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.

Lamar Jackson Isn’t Inspiring Much Confidence

John Breech at cbssports.com reports on Lamar Jackson’s struggles with learning the Ravens offense:

“With the Ravens hiring a new offensive coordinator [Greg Roman] this year, it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone in Baltimore that the team would be installing a new offense this offseason, but apparently, no one told Lamar Jackson.

“When Jackson showed up for the team’s first round of offseason training activities (OTAs) last week, the Ravens quarterback literally had no idea that he was going to be spending his week implementing a new offense.

“’Coming in, I didn’t know we would have a totally different offense,’ Jackson admitted, via the Ravens’ official website. ’When I got here, coach was like, ’Yea, we have a totally new system. You’re going to have go through this and that.’ It’s been getting to me a little bit.”’

I’m completely torn on this article. I don’t know what is worse, having a quarterback who didn’t move to find out if the offense would be different or having a coordinator who didn’t tell him.

One thing is for sure. Communication was definitely lacking. I can’t believe that the team didn’t have the new offensive coordinator talking to the player to at least that extent. And I can’t believe that the player wasn’t demanding to talk to the offensive coordinator to make sure they were on the same page and that he would be prepared for workouts.

Baltimore has a well-deserved reputation for being a well-run organization. But it looks like multiple people dropped the ball here. Its not that they can’t recover from a slow start in May. But that fact that it happened at all isn’t a great sign of things to come.

The New Bears Defensive Staff Has a Noticeably Different Style

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic quotes outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino on defensive end Leonard Floyd
“’I think the sacks will come,’ Monachino said. ’I think Leonard as a pure natural pass rusher has a bigger toolbox than anybody else I’m coaching right now. I want everybody to understand what I just said. The better rusher right now is No. 52. But the natural pass-rush ability, the pass-rush gene, No. 94 has it. As he gets better at one or two things, his numbers will go up. The thing that may happen first are the effective rushes.”’ “’This is a rare athlete playing the position. There’s a whole bunch of guys that are great hammers and guys that have the pass-rush gene that have that dominant trait. This is a rare athlete for the position. I’ve coached a bunch of good ones. I’ve coached big ones, I’ve coached smart ones, I’ve coached fast ones. I’ve never coached an athlete like this. “’… His length. His short-area quickness. Long speed. The ability to cover and change direction. All of those things are very special with this player.”’ “’He is more than willing to learn any way he can learn. He’s learning on his own because he asks me great questions every day when he gets back into the building after he’s watched tape on his own. I think that the guy has a very, very high ceiling.”’
The quotes show the difference between the current staff under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and the understated style that former head coach John Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio. “Under promise and over deliver” doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s mantra in May, that’s for sure. Personally, I like the Fox/Fangio way of handling these things. Raising expectations to a high level sets players that might otherwise be very solid up for what might be perceived as disappointing results. There is a reason why Floyd hasn’t been a great player on the field entering his third year. True, he might bloom this year. But I think setting him up to be more than he’s shown that he is to this point might be unfair.

Buster Skrine is Not a Downgrade. But Is He a Permanent Solution?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“How will Buster Skrine fit into the Bears defense to replace Bryce Callahan? A lot of fans have been calling him a downgrade. — @sam_gutterman

“Skrine projects to be a good fit. He didn’t have his best season last year with the Jets, but the struggles came mostly when he was forced to play on the outside because of injuries. Skrine has also been more durable than Callahan. He has missed a total of five games over the last three seasons but didn’t miss a single game in his first five seasons in the league. Durability was a knock on Callahan, who wound up getting more money from the Broncos than the Bears wanted to pay. I like the idea of adding a proven veteran at the nickel spot with Callahan departed. Skrine will be better than he was with the Jets because he has a much more talented pass rush in front of him.”

I don’t think many people locally are calling the addition of Skrine a downgrade. Head coach Matt Nagy highlighted Skrine last year before the Bears played the Jets as one of their best players and its obvious that they signed him largely because of what they saw on tape in preparation for that game.

The one thing to keep in mind is that Skrine is 30 years old. That means he might be a good fill in for a while but he’s also not the future at that position. The Bears drafted Duke Shelly out of Kansas State in the sixth round but I wouldn’t hold my breath that he’ll work out there as a starter. Although he’s reportedly a fine athlete, he’s only 5’9”. Admittedly you don’t need the height playing nickel back that you do if you are playing on the outside but Shelly will still have to show that he can overcome that lack of height to cover taller receivers on the inside.

Losses of the Bryce Callahan-type are inevitable in the salary cap era of the NFL and as those types of losses go, Callahan isn’t a huge one. But I would say that the loss of Callahan did leave a hole on the defense long-term and that the Bears will be spending some time as they approach the draft for the next year or two looking for potential replacements.

TODO Bears Q&A: How will they divide playing time among the running backs? Will Riley Ridley or Anthony Miller be better? Why move Bradley Sowell to tight end? – Chicago Tribune

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Why move Bradley Sowell to tight end? There’s much less depth at tackle than there is at tight end to begin with. Now with Sowell at tight end, he has no shot at making the roster with Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker and Dax Raymond ahead of him. Why not just keep him at swing tackle? — @bearsest1920

“For starters, I don’t think the Bears would have shifted Sowell if they didn’t feel pretty good about their options at swing tackle. Rashaad Coward was the first player coach Matt Nagy mentioned when I asked about that position last week after Sowell’s position switch was revealed. Cornelius Lucas might be another option. He has eight career starts and was once a relatively well-regarded prospect for the Lions. The thing you’re missing here is the Bears want Sowell at tight end because of his blocking ability. You’re right. He doesn’t offer as much in the passing game as the tight ends you referenced. None of those tight ends can block as well as Sowell, however, and they felt they were a little light at the Y position, which is a blocking tight end. Sowell essentially was a blocking tight end last season when the Bears would bring him in to play in heavy packages and he reported as eligible. The odds might be stacked against him to make the final roster, but I would not rule it out.

I’m going to completely disagree with the questioner here and even mildly disagree with Biggs.

For whatever reason the Bears decided not to draft a tight end this year despite the fact that the depth at the position was pretty good, at least as far as the larger blocking-type go. Raymond is 245 pounds which would probably make him more of an option to back up Burton at the move tight end unless he gains some weight. The Bears seem to be banking heavily that Shaheen will take a step forward here in that respect.

Moving Sowell to tight end gives them another option to back up Shaheen. But more important, because Sowell can also play tackle, he offers the type of position versatility that might allow the Bears to keep him on the roster where they otherwise might not have. I’d say he’s increased his chances not decreased them with this move. Indeed, in obvious running situations Sowell will likely be a better option than Shaheen and he might see some playing time.

Simplifying the Both Draft and Your Life. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic addresses the situation of Taquan Mizzell, last years deep back up at running back:

    “Mizzell probably received the most criticism for a player not named Cody Parkey last season, which is impressive for someone who had only nine carries and eight receptions on 69 snaps.

    “He’ll have a lot of work to do to make the team in a crowded receivers room. This move clears up the running back depth chart a bit. It’s now Kerrith Whyte Jr. vs. Ryan Nall for the No. 4 spot.”

    Count me among those critical of the Bears use of Mizzell in any situation last year. Sixty nine snaps is plenty enough to get on people’s radar and, like many observers, I couldn’t figure out why he was on the field at all. It was evident to me that he just wasn’t that good.

    You wonder why the Bears don’t just release Mizzell. There must be something about him that someone likes, probably head coach Matt Nagy. He’s going to be a practice squad project at wide receiver and you wonder if that spot would be better used on someone else and if Mizzell, himself, would be better off going elsewhere without the position change where he’ll have a better chance to play.

    From what I’ve seen the odds are slim that he’ll ever develop into the kind of player that could crack the starting lineup with the Bears.

  • Fishbain also quotes defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend on the importance of tackling in the secondary.

“’The one thing that we can’t do every day is tackle,’ [Townsend] said. ’A lot of people get the misconception of DBs doing drills and it’s always footwork, but we’re going to find some way to wrap and squeeze every day. (I’m) always talking about angles. This whole game is angles. But we’re gonna do a tackle drill every day. And it’s just going to reinforce what we are. Even saying we’re going to be the best tackling secondary in the NFL, that’s our goal. If you’re not saying that, if you don’t believe it, it’s not gonna happen. That has to be the mindset of everybody in the group.”’

Fishbain is a former college defensive back so he knows the importance of this aspect of playing in the secondary even if others don’t appreciate it.

It’s nice that this is on Townsend’s mind. In the few bad games the Bears defense had last year the tackling was horrendous. See my comments on the Miami loss after the bye week as a good example. Avoiding those let downs will be one of the keys to improvement this year.

“’I feel like I can improve in a lot of areas,’ Smith said.

“If we’re nitpicking, Smith needs to improve in coverage, but that should come through his own experiences, including in practices against running backs Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery. There is a significant difference between seeing an option route from a back on film and handling one at game speed.

“When [inside linebackers coach Mark] DeLeone evaluated Smith’s rookie film, he saw a young linebacker who started to shake off the ’rust’ and improve as the weeks went by.”

That’s not nitpicking. It was a serious problem and it wasn’t just Smith. The Bears were constantly getting burned last season as receivers dragged across the middle of the field where the inside linebackers failed to pick them up in coverage.

In fairness, it doesn’t look like it’s particularly easy to do. I would imagine that it’s tough enough to be completely aware of what’s going on in front of you let alone of opposing players coming at you on routes from the side and slightly behind you. Nevertheless, that’s what these guys get paid to do.

Not to beat a dead horse but as DeLeone points out, you have to feel that Smith would have done a better job of getting on top of this had his agent not held him out. Here’s hoping that with a full offseason Smith, along with the other linebackers, does a better job of correcting this issue.

Elsewhere

Hard Knocks 2019 – Team Featured
Washington Redskins 5/4
Oakland Raiders 5/2
New York Giants 3/1
Detroit Lions 7/2
San Francisco 49ers 9/1

I understand why Daniel Snyder’s Redskins might be the favorite. Snyder seems like just the entrepreneur who would see this as an opportunity rather than a detriment. Nevertheless my money’s on the Raiders.

Mark Davis has been adamantly against this team appearing in the past. But getting permission to move his franchise to Vegas undoubtedly came with a lot of strings attached behind the scenes. The bet here is that it’s not coincidence that the Rams both appeared on Hard Knocks and went to London to play after permission to move to Line of scrimmage Angeles was given.

Oakland plays a home game against the Bears in London this year and it would surprise no one if they ended up being forced to volunteer to be on Hard Knocks as well.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.comspeculates upon the possibility that Jets head coach Adam Gase may be inclined to trade Le’Veon Bellafter rumors surfaced that he never wanted to sign the back.

    “If Gase is inclined to do it, now’s the time given his current power and control over the team. And John Clayton, formerly of ESPN and now a radio host in Seattle, recently said just enough on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh to get people thinking that a trade could happen: ’If there’s a suitor, I could absolutely see the Jets trading him before the start of the season.”’

    The thought that the Jets would trade Bell is ridiculous. The Jets have already paid Bell $12 million and the cap hit if they traded him would be extremely high.

    Furthermore I have a hard time believing that anyone wouldn’t want Le’Veon Bell, let alone an offensive coach like Gase. I have little trouble believing that Gase thought they overpaid. But the thought that Gase would trade him now that they’ve paid Bell is absurd.

    Personally I never felt that John Clayton added much in the way of reporting when he was with ESPN. And I definitely don’t think he knows what he’s talking about now.

One Final Thought

Albert Breer at SI.com writes about how the Colts are gradually shrinking their draft board year to year.

“I’d say this year we had 170 players on the board [for 2019], which is way down from where it was before,’ [General Manager Chris] Ballard said. ’I think last year we were at 220, I can’t even remember the number from my first year. But yeah, it makes it easier to navigate when you have fewer names that you know fit what you want. I think when we really get it right, and we get it down to about 125, 150, that’s when we’ll have really honed down exactly what a Colt is for our schemes.”’

What the Colts are doing is a lesson for us all. I have found that being brutal about cutting things out of my life, from tossing things from storage to pruning task lists, makes it a lot easier to get better results in the end.

Honestly, if you have something in your closet that you haven’t touched for five years, are you really going to need it in the next 5? Or the 5 after that?

Anyway, this is a sign that the Colts really know what they are doing. The bet here is that going into the draft, any general manager worth his salt probably knows deep in his heart that there are only 50 or so players they are really likely they’ll end up with. Maybe even less. So why put 350 on your board?

The ability to hone in on what’s really important and trimming the rest seems to be one underrated key to success.