for 80 yards that game after getting only 12 for 117 yards total for the first three games before that on the outside.

I think a lot of people are rooting for seventh round pick Daniel Braverman and at 5’10” he seems to have taken on the annual role of the little underdog, try-hard, white guy. He will compete, I’m sure, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that Braverman is probably special teams and depth. When he’s healthy, Royal should be, and probably will be, the guy in the slot.

The Twilight Zone

Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently can’t understand why people want to read about the Bears in May:

“As I’ve perused Chicago newspapers and websites the past few weeks, I’ve seen tons of articles and photos about the team. I now know more about some of the Bears’ draft picks that any person not called ‘Mom’’ or ‘Dad’ should know. The amount of coverage didn’t come out of nowhere. It didn’t come from the whim of editors. It came from the insatiable appetites of a large group of readers.

“In other words, I’m blaming you.”

Go ahead. But I’ve got news for you. From my perspective it isn’t true.

Yes, the articles still appear on the Sun-Times and Tribune websites. But what am I supposed to do with the rest of my day?

Turn on the radio on a given weekend in May and all you hear is “Talkin’ Baseball” and “Inside the Dugout”.  Saturday , heaven help me, I swear I was actually reduced to turning on the White Sox game.

Morrissey can wonder and complain all he wants but we’re in the middle of the sports dead zone. As he points out, I have studied every teams offseason “grades” ad nauseum. I’ve seen everything I want to about baseball (very little). A players league like the NBA where the tail wags the dog and where discipline and team work long left the game in favor of highlighted individual play is a complete non-starter with me.

I need football games. Please let them come soon.

Bears Apparently Looking to Use a Blocking Scheme Which Is Primarily Zone

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times runs us through speculates about some changes in the 2016 Bears offense.

Some of them are obvious. For example, with a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White, you can figure you’ll be seeing quarterback Jay Cutler stretch the field and throw the ball up for grabs deep a lot more this season. And with the addition of running back Jordan Howard, the power running game may be more prevalent.

But there was one potential change that I didn’t think was as obvious, though we have gotten a hint.

“[D]on’t be surprised to see the Bears running more zone blocking schemes, an approach [new offensive coordinator DowellLoggains embraced as the Titans’ coordinator.

“One reason the Bears cut Matt Slauson and drafted his presumptive replacement, left guard Cody Whitehair, was to increase the line’s athleticism — and its ability to block linebackers. [Kyle] Long’s return to right guard will help, too.

“‘It’s, get to the second level and produce at the second level,’ [offensive line coach Dave] Magazu said. ‘We can beat guys up, up front. But it doesn’t matter if you beat the hell out of the four down guys and the backer’s standing there and nobody can get to him.'”

Last year with the new coaching staff, the question of what the blocking scheme would be was raised frequently. The answer at that time was that it would be a mix of a little bit of everything. Now, in the staff’s second year and with more personnel of their choosing, we may be seeing what they really prefer.

I heard some speculation when Slauson was released that the Bears might be looking to move to more of a zone blocking scheme. This would seem to confirm it. Slauson was a wonderful power blocker. But the kind of athleticism that will be called for in what may be a primarily zone blocking scheme wasn’t his strength.

Many Points of Interest When Considering the Bears Running Back Situation

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune writes a very interesting article on the running back situation, focusing largely upon the hope that Jeremy Langford will emerge. There are a few things to note.

There’s a slight dichotomy when head coach John Fox and running backs coach Stan Drayton talks about using a backfield by committee approach. Drayton says, “[T]hey all bring a strength that can probably add up to what [Matt Forte] brought. Fox says something similar but slightly different, “Who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then situationally, it can be…whoever has a hot hand.”

Both men imply that the running backs will be used situationally but Fox emphasizes an approach that the Bears have used before, “going with the hot hand”. In previous years that’s what they’ve done, given one series to one back, then resting him by giving one or two to another. But with both men also emphasizing strengths and weaknesses and, particularly with the addition of power back Jordan Howard, they may alter that, for instance, by putting in Howard in short yardage situations and using Langford and Carey mostly in other situations that fit their skill sets.

How the Bears use their running backs will be interesting to watch this year.

Second, Campbell also addresses Langford’s relatively low 3.6 yards per carry. In the process, Drayton gives us his assessment and one more thing to look for in the coming season.

“He has a tendency to want to run narrow,” Drayton said. “His feet are too close together going through the line of scrimmage. So we’re working on just widening his base on contact, putting himself in a more powerful position to be able to attack through contact.”

Drayton wants Langford to gain 3 yards after contact on every run. We will see if he improves in this area.

Lastly, like many people, my assumption was that Ka’Deem Carey is in deep trouble. And he is. But I said that last year and he survived anyway. Carey runs about as hard as any running back you’ll find and Drayton certainly seems to still have interest in him. From Campbell:

“Drayton is pushing Carey to become more versatile, which means playing better on third down. That’s part of the Bears’ greater effort to replace Forte’s contributions in that make-or-break down.

“‘To me, he’s the wild card,’ Drayton said of Carey. ‘He could challenge everybody in that room at any given time.'”

Keep an eye on Carey on third down and, of course, for his continued development on special teams. Right now Carey is up against Jacquizz Rogers for the third running back spot and Rogers’ strength, besides bringing a veteran presence, is that he excels in both of these areas. Carey needs to show that he can replace what Rogers gives in order to beat the odds again and make the team.

Reviewing the Bears Depth Chart Heading into OTAs

As we come out of the draft and enter the OTAs, Kevin Fishbain at Pro Football Weekly thought it might be instructive to look at the Bears depth chart. I agree.


WR: Alshon Jeffery / Marquess Wilson / Cameron Meredith / Derek Keaton*
WR: Kevin White / Josh Bellamy / Deonte Thompson / Darrin Peterson*
WR: Eddie Royal / Marc Mariani / Daniel Braverman* / Kieren Duncan*
OLT: Charles Leno Jr. / Nick Becton / Jason Weaver
OLG: Ted Larsen / Cody Whitehair* / Donovan Williams*
C: Hroniss Grasu / Manny Ramirez / Cornelius Edison
ORG: Kyle Long / Ted Larsen / Manny Ramirez / Adrian Bellard*
ORT: Bobby Massie / Tayo Fabuluje / John Kling* / Martin Wallace
TE: Zach Miller / Rob Housler / Ben Braunecker* / Joe Sommers*
TE/FB: Khari Lee / Gannon Sinclair / Paul Lasike / Greg Scruggs
QB: Jay Cutler / Brian Hoyer / David Fales / Matt Blanchard
RB: Jeremy Langford / Ka’Deem Carey / Jordan Howard* / Jacquizz Rodgers / Senorise Perry


DE: Akiem Hicks / Will Sutton / Cornelius Washington / Kenton Adeyemi*
NT: Eddie Goldman / Terry Williams
DE: Mitch Unrein / Jonathan Bullard* / Ego Ferguson / Keith Browner
OLB: Pernell McPhee / Lamarr Houston / Sam Acho
ILB: Jerrell Freeman / Nick Kwiatkoski* / Christian Jones / Don Cherry*
ILB: Danny Trevathan / John Timu / Jonathan Anderson / Danny Mason
OLB: Willie Young / Leonard Floyd* / Roy Robertson-Harris* / Lamin Barrow
CB: Tracy Porter / Bryce Callahan / Jacoby Glenn / Taveze Calhoun*
FS: Adrian Amos / Omar Bolden / DeAndre Houston-Carson* / Demontre Hurst
SS: Harold Jones-Quartey / Deon Bush* / Chris Prosinski
CB: Kyle Fuller / Sherrick McManis / Deiondre’ Hall* / De’Vante Bausby / Kevin Peterson*

Weakest Position

I believe this is offensive tackle though a case could certainly be made for the defensive backfield positions. But the Bears have some younger players at cornerback and safety that may develop. I’m not so sure about tackle.

It’s not that I don’t believe in Leno and I’m certainly willing to give Massie a chance. But, unlike the situation at the interior offensive line positions where Larsen, Whitehair, Grasu, Ramirez and Long will battle it out for three spots, the situation at tackle seems to be the front line players and then nobody. And the starters certainly aren’t guaranteed top performers.  I don’t even see a swing tackle in the group.

It’s possible that the team is hoping that Fabuluje develops but even if he does, both he and Massie would be a problem if they had to step in on the left side. It’s also possible that the team believes that one of the interior players can move over to tackle in a pinch but, again, that’s not ideal.

Bottom line, I think we can expect the team to be looking closely at June 1 cuts and players that become available in training camp.

Strongest Position

This one came as a surprise even to me. It’s pass rusher. McPhee, Houston, and Young are all solid players. McPhee showed what he could do last year before being slowed by injuries and there’s every reason to believe that both Houston and Young are on the rise in their second year coming off serious injuries. Indeed, the Bears are reportedly working on an extension for Young. Add Floyd’s potential and a solid back up and special teamer in Acho and you’ve got a good group of players there.

I consider this to be a good sign. If you are going to be strong anywhere on your team, you want it to be at pass rusher. I don’t see it as a spectacular unit but I think there are players there that have provent that they can get the job done. The performance here, along with the ability to stay healthy at offensive tackle may be a key to having a successful season.

Bears Get Creative in Effort to Find Blocking Tight End

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Have you heard anything about the Bears moving defensive lineman Greg Scruggs to tight end? Cornelius Washington has Scruggs’ No. 90 now and Scruggs is listed on the Bears roster now as a tight end with No. 87. — @wasram

“That’s a sharp catch by you. The Bears asked Scruggs to change positions on May 2 at the start of the third week of the voluntary offseason workout program, according to a source close to the player. It also happened to be the first day the veterans were in the building after the draft in which the Bears were unable to add a tight end. Scruggs was probably a longshot to make the roster as a defensive lineman and he actually played tight end at Louisville during summer camp before his senior season when the Cardinals were short at the position… They’re looking for a Y tight end that can block. While Scruggs is listed at 310 pounds, he’s weighing 289 right now and if he didn’t look like he could handle the position, the Bears would have likely moved him back to the defensive line or released him.”

At almost 300 pounds, Scruggs could make a decent blocker but is unlikely to show the versatility to be a threat in the passing game. More and more, teams are desperate to find the versatility needed to make a good dual purpose tight end.

Teams will frequently try to convert larger wide receivers to tight end but hese players most frequently show the opposite problem: they can catch but they can’t block.

I’ve never understood why teams aren’t trying to convert the players who are most often tasked with defending these tight ends, the linebackers. They typically show about the same size and need the mobility for the position. Perhaps its because they rarely show ideal length. Still, there must be linebackers out there that are worth a try.

Jordan Howard: Big Potential If He Can Stay Healthy

All offseason speculation was that the Bears wanted to get stronger at running back. Despite their insistence that they were happy with running backs that they had, there were indications that the Bears would like to add one. The most obvious sign came when the Bears offered restricted free agent C.J. Anderson a contract. In the end Anderson signed an offer from Miami and Denver matched it.

With that in mind the Bears selection of Indiana running back Jordan Howard in the fifth-round is an interesting one.  The scouting reports on Howard are glowing.  His size, aggressive running style, footwork in the hole and, especially, his vision are all strengths and the consensus seems to be that he’s got good potential to be an impact player.  So why did he fall to the fifth round?

A clue may be found in the interview which  Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune did with Deland McCullough, running backs coach at indiana, about Howard:

“Does he get behind his pads well and lower his pads?

“‘Oh, yeah. Again, getting what you stress, that’s one of the things we emphasize — running with low pads. Obviously not being what I call ‘dumb tough,’ just running into guys to run into them, (but) to use it as a means to set things up and also to send a message that, ‘Hey, I’m here, and I’m coming hard every time.’ Of course, once you soften those guys up, you get them on their heels, you’re able to utilize your spin move, sidestep guys, etc.'”

Sounds good. Unfortunately independent scouting reports don’t support McCullough’s answer, probably the reason why Campbell asked question in the first place. For instance, says about Howard: “Upright pads and narrow base leads to slips and balance issues when trying to make sharp cuts.”

This, apparently, is the major concern about Howard along with potential health issues. He suffered a torn meniscus and a stress fracture in his pelvis during his junior year in high school and he missed four games and parts of three others with knee and ankle injuries. His relentless running style may lead to more injuries than the Bears would like.

The good news is that Howard appears to have everything it takes to make a good NFL starter. It appears that his size, agility toughness and vision are all top notch. It will be interesting to see if the Bears can coach him into a less upright running style which will leave him less prone to injury.

Random Post-Draft Thoughts

Now that the NFL draft is behind us I thought it might be time to wrap it up with some odds and ends left over in the wake of the annual selection process.

  • I for the most part agreed with the assessment of the Dolphins post draft roster roster for the Sun-Sentinel on Tuesday. But I have to take exception of his assertion that the defensive backfield is weaker than it was in 2015. The additions of Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard have transformed an under-sized unit into one with considerable more length that should be able to better deal with the rigors of divisional play with some huge tight ends and wide receivers on the docket. Rashad Jones remains with the team and the addition of Isa Abdul-Quddus is being under-rated.

I’m more in line with Armando Salguero at the Herald when he says that the the success of the Dolphins draft class rides on how well Howard develops. The Dolphins paid a steep price to get him, the 42nd overall pick along with a fourth-round pick (107th overall) to move up four slots in the second round. If he works out it will be well worth it as the Dolphins should be very solid across the board on the back end. If it doesn’t, it will go down as just one of a series of draft failures for the team at the position.

  • Quarterback Cody Kessler may be the luckiest player in the NFL right now. Most believed going into the selection process that he was a late-round pick, if not an undrafted free agent. But all it takes is one and Kessler found an NFL coach that apparently believes in him.

Drafted in round 3 by the Cleveland Browns, presumably at the recommendation of head coach Hue Jackson, Kessler has none of the dominant physical tools that most coaches believe they need to mold a less instinctive quarterback into the next star (see Christian Hackenberg below). Instead, Jackson is betting on savvy and decision making. It will be interesting to see how Kessler develops and, if Jackson is right, if it won’t affect the way that other teams approach drafting the position in the future.

  • This draft was widely believed to be among the deepest ever in terms of defensive tackles and players that would have gone in the first round in other drafts were available as late as the third round. The Dolphins decidedly under-performed opposite Ndamukong Suh at this position and you have to wonder if they won’t regret simply sticking with Deandre Coleman and Jordan Phillips.

The Dolphins have staked a lot on the effect of another year’s experience and better coaching when it comes to these players. There’s little hope that the run defense will be better unless there is improvement in the play at defensive tackle.

  • If you’re already tired of seeing new Minnesota Viking Moritz Boehringer on your TV screen, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re going to see a lot more of him this summer and, heaven help us, into the fall.

Boehringer is a German born wide receiver who saw a video of Adrian Peterson when he was 17 and decided that he wanted to be a NFL football player. He comes to the league as a former member of the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns of the German Football League.

Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer was apparently thrilled as he said, “That’s kind of what the draft is all about — making dreams come true.”

Zimmer has been around long enough to know that is most certainly not what the draft, or anything else associated with the NFL, is about.

Dollar signs appeared in owners eyes all over the league as an opportunity to further promote football in Europe presented itself on a silver platter and the NFL Network has run with it, making it one of the stories of the draft.

If Boehringer had been Chinese, commissioner Roger Goodell would have probably had to change his pants.

We can only speculate about what precipitated this release but it wasn’t the draft as the Dolphins failed to select a defensive end. Perhaps the reason had something to do with this explanation from Salguero .

It’s also worth noting that Moore was released from the Giants after violating team rules, reportedly after an altercation with Cullen Jenkins over headphones. Jay Glazer at Fox Sports reported that it was only one of many such altercations.

Similar incidents would be a pretty good reason to release such a player in Miami. The release may also be a sign that the Dolphins are counting on the return of troubled player Dion Jordan more than they ought.

  • The Cowboys have received a lot of good publicity for taking linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round.   Smith was widely believed to be amongst the best players in the draft until he suffered a brutal knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl. The images of Smith’s relief at being drafted so high were heart warming but ultimately the Cowboys may pay a high price for the good feelings this evoked.

Smith’s injury included a damaged nerve similar to what running back Marcus Lattimore suffered in 2012. Lattimore was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and never played a down for the 49ers.

This is the trouble with nerve injuries. There’s nothing you can do to fix them. Either the body heals on its own or it never heals at all. Before the draft I figured that there were 32 team doctors all telling 32 general managers the same thing: “We don’t know. It could come completely back or it might not.” I was wrong. It was 31 team doctors.

That’s because the surgeon who fixed Smith’s knee is the Cowboys team doctor. The assumption here is that owner Jerry Jones thought he was getting inside information on this injury but he really should know better.

Surgeons as a group are a different breed. They carry a confidence about them such that I’ve never met one yet that would look you in the eye and say, “Naw. He may never recover.” That confidence is part of what makes them good surgeons. But it makes the advice that Jones got in this case highly questionable.

Feel good or not, Smith should have never come off the board before the fourth round.  The guess here is the his recovery is a coin flip at best.

Here’s the problem with that theory. Fuller is an under-sized body catcher who had 21 drops the last two seasons. Miller made the conversion from quarterback to wide receiver last year at Ohio State and was very athletic. Unfortunately he too has trouble not only with running routes but with just holding on to the ball as demonstrated graphically by his less than stellar performance in the Senior Bowl.

Sure these players are athletic. But how much help are they going to be if they lack the hand-eye coordination to perform the most basic function of any wide receiver: catching the ball.

  • One Final Thought: Message to the New York Jet, who pulled off one of the surprises of the draft when they took Hackenberg in the second round. It’s not a good thing when the NFL Network flashes up a graphic about your pick and under “Weaknesses” it simply says, “Game Tape”.

Good luck with that.

Hated to See It Happen But Time to Let Matt Slauson Go

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune objects to the release of offensive guard Matt Slauson. The Bears were apparently trying to upgrade their athleticism at the position:

“During his victory lap Saturday after the NFL draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace reveled in revealing how coach John Fox urged him to find tough, ‘throwback players.”

“One day later, Pace cut starting guard Matt Slauson, the guy teammates considered the toughest player in the locker room, a veteran who could not have epitomized a throwback player any more without wearing a leather helmet.

“That message confuse anyone else?”

“Whoever starts at left guard, rest assured the Bears will tout his athleticism and ability to block downfield ‘in space.’

“Those are nebulous terms, things you hear thrown out when football people try to sound convincing.”

Haugh describes the process of determining which player will stay as if it’s considerably more one dimensional than it obviously is. Toughness is one trait. But there’s a lot that goes into it.

I don’t know what Haugh is implying. If it wasn’t Slauson’s athleticism, for what reason is he proposing that the Bears released the player? Was there some conspiracy against him?

I understand that Slauson, the recipient of the 2015 Good Guy Award presented by the Chicago chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America, was popular amongst members of the media. But enough is enough. These things happen in football and no one knows that better than Slauson. Time to let it go.