Bears Will Give Wright the Freedom to Succeed. Or Enough Rope to Hang Himself.

Of all of the Bears signings in 2017, the one that fascinates me the most is wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Wright is an enigma.  Drafted in the first round of the 2012 annual player selection process, the 5’10” 191 lb receiver had his best year under former Titans offensive coordinators  Chris Palmer and Dowell Loggains.  And then, after a wonderful 2013 season where he recorded 94 catches for 1,079 yards in a breakout season, Wright’s role gradually diminished as the Titans went through Ken Whisenhunt, Jason Michael and Terry Robiskie as play-callers.

A high maintenance player, Wright couldn’t hold back his frustrations.  For example, after a particularly disappointing loss to the Bills in 2015, Wright cut loose.  “I’m beyond frustrated,” Wright said. “I don’t feel like I’m being able to do what I can do until late in games. I feel like I’m a good receiver and I feel like I’ve been open and I can beat the DBs or whoever is (covering) me, but I haven’t really been given the opportunity I’ve been looking for.”

“I just want to be relevant again. I don’t feel like I’m being relevant at all.”

Asked if he was the primary target on Mariota’s final throw, which was intercepted, Wright said: “I don’t know. I can’t remember the last time I was the primary option on anything. He threw it and I tried to make a play on it.”

What exactly did Wright mean when he said that he didn’t feel like he was being allowed to do what he can do?

As it turns out, Wisenhunt, Michael and Robiskie all shared one common characteristic that Wright felt restricted him.  While Wright was given a little more room to “freelance” on his routes under Loggains, the later offensive coaches all had rigid offensive systems where they insisted that Wright stay on script.  Robiskie was particularly blunt last summer as he entered his first year as Titan’s offensive coordinator when he said that neither Wright nor anyone else was going to “freelance” in his offense.

“We’ve got 11 guys that are going to be on the field,” Robiskie said. “We’ve got 11 guys that we say, `This is your job and here is your responsibility,’ and I think Kendall is like everybody else — realizing those other 10 guys are counting on Kendall to be where he’s supposed to be and do what he’s supposed to do.”

To top it off, Wright was the number 3 receiver in 2016 in a system under Robiske that ran fewer three receiver sets than any team in the league.

For what its worth, Wright himself objects to the term “freelance”.

“I would say I was put in position on choice routes to make plays on linebackers and safeties,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t call it freedom. I don’t really know a coach who will go out there and say, ‘Kendall, just get open.’ It was choice, option routes. I don’t know where freedom came from. I’m sure somebody made that up, took it and ran with it.

“They was making it sound like … the quarterback was just saying `Kendall, you go do whatever you want and I’ll find you.’ I do what I’m told. I run the route I’m told.”

Whatever you call it, Wright couldn’t wait to get out of Tennessee and into a system where he felt more comfortable.  Wright said after becoming a free agent that he finally feels “free”.

“I’ll be glad to see what I can do,” Wright said, “and make a team fall in love with me and go and do what I know I can do.”

Wright obviously believes that re-uniting with Loggains will get him more of those option routes where he’s lined up on a guy and told to just go out and beat him.  And that, he hopes, will put him back into a groove.

We shall see.

I’ve seen situations like this before where players think a change in system will improve their play.  More often than not, they are making excuses for their own failures and these changes rarely work out.

A great example is that of Mario Williams’s move from the Bills to the Dolphins last year.  Williams let it be known that his poor 2015 performance was due to a move to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that then Bills head coach Rex Ryan was running.  As it turned out, it wasn’t the scheme.  It was Williams and he had a miserable 2016 with his hand on the ground in the Dolphins 4-3 scheme.

If Wright has the same kind of season this year that he did the last three years of his career, watch out.  It won’t be great to be inside the Bears locker room but will be a fun place for fans looking in from the outside.  History tells us that Wright isn’t the kind of guy to suffer in silence.  I think we’ll be able to count on him for at least one good eruption during the year.

On the other hand, it will be fascinating to watch and see if Loggains can extract more out of Wright when other coordinators couldn’t.  He takes a lot of abuse from the local media.  If he pulls this off and makes Wright into the number 1 receiver he seems to think he is, Loggains will definitely have earned some respect.

I’m just not holding my breath.

Quick Game Comments: Titans at Bears 11/27/16

Offense

  1. Some surprises  on the Bears first possession.  First play of the game is a long bomb that draws a pass interference call.  So much for easing Matt Barkley into the game the way that most teams would do.
  2. Second surprise, the Bears go for it on fourth and one on the Titan 30 yard line.  They didn’t get it.  Perhaps this as much as anything suggests that it this isn’t so much about wins and losses and it is about evaluation.  The Bear have nothing to lose and that, obviously, is going to be the mentality for the rest of the year.  There were plenty of guys out there who looked like they were having fun in their moment to shine in place of injured players.  Marquess Wilson looked pretty happy to just be catching passes and someone named Daniel Brown made a nice catch for the Bears first  touchdown.
  3. Having said all that the Bears really came out running.   Seven of their first 12 plays were runs and they were averaging almost 6 yards per carry.
  4. Titans really look like they came out flat for this game.  There aren’t that many games that they go into as the favorites and you wonder if they didn’t take the Bears seriously.  Whatever it was, it didn’t last long as they quickly began to dominate.
  5. Cody Whitehair had another brain fart as he had a bad snap deep in Bears territory that killed a drive.
  6. Kudos to Matt Barkley for standing in the pocket and looking down the barrel of the gun to deliver some tough throws knowing he was going to get hit.
  7. Give the Bears some credit.  The whole stadium knew they were going to throw in the fourth quarter during their comeback and they did a decent job of protecting Barkley, who got the ball out fast.

 

Defense

  1. The Titans also came out running as expected and they did  a nice job of it.  It nicely set up the play action pass for big games, particularly in the first quarter where at least one long pass was completed to Delany Walker as Adrian Amos was caught flat footed looking for the run.  He’s got to understand that he’s being set up and he should be looking for that throw.
  2. Bryce Callahan wasn’t much better as he was repeatedly burned.  His job has to be in jeopardy.
  3. The play action pass also really helped what is an average Titan receiving corp excel.
  4. The Titans really dominated the line of scrimmage.  They protected Marcus Mariota well and the pass rush rarely gave Marcus Mariota much trouble.  More importantly, they completely neutralized the Bears front seven rush in the running game.  Nearly every run got to the second and third level.
  5. Marcus Mariota did some big damage with his mobility.  He typically dropped back, looked for a target and if he didn’t see someone relatively quickly, he took off.  It was something you expect to see a rookie do but it was still plenty effective.
  6. Mariota has to lose the cheesy mustache and the soul patch.  It looks ridiculous.
  7. Nice catch by Rishard Matthews right before the half for the Titans third touchdown.
  8. Nick Kwiatkowski didn’t do much special but he held his own.  He was the primary force that stopped Demarco Murray from scoring a touchdown last in the third quarter.
  9. Mariota had a wonderful game.  The guy throws a pretty deep ball.

 

Miscellaneous

  1. Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots were your announcers.  I found it to be amusing that the Bears didn’t even rate a sideline reporters.  They weren’t irritating and they did a decent job of accurately describing the action.  Having aid that, I can’t say that I learned much.  When the audio went out briefly in the second quarter I can’t say that I missed it that much.
  2. Special teams weren’t bad.  The Bears pulled a surprise of the type that the Titans have been pulling off recently.  They started the second half with an onside kick and recovered it.  Bears special teams coordinator Jeff Rogers trained under Titans special teams coordinator Steve Hoffman.  Perhaps he’s trying to show that he can coach like the older veteran.
  3. The Titans were really burned by some pass interference calls in the first half.  As it turns out, no harm done as the Bears went for it on fourth and one and didn’t complete the pass on the first one and Matt Barkley threw an interception deep in Titan territory after the second.  The Titans weren’t the only one to have trouble in this respect.  An offensive pass interference by Logan Paulsen eliminated a first down.  A defensive holding from Bryce Callahan kept the Titans alive on the drive that resulted in the their second touchdown, as well.
  4. I was disappointed at the number of drops in this game.  For instance, Jordan Howard dropped a touchdown in the first quarter.  Cameron Meredith had one that stuck out at the beginning of the second quarter that should have been a first down and another in the fourth quarter as the offense worked to make a game of it.  Josh Bellamy dropped a first down near the end of the half and two more in the fourth quarter.  Marquess Wilson dropped a very good long pass in the fourth quarter that would have set the Bears up for a potential touchdown and would have really lifted some spirits at that point.  He then dropped another perfectly thrown ball in the end zone.  And, of course, Bellamy dropped a potential game winning touchdown.  These guys really let Matt Barkley down.
  5. Matt Barkley threw a bad interception behind Ben Braunecker where Wesley Woodyard picked it off deep in Titan territory that took at least three points off the board.  He threw another crushing interception in the end zone while under pressure.  That wasted a good effort coming out after halftime after the team recovered an onside kick.
  6. This was a particularly disappointing game for me because the Bears were not only outclassed talent-wise but because they literally seemed to make every mistake that you can make.  Average Titans receivers ran by defensive backs like they were traffic cones.  Too many penalties, drops, crushing turnovers, bad tackling and even a bad shotgun snap.  You name it, they did it.  I guess the good news is that there’s a lot to work on.  Any consistent improvement will be very easy to see at this point.

 

Ups and Downs for Those Bucs/Titans Fans

For those Buccaneers fans jumping off bridges after week one because your team chose Jameis Winston, I come bearing good news: The last quarterback to throw a pick six on his first NFL pass? Brett Favre.

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Oh. And lest you think I’ve forgotten you smug Marcus Mariota fans:

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Good luck riding those rollercoasters, boys and girls.

Quick Comments from Selected Late Sunday NFL Games

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

Broncos – Ravens:

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

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

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

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

Titans – Buccaneers:

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

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

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

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

The Bears play the Buccaneers on December 27.

Chargers – Lions:

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

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

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

Cardinals – Saints:

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

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

Cowboys – Giants

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

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

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

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.

Draft Day Trade of Cutler? In Some Ways It Makes Sense.

Josh Alper at profootballtalk.com continues to speculate on the possibility that Jay Cutler will be traded. This is, of course, possible and if it is going to happen, it will most likely be close to or during the draft. But it’s highly unlikely to be directly connected to an attempt to obtain Marcus Mariota.

If the Bears do draft a quarterback that they feel could start in 2015 or even one they think they can be very confident will develop this year, they might still be able to trade Cutler for a bag of balls without, for instance, asking for some sort of quarterback in return. If they pass on Mariota, that team could be the Titans, who might want a veteran quarterback to pair with promising but still relatively unknown Zack Mettenberger. That would be some expensive insurance, though, and it’s unclear to me how Cutler would fit into that equation.  It’s possible that such a trade only happens if the Titans, contrary to their public stance, actually have doubts about Mettenberger (as everyone outside of Tennessee seems to have).

Bottom line anything is possible. This assessment of the Bears chances of trading Cutler on draft day from Adam Schein at nfl.com is right in line with that thinking:

“New GM Ryan Pace established that Cutler is the Bears’ starting quarterback, but let’s be honest: It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Is it hard to imagine the new regime looking for an opportunity to unload the mercurial signal-caller and his bloated contract? No, not at all.

“Let’s say a QB-needy team — Tennessee or Cleveland, for example — eschews the position early in the draft. Would either entertain the idea of ‘fixing’ Cutler if it only meant taking on his salary and giving up a low-round pick? The Titans need buzz and Cutler made a name for himself in Nashville while starring at Vanderbilt. Cleveland … well, you can never be sure what the Browns are thinking. So who knows?

“Would the Bears get rid of Cutler, even without addressing the position in Round 1? I would, if I were Pace, in a heartbeat. I’d look to draft a quarterback on Day 2 and possibly make a move for a vet. You cannot have John Fox preaching energy as Cutler sucks the life out of the Bears.”

What quarterback on Day 2?  How about Garrett Grayson? I love Grayson and I think the Bears should seriously consider drafting him. Read this article by Troy E. Renck at the Denver Post to see why.

“When I talk to NFL scouts, I tell them to let him show what he knows. He can run a pro offense, and I also tell them to put on the film,” [former Colorado State offensive coordinator DaveBaldwin said. “I tell them to watch the Boston College game, when he hurt his shoulder, hobbled to the line of scrimmage and wouldn’t come out. Or watch when we went down to San Jose State and he pulled his hamstring and had a great day. His toughness is what you want. And his knowledge of defenses is definitely what you should want.”

Insert Grayson and take out Cutler for a low round pick? I’d take that. In a heart beat.

What if Marcus Mariota Actually Fell to the Seventh Pick? It’s Not an Easy Question Anymore.

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com makes the case for the Bears to draft Marcus Mariota if they get the chance:

“Mariota will need time to grow, which is just a continuation of the path he’s been on for years. In the two years between committing to the Ducks and becoming their starter, Mariota made football his life, transforming from an overly emotional teenager to one of the most stoic stars in the game.

“He drew Oregon’s gazillion plays on school notebooks so he could teach them to teammates in practice. He wrote his entire Heisman acceptance speech on a piece of photo paper so he could follow it in one of the toughest moments of his life. Process is his refuge.”

“You reach a point in staring into the eyes of a man that you start to see the person he’s becoming rather than the one he just left behind. In Mariota, you see all the tools – the 6-4, 225-pound frame; the 4.52 speed; the strong arm; and the instantaneous release – and maybe the question to ask isn’t if, but when?”

This is some nice insight in a well-written article. Mariota (below) has risen in the estimation of many evaluators in the media as they’ve had more and more time to study him.  It seems that many are realizing that he did more in the Oregon offense that translates to the pro game than they had originally thought.

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Atkins seems to take seriously the idea that Tennessee would trade the second overall pick for the Bears pick and Jay Cutler. He doesn’t say so but I’m sure he realizes that the Bears would have to throw in more.

More likely the question of whether the Bears should take Mariota will come if he actually falls to the seventh pick. Last week I would have said, “Trade down and take the extra picks.” The Bears have needs all over the field and the opportunity to take more than one young, cheap playmaker with an extra pick or two would be too great to pass up.  But now I’m not so sure that Mariota isn’t going to be the answer at the most important position in football. For someone at least.

Bucking the NFL Trend at Quarterback

David Climer at The Tennessean looks into the validity of the rumors that the Titans will draft a quarterback of trade for Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers.

“Who, then, will be the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback when the regular season opens in September?

“[sixth round draft pick] Zach Mettenberger, of course.

“Look, I’m not telling you this is what should happen. I’m just telling you what will happen.

“This is how the Titans roll. They’ve got a plan and they’re sticking to it.”

“In short, [head coach Ken] Whisenhunt and [general manager Ruston] Webster think they pulled the steal of the 2014 draft. Titans brass see Mettenberger as a poor team’s Tom Brady. He’s the quarterback.”

I absolutely believe this. I’m not 100% convinced that they won’t trade a bag of balls for someone like Cutler as insurance (though I doubt it). But I genuinely believe that the Titans want to see if Mettenberger is their future and I don’t think they’ll draft a quarterback high in this draft.

If the Titans stick to their guns here, they’re gong to be bucking a serious trend. The general belief is that you find your NFL starting quarterbacks in the first and second rounds. Not much consideration is ever given to lower round picks anymore. Mike Huguenin examines the situation. Note that the Rams and Eagles both had two quarterbacks who started eight games:

“What we found among the 34 starters: Exactly half (17) were first-round picks, including five quarterbacks who were the overall No. 1 picks. In all, there were eight first-rounders who were the first quarterbacks selected in their respective draft, along with five first-rounders who were the second quarterbacks drafted and four who were the third signal-callers picked. (Two former first-rounders were injured, Arizona’s Carson Palmer and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, and another, Buffalo’s EJ Manuel, lost his starting job early in the season — meaning the 17 easily could have been 20.)

“Six quarterbacks were second-round picks, including two who were the second quarterbacks selected in their respective drafts.”

There’s a part of me that thinks its nice that the Titans are giving a sixth round draft pick a chance to develop. There’s an underdog quality to the story and I’m rooting for him. At the same time, like many others, I’m wondering what the Titans see in Mettenberger that most of the rest of the world doesn’t.

It could be very good news for late round quarterbacks if Mettenberger works out and the rest of the copycat NFL follows their lead. I think underrated guys like East Carolina’s Shane Carden are too often dismissed and deserve more of a chance. On the other hand, if the Titans are deluding themselves into thinking Mettenberger is a gem that he’s not, they’re going to be kicking themselves for not taking a quarterback in the part of the draft where virtually everyone else currently agrees that you find one.

On a Positive Note and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently didn’t read my article indicating that they haven’t changed as he outlines the Bears needs post-free agency. In fairness, the list looks a lot like the one from two months ago.
  • Plenty of people have claimed that the Bears overpaid for wide receiver Eddie Royal. But Eric D. Williams at ESPN points out that Royal’s reliable, high quality play had an impact on the Chargers last year. They’ll likely miss him.
  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked if he’d take linebacker Vic Beasley or wide receiver Amari Cooper if both were on the board for the Bears. Wright goes with the wide receiver because he thinks its currently a greater need.

    Cooper in my opinion is far and away the better prospect. He’s as close to a sure thing as your going to get at receiver with a lot of speed and polish. Beasley, on the other hand, scares me. He’s another one of these late risers who shot up boards after the draft. I watched one of his games during the season and was mighty unimpressed. Guys like this, who don’t stand out based upon the tape but who catch your eye after showing they can run track, have a bad habit of busting. This is where teams need to anchor their board.

  • Dan Hanzus at nfl.com constructs a team out of the remaining free agents. Its not too bad and there are some guys the Bears could use here at the right price at spots like tight end (Jermaine Gresham), along the offensive line (e.g. Jake Long), and safety (Stevie Brown, Bernard Pollard). My guess is that the hey phrase for a many of these guys it “at the right price”. At some point, that almost has come down and we might see some of these guys.
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews linebacker turned defensive end turned linebacker Lamarr Houston. He claims he was often played out of position last year at defensive tackle. He was listed at 300 lb but actually weighed 265.

    Houston was mostly being asked to rush the passer from that spot. It was quite an adjustment and one that he didn’t make quickly. Or perhaps some would say the old coaching staff didn’t adjust and switch him back to a position he’d be more more likely to succeed in quickly enough. I’m certain he’ll be happier and more productive this year.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears are having offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in for a pre-draft visit. I’m glad the Bears aren’t ignoring the offensive line, which has to get better if they’re really going to run the ball more. Clemmings is targeted for the middle to late first round. This may be an indication that the Bears are looking to trade back.
  • chicagofootball.com rounds up a whole lot of mock drafts. The most popular choices are Amari Cooper and Danny Shelton. Clearly the Bears are going to get a very good player in the first round if the stick in the seven slot.

Elsewhere

    • Judy Battista at nfl.com does a nice job of detailing the limbo that both Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans are in after his micro-fracture surgery. As bad as this is for Clowney, it’s worse for the Texans. They can only hope that Clowney’s recovery goes smoothly but it would be unwise to count on it.
    • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com points out that the NFL offseason calendar changed and that could affect when free agents are signed. In previous years, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams counted toward the league’s compensatory pick formula until June 1. That day has been moved to May 12. So a lot of signings could happen right after that day.
    • Victor Mather at The New York Times reports on the current state of the Aaron Hernandez trial. I’ll summarize for those who don’t want to read the details: The evidence is all circumstantial and he’s going to get off.
    • On the other hand, those who don’t want to believe that will want to read this from Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com.
    • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com has a little fun with his mock draft, projecting a straight up trade of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to the Titans for the number two overall pick. I think I would demand more if I were the Titans but I guess its not impossible. 
    • Michael Rothstein at ESPN details the likely loss of yet another defensive lineman for the Lions in George Johnson. The guess here is that its not a huge loss in that Johnson never did much in the NFL until he was paired with Ndamukong Suh. Nevertheless it would be yet another significant loss in terms of depth. The Lions are cap strapped and they’ve got holes popping up on that defense.

One Final Thought

You won’t find many positive articles about the Bears in the national media (believe me I’ve looked). So this one by Elliot Harrison at nfl.com was mildly refreshing. It’s not head-over-heels positive but overall its evident that Harrison likes what he sees here from Ryan Pace.

As a side note, Elliot highlights the fate of Stephen Paea, arguably the Bears best defensive player last year. Most of us figured that Paea was gone with the transition from a 4-3, where he was a nose tackle, to the 3-4 where he presumably didn’t have a position. The Redskins picked up Paea in free agency after the Bears apparently showed little interest. Guess where they’ll play him. Defensive end in a 3-4, an area of weakness for the Bears right now. It will be interesting to see how that transition works out.