Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bears Preseason keys to success

On April 22nd the Bears get together to start their first workouts. This period will last two weeks and only the strength and conditioning are allowed on the field with the players.  No footballs are allowed, except for Quarterbacks to throw to uncovered receivers.   Even though these two weeks will be brief, it is truly the start to the 2014 season, and that got me thinking what will be the keys to success.  

I know it's early to start thinking about what things will be critical to success. We still have the draft, OTA's and minicamps even before training camp opens.  A lot can happen and change over the spring and summer but I wanted to start the pre season with a list of five keys to success for the 2014 season. ( I do reserve the right to alter them due to any changes that may occur).

5.  Willie Young.  I had written from the beginning he was the DE the Bears needed to acquire.  He has one full season as a starter under his belt and finished first in run stops per PFF. He has balance, agility and good coverage skills for a defensive end.  While most expect Allen and Houston to be the focal point, I feel it will be Young holding down the left side that will really open the doors to an improved pass rush.  

4.  Michael Ford.  Last season Matt Forte had an excellent season and also had a lot of touches. With Matt turning 28 and the expectation of diminishing returns to occur sooner than later, it is time for the Bears to see what Ford can do.  He joined the Bears as an undrafted running back out of LSU.  He came to the Bears undeveloped and has that one year under his belt.   He is fast, can hit the hole quickly and hard to tackle. Trestman needs to get Ford more involved to stretch out Forte's longevity.    

3. Ryan Mundy.  Most fans are still concerned about the Bears Safety play.  Mundy has been with the Steelers and Giants and has not started a full season. Last year with the Giants he started seven games and acquitted himself nicely. His best PFF ratings came when he started two games as a SS.  Solid tackler and can play down in the box with confidence.  If he plays to his potential then one piece of the defensive backfield has been solved.

2. Marquess Wilson.  If he hadn't had issues at WSU as a senior he might have been a first round draft pick in 2012.  The Bears scored by taking him in the seventh and during his rookie season he stayed out of trouble.  While he had little impact during the season, that catch in traffic against GB caught our and the coaches attention. I think by not pushing him might have worked in his favor.  This offseason he spent it with Marshall and Jeffrey down in Florida.  While Trestman has stated Marquess  has to earn the third WR spot. My take is it is his to lose, and so far, they have not brought in anyone to be a big threat.  If he can play to his potential then that will open up the coverage for Marshall and Jeffrey.  Along with Bennett, the Bears will have the best receiver corps in the NFL.

1. Jay Cutler.  The dark cloud of Lovie Smith has now left Jay.  Last season he got off to a great start with Trestman's offense and then injuries struck.  When he returned he looked good and held his own against Rodgers in the last game of the season.  I believe Jay will be more comfortable this season as he has developed the trust with his teammates that a QB needs to have.  The O line will be better and with de la Puente and Britton on board it will be even stronger.  Cutler has a strong group of receivers and a experienced running back.  Trestman said it is imperative to keep Jay safe, if they do that and Jay trusts his teammates then we are playoff bound.

Honorable mention is who we draft at cornerback and the play of Bostic and McClellin at LB. 

Thanks for all the comments and for reading. I will be posting updates through the day if the occur, then back on Monday. Also I posted an article over at BearGogglesOn about the Bears drafting offense in the second round.

Update: Bears will be Florida today to watch Dominque Easley, DT, workout. He has had injury problem throughout his career, two torn ACL's.  Emery said medical issues would be important in his decisions regarding the draft.  This is more of due diligence than anything else.  Coach P and Easley

Update:  Notre Dame, QB Tommy Rees is visiting the Bears tomorrow.

Update:  Being reported that Bears have met with Will Sutton.  I had ignored him earlier but lately he is back on my radar. Lost weight and has returned to his old form.  Would be a good one for the Bears.

Update: Highest PFF Grades on passes thrown 30+ yards in the air: Cutler, Peyton, Brees, Keenum




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bears mid week rant ...

Or sport writers are driving me crazy.

It's been one of those weeks. With the blood moon and another shot of snow (three inches this morning), my attitude is on a razors edge with the pundits.  Unless it's Peter King over at MMQB, the rest of them are just pumping out blather and making stuff up.  I know it's there job to report the events around the NFL and to a degree give some interpretation of those activities, but it would nice if they gave a complete analysis. Instead it reads as if they are in the know, actually they aren't. Here is my three things that have put a burr in my saddle of late.

1. Brian de la Puente will be Garza's backup.  Every article I have read says that. The funny thing, is I have not found one quote from a coach or front office person of the Bears saying that. It's a supposition and an erroneous one at that.  I have said it before, you don't sign one of the top centers in the league to sit on the bench. I don't care if Garza is a captain or whatever. In the end, Trestman will field the five best lineman.  This is not a nursery school to worry about nurturing or self esteem issues. You either win the job or sit.  My personal view, is that there is concern over Mills at RT.  No matter what I think or the sport writers feel, sometime during the season (sooner or later doesn't matter) de la Puente will be starting.

2. That Jared Allen will be on the right and Houston on the left side.  Maybe that will happen from time to time, but the reality is, Lamarr plays most of his snaps from the right side and like de la Puente, you are not going to sit Willie Young. Not going to happen! Yes, there will be a rotation and that is a good thing for it creates confusion and brings a freshness to the line. However, here is the thing, Houston can and has played inside. I see the Bears using him more at 3 technique on the left side quite often.  With a front line of Allen, Houston, Ratliff and Young (with Idonije, Collins and Bass backing them up) you have one tough front line.

3. Lastly, that Emery still has to draft at defensive tackle at 14.  Based on what Emery has done over the off season with UFA signings, what I just wrote in number 2, there is no reason to draft a DL at 14.  Emery made it clear about his draft strategy by looking at who he signs in the UFA. If you take him at his word, and seeing he signed no LB or CB, it is easy to see where they are going at 14.  I want to yell sometimes "do any of you listen?"

The issue I have is they write as if it is a press release, and its not. I wish they would take a minute and give some analysis to what they write and less making it seem the Bears said it. Okay, I am done blowing off some steam.  One thing I will admit, I agree with Hub Arkush on Aaron Donald!  A third rounder at best.

I will post updates through the day when they happen.  Thanks for reading and your comments. Always thought provoking and I learn a great deal from all of you.

(Personal note: This weekend being Easter and family being around, I will not be posting over the holiday, unless its a quick update)




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Random Thoughts ... The draft, running backs and Lovie Smith

This week the Bears made a visit to Madison, WI to workout James White, the Badgers running back. He is one of my favorites and would like to see the Bears draft him. They have also worked out Oregon's, De'Anthony Thomas plus a host of other veteran running backs.  It had also been rumored the Bears might have had an interest in Chris Johnson.

I (and many others) have said from day one the Bears need to add depth at RB. Currently it is Forte and Ford.  Ford showed he could play during the preseason but didn't get any touches during the season to really find out what he can do.  The Bears are acting prudently by checking out draft eligible RB's along with tryouts. Originally, I had the Bears grabbing a RB in the sixth round, and bringing in others as CFA's.

I still believe there will be good RB's available later in the draft, but sensing how fluid this draft can be, it would not surprise me if Emery took one as early as the fourth round.  Finding another RB is becoming more critical as Forte is now 28 and regardless of his longevity he can't last forever.  Since I mentioned the draft, let me share some thoughts on where the Bears are as of today.

I don't know.  The Bears have been extremely coy about their intentions and have said little. Anything about who they will draft has been pure conjecture by the pundits, us and others.  I think we have all come to realize, that Emery will take the best defensive player on the board. For me, the only two positions that have starter ready players are CB and S.  If Mosley is there then LB. I have zero interest in the DL in the first round.  No matter what Emery does, I don't think he will disappoint us, might not like the individual per se, but it will be a solid choice.

Over the weekend, I stumbled on an old article blasting Mel Tucker. The article waxed on about Lovie Smith and what a great defensive mind he is, and how he will turn the Buc's into a defesnive power.  That got me thinking on how good is Lovie and the defense.  What I found is surprising, and it actually started back when he was DC for the Rams.

Lovie took over the DC chores back in 2001, after the Rams defense ranked 27th in the league.  His first season the moved up to 4th.  Quite admirable on the surface, but that performance was based on having the seventh easiest schedule in the league. Then in 2002, with the 8th most difficult schedule the fell to 11th, not too bad. Then finally in 2003, with the fifth easiest schedule they bounced back to finish sixth.  So you could argue Lovie did make a positive impact on the Rams D, but nothing earth shattering.  His two top ten finishes came when the Rams had easy schedules. Now in 2004 he joined the Bears as HC.

I am not going to do a year by year replay.  There are a couple of interesting points I'd like to make. One when he took over the Bears, Urlacher, Tillman and Briggs were already on board. Along with Mike Brown and others. During Lovies tenure, the reputation that developed was that Lovie was some sort of defensive genius and in large part the Bears defensive rankings would support that finding or belief.  What is interesting is that during Lovies time, he called the defensive signals one year, 2009.  It was the only time during his time as HC that he performed those duties.

The result was shocking. The Bears finished 21st in defense with the 10th easiest schedule.  There were no injuries to the key players that year.  In 2010, he handed the reigns over to Marinelli and the defense shot up to the top again.  The truth of it all, is that Lovie was blessed with good players when he arrived, had excellent DC's (Rivera, Babich then Marinelli) that were better defensive coaches than he was.

This is not an attempt to bash Lovie Smith, he is a good and decent man. What was discovered was that his expertise was more perception than reality. Later today, I will be posting an article over at BearGogglesOn on why the Bears need to find a replacement for Forte sooner than later.

Thanks for your comments and of course, taking the time to read.

Update:  The first one this morning is that Nix from Notre Dame visited the Bears. On the prospect visits it should be noted there can be no visits after April 27th.

Update: It has been reported that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be visiting the Bears.

Update: The Bears have waived DE Cheta Ozougwu. Not surprising with the additions of Allen, Young, Houston, Lane, Idonije and Stewart. Along with the development of Bass, there was just no room for Cheta.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Chris Williams and Draft propects

It is a quiet Sunday morning, the sun is shining and it is a pleasant -10C!  This morning Brad Biggs did a nice piece on Chris Williams and the opportunity to replace Devin Hester. What impressed me the most is that he was down in FL working out with Cutler and Marshall.  I like how the receiving corps and Cutler are working together, this has to help Culter with his trust issues and timing.

There has been a lot made of  prospect visits to Halas Hall.  So I thought I would outline what the league allows and are they really all that important.  Other than the all star games, combine and pro days, the Bears are allowed to bring in 30 prospects. They can do physicals, interviews and workouts. If any prospect college is within 45 minutes of Halas Hall or where the workout is to be conducted then they can have unlimited visits/workouts.

Now recently we have seen Kyle Fuller, Deone Buchannon and Calvin Pryor make appearances at Halas Hall and that certainly warms the hearts of people like me that want to see a DB taken sooner than later.  However, visits do not necessarily mean they will draft that player. In fact, prospect visits have little bearing on the draft outcome.  For example, last year Eddie Lacy visited one team, the Rams, and who drafted him? GB. He never met with the Packers organization. So you say that is an exception. Well, last year the Bears met with over 40 prospects and only Mills, Greene and Bostic met with the Bears. Not Kyle Long, their first pick. Nor Wilson and Washington.

So why bring in so many players?  Interestingly enough, the main purpose of the visits is to find and recruit the CFA's.  It gives the organization a chance to get a long look at a player that they might have not scouted or only had minimum contact. While the stats say most never even make the practice squad, a team can't not afford to miss any one.

What I am trying to say, is take the prospect visits with a grain of salt.  We know Emery has a good track record when it comes to defensive backs, so while I have my favorites, I am accepting the mantra of "In Emery we trust".  He isn't bullet proof, but no matter what he does at 14, (trade down, takes a DL, DB or LB) I am good with it.    

I will post any updates as they come in. I won't be posting tomorrow for I will be out of town, returning late in the evening.  Thanks for your comments and reading. Tuesday I will be doing an article of Forte over at BearGogglesOn.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bears draft Linebacker at 14?

Before all the chatter about the draft got into full gear, there was a time that several mock drafts had the Bears drafting a linebacker in round one.  At the time that idea was scoffed at due to the glaring holes in the defensive line and backfield.  Since then, Emery has taken care of the defensive line issue, bolstered the safety position and has brought security to the corners.

Many of us can argue, about the quality of safeties and the depth at corner, me included. However, the one area that has been glossed over is the Bears linebacker corps. Currently, there is Lance Briggs, that will be 34 this season and wearing a harness for his shoulder. Oft injured DJ Williams and then a battle royal between Bostic and McClellin for the other spot.  Behind them you have Greene, Senn , Franklin and Lawrence Wilson. So when you look at this group, and realize two of your starters are over 30, have had injuries. The two younger players who have been disappointments so far, are battling for the other spot. You have to ask yourself, what if?

What if, Briggs doesn't rebound? What if, Williams gets hurt again. What if, McClellin and Bostic can't get it done.  Is Greene ready to step in for Briggs? who will play Mike if Williams crashes and burns? Senn is a special teamer and Franklin and Wilson are total unknowns.  The reality is our linebackers are tenuous at best, not due to talent, its there. It is matter of those unknowns. Age, injuries and not living up to expectations.

When you look at it in this vein, it is entirely possible for Emery to draft a LB at 14. Look, there are plenty of DT, CB and S in this draft.  We can scream from the mountain top what we see as important, but it is only what Emery sees that matters.  We also have to remember Emery moves in mysterious ways, so we best be ready for the unexpected and that could be linebacker.  The question now, is which one.

Right off the top most will say C. J. Mosley out of Alabama.  Most have him rated in the top 10 and well deserved on his part. However, with all the shenanigan going on with teams ahead of the Bears, he might just fall into their laps.  If he is gone who is next?

Ryan Shazier, OSU: He is a team leader, good coverage skills and can play inside or outside. Has some technique issues but with coach Herring those are easy fixes.

Anthony Barr, UCLA: Poweful and athletic and a big guy. Good pass rusher off the edge. Can play 4-3 or 3-4 so brings versatility and has a high motor.

Chris Borland, Wisconsin:  A bit undersized, but has a high motor and intelligent.  A more pure MLB type and a four year starter.  Most would say not a day one player but Emery has surprised us many times.

There are plenty of other names we all can call out.  If you buy into the what if scenarios and knowing how important a solid linebacking corps is to the defense, then it is entirely plausible Emery goes linebacker at 14.    

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bears say no to drafting a Defensive Tackle

With less than a month to go till the draft, the sportwriters and draftniks really start amping up the hype on certain players (good or bad) and trying to make more out of who visits the Bears then it needs to be.

It is easy for all of us to get swept in the maelstrom of mock drafts, private workouts and what will Emery do. I too have been a victim of the energy that surrounds the overcharged hyperbole around the draft.  Over the last several days, I took a step back and took a more dispassionate view of the draft, the current roster and who the Bears were spending time with. Not so much to figure out where Emery was going but to look at the current situation from a pragmatic view.

First, we all remember what Emery said at the post season interview about the defensive line. He admitted he shortchanged the depth, had McClellin in the wrong position and would focus on fixing it over the UFA period.  The result, so far, is that he has done what he said he would do. Re-signing two defensive tackles, signing six defensive ends (not including Williams or Tillman) and for grins three safeties.

Regardless, many fans/pundits feel the Bears should draft a defensive tackle in the first round.  The reality there is no need to waste a pick on a DT that early.  The have three DT on the roster and two DE that can play inside.  In effect giving them five DT at any given time.  Does it mean they won't draft a DT sometime? No, they will but my gut feeling it will be later than sooner.

The reasoning is simple. Your first round selection should be starter ready. None of the DT's coming out are starter ready. Yes, they are good football players, and you could argue the top 10 will eventually get snaps as rookies.  The critical issue is that none of them are complete players, they all have issues that will take time to fix.  Plus, based on the versatility now on the roster, they would see sparse action.

We have to acknowledge that scouts, personnel guys and GM's have their biases like we do. Mine is high motor. I want players that go 100% all the time.  The biggest issue for me is the top three DT's mentioned don't have that. You can't coach high motor, the player either has it or doesn't.  When you read the negatives in the scouting reports, each one loafs or vanishes.  For me, I will pass.  After spending a lot of time watching tape, reading scouting reports the only DT that would interest me is Justin Ellis out of Louisana Tech.  You should be able to pick him up in round 4.

Also, you have recognize the empirical data (yes, there are exceptions) from 1998 to 2008 only 38% of DT drafted in the first round stayed to see season six.  Only CB and WR were worse. So if you take into account the versatility of the current line, the fact all of them are not starter ready and you have only a 38% chance that any of them will make it, why waste your first pick?

Actually, if the Bears wanted to play into the data, they should draft a linebacker, they have a 68% staying power to see season six, when drafted first round. Otherwise, Safety and/or Corner would be the most realistic choice at 14.

Here is the scouting report on Ellis:

STRENGTHS: Large, wide body and carries his weight well. Long arms for his frame and extends well, using his active hands to work off blocks. Has really improved in this area, bullying with heavy hands. Explosive off the ball and a quick thinker, reacting well to what the blockers want to do. Attacks with pure momentum, not afraid to use a spin move, making it tough for blockers to latch on.


Load to handle. Good pocket vision and awareness to track and crash down on the ball or chase the ballcarrier outside. Anchors well at the point of attack and has a stout build. Nice job getting his paw up to swat the ball out of the air. Non-stop motor and ferocious demeanor. (Bold is mine)

Try-hard type who gets the most out of his ability. Versatile experience, lining up at various inside positions in college.

WEAKNESSES: Needs to stay balanced and controlled and play with better gap integrity. Needs to improve his pad level and show better lower body bend to keep his belt low and play with more consistent leverage. A lot of bull rushes and needs to show more variance in his rushes and broaden his repertoire of arm moves.

Room to improve his ability vs. double-teams and do a better job as a two-gapping player. Has some sloppy weight on his frame and his conditioning needs to be monitored. Very pedestrian production in college and was a party of a heavy defensive line rotation to keep him fresh.

--Dane Brugler

PLAYER OVERVIEW

An under-the-radar high school recruit, Ellis redshirted in 2009 and barely saw the field in 2010 before becoming a sophomore starter in 2011.

He took a step back in 2012, but had his best year as a senior with 48 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, earning All-CUSA Honorable Mention honors. Ellis is a wide-bodied rusher and uses his ball quickness and snap anticipation to surge past blockers before they can set up, making him a tough guy to square up and slow down.

He looks like a zero-technique who should be a man-eating run stuffer, but is more of an upfield penetrator who is a handful to control as a pass rusher. Ellis is scheme-versatile to play a two-gapping NT role or as a 3-technique who wins with initial burst.

He is a good size at 6'2" 334# and with that high motor and nasty disposition he looks like he fits Emery's mold. I will post updates as they come through, thanks for reading.
Update:  It has been reported that Weems did in fact take a pay cut.  He had been at $1M and is now showing at $730,000. Meaning he accepted a $270K pay cut. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bears go recruiting!

As the draft rapidly approaches, and the front office is scurrying to build its draft board, invite prospects in to workout and travel across the country to attend Pro Days.  While all this activity is going on there is another group of scouts that are scouring the nation to find those players that they won't draft, the College Free Agent or CFA's.

Currently there are 72 players on the roster,  then add the seven draft picks, that leaves about 10 spots open. I am leaving one open for another veteran signing. Some might say, so what! These guys have little chance of even making the practice squad, and they are right. The odds of a CFA making the team is insurmountable. Yes, we can recite great stories of player that overcame the odds but in truth most will never suit up.  So why is this important?

Because teams can't take for granted they have covered all the bases. Only 300+ athletes get invited to the Combine.  Not all teams attend Pro Days for they tend to be run by the agents and player specific to a degree.  While the teams recognize that its one in a thousand that a CFA will make it, you still have to glean through that chaff to find that one bushel of wheat. What makes this whole process unique, is not only does the player have to show enough to be considered by the Bears, the Bears in turn have to sell themselves to the undrafted player. Yes, it is recruiting time!

While the seven players selected in the draft have zero say where they will attempt to make the team, the undrafted college player has a choice. Sure he might not make any team, but in the end he gets to decide where he will take his shot. It is one of those funny quirks where the team now has to convince players to come and try out for them.  It would be like Lou Saban going out and recruiting walk ons for Alabama.

So while planning on who they will draft is the focus by us, the team and the pundits. The Bears also are out there convincing a group of football players to come and give their best shot to the Bears. This week for a example, the Bears along with the Pat's stood on a high school football field to watch, Al Louis-Jean, a corner back out of Boston College.  Al didn't get invited to the Combine nor was at a Pro Day. He had a checkered career with BC. Played well when he did, broke his foot and missed one season and then had been suspended for breaking team rules.  He won't get drafted, but if either team thinks he is worthy, the have to now recruit him. They will have to spend as much time to convince Al (if he is a priority CFA) to join the Bears over the Patriots.

I know most will shrug their shoulders and thing so what, but for me, I find the whole process of the draft to be so convoluted and at times intriguing.  Later today, I will be writing over at BearGogglesOn about five players the Bears might want to recruit.

Thanks for reading and I appreciate all the comments.

Update:  Calvin Pryor, S out of Louisville has made a visit to the Bears.