One More Bears Question Before Training Camp

It’s going to be an interesting summer and there’s a lot to look forward to as we all observe what the Bears do. Leave it to Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune to provide just enough insight into the state of the team heading into training camp.

Biggs provides a pretty comprehensive look at the questions that we’ll all be looking for answers to this year by pointing to 10 of them. The whole article is worth reading but I’ll briefly state them here:

  1. Is Mitch Trubisky the real deal?
  2. Can the Bears finally stay healthy?
  3. Is there enough talent and depth at outside linebacker?
  4. Can Allen Robinson regain form?
  5. Will the secondary have stickier hands?
  6. Is Jordan Howard a good fit for the scheme?
  7. Can Kyle Fuller replicate an outstanding season?
  8. Will right guard Kyle Long return healthy and remain healthy?
  9. Is Trey Burton ready to be a playmaker?
  10. How will Matt Nagy juggle play-calling duties with being a head coach?

This was a good article and one I’ll keep handy as I consider how the Bears summer is progressing. Having said that, I’ve got a couple more. I’ve actually already addressed the first in previous article, “What impact will the fact that Nagy is a first time head coach with limited experience even as a coordinator have on the team?”.

The second one has occurred to me more and more as more information has leaked out about the new offense and how it will work. “How quickly can the players get up to speed with a new offense?”

This question has more than the usual amount significance this year with this team. The reason is the complexity of the offense that Nagy is bringing to the Bears. It is going to require not only an inexperienced quarterback in Trubisky to read the defense correctly, it is, more than usual (for the Bears), going to require the receivers to do so as well. This means that everyone has to be on the same page not only when the ball is snapped but after the defense starts moving. Cliff Harris at explains.

“The most obvious way a QB and a receiver need to be “on the same page” is by understanding coverages. Teams tend to structure their passing concepts with built-in adjustments to the coverage they’re getting. If a defense presents cover-2 (two deep defenders), the outside receiver might run a vertical route to force one of the deep defenders to get all the way to the sideline to cover him. If it’s cover-3, however (three deep defenders), that vertical will not work. There are too many deep defenders to throw down the sideline here. Therefore, the outside receiver will convert his vertical route to an out or a comeback at 12-15 yards… If the quarterback or the receiver fail to properly diagnose the coverage and/or don’t know the proper adjustment, it can result in a sack, an interception, or one of those really ugly throws to nowhere that leaves the fans thinking, Who the hell was that to?

“Pro defenses do a great job of disguising coverages, so it’s rarely as simple as depicted above.”

This goes far beyond simply recognizing a blitz and running a hot route. The proper adjustments are going to have to be made quickly and everyone is going to have to react correctly.

To my knowledge the Bears haven’t tried to implement an offense this complicated in a very long time. I may be understating the complexity of the offenses we’ve seen since then but the last coordinator that I know tried to implement anything like this was John Shoop way back in the days when Dick Jauron was the head coach. At that time it was a total disaster and we have rarely seen an offense as uncoordinated as that one since then.

In fairness, even back in those days, the scheme wasn’t the only problem. The Bears flat out lacked talent and the receivers frequently struggled to get off of the line of scrimmage.

Nevertheless, it was common to see the quarterback throw the ball to one spot while the receiver was going to another. If they were lucky the ball went out of bounds or fell harmlessly to the ground. If they weren’t, a defender would be the only guys to be where the ball ended up going and an interception resulted.

I’m certainly not comparing Nagy to Shoop. But what I am wondering is if the Bears are going to be able to avoid those problems as they try to learn this offense and act get together as a unit to make it work. For an offense to execute, all 11 guys have to do their job correctly. The more complicated it is, the less likely it is that will be the case.

A lot is going to depend on how quickly the players can pick the offense up and, especially, how well it’s taught. If the new coaches, who are just learning the scheme themselves, can’t convey the necessary information in a way that makes it easy for the players to pick up, the offense may never be executed to its potential. Its going to be a terrible eye sore if that turns out to be the case.

Realistically it’s possible – and perhaps likely – that we may be in for some ugly offensive football early in the season next year. Perhaps it will eventually emerge as something beautiful. And perhaps not. Like the questions above, it will be a situation that will be worth keeping an eye on.

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Patience with New Bears Head Coach May Be More Than Usually Necessary

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes Bears head coach Matt Nagy after a recent practice on the difficulties involved in getting the Bears new offense up and running:

“[The Bears players] understand that in Kansas City it took us five years to get (where) we got to. We’re kind of at a pace right now where we have to, at times, pull back and say to yourself: we’re months into this thing, not years. The more reps we can get in practice — whether it’s … splits, alignments, shifts, motions — the more they can see themselves doing it. That’s what we want.”

There’s a lot to like about the hiring of Nagy but there’s one inescapable fact about it that should bother anyone who follows the team. Nagy is a yet another Bears first-time head coach. He’s one in a long line of them over the last 24 years that includes Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron, Lovie Smith, and Marc Trestman. Over that period of time, only John Fox had previous coaching experience. Indeed, the only truly successful coach the Bears have had in that time since Mike Ditka was Smith. That’s not at all unusual. Bill Belichick, the greatest head coach in NFL history, didn’t get it right until the second time around in New England after failing as a first time head coach n Cleveland.

Each of these coaches had to learn on the job and Nagy will be no different. What makes his job even more challenging is his inexperience. He has, for instance, only called plays for half a season.

But by far the most worrisome part of his learning process will be figuring out the best way to install a new offense, something he’s never done before on his own. Nagy spent his entire coaching career under veteran head coach and offensive guru Andy Reid, who served as the defacto offensive coordinator. Nagy has never served as an offensive coordinator on a team where he was basically in charge.

You would expect under the circumstances that Nagy would follow Reid’s example as closely as possible. But he doesn’t appear that he’s doing that, at least not entirely. Backup quarterback Chase Daniel played for the Chiefs in 2013, Reid’s first year as head coach. Daniel estimates the Bears have installed 10 times as many plays as the Chiefs had in the spring that first year.

Nagy’s purpose is apparently to keep feeding quarterback Mitchell Trubisky as fast as possible to see how much he can handle. But it’s not just Trubisky. It’s the 10 other guys on the field with him. And they all have to do their jobs in order for the offense to run. Even assuming Trubisky can handle it, what are the chances all of the other guys can as well? Could Nagy’s impatience to get as much of the offense as possible installed as quickly as possible cost the Bears in the long run? Who knows?

Nagy is doing everything for the first time and there’s no guarantee that everything he does is going to work well. In fact, history shows that it’s quite the opposite. And Bears fans are just going to have to be patient and live with the mistakes. Again.

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30 Years Later Loss of the Honey Bears Is No Loss

Another day, another complaint from another set of NFL cheerleaders over working conditions. This time three former cheerleaders filed a class-action lawsuit against the Houston Texans franchise and its director of cheerleading. They allege that team officials forced them to work extra hours without compensation, exposed them to abusive, shaming behavior by the director and failed to protect them from physical abuse from fans.

“Twitter direct messages, which two cheerleaders and their lawyer provided, show examples of cheerleaders being pressured to lose weight themselves or to urge teammates to lose weight. One unnamed plaintiff spoke to on the condition of anonymity. , who goes by her initials in the lawsuit, requested her last name not be used out of fear of retaliation against family members in the industry.

“Paige G. said all Texans cheerleaders had to work hours for which they were not paid. She said she experienced no personal rebuke for her physical appearance and was never physically hurt. But she said she attached herself to the lawsuit and spoke out after growing disillusioned with behavior by Alto Gary, the director of cheerleader programs and cheerleader coach, that she either witnessed or teammates reported to her.

“’I feel like it’s part of my duty as a human being to protect my friends,’ Paige G. said. ’I want to stand up people too afraid to stand up for themselves.’”

Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis alleged in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that the Saints had discriminated against her. Former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware filed a complaint in April alleging Dolphins officials turned against her after she revealed she was a virgin.

If that wasn’t enough, anonymous former Washington Redskins cheerleaders alleged, first to The New York Times, that they had been forced to pose topless in front of sponsors at a 2013 Costa Rican swimsuit calendar shoot and then serve essentially as dates for suite holders at night on the trip.

For 30 years I’ve heard gumba fans complain about the loss of the Honey Bears in 1986. But I am personally so glad they had the wisdom to not reverse that decision.

These cheerleaders add nothing to the game but a (very) little bit of sexist titilation. You can’t even argue that they compete to see which team can perform the best, as they do in college.

Add that to the fact that they get paid practically nothing and it’s a bad situation waiting to happen, as these complaints show.  It’s time for cheerleading to disappear from the NFL.  Kudos to the Bears for being ahead of the curve.  Way ahead.

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Is the NFC North the Toughest Division in Football?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Best case scenario if everything goes right and the Bears stay healthy this year … what does that look like and translate into around wins and playoffs? — @illini_loyalty

“The over/under on victories for the Bears opened at 6.5 in Las Vegas, meaning the oddsmakers aren’t as bullish about the new Bears as many fans. Certainly I see a chance for the Bears to hit the over and, yes, they will probably need better fortune when it comes to injuries. They’re going to have to be significantly better than 6.5 to play in January when you figure it generally takes 10 wins to get in. The first thing to focus on is how many teams the Bears can pass in the division. They’ve been terrible in the NFC North, and getting better in the division is the first hurdle to clear. Is there a division foe that is due to backslide? Are there two division foes due to backslide? It’s going to be interesting.”

First of all, lets get this out of the way, first: Unless Mitch Trubisky turns out to be Peyton Manning – and I mean every bit that good – there’s no way the Bears smell the playoffs.

Having said that, the reason is three fold. Though they are getting better in both areas, the first two are obvious. First, they lack impact players. Second, they lack depth.

The third is a bit of a surprise, at least to me: they play in the toughest division in football. You wouldn’t actually think so. For one thing, the Bears are in it. For another, the Lions are in it. Both teams were bad enough to have switched head coaches at the end of last year and both now have rookie head coaches who are learning on the job.

But here’s the thing: the people who are actually in the business of predicting these things don’t agree with me. The over-unders for win totals for each team is in the table below along with the average for each division.

The NFC North leads the pack with the NFC South a close second. No one else is within half a game.

So I suppose the next time we point out that the Bears were (cough are cough) winless in the division, we should remember what division they’re in and cut them a little slack. A very little slack.

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Will Bears Have a Pro Bowler? It Will Take More Than Being Popular to Accomplish It.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Will the Bears finally have a Pro Bowl player this year? Seems like there are some defensive guys who could make it. If the offense performs better, I think that also helps the defense become a top-five defense. — @mdprice79

“Pro Bowl voting is done by fans, players and coaches, with all counting one-third in the process. Players on winning teams generally fare much better in balloting. Players on winning teams get more exposure. They’re talked about more. They do better at the polls. If the Bears can reverse their pattern of losing, they will likely have some more popular players when it comes to the Pro Bowl.”

This is, of course, quite true, especially in the fan balloting. But as Biggs knows, this isn’t the whole story.  It’s just that only cynical bloggers attack football organizations during the optimistic, rainbows and roses months like May.

The Bears once again this year have not a single player in the NFL Network’s top 100. This is based strictly upon player voting and though I’m sure being on a winning team helps, you can’t tell me that if you are on one of the 13 teams that studied and played the Bears that its going to influence you that much. If there’s a player that you are game planning around during the season and he’s not a total jerk, he’s going to make your list.

The last Bears player to make this list was Matt Forte in 2016 coming in at a lack luster #90. Since 2015 when he arrived not a single Ryan Pace draft pick or free agent signing has made the list.  Like this year, no one at all made it last year.

That’s not just lack of popularity, my friends. That’s flat out lack of talent and no matter how you cut it, the responsibility lies squarely in Pace’s lap.

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The More I Think of Daniels at Guard the More I Like It

New Bears rookie offensive lineman James Daniels talks about why it may be better for him to play guard this year:

“’(Guard) is hard, but you don’t have to make the calls and you don’t have to snap, which are two things centers do that people don’t realize how hard it is,’ Daniels said. ’So I’m not saying (guard) is easier, but it’s just different from playing center.

“’(Friday), I barely knew the calls myself, so I could find the Mike (linebacker), but that’s about it. I couldn’t make any of the blocking combos or anything like that.”’

My first instinct was to assume that this move to guard for Daniels was permanent. And maybe it still will be if he turns out to be really good there. But even if that isn’t the case, the reasons why putting him at guard is a smart move are becoming clear.

I like the way the new Bears coaching staff is thinking these things through.

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Who Will Enter Camp as the Starting Wide Receivers?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Who do you project to be the Bears’ starting three receivers Week 1 vs. Green Bay? Personally, I see Allen Robinson and Kevin White starting on the outside, Anthony Miller in the slot and a separate package designed for Taylor Gabriel. — @jjlaplanteeee

“Provided he is healthy, and there is no reason to believe he will not be, Robinson will be starting. After that, the Bears have a whole lot of time to sort through their options at the position. Gabriel’s four-year contract is for $26 million with $14 million guaranteed, and to me that means a greater role than being a gadget player or having a separate package. To me, that kind of money means he has a big role in the scheme. I think Gabriel will be able to play the slot and inside and Miller will have a chance to work into the mix as well. Let’s see how things come together over the summer.”

First I agree with Biggs about Gabriel. There’s too much money involved here. He’s going to be the slot receiver entering training camp.

Second I note that Biggs tactfully didn’t address the assertion that White will start. We’d all like to see this happen. He’s big and he’s ideally suited to a role on the outside opposite Robinson. But my advice is to not hold your breath.

The reports indicating that White is working hard in the offseason are encouraging but the truth is that White didn’t look good in training camp last year even before he was injured. The Bears aren’t counting on him for anything at this point.

Lastly, the fan has a point about Miller starting in the slot. Miller isn’t very big at 5’11” and I’m not a huge fan small receivers on the outside. I like what the Packers did in the offseason, drafting a group of trees to set up mismatches against smaller cornerbacks, a lot better.

Having said that, Antonio Brown is 5’10”. So it isn’t like Miller can’t start and do a good job on the outside or like he can’t be schemed to play to his strengths to excel. It will be interesting to see how he does.

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Lamar Jackson Could Be Great. But Don’t Hold Your Breath.

Mike Florio at comments on Ravens first round draft pick Lamar Jackson:

“Before the draft, the NFL’s media company pushed this opinion from an unnamed offensive coordinator regarding quarterback Lamar Jackson: ’He will not be able to play [quarterback] in this league — mark my words. When he throws, he hopes.”’

“One guy who may already be ready to unmark the words of the unnamed assistant coach is Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who praised Jackson’s throwing skills nine days after making him a first-round draft pick.

“’The thing that I was really impressed with is I thought he was accurate,’ Harbaugh told reporters on Saturday. ’You read the reports and stuff like that but he’s a naturally talented thrower. He’s got natural arm talent. And that’s something that I think people were questioning. So to see him out here throwing the ball naturally and very accurately I thought was a big plus.”’

There are a lot of people in the NFL media who are very openly rooting for Jackson. Part of this is that with his mobility he could make for an exciting player to watch. Part of it is almost certainly also the deep suspicion that despite all evidence to the contrary, the NFL is resistant to the idea of a black quarterback.

In watching the league over the past decade or so, I don’t think the latter of these factors affects NFL scouts all that much anymore. Scouts simply report the facts and they report what they see. Is it completely unbiased? No. If you let those biases take you too far out of line, you lose both your games and your job.

And here are the facts. Yes, Jackson’s accuracy is a concern. But the biggest problem he faces is that he combines that with a lack of arm strength. Jackson’s ball velocity was tied for dead last among all quarterbacks when measured at the NFL Combine. That’s below a whole host of quarterbacks that weren’t drafted and, indeed, will not even have the whiff of a hope of making an NFL roster.

This is a fact. It isn’t just an impression or some kind of fluffy quote from a coach who has no reason to be anything but positive after a guy’s first practice. It’s a measurement.

Lamar Jackson wasn’t asked to workout as a wide receiver because he’s black or because of some inherent remaining bias in the NFL. It’s because there are real doubts about whether he can make all of the throws. Whether he can get the ball outside the numbers throwing from a dead stand still without hanging it up like a weather balloon. And these doubts are rooted in cold, hard facts.

One of these days, one of these mobile quarterbacks is going to drop back and show that he can throw the ball all over the field consistently and accurately from the pocket. When it happens he’s going to change the game. If Jackson is that guy, more power to him. We can all hope that’s the case.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Bears Thoughts on the Second Day of the 2018 NFL Draft

A couple thoughts on yesterday’s second round haul:

  • What I liked: The James Daniels pick.

    I’m a “football games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage” guy and I always love to see offensive linemen taken reasonably high because they benefit everyone on the field in so many ways.

    I think the decision to play Daniels at left guard is smart. Daniels had trouble as a center handling big linemen at the point of attack. This is common in centers who have to snap the ball in addition to firing out to handle these mammoths. See Hronis Grasu for a perfect example. Even though Daniels has supposedly gained quite a bit of weight to get up to 305 pounds, I think allowing him to play guard may help solve this problem.

    At the same time it allows Cody Whitehair to stay put at center, where he has been doing extremely well. Hopefully this settles Whitehair and right guard Kyle Long into their spots, stabilizing the offensive line and allowing them to work at a single spot to become the best that they can be in their roles.

  • What I didn’t like: Trading a second round pick in next years draft to pick up wide receiver Anthony Miller.

    Every time the Bears do things like this it feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It seems like every year general manager Ryan Pace something to the effect of “It’d be nice to recoup that BLANK round pick that we gave up earlier.” How about staying put and allowing yourself to catch up?

    I suppose if Miller works out, no one will remember what they did to get him. But I get wary when teams seem to be spending their entire draft strictly chasing their immediate needs rather than the best player available. Hard to believe there was a guy so good that you absolutely had to have him and who, at the same time, just so happens is a receiver.

    When I look around the league it just seems to me like the smart organizations are the ones that collect picks, not trade them away.

    Former Bears general manager (and the last decent one they had) Jerry Angelo used to stress that you as a GM you should never fall in love with prospects. PAce comes from a different type of background with the New Orleans Saints. Former Eagles team president Joe Banner explains. Via Don Banks at The Athletic.

    “Banks: The win-now Saints arguably made the boldest, riskiest move of the night in moving from No. 27 to No. 14 to take UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport, giving up their 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay in the process. Your assessment of what they gave up and if it’s worth that for a pass rusher who is promising but seen as somewhat of a work in progress?

    “Banner: Historically, the Saints have been kind of over-aggressive and short-term focused and gotten themselves into really deep cap trouble. The last of couple years, they seemed to have learned the better way was to be somewhat aggressive but to balance it in the short term in terms of value in a way they hadn’t been. I looked at this as kind of falling back into their old bad habits. And I happen to like this player, though I’m not sure he’ll be an impact player right away.

    “So again you have to get the right value because you’re trying to build a whole roster, and there’s no player other than maybe a difference-making quarterback that compensates for being weak in other areas. I think they dramatically overpaid. I think they got a good player, but I wonder if he’ll actually be ready to contribute in a major way in the time frame they’re hoping.”

    I think Pace falls in love with these prospects too easily. He did it with Mitch Trubisky and it forced him to trade up in a scenario where it was reportedly unnecessary. He did it with Leonard Floyd before him. Every once in a while, maybe its OK. But every year? If this continues, it’s going to hurt the organization. It’s arguably hurting it already.

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Roquan Smith a Good, Not Great Pick for the Bears

When media experts describe Roquon Smith, the Bears first round selection of the 2018 NFL draft, one word comes up time and again: “instinctive”.

Instinct. It’s a magical word suggesting that a player has this mystical quality that can overcome all other obstacles that a flawed prospect might face. It’s often said that it’s more valuable than any other characteristic because it’s something that you can’t teach. And it almost automatically goes with another word that all fans with all of their own flaws associate themselves with: “underdog”. Which is probably why this was such a popular pick for the Bears before the draft even began.

“Roquan Smith is the truth, man,” Louis Riddick, former NFL personnel executive and current ESPN analyst, said April 16. “The kid is a player in every sense of the word. He should be a Pro Bowler very quickly.”

Riddick wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard and read a number of local reporters and fans slobber over the prospect of the Bears drafting Smith. They conjure up images of Mike Singletary’s awareness with Brian Urlacher’s sideline to sideline speed.

However scouts and coaches whose careers are on the line can’t afford to let their hearts rule their heads. Underdogs have no place in the game until they prove themselves. At which point they aren’t underdogs any more. That’s why this pick is only so-so in my book.

Because you know what else you can’t teach? Size. Roquon Smith may have gotten himself up to 235 pounds but he’s got a small frame that played last season at 225. All that instinct stuff is great until a 310 pound offensive guard that moves like an angry rhino lays his body on you in the middle of the defense and blows you out of your hole.  That’s when reality sets in.  And I’ll take reality over the ephemeral and mystical any day of the week. And it’s something that happened to Smith more frequently than anyone would like just at the college level. When it happens to you with any frequency in the NFL, you’re still an underdog fighting to survive the odds. And you might always be one right until you find yourself out of the league.

In fairness to the Bears, there were no really excellent picks for them in this spot. This was a terrible draft for first round talent. The three no brainers, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quinton Nelson, were all gone and all they had left to choose from was a group of deeply flawed players, any one of whom could have been taken anywhere between 7 and 15. Even with Smith’s lack of physical upside he was as good as any of them and I’m fine with the pick.

And I can imagine a scenario where the Bears compensate for Smith’s weaknesses. Put some big linemen in front of him like nose guard Eddie Goldman and defensive end Akiem Hicks, maybe they occupy the blockers and leave Smith free to roam. It should be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio does and I’m looking forward to it.

But don’t tell me Smith is something he’s not – elite, clean selection who is sure to bring the defense to the next level. He’s not. That’s your heart talking. He’s just another dirty, underdog prospect in a 2018 draft that is full of them. Unless and until he shows otherwise.

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