Charles Leno, the 2018 NFL Draft and the Perceived State of the Bears Offensive Line

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune discusses the possibility that the Bears will select an offensive lineman, perhaps in the first round. Biggs is at the Senior Bowl:

“[A] scout stopped in front of his hotel and said, ’I get why you’re asking me about Calvin [Ridley] but I think the Bears will draft a lineman.'”

“One of the first things general manager Ryan Pace must do is make a decision on the future of left guard Josh Sitton, who was a team captain in 2017. He has a team option for 2018 that must be exercised between Feb. 9, five days after Super Bowl LII, and March 9, five days before the start of the new league year. Sitton is due to earn $8 million with a $7.4 million base salary, $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses and a $100,000 workout bonus — but only if the team picks up the option.

“Next, the Bears will need to determine if they want to pay a $1 million roster bonus to right tackle Bobby Massie on March 16 when they will be three days into free agency.

“How the Bears navigate these decisions will provide clues for how the team will proceed in free agency and later in the draft when perhaps they will consider Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall pick or maybe an offensive tackle. They also could consider a guard in later rounds.”

“Perhaps the scout is right and they wind up going with a lineman in the first round. That seems more likely if they move on from Sitton.”

As I said in a previous post, one thing I don’t understand is why last year’s 5th round pick, Jordan Morgan is never mentioned in these conversations. Of course, the Bears would be fools to put all of their eggs in that basket and Morgan did spend the year on IR which undoubtedly limited his development. But still, you’d think the possibility that he could earn the job would at least be addressed.

But though I wouldn’t discount the possibility that the scout was talking about guard or replacing Massie, I’m not so sure. One thing I’ve noticed in talking to people who follow other teams, and, in particular, in the media outside of Chicago, is that people don’t think much of left tackle Charles Leno. Certainly they don’t rate him anywhere near as highly as the Bears evidently do.

For example, PFF mentioned Leno as being among the worst players in the league at his position in 2015. They also rated him just 42nd out of 76 qualifying tackles in 2016. Though that may have come up a bit this year its evident that they aren’t big fans and I think that opinion seems to be often shared.

Hub Arkush at Pro Football Weekly has been a particularly vocal critic locally.

I don’t think the Bears are sandbagging with Leno. I think they really like him and they have committed to him with a long-term contract. But his dead cap number drops dramatically in 2019 to only $2.7 million and it’s evident that the rest of the league generally doesn’t see what the Bears say that they do.   That might be affecting the way that scouts and general managers are expecting the Bears to go in this draft.

Bears Will Have to dig Deep to Solve Their Wide Receiver Problem in 2018

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Will Kevin White and Cam Meredith be the third and fourth receivers or even make the team? This, assuming the Bears draft a wide receiver in the first or second round and acquire a star free agent. — @chuckietwoglove

I kind of doubt there are going to be a lot of “star” wide receivers available in free agency, but we will have to see what unfolds. It’s impossible to stack a depth chart right now and say who would be No. 3 or No. 4. I imagine the Bears will tender an offer to Meredith as a restricted free agent and, yes, White will be with the team this year. If they’re both healthy and playing like they were when they went down, you’d have to think Meredith would rate an edge ahead of White.

The way I see it now, the Bears are in big trouble at wide receiver.

Like Biggs, I see nothing coming in free agency that would resemble anything like a number one receiver. Biggs also thinks that the wide receivers at the top of the 2018 NFL draft offer very little potential, an opinion that is {echoed by Todd McShay at ESPN} though that opinion {is not universally shared}.

Generally speaking, it looks like general manager Ryan Pace has his work cut out for him. The guess here is that he needs to find a diamond in the rough in the middle rounds or the Bears will be playing with a bunch of number 2’s and 3’s but without a true number 1 receiver in 2018. Again.

Why Does Everyone Love the Bears Hiring Harry Hiestand?

Everybody loves Harry Hiestand.

The Bears have drawn rave reviews for hiring Hiestand from fans, former players and media. From Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic:

NFL insiders declared it a coup for new head coach Matt Nagy to bring in Hiestand.

Many echoed what one league source said about Hiestand, “The best in the business.“

There’s a part of me that wants to accept this at face value. But Hiestand’s history has me wondering if this isn’t all just a part of the honeymoon period that follows the hiring of a new head coach.

Here’s the list of places Hiestand has coached:

East Stroudsburg (1981-1982)
Student assistant
East Stroudsburg (1983-1985)
Offensive line coach
Penn (1986-1987)
Tight ends coach
USC (1987-1988)
Graduate assistant
Toledo (1988-1989)
Offensive line coach
Cincinnati (1989-1993)
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
Missouri (1994-1996)
Offensive line coach
Illinois (1997-1999)
Offensive line coach
Illinois (2000-2004)
Assistant head coach/offensive line coach
Chicago Bears (2005-2009)
Offensive line coach
Tennessee (2010-2011)
Offensive line coach
Notre Dame (2012-2017)
Offensive line coach
Chicago Bears (2018-present)
Offensive line coach

See anything unusual? Let me make it easier:

East Stroudsburg (1981-1982) – college
East Stroudsburg (1983-1985) – college
Penn (1986-1987) – college
USC (1987-1988) – college
Toledo (1988-1989) – college
Cincinnati (1989-1993) – college
Missouri (1994-1996) – college
Illinois (1997-2004) – college
Chicago Bears (2005-2009) – pro
Tennessee (2010-2011) – college
Notre Dame (2012-2017) – college
Chicago Bears (2018-present)- pro
One professional team – the Bears.

If Hiestand is really the best in the business, why are the Bears the only professional team that was apparently clamoring to hire him?

In fairness there are a lot of possible reasons why Hiestand might be particular about the jobs he’s worked. It is possible, for instance, that his family is in Chicago. In that case, staying at Notre Dame would have been his preference after 2009 when, presumably, he was let go with former offensive coordinator Ron Turner. But then, if he was “the best in the business”, why didn’t former head coach Lovie Smith keep him on?

That’s a lot of reading between the lines and I could make up excuses and do more back and forth if I chose to. But you get the idea. There’s enough smoke here to make me wonder if there isn’t fire and I’m wondering if all of this praise of Hiestand isn’t just so much hype.

Playoff Quarterbacks and Other Points of View

    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:”What do Ryan Pace and the coaching staff do during these playoff weeks? Are they still hiring coaches or staff? — @wiesnoski

      Matt Nagy is working to complete his staff, and the next step, especially for the new coaches, is to completely review the 2017 season. The new coaches need to have a thorough understanding of what they are inheriting so they can contribute in meetings, hatch a plan for free agency and plan for the draft. It’s a time-consuming process. Coaches who remain from last season will be completing their player assessments as they prepare for meetings that will chart the course of the offseason. Pace said something that made a lot of sense when Nagy was introduced: It will be nice to have a fresh voice and opinion about the roster. What’s good? What’s not good? What works? What doesn’t work? It’s not just Nagy’s voice — all of the new coaches will have input in the process, which is significant because the most difficult process any team has is evaluating its own roster. Former general manager Jerry Angelo used to drive that point home, and it’s true. It’s easy to look at another team and determine its weaknesses. It’s more difficult to self-scout and be completely honest.”

      I find this to be easy to believe. However, there are disadvantages to offset it.

      One of the problems that anyone who has tried to make an evaluation of anyone from video has run into is that they don’t know the plays and, therefore, don’t know who’s responsibility it was to do what. It is possible to infer this given the playbook but I doubt anyone can be 100% sure.

    • Biggs answers another:”What approach do you see Pace taking to improve the offensive line this offseason? Is the highest priority on stabilizing the interior or increasing talent at tackles? — @carl9730

      As I’ve written, the biggest decision the Bears have to make on the offensive line is what to do with 31-year-old guard Josh Sitton. The Bears hold a 2018 option that must be executed between Feb. 9 — five days after Super Bowl LII — and March 9 — five days before the start of the new league year. The option is for $8 million — $7.4 million in base salary with a $500,000 roster bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus. That’s the first domino for the line this offseason. If the Bears move forward with Sitton, you’re probably looking at a lineman being added during the draft, and then the team determining a path for a swing tackle. If the Bears don’t bring Sitton back, they need to determine if they want to keep Cody Whitehair at center and get a guard or consider Whitehair at guard and get a center.”

      I agree with all of this but the lost man here seems to be 2017 fifth round pick Jordan Morgan. Morgan was placed on injured reserve before the regular season started. No indication was given as to what the source of the injury was.

      Morgan is a big guy with a reputation for having some “nastiness” in his make up. Morgan played at Kutztown and hasn’t seen a lot of high level competition. How much he was able to develop this season probably depends upon the nature of his injury. Nevertheless, as a fifth round guard, I have to believe that they drafted him with the idea that he would develop into a starter.

    • Biggs with yet another one:”Do you think the Bears promised Fangio they would use the No. 8 pick on a defensive playmaker as a way of luring him back? — Corey S., Chicago

      No way. Pace would never make a promise like that, and the Bears have no way of knowing who will be on the board when they pick. Further, they have a lot of ground to cover before they complete draft evaluations, and what they do in free agency will likely shape the direction of the draft. I think you’re overthinking this one.”

      Totally agree.

      I like Fangio as much as anyone and I’m glad the Bears resigned him. The continuity is valuable and it helps. But it isn’t like good defensive coordinators with vast experience running their units aren’t out there. I’m not saying their a dime a dozen but they aren’t hard to find in the current climate where good offensive coaches who can coach quarterbacks seem to be the ones that are at a premium.

      Keeping Fangio was preferable but far from essential for success.

    • Rob Demovsky at describes why the Packers fell apart when their starting quarterback went down and the Eagles and the Vikings didn’t:“When [Minnesota quarterback Case] Keenum replaced Sam Bradford (who had replaced Teddy Bridgewater), he had 24 career starts under his belt. When [Eagles quarterback Nick Foles replaced Carson Wentz, he had 36 starts.

      When Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone in Week 6, the Packers were going with a first-time starter.”

      “But it runs much deeper than just the fill-in quarterbacks.

      The top-seeded Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and were No. 1 against the run. The Vikings ranked first in total defense and were second against both the run and the pass.”

      The bottom line is that the Packers either lacked talent or didnt’ develop it and once Roger went down, they were exposed.

      My gut feeling is that the Packers identified the problem correctly in that former general manager Ted Thompson paid the price and was kicked upstairs. Although he was let go, I don’t think defensive coordinator Dom Capers failed to develop it nor do I think the rest of the staff was responsible. There was flat out a lack of talent on the roster and everyone with eyes knew it.

    • The Bears have fired strength coach Jason George.George is apparently taking at least part of the fall for the Bears tendency to sustain a lot injuries, particularly soft tissue injuries. Though I have heard fans and media claim that George likely has little to do with it, I’m not so sure.

      The Bears had a marvelous record for remaining healthy when Rusty Jones was the strength coach under former head coach Lovie Smith. When Jones retired in 2013 the Bears consciously decided to leave his training regime largely behind in an effort to become “more powerful and explosive” with new coach Mike Clark. My interpretation was that meant, “bigger, more finely tuned muscle mass”. Going along with that, you would expect more stress on tendons and, to a lesser extent, ligaments. I think the Bears injury record since that time has borne that out.

      It will be interesting to see where the Bears go from here and what his background looks like. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was a Jones disciple or if he ran a system that was similar.

    One Final Thought

    Alden Gonzalez at points out that two of the four quarterbacks in the NFL conference championships this weekend played for – and didn’t play well for – former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher.

    Fisher is a former Bear and he undoubtedly did fine work in the locker room – something that is arguably more important than the in game coaching that so many fans tend to emphasize because that’s what they see.

    But above in game coaching and above relationships in the locker room, a coach is still a coach first. Fisher is a defensive mind that never found the right offensive coaches and never provided the environment needed to coach up and nurture a quarterback.

    Many will claim that the Bears have never had the talent to succeed because they’ve never had the talent at quarterback. That may be part of the problem but the truth is they’ve never had the tools to properly develop one either. They have now provided Mitch Trubisky with three quarterback coaches, Nagy, new offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and whoever the quarterback coach will be, probably Dave Ragone. Here’s hoping they have provided him with the right ones.

I’m Baaack – Thoughts on the Matt Nagy Hire

So first of all, I’m back.

My course at the school where I work is wrapping up and I’ve got a bit more time to write than I have had for most of this season. I will probably have to go through the same thing in August and September next year when I am course director of another new course but then after that I hope more time will be available to have some fun during the year.

Since my last post, the Bears have fired John Fox and hired new head coach Matt Nagy. Here are some thoughts.

Why Not Someone with a Little Experience?

I wasn’t overly happy about this hire. I don’t have anything against it but at the same time I’m not too thrilled with it or the process by which it came about, either.

What I see here is manifestation of something that I see a lot around the league. When you have a change in leadership in a front office and/or in a coaching staff you go out and hire the exact opposite of what you had before. I don’t know if that was exactly called for here.

I don’t mind that they hired an offensive head coach (as opposed to the defensive Fox) and I think it is generally a really good idea to hire a head coach with a background in coaching quarterbacks. It’s quarterback-centric league. But I wouldn’t have hired yet another first time head coach who is super young just because the last guy was experienced and older. It has all the markings of an over-reaction to the problems of the previous situation.

John Fox was on his third head coaching job and he’d already gotten the simple mistakes out of the system before the Bears hired him. That’s not to say that all of the decisions that he made were good ones. It probably didn’t help that he was a conservative head coach and that was, debatably, hurting the development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky.  But the decision that really hurt him the most was his choice of offense coordinator. Dowell Loggains, as Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune put it, ran an offense with plays but little in the way of scheme. That, along with the lack of talent at wide receiver on that side of the ball, resulted in a fairly low offensive output.

So I’m not saying that experience is everything. But it certainly can help avoid a lot of the problems that Matt Nagy is likely to run into in his first head-coaching job.

So if it were me, I’d have preferred to go with someone with more experience like Josh McDaniels or Pat Shurmur. Whether McDaniels wanted to come Chicago and leave a plum job with the Patriots is debatable. But my gut is telling me that they could’ve persuaded Shurmur to come here if they tried and had been willing to wait a little bit (see below).

Are All the Wrong Things All the Right Things? We’ll Find Out.

As it is the Bears have got a 39 year old head coach to go with an inexperienced, 40 year old general manager who is frankly doing many of the things that over the years I have been told are all of the wrong things for general managers to do.

The first prime example of that is falling in love with Trubisky to the point where in the 2017 draft he arguably traded away picks to move from #3 overall to #2 overall when he actually didn’t have to. Pace fell for Trubisky so hard that he felt that he had to do that if there was even the smallest chance that he might not be able to get him.

Conventional wisdom says that you don’t fall in love with draft prospects. First rounders are a 50:50 proposition whether you have fallen in love with them or not. To some extent, you have to let the chips fall where they may and do the common sense thing.

So it was somewhat disconcerting to see Pace do the exact same thing again when hiring his head coach. Pace obviously felt that he had to rush to hire Matt Nagy in part because the Indianapolis Colts might have been interested. Colts general manager Chris Ballard has a history with Nagy through his Kansas City connections so this does make some sense but at the same time, conventional wisdom says that you take your time when you’re hunting for a head coach. You make your move only after you’re absolutely sure that you got the right guy. You don’t rush it.

My guess is that the Bears also hurried this hire in part they wanted to get first crack at the assistant coaches that they wanted. Again, conventional wisdom says not to do that. Whatever else you say about John Fox, he assembled a pretty good staff in Chicago. He was able to do it, not because he rushed the process, but because he’s been around the league a lot and knows a lot of people. He has a lot of connections.

Assembling a staff is probably the most important thing you’ll do as a head coach. If you hire the right guy, he’ll do it right. On the other hand, does a young guy like Nagy who has only been a coach since 2008 (and even then it was it as an intern) and who has only worked for one organization going to have the connections to hire the right people to to get onto the staff? We’ll find out when the boys hit the field.

The Good: Copying the Rams Model

On the generally positive side, there are a lot of similarities in this hiring to what the Rams did when they hired Sean McVay last year.

Part of the plan in Los Angeles was to get a really good, experienced defensive coordinator to pair with him. In the case of the Rams, that was Wade Phillips, arguably the best there is right now.

In the Bears case, that guy is Vic Fangio and that’s probably another reason for rushing this hire, perhaps the only legitimate one. Fangio was under contract with the Bears until Tuesday and getting Nagy hired quickly gave them a chance to get an offer to Fangio on the record before he started titling to other teams. The end result was that he was hired, presumably as head coach of the defense.

Could they have found a good offensive coordinator if Fangio had turned them down? Probably. And probably they shouldn’t have rushed this hire just to get him. But having said that, it will be nice for the players to have the continuity and presumably it keeps much of the defensive staff intact. If nothing else, its a proven group.

Finally, and most importantly, they got a good young quarterback-centric head coach. A guy who, presumably, will be Chicago’s McVay. Pace almost certainly had a picture in his mind of what he was looking for and that picture presumably looked allot like Sean Payton. Certainly their backgrounds are similar as each was a borderline professional quarterback, Payton as a replacement during the NFL strike in 1982, Nagy as an arena league quarterback. But the similarities end there as Payton was far more accomplished as an offensive coordinator when the Saints hired him as their head coach than Nagy is now. We shall see if Nagy has Payton’s “fire in the belly.”

Hiring Nagy could be as good for Trubisky as hiring McVay was for Jared Goff. Assuming that Nagy runs an offense similar to what Andy Reid does in Kansas City, we’re looking at a highly structured West Coast offense where a lot of the quarterback’s decisions will be mapped out. Its a quarterback friendly offense where Trubisky will always know what to do and will have options to get the team into the right play.

Trubisky came to the Bears with a reputation for being very accurate and we have seen flashes of that on occasion. The football cognoscente believe that if he develops consistent mechanics, he’ll be a good, accurate, precision passer that will hit many of the easy, short passes that the West Coast offense can provide consistently.

Nagy’s also got a reputation for being able to adapt to the characteristics of his quarterback. He should be able to do better job than Loggains did of taking advantage of Trubisky’s mobility. We’ll probably see a lot more will roll outs and boot legs that will allow slower developing pass plays to take place and Trubisky to take off and run if he needs to.

Nagy did a nice job with Alex Smith and, probably more to the point, Pat Mahommes in Kansas City. We can hope that he brings that same expertise here and that Trubisky becomes all that the current regime thinks he can be.

If he does, then the process of hiring Nagy will be characterized as “decisive” by future critics. But for now, it feels like the Bears are going to have to be a lot luckier than usual to have found the right guy in such a rushed manner.