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, 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 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 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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The Bears Will Once Again Be Competing with the Packers to Draft the Same Players in 2016

Its not a surprise but Green Bay would like to move linebacker Clay Matthews back outside full time next year.

“In order to do that, the Packers might have to make it an offseason priority to acquire another starting-caliber inside linebacker. When general manager Ted Thompson did not address that position until the fourth round of last year’s draft, when he took Jake Ryan, it ensured Matthews would play mostly inside again.”

What all of this means is that the Bears, who arguably need two starters at the inside linebacker position, will be competing with the Packers for the same players. The Bears pick far higher in the draft order (11th) but they likely have their eye on one or two prospects, for instance, in the second round that the Packers will be considering with the 27th overall pick.

The situation reminds me of the 2010 draft when the Packers traded up in the third round to get ahead of the Bears to select safety Morgan Burnett. The Bears were left to select Major Wright four picks later. Burnett established himself as a starter with the Packers, and has just competed his sixth season with them. Wright is long gone along with the parade of other safeties the Bears selected in the Lovie Smith era.

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Catching Up with Former Bears Offensive Tackle Jordan Mills

Sal Maiorana at the Democrat and Chronicle reviews the performance of the Buffalo Bills offensive line. What he says about former bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills is of interest.

“Jordan Mills: C-

“Mills played for offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in Chicago, where he was a two-year starter, but he’s nothing more than a journeyman and is no longer starter material. He’s a free agent, and if the Bills decide to re-sign him, he’ll probably be in the mix at right tackle, but the Bills need a better option.”

The left side of the Bills offensive line was very good with left tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood. But the right side of the line was a mediocrity at best with rookie John Miller at guard and Seantrel Henderson at tackle. Henderson was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The fact that Mills couldn’t establish  himself in the starting lineup with these guys as competition is a bad sign.

This is an indication of how far the Bears had to go in terms of upgrading their talent. Next year if Mills can’t make a Bills team with a poor right tackle situation and almost no depth, as seems very possible, there’s a good chance that a guy that the Bears had starting at right tackle will be out of the league in 2016.

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Could the Answer at Guard Already Be on the Roster?

Kevin Fishbain at reviews the performance of the offensive line in 2015:

“Next for [offensive line coach] Dave Magazu and [general manager Ryan] Pace is finding a starting right guard, whether it’s through the draft, free agency or bringing back [Patrick]Omameh or [Vlad] Ducasse and hoping for improvement. The Bears also have a developmental prospect in tackle Tayo Fabuluje.”

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No doubt about it. Almost every position could be improved but right guard is the major hole in the offense right now.

In this regard, Fabuluje is a fascinating prospect. He played extensively in the preseason but very little during the season. Despite that, the Bears kept him on the roster rather than putting him on the practice squad and risking the possibility of losing him to another team. That’s a pretty good indication that the team has plans for Fabuluje.

Most have considered Fabuluje to be a tackle prospect and that’s where he played in August. He’s an enormous man but has quick feet despite that and he has the mobility to be a reasonably good right tackle. But more and more during the offseason we are seeing the suggestion in the press that his future is at guard.

It’s not a bad idea. Right guard is the more difficult of the two guard positions and requires more athleticism than the left. Most teams scheme their line play such that the center and the players on the left block to the left. The right tackle usually turns to the right to take on the right end. That leaves the right guard isolated on whoever lines up over him. So despite being “land locked” with a player on either side, it’s a still position that occasionally requires the player to take on his man one on one in space. Fabuluje may fit the bill. In fact, given the borderline play of both Omameh and Ducasse, it’s a bit of s a surprise that the Bears didn’t move him there late in the season.

Regardless, it seems that after a year on the bench to develop, Fabuluje is going to get his chance to compete at a position of need in 2016. Whether he has the brains and the instincts to go with his athleticism will rapidly become apparent. If he does, along with veteran Matt Slauson, the Bears could have a very good pair of guards on their hands.

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