NFL Points of View Week 16

Parts of this article were originally published to Phinmaniacs on December 23.

Here are some thoughts on he state of the NFL entering week 16


1.  The major issue in Buffalo right now is whether Rex Ryan will keep his job.  Reports for weeks have indicated that he will be fired any time now as the team will look to get an early jump on the market for coaches in the offseason.  However, one report in particular is more puzzling than the rest.
Adam Schefter of ESPN has said that the Bills are not only “preparing to move on from Ryan” once the season comes to a close, which would end his run with the team after two years, but that 1)  Ryan is aware of this and 2) general manager Doug Whaley will remain and will hire the new coach.

Both aspects of this report defy logic.  Let’s concentrate on the first.

If ownership had, indeed, decided to fire Ryan there would be no reason to tell him or, if they did, it would only be to, you know, fire him.

No one could expect a head coach to do his job optimally under conditions where he already knew he was gone and there would be no reason to expect him to.  Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula would surely pick an interim coach.

It is possible that ownership has, indeed, decided to fire Ryan but would rather see him coach out the string than give an interim coach a chance simply because they want a fresh start and don’t want an interim coach to make a case that he’s earned the job.  That would be understandable but there would be no way you would tell Ryan if that were the case.


2.  I also find the second aspect of this report, that Whaley will remain, to be less that logical.
Sure, it’s possible that Whaley has a good relationship with ownership and that they’d be more comfortable with him staying on. But good owners won’t let that stop them from making a change where the evidence indicates that its necessary.  The suggestion that Whaley should be given the opportunity to blow a third head coaching hire is less than sane.  Whaley also hired Doug Marrone in 2013.

The question here is what has Whaley ever done to deserve the loyalty of ownership?  He’s been with the team since 2010 and general manager since 2013 and the team has seen nothing but misery ever since.

Most importantly, Whaley’s draft record has not been exactly stellar.  For instance, he was integral in convincing the organization to draft E.J. Manual in the first round, far above the value most people put on him.  All agree it was a major mistake that crippled the franchise for years.

More recently in 2016 he took Shaq Lawson despite the fact that NFL teams had flagged his shoulder injury during medical checks at the Combine in February. Lawson was eventually shut down for half the season as the shoulder required surgery.  One league source told Pro Football Talk that, “His shoulder was so bad it would have dislocated tying his shoes.”  And yet the Bills still drafted him.

It also didn’t help that second round pick Reggie Ragland landed on IR before the season started after he tore his ACL.  Third round pick Adolphus Washington has been only so-so with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Whaley, himself, said before the season that he bears responsibility for the performance of his draft classes.

“If they don’t perform, then they’re not going to play,” Whaley said. “We’re going to play the best people. We think they’re the best people, and if they come in and don’t perform that well, then we didn’t do our job right. So that’s on us. I have no problem with that.”

And yet here we are with Ryan shouldering the blame for a lost season while Whaley reportedly escapes Scott-free.  Go figure.


3.  The Dolphins have been emphasizing that the declining production from running back Jay Ajayi is “not his fault” over and over again through the last couple of weeks. And I could not agree more with this message.  It is, in fact, no one’s “fault”.
No matter who the team is and no matter what their position, one message that defensive players repeat constantly is that they have to stop the run.  Running plays are generally “safe” and assuming the running back can simply hold on to the ball, few bad things can come from doing it.  No defense can afford to allow an offense to simply run over them.  It is a sure path to defeat.

Because of this, teams must concentrate on stopping Ajayi and the Dolphin running game, usually by bring an extra man into the box (i.e. close to the line of scrimmage where he can be more effective at helping against the running game).  That leaves one fewer man to cover receivers deep.  So the harder a team has to concentrate on stopping your running game, the more it opens up the pass.

That is why Dolphins head coach Adam Gase has stuck with the run despite its apparently lack of success.  Against the Jets they ran the ball a staggering 60% of the time despite gaining only 2.5 yards per carry.  The game before that it was 55% and only 2.7 ypc in a win against Arizona.  And perhaps not coincidentally, they ran the ball only 16 times and 29% of the time in their only loss in the last three games against the Ravens.

Yes, a really great offensive line like the Cowboys could run the ball effectively against an eight man front and ideally you would like the Dolphins to have that.

“We don’t want [Ajayi] to be frustrated because we haven’t quite got the results we are looking for,” Gase said. “We’ve run into some tough defenses. We have another one ahead of us this week. They are going to try to stop the run and make us one-dimensional. That’s what most teams have tried to do with us the last nine games.”

Nevertheless, no matter how many yards it results in directly, the more Gase sticks with the run, the more good things will happen.

On Saturday, Ajayi faces a Buffalo team that he trampled for 214 yards on 28 carries (a 7.6 average) in their Oct. 23 meeting.  “We’re going to make some adjustments,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said. “He’s a heck of a back.”

And better news the Dolphins could not have received.


4.  One more Buffalo note. I find their situation with quarterback Tyrod Taylor to be interesting.  He’s on what amounts to a contract year.
The Bills’ extension with Taylor, signed in August, already puts the quarterback under contract for $27.5 million in 2017 — a salary that is guaranteed if Taylor suffers an injury that prevents him from playing next season. The Bills have until March 11 to exercise an option on Taylor’s contract that would trigger the 2018 through 2021 years of the deal, paying him $15.5 million immediately and lowering his 2017 salary to a fully-guaranteed $12 million.

If the Bills do not exercise Taylor’s option by March 11, then the entirety of his $27.5 million salary in 2017 becomes fully guaranteed March 12, and Taylor would be slated for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.  But it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will do that so under the current deal it comes down to 1) trigger the 3 year option or 2) release Taylor before March 11.

There is, of course, one other consideration – they could try to renegotiate the contract.  The Bills probably will want to do this but the question is, what would it take on Taylor’s end to motivate him to agree to a change?  The answer is, the same amount of money or more that he’d get as a free agent.

There are going to be a number of teams looking for a quarterback in the offseason including the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and potentially the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos.  In 2016 through 14 games Taylor has completed 62% of his passes at 6.8 yards per completion with a passer rating of 91.  He’s also gained over 500 yards on the ground.

Those numbers are pretty average and they belie Taylors vexing inconsistency.  The Bills have found that the quarterback that they have in quarter 1 will often not be the same as the one that they get in quarter 4.

So they are stuck with an interesting conundrum.  Paying Taylor what he’ll get as an average starting quarterback on the free agent might be more than they would like.  On the other hand, not paying him means starting over with someone else who may well not be as good.

It will be interesting to see how Taylor does against the Dolphins defense, one that isn’t exactly the ’85 Bears but on the other hand can cause you some serious headaches with a defensive line that is finally starting to perform up to its reputation. In other words, it’s a defense that a quality quarterback should be able to perform against.


5.  The Chicago Bears and injured 2014 first round pick Kyle Fuller find themselves having an interesting but common problem amongst NFL teams. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio summed things up in an unusually candid way for a modern NFL coach.
“Any time a guy’s hurt, there’s three stages to getting back to the field,” Fangio said. “One is you’ve got to get medical clearance. Two, the player’s got to say he’s ready to go and feels confident and he’s champing at the bit to go play. And then the coaches get involved and see if he’s better than what the other choices are and if he really is back to being able to play. A has happened. B hasn’t. So C is a non-issue.”

Translation: We think he can play but he doesn’t want to.  The Bears eventually gave up and put Fuller on IR this week.

The problem is that you can’t climb into the head of a player and figure out what the issue is.  Fuller is a former track star and there is some thought that perhaps he just doesn’t want to play unless he’s close to 100%.

Tracy Porter summed up the attitude amongst most NFL players, one that most teams would prefer was the predominant one.  “If doctors or trainers say it’s not going to damage you in the long run, then if you can tough it out, that’s what some guys try to do.”

“Overall, it’s a very fine line trying to be tough versus trying to be responsible and (not) further damage yourself and your team.”

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s upper most in Fuller’s mind.  Presumably, being medically cleared, he can’t damage his knee further by playing.  But he’s still not on board.  His comments on the matter are interesting.

Said Fuller: “I just listen to my body. It tells me what I can and can’t do. Right now I can’t go out there and play. That’s the line, I guess.”

I suppose.  But I really wonder how many players “listen to their body”.  And I wonder if they do, how many times it says, “don’t play football” but they do anyway.  My guess is a lot.  Once you’ve played one game in the NFL, my bet is that every player in the league has a body telling him not to play.  That’s professional football.

Availability is a talent.  Football is going to punish your body and there’s no getting around that.  If you don’t accept it, you don’t’ play.  And if they don’t play, Fuller and those like him aren’t going to be around long even after they’re healthy.


6.  I mentioned last week that players like the Seahawks Richard Sherman, who fans and media insist are intelligent despite the ridiculously stupid things that pour out of their mouths, irritate me.
Sherman has again inserted himself into my consciousness as he abused Jim Moore of ESPN 710 in Seattle, one of the members of the sycophantic media I referred to. The exchange came as a result of a sideline exchange where Sherman screamed at Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after the Seahawks had tried a pass play at the goal line rather a run play. The play choice stirred up dark memories of Seattle’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

Sherman: “You don’t want to go there. You do not. I’ll ruin your career.”

Moore: “You’ll ruin my career? How are you going to do that?”

Sherman: “I’ll make sure you don’t get your media pass anymore.”

Moore: “Is that right?”

Sherman: “Yes, it is.”

Sherman later apologized but it was too late.  Setting aside whether Sherman could actually see that Moore never gts another press pass (my guess is that he could), he once again showed his stupidity in, like so many players, looking at the working press as the enemy.

Sherman fails to understand that most reporters are actually fans.  If not fans of the team, then fans of the sport.  Virtually all of them are happier when they are writing positive things.  But they need help from players and coaches in order to do that.

Moore was giving Sherman an opportunity to explain himself and put the incident in a positive light )if possible).  Responding with threats instead of quotes leaves reporters with no choice but to put the most negative spin possible on this incident and those like it.

Players and coaches would do well to treat reporters as partners rather than adversaries.  Many of the truly smart ones know that and many are treated well far past the time that they deserve to be when they act upon that knowledge.  Rams head coach Jeff Fisher lasted far longer than his record would have indicated that he should have because his relationship with the press was excellent and many refused to attack him for years because of it.

Unfortunately Sherman has once again proven to be less than the intelligent person that his fans insist that he is.  In fairness, he is unfortunately far from alone.


7.  The Cleveland Browns are becoming more and more likely to be the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 and not win a game. The experience is obviously wearing on head coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson reportedly spoke with Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown for an extra 30 minutes after a recent loss to the Giants before addressing the media.  When he emerged from his office, his eyes welled up with tears in his postgame press conference while explaining that being winless “is probably the hardest thing ever.”
It is evident that this season is getting to him emotionally and that he’s seeking answers from the front office for how things will be different going forward.

I hope Jackson’s not holding his breath.  Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam recently held a full staff meeting at the team facility in Berea, OH and preached continuity.  Speakers at the meeting also included Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.  The meeting was intended to calm the waters and boost morale of a staff that’s lived through the Browns 3-30 record since the end of 2014.

For the record, continuity is a good thing.  If you’ve got the right people in place, that is.  But whether the Browns do is highly, highly questionable.  The two men in charge are Brown, a lawyer, and DePodesta, a statistician who helped oversee the “money ball” success of baseball’s Oakland As.  And that has to be leaving the well-regarded Jackson feeling like he’s been cut a drift in strange NFL waters with no land in sight.

Haslam is trying an admittedly innovative, analytics-based front office model but there’s no evidence it’s working. In fact, there’s data to the contrary — the Browns’ winless record and a lackluster 2016 draft class.

You feel for Jackson but, similarly, you have to feel even worse for the fan base.  Dolphin fans can certainly identify to some extent as they prepare to break out of their own streak of seasons without a playoff win.  This writer follows the Chicago Bears who haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1986 and have only sniffed the playoffs once in the last ten years.  Before that I grew up with the old St. Louis Cardinals. Try following a team that would typically select a player in the first round only to have draft rooms around the league break out into open laughter.

But all of that pales in the face of the brutal way that the Browns franchise has treated its fans over the course of more than 50 years.  The NFL lives by selling its fans hope for the future.  The Bears in Ryan Pace have a real general manager in charge who was previously with a reasonably successful franchise in the Saints.  The Dolphins are run by executive Mike Tannenbaum but at least general manager Chris Greer, with 17 years experience with the Dolphins, is right there with him.

Imagine what it’s like knowing that the only way your franchise of choice is going to be able to build is through a draft run by two guys who have never worked in an NFL personnel department.  This might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever witnessed in a league that produces incredible things almost for its living.  That Browns fans manage to hang on in quiet desperation year after year is a testament to either their fortitude or their stupidity.  Probably both.

In either case, both they and their head coach deserve better.  But I don’t see how they’re going to get it any time soon.


8.  The Jacksonville Jaguars joined the Los Angeles Rams by firing their head coach last week in order to get an early jump on finding a new coaching staff. The Jaguars (2-12) fired Gus Bradley after the franchise’s ninth consecutive loss Sunday. Bradley went 14-48 in four seasons in Jacksonville, the worst winning percentage (.225) of any NFL coach with at least 60 games.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Monday that former New York Giants Tom Coughlin “would be somebody we’d be interested in talking to” about the team’s coaching vacancy.

The 70-year-old Coughlin was Jacksonville’s first head coach, leading the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons (1995-2002). Coughlin resigned last January after 12 seasons with the Giants, but has made it clear he wants to return to the NFL. He is currently serving as a senior adviser to the league’s football operations department.
Caldwell could give him a shot at getting back on the sidelines.
“Tom’s a great man and a great person, and we’ll see where it goes,” Caldwell said. “There will be a lot of guys we’re interested in talking to.”
There are plenty of hot young names that are undoubtedly high on the Jaguars list.  Current interim head coach Doug Marrone will undoubtedly get a good look.  Former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley should get varying degrees of consideration.

But in some ways, Coughlin does make a great deal of sense.  His history with the franchise would make him a popular hire despite his age.  He’s also an offensive coach with some history developing quarterbacks, most recently and famously, Eli Manning with the Giants with whom he won two Super Bowls.  Fixing young Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has regressed dramatically this year, will be the first and most important thing on the agenda for a new head coach in Jacksonville no matter who they hire.

There is some talent on the Jaguars that may make potential hires feel that they can win immediately in a very weak AFC South division if they can get the quarterback situation squared away quickly.  This will be a popular job amongst the candidates and it’s one to keep an eye on.


9.  With the Jaguars job and the Rams job now both open, here’s one absolute dead solid guarantee that I will make. There is no way on heaven’s green earth that Jim Harbaugh is leaving the University of Michigan to take an NFL head coaching job.  It’s possible he’ll do it someday.  But absolutely not this year.
Why?    He hasn’t beaten Ohio State and he hasn’t won a national championship.

When Harbaugh was at Stanford he flat out hated Pete Carroll at USC once actually prodding the normally easy going Carroll to exclaim, “What is your problem?!”  I sense the same passion when it comes to Urban Myer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Harbaugh is on a mission and he’s not going to be side tracked by the NFL now that he’s got his teeth into the rivalry.

In my opinion he’s well on his way to accomplishing both goals as Ohio State didn’t so much beat Michigan as Michigan beat itself this year.  The less talented but more disciplined team won the 2016 match up but that won’t last long and if Michigan isn’t in the national championship playoff next year, I’ll be surprised.  If Harbaugh ever gets to the point where he’s actually won that playoff a couple times, yes, I can see him taking on the challenge of an NFL job.

But he’s got plenty of time in the future for that.  Ohio State is right now and that’s all that’s driving him.

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.

 

 

Quick Game Comments: Jaguars at Bears 10/16/16

Offense

  1. The offensive line once again did a good job protecting Brian Hoyer.  Even when the Jaguars brought the blitz on occasion they did a nice job of picking it up.
  2. Unfortunately once again I can’t say the same for the run blocking.  Except for one big run last week against the Colts, I thought the Bears struggled.  They did again today in the first half at 2.4 yards per carry.    They did however, begin to run the ball considerably better late in the third quarter and the final stat was 3.4.
  3. Once again, I thought Jordan Howard (15 carries for 34 yards) ran well today given the blocking and once again, I thought he did the best he could with the hand he was dealt.  He was joined by Ka’Deem Carey (9 carries for 50 yards) who made the most of his opportunities as well.
  4. The Bears once again struggled in the red zone this game as they were 1 of 4.  That kept the Jaguars in the game and ultimately allowed them to win it in the fourth quarter.
  5. The Bears went into this game knowing that they had to work on their run-pass balance.  The firing of former Bears head coach and now former Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman graphically demonstrates why.  As he did with the Bears, Trestman frequently abandoned the run with the Ravens, sometimes even when it was working and this has generally been accepted as the major reason for his demise.So how have the Bears been doing?  Despite the fact that the Bears often have not been trailing by much for long periods late in the games they’ve played going into the Jaguars game, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and the offense for the year are running the football just 33.6 percent of its plays. For perspective: That falls below some of the lows in recent Bears history including the 33.7% mark that former offensive coordinator Mike Martz hit through his first six games in 2010 before head coach Lovie Smith ordered more running.Today the Bears did better, running the ball 27 times and passing 30, perhaps indicating that they are on the way back from the brink.
  6. It was generally accepted going into this game that the Bears needed to get Alshon Jeffery more involved in the passing game like he was in the late third quarter and on against the Colts (save for the final play).  Nevertheless, Loggains defended the decisions that Brian Hoyer is making to distribute the ball.”When it’s one-on-one, the ball’s going to [Jeffery]. When they double team him, the ball’s going to go somewhere else.”Loggains is right.  If you do enough damage with the other receivers, as the Bears did today in the first half, the defense will have to come off of Jeffery at least occasionally to sneak over and cover the other receivers.  This is exactly what happened on the final play against the Colts.  Hoyer simply missed it and the Bears played.  But if he hits that pass, it’s a different game.  And that pass is what they’re playing for.

    The first pass of the game was to Jeffery on a short pass to him with off coverage.  It was a sign of things to come.  Jeffery had a very good first half (6 catches for 90 yards) as the Jaguars often left him in loose single coverage rather than double teaming him every play.  He cut loose on a double move late in the first quarter that should have been a touchdown but the throw was too long.Its unfortunate that the Jaguars shut Jeffery down in the second half as he finished with just one more catch for three yards.  But Hoyer did a good job of distributing the ball again today and I’d say it still it paid off.

  7. That having been said, it must be acknowledged that Hoyer didn’t have a particularly good game.  There were a few big passes that weren’t nearly accurate enough that hurt the Bears.  Those can’t happen.

Defense

  1. The Bears, like the Jaguars, appeared to come out determined to stop the run, which they did do successfully  allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and 54 yards rushing.  Unfortunately this loosened up the play action pass and the Jaguars took advantage.
  2. In the passing game it appeared to me like once again the Bears were trying to prevent the deep throw while allowing the Jaguars to try to work their way down the field in the hopes that they’d eventually shoot themselves in the foot – which they frequently did.  There was some bad football out there today.
  3. Eventually the Jaguars found a way to get Allen Hurns open.  He was lining up in the slot late in the third quarter and consistently popping open with shallow play action routes over the middle for big chunks of yardage.
  4. The Bears knew going into this game that Allen Robinson was going to be the guy they had to stop today.  They seemed to recognize that as they put Tracy Porter on him, sometimes with loose safety help.  It didn’t work very well as Robinson beat them in the first half with three catches but for 49 yards and though they stopped him in the second half, Bortles spread the ball around to his other receivers as they did so and he did a great deal of damage with them.  Robinson also dropped a touchdown that Porter eventually intercepted or it would have been worse.
  5. I won’t say the pass rush was all that great but Willie Young once again did get a sack going one-on-one with a tight end late in the second quarter.  That’s the kind of matchup that you have to take advantage of and he did.  Young also caused a Blake Bortles fumble early in the fourth quarter.
  6. As far as the run defense goes, I thought the linebacker play was particularly stout today.  Danny Trevathon, Sam Acho, Christian Jones and Jerrell Freeman all had reasonably good games and didn’t do too badly in coverage to my eye.  (But see the comment about Allen Hurns poping open in the third quarter above.)
  7. The lack of a pass rush exposed the Bears defensive backs and most of the problems in the passing game came at their expense.  Eventually once again they had to resort to occasional blitzes in the second half – and that as much as anything is what cost them the Jaguars go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter as Tracy Porter slipped while covering Arrelious Benn on just such a blitz and there was no one behind him. This will continue until the Bears find a way to get more pressure.
  8. Blake Bortles is frustrating to watch.  Sometimes he’ll make a great throw and he seems to be particularly effective when he’s on the move.  But he also isn’t consistent enough and he makes some very puzzling, inaccurate throws.  The loose fumble in the fourth quarter was also a baffling and very damaging mistake.There’s a lot of potential but in his third year in the league he’s not there yet.

Miscellaneous

  1. Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein were your announcers.  You could tell these were guys that were used to doing AFC games because they clearly didn’t like much of what the Bears were doing.  The broadcast as far from completely bereft of positive Bears comments but most calls were assumed to be on the Bears.  For example, “That hit on Hurns was helmet to helmet!  In today’s NFL that’s gong to be called most of the time.  Trevathon will be fined.”  and “Only Sam Acho thinks he wasn’t offside on that play.” and the classic “The Bears appeared to do that to themselves” on a late Kelvin Beachum shove.    Most 50:50 plays were in the Jaguars favor until proven otherwise.Much more importantly, the quality of the broadcast was poor and all of the analysts were frequently washed out in the sound from the crowd and I really didn’t  think anyone provided much insight and I didn’t learn much from them.
  2. I thought the special teams were pretty good on both sides today.Pat O’Donnell had a pretty good game.  He started the game with a nice punt, trapping the Jaguars inside their own 10 yard line.  He did it again just before half time and pinned them inside the 15 yard line midway through the third quarter.  Connor Barth made a 36 yard field goal early in the second quarter (Alleluia!).  He also put through an important 32 yarder midway through the fourth quarter which made it a two score game.  On the other side, Brad Nortman pinned the Bears inside the 15 yard line with a nice punt in the second quarter.  As happened last week, Eddie Royal decided not to catch a punt which rolled 22 yards.  That has to stop.  Jason Myers also was content to kick the ball to the left through the endzone which is one good way to stop the return game.
  3. As noted last week, in the first half alone at Indianapolis, the Bears committed five penalties. For this reason, touchdown situations were turned into field goals.  This is how you gain over 500 yards of offense and score only 23 points.Overall, the Bears had been penalized 35 times for 270 yards this season — 31 times for 240 yards in the last four games. They had 16 pre-snap penalties.  Things didn’t get better today and they committed 10 sometimes critical penalties for 87 yards.Jerrell Freeman had a pass interference in the first quarter deep in Bears territory.  Jacoby Glenn got called for the same thing giving them first and goal.  There was a comical moment late in the first quarter when there were literally three flags on the field and it appeared to be littered in them.  A false start penalty on Cameron Meredith pushed the Bears into a third and 17 deep in Jaguars territory.  They settled for a field goal.  A holding penalty on Cody Whitehair pushed the Bears into a first and twenty late in the third quarter.  In fairness, Hoyer held the ball way too long on the play.

    A roughing the quarterback call on Willie Young  let the Jaguars off the hook and gave them a first down.  A defensive holding penalty later in the drive on the Glenn moved the Jaguars to first and goal from the two yard line.  They scored a touchdown on the next play.  A facemask penalty on Danny Trevathon also let the Jaguars off the hook again late in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive.  It resulted in a field goal.

    Finally, a critical holding penalty on Howard pushed the Bears back to 3rd and 17 with 1:19 left in the game, pushing them a much longer way from field goal range.

    This can’t go on.

  4. I won’t say that drops had no effect on the game but they hurt the Jaguars more than the Bears.Jordan Howard dropped a pass deep in Jaguar territory in the second quarter.  For once it didn’t hurt the Bears too badly as they got the first down and then the touchdown  anyway.  KaDeem Carey dropped a first down early in the third quarter that could have gone a long way.On the other side, T.J. Yeldon dropped a first down late in the second quarter.  They eventually converted it anyway.  Allen Hurns dropped a first down early  in the third quarter as the Jaguars once again shot themselves in the foot.  They were being shut out at that point.
  5. Porter had a huge interception in the endzone in the first quarter that prevented at least three points if not a touchdown had Robinson caught it (which he should have).  Blake Bortles got loose with the football and Willie Young knocked it loose.  The Bears were clean once again and that kept them in the game for longer that perhaps it should have.
  6. <sarcasm>Hey, CBS, show us some more of that imaginative programing by pushing more cop shows, please!</sarcasm>
  7. I’m frantically trying to take notes on this game while monitoring @BradBiggs on Twitter and suddenly my phone starts going crazy with notifications from the family Slack group.  My sister was trying to get help with my nephew’s homework on a Sunday afternoon during football season.  These people have no respect.
  8. What did this game come down to?  Going into this game the Bears’ offense ranked eighth in yards (372 per game), but 30th in points (15.6).  The Jaguars’ defense ranked seventh in yards (304 allowed per game), but 30th in points (27.4) and, like the Bears have been extremely penalty prone.This game was going to come down to who managed to do better overcoming these deficiencies.  Today it was the Jaguars, as they committed half as many penalties and did a pretty good job of keeping the Bears out of the endzone.
  9. You just knew as the Bears kicked field goal after field goal in this game that they would find a way to lose it.  The frustrating thing about this season is it that it is tough to see how they’re any better than last season. That’s tough on a fan base that only has hope for the future to keep them going.  They’ll be looking for this team to get decidedly better as the weeks roll on.  It didn’t happen this week.

Previewing the Jaguars and Other Points of View

• Next up for the Bears is the Jacksonville Jaguars. My first thought is that this is a very mineable game for the Bears. Even though Jacksonville beat the Colts in a sloppy, penalty filled game in London, they don’t appear to me to be any better. Quarterback Blake Bortles is the hope for this franchise and he had a pretty good game against the Colts. One thing to note is that the Colts flat out could not cover 6’0” wide receiver Allen Robinson. Stopping him will be a high priority for the Bears. Their pass protection is an issue and once gain the Bears front seven has an opportunity to make an impact in this game, hopefully in both halves of football this time. Also notable was that the Jaguars had a tough time handling the Colts no huddle offense. Look for that to be a staple for the Beas this game.
• As long time readers of this blog know, I have very little sympathy for players who fail to face adversity in the day-to-day competition of the game. Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams is such a player and I notice that he has a new excuse.

Last year Williams blamed Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan for his poor performance last season, claiming that Ryan played him out of position at outside linebacker.

Well, this year he’s back at defensive end for the Dolphins. How’s that going for you, Mario?

“… If we can get guys to hold the ball a little longer,” William said of the sacks. “The ball’s coming out pretty quick.

Ah. So it’s the defensive back’s fault now. I see.

Through five games, Williams has recorded seven tackles (including just two for loss), three quarterback hits and one little sack. He did not appear on the stat sheet at all on Sunday in a loss to the Titans in which there was virtually no pass rush from the defensive line.

Yes, the ball is coming out fast. But Williams knows as well as anyone that’s true around the NFL nowadays. Defensive linemen still manage to perform despite that, through talent and determination. There is an old saying that has been passed around the NFL for decades: “There are a thousand reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” It’s getting late for Mario Williams to learn that lesson but he needs to do so.
• Some mild uproar was raised in Chicago last week as a fan who ran out on the field during a Bears game wearing a gorilla suit and a t-shirt with a protest logo on it was arrested. The bail of $250,000 was considered by some to be excessive. I’m all for the right to free speech and protest. But you have to be smart about your method for doing so. Running out on the field is not only can result in a dangerous situation for both participants and fans and as an interested viewer I definitely don’t want to see protesters trying it every game. As far as I’m concerned, the more strongly such behavior is discouraged, the better.
Jeff Fisher is 3-2 this season as head coach of the LA Rams and after a reasonable start it appears that his team is on the way back to the 0.500 mark.

Fisher’s MO is that he gets the team very high for divisional games. The problem is that getting the players too high for those games leads them to let down against teams outside the division. Fisher’s record against divisional opponents since 2012 is almost 0.500 but against non-divisional foes it drops to 15-24 with one tie. Hence big wins early in the season against the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals. But we’ve yet to see them try to sustain it against teams that they should be able to beat outside the division. Whether his team rises or falls this year will depend upon how Fisher and his players handle those games, something they’ve done a poor job of in the past.
• The Arizona Cardinals are 2-3 and after a poorly played win on Thursday night against the hapless 49ers they appear to be rapidly regressing after an excellent year last season.

The Cardinals were the toast of the NFL after going deep into the playoffs last year under head coach Bruce Arians. Arians’ bravado and forthrightness makes him well respected by members of the media and the team even had a special series produced by Amazon.com about them in the offseason.

Now it looks like the team is falling back down to earth a bit. The now injured Carson Palmer hasn’ t looked like the same quarterback he was last year and he seems to be continuing this year the way he left off in the playoffs last year, a 49-15 loss to the Panthers in which he looked like he allowed the pressure of the game to get to him.

Fans around the league love Arians and he’s ridden a wave of kudos. But now is when he and his staff really have the opportunity to show who they really are. Facing adversity, the question is whether they are good enough to pull the Cardinals out of their funk to finish a season well in which they started so poorly. The bet here is that they do it. But the proof will be in the pudding.

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.

Quick Comments: Late Sunday Afternoon Games

Baltimore – Oakland

  • Oakland surprised me this game by taking Baltimore head on at the line of scrimmage and they competed very well.
  • Quarterback Derek Carr once again had a good game this week (30/46 for 351 yes). Significantly, he got good protection.
  • In contrast, Joe Flacco (32/45, 384 yds) did not have a good game. He saw a lot of pressure and missed a lot of throws he ordinarily makes.

Dallas – Philadelphia

  • The story of this game was how ugly it was for the Eagle offense. Demarco Murray had a terrible game as the Cowboys keyed on him every time he entered the game. The Eagle offensive line was awful, allowing the Cowboys defensive line to penetrate at will. Eventually the Eagles had some success attacking the edges and getting away from the interior defensive penetration.
  • I saw some pretty poor tackling from the Eagles in this game. Tough to stop the run that way.
  • Surprisingly, I also was less than impressed with some of the blocking from the vaunted Cowboys offensive line. The Eagles were getting plenty of penetration against them at times. The Cowboys did better after wearing the Eagles down late in the game, a bi-product of an Eagle offense that gets the defense back on the field quickly when things aren’t clicking.
  • Tony Romo went down hard on a sack and a fumble. Before any report was made you could tell that it had broken collar bone written all over it. Its Brandon Weeden time. For a while.
  • Tweet of the day:

Miami – Jacksonville

  • Jacksonville took advantage of some poor defensive backfield play from Miami. Brice McCain looked particularly bad. This is something that the Dolphins are going to want to take a close look at in the coming week.
  • Blake Bortles’ (18/33 273 yds) accuracy and ball placement leaves a lot to be desired. For a highly touted up and coming quarterback, I was unimpressed this game. Sometimes he flashes some of that potential but its time for him to fish or cut bait this year with some consistency.
  • Right now Ndamukong Suh looks very over paid. He’s not making the plays we saw him make in the NFC North despite often being double teamed.
  • On the other hand, Jacksonville got all kinds of pressure on Ryan Tannehill (30/44 359 yds). This was the first sign of problems for the season on a much – maligned Miami offensive line. Brandon Albert left the game in the first half and ws replaced by Jason Fox, which obviously didn’t help.
  • Olivier Vernon should be ashamed of himself for a late personal foul call that badly damaged Miami’s chances of getting the ball back with time to score.

Brief Impressions: 2015 NFL Draft

  1. Did someone tell the ESPN crew that there was no smiling allowed on the set? I’ve never seen a more somber first round telecast in my life.
  2. There seems to be a belief around the league that second overall pick Marcus Mariota might have been an owners pick. The Titans aren’t supposed to be for sale but the general belief appears to be that they are. There’s a theory that interim president Steve Underwood put pressure on the Titans front office to draft Mariota in order to make the franchise more valuable.
  3. I’m not surprised that the Redskins decided that they didn’t want to draft the consensus best player in the draft, Leonard Williams. But I am surprised that they couldn’t find a way to trade pack. Brandon Scherff adds to an offensive line that general manager Scot McCloughan evidently wants to make tougher as they look to become the kind of ground and pound running team that the Cowboys were last year. But I’m having a hard time believing there was no market for that pick. Scherff has short arms and isn’t considered to be a great offensive line prospect, especially if he’s going to be put at right tackle. The Redskins should have been able to pick up Scherff or another lineman later in the round.
  4. The Browns pick of Cameron Erving at 19 overall as a guard appeared to be a puzzler. Erving was generally considered to be a potential Pro Bowl center but his performance at tackle when he played the position was not considered to be good and he doesn’t necessarily project as a guard long-term. But a look at current center Alex Mack‘s contract clarifies things. His contract is player voidable in 2016 and apparently, like so many other people associated with the Browns organization, he intends to get out as soon as he can.
  5. On the other hand, I’m still having a hard time figuring out the Andrus Peat pick by the Saints. Terron Armstead seems to be a lock at left tackle. Right tackle Zach Strief is entering his 10th season with the Saints. I suppose he could be the future at that spot but I don’t see an immediate need there. The other positions along the offensive line seem to be similarly set. All I can assume is that Peat was the best available on their board and they took him.
  6. I love the Bears’ apparent free agent signing of Shane Carden. Many will remember that I put up a post on Carden questioning why he was considered only a low round prospect. Now we’ll find out first hand how full of it I am.
  7. I thought it was funny that ESPN‘s Ben Goessling‘s opinion of the Vikings draft so closely mirrored my own of the Bears’ saying, “This draft could be tough to judge for several years thanks to the number of talented, yet unrefined, players the Vikings took.”
  8. Many were surprised by the fall of so many pass rushers so far in the draft. I was not. I thought all of the pass rushers after Dante Fowler were being over-rated by the media in large part because, well, they were pass rushers. The only one I thought was worth a top ten pick other than Fowler was Randy Gregory and he blew his chance with off the field issues. It says here that Shane Ray and Vic Beasley, who went right after the Bears pick at number eight to Atlanta, both have bust written all over them. Bud Dupree might be an average starter by the time he’s developed.
  9. Speaking of pass rushers, its going to be interesting to see how things pan out for Fowler in Jacksonville. Fowler thinks he’s going to be the Leo linebacker (the primary pass rusher) but that doesn’t seem to fit his skills as he would be more suited to the Otto role (strong side linebacker who turns into a pass rusher on obvious passing downs). How he develops there may largely depend upon whether they choose the correct way to use him.
  10. One big loser in the draft appears to be former Bears prospect Matt Blanchard. The Packers drafted developmental prospect Brett Hundley. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched as the back up. Unless Blanchard shows a great deal of potential or the Packers aren’t as committed to Tolzien as they appear to be, Blanchard would seem to be the odd man out.
  11. There’s a big part of me that likes the Rams’ first round pick of Todd Gurley. He’s the kind of runner that will fit in well in St. Louis and there’s no doubt that the Rams are planning to beat the rest of the NFC West by further overpowering it’s best teams. That means a big time running game and with the selection of Gurley followed by two offensive tackles, they may have added the personnel to do it.

    The problem is that head coach Jeff Fisher is under some pressure in St. Louis to start winning now after a string of seasons in which the team has under-performed. And with Gurley coming off of a very bad ACL injury, he might not be ready to contribute right away. Despite good reports on the condition of the knee, Gurley won’t be ready to practice until halfway through training camp, losing valuable reps to learn things like pass protection. Even worse, players with knee injuries have a bad habit of not getting all the way back to where the were before until the second year after the injury. You have to wonder if the Rams wouldn’t have been better off selecting Melvin Gordon, who is very close to Gurley in terms of how the experts had them ranked and who I actually liked better than Gurley anyway.

Drafting Pass Rush Is a Priority. But at What Price?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune puts up his mock draft. Here are his top 10 picks:

1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

3. Jaguars: Dante Fowler, DE, Florida

4. Raiders: Leonard Williams, DT, USC

5. Redskins: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

6. Jets: Randy Gregory, OLB, Nebraska

7. Bears: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

8. Falcons: Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky

9. Giants: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa

10. Rams: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

It’s an interesting grouping if only because it breaks down into tiers which reflect Biggs’s priorities by position: quarterback is the first at one and two because that’s the most important, then pass rushers at three, five and six, and finally the other positions at three of the last four spots.

This is fine in that it almost certainly reflects the thoughts of virtually all fans, and I would dare say all NFL general managers as well. But the problem is that Biggs takes it too far.

Though he’s certainly not worthy of the two spot, I get the Marcus Mariota pick and it may well happen, though I’m guessing that if it does, its not likely to be the Titans picking there. However, prioritizing Dante Fowler over Leonard Williams, the best prospect in the draft, isn’t what I would call good thinking. In fairness to Biggs, he’s not the only media expert who believes Fowler will go first. But though Fowler’s a great prospect, Williams is the consensus best player in the draft and as close to a sure thing as you can get – he’s almost certainly going to be a dominant defensive lineman. He’s the smart pick.

But those two decisions aren’t nearly as surprising as taking Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory, both very risky prospects (for the top ten) over Amari Cooper, the most solid wide receiver prospect in the draft. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay recently did a live mock draft on ESPN and Beasley didn’t even make the first round.

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I, personally, like Gregory a lot but three failed drug tests, including one at the Combine, makes you wonder if he’s not an addictive personality headed for trouble.

Bud Dupree, Brandon Scherff and Kevin White all have their risks as well but of the three, Dupree is the riskiest. Brandon Scherff is at worst an outstanding NFL guard. White is a one year wonder but he (arguably) has more dominant physical skills. Based upon the mock drafts I’ve seen almost no one would take Dupree over White.

This mock highlights the conflicts that must run through every general manager’s head as they prepare for the draft. We’re all familiar with the idea of drafting the best available and how that often conflicts with drafting for need. Biggs has written many times that drafting the best available player regardless of need is a fallacy in the NFL – and I absolutely believe him. But this mock draft might take it too far. As important as pass rush is in the NFL, teams can’t afford to miss in the top ten picks. You can still draft for need but focusing on one position, admittedly a very important one, regardless of the grade on talent for the individual prospects sounds to me like it’s asking for trouble. Here’s hoping that the Bears don’t force a pick in order to fill a position in such a manner.

Sometimes It Isn’t Rocket Science

Next Fan Up Artwork

Sometimes value and need meet to make for the almost perfect draft pick. That’s what I think happened to me in the “Next Fan Up” mock draft, an exercise performed by the same group I participated with last year.

The Situation

Last year I hated the Bears spot at 14. They needed defensive linemen and safties but none were worth the pick. I ended up taking the best available player, linebacker C.J. Mosley. Not a bad pick in retrospect.

This year with the Bears picking at seven things were totally different. With needs all over the field the odds that a player that could fill one was going to be the best available were high. Here’s what happened with the first six picks:

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The Guy

Before the draft I pegged four impact players in the top ten picks:  Leonard Williams, Jameis Winston,  Dante Fowler, and Danny Shelton.  Some may justifiably criticize me for not including Amari Cooper and Kevin White.  But Cooper may have already hit his peak and White is a one year wonder that relies too much on physical abilities that may not be dominant once he gets to the NFL for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly take either one.  But I put them a tier below my top four.

To no one’s surprise, the first three of those four top players were gone.  That left Shelton as the best player on my board.  But I knew that few other draftnicks agreed with me.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper didn’t put Shelton in his five safest picks in the draft because his ceiling is too low. I think Kiper is under estimating him. Shelton reminds me just a bit of Vince Wilfork and I believe he may turn out to be more than just a clogger in the middle.  He’s never going to be a penetrator but Shelton uses his power and quickness to leverage offensive linemen and collapse the middle of the pocket as a pass rusher.  Even if Kiper is right and Shelton only turns out to be a plug in the middle he’d be valuable as the center piece of any 3-4 defense.  He never gets blocked back off of the line of scrimmage despite almost always being double teamed and he’s uncanny in the way he regularly shed blocks to stop the run.  And you can’t stop anything if you can’t stop the run.

danny-shelton

The Attempt to Trade Down

There was little doubt that Shelton (above) was my guy.  The question was could I trade back and still have a reasonable chance to get him and, if so, how far?

Ordinarily I wouldn’t think twice about this unless I had multiple players that I liked with no definite winner heads and tails above everyone else.  But most mock drafts that had Shelton getting past the Bears had him falling to somewhere  in the middle of the round.  The first team behind me that I had with defensive tackle as a need was the Cleveland Browns at 12.  So I figured anywhere in front of them might be relatively safe and was willing to risk going down farther.  With the third oldest roster in the NFL last year and more holes than a golf course full of gophers, heaven knows the Bears need young players.  So I thought it was more important to get more chances in the annual draft lottery and to take the risk losing Shelton, even as someone who I thought was clearly the best available.

But I didn’t trade back.  Why?  Because it take two to tango and no one wanted the pick.  One of the things that’s evident this year is that everyone wants to trade back but almost no one wants to trade up.  At least not into the top ten, especially with Marcus Mariota gone after the second pick.  Only one trade in the mock draft actually took place in that area and that was between the Jets and the Giants, who wanted White.  The tail end of the first round may include more action depending on how highly the teams involved value the quarterbacks that are left and how much they want to over draft to get one.  Other than that, I can’t see it happening.  Most draft experts actually don’t think there are much more than 15 players with first round grades in the entire class.  And I can’t see too many teams trading up into the first round to get second round talent.

The Pick

In the end my choice was clear and I gladly took Shelton at number seven.  I think his talent matches the pick and fills a need.  Perhaps the Bears biggest need.  Last year I said that playing general manager isn’t easy.  But sometimes all you need to do is keep it simple.

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.