Super Bowl Teaches Us that Kyle Long Belongs on the Right Side

Nate Atkins at ChicagoFootball.com breaks down the Bears draft (and free agent) needs. This is one of many articles which we can expect to see on the subject but I think the top needs, defensive line, offensive line and inside linebacker, are well established. The only real question is what order you put them in. I do have one bone to pick with Atkin’s analysis, however:

Dave Magazu received all kinds of credit for his grooming of Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle last season. But Leno was a seventh-round pick for a reason, with limited athleticism, and his inability to play on the right side makes the position a priority even if Kyle Long finds a home at left tackle. The Bears also could improve their right guard spot, where neither Patrick Omameh nor Vlad Ducasse (sp) solidified down the stretch last season.”

“Could” is understating it. The Bears have a major need at right guard where neither Omameh nor Ducasse are starters. It’s possible that Atkins’ soft stance has more to do with doubt about whether you address it in the first round – which is certainly valid. But the need is beyond doubt.

But what I’d really like to focus on is the first part of this quote. Atkins implication that the Bears may move Long to left tackle is probably a reflection of the influence of Chicago Football publisher and respected football writer, Hub Arkush on his opinion. Whatever else you say about Arkush’s opinions, they’re always strong and he’s made it very clear in the past that he thinks Long’s move to left tackle is already overdue. I’m not so sure.

First, at least to my eye, Leno didn’t do too badly at left tackle. It’s obvious that he didn’t belong on the right side but for some reason the left side suited him. I can say this: I don’t know why Leno was a seventh rounder but it wasn’t because of limited athleticism. He moves extremely well. I’m not at all certain that isn’t what made him a better left tackle than right, where more power is required, nor am I convinced that he doesn’t have a future as a very good left tackle in the league.

I found the opinion of David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune that there was nothing for NFL teams to learn from Sunday’s Super Bowl to be amusing. There’s always something to learn from any game and, in fact, there was at least one thing that stuck out that could teach a lot of people a lesson. Watching Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers get beaten like a drum by Denver pass rusher Von Miller should have taught people that, though they generally make less money, very good right tackles are almost as valuable in the NFL as left tackles are. I’m not at all sure that your best athlete need be moved to the left, as both Arkush and possibly Atkins believe, especially when you’ve already got a decent guy on the left side who doesn’t seem to be as capable on the right.

The one thing you have to do as a developing team is use the draft to fill holes. Especially when you already have a lot of those holes to fill, creating holes moves you backwards not forwards as a team. Moving Long to left tackle creates two holes, right tackle and right guard, where only one existed before. If right tackle is where the need is, right is where you put your guy. That’s the case here.

Cam Newton Still Has Lots of Growing to Do Before He’ll Be Truly Great

Jeffri Chadiha at nfl.com does a really nice job of evaluating the problems with the way Cam Newton handled Sunday’s loss in the Super Bowl.

“We all know it’s painful for players to lose Super Bowls. But Newton’s postgame press conference was hard to watch even with a compassionate lens. He trudged in with a black hoodie pulled over his head, then sat dejectedly for a few moments as reporters asked him questions that he clearly didn’t want to answer. Newton mostly gave responses that amounted to two or three words, as if he had no reason to explain his role in the Panthers’ second loss this season.”

“This is where Newton needs to grow next. He’s always had a problem dealing with losing, and it showed up often when the Panthers were struggling in his first two seasons. It’s one thing to be dejected after a defeat. (‘He came ready to win tonight,’ [head coach RonRivera said. ‘He didn’t come to lose.’) Newton, however, takes sulking to an entirely different level when things don’t go his way.

“People tend to notice that stuff more when you’re the guy who is rocking Versace pants on the way off a team plane or gleefully celebrating first downs. There’s nothing wrong with Newton doing those things until it’s juxtaposed against what we saw on Sunday in the Super Bowl. When that happens, those actions in the midst of success can be construed far more as being selfish and self-absorbed. They can make a good guy with serious talent and an eye toward making the game fun look like a front-runner.”

They’re the difference between a good guy who makes the game look like fun and a preening shmoe.

I have a bit of a problem with Chadia’s criticism of Newton for apparently not diving for a loose ball last in the game.   The guess here is that newton thought the ball way coming back his way.  But he’s right on point with the press conference.

Chadiha points out that some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have faced the music after a Super Bowl loss with class. Seattle’s Russell Wilson even threw the game-ending interception in a Super Bowl loss to New England last season and handled the whole thing like the stand up guy that he apparently is.

I remember former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith having to sit Newton down and give him hell for moping after losses or during games when things weren’t going his way. It’s a shame that he hasn’t learned more from it. It’s a shame that he hasn’t grown up more. He won’t ever be truly great until he does.

Ron Rivera Recovers from Bears Departure and Lovie Smith Struggles with Himself

Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity.” I doubt he was thinking of former Bears head coach Lovie Smith when he said it. But Smith certainly seems to fit the expression.

Austin Murphy at SI.com details the history of Carolina head coach Ron Rivera with Smith. Smith let Rivera, his defensive coordinator, leave after the 2010 Super Bowl. Rivera has now climbed his way back to participate in Super Bowl 50. For some, this will be ancient history but I found it to be good reading:

Dan Hampton puts a finer point on [Rivera’s departure], as is his wont: ‘Lovie stabbed him in the back,’ says the former Bears defensive tackle and Hall of Famer.”

“They were not necessarily aligned, philosophically. Smith, who’d coached linebackers for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay from 1996 to 2000, was a proponent of his mentor’s Tampa-2. Rivera preferred a more balls-out, attacking style. He’d played for Buddy Ryan, father of the famed 46 defense, then served a second apprenticeship as Eagles linebackers coach from 1999 to ’03, soaking up knowledge from the late, legendary Jim Johnson, a DC known for his ultra-aggressive, blitz-happy schemes.

“That creative tension seemed to be working. Blending elements of those schemes, the Bears limited opponents to 15.9 points per game during their Super Bowl run in ’06. ‘A dissenting voice in the room is a positive thing,’ points out ex-Bears wideout Tom Waddle, a one-time Rivera teammate who is now a prominent media presence in Chicago. ‘And I can guarantee you, Ron Rivera as a dissenting voice is not a negative or destructive voice.'”

Murphy goes on to detail Smith’s tendency to hire coaches out of “loyalty” and how this led to his downfall both in Chicago and, especially, in Tampa Bay.

To some extent, Murphy misses the point, either because he doesn’t see it or he doesn’t want to be too hard on Smith. Smith doesn’t just hire coaches out of loyalty. He hires them because, having worked with them, he knows what they think. You and I and Waddle see creative tension as a good thing. But a very proud and sensitive Smith sees it as insubordination and there would be none of that on a coaching staff littered with his friends.

Given that Smith was replaced in Tampa Bay by hiring his own replacement in Dirk Koetter, one of the few coaches on his staff that he’d never coached with before, I think it unlikely that he’ll be changing his ways if he gets another chance at a head coaching gig. Smith did a lot of good things in Tampa Bay and they were getting better. But you have to wonder if his insecurities will always limit his success.

The Jared Allen Deal to Carolina in Retrospect

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers more of your questions:

“Do Bears a have conditional pick on Jared Allen? What are conditions? Does it go up if Panthers make the Super Bowl? — @JonGlck

“No conditions on the pick the Bears received from the Panthers in that September trade. The Bears will receive the Panthers’ sixth-round pick which will be the 32nd or 31st pick in the round depending on whether or not Carolina wins Super Bowl 50.”

The Bears have been taking a lot of flack for the Greg Olsen trade to Carolina in recent weeks.  So its only fair to acknowledge that, in retrospect, the Allen trade was a heck of a deal for the Bears. Allen was struggling in his role as an outside linebacker and on the surface, trading him to Carolina where he could go back to being an effective pass rusher from the defensive end spot seemed like a good strategy for both teams. But Allen continued to have a miserable year even with the position switch, accumulating only two sacks on the season.

Allen will always rank amongst my favorite NFL players because he was the kind of guy with a big personality who liked to have fun without being the kind of obnoxious jerk that guys like Steve McMichael are. Watching the Bears get a sixth round pick for him at this stage of his career was icing on the cake.

A Trade Off at Cornerback

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune comments on former Bears cornerback Tim Jennings‘ situation:

“When the Bears released two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings on Aug. 30, some questioned if the club was ditching a shot at winning now in order to get some younger players involved. Yes, that really was the approach some took. As is often the case, the front office had a solid gauge on where Jennings was at as the Buccaneers and former coach Lovie Smith released him on Monday. Keep in mind Jennings had arthroscopic knee surgery early in the offseason and Smith probably didn’t get the same player he remembered.”

Yes, but its worth noting that though the Jennings signing didn’t work out, former Bear Charles Tillman has been performing extremely well for the undefeated Carolina Panthers. So strike one up for the Bears on Jennings but take it away for Tillman, someone the Bears could sorely use in coverage this season.

Connor Cook Is a Draft Prospect You Should Know

Most Bears fans will be looking for the team to draft a potential starting quarterback next year, potentially with a pretty high draft pick. Recent discussions amongst friends left me in the mood to seek out and give some preliminary evaluation on a couple of good quarterback prospects. We’ll start with Connor Cook (below).  This particular evaluation is based upon his game against Central Michigan only so take it with a grain of salt.

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Connor Cook

Connor Cook is currently rated the second best quarterback in the 2016 NFL draft class and the ninth best prospect overall by cbssports.com. He’s got good size at 6 ft 4 in, 220 lb.

Though it’s not exactly a pro style offense, Cook’s Michigan State team does at least huddle up and Cook does call plays. Most of the passing down snaps are taken from the shotgun but he does occasionally get under center, usually in running situations. Given that Michigan St. felt that they could run on their opponent Saturday, Central Michigan, that mean he was under center a lot. His footwork was fine and he’s definitely a pocket passer.

Cook has a reasonably quick release and he’s got at least average to above average professional grade arm strength. His ball placement isn’t a strength and his accuracy left a lot to be desired in this game. He missed some open throws over 12 yards or so. Nevertheless he can and did hit receivers on the run. Not surprisingly, he’s particularly prone to be inaccurate under pressure.

Other than that it was hard to evaluate how Cook handled the pass rush just because the Michigan State offensive line is so good that he rarely saw pressure. When he did, he stood well in the pocket and does step up. Otherwise he didn’t move around much within the pocket. His mechanics definitely seemed to break down when the pocket got muddy. Further evaluation will have to wait until the second ranked Spartans play a better team.

Finally, Cook isn’t being asked to throw with anticipation much but he did hit tight end Josiah Price for a touchdown midway through the second quarter right as he came out of his break which offers some hope in this area.

Its only one game but based upon what I saw on Saturday, I wouldn’t rate Cook as no more than a late second round prospect. He’s got some physical tools and a nice, quick release but his accuracy and his movement in the pocket left me kind of cold on him. Nevertheless it will be worth keeping a closer eye on him as the year goes by.

Cardinals Darren Fells Will Be Player to Keep and Eye on Sunday

The Cardinals have a great deal of speed at wide receiver with Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. That’s going to be bad enough against a Bears defensive backfield that lacks overall speed. But Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune emphasizes another threat that the Bears defense will have to deal with:

“Cardinals tight end Darren Fells never played college football, but you wouldn’t know that from his Week 1 stat line: four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.

“The 6-7, 281-pounder played basketball at California-Irvine and professionally in Belgium, Finland and Argentina. He spent the majority of 2013 on the Cardinals’ practice squad and since has developed into a threat.

“‘The biggest thing for a basketball player is: will he stick his face in the fan? Is he going to block anybody?’ coach Bruce Arians said. ‘Once he bought into how to block … he has become a really reliable player.'”

Darren-FellsFells will be a serious threat to a Bears linebacking corp that frequently looked lost in coverage last Sunday against the Packers. Bears fans will be looking for that to improve both this week and over the course of the season.

Skipping Bayless and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Phil Thompson at the Chicago Tribune notes that there were no Bears evident at Jimmy Clausen‘s wedding. His Twitter background image is one of himself in a Carolina Panther’s uniform.

    Slow news day.

  • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com . Smith’s situation is reminiscent of what happened to current Bear Lamarr Houston. He succeeded as a 3-4 five technique, in his case for the Texans, then signed on with Oakland to be a 4-3 defensive tackle. Like Houston, Atkins struggled with the transition. Also like Houston, he might be a good bet to bounce back in the defensive scheme that he is best suited for. This sounds like good thinking to me – and like something Bears general manager Ryan Pace might very well do.
  • Kevin Fishbain, Hub and Arthur Arkush debate the best and worst free agent signings by the Bears for chicagofootball.com. I’m going to go ahead and agree with Hub that Mason Foster was probably their best signing. There are too many question marks at inside linebacker and they needed someone they could depend on there. Id say dependable is Foster’s floor.

    A mildly disturbing trend that runs throughout this article is the subtle suggestion that the Bears are consistently overpaying for players like Eddie Royal and Alan Ball. These suggestions tend to be a lot more than subtle in the national media where I’ve heard the Royal signing openly ridiculed. These won’t be spectacular errors if they don’t work out but I’d rather see that money spent a bit more wisely.

  • Arthur Arkush evaluates wide receiver prospect Kevin White. I’m starting to become a little wary of White. He relies heavily on his physical ability to beat defenders. That might be OK but what happens when he gets to the NFL and finds out he can’t dominate every corner like he did in college. More and more I agree with scouts that the much more savvy Amari Cooper is the safer pick.

Elsewhere

  • NFL analyst Rodney Harrison isn’t a believer in the Jets. Via Dan Hanzus at nfl.com:

    “‘The Jets are, all of a sudden, on a high thinking they’re going to win a championship,’ Harrison said on NBC Sports Radio, per ESPN. ‘You’re not going to win a championship, you’re not even going to make the playoffs, because you don’t have a quarterback. If you go into the season and you’re expecting Geno Smith to improve, it’s not going to happen. He might get a little better, but when times get tough, when adversity hits, guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to fold just like the last couple years.'”

    Sound familiar Bears fans?

  • Kevin Patra at nfl.com says that the punishment of the Atlanta Falcons for pumping crowd noise into the Georgia Dome has come down. The NFL fined the Falcons $350,000, took away their fifth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, and suspended team president Rich McKay will also be suspended for at least three months from the Competition Committee beginning April 1.

    I think the Falcons are being made an example, here. I’m virtually certain that they’re nowhere near the only team in the NFL to do this. When the Rams were in the same division with the Saints the players talked about the noise being so loud on their bench in the Super Dome that they had to turn the speakers on the sideline around just to hear themselves talk.

  • Bucky Brooks at nfl.com has quarterback Marcus Mariota falling to the Chargers at 17. It’s not impossible. But it’s going to be tough for the Saints who are probably starting to plan for a future without Drew Brees, to pass on him at 13.

    Mariota’s a risky pick for most teams, though. He could easily fall pretty far. The other thing to consider is that’s easy trade up range for the Eagles, who are sitting at 20. Mariota played under head coach Chip Kelly at Oregon and Kelly has called him the best player in the draft.

  • Mary Kay Cabot at cleveland.com thinks that the Browns will try to move up to take Mariota, as well. That sounds like exactly the kind of thing owner Jimmy Haslam might push for.
  • Matt Vensil at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says that 6-9, 351 lb offensive tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings after flying over from Poland to try out is now experiencing the items commonly found in an American diet including tacos, pink lemonade, chicken wings and waffle fries. What’s the over-under on his weight by the time training camp starts?

One Final Thought

I really don’t care that a student trashed Cam Newton in his elementary school paper. But the comparison to former Chicago Tribune and current ESPN lazy blow hard Skip Bayless by profootballtalk.com‘s Darin Gantt is right on target:

“And actually, he’s better than Bayless, because there’s at least an intellectual honesty to the kid’s claims.”

Skip-Bayless

I think I’d get more out of it if I switched on the TV and found the 10 year old yelling at me.

Time Is a Quarterback’s Best Friend. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears cornerback Alan Ball. Ball is a big defensive back at 6-2, 197 lb. You can’t have too many of them. Bears general manager Ryan Pace would seem to agree.
  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times goes down the Bears defensive depth chart. A couple thing become clear in this exercise. Defensive line is still by far the biggest need with Ego Ferguson backing up all three positions. The cornerback position is interesting with Demontre Hurts, Ball, Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller lining up to compete for two spots. The guess here is that Fuller is established at one outside spot and that one of the other three ends up playing nickel.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com is down right enthusiastic about the signing of linebacker Mason Foster.
  • The 49ers are continuing to stick with Blaine Gabbert (left) as their backup quarterback. Similar to Bears backup Jimmy Clausen (right), Gabbert got thrown into the fire immediately his first season and performed poorly. Also like Clausen, he never got another chance to prove himself.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 6.25.40 AM

    There was a time when quarterbacks sat for years developing behind an established starter. Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once famously said that quarterbacks didn’t really pick up the offense until the THIRD YEAR. High round picks don’t get that kind of time anymore. But you have to wonder if both Gabbert and Clausen aren’t benefiting from their roles as backups in the same way that those quarterbacks of long ago did. If so, we may not have seen the last of either of them as starters.

  • Say what you want about former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, he apparently knew many of his players better then some would think. From John Mullin at csnchicago.com:

    “A footnote to the 2014 ‘leadership’ season: Trestman, who began naming weekly last season rather than the traditional team-vote method, appears to have had some sense of what he did and didn’t have as far as locker room leaders. Through 15 games, [Jared] Allen and [Jeremiah] Ratliff were captains six times each, Jay Cutler three times.

    Brandon Marshall was a captain just twice, the second and last time being the Miami game, after which Marshall erupted with a postgame rant at teammates.”

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com passes on that Mike McCarthy wants to put Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers in the pistol more often next year. The formation has most of the advantages of being in the shotgun but puts the runningback behind you, allowing for runs and making play action effective. I don’t see much of a downside.
  • Orr assesses the effectiveness of the NFL general managers in the draft by looking at the percentage of their picks that make the all-rookie team.

    “Jags GM Dave Caldwell is only two years in, but there’s no doubt he’ll need to hit on one this year. Three years without an All-Rookie selection is unheard of for gainfully employed GMs.”

    Carolina’s Dave Gettleman ranks at the top of the list. Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t ranked as he hasn’t made a pick yet.

  • Chris Wessling, also at nfl.com, comments on the staff’s division power rankings. The NFC North ranked third amongst the eight divisions:

    “Even with the acknowledgment that the Lions and Vikings are potential wild-card teams, the NFC North’s third-place ranking reflects respect for the Packers as the primary threat to the Seahawks’ NFC hegemony. Nobody knows what to think of Chicago, mirroring the Bears’ puzzlement at quarterback.”

  • Texans owner Bob McNair defended their signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork by saying that players are more likely to lose speed than strength with age. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com calls the notion “a bit simplistic”. I call it dead wrong.
  • Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is returning to his familiar ways, limiting himself to free agents he either knows (Henry Melton, Chris Conte) or that people he knows know (Bruce Carter and Sterling Moore). That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed as head coach of the Bears when hiring assistants and, like the players he’s signing now, that meant he was drawing them from a very limited pool. There’s always going to be a cap on how much success coaches like Smith have. From the Tampa Tribune.
  • Still wondering why teams don’t spend high round picks on running backs anymore? The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of 2012, took Montee Ball in the second round and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Guess which one is going into OTAs as the starter? Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.

One Final Thought

A reminder to everyone not to forget to register to get tickets for you and a guest to the NFL Draft in Chicago at NFL.com/DraftTown. As long as I get the second ticket.