- Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times describes how new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will receive more defensive support than he did as the head coach in in Indianapolis:
“Pagano is less than two months into his new Bears job, but working for [general manager Ryan] Pace and [head coach Matt] Nagy must feel different already. Pace and Nagy over-communicate. The Colts, according to an ESPN report, hired psychologists to improve the strained relationship between Pagano and former general manager Ryan Grigson, who was fired after the 2016 season.”
“[I]n Grigson’s five years with Pagano, the Colts drafted only two defensive players in the first two rounds, and both were major misses.”
“The only pick made by Grigson who started last season for the Colts’ defense was safety Clayton Geathers. A fourth-round pick in 2015, Geathers does not have an interception in his career.”
Yes, things will be different and there’s a lot of reason to believe that the Bears defense will continue to be very good next season.
But you also can’t overlook the effect that Vic Fangio and his staff has in terms of developing players. That was an excellent staff and almost all of them are now gone. The big question now is can Pagano and the new staff continue that excellence.
No matter how many first and second round picks he got to work with, the fact of the matter is that Pagano’s staff in Indianapolis didn’t do a good enough job for the team to succeed, at least defensively. Even the two high round picks he got turned into busts and coaching is a part of that.
Success or failure of a team is a balance between talent and development and of the two, I’m not entirely sure development isn’t the bigger part. The NFL is not known as a coach’s league for nothing. Pagano has big shoes to fill.
- Patrick Finley, also at the Chicago Sun-Times, talks about the possibility that the Bears will take a running back:
“Whether he meant to or not, Penn State’s Miles Sanders successfully summarized the Bears’ running back debate Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Sanders, who met with the Bears late Tuesday, was asked about the team not drafting until No. 87 overall.
‘‘’They told me, maybe if I’m available, they might take a .?.?. they’re going to take a .?.?. they might take a running back,’ he said. ‘Because I don’t know the situation with Jordan Howard.’
“That’s it right there. The Bears have made no secret of their desire for a versatile young running back to plug into coach Matt Nagy’s system. Whether that player serves as a complement to Howard next season — the last of Howard’s rookie deal — or replaces him altogether is another question.
First I sympathized with the predicament that this poor prospect was in. You could almost read his mind: “Ummmm… they told me they were looking for running backs. But they might not want that out there. How am I going to answer this without lying.” The result was a somewhat confused effort to hide something we all know – the Bears have running back at or very near the top of their list.
Sanders needn’t have worried. Nagy pretty much gave it away with talk about bringing in Kareem Hunt a long time ago. He obviously felt that he was hamstrung by the lack of a versatile back who could do it all. And its clear from Pace’s most recent comments that is how the Bears plan to correct the problem, at least in general terms. Via Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune:
“’The creativity on offense, the variety on offense, we’re an exciting offense to watch,’ general manager Ryan Pace said. ’And we’ve got a lot of pieces that can do a lot of different things and that’s only going to grow in Year 2. Now from a personnel standpoint, do we need to add to that? Yeah. Do we want to get faster and more explosive? Yes. That’s our challenge.”’
It will surprise no one who is reading this – the Bears need a special running back and they need a better blocking tight end who can run a route and catch a pass. If those two positions aren’t at the top of the list, it’s only because they found that they couldn’t re-sign cornerback Bryce Callahan and/or safety Adrian Amos.
- Jahns addresses the Raiders loss of Khalil Mack in the context of the fact that the Raiders got only the #24 pick overall this year rather than a higher pick from the Bears. He makes an excellent point:
“[Raiders general manager Mike] Mayock said this year has a strong class for edge rushers. He just has to the select the right one — or two — after [head coach Jon] Gruden parted with one of the league’s best last year.
“Ohio State’s Nick Bosa is widely viewed as a candidate for the Cardinals’ first overall pick, but Kentucky’s Josh Allen could be available at No. 4.
“Michigan’s Rashan Gary, Mississippi’s Montez Sweat, Florida’s Jachai Polite and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell are edge rushers who also are viewed as high-round picks.”
This is an excellent point. Defensive line is the strength of the 2019 draft. Seven of the top 8 draft prospects from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah are edge rushers or defensive linemen. Sports Illustrated has 16 going in the first round of one of their mock drafts.
It would be hard to get a player as good as Mack is. But the Raiders have a good chance of hitting on a very good pass rusher to replace him. One who could perhaps still be a future star.
The Bears should be happy with this trade no matter what. But I’m not inclined to pass final judgment on it from the Raiders perspective just yet.
- Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on the cap space that the Bears made available by restructuring Khalil Mack’s contract
“It seems unlikely the Bears will make a splash addition… Former Seahawks running back Mike Davis figures to be featured prominently in the offense, and the space created by the bookkeeping could prove to be for a few more smaller moves and then for the operating space the team will require for the season. Keep in mind that an extension for center Cody Whitehair could become a business item general manager Ryan Pace attacks during the summer.”
I think a lot of people are forgetting Whitehair. He is entering a contract year and, as the Bears’ best offensive lineman, they will try hard to lock him up later in the offseason. The guess here is that is where most of the cap space that they freed up goes.
- Speaking of Davis, Dan Durkin at The Athletic did a nice job of describing some film of him to give Bears fans an idea of what the team got.
“[Davis] gets defenders to commit to him, before sliding away to gain extra yards. This run also shows another standout trait — his contact balance, which has to do with his compact build and lower center of gravity at 5-foot-9 and 217 pounds.”
I’m not thrilled with the acquisition of Davis, though I’m willing to wait and see what he looks like for the Bears. My impression is that he’s a lesser version of what Jordan Howard was in 2017. He’ll be tough to bring down with that low center of gravity and he’ll have better hands than Howard did. But his receiving skills look only average to me and he lacks speed.
Davis looks like a Howard replacement, not the do it all Kareem Hunt-type that Nagy may really be seeking. They may only find that in the draft.
- Biggs answers your questions.
“What is keeping Adam Shaheen from ascending to become a more productive tight end? Speed? Agility? Strength? Technique? Toughness? Durability? Football Intelligence? — @rto58
“Durability is the No. 1 issue right now. Shaheen was injured late in his rookie season shortly after his playing time was increased due to injuries to others at the position. Then, he lost the first half of his second season when he was injured in preseason in August. He’s got to get more time on the practice field and more game reps to improve. He’s never going to be a speed guy and comparisons to Rob Gronkowski have been wildly off base since Day 1. That doesn’t mean Shaheen cannot be a productive player for the Bears and right now, he’s in line for a much greater role after Dion Sims was released. The Bears will be leaning on Shaheen to give them more as a run blocker unless they go out and sign another Y tight end or draft one. It’s my belief the Bears liked Nick Boyle but knew the market was going to get too big for him for them to be involved. He wound up re-signing with the Ravens for three years at $6 million per season.”
I’m pretty sure that the bears will be seeking help at tight end as well as running back in this draft. An I like what I see.
Despite statements like this one from Mike Florio suggesting that people tune in to the NFL Combine just to watch workouts (i.e. the “Underwear Olympics”), most people really watch not so much for the drills as for the opportunity to hear what the experts have to say about the players. For most of us, this is our first introduction to most of them.
Having said that, one of the sets of drills that I think are interesting to watch are the pass receiving drills for tight ends, running backs and defensive backs. The players at these positions will be expected to be able to catch passes in the NFL despite sometimes not being asked to do it much in college. It’s worthwhile just to watch guys and see if they are natural pass catchers or if they are fighting the ball all the way in as they catch it.
To my eye, most of the bigger tight ends that the Bears will be looking for looked pretty good. Most of the mid-round-type running backs also looked better than I expected based upon the pre-combine comments from the experts. I think its going to be a good, deep draft at both of these positions.
- Mark Potash at the Sun-Times on why what the Bears did in free agency won’t be that critical to the teams future success:
“Regardless of what happens in free agency, the Bears’ chances of taking the next step in the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl are predicated on growth from within:
“1. Mitch Trubisky and the offense parlaying a foundation year in 2018 into a quantum leap in 2019 — with or without running back Jordan Howard. The story lines of better communication, improved chemistry, reacting instead of thinking and Trubisky’s ability to read the defense instead of setting the offense will be over-written and tiresome by training camp. But nobody the Bears add on offense is going to change that scenario.
2. The defense avoiding a significant drop-off — and potentially improving — in the transition from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano. Even without nickel back Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos, the Bears still have 10 starters returning on defense. And that includes four 25-and-under players who should be better in 2019 no matter who is coaching them: linebacker Roquan Smith (22), safety Eddie Jackson (25), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (25) and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (23 on Sept. 14).”
This is all true enough but there’s one factor that has been typically overlooked. The Bears were uncommonly healthy last year. In fact, according the mangameslost.com, the Bears were the second healthiest team in the NFL behind only the Buffalo Bills in terms of games lost due to injury.
That statistic is a little bit skewed because Mack played through some injuries during the year that severely hampered his play, including the playoff game against the Eagles. But it isn’t skewed that much.
The Bears had a lot of things go right for them last year and the odds are very good that they’ll have more adversity to overcome this year. How they handle that will, as usual, determine more than anything how well they perform.
- Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com passes on this nugget regarding Kyler Murray’s height. Specifically the fact that some scouts don’t believe it was an accurate measurement.
“’I think that his height was inflated,’ an unnamed scout told Dan Patrick on Tuesday, and Dan relayed the story on the Wednesday edition of his show. ‘Maybe it’s the tin-foil hat theory. I just don’t see it. If he refuses to be measured at the Pro Day, that will be telling.”’
If its a tin hat theory, then its going around because I’m wearing a similar one. The possibility that this number wasn’t accurate was the first thing I thought of when I heard the result. Murray was measures at 5’9-5/8” at Oklahoma. Suddenly he is half an inch taller, meaning that his college substantially under-estimated his height rather than inflating it as is the more standard procedure.
I’m having a hard time with that.
- Michael David Smith, also at profooballtalk.com, points out that if the New England Patriots trade for defensive tackle Michael Bennett, it could get awkward with new Pats defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano. Bennett had this to say about Schiano in 2013 when Bennett played for him in Tamp Bay:
“I think he just wants to flex his power He has small [man’s] syndrome. I still talk to guys who are there, and trust me, there’s not much respect for him in that locker room.”
Bennett also let it be known that he will be staying in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem this season:
“’I explained to them is that my integrity mean everything,’ Bennett said, according to ESPN. ’I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual.’ ”
Yeah, Bennett is an individual all right. Just like his brother Martellus, Michael is an individual to a fault.
There’s a reason why Bennett will be going on the fourth team of his career (the Seahawks twice) and the third in three years. He’s an immature, high maintenance player who can be a hand full in the locker room. The Patriots are betting that they have the culture to tame Bennett but it says here that if he plays for them in 2019, he won’t be there in 2020. Talented as he is, New England could be his last stop.
- According to a report from Barry Wilner at the Associated Press, the NFL teams are proposing major changes in replay and in overtime for the upcoming season. Most of the replay proposals to the NFL’s competition committee have suggested an increase in the number of plays subject to video review.
I have never like the league’s procedures for replay and in my opinion this is a step in the wrong direction. The challenge system for review is hopelessly broken in part because NFL coaches are expected to do both their own job and that of the officials under the current rules.
I really don’t care what sort of system the league implements but it should be one that relieves coaches the responsibility for cleaning up the mess created by poor calls. Personally, I favor an extra official in the booth who is responsible for deciding whether a play should be reviewed. And, of course, any on field official should also be allowed to request a review of a call they weren’t sure of.
- This item from Florio explaining how badly the Steelers blew the way they handled Antonio Brown also caught my eye.
“The Steelers got a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Antonio Brown. The Giants got a lot more than that for Odell Beckham Jr.
“The reasons for the differences are obvious. First, the Steelers made it clear that they wanted to move on from Brown. The Giants, in contrast, insisted that they were keeping him. And the “we’ll keep him” posture often becomes the best leverage in trade talks.
“Second, Antonio Brown embarked on a scorched earth/bleached ‘stache effort to get out of town. Beckham had engaged in no similar campaign to be traded.
“It adds up to the Browns giving up a lot more to get Beckham (a one, a three, and Jabrill Peppers) than the Raiders gave up to get Brown, because the Giants were committed to perpetuating the ruse that under no circumstances would they trade him. The Giants played it the right way, and the Steelers simply didn’t”
Florio’s point is well taken. But there is so much more to it than that. This was really a hard and cold lesson for the league in terms of how teas should handle disgruntled players.
Pittsburgh’s problems started the minute head coach Mike Tomlin hit the stage after the Steeler’s week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals when he explained that Brown went AWOL before a contest with playoff implications. Instead of simply stating that Brown didn’t play because was hurt (he was) and that they would handle anything else that was abnormal about the situation internally, Tomlin devalued Brown with the less than tactful way that he handled the situation with the media.
I don’t blame Tomlin for being angry and I don’t blame him for not playing Brown after receiving a phone call fro his agent the morning of the game. But there’s no way at that point you publicly degrade a player that you had to at least suspect was going to need to be traded in the offseason.
The Steelers chose to play hard ball with Brown and it back fired. They should, instead, have buttoned up this entire situation. They should have met with Brown and his agent the minute it became evident that he wanted out and they should have promised a trade way before Brown went all Terrell Owens on them and did things that hurt both himself and the team.
You can be sure that the next team that finds itself in this situation will handle it far differently. If they are smart.