Talking the Doubters Off the Ledge. And Other Points of View.

The Bears have completed their second preseason game and are moving o to their third, and most important (if any of them are important_ contest.  Here are ten thoughts on the team as they enter the most crucial stage of their offseason.

Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury — and the subpar play of the offensive line in the preseason opener — put the light back on Pace’s decision to release Slauson, who replaced Grasu and Will Montgomery at center on two occasions last season. They would have had the replacement for Grasu right there.

“Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Slauson was everything you’d want in a teammate with the Bears, a respected leader on and off the field. But Slauson didn’t grade out as well with the new regime as he did with the old. Even without Grasu, they Bears are confident they can grow better with [Cody] Whitehair at guard and Ted Larsen at center.”

It’s worth emphasizing that it wasn’t the the Bears didn’t think Slauson was good.  Anyone could see that he was.   It was that they were looking for more athleticism at the position because it better fit the blocking scheme that they want to run.  Last year the Bears mixed schemes in an effort to adjust to the players that they have.  You can’t, after all, do everything in one year.  This year, they wanted to get the players they needed to do what they want to ideally do.

It’s all part of the rebuilding process and though this may turn out to be a particularly trying step down that road, in the end the Bears believe that it will be worth it.

“I’ve already written off the season. Will they draft in the top 5 in 2017? — @jgboom23

“Don’t know that I am going to be able to talk you off the ledge here, but that’s putting a lot of stock in the preseason opener. I don’t think the Bears are ready to be playoff challengers this season, but stranger things have happened. You’ve got to keep in mind that teams that own the No. 5 pick in the draft are generally coming off really bad seasons. Since 2010, the team with the fifth pick has had either four or five wins and that’s a bad, bad season.”

Good grief, its a little early to be giving up completely.  I totally agree with Biggs that the defense should be improved, though there are significant concerns about the defensive backfield.  At minimum they could be fun to watch with a much improved front seven.

Let’s not forget that. Along with the rest of the NFC North, the Bears have one of the easiest schedules in the league based upon last year’s performances.  If they come out of this year with less than the 6 wins they had last year, I’ll be pretty surprised.

“Why did the offensive line look so terrible on Thursday? Is it the weakest position group on the team? — @KleinTime69

“I don’t think the offensive line is going to be the weakest position on the Bears. In fact, with some good health, I think the O-line could turn into one of the better units on the team by the end of the season.”

Could not agree more with this.  Assuming Ted Larsen gets his feet under him this could be a better than average offensive line, particularly compared to those around the rest of the NFC North.

However, I think the words “with some good health” need to be emphasized.  We haven’t seen Mike Adams or Amini Silatolu yet but what I’ve seen of the rest of the back up offensive linemen has not impressed me.  A rash of injuries at any position along the line could mean bad things for the offense this year.

  • Speaking of the offensive line, I was struck by a comment that  Kyle Long made about J’Marcus Webb when they were in training camp in Long’s rookie year, 2013.  Long was making mistakes and wasn’t correcting them and he hadn’t learned the playbook as well as he needed to.

“J’Marcus was just like, ‘You’re never going to be able to play if you don’t learn this,'” Kyle said. “He was laughing. J’Marcus and I are buddies. But he was telling a rookie, ‘Hey, you’re the first-round pick. If you don’t learn this, heads are going to roll.’ Whether that’s your quarterback or the head coach or the GM or the running back.”

Webb didn’t do much while he was here.  But this was probably the biggest contribution he could have possibly made to the team.

  • We heard plenty of questions from fans about the possibility that Daniel Braverman would replace Eddie Royal as the slot receiver this year as the hype around Braverman was built.  Braverman is an under-sized seventh round pick with speed that tends to light it up in non-contact practices and develop into “little engine who could”-type fan favorites.

But like so many of these types of players before him, Braverman disappeared once the lights came on and the contact began.  Despite Royal’s absence in the concussion protocol and having many chances to show what he could do in the first two pre-season games, Braverman has practically disappeared.

Eleven Bears have more receiving yards and the team has a glut at the slot receiver position.  Far from competing to start, it looks to me like Braverman may be in danger of not making the roster at all.  He will have one more pre-season game, the fourth, to show what he can do.  He’ll be worth watching closely.

  • Biggs had an interesting note about the Bears personnel groupings Thursday night.  The Bears ran nearly half of their plays out of a double tight end personnel grouping.  Biggs notes that the Bears ran only 198 plays total out of that grouping last year.

This grouping will undoubtedly help the running game and I’m sure that’s its primary purpose.  Biggs also notes that they had 4 snaps (15% of the total) with a fullback on the field.  But there’s a reason why Adam Gase rarely used it last year.  The Bears didn’t, and don’t now, have two good tight ends on the entire roster.  Zach Miller can catch a pass when healthy but he’s it.

There’s a new sheriff in town in Dowell Loggains.  But you have to wonder if this isn’t a sign that he’s going to do what he prefers over what the roster tells him to do.  The days of playing to the team’s strengths may be over.

It was unlike Bennett, who  always likes to entertain, and it was notable that former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin wasn’t available to the media all week either.  So, perhaps, it not too surprising that after Rich Campbell from the Chicago Tribune called Bennett’s refusal to meet with the media a “weak move” in this video, that Doug Kyed from NESN.com, who better knows how the Patriots do business, suggested that it might be a “team issue”.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick hates distractions and one way to be absolutely sure nothing distracted the team and the players from football last week would be to refuse to allow the former Bears players to comment.  Chicago fans wouldn’t have been surprised if Bennett, in particular, would have created some complications had he been allowed.

“It wasn’t the offensive line. While Kyle Long played well and is clearly more comfortable back at right guard than he ever was at tackle, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Ted Larsen and Bobby Massie all struggled at times, and Larsen in particular looks like he may be a bit over-matched at center.”

I always try to read Hub’s comments because I think he’s willing to say thing that other people won’t.  But having said that, sometimes I wonder if he’s watching the same game I am.

The offensive line was much better against the Patriots across the board, particularly at center where Larsen appears to be settling in.  I think sometimes people get the impression that an offensive line is struggling when they’re zone blocking because its not generally the kind of mauling style where you get lots of push off of the line of scrimmage.  But generally speaking, I thought the Bears got push when they needed it, especially in the first quarter.

I’m not saying there weren’t hiccups.  There were and I’m particularly keeping an eye on Massie in pass protection. I also don’t think that the line hasn’t gelled into a coherent unit that is working together effectively, yet.  But their performance in the first half, like that of the offense in general, was at least average overall.

To my eye, center Ted Larsen played much better in the game Thursday night against the Patriots.  Its evident to me that Larsen really does have a feel for zone blocking and he does seem to be able to use an opponent’s momentum against him to open up holes.

Similarly, I thought back up Cornelius Edison also played better.  He needs to.  The competition behind him is likely to be fierce with the addition of former Colts Khaled Holmes.  Holmes is a former fourth round pick and the Colts had high hopes for him as a starter before finally giving up and letting him go.

This is not a trivial dilemma for the Bears.  Whoever wins the job is going to be one injury away from starting.  And injuries always happen in the NFL.  With the edge in experience, the tie should go to Holmes.  So Edison needs to take advantage of every snap he can get to show his potential.

  • Next week’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, is an interesting group.  The starters  took It to the Rams and their vaunted front seven on Saturday night on the first drive and though they struggled a bit more after that, they still managed to produce 17 point under quarterback Alex Smith before he ceded the ball to Nick Foles.   The Kansas City offensive line could provide an interesting test for the Bears front seven which the team believes has improved greatly.

Speaking of Foles, although his two possessions produced only 3 points, the team moved the ball while he was in the game.  Foles is in need of rehabilitation after a disastrous stint with the Rams and it should be interesting to find out if his old mentor with the Eagles, Andy Reid, can pull it off as the head coach of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley, should also present an interesting challenge for the young Bears defensive backs.  Maclin is no surprise but the 6’3” 205 lb Conley, drafted in the 3rd round in 2015, also flashed with 3 receptions for 66 yards.  Travis Kelce is also showing himself to be one of the best in the game and the Bears should find out fairly quickly if they’ve solved the issues they’ve had their first two preseason games covering the tight end.

Signs Pointing Towards Trying Season for the Bears Offense

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune suggests in this article that the Bears might consider trading for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garappolo next year.  Its widely believed that the first four games, which Garappolo will start in place of the suspended Tom Brady, will be a showcase for a trade in the offseason.

A couple thoughts on this matter.

First, I’m not entirely sure that the Patriots won’t want to hold on to Garapollo as long as possible.  Garappolo is signed through 2017 and Brady will be 40 when that season starts.  If you are going to trade Garappolo, you’d better have a plan in place to replace Brady at any point.  Father time is undefeated and he can win the battle rather quickly.  If Brady falls apart in 2017 you don’t want to be caught out.

Having said that, yes, if you are going to trade him, next season is the time to do it for Garappolo.  Keeping him would mean you’ve decided to let him test free agency and, absence a guarantee that he’d be starting for the Patriots, they’d almost certainly lose him.

Second, I’m somewhat disturbed by some of the subtle indications in this article that the Bears offense may be in serious trouble this year.  The sense of unease is almost palpable in this article and it confirms my own suspicion that there may be a lot of problems on the horizon.  The digs are subtle and no one is stating anything definitive.  But the suggestions that the Bears could be be deficient from the top down are undeniable.

“[A possible explanation for the poor offensive performance against the Broncos] could be that the offense, from top to bottom, wasn’t properly prepared in Bourbonnais under first-year coordinator Dowell Loggains. If that’s the case, the regular season will come in a hurry.”

“It would be hard to say that the Bears offense won the day Monday. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins dropped [quarterback Jay] Cutler‘s second pass in 7-on-7 drills and mishandled another sure pick in 11-on-11 work, and cornerback Justin Coleman dropped a ball Cutler threw directly to him during the two-minute drill. Cutler seemed to double clutch at times, likely a result of solid coverage.”

“While watching practice, the greatest discrepancy between the two rosters was at quarterback. Yes, you could say that about the Patriots against a lot of organizations. In this case, former Tom Brady backup Brian Hoyer is the presumed No. 2 for the Bears. Eastern Illinois rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill picked off Hoyer on the first snap in a two-minute drill.”

There’s a long way to go yet until the regular season and I have a lot of confidence in veteran head coach John Fox to handle things.  But having said that the statements above are not the comments of someone who is seeing signs of a competitive offensive team.  You can talk about deficient protection all you want but no one is hitting the quarterbacks in practice.  And if your troubles are at offensive coordinator and quarterback, there isn’t much hope that Bears fans are going to see a lot of looked for improvement in the offense this year.

Tom Brady’s Legacy on Display Before Super Bowl 50

Jeff Howe at the Boston Globe describes the welcome that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady got when he was introduced as part of the Super Bowl MVP ceremony on Sunday:

“The Patriots quarterback was lustily booed by the crowd at Levi’s Stadium before the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers, 24-10, in Super Bowl 50. Of course, it probably didn’t help his cause that the crowd was dominated by Denver fans.”

Yeah, I really doubt that mattered much. The welcome that Brady got is an indication of what people think of the results of the “Deflate Gate” situation that dominated the offseason. Brady got off scott free after a court battle on what amounted to a technicality.

The irony of all of this is that Brady was fighting for his “legacy”. What he doesn’t realize is that fighting this investigation was the worst thing he could have possibly done for it. Had Brady simply explained that he instructed the New England equipment men to deflate the balls a little because he felt that the referees where over inflating them, breaking the rules without the actual intention of cheating, the whole thing would have blown over with minimal fuss. He may well have completely escaped suspension. As it is, his greeting in Santa Clara is an indication that fans aren’t likely to forgive or forget what happened any time soon.

Defensive Linemen on the Rise in 2016 NFL Draft. Offensive Linemen, Not So Much.

Reports from the Senior Bowl at nfl.com support previous indications that the defensive linemen are going to be a strength in this year’s NFL draft. Here’s a cross section of the comments from the first day of practice:

Mike Mayock

“We knew going in the deepest positional group was defensive tackle, and boy did that hold true. I thought Matt Ioannidis from Temple had a great day. I thought the kid from Louisiana Tech, Vernon Butler, had a phenomenal day. But the topper was Adolphus Washington from Ohio State. He was all over the field in one-on-one drills; he was too quick, too stout. He was great in team drills. I thought he put on a show.”

Lance Zierlein

“[Clemson DT D.J.] Reader‘s 340-pound frame was often too much for many of the linemen he faced on Tuesday. Keep an eye on this late addition because Reader could make himself some money this week.

“Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins showed off his ‘karate’ hands by defeating blockers with astounding quickness at times. While Rankins is undersized, his compact frame, outstanding balance, and next-level hand usage should make him one of the most consistent performers on the South squad this week.”

All this is great news for teams like the Bears who need defensive line help. It looks like they’re going to have a great selection to choose from.

But much of the rest of the league might not be too pleased. This dominant performance by the defensive tackles in these practices can’t speak well for the offensive linemen that are getting beat on a consistent basis. Judging by what I saw during the regular season, I’d be very surprised if less than three-quarters of the league is in need of offensive line help. That includes most of the playoff teams, as was graphically demonstrated by the beating that New England quarterback Tom Brady took on Sunday. In the NFC North, Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago all need help in one form or another along the offensive front.

The Bears might be able to find multiple defensive linemen in this draft. But the indications are growing that offensive linemen are going be at a premium.

Bears Fans Appreciate What They See in Jay Cutler and Good Coaching. I Hope.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune writes on the problems the Bears face with their available receivers constantly changing week to week:

“‘The word trust comes in,’ [Eddie] Royal said. ‘Sometimes the timing is not going to be there but you still have to play. You have to trust that the guy is going to be in that spot when you throw the ball. Jay [Cutler] has done a great job doing that, knowing where the guy is supposed to be and trusting that he is going to be there because a lot of throws are timing throws.”

He certainly has. And its a very notable improvement.

I have claimed for years that Cutler’s major problem has been that he doesn’t trust anyone. This is particularly damaging when he doesn’t trust his receivers because it prevents him from throwing with anticipation, relying on the receiver to be in the right spot at the right time. It’s one of the major reasons Cutler has developed over time as a “see it, throw it” player who relies on his arm strength to get the ball to a receiver in the short window of time after he is open instead of throwing it before he is open.

But Cutler has been doing considerably better this year in that respect and its one of the major factors in what is turning out to be perhaps his best career year ever.

Biggs continues:

“The [rotating receiver] predicament has made it difficult for opposing defenses to predict how the Bears are going to attack them in the passing game on a weekly basis. It also has prepared the bottom of the roster to contribute, something that should pay off when the group is finally healthy. That’s what the Bears are trusting in.”

It cannot be said enough what a treat Bears fans are being served this year through the results of great coaching that they have been privileged to observe. Top to bottom the Bears are maximizing production at every position week to week, including those that have seen heavy injuries like the offensive line and the wide receiver position.

Coaches have done a wonderful job working around these deficiencies through good game planning.  For instance, an emphasis on quick throws has relieved the pressure on the offensive linemen and the Bears have relied on the tight ends and running backs Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford as receivers more than ever.

But at least as important, players like Marc Mariani who have previously been literally nobodies in the league have been emerging to help the team win games that their talent indicates they shouldn’t even be close in.

This must be what its like to be a Patriots fan every year. Only Bears fans are likely to appreciate it more since they see it so much less. Or at least I hope so.

Jon Bostic Didn’t Fit the “Bear Player Profile”

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune comments upon the trade of Jon Bostic to the New England Patriots:

“In a season that’s all about finding building blocks, the Bears discarded the 50th overall pick from 2013. That’s a strong statement about Bostic’s inability to get on the field this season. Yes, he can chase down ball carriers and showed upside in pass coverage. But a combination of shin, hip, back and ankle injuries kept him out for the offseason program and through the first three games.

“Coach John Fox says he wants ‘smart and tough’ players. Here’s thinking Bostic didn’t meet that second criteria in the Bears’ eyes.”

I don’t question Bostic’s toughness and, as Campbell points out, I don’t think anyone questions his athletic ability. But to my eye Bostic lacked instincts. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots can extract from his physical potential.

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

Bears

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

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

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

    • Biggs continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere

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

One Final Thought

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

Steelers Look Like Season-Long Disappointment Waiting to Happen

Gene Collier at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regales his readers with a description of how the Steelers covered (or more accurately failed to cover) Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski last night.

“There were any number of reasons to expect a burst of [Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady virtuosity Thursday night, not the least of which was the presence on the Steelers sideline of Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen, the two defenders most urgently charged with solidifying a suspected secondary this season.

“That neither could earn a starting assignment in the opener sent a bad moon rising over [Steelers head coach Mike] Tomlin’s team, a dark karma it only exacerbated by the curious way in which it attempted to cover monster tight end Gronkowski, perhaps best described as running after him helplessly as he cruised toward the end zone.

“Gronkowski scored three touchdowns and fellow Patriots tight end Scott Chandler a fourth. Not even by putting Thomas and Robert Golden on the field at the same time in dime coverage could new defensive coordinator Keith Butler spin any combination of coverage that could be deemed, uh, coverage.”

I know a lot of media experts are high on the Steelers this year and they’re considered to be a Super Bowl contender based upon their offensive potential. But that offense shot itself in the foot far too often last night with a turnover and a team total of 8 penalties for 77 yards against a mediocre Patriots defense.  Two missed field goals didn’t help.  I saw nothing from the Steelers offense to convince me that they’re going to be able to make up for what looks to me like a well-below average defense of their own.

There have been rumblings about dissatisfaction with Tomlin in Pittsburgh. They’re a franchise that’s known for its stability when it comes to head coaches but I’m already starting to wonder if he won’t be in trouble by December.

John Fox Drives the Bears Bandwagon By Looking Forward. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Bears head coach John Fox doesn’t like to go into specifics. So its significant that even he concedes in this interview with John Mullin at csnchicago.com that things may be a little rough early in the season:

    “Truth be told, everybody breaks the season down into four quarters. Our first four games, and a little preseason, there’ll be a learning curve. Whenever you have a new staff, it’s just not as well-oiled early. Going back to both places I’ve been [Carolina, Denver], it didn’t start great. By the time you finish that first year, then it consistently gets better because you have some core players that know your system.

    “It doesn’t happen overnight, even from just the learning curve. Forget about the ability level; it’s knowing and understanding the system.”

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews Bears president/CEO Ted Phillips:

    “Phillips said [general manager candidate Chris] Ballard didn’t want the Bears to restructure their front office. Phillips characterized the power structure as the same as last season. Pace, who controls the roster, brought in at least 30 football-operations staffers during the offseason.”

    Its a funny statement because rumors at the time said exactly the opposite – that Ballard, as a previous employee, saw all of the flaws in the structure and wanted to change it. I would guess that the truth is probably somewhere in between. Ballard probably wanted to fire the “wrong people”.

  • Most reporters, Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com amongst them, think that there’s no way new offensive guard Patrick Omameh will learn the offense quick enough to start against the Packers. I’m not so sure but either way I think he’ll be starting soon.

    Omameh started at guard for the Bucs and even though he was part of a line that gave up 52 sacks, the Buccaneers obviously didn’t think that he was the biggest part of the problem. They already had Logan Mankins starting on the left and drafted Ali Marpet in the second round this year so they tried to move Omameh to tackle.

    If the Bears were happy starting Vlad Ducasse at guard, they’d have moved Kyle Long to tackle a long time ago. Don’t rule out Charles Leno starting a game at right tackle instead.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

Back to Mullin’s interview with Fox, who wasn’t all doom and gloom as he gives you a glimpse into the kind of thinking that he’s using to instill confidence into a team that gave up 55 points to the Packers last year:

“It’s back to people. I tell guys, ‘I’m not spending eight hours a day with [jerks]. And I don’t expect you to, either.’ When those come up, I’m runnin’ them out. Because it’s people. If you have all oars in the water and don’t have ‘anchors,’ you’ve got a chance – I don’t care what your talent level is.”

“People ask me about last year. Hell, I don’t know about last year. I say: You’ve got a rearview mirror. You glance at it to see what’s behind you and learn from it. But you spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror and not out the windshield, you’re going to wreck. We need to be looking ahead, not behind, except glancing to learn from it. “

The over-under on wins for the Bears in Vegas is 6.5 wins. I think that’s certainly in the ballpark as I’ve been predicting about 6 wins. Media gambling experts are taking the over.

I think one thing is certain. The Bears are going to be live underdogs, especially late in the year. If your fandom can survive the start of the season, there may be a payoff waiting for you at the end.

Are the Bears Really the Worst Team in the NFL?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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