An Assessment of the Competition for the Third and Fourth Tight End Spots

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“How many tight ends do you see the Bears carrying to the 53-man roster? Is Bradley Sowell a roster lock since the Bears have pretty much asked him to alter his entire career to match their need for a Y tight end? — @gumm006

My best guess is four tight ends will make the 53-man roster with Sowell having an edge over undrafted rookie Ian Bunting for the final spot behind Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Ben Braunecker. I would not describe Sowell as a “lock,” and his contract certainly doesn’t give him any kind of protection because of guaranteed money. The Bears would not promise him anything in asking him to change positions either.

I think Bradley Sowell is a virtual lock to make the roster on this team. Head coach Matt Nagy used a third offensive tackle to block last year in a variety of short yardage situations, especially near the goal line. I think he wants to do that again this year with Sowell but in situations where he’s more versatile as a receiving threat rather than the target on a one time gadget play.

The guy I’m wondering about is Braunecker. He’s a four phase special teamer but based upon his performance in last week’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, Bunting looks like he has a lot more to offer the offense.

Bunting had big highs and big lows over the course of the game and he needs to show more consistency. That might make him a practice squad candidate. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Braunecker will be a surprise cut if the Bears think Bunting has improved enough and/or they don’t think they can get him through waivers to the practice squad.

Aaron Rogers Undermines His Head Coach Every Time He Opens His Mouth

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers characterizing critical comments that he’s creating “outside noise” as “click bait”:

“If Rodgers doesn’t want to be ’put in that news cycle,’ he should quit saying things that naturally flow into that news cycle. When he complains to Mike Silver of the NFL that Rodgers wants more freedom at the line of scrimmage than the [head coach Matt] LaFleur offense gives him, Rodgers puts himself in that news cycle. When Rodgers complains to reporters about joint practices and, more surprisingly, specifically says it’s not ’smart’ to have close-to-live kickoff drills that are sure to catch the attention of the NFL Players Association, Rodgers puts himself in that news cycle.

It more than that. Rogers is using the media as a weapon to undermine the head coach.

He wants more freedom at the line of scrimmage? He doesn’t work it out with LaFleur internally. Instead, he runs to the media and complains. The next thing you know, Green Bay fans are saying, “Yeah. He’s a veteran, he should be able to change the play.”

That adds pressure on LaFleur to change his policy, even though he knows the way he runs his offense will work if given a chance. In the mean time, the whole issue undermines his authority with both the fans and the media.

Rogers is playing LaFleur and their fans like a fiddle. And he’s using the media to do it.

Fortunately, the media knows when its being used though they didn’t bother to try to point it out while former head coach Mike McCarthy was the victim, at least some are apparently trying to give LaFleur a little bit more of a chance. For now.

The Montgomery Dilemma: To Play or Not To Play. That is the Question.

Adan Jahns at The Athletic comments upon risers and fallers on the Bears roster after the first preseason game. In particular, he highlighted the situation of running back David Montgomery:

The Bears’ exhibition loss against the Panthers Thursday night produced a healthy dilemma for coach Matt Nagy.

Do the Bears really need to see more of running back David Montgomery in the preseason?

It wouldn’t be surprising if Nagy is now leaning toward “no” after his prized rookie totaled 46 yards on six touches and scored on an impressive 7-yard touchdown run in his NFL debut.

Montgomery. like most rookie running backs, has to learn to pass protect if he wants to play. Not that he did a bad job. But all of these guys need work on it because they did it so rarely i college. This is why Jordan Howard didn’t start out of the gate. They can’t just roll these guys out there and get Trubisky killed, no matter how well they run.

Montgomery will start out of the gate or at least get a lot of playing time. That is clear.

I think that makes it all the more important that he get as much practice protecting the quarterback before then as possible. Yes, its a risk. But its better to risk injury to Montgomery in the preseason than to risk losing your quarterback to a rookie mistake once the season begins.

Bears David Montgomery Strength? He’s All Football Player.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune on the performance of Bears rookie running back David Montgomery last night:

“Six touches for rookie running back David Montgomery was all that was needed to feel really good about him — and the role he’s going to play in this offense.

“Montgomery already looked the part in training camp, running hard through tackles in some rare live action in Bourbonnais. But a chance to see him go against the Panthers, albeit a brief chance, was enough to confirm what was expected. Montgomery looked really good in the open field. He looked good in the low red zone, running to daylight after a jump-cut at the line of scrimmage on a 7-yard touchdown. He looked natural catching the ball. If you were seeking validation that general manager Ryan Pace made the right move in paying a pretty hefty price to trade up and select Montgomery, this was a heck of a start.”

My first impression of Montgomery is similar to what my first impression of former Bears running back Jordan Howard was – he isn’t going to be running away from guys very often. And unlike Howard, Montgomery isn’t particularly big though his center of gravity is lower to the ground than I thought it was. But, similar to what I eventually concluded about Howard, I can see why the Bears like him. Montgomery is a football player. And that’s probably more important than superior physical talent.

Don’t get my wrong. Talent is important and you have to have at least some of it to succeed. But you don’t have to be the fastest guy on the field. In Howard’s case, his ability to find small cracks in the line and to slip through to make gains was a huge strength for a big back. It looks to me like Montgomery has some of that vision when he bounces the ball outside. Defenses are going to have to play the run with discipline whenever Montgomery is on the field or he’s going to burn them for big gains.

You can also see where Montgomery could succeed in the passing game. Get him into space and his quickness and ability to break tackles starts to show itself. He’s got instincts and he runs with effort.

Yeah, the guy probably is going to get caught from behind a few times this year. But overall, I like what I see and I think Montgomery’s strengths could far out weight his weaknesses. I see a guy who could quite possibly match the production of a Matt Forte as a very good running back that could provide yet another aspect to what is looking like its going to be a versatile offense.

The Bears Kicking Competition Has Many Subtle Aspects to Consider

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Is there any benefit, cap-wise or other, to the Bears keeping one kicker or another? — @steveoatms

“There is no way the Bears will base the decision on the kicker for this season on money or cap space. Fry and Pineiro are each signed for $495,000 this season and would count that much against the cap, so there is no difference in that regard. I can’t see a kicker who would become an option for them between now and the start of the season who would cost a lot. Robbie Gould was never an option as the 49ers franchise-tagged him.

“Everything I’ve read so far from camp has both kickers performing well. But if it comes down to a little more leg strength or slightly better consistency, which would the coaching staff choose? — @chriscremer5

“In that scenario, I think the Bears would choose the kicker with better consistency. What is more important? A kicker who is money from 30 to, say, 45 yards or a kicker who has a better chance of banging one through from 55? I think you go with the more consistent guy for the kicks that are going to come up much more often. But it’s hard to believe a final decision will come down to issues that black and white.”

There is one aspect of this kicker competition that Biggs didn’t mention. The Bears give up a seventh round pick to the Raiders if Pineiro is on the Bears roster for 5 games. They’ll happily give that up if he works out. But it is an issue if all else is equal.

There is, however, one subtle advantage that Pineiro has. Pineiro apparently won the job with the Raiders before going on injured reserve last season. That means that the Raiders liked him. That can have an effect upon the decision making process. Somewhere in the back of the minds of general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, they are probably thinking, “Well, the Raiders liked him. So shouldn’t we like him, too?”

That’s not a major factor – these guys definitely have their own minds. But if its close, it could be the thing that tips the scales.

The Silence from Kyle Long Has Been Deafening

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic says that Bears guard Kyle Long is ready for 2019:

“Last January, the seventh-year Bear was looking forward to a surgery-free offseason after everything he went through from 2016 to 2018. He’s been available throughout the offseason program and training camp after having to take ’veteran days’ last summer.

“Nagy has heard Long, a three-time Pro Bowler from 2013 to 2015, is in ’the best shape, condition, strength, mental’ as he’s been as a Bear.

“’Where he’s at right now is in a good place,’ Nagy said. ’And so he’s worked hard for that. He’s all-in. He’s committed. Even today, he’s out there running around when we gave some other guys similar in age a vet day. And so that’s a credit to him, and we want to just make sure that he gets stronger and stronger, and then when we get to Week 1, he’s at the best he’s ever been.”’

There’s been a lot of talk in the offseason about Long’s age and various fans, if not media members, on Twitter have suggested that at 30 years old his best days might be behind him. Long landed on injured reserve in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Particularly given his large personality, Long’s silence since camp has started has been deafening. It could be because he doesn’t like the doubts being expressed about him. That might not be such a bad thing. A healthy Kyle Long with something to prove could prove formidable once the season starts.

Trubisky’s Story Will Play Out in Front of the Entire NFL This Season

Adam Jahns at The Athletic emphasizes that fans shouldn’t let the 100 year anniversary of the Bears overshadow the importance of the 2019 version of the team making progress. He particularly emphasizes the importance of quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s continued progress:

“The word that comes to mind for me is incremental improvement, steady incremental improvement, and I think we’ve seen (Trubisky) do that,” [general manager Ryan] Pace said Sunday. “And as long as he just keeps on that pace, steady incremental improvement, we’ll be happy. You can feel his confidence growing; we’ve talked about that. Chemistry, continuity, all those things going into Year 2, and that’s going to continue as we go forward.”

It is important to note that this continued, steady improvement will be the biggest key to the 2019 season. Trubisky is one of the most polarizing quarterbacks in the entire league right now. You either really like him or your really, really don’t.

Amongst my friends who root for other teams, most of whom are typical, I’d say 80% will tell you that Trubisky is terrible and they don’t understand the hype. And there’s good reason for their skepticism.

Even most objective Bears fans would have to admit that Trubisky was league average at best at the end of the year. And that was, as Pace points out, after making steady progress throughout the 2018 campaign. It’s important to note that expecting anything beyond that is all extrapolation based upon the assumption that he’s going to continue to do that.

You had to have had the opportunity to watch Trubisky make that steady progress last year, game after game, in a way most fans outside of Chicago didn’t, before you could actually get the feeling that he might be on his way to something special. And what’s going to be very interesting about this year is that it won’t be just Bears fans who are going to see it.

Trubisky’s progress is going to be a league-wide story as the Bears are on national television six times, the maximum allowed.

Until Trubisky actually shows that he’s a very good quarterback, he’s just another guy. If the Bears are going to remain competitive, he’s going to have to become more than that. It’s far from a certainty that will happen. But either way its going to be what everyone will all be watching for all over the league this year.

Did the Bears Actually Have a Good Offseason?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Can you give me your perspective of why the national opinion and/or media seem to have a negative view of the Bears? I’m watching clips of Damien Woody and John Fox saying the Bears had the worst offseason. I feel clips like this are the norm, but maybe I’m wrong? Very frustrating. — @schnurlacher1

“Former Bears coach John Fox cited the Bears as having the worst offseason of any NFL team during a Monday appearance on ESPN. But he did so after Damien Woody first listed the Bears. Woody cited the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as a reason for selecting the Bears, which led to considerable turnover in the defensive coaching staff. Fox referenced the unresolved kicker situation, which has more than a few Bears fans nervous. What Fox didn’t mention is that the team terminated the contract of all-time leading scorer Robbie Gould while he was the coach, a move Fox likely could have prevented. Keep a couple of things in mind. For starters, sometimes TV and radio personalities are going to throw out opinions to generate discussion. Second, the Bears were pretty bad for a long stretch, so it’s going to take sustained success for them to generate respect. I wouldn’t get too bothered about Fox or Woody choosing the Bears for having the worst offseason. The Bears didn’t have first- or second-round draft picks. But I think you can fairly say they still had a good offseason and I think they made about the best move possible after Fangio’s exit.”

I have a number of points to make about this question and the answer:

  1. I really haven’t found the national media to be all that biased in their assessment of the Bears. Opinions vary and many are properly skeptical of a last-to-first place Bears team that most thought would come in last in the NFC North last year.A lot of things went right for the Bears last year and the ball fell their way an awful lot. The Bears were uncommonly healthy being second in the NFL last year in games lost due to injury. They also played a last place schedule. The odds are good that the team will face considerably more adversity this year and how they respond will tell everyone everywhere what they are made of and whether they are truly worthy of respect.
  2. I’ve made it a habit to virtually ignore the national media when it comes to opinions of the Bears. Most of the local reporters seem to be very enthusiastic and they are much more plugged in to the team that national media members who are trying to track all 32 teams at once.Not that the local reporters are always right. They’re close to the players and the team and many are unabashed fans. There’s a lot of bias there. But they are more informed.
  3. Having said that, not all of the national media are down on the Bears and you do occasionally hear some glowing opinions of what they are doing. Rodney Harrison is one of the most critical NFL analysts there is but I listened to him give what was for him a glowing assessment of the Bears as a team and of quarterback Mitch Trubisky in particular two weekends ago on NBC Sports Radio.Fans have a habit of remembering the bad things and forgetting the good things. The national media aren’t biased.
  4. Regarding the specific comments of Damien Woody and John Fox, I agree with them that the Bears didn’t have a good offseason. They didn’t have a first or second round pick and they are up against the cap. It awfully hard to improve your team in what most analysts would consider to be a substantial way under those conditions.General manager Ryan Pace came from the Saints and they are constantly in this same situation. He’s definitely brought the philosophy that they have there to Chicago.

    I don’t fear it as much now as I did when they hired him because either he or the people who work for him or both seem to have an eye for talent. For instance, from what I’ve seen when they have traded away picks the last couple years its been a good investment. I think we’re just going to have to get used to it.

Paxton Lynch Might Have a Better Chance of Developing in Seattle

Curtis Crabtree at profootballtalk.com addresses the Seahawks backup quarterback situation:

“[Paxton] Lynch is getting a second chance in Seattle after the former first round pick of the Denver Broncos flamed out after just two years with the team. [Geno] Smith is on his third new team in as many years after stops with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers.

“’Paxton’s got a big time, live arm. He really does,’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenehimer said. ’For a big guy, he’s really quick and athletic, picked up the system well. Geno hasn’t been here nearly as long. He’s got a lot of moxie about him, great huddle command which is cool to see.”’

I think we know who Smith is. I’m not as sure about Lynch.

Many have speculated that Lynch wasn’t the best fit in the offense in Denver and that may have been part of the reason he didn’t develop.

So much of properly developing a quarterback has to do with pairing him with the right coaching staff. You wonder how many of the busts over the last 30 years would have been stars had they been in the proper nurturing environment early on.

In any case Seattle is Pete Carroll is far more likely to adjust to Lynch’s skill set. Not that he’s likely to get a chance to show it because quarterback Russell Wilson is a bit of an iron man but it will be interesting to see if Lynch does better there if he gets a chance to show it.

Is There Enough Depth at Defensive Tackle and Linebacker?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Linebacker and defensive tackle depth seem to be biggest needs on defense. Who are the free-agent targets that would best fit? — @jokertownhero

“The Bears have pretty good depth at defensive tackle. Look at Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Akiem Hicks, who plays inside, and you’re talking about a really talented top three. Nick Williams has been around and he knows the scheme. I disagree that this is an area of need for depth. I also think the Bears are in pretty good shape at linebacker. There aren’t quality pass rushers on the street, and when you have a group headlined by Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and Aaron Lynch at outside linebacker, that’s good to me. They’ve got some decent reserves, too, including Isaiah Irving. At inside linebacker, Nick Kwiatkoski and Joel Iyiegbuniwe are behind starters Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. Josh Woods is another reserve to keep an eye on. He impressed the team last year as a rookie on the practice field. I don’t see depth issues at these positions.

The guess here is that the questioner isn’t impressed Nichols and Irving as quality back ups. A year ago this time I would have agreed with this assessment as lack of depth was one of the reasons I gave for predicting a last place finish for the Bears. However, I don’t agree now.

Irving and Nichols both impressed me in the preseason last year with the progress that they had made in terms of their play. Both looked to me like they could play in the regular season if a veteran went down and provide average productivity (which is as much as you can ask of a back up).

Both have now had an additional year to develop, with Nichols seeing significant playing time. That’s good because although the Bears depth wasn’t tested much last year, it almost certainly will be this year. They are probably going to need one or both of these players to be able to step in.