Wishing for the Return of Eddie Royal

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune addresses the absence of wide receiver Eddie Royal:

“I get the impression that fans are irritable about Royal (knee) missing five straight games, but if you’re hurt you’re hurt. The Bears didn’t do Royal any public relations favors by listing him as questionable for the 49ers games even though he hasn’t practiced since going down in the Vikings game on Nov. 1, but that’s another matter.”

Most of the fans I know aren’t “irritable”. Most aren’t thinking of Royal at all. But having said that, perhaps they should.

Royal’s absence as a source of problems for the Bears is probably being largely under-estimated. This is partly because the Bears were playing him split out wide. One of the things that Royal said in the offseason that he wanted to do was prove that he could play somewhere other than the slot. But it soon became evident that the slot was where he belongs as his production suffered while the Bears were still feeling their way through the beginning of the year to find out what players could and couldn’t do.

Before he was hurt, the Bears moved Royal back into the slot where he belongs and he was reasonably productive before he got hurt. Royal could be a very important future piece in this offense when he’s healthy. Let’s hope he returns soon.

Bears May Finally Have to Bite the Bullet and Let Bennett Go

[EDIT:  In contrast to what I said below, TE Martellus Bennett was listed on injury report each day last week with designation of full participation.]

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports that tight end Martellus Bennett has been put on injured reserve with damage to his ribs. He wasn’t on the injury report last week despite the claim that it was a hit in the Denver game that caused the problem.

“Head coach John] Fox has made it clear since January that he plans to build around team-first ‘we before me’ players and will be decisive in finding the right character blend for his roster. In that context, it’s hard to envision the Bears keeping Bennett next season, even after his ribs heal.”

martellus-bennettI’ve been predicting for some time that Bennett wouldn’t be with the Bears for long. In fact, I thought he might be traded before the deadline.

It’s obvious that the Bears have been making the most of a bad situation here. They don’t want to just release a Pro Bowl tight end with no compensation but Bennett is making himself untradable. Teams aren’t going to give up anything to acquire a tight end that makes it more and more obvious every day that he has a problem with authority and poor practice habits.

Cover of Bennett’s mixed tape Year of the Orange Dinosaur, released in 2014
Cover of Bennett’s mixed tape Year of the Orange Dinosaur, released in 2014

Bennett lacks focus and drive when he’s not actually on the field during a real game. And even his effort during games has been questioned this year as he sometimes doesn’t fight for 50-50 balls that he used to bring down regularly.

In any case, he shows no signs that he’s willing to go the extra mile that’s needed to make a talented player great. Like the situation with former Bears Brandon Marshall, Bennett looks like he’s going to be another one of those tragic stories of wasted talent that never found it’s way on to a winner. He’s yet another classic example of why, despite the claims of many that talent trumps all, character still matters in sports.

Linebacker Amongst the More Problematic Bears Positions

Mike Mulligan at the Chicago Tribune says that linebacker Shea McClellin doesn’t attack down hill the way that linebackers need to be able to do:

“[T]he interesting statistic is that game statisticians determined that only 15 of his 45 tackles [against the run] came versus runs of fewer than 4 yards. Ten of those 15 tackles were assists, many on short-yardage runs. But only five of his 44 solo tackles came on runs of fewer than 4 yards, including just one tackle for a loss.”

I found the title of this article to be amusing, “Bears can do better than Shea McClellin at inside linebacker”. They can do better virtually everywhere on defense where they are performing reasonably well despite a distinct lack of talent. Linebacker is definitely not an exception.

Neither McClellin nor Christian Jones has the instincts needed to react quickly to what the opponent is doing. And you can’t attack down hill if you are still moving laterally trying to diagnose what’s going on. Their deficiencies are the reason why fellow linebacker Jonathan Anderson has gotten more playing time. Anderson shows up in the backfield to tackle runners for a loss far more than either McClellin or Jones.

It is possible that both McClellin and Jones will develop the instincts needed to play the position given time. But as the season wears on and we don’t see improvement, it’s becoming hard to be patient. Like every other position, it’s going to be interesting to see what the Bears do at linebacker in the offseason.