On the Value of Zone Blocking

Andrew Mason at denverbroncos.com quotes Hall of Fame offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman on the benefits of running a zone blocking scheme. The Bears will do at least some zone blocking this year:

“‘It’s going to take a lot of pressure off [Peyton Manning], for one. In the past, the [offense] was one-dimensional, it was pretty much a throwing team, and that’s what everyone prepared for, and all the pressure was on Peyton, so when you have a zone-blocking game, if the run’s not working, you go to the pass, and if the pass is not working, you go to the run,’ Zimmerman said in an interview for a story posted April 2.

“‘I think the biggest thing in the zone blocking is that the defense has a lot more to think about, because a lot of plays look alike, and there’s a lot of pass plays that look like run plays. It kind of puts a little more thinking on the defense as in the previous years, where they just lined up and played, and knew that the pass was coming. Now they’re going to have to first determine if it’s a run or a pass, and then go from there.'”

Zone blocking often involves taking a side step or a bucket step and reacting to the direction the defensive lineman takes. I’ve always been a fan of firing off of the ball at the snap, myself, because it allows the use of the only advantage offensive linemen have – they know the snap count. But I can see Zimmerman’s point.

All linebackers are told to watch the offensive lineman as a key to whether the play is a run or a pass.  But because zone blocking often involves the same kind of movement that pass blocking involves, a run can look an awful lot like a pass to a defender. They therefore are more likely to hesitate and wait for other keys to tell what’s going on. That can be a great advantage in a game where speed is everything.

Assuming the Bears do what Broncos did last year, they are going to run a combination of blocking techniques. If the lineman can master them all, it could make them very formidable. If they can master them all.

On the Vanishing Fullback Position

Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post says that the Broncos are going old school under new head coach Gary Kubiac by bringing back the fullback:

“‘Everyone wants to be an innovator. No one thinks you can get a head coaching job if you are just turning around and handing the ball off. It’s not sexy. But when you need to run out the clock and get those tough first downs, some of those spread offenses can’t do it,’ [Broncos fullback Howard] Griffith said. ‘You have to be able to run. Some people consider it old school. It’s just football, and you need a fullback.'”

I think most teams agree.

The power running game is still healthy and ever-present in the NFL and it just makes sense to attempt to overload the point of attack with blockers. There’s no better way to position a man to do that than to line him up in the backfield where he can read the situation and provide help at the most effective point. Renck elaborates:

“Griffith found himself in an unusual position with the Broncos. He was an electric college running back at Illinois but embraced a selfless role. His vision as a runner helped him as a blocker for Davis. He anticipated how plays would develop, freeing him to pick up weakside defenders off the script.

“‘It’s funny, because I have run into O-line coaches, and they want to know what our calls were on the backside plays. There was never any calls made. We just knew from the defensive alignment where I would go,’ Griffith said. ‘It happened by accident in practice, and where I picked up the most dangerous guy on a play, and we just kind of took it from there.'”

The “disappearance” of the NFL fullback is overrated. It’s true that more than ever teams like to spread the defense out with an extra wide receiver or run more double tight end sets, which puts the big men in a better position to run a pass route. But 23 teams still used a fullback last year and of the teams like the Bears who are left and who don’t list one on their roster, almost all still have plays that call for one. They just line up a “tight end” in the backfield who they have designated to be the fullback on those plays. That would be Dante Rosario on the current Bears roster.

No matter what you call it, the fullback isn’t going anywhere. Except where the ball is.

Road to Front Office Relationship Success Filled with Potholes

Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com is surprisingly definitive after highlighting former 49er Jeff Garcia‘s comments on the current state of the team:

“Garcia said the decision of [owner Jed] York and [general manager Trent] Baalke to fire Harbaugh reminds him of his own playing days, when York’s father and then-General Manager Terry Donahue decided to fire Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 season. That turned out to be a disaster, as the 49ers wouldn’t have a winning record for the next eight years — until they hired [Jim] Harbaugh.”

I can only agree.

Baalke_2

The capacity of team management to make a mess of a good thing all over the league amazes me. In this case, pride and control were undoubtedly the major factors. Harbaugh (left) and Baalke (right) are both the kind of men that simply refuse to compromise. It ruined their relationship and is well on its way to ruining the team.

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Though the differences were likely more fundamental you have to wonder whether former Broncos and now Bears head coach John Fox (left) and Broncos General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway (right) didn’t do the same thing. The guess is that Fox wanted to return to his roots – a run oriented defensive team, while Elway wanted to remain the high-flying passing team that the Broncos became through 2/3 of last season until quarterback Peyton Manning got hurt. The parting was amicable but the effect may be the same – I think it’s unlikely that new head coach Gary Kubiac will be as good at it as Fox was nor do I believe that the loss of offensive coordinator Adam Gase will be without effect. Add in the loss of defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to the Raiders as head coach and you’ve got the recipe for a serious decline.

ESPN
ESPN

The relationship between Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace (left) seems to be off to a good start. Philosophically they seem to share the same vision. That might what Elway and Fox started with but Fox likely subordinated his vision to Elway with the acquisition of Manning.  Baalke and Harbaugh probably got off to a good start, too.

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. The key to prosperity will be that both Fox and Pace be reasonable people (unlike Baalke and Harbaugh) who are both very good at what they do. That will engender respect and that will lead to continued willingness to compromise without loss of quality. They also need to stay in agreement philosophically through seasons of change. A dose of early success wouldn’t hurt.

That all seems like a lot to navigate over a course full of obstacles. But if the Pace and Fox do it, they’ll be set up for the kind of long-term success that has eluded some wonderful relationships that started so well and then went south to the ruin of all.

Garza Replacement the First Step to Improving the Run Game?

Like many Bears fans, I was saddened to see center Roberto Garza released (via Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune). I can still remember meeting WSCR‘s Mike Mulligan briefly at the Chicago Bears convention downtown in 2005 when he asked me as a fan what I thought of the signing. I said, “The guys missing a ligament in his knee, right?” Mulligan threw his hands up and said, “I know! The guys got no ACL!”.

We should all be so lucky. ACL or not, Garza started 145 games over 10 seasons in Chicago.

We can only speculate as to why the Bears decided to replace Garza. My first thought was age but Will Montgomery, who at least for now replaces Garza in the starting lineup, isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 32. The Bears will evidently be drafting a center some time soon but they probably could have stuck with Garza for another year if all they wanted was a veteran to stand in for a year. Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com apparently agrees.

One thing that’s evident about the 2015 Bears is that if they’re going to carry out head coach John Fox‘s plan to run the ball, they’re going to have to do something about the offensive line. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman was roasted for not running the ball enough but my strong suspicion is that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to run it. It’s that he didn’t think they could block it. How much of that had to do with Garza, I don’t know. To me, Garza always passed the eye test but there’s no denying the Bears has a lot of trouble moving guys out of the way and running up the middle to get tough yards. Statistically he had a mediocre player rating of -1.3 at profootballfocus.com but his pass blocking efficiency was well above average. That leads me to believe that his weakness in their eyes was run blocking.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that run blocking is Mongomery’s strength. Montgomery is also familiar with the blocking scheme the Bears will be using after playing to offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bears head coach John Fox last year. At least some of that will likely be zone blocking, something that could improve the performance all along the line with this group, which shows more finesse and athleticism overall than power. I found Montgomery’s comments about it to be intriguing. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“They can run zone, man schemes, power schemes. I think they do gameplan-specific things as well. I don’t know if I’m the exact fit for this offense — I think I’m a fit for a lot of offenses. It is fun to play for these coaches.”

Diversity is nice but whatever they do, it had better fit their talent (or lack there of).

Debate about Garza aside, whatever else the Bears do this offseason, I hope they do more to improve the offensive line. Garza may or may not have been a weakness in the run game but to my eye both tackles definitely are. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune appears to believe that former seventh round pick Charles Leno may have a shot somewhere along the line. If they’re going to take the game out of quarterback Jay Cutler‘s hands, they’re going to have give it to Matt Forte and the other runners. And they’re going to have to ride the backs of the boys up front.

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.

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    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.

Winning and Losing on Your Own Terms

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Jeff Legwold at espn.com thinks the transition from former Broncos and current Bears head coach John Fox will be made easier for new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak (above) by the retention of six of Fox’s assistant coaches – five on offense:

“‘I’m the one who has to adjust and find out how I’m going to mesh everything together,’’ Kubiak said. ‘That’s what we’ve been doing and I told Peyton that from the start. We are going to run his offense and do what he does best, but it’s going to be the Broncos’ (offense). We’re going to mesh things together. Obviously I love to run the ball and I love the play-(action) pass. I love to do those things so there is going to be a commitment there but there is 17 years of investment in what he’s done better than anybody and we’re not going to run away from that.’’”

I can’t help but be reminded that former Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (below) said similar things about the Bears defense as it transitioned from Lovie Smith to former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. It was a problem in Tucker’s case as he kept the old defensive scheme in deference to veterans like former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs who ultimately let him down. He ended up losing his job without ever really having a chance to make it his own.

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Kubiak may not be going so far as to make the entire offensive scheme something he’d never run otherwise. But you have to wonder if trying to compromise in deference to Manning, who didn’t exactly finish the year as the great quarterback he usually is, won’t turn out similar to the way that Tucker’s defense did.

I think the worst think about losing a job might be if you had to look back with regret because you never got a chance to do it your own way. Here’s hoping Kubiak never has to do that.

The Rich Get Richer. The Bears Don’t. Yet.

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears once again received no compensatory draft picks.

These can be as high as third round picks depending upon the nature of the lost free agents the year before. For instance, the Lions could receive a third round pick in 2016 after the loss of Ndamukong Suh. The acquisition on Haloti Ngata after the loss of Suh was by trade and wouldn’t count against them in the formula used to calculate who gets what picks.

It’s easy to dismiss these often low round picks as being unimportant but they’re not. As has been said many times, the draft is a crap shoot and the more rolls of the dice you get, the more likely it is you’ll come up with a good player. The rich get richer in this respect because the good teams tend to be the ones that lose the good players. The Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks all received four compensatory picks and the Ravens and Texans were awarded three apiece.

Meanwhile the Bears are stuck in what amounts to a catch 22. They have to sign free agents to make up for misses in the draft and they’re more likely to miss in the draft because they don’t have enough picks. Last year the Bears signed a slew of players – defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young plus safety Ryan Mundy. This year they’ve already signed linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle, guard Vladimir Ducasse and wide receiver Eddie Royal. As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, they’re likely to sign quite a few more as they bargain hunt in the secondary free agent market:

“One veteran agent described it as a stare-down between clubs and players. Clubs are looking for budget buys with the goal of signing many players to minimum-salary-benefit deals. Players who thought they would be in line for something more are still trying to wrap their minds around the idea of playing for less. Both sides are waiting for the other to blink.”

“The Bears need to add defensive linemen. Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson are likely to line up at nose tackle. The options at defensive end are not quite as clear. Coach John Fox said the ideal player for the scheme is a ‘longer three technique.’ Of course, the model for the position is the Texans’ J.J. Watt, but aspiring to find a player with his skill set and actually doing it are two different things.”

The Bears are also said to be interested in center Stefen Wisniewski.  They will need to sign a considerable number of other players to fill out the depth chart as well. Some of those signings could come at the league meetings which are currently being conducted – Adam Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times points out that agents are working the hallways and courtyards of the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.  All of these signing could count against them.

No one is suggesting that teams aren’t being penalized when they lose a free agent – the compensatory draft pick is never close to the same value as the free agents lost. Nevertheless, the draft is the life blood of every team and those picks can become valuable players acquired for a cheap price. I look forward to the day when the Bears will be getting more chances to hit the lottery in this respect because it means that they will be ranked amongst the elite franchises. The only way that they’re going to get there is to start consistently hitting on the few draft picks they have, alleviating the need to run out and sign free agents to fill holes all over the field.  They also have to resist the temptation to make the splash signings that can often look better on paper than on the field.  Fortunately general manager Ryan Pace seems to be avoiding the temptation to do that. Again, fro Jahns:

“The win-now pressure that seemed to drive Emery isn’t as prevalent. Pace, who will meet with the Chicago media on Tuesday, is widely regarded in league circles to have a big rebuild on his hands, and the draft is the best way to do that.

Until the Bears are finished rebuilding, fans just have to be patient and wait for success to come their way.  Fortunately, this time it looks like it might be the proper way.

Head-Scratcher? And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • According the Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune the Bears signed free agent guard Vlad Ducasse. Ducasse was drafted in the second round in 2010 by the Jets and played well but has struggled ever since. He shows flashes of ability but this is one of those signings where you wonder if the team wasn’t better off with Eben Britton. Perhaps the Bears believe Britton has topped out and that Ducasse has more potential if they can find a way to bring it out. In that respect, he’s a bit of a boom or bust signing. At 6-5, 326 pounds he’s at least got the look of a road grader that might come in handy in a run first offense.

    John Mullin at csnchicago.com thinks the signs point to Kyle Long moving to left tackle in part because the Bears have apparently been looking strictly for help on the interior line in free agency. I tend to agree.

  • Marc Sessler at nfl.com on Bears left guard Matt Slauson‘s comment that Jay Cutler can be “every bit of a Tom Brady, a Peyton Manning, an Aaron Rodgers“:

    “Where do we begin? Our friend Slauson has boarded a rocket ship into the bizarre, taking us to new frontiers of insane offseason hype.”

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com goes over the Bears draft options at wide receiver:

    “In the debate between [Amari] Cooper and former West Virginia receiver Kevin White, coaches seem to prefer the former, while scouts tend to give the edge to the latter. That’s primarily because coaches view players with an eye toward them helping right away, while scouts take more of a long-term perspective.”

    This was a funny statement only because my experience is exactly the opposite. Coaches tend to like the physically gifted, less developed prospects (like Johnny Manziel) because they think they can coach anyone with the necessary physical skills to be a star. Scouts, on the other hand, tend to go with the Teddy Bridgewaters of the world. IMO they also have a bad habit of being right. Anyway, Wright goes on to quote Cooper:

    “You don’t want to give the defensive back any signals about what route you’re going to run. Every time I run a route, I try to make it seem like I’m running a different route than I’m actually running so I can get open.”

    If the Bears go in this direction, they certainly have an interesting choice. White is both bigger and faster but Cooper has the look of a football player. Which choice he makes (if available) may tell us something about Bears general manager Ryan Pace.

  • The Bears attended a private workout by Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell had four forced fumbles in 2014, an unusually high, Charles Tillman-like number. Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • How do you beat Aaron Rogers and the Packers in the NFC North? Probably the same way that Houston is trying to beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in the AFC South. From Zak Keefer at the Indianapolis Star.
  • Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com points out the Bears need for a tightend:

    “The Bears were interested in Virgil Green, who re-signed with the Broncos, and [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase used two tight ends a decent amount in Denver’s offense the past two seasons. It’s a weak tight end draft, and there’s not much left on the free-agent market, yet this is a position group that should grow in the coming months.”

    The Bears are going to want the option of using two tight ends in a run-based offense. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find one that could block somewhere. The draft actually is a viable possibility here if all you want is someone who can block and catch a ball only every occasional blue moon.

  • The Bears sit at 25th in Elliot Harrison‘s NFL power rankings at nfl.com. I thought that was surprisingly high until I looked at the teams below them: Jets, Redskins, Jaguars, Browns Buccaneers, Titans, and Raiders. You could debate whether the Jets are worse than the Bears but with their quarterback situation I’m inclined to agree with Harrison. Even with a terrible defense in transition to a 3-4, the Bears belong at 25th in a miserable bottom portion of the league.

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com wonders about the success of the teams in the AFC East as the spend to try to catch up with the Patriots:

    “[H]ow does [Bill] Belichick buffer his offense to face off against three brutal front-sevens twice a year? What will his counter be to all the noise being made by his counterparts in free agency? Perhaps the Patriots will be a sleeping tiger now that the market is officially open and they’ll load up for one last (reasonable) title shot in the Brady-Belichick era.”

    Doubtful. Because they don’t have to load up.

    The point about building the front-seven is well taken. The best thing to do is to mimic the Baltimore Ravens who give the Patriots the most trouble year in and year out.

    But the problem with the AFC East generally right now is that the other teams are playing fantasy football, over-paying talented players and winning in March when, in fact, what counts is winning in January. The Patriots win football games because they get players to hit the grass every week and do their jobs. The other teams in the division can spend gross national product but until they get that part down, it’s the Patriot’s devision to lose.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reports that DeMaurice Smith has been re-elected as NFLPA executive director. This is good news for fans. Smith faced eight challengers the most vocal of which was Sean Gilbert, who wanted to sue the NFL for collusion and to force the league to re-open negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement. Gilbert’s election probably would have meant labor trouble, something no fan wants. Gilbert may have shot himself in the foot by advocating an 18 game season, which the vast majority of players clearly don’t want.
  • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com thinks Adrian Peterson will most likely stay in Minnesota. Why? Follow the money.
  • Chris Wesseling, also at nfl.com speculates that Phillip Rivers might be traded, perhaps to the Titans. All indications are that Rivers will play out his contract in 2015. Similar to the situation in New Orleans with Drew Brees, I doubt very much that San Diego could get what it would want for the 33 year old Rivers. He’s worth more to them than anyone else at this point.

    A lot of teams are going to be looking to develop young talent behind aging quarterbacks this offseason. The Bears arguably need one worse than anyone else and if they have their eye on anyone in particular, they may have to over draft him. Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, also at nfl.com, has the Bears taking Marcus Mariota with the seventh pick in the draft. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  • The Dolphins had the smash hit signing of the year when the added Ndamukong Suh. But you have to wonder if the price of crippling the rest of the team with the cap implications is going to prevent them from winning and defeat the purpose. From Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald.
  • Mike Rodak at ESPN.com suggests that the Bills are spending recklessly in free agency rather that looking for value. Personally I think situations like this almost always end in disappointment as performances in December rarely meet expectations generated in March.

One Final Thought

Rosenthal considers the signing of Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal to be one of free agency’s biggest “head-scratching” moves:

“In a relatively depressed receiver market, the Bears gave $10 million guaranteed to a receiver that has topped 800 yards once in his seven-year career. It was just a random move, and felt a little more painful after the Bears grudgingly swallowed paying Jay Cutler big money into 2016.”

I think the Bears offensive coaching staff sees Royal as a Wes Welker-type of player. The Bears have never gotten the most out of these types of slot receivers but if anyone knows how to do it, it should be Gase. This could be a better signing than most people think.

Fox Clashing Too Much with Management-Types? Well, You Can Hardly Blame Him for This One…

Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times recalls covering the Raiders in 1996. New Bears head coach John Fox quit as the defensive coordinator late in the exhibition season after an apparent dispute with owner Al Davis. This one should make Bears fans feel a little better about last season’s version of their team. A little.

“If you thought the 2014 Bears were rife with dysfunction, you should’ve seen the Raiders in the mid-1990s. Strange seasons, such as the one the Bears endured in 2014, were the norm for them.

“Davis’ bizarre leadership created paranoia so profound that [the Raiders head coach Mike] White refused to identify the person responsible for calling offensive plays. He insisted plays were called by committee, with himself, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and offensive line coach Joe Bugel all offering input before a call was made prior to the play clock expiring.

“Yeah, right. I was a beat reporter covering the team that season. By midseason, I would ask Fassel to comment about the weather because it was the only subject he could discuss without fear of repercussion. His daily weather updates became a running joke.”

In all seriousness, I’m starting to worry about Fox’s apparent penchant for clashing with high level organizational employees. At least his parting with the Broncos was apparently more amicable.

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the topic:

“… Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway seemingly questioned Fox’s desire to win after the sides parted ways last week.

“Fox’s peculiar departure from the Broncos raises a red flag. Coaches with 46-18 regular-season records and four division titles in the last four seasons don’t get the boot often.”

Technically, Elway didn’t question Fox’s desire to win. He questioned the team’s fire. When describing Fox he used words like “tenacious”.

Still, its noticeable that the quotes in the articles in local newspapers have mostly come from players in Fox’s days with Carolina. In fact, I can’t remember a single one from a current Bronco. It does make one wonder what went on there. In that regard, this article from Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com where he details reports from the Denver media is worth a read.

Bottom line, here’s hoping he and Bears general manager Ryan Pace remain on the same page.

Reeling in the “Big Fish”? And Other Points of View

Bears

  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune has started calling new general manager Ryan Pace “Harry Potter”. Very amusing.
  • Hub Arkush, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, uses flawed logic to discourage too much consideration of John Fox as the Bears head coach:

    “Most of what you hear is that with the youth and inexperience of general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears need an experienced hand with a proven track record in the coach’s spot to guide the team and help guide their young GM. That makes absolutely no sense.

    “If the Bears hired Pace thinking he wasn’t quite ready and needed a mentor to train him, then it’s a really bad hire.”

    “In what universe do employees teach and tell their bosses what to do?”

    No one that I have read or talked to has suggested that Fox be hired so that he can tell Pace what to do. His experience and advice would be valuable. That’s a completely different thing.

    “The most exciting thing about Pace’s arrival is his youth, the newness of everything around him and the clean break from all the frustrations of the last 25-plus years.

    “A coach who already has failed twice and was just fired casts a pall over all of that.”

    A. “the newness of everything around him and the clean break from all the frustrations of the last 25-plus years” has nothing to do with youth. It has to do with a hire who has had nothing to do with previous regimes. It has to do with fresh ideas. Pace’s youth does not excite me nor, I’m sure, does it excite many other people.

    B. Being fired twice does not equate with failing twice. Fox had ideas about how to “fix” a Bronco’s team that was already very successful that didn’t jib with John Elway‘s. The fact that Elway was looking for complete change is supported by the fact that he let the coaching staff go rather than promoting from within and keeping the staff. The guess here is that Elway wanted a fresh face to invigorate the team, something that Fox wouldn’t be able to bring after 4 years on the job no matter how good of a coach he was. That’s not “failure” in my book.

    “What’s going to happen the first time the young buck has to tell the wizened old coach he’s wrong and he’s going to do it his way?”

    “And what happens if that starts to happen a lot?”

    Probably nothing. The guess here is that Fox isn’t the kind of guy who won’t accept authority no matter who represents it but if he is, then he’s not the right hire for that reason, not because of the age difference.

    I dont’ see the same drawbacks to Fox that Arkush does. That’s not to say I don’t see any. Fox’s record is for success against what I consider to be weaker divisions without teams like the Packers. That concerns me. I’m not saying that Doug Marrone is the better hire but at least he’s had to compete with Bill Belichick.

  • David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune thinks Marrone is the wrong hire. That alone makes me wonder if he isn’t the right choice.
  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune summarizes what I consider to be the one significant argument for both Fox and Marrone:

    “Fox would be the Bears’ first coach with previous head coaching experience since George Halas re-hired himself in 1958. Since 1968, the organization has hired nine first-time coaches who combined for only one championship — Mike Ditka‘s 1985 team. Is that a meaningful pattern? Perhaps we’ll find out.”

    Yes, I think its meaningful. I think if you’ve got three guys on top of the organization who either aren’t football guys (George McCaskey and Ted Phillips) or have never hired a coach before (Pace), hiring someone with a concrete record to judge them by is probably the way to go about it. Hiring anyone else is really just a matter of gut instinct. Does anyone trust the instincts of any of those three, yet?

    Campbell goes on to do a good job of summarizing the arguments for and against Fox. It’s a better read than most.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

I find the media frenzy associated with the potential Fox hire amusing. This article from Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune is typical:

“Within a success-starved fan base that certainly has plenty of scar tissue still present from the [Dave] McGinnis episode [of the 1990’s] as well as a long stretch of relative irrelevance in the Super Bowl conversation, a fear factor had crept in. Could the Bears really let a big fish get away at such a critical time?”

I get it. It would be nice to have a coach with previous experience for once. And we’re all anxious to see a head coach hired as soon as possible. But we’re not talking about Bill Walsh here. As far as I’m concerned, I would be almost as comfortable with Marrone if Pace was. Fox has his share of negatives and its notable that no one else is or was interviewing him for their positions.

I’m not saying he’s the wrong choice. I’m fine with him. But “big fish” is quite an exaggeration.