Draft May Lack Linebackers but Other Defensive Positions Look Strong

Eric D. Williams at ESPN comments upon Mel Kiper‘s first mock draft:

“Kiper said he felt cornerback, offensive guard and defensive line — both defensive end and defensive tackles — are deep position groups in this year’s draft.

“Twenty of the 31 players in Kiper’s initial mock draft were defensive players, and 11 of those 20 defensive players were defensive linemen.

“‘Defensive line probably and corner are the strong positions in this draft by a mile,’ Kiper said.”

That’s good news for a Bears team in desperate need of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Though, like Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune, I’d prefer a pass rusher and the high end of the draft looks bare of worthy inside linebackers, the Bears have needs at every level of the defense. Especially the defensive line.

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Vic Fangio and The “Head Coach Type”

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions. this one was about why Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn’t get an interview for a head coaching position:

“Fangio is 57 but we have seen older coaches get their first crack at a head job recently with Bruce Arians enjoying tremendous success in Arizona. Fangio isn’t a very political guy and I say that not as a positive or a negative but simply as an observation that you get. Every head coach that was hired this offseason was from an offensive background.”

The comparison to Arians might be a good one here in more ways than age. Arians, like Fangio, “isn’t a very political guy”. From the quotes that I have read, he’s a straight shooting guy who will walk in to a room and firmly tell you what he thinks.

That sounds like a good thing in theory and that’s what everyone says that they want to hear. But the reality is something different. Some of the smartest people I know are like this and I’ve found over time that it’s a mistake not to listen to them. But I’ve also noticed that they rarely get asked to work with people in teams on administrative tasks. The truth is that straight shooters often tell it like it is with little tact and sometimes they are so firm that it comes across as an attack. That’s not good and they often impress as uncompromising to administrative types in any business, not just football. You need a guy who can get his point across while still leaving the people around the table certain that he’ll play nicely if things don’t go his way.

If I were to guess as to why Arians didn’t get the job in Chicago when he interviewed in 2013, I’d say that he scared some people off with his forthright attitude, particularly then general manager Phil Emery, who had been dealing with a very stubborn and opinionated Lovie Smith. That was the Bears loss. But it is also understandable.

I’m making some assumptions here but if Fangio is to get his chance at a head coaching job, he’s probably going to have to make sure that everyone he meets knows that he’s a team player no matter what the circumstances. Expressing an opinion is a tone that is calm and reasoned with less emotional baggage usually helps. In fact, it’s usually essential. Otherwise, Bears fans will be happy to have him in Chicago for as long as he wants to be here.

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At Some Point the Bears Need to Enter Draft “Crap Shoot” for a Quarterback

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Do you see the Bears picking a quarterback in the first three rounds? — @albert80

“I think the bigger question is would the Bears pull the trigger on a quarterback in the first round. That’s where the talent lies. If there is a quarterback they really like, they’d have to make that move because it’s rare that a team is in position to draft a quarterback it truly covets. However, there are a host of needs on the roster, especially on defense. Unless they love the quarterback, I think they go in a different direction in Round 1. If you’re talking about drafting a quarterback outside of the first round, it becomes a much bigger crap shoot than the already big crap shoot it is drafting quarterbacks in Round 1.”

I would love to see the Bears take a quarterback that they loved in round 1. But from what I’ve seen so far, I haven’t seen one that I love so I can’t exactly expect that they will have, either. At some point I’ll get back to breaking them down but so far the only top quarterback I haven’t seen is North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and no one has impressed me as a “must have” prospect for the future of the franchise.

That means that if the Bears are going to find a quarterback who has the talent to eventually start with some development, they are almost certainly going to have to go with the “much bigger crap shoot” in the second or third rounds. Yes, it’s a risk but its a risk that you have to start taking now so that if it doesn’t work out, you can take another bite at the apple sooner rather than later.

The entire draft is a crap shoot. But you can’t win if you don’t play.

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Bears Chances of Finding an Inside Linebacker at the 11th Spot in the Draft May Not Be Good

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times comments on the upcoming NFL draft:

“ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Bears taking Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland with the No. 11 pick in the first round of his first mock draft.

“‘[He’s a] guy who can really, [really] handle the run and be a great leader,’ Kiper said. ‘He’s a run-stuffer. He’s got good range. Coverage ability is OK. It’s not great — you saw that exposed in the National Championship Game. Tremendous, tremendous intangibles. All the physical qualifications you want. Overall, he would fill a void there [and] can step right in.'”

I caught an interview with former Bears personnel man Greg Gabriel on WSCR Wednesday and he was considerably less optimistic about the Bears chances of taking an inside linebacker in the first round.  Gabriel is currently preparing the annual draft guide publication for Hub Arkush.

Gabriel doesn’t see Ragland as a first rounder saying “He’ll run 4.7 [seconds in the 40 yard dash] at the combine.” He also believes that Myles Jack out of UCLA, who Kiper has going at the 10 spot to the New York Giants, as more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive back guy who excels in coverage. Gabriel doesn’t believe that Jack would fit the profile the Bears are looking for.

If Gabriel is right, it might not be great year to find a playmaker at the inside linebacker spot and the Bears will likely be looking in another direction with their first round pick.

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Special Problem

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times makes a good point about the Bears special teams:

“The Bears have obvious priorities in signing their own free agents this offseason: wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, cornerback Tracy Porter, running back Matt Forte, linebacker Shea McClellin and tight end Zach Miller— probably in that order. But they can’t ignore special teams. And their top four special-teams tacklers from last season are free agents: Sherrick McManis (17), Joshua Bellamy (10), Chris Prosinski (9) and Sam Acho (8). Their two main kick returners — [Marc] Mariani and Deonte Thompson (29.2 yards per kickoff return) also are free agents.”

I don’t expect that any of these guys would be too tough to resign. And given that Prosinski, Acho and Mariani all contributed in good ways on the field at various times during the season is a good indicaiton that the Bears will want them back. Even Bellamy, who has a bad habit of dropping  passes, showed his value at times when called upon as the wide receiver position was devastated with injuries at certain times. But I’m not too sure about McManis, who struggled to cover slot receivers at the nickel back position when given a chance to play.

Special teamers ideally have to be decent backups as well. I’m not too sure the Bears will decide that they can afford to carry McManis if they feel that he can’t be relied upon when needed.

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How Much Available Cap Space Do the Bears Really Have?

The standard thought amongst fans is that the Bears have a tremendous amount of cap space to sign big free agents in the offseason this year. According to sportrac.com, that’s both true and not true.

The Bears will have roughly $55 million dollars in available cap space in the offseason. That ranks them second amongst the 32 NFL teams. However, their “cap health” only ranks them at 12th. That’s because they only have 14 of their 22 starters signed and those 14 take up 62% of their available space.

The bottom line is that, because the Bears available cap space has to be used to replace a relatively large percentage of the players on their roster, their ability to spend a great deal of money on only one or two free agents is limited.

Still, 12th ranks them in the top end of the league and the Bears are in great financial shape for the coming offseason. Just not as great as some people think.

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Drinking the Cleveland Kool-Aid

Jeff Darcy at cleveland.com writes a rather kind piece on how the Browns are structuring their front office, labeling it “innovative”:

[Owner JimmyHaslam‘s unique new front office model is actually in keeping with the legacy of Paul Brown.   The iconic team namesake was known for modernizing professional football with  innovations he introduced with his teams.  His intellectual and innovative approach to the game led to decades of dominance by the Cleveland Browns.    Here’s hoping that this time history repeats itself.

Giving Sashi Brown, the team lawyer, someone who has never in his life worked on the personnel end of an organization, control over the 53 man roster is not innovative.  It’s insane.  Haslam needed less interference from these types of people not more.

I thought the hiring of Hue Jackson as head coach was a good get.  But the Browns are going nowhere looking for someone to head the personnel department while giving teams the right to refuse them an interview for a position that doesn’t allow personnel control.  Allowing Brown, someone with no experience whatsoever evaluating NFL players, the power to arbitrate disagreements between Jackson and the said yet to be found “general manager” makes the situation even less attractive to those who are even allowed to interview.

Jackson is a very good coach.  But he can’t coach a team with no talent.

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Looking at Some Interesting Pending Free Agents with the Chiefs

Dave Skretta at the Topeka Capital-Journal reviews the Kansas City Chiefs players that are set to see free agency.

There are some interesting names here. Sean Smith is a 28 year old physical cornerback that would look good in a Bears uniform, Jeff Allen might look good at right guard and, frankly, even Chase Daniel, who learned to be an NFL quarterback from Sean Payton with Ryan Pace‘s Saints might be a possibility.

The Chiefs probably aren’t going to be able to re-sign all of these guys. It will be interesting to see who shakes loose and whether the Bears will have any interest.

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When Talent Becomes Everything

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com on how the Seahawks heve been forced to handle Marshawn Lynch during a difficult season with a difficult player:

“The tiptoeing tone apparently was set at the top of the organization, with as one source explained it [head coach PeteCarroll avoiding the issue of talking to Lynch and instead relying on others to communicate with him. While much of the problems flow from the way Lynch has handled others, the Seahawks perhaps haven’t handle Lynch in an ideal way, either.”

This is where it all leads. Time after time I’ve heard from fans in the NFL that “talent trumps all” and that players like Martellus Bennett should be kept on the team despite their difficult ways. This is where it all ends up when you do that too often. With a player that the head coach has to tip toe around just to keep him happy and get him on the field.

Time after time the Seahawks have kowtowed to Lynch, allowing him to get away with, for instance, sulking out on the field during half time rather than going in with the team. Allowing him to fail to live up to the terms of his contract by failing to speak to the media – by actually defending him on it.

Heaven forbid that the Bears ever let it get to this point themselves. Thank heavens that the indications are that they won’t.

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Lessons in Green Bay Should Not Be Lost on Bears Fans

Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette interviews Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. He asks him about reversing his decision to give play calling duties to offensive coordinator Tom Clements during the 2015 season.

“Those are conversations that will start Wednesday. I’ll tell you I will be calling the plays from here on in. How we structure our staff that’s really what lies ahead.”

“What I was trying to accomplish [with the initial change] with being a balanced team, I felt that was accomplished with defense and special teams. Obviously, we didn’t get it done on offense. The structure was obviously a part of the failure on offense. That will be closely evaluated.”

“Without going into total details … [the offensive problem] wasn’t about Tom or Tom calling plays. Tom is a valued assistant coach and has been my whole time here. I fully anticipate him being back. We have a staff structure that’s under total evaluation.”

It’s been pointed out many times that the Packers were missing wide receiver Jordy Nelson and that was a big loss. But it’s now obvious that their difficulties on offense went way beyond that. Clements was another part of the problem. Otherwise McCarthy wouldn’t be continuing to call plays.

Offensive play calling is an art that I’m convinced some people possess and some don’t. Some of it has to do with planning but I think a lot of it is simply thinking fast on your feet and remembering to call the plays that you planned to go with. The guess here – and past experience with some of the more poor offensive coordinators the Bears have had bears it out – is that you get used to relying on the same plays over and over again over the course of a season.  They’re the ones you tend to call when you’ve only got a few seconds to make a decision. That makes you predictable.

But in this case the problem may go beyond play calling. Part of the purpose for giving up play calling duties, as McCarthy pointed out, was to get McCarthy out of the offensive room so that he could spend more time with the defense and special teams. That degraded the offensive performance, something that was obvious to everyone as the Packers made mistake after mistake on the field. The crisp execution that the Packers are known for disappeared and suddenly, for instance, receivers couldn’t get on the same page with quarterback Aaron Rogers.

This lesson shouldn’t be lost on Bears fans as they watch the team transition from Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains at the offensive coordinator spot. Even the best offenses in the NFL can fall apart if you don’t have the right guy running the unit.  Calling plays and getting everyone to perform as a unit where players are always where they are supposed to be are two of the biggest jobs that any offensive coach has. It’s a job that Clements couldn’t do. Let’s hope that Loggains does better or we’re going to see a Bears offense that performed in a commendably clean manner for most of the 2015 season regress.

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