The Bears have completed their second preseason game and are moving o to their third, and most important (if any of them are important_ contest. Here are ten thoughts on the team as they enter the most crucial stage of their offseason.
- Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times on whether the Bears should have released Matt Slauson given the less than ideal situation they now have at guard.
“Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury — and the subpar play of the offensive line in the preseason opener — put the light back on Pace’s decision to release Slauson, who replaced Grasu and Will Montgomery at center on two occasions last season. They would have had the replacement for Grasu right there.
“Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Slauson was everything you’d want in a teammate with the Bears, a respected leader on and off the field. But Slauson didn’t grade out as well with the new regime as he did with the old. Even without Grasu, they Bears are confident they can grow better with [Cody] Whitehair at guard and Ted Larsen at center.”
It’s worth emphasizing that it wasn’t the the Bears didn’t think Slauson was good. Anyone could see that he was. It was that they were looking for more athleticism at the position because it better fit the blocking scheme that they want to run. Last year the Bears mixed schemes in an effort to adjust to the players that they have. You can’t, after all, do everything in one year. This year, they wanted to get the players they needed to do what they want to ideally do.
It’s all part of the rebuilding process and though this may turn out to be a particularly trying step down that road, in the end the Bears believe that it will be worth it.
- Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:
“I’ve already written off the season. Will they draft in the top 5 in 2017? — @jgboom23
“Don’t know that I am going to be able to talk you off the ledge here, but that’s putting a lot of stock in the preseason opener. I don’t think the Bears are ready to be playoff challengers this season, but stranger things have happened. You’ve got to keep in mind that teams that own the No. 5 pick in the draft are generally coming off really bad seasons. Since 2010, the team with the fifth pick has had either four or five wins and that’s a bad, bad season.”
Good grief, its a little early to be giving up completely. I totally agree with Biggs that the defense should be improved, though there are significant concerns about the defensive backfield. At minimum they could be fun to watch with a much improved front seven.
Let’s not forget that. Along with the rest of the NFC North, the Bears have one of the easiest schedules in the league based upon last year’s performances. If they come out of this year with less than the 6 wins they had last year, I’ll be pretty surprised.
- Biggs also addressed the issue of the offensive line:
“Why did the offensive line look so terrible on Thursday? Is it the weakest position group on the team? — @KleinTime69
“I don’t think the offensive line is going to be the weakest position on the Bears. In fact, with some good health, I think the O-line could turn into one of the better units on the team by the end of the season.”
Could not agree more with this. Assuming Ted Larsen gets his feet under him this could be a better than average offensive line, particularly compared to those around the rest of the NFC North.
However, I think the words “with some good health” need to be emphasized. We haven’t seen Mike Adams or Amini Silatolu yet but what I’ve seen of the rest of the back up offensive linemen has not impressed me. A rash of injuries at any position along the line could mean bad things for the offense this year.
- Speaking of the offensive line, I was struck by a comment that Kyle Long made about J’Marcus Webb when they were in training camp in Long’s rookie year, 2013. Long was making mistakes and wasn’t correcting them and he hadn’t learned the playbook as well as he needed to.
“J’Marcus was just like, ‘You’re never going to be able to play if you don’t learn this,'” Kyle said. “He was laughing. J’Marcus and I are buddies. But he was telling a rookie, ‘Hey, you’re the first-round pick. If you don’t learn this, heads are going to roll.’ Whether that’s your quarterback or the head coach or the GM or the running back.”
Webb didn’t do much while he was here. But this was probably the biggest contribution he could have possibly made to the team.
- We heard plenty of questions from fans about the possibility that Daniel Braverman would replace Eddie Royal as the slot receiver this year as the hype around Braverman was built. Braverman is an under-sized seventh round pick with speed that tends to light it up in non-contact practices and develop into “little engine who could”-type fan favorites.
But like so many of these types of players before him, Braverman disappeared once the lights came on and the contact began. Despite Royal’s absence in the concussion protocol and having many chances to show what he could do in the first two pre-season games, Braverman has practically disappeared.
Eleven Bears have more receiving yards and the team has a glut at the slot receiver position. Far from competing to start, it looks to me like Braverman may be in danger of not making the roster at all. He will have one more pre-season game, the fourth, to show what he can do. He’ll be worth watching closely.
- Biggs had an interesting note about the Bears personnel groupings Thursday night. The Bears ran nearly half of their plays out of a double tight end personnel grouping. Biggs notes that the Bears ran only 198 plays total out of that grouping last year.
This grouping will undoubtedly help the running game and I’m sure that’s its primary purpose. Biggs also notes that they had 4 snaps (15% of the total) with a fullback on the field. But there’s a reason why Adam Gase rarely used it last year. The Bears didn’t, and don’t now, have two good tight ends on the entire roster. Zach Miller can catch a pass when healthy but he’s it.
There’s a new sheriff in town in Dowell Loggains. But you have to wonder if this isn’t a sign that he’s going to do what he prefers over what the roster tells him to do. The days of playing to the team’s strengths may be over.
- It was odd that Martellus Bennett didn’t talk to reporters all week as the Bears practiced against the Patriots. Bennett even went so far as to refuse to talk after Thursday night’s preseason game.
It was unlike Bennett, who always likes to entertain, and it was notable that former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin wasn’t available to the media all week either. So, perhaps, it not too surprising that after Rich Campbell from the Chicago Tribune called Bennett’s refusal to meet with the media a “weak move” in this video, that Doug Kyed from NESN.com, who better knows how the Patriots do business, suggested that it might be a “team issue”.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hates distractions and one way to be absolutely sure nothing distracted the team and the players from football last week would be to refuse to allow the former Bears players to comment. Chicago fans wouldn’t have been surprised if Bennett, in particular, would have created some complications had he been allowed.
- Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly on the Bears apparent improvement on offense:
“It wasn’t the offensive line. While Kyle Long played well and is clearly more comfortable back at right guard than he ever was at tackle, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie all struggled at times, and Larsen in particular looks like he may be a bit over-matched at center.”
I always try to read Hub’s comments because I think he’s willing to say thing that other people won’t. But having said that, sometimes I wonder if he’s watching the same game I am.
The offensive line was much better against the Patriots across the board, particularly at center where Larsen appears to be settling in. I think sometimes people get the impression that an offensive line is struggling when they’re zone blocking because its not generally the kind of mauling style where you get lots of push off of the line of scrimmage. But generally speaking, I thought the Bears got push when they needed it, especially in the first quarter.
I’m not saying there weren’t hiccups. There were and I’m particularly keeping an eye on Massie in pass protection. I also don’t think that the line hasn’t gelled into a coherent unit that is working together effectively, yet. But their performance in the first half, like that of the offense in general, was at least average overall.
To my eye, center Ted Larsen played much better in the game Thursday night against the Patriots. Its evident to me that Larsen really does have a feel for zone blocking and he does seem to be able to use an opponent’s momentum against him to open up holes.
Similarly, I thought back up Cornelius Edison also played better. He needs to. The competition behind him is likely to be fierce with the addition of former Colts Khaled Holmes. Holmes is a former fourth round pick and the Colts had high hopes for him as a starter before finally giving up and letting him go.
This is not a trivial dilemma for the Bears. Whoever wins the job is going to be one injury away from starting. And injuries always happen in the NFL. With the edge in experience, the tie should go to Holmes. So Edison needs to take advantage of every snap he can get to show his potential.
- Next week’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, is an interesting group. The starters took It to the Rams and their vaunted front seven on Saturday night on the first drive and though they struggled a bit more after that, they still managed to produce 17 point under quarterback Alex Smith before he ceded the ball to Nick Foles. The Kansas City offensive line could provide an interesting test for the Bears front seven which the team believes has improved greatly.
Speaking of Foles, although his two possessions produced only 3 points, the team moved the ball while he was in the game. Foles is in need of rehabilitation after a disastrous stint with the Rams and it should be interesting to find out if his old mentor with the Eagles, Andy Reid, can pull it off as the head coach of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley, should also present an interesting challenge for the young Bears defensive backs. Maclin is no surprise but the 6’3” 205 lb Conley, drafted in the 3rd round in 2015, also flashed with 3 receptions for 66 yards. Travis Kelce is also showing himself to be one of the best in the game and the Bears should find out fairly quickly if they’ve solved the issues they’ve had their first two preseason games covering the tight end.