Detroit Lions Are Down but Far From Out

Eric-EbronDave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press comments upon the improvement of tight end Eric Ebron this year:

“Ebron has been a revelation in the Lions’ offense through two games, leading the team with two touchdowns and ranking third behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate with nine catches for 96 yards.”

“‘(He’s) improved,’ Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. ‘The last two weeks, he’s caught the ball pretty well and made some plays for us. So I think he’s — his arrow of improvement is heading in the right direction.'”

Ebron is looking to improve the numbers he put up in last year’s disappointing rookie season — 25 catches for 248 yards.  He’s well on his way to doing that and his emergence is just one reason why the Lions offense should be better than last year’s version.

The Lions are 0-2 and a lot of people are jumping ship on them after a very encouraging preseason. But I’m not. The Lions have four big weapons on offense in Ebron, Johnson, Tate and Ameer Abdullah. The Lion defense certainly misses Ndamukong Suh and they’ve under-performed without him.  But they’ve been without linebacker DeAndrey Levy, who is doubtful again this week but his return will eventually give that defense a boost..

The Lions lost to the Vikings last week but the game was in Minnesota. I don’t think that they should be counted out yet and I can’t get past the feeling that they are going to make some noise in the NFC North before it’s all over.

It’s the Brad Biggs Show Today. And Other Points of View.

Bears

    • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reviews the film from Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals:

      Eddie Royal looks out of position on the outside, and that’s the way it’s going to be without Alshon Jeffery (and Kevin White). Undrafted rookie Cameron Meredith flashed a little at the very end and might be worth looking at in place of Marquess Wilson, who is not maximizing his playing time.”

      Royal insisted during the preseason that he was looking forward to proving that he’s more than a slot receiver. But I think we all understood that wasn’t what he was signed to do. Wilson has, once again, been a major disappointment. He was targeted five times for only one catch and 10 yards. It may be time to accept that he’s the seventh round pick that he is.

    • Biggs continues:

      “Bennett needed to run a better route on the Jefferson interception, but the ball was behind him. Period. He didn’t get enough chances as he was targeted only six times. With Jeffery out, the Bears needed to do a better job of highlighting him in the passing game.”

      I noted in my game comments that the Bears came out in double tightend, throwing to both Bennett and Zack Miller. But they didn’t carry it through the game.

    • It’s the Brad Biggs show today, folks:

“Right guard Vladimir Ducasse added two more penalties to give him four. Even if the holding call looked questionable, that is a problem. Right tackle Kyle Long is in a tough spot with a cast on his right hand.”

Those who insisted that it was a good idea to move Long to tackle and wonder why it took so long should take note here. I’m not saying it was the wrong thing to do but if Jordan Mills had these kinds of penalties, the town would be burning him in effigy. I’m not at all sure that putting Charles Leno in at tackle and letting him develop wasn’t the right thing to do. He probably wouldn’t be much worse than Ducasse and he has a higher ceiling.

    • On a day when I have to believe that the Bears are desperately searching for a solution at quarterback, I have to once again agree with Biggs that they must surely be looking forward to having Tracy Porter available. He’s been out with a hamstring injury but believes that he’s getting closer to being ready to play. Terrance Mitchell is also a possibility. He got burned by Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday and admits that he made a mistake in hesitating on the tackle, saying, “I should have just come up harder, you know what I am saying?” I do, indeed. But I’m concerned that his football instincts didn’t tell him that. It looked ot me like he lacked confidence and I’m not sure its the kind of thing you can teach.
    • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com gives out some pretty harsh grades but with this caveat:

“It is also fair to point out that as well coached as the Bears looked against the Packers, they didn’t appear well prepared for Arizona, and John Fox and company should be looking in the mirror this week as well as at the tape.”

Gotta disagree with Hub, there. I liked the offensive game plan before quarterback Jay Cutler got hurt and there’s only so much you can do on defense with that talent. The Bear biggest problem in relation to their performance in week one was the penalties and the turnovers. I suppose that could be coaching but I’m inclined to believe it was a team effort.

Elsewhere

  • I know that Bears fans are feeling pretty sorry for themselves right now. But at least they aren’t the Detroit Lions. The Lions are 0-2. Their next three opponents? vs. Denver Broncos, at Seattle Seahawks and home vs. Arizona Cardinals. That looks to me like 0-5, folks.
  • I didn’t see the game but by all reports they came out flat and gave a subpar performance again this week against Tampa Bay. I’m starting to wonder if head coach Sean Payton isn’t on the hot seat. If he isn’t, I’m wondering if he should be.
  • It appears that Kam Chancellor made a major miscalculation in holding out for the first three games this year. Yes, the Seahawks were worse without him but they never budged in negotiations. According to Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com Chancellor racked up $1.1 million in fines and the team could demand that he return $500,000 in signing bonus money now that he’s ended his hold out. He’s also missed two game checks. The team would undoubtedly like to be lenient but I can’t imagine that they think they can afford to be so. This is a good team with a lot of players that will undoubtedly want more money over the next couple years. Letting Chancellor off the hook in any way encourages them to follow his lead.
  • Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has the unenviable task of preparing his 0-2 team to play the Bengals this weekend. He says that the Bengals are the best team in the NFL. Right now, to my eye, he’s right.
  • There are a lot of reasons why the Dolphins are not living up to the preseason hype. But Omar Kelly at the Sun-Sentinel is spot on when he says that the team has to get tougher and run the ball more.
  • How good has running back Dion Lewis been for the Patriots? He’s fumbled twice in two games but head coach Bill Belichick can’t afford to put him in his dog house.
  • Michael Rand at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “A younger, dumber, childless version of myself might have been tempted to take a press release from the Vikings about installing breastfeeding/lactation suites at TCF Bank Stadium (and eventually U.S. Bank Stadium) and make a few lame jokes along with the information.” Count me in as being both young and dumb.

One Final Thought

He just now came to this conclusion? VERY, VERY NSFW.

Plenty on the Line in Lions-Vikings Divisional Rivalry

Yahoo Sports
Yahoo Sports

Josh Katzenstein at the Detroit News emphasizes that the Lions have more to worry about than Adrian Peterson Sunday:

“The Lions faced wide receiver Mike Wallace last year as the speedster caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown with the Dolphins in Week 10. On Sunday, the Lions will see him on a new team, the Vikings, and despite limited film of him in Minnesota’s offense, they’re expecting the same deep threat.

“‘He’s been in this league a little while, and he can run,’ Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of the seven-year veteran. ‘He can create problems for you. That’s the one thing I think that we don’t underestimate is they got speed on the outside. They can run and they can give you some problems.'”

Wallace wasn’t well utilized in Miami largely because throwing deep isn’t quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s forte. It really isn’t Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater‘s, either, but the Lions will be packing eight the box (at least) in an effort to stop Peterson and that should open things up for Bridgewater in a way things probably never did for Tannehill.

This Minnesota – Detroit game carries a lot of significance. Each of these teams lost last week and looked bad doing it, the Vikings to the 49ers on Monday night and the Lions after a poor second half performance against the Chargers. The loser will have started 0-2 and will be digging themselves out of a big hole.

But, even more than that, both of these teams are planning to go to the playoffs. Assuming the Packers are going, that only leaves one other divisional team to take a wild card spot with the other facing a serious uphill battle. We’ll have a much better idea of who the division’s breakout playoff team is likely to be after this week.

Quick Comments from Selected Late Sunday NFL Games

Some quick observations on some of the games that I caught late in the day after the Bears game was over.

Broncos – Ravens:

There was a huge question about Peyton Manning‘s arm before their game against the Ravens this weak. Manning has been struggling with his arm strength all preseason and has put up some ugly game tape. Pre-game reports that he’d been putting more zip on the ball after starting to wear a glove on his throwing hand, something he didn’t do in the preseason. However, I’m inclined to attribute more of it to the huge windup he’s developed in an effort to get more behind his throws. He was also much more inaccurate than he has been in the past.

Manning actually didn’t do too badly. But that long release may haunt him all season, as it did on a Jimmy Smith pick six on Manning’s first throw of the second half.

On the other side Denver constantly harassed Joe Flacco with a ferocious pass rush. Both Denver and Baltimore struggled to protect their quarterbacks and I’m now officially concerned about both of these offensive lines.

Finally, Terrell Suggs‘s torn achilles will keep him out for the year. That’s bad news for my Ravens Super Bowl pick.

Titans – Buccaneers:

The Jameis WinstonMarcus Mariota match up looked very much like you’d expect it it.

Mariota looked far more pro-ready, being in command of the offense the entire game against that nice, standard cover-two defense. He threw four touchdowns in the first half alone.

Winston was far more up and down, mostly down, as he was in the preseason. Winston has quit a way to go before he’s going to be a competent NFL quarterback and its going to be a long season for the Bucs.

Another thing to keep an eye on is that Buccaneer running game, which looked very effective. If Winston develops at all, he’s going to get a lot of help from some wonderful running by Doug Martin.

The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.

Chargers – Lions:

Preseason reports had people wondering if Chargers first round running back Melvin Gordon was headed towards bust territory. I wouldn’t say that Gordon looked bad so much as he looked disappointingly nondescript. But as expected, the Lions Ameer Abdulla was the guy to watch in this game. His tendency to accelerate through his cuts and continue to gain momentum is rapidly putting him into an upper class of running backs.

There should be concern about that Lions defense without Ndamukong Suh. The Chargers dissected them in the second half both in the running game and with the pass. They made it look far too easy for any Lions fan comfort. Or for the comfort of the Bears, who are going to be visiting San Diego in November.

I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with Matthew Stafford but he looked awful in this game. You might generously say that he wasn’t on the same page with his receivers but his accuracy was very suspect. This is a situation to keep an eye on in the competitive NFC North.

Cardinals – Saints:

The Bears next opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. My initial impression watching them beat up on the New Orleans Saints is that this is a rough, tough team up front on both sides of the ball. If the Bears run on this team like they did on the Packers in the first half, more power to them. I have my doubts.

The Saints looked completely flat. I’m really surprised as offseason reports indicated that they were muscling up to become more physical. If they did, they didn’t show it. Sean Payton didn’t have this team prepared to play in this game. The Saints have to pick it up.

Cowboys – Giants

Tony Romo had ages to throw the ball in this game. That Dallas offensive line is a wall. No one got close. And they road graders blocking the run. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better offensive line.

The Cowboys are a tough team. Which why I was shocked that the Giants were actually ahead at half. They were badly out played and the statistics were sick – they only had the ball for about 8 minutes of the half. But the Cowboys kept shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers and but you have to give the Giants credit. They hung tough.

The Giants offensive line wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Cowboys but Erik Flowers looks like he’s going to turn out to be a pretty good pick at left tackle. And of course, they have Odell Beckham, who drew a safety rolled to his side all night. I was also impressed by their coverage teams on special teams. But they were out classed you figured that they were eventually going to lose – and they did.  But the Cowboys did everything they could to give it away.

When Sacrificing Your Body Isn’t Enough. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Hub Arkush at ChicagoFootball.com thinks that nose tackle Terry Williams stood out on Thursday night and I’d agree. But here’s what I thought was the really interesting observation:

    “Now, I’m not so sure Tayo Fabuluje isn’t the second best tackle on the Bears – not including Kyle Long, of course – and shouldn’t be moved into the starting lineup at right tackle.

    “If the Bears are going to have to cover for and live with mistakes from their right tackle, why not suffer with a player with a huge upside.”

    I’ll be honest. I watched Fabuluje during the game and thought the same thing. But the thought was too ridiculous and I forgot about it. But if I wasn’t the only one to notice, maybe its not such a stupid thought after all. Fabuluje moves well for a big man. But there would be a lot of growing pains and most of them would be inflicted upon quarterback Jay Cutler.

    Hub was also happy with David Fales but here I’ll very mildly disagree. I’d have liked to have seen him go down field with the ball more. The same could be said for Jay Cutler. Good for him in that he’s not turning the ball over. But he’s not making any plays, either. John Mullin at csnchicago.com agrees:

    “The other shoe, however, is doing something with the football while you’re not giving it away, and that hasn’t dropped for the 2015 Bears. The No. 1 offense didn’t score a touchdown on any of those 80 Cutler snaps.”

    Cutler’s defenders will point out that he didn’t have Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White or Eddie Royal. Nonsense. All that tells me is that Cutler still can’t throw a receiver open with anticipation. Other people see improvement in Cutler this preseason. I see a guy who will once again be middle of the pack statistically but who will head an offense that won’t be able disciplined enough to run the ball consistently and won’t be able to pass its way out of trouble. Cutler won’t – and will never – produce enough to win.

  • Jeff Dickerson says that he “can’t rule out” the possibility that the Bears would be interested in RGIII. Heaven help us all.
  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune comments upon Thursday’s game against the Browns:

    “Maybe it’s a result of the lesser quality of opponent throughout the practice games, but it looks like Mason Foster should be starting ahead of [Shea] McClellin or Christian Jones.”

    Just watching the game, I would agree with this. But Foster was cut on Friday. Get used to it.

    To those who genuinely believe that the Bears are going to defy predictions this season and compete for the division, Foster should be a warning sign. The Bears are rebuilding and nothing says that louder than cutting Foster before younger linebackers like John Timu, and Jonathan Anderson. The Bears are evaluating based upon future potential, not present performance.

Elsewhere

  • Related to my comment on Cutler above, Mike Rothstein at ESPN.com answers your Lions questions:

    Q: “I still don’t see nearly enough shots. [Matthew] Stafford has been good but very few passes traveling more than 20 yards.”

    A: “It’s the preseason, so you aren’t going to see a ton of shots. Plus, Calvin Johnson wasn’t on the field at all during the exhibition season so that is going to limit the shots taken anyway. I don’t expect the Lions to turn into an Air Raid offense or anything, but with a healthy Calvin Johnson, a more experienced Eric Ebron and a returning Golden Tate, the chances are there to take more shots downfield. It wouldn’t shock me to see if the Lions take one or two more big play shots per game — but not too much more than that.”

    I was down on the Lions after they lost Ndamukong Suh. And I was dead wrong. They’ve been very impressive in the preseason, both offensively and defensively. Unlike the Bears, they do show signs of being disciplined enough to run the ball with a nice stable of runningbacks, most notably rookie Ameer Abdullah.

    It’s going to be a big year in the NFC North with the Packers, the Lions and the Vikings all showing signs of being playoff level football teams and the Bears have a great opportunity to play spoiler. Failing to take care of business against the Bears could be the difference between a wild card and being on the outside looking in for any of them.

  • Something to keep an eye on within the division is the Vikings kicking situation. Blair Walsh signed what is a lucrative contract extension (for a kicker) with the team in the offseason. Now he’s missing field goals all over the field in the preseason and there’s a great deal of concern in Minnesota. A valid question to ask is whether the team will start going for two point conversions rather than risk Walsh missing extra points. There’s a case to be made that any good offensive team that thinks they can gain two yards more than half the time in such a situation should be doing it anyway.

One Final Thought

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times quotes Timu on his experiences as a three-time captain at Washington:

“‘Our thing was, ‘Sacrifice your body and glorify your soul for the team,’’ he said. ‘I took that mindset out of (Washington) and brought it here as a Chicago Bear.'”

Are the Bears Really the Worst Team in the NFL?

I’m sorry for my long absence from this space but they’ve been asking me to work for a living this summer and my life has been busy.  You may, however, rest assured that I’ve been following Bears news very closely.  To prove it, I’ll quote this article from this morning’s Chicago Tribune by Bernie Lincicome which asks the question from which this post takes its title:

“This Bears team is no better than the one that lost its last five games, and probably a worse one, a team that has permission to be as awful as it should be, a team marking time until it can rid itself of [quarterback JayCutler, lose the well worn Matt Forte as well, and become relevant again.”

I recently represented the Bears on a podcast where the host asked me what I thought would be a good year for the Bears.  He stated that though the Bears were down, he still thought they would place third in the division.  It was everything I could do to keep from laughing at him.

Most fans around the NFL really don’t understand why the local fans are so down on the Bears.  That’s because they didn’t have to watch them every week for the last 10 games of last season.  Some of those fans from other cities might, maybe, have seen their teams blown out, giving up 50 points in a game.  Less would have seen a game where almost all of those points were scored by halftime.  I’d venture that none of them have ever had to see it two game weekends in a row in their entire lives.

As a Patriots fan, that host will never know what its like to have a quarterback and his girl friend flash up a “51” signal on Twitter after a defeat of his team.  Very few others will have any idea what its like to see such a thing followed by having the quarterback for the team’s biggest rival complain about having a sore back from standing on the sidelines and watching for so long the very next game.  The Chicago Bears weren’t just a bad football team.  They were a laughing stock.  A soft, squishy, weak, roll-over-and-play-dead laughing stock.

Fans from other places see the Cubs and the White Sox and the Bulls and the Blackhawks and they don’t understand.  Once training camp starts, all anyone talks about around here is football.  To endure a season like the one last year literally left people not wanting to get out of bed on Monday.

I say this to you in dead seriousness.  As bad as they were last year, I’d have rather been a Tennessee Titans fan than a Bears fan.  At least they were competitive and fought in every game.  Indeed, even the much maligned Buccaneers managed to hang tough most of the time.

I don’t mind rooting for a loser.  But I can’t stand rooting for a loser that consistently goes belly up and quits.  That’s what the Bears did last year for most of the last 2/3 of the season.  They disgraced the citizens of a tough-minded city that literally lives and dies with the sport.

Will they be the worst team in 2015?  It depends.  Virtually everyone agrees that you aren’t going to be able to depend on the defense.  New coaches will help but the last I checked, coaches still need talent to win football games and proven talent outside of defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff is hard to come by on that side of the ball.

Fans like to point to the proven talent on offense and there’s a lot to like at the skill positions.  Lincicome may not think much of Forte but I do.  And there’s tight end Martellus Bennett, assuming he doesn’t let his contract situation affect his play.  And I like Alshon Jeffery better than any wide receiver in the division outside of Calvin Johnson.  People like to point to the Packers Jordy Nelson but fail to account for the fact that Nelson has Aaron Rodgers and that Jeffery has never had a quarterback throw him open in his entire career.  That’s because Jeffery has Cutler.  And as good as some of the players on that offense are, I can’t imagine Cutler finally learning to throw with anticipation to a receiver or becoming any more mentally tough at the age of 32.  Add that to a renewed reliance on the running game without revamping the offensive line that couldn’t block for it last year and I can’t imagine this team will ever ride the back of the offense to win when it counts.

But these problems won’t be what will determine whether the Bears are the worst team in football in 2015.  What will make the difference is what made them the worst team in my book in 2014.  Given that they won’t be able to get out there and play linebacker for them, the real challenge that this coaching staff faces is to instill some guts in this group.  If they do, I would call that progress.

On the other hand, if this team doesn’t find itself some heart, we’re in for another unwatchable nightmare.

NFC North Starters and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers my question about whether Bears draft pick Adrian Amos is more of a threat to Ryan Mundy or Antrel Rolle. My assumption when I asked this question was that Rolle would play free safety, as he did last year with the Giants, and that Mundy would play strong safety where the Bears would take advantage of his good tackling efficiency. Amos would fit better at free. But to my surprise, Biggs indicates that there is some question about whether Rolle will be at strong safety. Rolle might fit better as a strong safety as to my eye his range is decreasing. But this wouldn’t play to Mundy’s strengths. Who plays what will be an interesting question to keep an eye on when training camp starts.
  • Biggs also answers a question about whether the Bears will keep four nose tackles with the signing of undrafted free agent Terry Williams. The question assumes that Jeremiah Ratliff will play nose tackle, something I’m not too sure he’ll be doing. He could also play end. Another thing to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Conor Orr at nfl.com predicts the Bears starters for 2015. I thought it was interesting that he has Hroniss Grasu moving immediately in as the starter at center. Many think Grasu will need a year of seasoning at guard and/or on the bench before being asked to handle the duties at center. Orr also says that the Bears have “sneaky depth” along the defensive line. I fail to see that.

Elsewhere

  • Orr predicts the 2015 starters for the Lions. I’ve been predicting a fall for the Lions this year for a while. The long standing problem of a poor defensive backfield and the new problem along the defensive line with the departure of Ndamukong Suh could be a very problematic combination for them.
  • Orr thinks that there’s a lot to like about the Vikings starters. Unlike the Lions, they seem to have finally solved their chronic problem at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Combined with a strong front seven they’re going to be tough on defense. They finally have a quarterback to go with Adrian Peterson on offense. ’nuff said.
  • Orr points out that the Packers didn’t entirely solve their two greatest problems this offseason – weaknesses at cornerback and inside linebacker. He doesn’t think first round draft pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, will be ready to start as a rookie. The Packers coaching staff will once again have to earn their money this year.
  • Orr also pens an article in which analysts Brian Baldinger and former cornerback Solomon Wilcots discuss what the New York Jets are going to do with what is suddenly an excess of good defensive linemen. Leonard Williams unexpectedly fell to them in the draft and he was too good to pass up. The conclusion? Go to the 4-6 defense. This is a fascinating read as both analysts speculate that the combination of the right personnel, the right coach and the right defense to stop the suddenly resurgent power running game in the NFL all combine to make this an interesting possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this Jets defense. It has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com says that the owners meetings are mostly hot air insisting that there aren’t many real stories to be had there. One thing I’ll take issue with is his statement on the race that the Rams, Chargers and Raiders are in to get to LA. He insists that “the reality is none of those teams is any closer to L.A. today than is has been at any time in the past”. On the contrary. The reality is that Stan Kroenke is well on his way to building a real stadium which is going to have to be filled by a real team. Someone’s going to do that. We’re a lot closer to seeing at least one team leave than in times past.

One Final Thought

One other thing in Hub’s article that I’m going to choose to take issue with is his continued, emotional defense of the Patriots in the “deflate-gate” scandal. Particularly his statement that Tom Brady and the NFLPA will “take their case to court as they did with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and a truly unbiased judge will throw out the suspension completely after exposing it and the Wells report for the farces they are”.

I’ve stayed away from this as far as the blog is concerned because, after an initial gut reaction on the topic, I’ve decided that I’m not too worried about it. It’s not about football. It’s about the business that surrounds football and I’m not too interested in promoting that.

Nevertheless, I must say that I’d be very surprised if this went to court because in that case Brady would be forced to turn over his electronic communications under subpoena. That’s something I doubt very much he’d be willing to do given that he wouldn’t do it when he and his agent had control over what got turned over during the Wells investigation and wouldn’t do it. The Rice and Peterson cases were different – no one was withholding evidence. And let’s be honest, that’s what this case is all about now. When you are the NFL and you are charged with the investigation of a rules violations (or anything else) and you don’t have subpoena power, you are entirely dependent on the cooperation of everyone involved. That means you have to throw the book at teams that lawyer up in an effort to affect the outcome of the investigation and/or withhold evidence. It’s the only card the league can play in order to allow them to keep order in the league. As was the case with the Saints’ “bounty-gate” scandal, that’s what’s behind the severity of the punishment here.

In any case, I think we may be looking at a situation where Brady would prefer that the doubt about his guilt persists, even if the fact that he didn’t completely cooperate with the investigation does, as well.

NFC North Roundtable

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Adam Bringedahl (Detroit Lions), Brian Slattery (Green Bay Packers), Davey Randa (Minnesota Vikings) and I review hot topics currently affecting the NFC North and the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft in . We worked hard on this and I think it came out reasonably light and funny. Give it a listen and don’t miss the where all 32 representatives participated in a mock draft in preparation for the upcoming real thing tomorrow. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Martellus Bennett. Again. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Regular readers of this blog will know that I participated in a mock draft with other fans around the country representing all 32 teams.  Former ESPN producer Jay Soderberg put us all together to explain our picks in a podcast.  The first 16 picks are located here.  I, of course, made the Bears pick at number seven.  I also came on and defended the Titans’ pick (though I didn’t make it).  Part two is located here where I helped discuss what Buffalo will do in the last ten minutes of the podcast (they were without a first round pick).
  • Former Super Bowl winning head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and I  see 100% eye to eye on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks at the Bears newly released schedule and says it looks like 7-9. I figure if the Bears split with the Vikings and Lions that sounds about right.
  • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com reviews the personnel record of Bears general manager Ryan Pace. Pace found some good offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft. Other than that, his record is disturbingly mediocre. Atkins isn’t too tough on him but he implies that Pace and Director of Player Personnel Josh Lucas need to do better if they want to turn the Bears around. I can only agree.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com rates the need to draft a quarterback as “low”, pointing out that even though Pace has said he’d like to draft one every year, they didn’t do it in New Orleans. But New Orleans had Drew Brees not Jay Cutler. It’s an interesting evaluation of the current roster situation.

    One of the things I’ll be most interested in seeing on Friday or (more likely) Saturday is if the Bears take a quarterback, particularly in the second or third round. Bears head coach John Fox and Pace have gone out of their way to not sound too thrilled with Cutler in their comments to the media. But, as I said yesterday, it’s actions that count not words. If the Bears draft a quarterback, particularly in a round high enough to reasonably expect said quarterback to start at some point in the future, then I’ll believe that Fox’s and Pace’s words are more than just a motivational ploy for Cutler.

  • Jeff Dickerson at ESPN actually had a fan ask him if it was possible San Diego would trade Philip Rivers for Cutler straight up. [head shake].
  • Dickerson also reports that Martellus Bennett isn’t showing up for voluntary workouts. Given that he just signed a new deal in March 2013, I think the odds are good this isn’t about his contract. It’s more likely Bennett saying to himself, “‘Voluntary’ means ‘voluntary’. I don’t feel like showing up so I won’t.”

    No one will argue that Bennett isn’t within his rights. We all know that Bennett marches to the beat of his own drum. I won’t repeat what I said in a previous post on Bennett last summer. Bennet apparently hasn’t learned much since then.

    If Fox didn’t know what a job he had in front of him building an esprit de corps amongst the players, he knows now. He wouldn’t have gotten far with Lance Briggs still on the team. I’m not suggesting they immediately trade Bennett (they probably couldn’t without it looking punitive, anyway) but you do start to wonder how far Fox will get as long a Bennett is still around, as well. I wouldn’t mind an extra pick in next year’s draft. If Bennett causes the same kind of trouble this summer he did last summer – and I’d say he’s on his way – we may not see him around for 2016.

Elsewhere

  • Rob Demovsky at ESPN predicts the results of each Packers game. He has them at 11-5. It’s entirely possible that at the moment they’d be favored in every game.
  • Matt Forte isn’t the only division player who has decided to forego offseason workouts. According to Michael Rothstein at ESPN, Lions safety James Ihedigbo won’t be showing up to any voluntary workouts until he gets a new contract. Ihedigbo was a fairly important component of the Lions defense last year. All indications are he’ll be there for the mandatory workouts and I doubt this will have much effect on anyone.
  • ESPN‘s Scouts Inc. has posted their board with all of the players they have a draftable grade on stacked by position. For those without and Insiders subscription I’ll tell you the first and most important relevant takeaway – they have 20 players with a first round grade. The round has 32 slots. Should be interesting.

One Final Thought

Mullin continues to point out the distinct possibility that Jimmy Clausen could provide a moderate level of competition for Cutler. Clausen “played creditably against one of the elite NFL defenses (Detroit) after four years of no-play and coming in with a short practice week after the Monday night loss to New Orleans, further shortened by Marc Trestman canceling the Wednesday practice before the Detroit game.” Bears head coach John Fox obviously likes Clausen a great deal personally despite his struggles in Carolina just as current Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has said he does. So there must be something there that makes people at least want him to succeed.

People think I’m pushing Clausen because I don’t like Cutler and don’t believe he’ll ever succeed at a high level. And they’re right. But I’m also not stupid. I know that Cutler will very likely win such a competition based upon talent. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that with a good showing in camp and in the pre-season, Clausen could see time at quarterback if Cutler stumbles. Clausen’s going to be a genuine alternative and the guess here is that the Bears are going to be only one more game like the one against New Orleans in 2014 from once again seeing him.

When Is Due Diligence Called For and When Isn’t It?

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times profiles defensive tackle Danny Shelton:

“[G]iven that the team will morph into 4-3 defense on nickel and dime situations, the Bears could be cautious drafting someone who could be limited to two downs.”

“The 6-foot-2, 339-pounder has been compared to Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork. But he’s athletic enough that, growing up, he wanted to be Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.”

“He showed that athleticism when, in the rival Apple Cup matchup with Washington State this year, he barrel-rolled along the ground at line of scrimmage before the snap, lining up in a new position, and then sacked the quarterback.”

Having looked at some video of Shelton I can say that the comparison to Wilfork is a pretty good one. He’s plenty athletic and I think its entirely possible that he could be more than a two down player. But even as a two down player he’d be valuable. Finley points out that the Bears might be better off drafting a pass rusher – and they might. But there’s a decent chance that with proven 4-3 defensive ends like Jared Allen and Willie Young on the team, any pass rusher they take could well be restricted to being a two down player as well.

But here’s the paragraph that really caught my eye.

“Shelton talked extensively with the Bears at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Scouting Combine, and, he said, with a Chicago scout after that. His only official visit after the combine was with the Browns, though he said teams have learned enough about him during his showcases to not need one-on-one visits.”

Do the Bears do their “due diligence” by brining in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – two players who are unlikely to be there at the seventh pick. They bring in Mario Edwards and T.J. Clemmings presumably on the off chance they find a way to trade down. But they don’t bring in Shelton, who is likely to be there when you pick and who fits the defense to a T? And not just the Bears – nobody seems to be brining him in.

I don’t get this. Each team gets 30 visits with prospects. The Packers general manager Ted Thompson restricts his mostly to low round players and free agents who weren’t at the Combine. That makes sense. But if you are a team like the Bears, how do you decide which prospects you do “due diligence on” and which you don’t?

The process seems random. Hopefully its not.