John Fox and Ryan Pace Should Share Responsibility for the Bears State and Other Points of View

It must have been a pretty good question and answer column from Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune because I’ve got a lot of comments to make in my free time this Thanksgiving day:

  • Here’s question number one:

    Can you explain why Tarik Cohen wasn’t on the field for the final drive on Sunday against the Lions? Why do the coaches insist on using Benny Cunningham? — Mark A., Milwaukee

    I don’t have a problem with this decision the way some people do. If folks want to criticize the coaching staff for some of the decisions that have been made, including how personnel has been deployed, I think there are more nuanced criticisms that can be made. The Bears ran 10 offensive plays in the final possession and Cunningham was on the field for all of them. He stayed in as a pass blocker on six snaps. He chipped and then released into the pattern as a check-down target on one snap and he released from the backfield on three snaps. I certainly don’t think it would make sense to have Cohen on the field as a pass blocker in that situation.

    I tend to agree.

    Biggs has made the point that Cohen is a gadget player at this point in his career and that’s what I see as well. I’ve had a hard time understanding the ciriticsm of the Bears from both fans and media aimed at how they are playing him.

    To some extent the league has caught up to Cohen. He really hasn’t shown that much once the league took away his cut back lanes. Last game he had 9 carries for 44 yards (4.9 ypc), his best game in many weeks. But Jordan Howard had 15 carries for 125 yards (8.3 ypc). Its hard to take Howard off the field as a runner at this point and, as Biggs points out, the 5’6” Cohen is unlikely to ever be the kind of pass blocker that you can leave in when you are expecting the blitz. He certainly isn’t right now.

    There are plenty of things to worry about as Bears fans right now. How they are using Cohen is so far down the list it should barely register.

  • Here’s another good question:

    Why is John Fox on the hot seat while Ryan Pace’s job appears safe? The Bears have finished last for his entire tenure and look likely to finish last this year as well. The roster has few playmakers, an abysmal receiving corps, a secondary in need of a rebuild and a limited pass rush. Does anyone believe a different coach would get much better results with this roster? While Pace was not handed much in terms of a roster, the NFL operates on a much shorter cycle than other sports, and after 2 1/2 years a turnaround has not happened and does not appear imminent. In my opinion much of the goodwill centers around optimism you can still project onto Mitch Trubisky. But Pace gave up enormous value to get him and that already appears to be a mistake (Deshaun Watson). — Tim M., Parts Unknown

    I don’t believe Pace has been unscathed when it comes to criticism and commentary this season. Fox is front and center every week and that certainly makes him an easier target for most people.

    I actually asked a variation of this question back in May and I note that Mike Mulligan, also at the Tribune did just this morning as well.

    I continue to have a tough time with the idea that Fox cold be fired while Pace remains. How can you hold a coach responsible for losing without holding the person who supplied him with the players equally so? Especially in this case where only mediocre free agents and little immediate help in the draft was added to a 3-13 team?

    I really don’t want to see either of these guys go. At least not before we see if there’s any progress before the end of the season. But my sense of justice tells me that Fox will getting a bit of a raw deal if he’s fired while Pace stays.

  • Here’s another one:

    What are your thoughts on the Bears drafting another quarter back next year? — @bearsdfense

    I’m guessing a guy with the Twitter handle @bearsdfense would be happier if they used their draft picks on wide receivers, defensive backs, outside linebackers and maybe some linemen. I’d be stunned if they drafted a quarterback in 2018 and you should be too.

    I don’t think I’d go that far. The odds of Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez returning aren’t great. They’ll sign a veteran backup of some type, for sure but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bear use a mid-to-late round pick on a guy that they like to develop as a third quarterback.

  • And again:

    What do you think the defensive backfield looks like next year? — @jpzimm

    That’s a good question… The burning question is what happens at cornerback? Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are in contract seasons and the Bears can move on from Marcus Cooper before a roster bonus is due to him in March. So as I wrote this past Sunday, all three are really in a contract year. My hunch is Fuller will want to explore the open market and see what is out there. He’s played OK this season with some ups and downs. Amukamara has been steady and has gotten a lot less action than Fuller. Two pass interference calls against him the last two weeks aren’t good but that happens. Cooper looks like he’s lacking confidence. What’s the solution? I think the Bears need to use a high draft pick (think first two rounds) on a cornerback, they need to sign one in free agency and come up with a third option. This will be an offseason project for sure.

    If Amukamara is amenable, the Bears should be moving to try to sign him for a reasonable price right now before he hits the open market. Despite his continued drought in terms of generating turnovers, he’s been their best cover corner. My guess is that they let Cooper go.

    Fuller has been better than expected but hasn’t looked good the last couple weeks and his tacking is suspect. His future with the Bears probably depends a lot on how he finishes the season. As it is, they might try to sign him on the cheap but why would he accept that kind of contract with them when he could get a fresh start for the same money somewhere else?

  • Here’s the last one I want to address:

    With the injury to Leonard Floyd and injury history of Pernell McPhee, the Bears appear to be lacking impact pash rushers yet again. Do you believe the Bears cut McPhee to save the $7 million against the cap in the offseason? Who are impact pass rushers the Bears may consider in draft and free agency? — @beardown7878

    I don’t think the right knee injury Floyd suffered in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Lions has anything to do with what the club will decide to do with McPhee, who turns 29 next month. McPhee’s balky knees will make it difficult, in my opinion, for the Bears to consider him part of the future plan. He has a base salary of $7.2 million in 2018 with a $200,000 roster bonus due June 1 and a $175,000 workout bonus. The delayed roster bonus would give the Bears a little time to make a decision but I don’t know that the Bears will need that much time to filter through this one. McPhee is a part-time player at this point and has struggled with the knees since midway through the 2015 season.

    Yeah, I can’t see the Bears paying this kind of money for McPhee. One thing that could do is ask him to take a pay cut. McPhee has occasionally provided a boost in spurts at critical times in the game. That certainly doesn’t make him worth $7 million. But he might still get as much or more from the Bears as a part time player than he would on the open market.

  • The Denver Broncos fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy this week. Apparenty general manager John Elway felt that the offense was too complex.The firing makes me wonder if head coach John Fox would consider hiring McCoy in some capacity. McCoy was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Broncos from 2009-2012. In 2009 Broncos QB Kyle Orton enjoyed a career year under McCoy and in 2010 the Broncos ranked seventh in passing and Orton ranked fourth in the league in passing yards per game. McCoy adapted to accommodate Tim Tebow’s skill-set in 2011.

    It wouldn’t be the first time the Bears showed interest in McCoy. They asked the Broncos for permission to interview McCoy for the head coach position in 2012 after they fired Lovie Smith.

    Dowell Loggains hasn’t really done anything to deserve to be fired but you wonder if the future of Mitch Trubisky might be in better hands with McCoy as the quarterback coach over the relatively inexperienced Dave Ragone.

Poor Offensive Preseason Performance a Concern for Bears and Other Points of View

  • I found this article from Tom Peilissaro at NFL.com about Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubishy to be interesting:

“If I get unprompted texts from people with other NFL teams about something, I usually take that as a sign it’s resonating within the league. It happened with Dak Prescott last year. It happened again Thursday. One NFL scout who watched Trubisky’s debut live said he’d like to see him get some snaps with the starters next time out: ‘He looks like he’s in control.’”

It’s not just fans who saw something Thursday, though. People around the NFL took notice. And that was one early, encouraging sign for a Bears regime that, regardless of its present plans, has clearly invested in Trubisky as the future.

I’m really glad I’m not the only one who thought he might have seen something special from Trubisky Thursday night. Though I really do try to guard against it, sometimes you wonder if your hopes aren’t confusing your eyes and your brains. It’s starting to look like they weren’t.

As a precaution, this is still worth remembering:

  • Dan Durkin at The Athletic makes very good points about some of the things that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains did to help Trubisky out.

“Loggains had Trubisky operating both from the pocket and on the move during that drive. Getting him moving on “swap” bootlegs not only gave him a run-pass option, it also cut the field in half to simplify his reads.”

“’I had the playsheet, I was able to study a little bit,‘ Trubisky said. ‘So I knew all my calls, I knew my plays, I knew what I was comfortable with. I talked it over with Dowell, so we were kind of on the same page, so I could go out there and just play free. That’s what I wanted to do. Go out there and play, do what comes natural and get into a rhythm.’”

These are all good thoughts and I pointed out some of them myself after the game.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the much maligned quarterback class of 2017, including Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City), Deshaun Watson (Houston) and Deshone Kizer (Cleveland) did so well last weekend. It seems obvious that the desperate need for quarterbacks has driven better coaching throughout the league and quarterback coaches seem to have a much better handle on how to bring these rookies, including the ones from spread systems in college, along.

“The consensus in talking to people around the league is the Bears will likely attempt to trade cornerback Kyle Fuller before roster cuts are due at 3 p.m. on Sept. 2. That’s what I gathered after speaking with a variety of folks from other cities over the last week. They seem to think it’s a matter of when and not if the Bears try to deal the 2014 first-round draft pick. Whether this is legitimate or not remains to be seen but there’s an awful lot of smoke and usually where there’s smoke you’re eventually going to find a fire.”

Assuming that he’s not going to make the roster, if the Bears can get anything at all for Fuller, it would be a win. But I’m not so sure that’s the case. Fuller was playing on the second team and I’m thinking he probably earned the spot.

Fuller was draft by another regime to be a zone cornerback and he’s found himself in a scheme that values man-to-man coverage skills. That means that there may be a market for him among teams with defensive schemes closer to what he was drafted for.

But if Fuller shows something on special teams – a big if, he may still be their best option as a back up. If that’s the case, they aren’t going to give him away by outright releasing him.

“Trubisky wasn’t the only draft pick to show up and play well. It was a nice debut for rookie guard Jordan Morgan and that’s a positive and a sign he could fit in as a backup. Of course, running back Tarik Cohen, who had been extra slippery in training camp, proved elusive in the open field. He’s got a nice burst and in my opinion what separates him from the last very undersized back the Bears had is Cohen had more lateral quickness than Garrett Wolfe. Just my take.”

Like almost everyone else who was paying attention, I also liked what I saw from Cohen. His small size allows him to hide behind the offensive linemen, particularly as he closes to press the hole and waits for an opening. That could sever him well. His performance was an indication that, maybe, he won’t also disappear once the season starts.

Morgan was a different story. He may have done well but he’s buried on the depth chart and no one is exactly pushing to make him the starter with backup Eric Kush out for the year and Kyle Long still recovering from surgery.

If Morgan has potential, the Bears need to push him up the depth chart and get him more snaps.

  • Kevin Fishbain from The Athletic points out that The competition at Safety is heating up. Ricky Eddie Jackson is splitting reps with a veteran Adrian Amos next to free-agent signing Quintin Demps.

“‘He missed a lot of the offseason, being a rookie, but he’s got a really good football IQ,’ [head coach John] Fox said. ‘I think you saw his return skills are capable. We averaged 10-plus yards in our punt return, which we were a non-factor a year ago. All-in-all I think he’s just going to continue to improve.’”

Amos isn’t around the ball much when it’s in the air and the Bears are a bit desperate to improve the production at the position. Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times thinks it’s only a matter of time before Jackson replaces Amos. I’m not so sure.

DeAndre Houston-Carson is making the transition to safety and had two picks in Saturday’s practice. In the end, his range may make him the guy to watch once coaches are satisfied that he knows his way around the new spot.
‘=
* No one is making a big deal out of it but Potash points out that promising linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski is in the concussion protocol. Kwiatkowski is one of the players I’d like see emerge to play faster this year.

“While that may not be what the suddenly exploding Trubisky Fan Club wants to hear, is anyone screaming for Charles Leno to be benched after nearly getting Glennon killed on the pick-six he threw to Chris Harris, Jr.?

Cody Whitehair was awful Thursday night, yet we don’t hear anyone screaming for Hroniss Grasu.

Kevin White was invisible, Cam Meredith wished he was after dropping Glennon’s first pass and the first defense notched four penalties for 35 yards on its opening foray, yet only Glennon and Trubisky are in the spotlight.”

Hub is, of course, correct.

Don’t get me wrong. Glennon really wasn’t sharp and I think he knew it. He had no pocket sense or movement. He was too slow in his decision making. He was noticeably high and behind his receivers with his throws. He looked stiff and didn’t look comfortable or confident.

At least part of the problem seems to be that he’s having a hard time getting the timing down with the receivers and he looked like he was what you might kindly refer to as “rusty”.

However, I have some hope that Glennon will show better in the future if for no other reason than he was better on tape with the Bucs than he was Thursday. I am far more concerned about the rest of the offense, particularly at the wide receiver position where a scatter shot approach to the offseason has not led to a great deal of confidence that the group has any real playmakers. Fox elaborates:

“Asked how soon he will throw Glennon to the wolves, Fox answered, ‘I think like everything, the quarterback gets a lot of the credit, a lot of the blame regardless of what happens.

“’But our whole first unit was not very good. I don’t think we blocked very well. I thought we had some drops. We didn’t get off man coverage, which wasn’t something we were surprised about.

“So all in all, I think there was a lot of things that we saw on the tape, the players saw.‘”

Personnel problems at wide receiver aside, the Bears have new coaches both there and at offensive line. It has to be a major concern that both groups got beaten like a drum at the line of scrimmage Thursday night. I think that should worry Bears fans far more than Glennon at this point.

  • On the other hand, there’s this basic truth from Kevin Patra at NFL.com on Glennon’s performance:

    “[E]xcuses are like avocados; every millennial has one – or 60 – and they rot quickly.”

Suddenly Having to Fight to Keep Perspective When It Comes To Rookie Trubisky

I am not, by my nature, a positive person, at least when it comes to football. I don’t look at the world through navy and orange glasses. I don’t poke out my eyes and shutdown my brain to blind myself to and defend the team despite obvious problems because doing so is the only way to be a “real fan”.

And I absolutely, positively, under no circumstances, get excited about performances in the preseason.

But I admit it. I am happy today.

Despite the circumstances, I was impressed by I saw from Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky last night. The guy looked like he belonged and that means so far so good for a team that is desperate to see Trubisky or Mike Glennon, somebody, anybody, succeed as a franchise quarterback.

Yes, it was the preseason. Yes, the team under Trubisky was playing against Denver’s second and third stringers and, even if it was the first stringers, all-world defensive end Von Miller sat out. And, yes, the defenses were more vanilla than what the the Bears will see once the real bullets start flying.

But I was impressed anyway. I was impressed because Truibsky did so many things that were really good regardless of the level of competition:

  1. Trubisky is every bit as accurate as advertised. He was leading receivers and he generally put it in the right spot. For example, he should have had a third touchdown. He did just what he needed to do by throwing the ball low and away where only the receiver, tight end Daniel Brown, could get it, Brown dropped the ball despite the fact that it still hit him in the hands.
  2. Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains put Trubisky on the move where he was still quite accurate. He rolled Trubisky out quite a bit and it allowed Trubisky to avoid pressure that both Glennon and Mark Sanchez were susceptible to. There were one or two really good throws despite the presence of guys who basically came free on the rush to get right in Trubisky’s face.
  3. Trubisky was completely unflustered despite of a lot of blitzing and movement from the defense, especially on the late TD drive in the first half. This was in contrast to what we’d read in camp reports where Trubisky was fumbling snaps after losing concentration in the presence of pre-snap movement. In this respect, Glennon was the one that looked like the rookie as he was noticeably nervous whenever anyone made a move at the second level of the defense.
  4. Trubisky showed good pocket presence and movement to avoid the rush. This might be the most important thing an NFL quarterback needs to be able to do – step up against pressure into a throwing lane to deliver a ball. I’m guessing it doesn’t usually come easily to spread quarterbacks who had 13 college starts. Trubisky didn’t have to do it often but when he did he looked like a pro.

All of these are things very good professional quarterbacks can do independent of the level of competition.

I can’t blame Glennon for the look on his face immediately after Trubisky’s first touch down to basically end the first half.

I’m sure he was anticipating what the media reports in Chicago would be like this week. I would warn Bears fans to not get too high or too low after one preseason game.

But, for once, I’m even having to remind myself of this basic rule. Because, against my nature and my better judgement, I’m very encouraged by what I saw from Mitch Trubisky.

Things to Look for in the First Preseason Game: Two Defensive Rookies

As we quickly review some of the things that I’ll be looking at on Thursday with the Bears as they take on the Broncos in the first preseason game, I’d like to take a look at a few of the recent defensive draft picks that the Bears really need to see come through this year.

We will all, of course, be watching Leonard Floyd and Eddie Goldman on Thursday night. Floyd is a potential star outside linebacker in the making and the Bears aren’t the same without Goldman in the middle after his ankle injury last year, something that to their credit they recognized and partially addressed with the addition of nose tackle John Jenkins.

Both of these men have already shown enough to convince fans that they are capable of performing and, though both need to continue to develop, questions surrounding them have more to do with their health than their ability.

So with this post, I’d like to point to a couple of guys whose situation is a little different.

The Bears have completely rebuilt themselves up from scratch starting with Ryan Pace‘s first draft in 2015. Some of those picks have really come through but others have either been inconsistent or have proven to need time to develop. For one or two, its time to produce on their potential. If they don’t, their careers may be in jeopardy.

Jonathan Bullard was a 2016 third round pick that the Bears are depending upon to be part of their future at defensive end. Bullard came from a system at Florida where he was expected to penetrate in a Lovie Smith style of line play. But the Bears base defense is a 3-4 and Bullard is expected to be a two-gap lineman in that sort of scheme. That means he needs to hold up the lineman and read the play while covering the gaps to either side of him. It requires more strength and awareness than, perhaps, Bullard was expected to display in college and he had a hard time adjusting to it in his first year.

Although he’s apparently had a quiet training camp to this point, Bullard bulked up to over 300 lb in the offseason and apparently has progressed in the scheme to the point that there might be some hope for him. Coaches think the game has slowed down form him since his rookie year. They’d better hope so. Their starting ends are Akiem Hicks and either Jay Howard or Mitch Unrein and the first injury is going to throw him into the rotation, ready-or-not.

Similar to Bullard on the defensive line, the Bears need Nick Kwiatkowski, a fourth rounder from 2016, to develop into a starter quality NFL linebacker. Kiatkowski played a great deal last year with Jerrell Freeman missing games due to a suspension and Danny Trevathan‘s knee injury. Travathan is rehabbing but isn’t fully back.

Kwiatkowski played too slowly last year and apparently lacked the necessary play recognition skills to play the position at a high level. He needs to step up now and make plays in the middle and the Bears and their fans have to be hoping that he flashes more this preseason because he’s going to be needed as the first guy off the bench (assuming Trevathan is ready to play – a big assumption).

As young players that they hope are on the rise, both of these men represent important players not only for the Bears present but, they hope, for their future as well. How they perform this year will tell us a lot about how that future will shape itself and how quickly.

 

Things to Look for in the First Preseason Game: Two Offensive Rookies

 

I’m quickly reviewing some of the things that I’ll be looking at on Thursday with the Bears as they suit up against the Broncos in the first pre-season game. Next up, a couple of the more interesting rookies.

As most regular readers know, I was critical of the Bears approach to the last draft. Basically its my contention that the Bears took unnecessary risks during the offseason culminating in their selection of too many small school prospects making the draft, something which by its very nature is a crap shoot, into a series of all-or-nothing bets on long shots. One small school guy is OK. Four is insane.

Or so I thought.

I’m usually pretty skeptical of anything that comes out of training camp in terms of media reports. There’s no percentage in trashing a player in July. If you are ever going to be optimistic about your team, this is the time of year for it and no one sees any reason to squish that too soon.

But I have to admit that the almost daily reports about two of the newly drafted small school rookies have worn on me and now I’m intrigued. Article after article has touted how tight end Adam Shaheen (Ashland) and running back Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T) have been stringing good practices together and flashing potential. Both men are (apparently) showing a great deal of athleticism.  Both have the potential to be a matchup nightmare for defenses, Shaheen because of his size and Cohen because of his quickness and elusiveness.

I’m still skeptical. But I’m anxious to see how these men will perform. Small school prospects have a habit of disappearing once the big boys take the field and I can’t help but believe that Shaheen’s inexperience is likely to show. Cohen is a diminutive 185 pounds and players of that size have a bad habit of being overwhelmed by bigger men with more athleticism than they are used to seeing.  Up until now neither has been challenged by players approaching their own level of ability.

With no help coming from first round quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (if the Bears get their way) the Bears need their other picks from this draft to hit along with a few from previous drafts – but we’ll get to them later. The farther we get along, the more we will be able to believe that these guys are the real deal. Their performances at this stage will be crucial steps in their evaluation.

 

Things to Look for in the First Preseason Game: Quarterbacks

 

I hate the offseason. I mean I really do. Nothing but pure speculative judgments about personnel that we haven’t even seen play. Finally, this Thursday, we’ll get a chance to see what the Bears are made of as they take the field against the Broncos.

It would be easier to list the things that I won’t be looking for than the things that I will be. This is now truly General Manager Ryan Pace‘s team as the roster has been almost completely turned over since former head coach Marc Trestman and ex-General Manager Phil Emery left Halas Hall. Pace and head coach John Fox have now changed the culture of the team.  But do they have the talent to compete?

There are so many unknowns about this team you almost don’t know where to start. But over the next few days I’ll try to get you going starting exactly where you would expect – with the quarterbacks.

Although it will be fun to see the fresh second overall pick Mitch Trubisky play, he is apparently so undeveloped at this point its meaningless. If he plays well, it will be against third stringers who are playing vanilla defenses. If he doesn’t, it’s too early in his development to make a big deal out of it. He needs work.  We knew that.  Next summer will likely be the time to start paying attention to Trubisky’s performances, at least if the Bears get their way.

No, this preseason is about new veteran quarterback, Mike Glennon. What will be interesting to see is if Glennon is on the same page with these guys.

From what I’ve seen of him on tape, Bears fans are finally going to be able to leave behind the “see-it, throw-it” style that Jay Cutler lived and died with (mostly died with) for 8 years. We should see Glennon throwing with anticipation to receivers rather than waiting for them to get open and then trying to strong arm it in. This is, in my opinion, the only way to win consistently in the NFL and certainly it is the only way the Bears will ever see a top five quarterback perform (on their own team).

Not that Glennon is going to be a top five quarterback. If he was top twelve, I think everyone in town would be very happy. But at least he has a chance to be better than that.  Cutler never really did.

Glennon’s strength appears to be his accuracy and the fact that he usually puts the ball where only the receiver can get it. This means that his turnovers should be limited. However, this early in his progression with the team, that may not be entirely evident.

One draw back to throwing with anticipation is that you have to be on the same page with your receivers. The timing has to be good and quarterbacks of this type have a bad habit of looking very bad early on as they gradually get to know their guys on the other end of the pass. Missed connections tend to be frequent either because the receiver goes one way and the quarterback the other or because the timing is simply so bad that neither the ball of the receiver end up in the right spot.  It could be ugly for a couple weeks.  So keeping an eye on Glennon’s progress will be a key to the preseason. That starts on Thursday.

Mark Sanchez was the second string quarterback in Saturday’s scrimmage and he should get the second team snaps throughout the preseason. With Glennon still learning the offense and the personnel, he’ll go at least a quarter with Sanchez taking what’s left of the first half and probably playing into the third quarter. From there it will probably be Trubisky time as Connor Shaw hasn’t been practicing with an unspecified foot injury and may well not play.

Seeing how sharp Sanchez is with what apparently are limited reps in practice will be something to keep an eye on here.

 

Some Random NFL Thoughts as Week 11 of the Season Comes to a Close

I haven’t had a chance to post much other than game thoughts lately.  Things have been a bit hectic at work and though they show no signs of slowing down, I thought I’d try to get a post up on some NFL thoughts this week as Well 11 wraps up tonight.

      1. Jared Goff didn’t have a great game yesterday.  But that’s understandable.  He’s a rookie in his first start and yet he arguably out played Ryan Tannehill for most of the game yesterday against the Dolphins until a dramatic comeback in the last five minutes of the game stole it away from him..

        Notably Goff has a (perhaps natural at this stage) tendency to panic under pressure.  Whenever he even sensed that a blitz was coming he rushed the pass and it was usually inaccurate.  He’s going to have to settle down and learn to keep calm in those situations.

        I might add that Goff’s accuracy and ball placement were generally a disappointment this game.  In fairness he saw a fair bit of pressure from the Dolphins defensive front and he was throwing on the move quite a bit.  Though he’s certainly mobile, based upon what I saw, that is not his strength and he’s going to have to be given some time in the pocket if the Rams expect his to succeed.

        Many were surprised when Rams head coach Jeff Fisher decided to promote first overall draft pick, quarterback Jared Goff, to the starting lineup.  Reports were that reports that Goff wouldn’t play until the Rams were mathematically eliminated. They’re still alive at 4-5, and if Goff gives the offense a spark they could end up in the mix for a playoff berth.  But head coach Jeff Fisher has claimed that Goff is ready.

        “It’s was just Jared’s progress, and the progression week, after week, after week,” Fisher said. “Preparing to be a two, preparing to be a play away from going in. When he got the reps over the last three or four weeks, they were right, they were good, they were good decisions. So it was time.”

        That’s all nonsense, of course.  Goff struggled notably in the preseason and there’s hardly much reason to believe he’s gotten significantly better with no playing time since.

        The truth is that the Rams have little to lose at this point.  The offense had, in fact, done very little under former starter Case Keenum.   Keenum was not the reason the Rams have been so bad but he hasn’t helped. This season he’s completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards, with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 23 times and the Rams are 24th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play.

        Keenum’s interception percentage is 31st in the NFL and the Rams are 31st in the NFL in touchdowns per game. In fact, the Rams have not scored more than one TD in each of the past three games.

        Given that is the case, Fisher wisely figured that he might as well let the offense be just as bad while developing their quarterback of the future.  As they have in all of their previous games, they will still rely on their defense to win.

        The real question is whether the Rams even can develop Goff.  Jeff Fisher is a defensive head coach and his Assistant Head Coach/Offense, Rob Boras is a former offensive line/tight ends coach.  That means the person who has been primarily responsible for overseeing Goff’s development is quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.  Weinke has all of two years of NFL coaching experience – 2015 and half of 2016 with the Rams.

        Goff is a wonderful talent.  But at least as important is who is bring him along.  The Rams have been a waste land for quarterback play since Kurt Warner left St. Louis in 2003. With Sam Bradford being its most recent and notable failure at the position.  You have to wonder if Goff is about to get lost in those bad lands as well.

      2. Speaking of the Dolphins, more and more I’m coming to appreciate the play of Kiko Alonzo.  He’s all over the field and he’s largely responsible for what has been an improved (though still flawed) run Dolphin defense.
      3. One more quick Dolphins-related thought.  I was a bit disappointed when Dolphins center Anthony Steen, who played well in place of starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) today, decided to criticize Alabama head coach Nick Saban last week.

        Steen told the Palm Beach Post that he now regrets waiting until the end of his senior season to have the shoulder surgery he needed, and he thinks Saban’s approach leaves Alabama players hurt.

        “If you can work through pain, you can go. But at ‘Bama, that was the problem,” Steen said. “A lot of things you went through and you shouldn’t have. You should have stayed off of it. That’s why a lot of guys from ‘Bama are hurt.”

        If Steen was actually hurt or had done permanent damage to his shoulder by playing, I agree would with him. But as far as I can tell he hasn’t. So I question whether Saban actually pushed him too far.

        Indeed, it may well be Steen’s toughness and willingness to play hurt was one of the reasons he has made it to the NFL.  One scout from the Bleacher Report before the 2014 NFL draft called Steen “Possibly the very definition of ‘toughness’ as it relates to OL scouting purposes.”  CBS Sports said, “Steen’s technical consistency, toughness and instincts are exactly what NFL teams look for in the ideal guard prospect.”  The statements are ironic given that the Dolphins chose highlight their 2016 draft class by trying to make them into something that they weren’t, characterizing them as “alpha personalities” despite zero independent evidence that scouts ever viewed them that way.  Steen appears to the kind of guy they should have been touting all along if that’s what they wanted.

        In any case, if you ask me Saban did Steen a favor.  He pushed him to play and, while doing so, highlighted what was perhaps his greatest strength.

      4. Greg Hardy is gone but hardly forgotten.

        Hardy infamously was arrest for domestic violence after assaulting an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her.  Only the Dallas Cowboys and their win at all costs owner Jerry Jones dared to sign Hardy after he hit the street (One wonders what he told his granddaughter.  “Don’t go dating an NFL player, now darlin’.  Unless he can rush the passer.  Heh, heh, heh.”  [slaps her on the behind]).  However, after a miserable season with the Cowboys in which he under-performed and was a locker room distraction, even Jones let him go.  Hardy has been waiting for another team to sign him ever since.

        Good luck with that.  If he ever had a chance – and I doubt very much that he did – its got to be gone now after he was indicted on one count of felony possession of a controlled substance after a September 25 arrest. He allegedly had 0.7 grams of cocaine in his wallet, which police detected after pulling him over for turning without signaling.

        Hardy was and is a blight on the National Football League, a product of a win at all costs mentality that results in animals like this getting rich off of fans who are forced to root for them against their better judgement.  You honestly wonder under the circumstances how the league has the nerve to wear pink in October while keeping men like Hardy  employed.  Fortunately, we’ll almost certainly never have to deal with watching this particular hard case anymore.  Let’s hope that its extended more and more to others whose behavior calls for sanction rather than adulation.

      5. I find the Green Bay Packers to be like a train wreck.  I can’t look and yet I can’t look away.  Some pundits were predicting that the Packers would be among the all-time best this year with the return of a healthy Jordy Nelson, who was supposed to be the major missing cog in the Packer wheel that caused the apparently decline of Aaron Rogers stats last season.

        That hasn’t turned out to be the case.  Among their notable deficiencies this year has been their problems at running back.  The carousel of running backs in Green Bay this season has included Eddie Lacy, Knile Davis (acquired from Kansas City and released after two games), James Starks and Don Jackson (who was placed on injured reserve). Through it all, the most effective runners have been quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who’s averaging 6.3 yards per run and has three rushing touchdowns) and converted receiver Ty Montgomery (who was the team’s leading rusher in two different games this season).

        The latest hope at running back for the team is Christine Michael, who they picked up from waivers after the Seahawks surprised the league by releasing him.

        Michael had two different stints with the Seahawks, who drafted him in the second round in 2013 (one spot after the Packers picked Lacy at No. 61 overall). As recently as this summer, he had earned praise from his teammates who said he was a different player than he was the first time around.  Indeed, NFL pundits have marveled at Michael’s talent and production and it was thought that he was on his way to a fine season.

        At least publicly the Seahawks have only praise for Michael.  “He’s been busting his tail the whole time he’s been here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. “Everything we’ve said about him has been true and real, and he made a great comeback with us. He was the only guy there for a while, and we’re really grateful to the play that he gave us. He’s a good kid.”

        But privately things may be a little different.  Reports have indicated that Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks and that they couldn’t trust him to run within the offense.  He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.

        Whether Michael will be better within the Green Bay offense is an open question.  But they are so desperate to find answers at the position, they may rather have a reasonably productive back who free lances than the answers that they currently have on the roster.  Such is the state of what was supposed to be a record breaking offense this year

      6. Of course, the other major problem is the play of Aaron Rogers, himself.  Rogers at his best drops back, hits the last step in that drop and fires the ball immediately to the open receiver.  But he hasn’t looked like that on a consistent basis for over a year now, preferring to hold the ball and play backyard football while trying to make a play.  Pundits have blamed the fact that his receivers can’t get open for the problem and the return of Nelson this year was supposed to solve it.

        For the first time in his career, perhaps ever, Rogers is taking significant criticism from former teammates and the press.  And he apparently hasn’t liked it much.  Even nice guy Tony Dungy has gotten into the act as both he and not so nice guy Rodney Harrison took off on Rogers on Thursday’s edition of Football Night in Carolina on NBC and NFL Network.  Dungy and Harrison particularly addressed Rodgers‘ recent habit of publicly criticizing teammates and/or coaches during post-game press conferences following losses.

        Dungy: “When you’re losing, you can’t make those kinds of comments. I remember my first year in Indianapolis when we lost a playoff game to the Jets 41-0. Mike Vanderjagt, our kicker, comes out after the game and says, ‘Tony Dungy doesn’t fire people up. He’s just an easy-going guy. We don’t need that.’ Well, that might have been true, but when you lose, it’s not the time to say that.”

        Harrison: “I’m going to say this as nice as possible — shut up and play football. Every time that you mention something in the media, it creates a sense of divide in that locker room. Everything that they think about – say it in-house, and don’t bring the media and everyone outside of that locker room into it.”

        Former Packer Jermichael Finley has also been among the latest to speak out with some particularly damaging comments.

        “Aaron Rodgers is so scared of what guys are going to say that he doesn’t say nothing at all,” Finley said. “He doesn’t get vocal. He goes into his little shell. He’s not a guy who hangs out with the fellas. He’s real self-centered.”

        Finley isn’t the first teammate (former or otherwise) to take his shots at Rogers.  Even when Rogers has apparently been playing well, other players have or are suspected to have done so and they haven’t lasted with the team.  Former Packer and Dolphin guard Daryn College was one such player who called out Rogers in a team meeting for not admitting that he was holding the ball too long when the offensive line was taking heat some years ago in 2009.  Current Bears guard Josh Sitton wasn’t known specifically for doing it but he was outspoken and he was known to have called out the coaching staff on at least one occasion last year.  It would certainly not be surprising if criticism of Rogers miserable play last year came with that

        Rogers isn’t just self-centered.  He appears to be sensitive to criticism.  If he continues to play like he is, he’d better get used to it because it won’t stop until he starts reading the defense, getting rid of the ball, playing within the offense and throwing more accurately.

      7. I know that it seems like it’s a long way away but the later we get in both the NFL and the college football season, the more it feels like NFL draft time.  Indeed, site are already starting to speculate about what teams will need what and none will be more prominent than those who will be desperate for quarterback help.  In that respect, I found this article on NFL.com to be quite interesting.  In the column, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah looks at six teams who he thinks will be targeting the quarterback position.  Most made sense – the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Cardinals.  However, a couple were, in my opinion, questionable.

        First off, the suggestion that the Jets will be looking to draft a quarterback and/or sign a veteran is popular right now and, I think, pretty suspect.  The Jets drafted Bryce Petty in the fourth round in 2015 and, though fourth rounders aren’t always slam dunk starters, I’m not sure they given up on him.

        But Petty isn’t the reason I find this opinion questionable.  You might argue about the Jets commitment to his future but there’s not denying that they are committed to 2016 draft pick Christian Hackenberg.  Like Jeremiah, I don’t think Hackenberg is the answer for them.  But the Jets have to believe otherwise.  To draft Hackenberg in the second round and then not commit to him as your future starter would be ludicrous.  They would be, and should be, a laughing stock.

        No, I can’t imagine the Jets not giving Hackenberg the starting next year.

        The other suspect team on the list was the Jaguars, who appeared to have an answer at the position with Blake Bortles.  Bortles started well as a rookie but has regressed this season.  His mechanics are a mess and during the bye week he even resorted to visiting QB guru Tom House, indicating that perhaps he wasn’t getting the help he needed from head coach Gus Bradley and his staff.

        Bradley may be gone after this season but Bortles isn’t going anywhere.  I have to believe that the Jaguars would rather spend the offseason trying to fix Bortles, who at least has showed potential for a couple years before regressing, than starting over by drafting a new quarterback.

      8. Before we jump too far ahead it should be mentioned that one or two of those teams listed above are going to go for a veteran replacement.  Especially if you are a team who thinks that can win now, as in Arizona or Denver (not listed), the possibility of adding Tony Romo is going to be tempting.

        In addition, another quarterback that Dolphins fans are pretty familiar with might be enticing for one of these teams.  Tyrod Taylor entered the weekend needing to show that he could be the future in Buffalo badly.  Time could be running out for Taylor in his quest to convince management to activate the next phase of his five-year, $90 million contract, which would cost them $27 million for next season alone if they decide to kick in the second year.

        Buffalo beat the Bengals on Sunday but they did it with only an average effort from Taylor who went 19 for 27, 166 yards and a passer rating of 70.9.  Hardly the stuff that characterizes a $90 million quarterback.

        The bet here is that Taylors talent and mobility leads someone to sign him in the hope that he will be the future.  We shall see if it comes true.

 

 

Get Used to Seeing Blitzing in the Preseason. And Other Points of View.

  • Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times has been around long enough to know better than to make this statement:

“Bears coach John Fox, who already has had to trot out a ‘Wally Pipp’ reference a week into camp, will downplay the injury situation and lean on the “next-man-up” philosophy — a flawed rationalization that implies that replacing any player is like changing a light bulb. In reality, the next-man-up often isn’t as good as the man he replaced — that’s why he was the “next man” in the first place.”

The next man up philosophy is not one in which you imply that the next guy can replace the starter with no loss in talent.  It means that the next guy (and the team) has to be ready to step up because injuries won’t be accepted as an excuse for losing, something every team in the NFL has to know and accept because injuries are a part of the game.

Injuries are not an excuse.  If you, as a coach, allow them to become one, your team is never going to win anything.

  • Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu had some interesting comments about left tackle Charles Leno when he was made available to the media.

“I think he’s so underrated it’s scary..”

I tend to agree.

People I talk to nationally don’t have many good things to say about Leno.  This is probably due to a combination of factors.

First, Pro Football Focus doesn’t rate Leno very highly.  They have him as the 55th best tackle in the league with an overall grade of 39.7  (top rated Joe Thomas has a grade of 94.3).  This probably has something to do with the fact that he was miserable as a right tackle before taking over on the left side in place of Jermon Bushrod, where he did much better.

Second, and related, there’s no name recognition there.  No one’s ever heard of Leno and they can’t believe that the Bears are justified in having such faith in a virtually unknown player.  That’s why people are going to PFF in the first place.

Lastly, and most damningly, national members of the media (and fans) often pop off about players without ever having concentrated on their play.  Sometimes without even having seen them play at all.  When you’ve got 32 teams to follow you can’t take time out to take a hard look at every offensive lineman.  So when one respected member of the media says something, most just pile on and repeat it without questioning it.  That’s probably a good part of what happened here.

The guess here is that there are going to be a lot of people around the country who are going to be surprised at how well Leno plays in 2016.

A.  I noticed that thought Kyle Long apologized for his role in the rumble on the night of the Bears Family Fest, Ted Larsen nor Lamin Barrow, the two primary combatants, didn’t.  In fact, Larsen was down right unrepentant.  “I’m not a guy who’s going to take crap from anybody or stand down,” said Larsen, who will replace the injured Hroniss Grasu at center. “So that’s probably the (gist) of it.”

B.  Though I can see why there’s a lot of hand wringing going on over this (guys could get hurt after all), there still aren’t any signs of trouble chemistry-wise within the team.   Comments by cornerback Tracy Porter are to the point.

“No one holds any grudges — no one’s fighting in the locker room,” he said. “It happens on the field. It’s done after that. And those same two guys that end up in the scuffle, they’re talking to each other in the locker room, laughing and talking.”

If the fights spill over into the locker room, then we’ll all know that this is a really big issue that needs to be addressed directly and firmly.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune had this to say about the competition at wide receiver beyond Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White:

“This is probably the most competitive position on the roster. I could see the Bears easily carrying six receivers on the 53-man roster. If [Eddie] Royal is on the bubble, it will cost a pretty penny to let him go. He is guaranteed $4.5 million this season, so chances are the Bears see if they can get some of that value.”

I can’t imagine that the Bears are thinking about letting Royal go.  It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet but he was by far their best slot receiver last year and unless Daniel Braverman lives up to his fan favorite status, I don’t think that’s likely to change.

Royal is a veteran with under-rated speed and who has a talent for getting open.  I think Bears fans have a habit of under-estimating him because the Bears tried hard to put him n the outside after signing him as a free agent, a position he wasn’t suited for.

“The idea that free agent right tackle Bobby Massie will stabilize the O-line is silly. Massie, like most right tackles, is a big-bodied guy who really struggles against top-shelf edge rushers. That’s why the open market left him with a contract worth only $6.5 million in guarantees. The main benefit of Massie’s arrival is it moves fourth-year stud Kyle Long back to guard, where he’s more comfortable and where the Bears badly needed more athleticism.”

Truth.

Massie will be an interesting guy to keep an eye on this season.  He’s a definite upgrade only in that he’s probably an upgrade over Long at tackle and that Long is definitely a huge upgrade at right guard over Vlad Ducasse.  But that doesn’t make Massie good.

Its possible that Dave Magazu will solidify himself as a very good offensive line coach by making Massie into a very good right tackle this year where the Cardinals couldn’t do it.  But its more likely that offensive line is an area where the Bears still have some building to do before we’ll be able to call them a truly competitive team.

Benoit also makes a good point about the possibility of seeing Pernell McPhee at inside linebacker on occasion.  It’s a good read.

For the defense, this game was valuable.  They didn’t perform well but they were at least credible throughout the game.  There will be plenty to evaluate and plenty of teaching points to make.

But its hard to call the game anything less than a disaster for the offense.  The offensive line from the second quarter on was beyond bad.  How can you evaluate a quarterback like Connor Shaw?  What corrections can you tell him to make?  Run for your life faster?  How can you help wide receivers who aren’t getting reasonable chances to get open and catch the ball?  Or running backs who are stuffed in the backfield?

What are you supposed to teach these guys that is going to make them better next week?

The Bears offense was terrible but it was an exhibition and no one care about that.  What they do care about was the opportunity for the team to get better.  I don’t see that they have much chance to do that looking at Thursday’s tape.

  • Its not a point of emphasis in 2016-2017 but I was struck by the fact that a rules violation that I’d rarely seen called in the past got called not once, but twice in the Bears preseason game Thursday.

Each team got called when their gunner on a punt went out of bounds without being forced out.  It will be interesting to see if that non-point of emphasis point of emphasis gets carried over into the other preseason games and into the season.

“We’re not game-planning for a preseason game, so it was a couple of things we weren’t expecting,” Massie said. “If we had game-planned, it would have been a totally different story.”

Fair enough.  But In watching some other preseason games, I’m starting to think that this was one less excuse that should be used to explain the Bears terrible play.

In particular, the Steelers were at the Lions on the NFL Network Friday night and even though I only watched about half an hour before switching to another game, I can tell you that both teams blitzed aggressively and frequently on third down.  And more to the point, both teams offenses were prepared and handled those blitzes extremely well.  And the Lions are not a particularly good offensive line.

If I wasn’t used to seeing this, I think I’d better get used to it.  And so had the Bears.

  • Given that it was a preseason game, and the first one at that, it was everything I could do to keep from bashing offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. To see that safety blitz continue to work…

I’m really trying to give these guys a chance. But its my preseason too and, fair warning, I’m loading up.

Quick Comments: Preseason Game, Broncos at Bears

I probably won’t do this for every preseason game but I’m so glad to have football back that I couldn’t help myself.  So here’s an abbreviated version of the game comments for this exhibition.

Defense

  1. Bryce Callahan totally blew the coverage on the first touchdown, settling down short as if he thought there would be someone over the top to pick him up.  Reports are that his job is far from secure.
  2. On the other hand, good awareness by Callahan when he came off of his guy to tip the pass that Jerrell Freeman intercepted in the first quarter.
  3. Freeman looked like he was struggling to cover the Broncos as they came over the middle.  That’s not his reputation.
  4. The Bears starters on defense were getting pressure but, as feared, the pass coverage was letting them down.  The pass rushers are either going to have to be a step quicker or the coverage is going to have to be better.  The pass rushers are also going to have to do a better job of finishing when they do get there.
  5. Mark Sanchez looked rather sharp as he guided the Broncos to their first interception.  Mostly accurate to the open guy.
  6. To my eye Trevor Simian wasn’t as sharp its the second team though he did make a nice play to escape pressure and complete a pass to get the Broncos in field goal range at the end of the second half.
  7. Paxton Lynch wasn’t asked to do a lot bu the looked like he belonged.  That’s probably good enough at this point.
  8. You kind of see why the Bears like Leonard Floyd.  He certainly is quick and he’s got long arms.  High effort guy.  But damn he’s skinny.
  9. It was entertaining to see Deondre Hall go into press coverage alone on throws to the end zone and defend the ball in the second quarter.  The Bears are obviously trying to get a feel for what he can do.
  10. Lots of missed tackles in the second quarter after the back ups got in  Lots to clean up.
  11. Cornelius Washington showed up tonight.  He needed to.  He’s in a tough fight to make the roster.  It was a shame to see him leave on a cart.

Offense

  1. Jay Cutler actually had some room on the first sack.  It looked like he panicked a bit in the face of the blitz.  It’s likely he doesn’t trust the reshuffled offensive line to handle that, yet, with some justification.  Here’s hoping that sense of trust gets better.
  2. Bears starters ran the ball for a paltry 1.8 yards per carry.  That’s not doing anything to alleviate any anxiety amongst fans about either the offensive line or Jeremy Langford, who got all of the carries.
  3. Cody Whitehair might need a little work snapping in the shot gun.
  4. The back up offensive line was simply putrid.  Martin Wallace flat out stunk.  So did Keith Browner and Gary Williams.  Nothing happened tonight to alleviate my concerns about the depth on this unit.  Their ineptitude made it virtually impossible to evaluate the players at any other position.
  5. We got to see two backs in the backfield for the first time in the second half when Jordan Howard entered the game.  We didn’t see much of it but it will be interesting to see how much more of that we get once the games count for real.
  6. I’m not used to seeing teams blitz the safety in the first preseason game but I’m a bit disappointed that it continued to work.  The offense didn’t look like they were ready for it and they didn’t adjust.  Preseason or not, that’s not good.

Miscellaneous

  1. Sam Rosen, Jim Miller & Luo Canellis on the call.  They were OK for what they are.  Miller was soft in his criticism but I’ve certainly heard worse during the preseason and they don’t give you the job of announcing these exhibition games to be overly critical.
  2. I thought the starters were relatively clean but once the back ups got in, the penalty flags started to fly.  First pre-season game.  No need to worry yet.
  3. Special teams were up and down, both allowing a blocked punt and blocking one themselves.
  4. In summary:  lots to work on, folks.

Ten Thoughts on the Bears Offseason Midway Through Free Agency

Spring brings renewal and never more so than with major league baseball and spring training. Like most sports, the offseason in baseball is a time to unwind and relax. The suspense builds as another season draws near because fans miss the sport after literally not thinking about it for at least four months.

Not so with professional football, which has a yearly calendar like no other sport. Football fans find interesting things to think about year around and it’s often the happenings in the offseason that introduce the issues that are most interesting to follow as the season begins. Football fans never stop thinking about football.

With that in mind, here are ten thoughts on the Bears offseason midway through free agency.

1. The Bears now have two long snappers on the roster: the newly signed Aaron Brewer and the long snapper that the Bears finished with last year, Patrick Scales. Scales, a journey man who has bounced around the league since he went undrafted to the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, was signed in late November by the Bears to replace Thomas Gafford in as effort to upgrade the position. He’s still on the roster and apparently will be given a chance to compete to win the starting job but it’s now evident that the Bears still aren’t happy with the performance at the position since Patrick Mannelly retired before the 2014 season.

The Bears evidently hope that the 25 year old Brewer, who spent the last four seasons snapping for the Broncos including three under Bears head coach John Fox, will solve the problem though it isn’t obvious that he will have the edge going into camp. It isn’t evident why Brewer was released by the Broncos.

“There are always decisions being made at the end of the season as you get ready for free agency,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “Aaron did a good job for us. … He’s been a consistent snapper. We’ve got to go replace him and it will be tough.’’

Scales is slightly older at 28  and has a salary of only $525,000 this year and none of that is guaranteed while Brewer signed a one-year deal for $760,000, also not guaranteed.

Long-snapper is an underrated position in that you never notice it until something goes wrong. It may be instructive to pay a bit more attention to the fine details this year like the strength of the snap and the ball placement as fans handicap the competition. In the end, though, consistency will be the major factor and that will come across only in camp as each man makes snap after snap under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Jeff Rogers.

In any case, may the best man win.

2. Two things are worth noting about the Bears approach to free agency this year. The first is that the Bears have been unrelenting in their pursuit of strictly young talent.

Danny Trevathon (26), Jerrell Freeman (29), Bobby Massie (26), Nick Becton (26), Akiem Hicks (26), Jacquizz Rogers (26) and Mitch Unrein (29) are all under the age of 30 and the three major signings (Trevathan, Massie and Hicks) are 26 years old. Only Zack Miller (31) and Tracy Porter (30) are 30 or older and the Bears have extensive experience with both as resignings.

It’s now evident that the Bears are trying to make up for poor drafts in the past in a particular way. Had those drafts from a few years ago been good, the Bears would now be trying to sign their own rather than dipping into free agency. So they’re doing the next best thing – signing young players as if they were signing their own draft picks to second contracts.

The Bears are basically betting on their coaching staff to get these players in and to make them into better values than they were with their previous teams, who chose not to re-sign them.

Given the way the team over achieved last year given their talent, I like the approach.

3. The second thing to note is that the Bears approach to free agency has been a cautious one and, to their credit, they haven’t overpaid for some of the young talent that they’ve signed. But it’s also worth pointing out that they have kept the price down by addressing easy to find needs in free agency.

Inside linebacker has been a major focus and rightfully so. It was a major weakness last year and Trevathan and Freeman will be huge upgrades this season over Shea McClellin and Christian Jones. Addressing right tackle with Massie could pay huge dividends if for no other reason than it move Kyle Long back to right guard, at minimum making that position considerably stronger. Massie will be no worse than Long was last year in his first year at right tackle. and promises to improve the run game considerably.

But holes remain at the hard to find positions, pass rusher, defensive back, and, Unrein and Hicks aside, defensive line where an impact player is still needed.

For instance, assuming the Bears wanted to stay young at the position, the price of a pass rusher would have been unbelievable. Olivier Vernon only had 7.5 sacks last year but signed a contract for an astounding $85 million with $52.5 million guaranteed with the New York Giants. Admittedly most of those sacks came late in the year in an fantastic salary drive in a contract year for Vernon. If he keeps up the pace he finished with, he’ll earn that money. But most people think the Giant overpaid and I tend to agree. It’s a huge risk and the Bears evidently wanted no part of it or anything like it.

Look for the Bears to remain economical by drafting heavily at these positions in April’s main event.

4. Speaking of defensive backs, the Bears apparently liked Tashaun Gipson of the Browns but the sense was his market went higher than they were comfortable with when he signed in Jacksonville for $35.5 million over five years. If the Jaguars get the Gipson that was a Pro Bowl performer in 2014 for the Browns, it’s money well spent. If they get the Gipson that was on the field last year, it’s not going to end well.

This will be a situation to keep an eye on next year as it will interesting to see if the Bears should have pursued Gipson harder, particularly given their troubles at the safety and that they haven’t made any signings to fill the hole.

5. Tight end also remains a position to be addressed in the draft. Khari Lee came over in a trade with the Texans just before the start of last season and Gannon Sinclair was the only player to spend the entire season on the team’s practice squad. Both of them are more blocking tight ends than they are receivers like Zach Miller. Veteran Rob Housler can also block a little.

The obvious assumption is that the Bears will draft a tight end this year and though the draft is thin at the position, there is talent to be found there.  It’s just a risky pick because very few players are asked to block in the spread offenses that are predominant in college.

In particular, Ohio State’s Nick Vannett impressed me at the Senior Bowl as a guy who has the skills to be a receiving threat and at 6’6″, 260 lb, has at least the size to be a blocker.

The 6’4″, 230 lb Lee was a disappointment last year. He came for a sixth round pick and the assumption was the he would contribute immediately. He did play in each of the 16 games but his impact on the offense was minimal. Apparently last year was a red shirt year for the 24 year old and I’m looking for a major jump from Lee this year.

6. One major reason that the Bears are remaining economical in free agency is that they have the contract for Alshon Jeffery yet to be worked out. The efforts to resign Jeffery are ongoing and persistent.

“We’re actively and aggressively negotiating right now,” Pace declared at NFL scouting combine.

The Bears placed a $14 million-plus franchise tag on Jeffery on Feb. 29. The fact that Jeffery signed that offer was critical to his offseason because his salary is now fully guaranteed against skill, injury and salary cap maneuvers.  If he gets hurt, he still gets paid.  Though Jeffery might still fail to show up for workouts because his salary will not be guaranteed beyond this year, the fact that he signed the offer indicates to me that he probably will.  Otherwise there’s little reason to sign the offer and give up the right to negotiate with other teams.

Jeffery has had soft tissue problems over the last few years and there is a plan in place to solve the issue.

“I think being in Year 2 with a player helps a lot in just understanding his body and his body mechanics,” Pace said. “I know (Alshon) and his agent are doing some things, too, to improve on that. So when he gets back, we’ll have a plan in place. It’s important.”

It is.  And getting Jeffery in for those workouts will undoubtedly be a part of it.

Dez Bryant signed a 5 year contract for $70 million with $45 million guaranteed before the 2015 season and Jeffery’s contract will likely equal or exceed that. Presumably some of that will appear as easy to reach incentives for Jeffery to remain with the program to avoid injury.

7. Look for Jeffery’s contract to be at least a little front-loaded in terms of the cap hit.

First, this is the way that the Bears like to work anyway. It allows them to easily get out of any contract with minimal dead money on the cap. But there is an even better reason for it this year than that.

The last season of Long’s four year rookie contract is 2016. Though the Bears will undoubtedly pick up Long’s fifth year option, it is highly unlikely that they will allow him to play out that contract and hit the market in 2018.

The Bears are undoubtedly thinking about the extension that they’ll be negotiating for Long next offseason and they are planning their cap space, which should still be ample, accordingly.

8. The running back situation for the Bears is a curious one.

The Bears spent a good part of the offseason convincing us that their future lay with 2015 fifth round pick Jeremy Langford and hold over Ka’Deem Carey. For a long time there was doubt that Carey would remain on the team but his development on special teams allowed the Bears to get him onto the game day roster the second half of the season and he responded by running well. Rogers was actually ahead of Carey on the depth chart last year before getting hurt.

The Bears will undoubtedly continue to favor the multi-back system that they ran last year and based upon their comments the assumption was that Langford, Carey and Rogers were the guys.

But the Bears pursuit of Denver running back C.J. Anderson changed all of that and many are wondering now if they might be interested in picking up another running back in the draft.

Indeed, Pace has a history of collecting running backs and he’s been known to pull major surprises by drafting players such as Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 draft (under general manager Mickey Loomis).

With this in mind, I’ve seen some thoughts floated that the Bears might draft Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Indeed, the NFL Network‘s Charles Davis has Elliot going to the Bears with the 11th pick.

but I very much doubt that will happen as my gut tells me that Elliot will be gone before the Bears are on the clock. Although there are some who think that it is a mistake to draft a running back that high, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Elliot isn’t the reason why the Eagle traded up with the Dolphins to the eighth position as free agency began this year.

Many have looked at where Todd Gurley was drafted last year and figured that is the highest Elliot will go, putting the Bears in a position to draft him but I don;t believe it. Gurley is a wonderful runner but Elliot is a smooth, all around athlete that can do it all: run block and catch. He’s not just a running back. He’s a weapon.

I might add that after years of being de-valued, the running back position is experiencing something of a renaissance this year. Anderson, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, and Bilal Powell to name a few all got signed in a decent market this year.

The Eagles have already traded running back Demarco Murray and they have reportedly made it known that remaining running back Ryan Matthews is also available. Though Andy Reid often threw the ball an inordinate amount of the time as the Eagles head coach, he relied much more heavily on the run when current head coach Doug Pederson was his offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Expectations are that Pederson will carry that philosophy over from the Chiefs. But that can’t happen if he trades his starting running backs away. The bet here is that he has Elliot in mind as a replacement and will draft him at eighth overall.

9. The NFL’s 32 owners were busy when they convened in Florida last week for their annual meeting given the number of proposed rule changes that had to be considered.

One rule that is not changing despite a mass of confusion is the catch rule.

One of the most memorable quotes of the 2015 season was uttered by frustrated Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy after a playoff game against Arizona in January.

“I don’t know what the hell a catch is anymore,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Despite this statement and many like it, the NFL persists in believing that the relevant people associated with the league understand the rule. They believe that the problem might simply be in communicating the rule more clearly to fans and to the broadcasters who influence their opinion.

The league might continue to delude itself but the rest of us are more apt to believe the evidence of our eyes.

The good news is that, despite their declarations, the league might be taking steps to clarify the situation for the referees on the field. The first of those was having Dean Blandino on the phone for replay reviews to inject some consistency into the interpretation.

In January, during the divisional round playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals to which McCarthy is referring above, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass while going to the ground. He lost possession when he hit the ground, and the official on the field determined that Fitzgerald had caught the ball. Unlike previous calls which had been reversed in such a situation, this one stood as the referee (and Blandino) ruled that “indisputable visual evidence” to overturn the ruling on the field that Fitzgerald had the ball long enough to become a runner was lacking.

The situation caused confusion because it was exactly the same as one that existed in the playoffs the previous season. In that case, the ruling was incorrectly reversed and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was ruled to have not made a crucial catch. It arguably cost them the game.

The truth is that though the league never acknowledged that the Bryant ruling was incorrect, the Fitzgerald catch was effectively an admission of it.

Bottom line, the key to clarifying the catch rule isn’t educating the fans and broadcasters. It’s educating the referees. Once that’s done, the standard will be consistent and complaints will tail off.

10. The Browns have decided to hitch their wagon to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. They signed the still young 26 year old to a two-year, $15 million contract with $6.75 million in total guaranteed money.

Most assume that the Browns will still draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft and, indeed, they might. Conventional wisdom says that the odds of rediscovering the player that took the league by storm in 2012 are not good. Drafting a quarterback to play behind Griffin, Josh McCown, Connor Shaw and/or Austin Davis to develop for a year would seem to be the way that most teams would play it.

But the Browns aren’t most teams and that may be especially true this year.

The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets as the team’s chief strategy officer. DePodesta is expected to help members of the team’s player-development, sports-science, high-performance and analytics departments maximize their efforts – think money ball for the NFL.

This development could be a fascinating one because it indicates that the Browns may be going all-in on analytics, something that other teams are experimenting with but which is combined with the more traditional approach to building a team.

So though conventional wisdom says draft a quarterback with the pick, what if the analytics say “No”? There have been plenty of busted quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the draft and its generally ruined multiple careers from the general manager down when it’s happened. What if DePodesta has run the numbers and his version of reality indicates that the odds are better of developing a recycled quarterback into a success?

And better yet, what if he’s right?

Things are never dull with the NFL.