Support my attention-whoring ways by following us on twitter!

Get the SKOdcast imported directly into your brain!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bears-Titans Notes

The third preseason game is in the books, and the information that can be gleaned from the 2 1/1 quarters played by the Bears starters is promising:

The Good:

- Matt Forte- Last week Matt was devastating in the screen game, and this week he dominated between the tackles. Forte ran hard between the tackles (where he was helped by some huge holes) and was awesome on draw plays and the inside zone. He finished with 17 carries for 74 yards and a TD (4.4 yards per carry) and added a 15 yard reception. He's more than ready for the regular season, and it was pleasing to see Martz design a largely successful game plan around him tonight. Now pay the man, Jerry.

-Earl Bennett- The BBE was huge again tonight with 6 receptions for 89 yards. While the appellation I gave him mostly refers to his sure hands and his reliability on third down, it should be noted that Earl can get downfield when he's asked to and has been a pretty good deep threat this preseason as well.

-Amobi Okoye- The defensive tackle has seized his opportunity and at this point, after three preseason sacks, has to be a lock for the roster, if not the starting lineup. He's certainly a threat on passing downs, something the team has desperately needed at the 3-technique for the last couple of years during the Tommie Harris decline.

-The offensive line- They were exceptional in run blocking tonight, giving Forte some holes (especially on draw plays) that he's probably never seen before. In pass protection they allowed some pressure off of the edges but still allowed just 1 sack and have really allowed Martz and Cutler to work the seven step game. I'm beginning to breathe a little bit. So far they've been pretty stout against four man rushes, which is great. If team's have to blitz to generate pressure, Martz's offense will click and he'll be able to scheme to get the ball to the free receiver. Last year teams didn't even have to bring an extra guy to get to Jay.

-Jay Cutler- Jay was damn near perfect tonight, even if the stat sheet shows a mediocre 67 rating. His only interception was clearly Roy Williams fault (more on Roy later) as it went off both of Roy's hands into the hands of the defense. Other than that, Cutler was accurate (13 of 21, despite 2-3 drops yet again) and, more importantly, he was effective downfield (averaged 8.1 YPA, 13.1 YPC) and he wasn't sacked a single time. Over his last four full quarters in these two preseason games Jay is 25 of 42 (60%) for 341 yards (8.1 YPA, 13.6 YPC) despite his receivers struggles in the drop department (Hester had 2 tonight, as did Roy Williams, to go with 4 last week). Jay was extremely quick with his decisions tonight and stared down the blitz quite well. My obvious homerism notwithstanding, I think he's going to do some very special things in year two of this system. You can only draw so much from the preseason, but the velocity and accuracy Cutler has shown (and the protection he's got) bodes well, considering everything looked awry during last year's bumbling preseason and the up-and-down offense of the first half bore out those results. There's no guarantees, but it's promising to see him look so sharp early.

The Bad:

- Roy Williams: I'm level-headed,normally. I've defended this move from every rational standpoint, and still do, considering this was an extremely low-risk, high-reward move, but Jesus, Roy Williams could try not to piss on himself for one fucking series or something. He caused Cutler's interception, he went out of bounds before completing the catch on another throw, then he had a second drop. He's also looked terrible blocking this preseason, so there's that. I hope he pans out, but damn, you're not making this easy, Roy.

-Desmond Clark: Dez himself did nothing wrong, but the fact that he had to be carted off gives me the sads. He was going to be no more than a back up this year, so this doesn't kill the team, but Dez has always been a solid player and a great guy (as far as anyone can tell with any of these guys) and it would suck to see the team bring him back just to see this happen.

-Marion Barber: Same here. Marion played well on his two touches, but his calf injury is concerning. If he's not healthy, that may mean more Chester Taylor, which causes my blood to boil. Considering Chester didn't get any carries tonight it seems more likely that the team will roll with Khalil Bell until Marion gets healthy and they'll still cut Chester, but, damn, it would suck to have Barber out for long after how good he's looked so far.

That's all for now. I've been pleased with what I've seen from the first teams on offense and defense so far these last two games. I think they're going to be just fine by the time Atlanta comes to Soldier Field. Meanwhile, enjoy hearing about how awesome the Lions are.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Good News Everyone!

Tomorrow night is the Bears third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Since this is a game of utmost importance we will treat it like a real game, with the first official SKOscast of the year. Meet us in the SKO shoutbox on Saturday at seven, and we'll all verbally harass Roy Williams together. See ya then, folks.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bears-Giants Observations

I haven't seen too many people overreacting to a 41-13 preseason blowout (a somewhat misleading score, since the Bears racked up a healthy 414 yards of offense and had the edge in time of possession), so I'm happy about that, although maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. There were some interesting things to take out of the first half, however (where the score was 13-6 before the starting defense, which was without Lance Briggs to begin with, left the game). Here's my observations:

The Good:

- Matt Forte didn't carry the ball much, since the team seems interested in protecting him from injury with the contract dispute still up in the air, but he looked very effective in the screen game, a huge component of what Martz likes to do to negate the pass rush.

-Earl Bennett (The Black Bobby Engram). 'Nuff said.

-The First-Team Defense: They forced three and outs on the Giants first two drives and held the Giants to 13 pts despite being victimized by poor field position (especially after a 73 yard kickoff return that preceded the only TD they allowed. They held Eli Manning to 78 yards on 16 attempts for a meager 4.9 YPA. All in all, good work by the first team unit, which is good, since the second team unit spent 2 1/2 quarters shitting all over themselves.

- Jay Cutler: 12 of 21 for 171 yards in one half (8.1 YPA, 14.5 YPC) is pretty solid for an exhibition game where Martz was clearly testing his ability to work the 7 step route tree against a tough pass rush, but the numbers are actually even better when you consider he suffered from four dropped passes (one of which cost him a TD pass) and Hester also fell down on what would have been a wide-open TD pass. The one sack of the game was his fault and he needs to do a better job of throwing the ball away, but I was very pleased with the vast improvement from last week.

- The offensive line: 1 sack (that wasn't even their fault). Very promising. The two false starts and the hold were concerning, but that'll happen given the youth on the line. The important thing is that they kept Cutler clean. If mental mistakes are the biggest problem, this line is definitely improved from last year.

The Bad:

- Roy Williams: I'm willing to give the Roy Williams Experiment some time, especially since Johnny Knox is still there in the wings as insurance, but man, Roy did himself no favors last night. He dropped two third down passes from Cutler, looked terrible blocking for Forte on the screen and seemed to be lagging behind elsewhere. Good luck, Roy, because the fans are out for blood in Chicago.

-The Second-String Defense: Well, that was hideous. Oh well. You can only hope to contain David Carr, not stop him.

-The Special Teams: Very rare to see a Dave Toub unit get torched like this. A 73 yard kick return and a blocked punt? Surprising, but such a rarity that I wouldn't be concerned, although it did contribute to the misleadingly-lopsided score.

-Eli Manning: I just don't like looking at him.

That's all for now. See ya Saturday night. Go Bears.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Overreact Much, David Haugh?

Ahh. Do you smell it? It's time for the first fisking of the summer. David Haugh wants Mike Martz to know that he's not happy about the demotion of Caleb Hanie that didn't actually happen, since Martz said Caleb will be the #2 at the start of the season barring injury. Anywho, you know the drill: Haugh's in italics, I'm not.

Almost singlehandedly, Mike Martz has all but stopped Caleb "Hania" from spreading throughout Kankakee County this summer.

Other things that have stopped Caleb Hania:
1. It's a stupid term
2. He's the back up quarterback.
3. No, seriously, he's the back up quarterback.

It seems the Bears offensive coordinator has spent more time in the backup quarterback's head this month than his own dorm room. As a result, Hanie's confidence evacuated. His consistency scattered.

See, what Haugh is going to argue here is that Hanie is playing poorly because Martz doesn't believe in him. This is actually a good stance to argue, because Martz is thus always wrong, even if Martz is actually criticizing Hanie know, he's playing poorly.

Suddenly the Bears have to be careful handling Hanie, who finds his career at a crossroads out here in corn country.

Indeed, if the Bears aren't careful with Caleb here, he may end up nothing more than a back up quarterback.

"I haven't played as well as I wanted, especially (Saturday),'' Hanie admitted Wednesday.

But Martz shouldn't criticize him for that. Or something. What's a coach for again?

So began the preseason's most ridiculous and avoidable controversy when Hanie didn't exactly look like a million bucks — or the $1.2 million for which the Bears signed him. He struggled, only flashing hints of the play-making ability that made him notable in the NFC Championship game.

It's ridiculous and avoidable for 2 reasons: it's a back up quarterback, and it doesn't exist. He didn't get as many reps during ONE DAY of practice. The depth chart never changed any point.

But if the first exhibition game means so little, why did Martz make Hanie watch fifth-round rookie Nathan Enderle replace him as the No. 2 quarterback the next practice? Why create a problem with a guy who clearly must be part of the solution?

Because it was just for one practice. He also stated he was rewarding Enderle (who was 7 of 10 for 110 yards) by giving him some more reps. This is called "building a young QB's confidence", note this, since David Haugh is supposedly all for it.

This is how you stunt the growth of a promising young quarterback, how you kill confident Caleb. This is when you are supposed to build Hanie up rather than tear him down, one subtle, psychological move at a time.

This is how you expose David Haugh as a f&%king hypocrite. Here's Haugh in a piece last year:

I have doubts Martz can. Martz has made a career out of designing ways to make quarterbacks pile up big numbers. What he has done mostly with Cutler is enlarge his ego. End the bro-mance. A struggling, self-destructive quarterback doesn't need to hear how brilliant he is. He needs to be threatened with his job if he throws four picks again.

So, when the young QB is Caleb Hanie, Martz needs to go out of his way to protect his fragile ego. When it's Jay Cutler or Nathan Enderle? F*&k those guys, man, this is a results business.

Like most young quarterbacks, Hanie has flaws. He needs to economize his body movement when setting his feet and learn how to use his vision more effectively. He has to unload the ball quicker. He is far from beyond criticism.

That criticism just shouldn't come from Mike Martz, apparently. David Haugh will be the arbiter of when, who, how, and why should be criticized under the Lovie Smith regime.

But Hanie possesses a knack for making plays, a quality that turned him into Mr. August every training camp before this one. Those traits resurfaced Wednesday in a solid practice, the same instincts that carried Hanie in a playoff performance that apparently impressed everybody in Chicago but Martz.

He also has a knack for throwing the ball to defensive tackles. I love Caleb, I really do, but he's in no way an established player. In his career he's completed 21 of 34 passes (61.7%) for 219 yards (6.4 YPA), 1 TD, and 3 INTs (including the playoff game, of course) and a 53.4 rating. None of those numbers are going to blow anybody's mind. He's proven nothing other than that he's a promising back up quarterback. The key thing to remember here is that Martz Hasn't demoted Caleb. Also, we have no idea whether Nathan Enderle could possibly be better. Martz may want to find out. That's a pretty novel concept. Last year we all criticized Mike for going with the shitty, established veteran over the young guy. Now we're criticizing him for at least seeing what the younger guy can do with a few more reps? Ridiculous.

Also, according to everyone but David Haugh, Caleb looked abysmal in that practice and threw three interceptions, following a poor preseason performance and five interceptions the week before in practice.

Martz inherited Hanie but he has to stop inhibiting him. Keep doubting a quarterback and eventually his tentative play will prove a coach right. But throw support behind a guy through adversity and often that faith is rewarded.

Always support your quarterback, Martz. Don't criticize him. But don't build up his ego, either. Maybe even make up some rumors about trading him for Donovan McNabb. Either way, Caleb Hanie needs to know there will be consequences if he plays poorly. No, wait. That's Jay Cutler. Caleb needs the bromance that you're not supposed to have with Jay, or something. I don't know. Why the hell does David Haugh get paid for this?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hell Yes, It's College Football Ranking Time

College football season is now just fifteen days away. The two week mark is about the time when I begin to wake up, realize that I have absolutely no reason to even acknowledge baseball anymore, and get ready for the five months that make life worth living. It's also time for me to release my annual authoritative college football rankings. I say authoritative because I have about as much relevance as the Harris Poll, which I'm still convinced is voted on by a sinister cabal of insane Nazis, and because hell, I probably do more research. Mostly of this sort:

That is Phil Steele's annual college football preview and it is nothing short of the work of the Gods, given only to those humans wise enough to listen. If you think I haven't relentlessly scanned all 328 pages of this tome, well, you don't understand me at all. I'm fully prepared to declare the North Texas Mean Green as a potential Sun Belt sleeper. Do not trifle with me.

With that said, most people only give a shit about the top 10 (okay maybe you care about the top 25, but that's a lot of freaking work) and I'm sure most of the people reading this here site are Big 4x3 (10+2?, 24/2?) fans, so I'll give both my top 10 and my predicted order of finish for the "Legends" and "Leaders" divisions. Miami will not be appearing in this film. On with the rankings!

1. Oklahoma- They're the consensus number one for good reason. Landry Jones may not approach the freakish numbers Sam Bradford posted during his legendary 2008 season, but he'll come close and this is the best Sooner team since then.

2. Alabama- I have issues with this, because I actually think Alabama will falter at some point without much experience on offense beyond Trent Richardson, but it's hard to argue with Saban's typical soul-crushing defense.

3. LSU- I don't like gambling on a Les Miles coached team, but if they receive any kind of positive contributions from the QB position (and they've done just fine without it since 2008, so maybe it doesn't matter) they'll be a very dangerous team. The defense is scary good, and the offense expunged itself of Gary Crowton, who has now declined from innovator at Lousiana Tech to curiosity as Bears offensive coordinator to head-coaching flop to a twice-failed offensive coordinator.

4. Stanford- I, too, am just that much in love with Andrew Luck, and I think their schedule is manageable since they get both Oregon and Notre Dame (probably their two most difficult games) at home. I think Harbaugh left an experienced team behind him that'll probably manage to keep the ship running.

5. Oklahoma State- Losing Dana Holgorson to West Virginia will hurt, since he's one of the most brilliant and entertaining minds in college football at the moment, but the combination of Weeden-to-Blackmon should be enough to keep them highly competitive in a crumbling Big 12 (is there Any team in the old Big 12 North that's even remotely scary? No?).

6. Wisconsin- Thanks to the transfer of Russell Wilson I'd say they're my favorite now over Nebraska in the first year of the Big 36/3. Wilson's a very accurate and productive passer who is a threat as a runner at well, meaning that Wisconsin will have more than just another HandoffBot9000 in the Sorgi/Bollinger/Stocco/Tolzien tradition to pair with that beefy offensive line and 2 of it's 3 superb runningbacks from last year.

7. Boise State- They tried running off to the Mountain West to increase their strength of schedule, since they thought they'd be joining a conference with BYU, TCU, and Utah that would easily surpass the Big East and ACC as a BCS-caliber conference, but instead they're left to battle it out with TCU for a year before TCU scrambles off to the Big East. TCU suffered much higher attrition than Boise did from last year's awesome squads and has the all-important factors of an experienced quarterback and homefield advantage (the Mountain West switched the game from a TCU home game to a Boise home game after TCU announced they were leaving the conference next year. Highly amusing dickery if you ask me) in their matchup.

8. Virginia Tech- The Hokies have incredible depth, the usual mediocre ACC slate to face, and an incredibly promising young quarterback in Logan Thomas. They always wind up here eventually.

9. Nebraska- Their schedule is tough, and they have the misfortune of facing Ohio State after the five-game suspensions are over, but I still think this team will go far in the Leaders division if they can keep Taylor Martinez healthy. They also still have a healthy defense led by Jared Crick. They'll be fine.

10. Florida State- I'm not a fan of the hype on this team, because I still like to believe FSU is closer to the shambles of the Late Bowden Era than it is to a resurgence under Jimbo Fisher, but their defensive talent is undeniable and E.J. Manuel is more experienced than most first year starters given the brittle nature of Christian Ponder. So, guh. They'll probably win at least ten. Assholes.

Big Ten Standings:
1. Nebraska- For reasons stated above. Michigan doesn't have the defense to stop them, Michigan State is bound to fall from a lucky 2010 season, and Iowa's lost a ton of experience.

2. Iowa- Never underestimate a Kirk Ferentz team with low expectations. They've suffered heavy attrition but should adjust enough to get to the 7-8 wins they're comfortable with, which should be enough to fit them in at second in a thin division.

3. Michigan State- I'm down on them, I can't help it. They got absolutely thrashed in the games they lost last year and had too many close wins. They'll still be a bowl team, but nowhere near the 11 wins they got last year.

4. Northwestern- Because you know they'll be just good enough to lose a bowl game.

5. Michigan- If they had kept Rich Rod and continued to build based on the players he finally had recruited for his scheme, I'd say they're the second best team in this division, but they're right back to the mismatch of talent/scheme they were a few years ago. Robinson will still point up points, but they'll be handicapped trying to run a power offense with spread personnel while their defense still blows.

6. Minnesota- Duh.

1. Wisconsin- See above.

2. Ohio State- Even without Tressel, the loss of so many skill players for all or part of the season should make them the most Tressely-Tresselball team ever, but they still have enough talent on defense and in the run game that they can probably manage their way to 8-9 wins.

3. Illinois- I'm a homer, naturally, but there's logic behind this despite the loss of LeShoure, Martez Wilson, and Corey Liuget. The decline in schedule strength should compensate for the loss of talent, as Illinois no longer begins with the brutal match up with Missouri and instead starts with 5 straight home games (and 8 overall) and enough winnable matchups that an 8-10 win season seems well within the realm of probability. The Zook Factor applies, however, so I may swallow these words. And a lot of tears. And then some scotch.

4. Penn State- Because neither of their quarterbacks excite me, they've lost Evan Royster, and their defense was average last year.

5. Purdue- Until Danny Hope shows me anything worth believing he can actually right the ship, they're stuck in the basement.

6. Indiana- Recruiting Gunner Kiel was a huge score for them, but he won't arrive on campus until next year. Instead they're left with a gaping hole where Ben Chappell used to be (hehe, Chappell was fat. Great QB, though), and he was the only reason they were competitive in some games last year. It don't look good, folks.

In the new title game I expect Wisconsin to eke out a win over Nebraska. So there you have it. You are, of course, complete welcome to disregard my rankings since they're as full of shit as everyone else's, but hey, ain't college football great?

Two weeks. Thank you, almighty football lords.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Walk Away, Carlos

I don't write much about the Cubs anymore. For one, this is a football blog and, while I wrote some Cubs stuff a few years ago, there are many people out there who do that job better and frankly, I just don't care enough anymore. I feel compelled to give my 2 cents on Carlos Zambrano, though, so bear with me.

I'm a Cubs fan because of my grandfather. My dad's a Cubs fan as well, but he had to spend all of his time when I was a kid working his ass off during the day and, as the father of three snot-nosed brats, he never really had much control over the television remote when he came home. So I watched the Cubs at Grandpa's house. Grandpa was long-suffering and he lived and died with his team. I admired that. I embody that to an extent, except for the last few years the Cubs have actually managed to break me. I don't watch anymore, and that bugs me. I can't enjoy them because they aren't enjoyable and they sure as hell don't seem interested in getting there any time soon. Jim Hendry's going to stay. The Ricketts just think it's swell to own a goddamn baseball team, even if the product on the field is a total abortion. So I can't just stomach it like my Grandpa could. That's fine. I'm not my Grandpa. He also lived through the Great Depression and spent a year freezing in a foxhole in the frozen hell of North Korea. I couldn't do that either.

I don't think Carlos Zambrano is built much like my grandfather, either. For what it's worth, I think people that are trying to cast Zambrano as a selfish guy who excludes himself from blame when he's ranting about playing for a shitty team are wrong. Every one of Zambrano's outbursts has been directed at himself and they generally only involved his teammate's when they've chosen to get too close to the hurricane. Sure, I get why he's easy to dislike. He's really a raving lunatic and he's immature and, despite my constant argument that Jay Cutler's personality has no impact on the field, Carlos's rage does since it clearly affects his control and allows bad games to snowball on him. He needed to handle things better, but he's not built that way. He's pissed that the team sucks. He's pissed that he sucks. I don't think Carlos sees the point of playing shitty baseball for a shitty baseball team. I've heard meatball fans for years bitching about how Aramis Ramirez or Alfonso Soriano look like they're happy just to cash a check for underachieving, yet they're now ripping into Zambrano for deciding that it just isn't worth it anymore.

I don't think what Zambrano did was right, but I'm also tired of society constantly policing the attitudes of players. How many star athletes do we get in every generation who perfectly embody all of the proper standards of performance and intangibles and behavior that we set for them? Maybe a handful? Hell, most of the ones we think "do it the right way" collapse into a heap of lies at some point like Tiger Woods or Brett Favre or Alex Rodriguez. I'm done with that. If Carlos thinks this shit sucks and he wants to walk away, I hope he does it and I hope he doesn't let anyone talk him out of it. I think this shit sucks, too. I've spent most of the last two summers not watching the Cubs and the worst part is that I don't even miss them. They've killed the part of me that just liked watching baseball because I've long since become accustomed to the idea that they care a hell of a lot less about putting a winning product on the field than I do, and the fact that they're trashing Carlos Zambrano while endorsing the man who not only signed Carlos to a massive contract but also built the shitty team around him says all I need to know. I really have a hard time caring about the Chicago Cubs these days, and they're responsible for it. I'm not surprised they've driven away Carlos Zambrano, too.

Bears-Bills Observations

I've said many times that the worst mistake you can make as a football fan is to overrate anything you see in the preseason. If you need evidence of that I can always direct you to my favorite stick-poking of Bears fandom's greatest ledge-jumper. That said, you can occasionally glean some useful information from individual matchups during preseason games, and I really had just one hope for this game, which was that the offensive line might try to be something better than a total embarrassment.


Okay, it looked bad. Raw sack totals are always misleading, though. I'm throwing out the five second-half sacks of Nathan Enderle because all of the back-ups were in at that point and trying to take anything meaningful from the second half of the first preseason game is an endeavor well beyond foolishness. The four first half sacks are certainly concerning, however. I'll say that the overall size and strength of the unit appears to be much better, since the runblocking was pretty stellar for Marion Barber and Khalil Bell, who capitalized for 120 yards at 6.0 ypc.

As for those four sacks of Cutler and Hanie, the positive that I can take away is that no one appeared to be consistently defeated. Unlike last year's Kamerion Wimbley/Chris Williams shellacking in the 2nd game of the preseason, this year the responsibility for those four sacks belongs to J'Marcus Webb, Lance Louis, Roberto Garza, and Caleb Hanie, in that order.

Webb was certainly the most egregious defender, as he allowed pressure from Shawne Merriman that forced Cutler to step into Marcell Dareus (who was forcing his way through Lance Louis after a missed double-team assignment) and he allowed Merriman to sack Hanie as well. On Merriman's second sack, Webb did his job and blocked Merriman before passing him off to Garza, but Garza faltered and allowed Hanie to go down, however, as Erik Kramer pointed out, Hanie needed to get the ball out quicker on that one, as he had an open receiver to his left and failed to pull the trigger. Lance Louis struggled one-on-one with Marcell Dareus, but he should have had help on the first sack he allowed.

I think things will get better. I'm not going to blow smoke up anyone's ass and I'm still scared as hell of this unit, but this is, for the most part, a young unit that has plenty of promise, unlike last year, where Kreutz and an injured Garza were two aging question marks and Frank Omiyale proved once more that he's beyond redemption. Lance Louis struggled Saturday night but allowed just one sack in five starts last year and has performed well in camp. Chris Williams actually played well, to the shock of all. Carimi seemed to be as good as advertised. John Mullin thinks they'll be alright as well, and notes that the team can make some lineup changes as well. I think the struggles in this first game were mostly missed assignments or technical issues, and the concern will come in the future if Webb fails to shake off this week's game or if the line appears to be physically overwhelmed, which wasn't the impression that I got, and I'd say that's supported by the rushing totals.

As for other highlights, it was good to see Amobi Okoye make an impact with 2 sacks, and I think he'll be a great situational pass-rusher at defensive tackle. As I said before, his biggest problems in Texas stemmed from weaknesses in run support and a general failure to hold up as a 3-down player. In Chicago he could simply sub in for Anthony Adams on third down and be a defensive tackle version of the 2006 Mark Anderson. The linebacking crew looked stellar as always, Johnny Knox performed well as a kick returner, and Major Wright seemed to be around the ball every time he was on the field. I was glad to see Lovie get Cutler and Forte out of there ASAP on a night where the field was sloppy and wet and the line was struggling. Hopefully things will be better this weekend, when the starters should get a few more reps that may give us something more hopeful.

Go Bears.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Bears Offensive Line: Talking Myself Off of the Ledge

So Mike Tice has declared the starting five combination that he wants to take into the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. That starting five consists of J'Marcus Webb at left tackle, Chris Williams at left guard, Roberto Garza at center, Lance Louis at right guard, and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Now that starting five doesn't really appear to be inspiring much confidence in most people because four of those give gentlemen were on last year's roster during the 56 sack-a-palooza and the fifth guy is an untested rookie.

Now, dear reader, I understand your concern because, well, I myself have been shitting solid bricks over Jerry's inactivity regarding the offensive line during free agency. While I think the team truly will be better at the center position with Chris Spencer rather than Olin Kreutz (although Garza at center is at total wild card, the man's not a bad player and is bigger than Kreutz so he could do just fine there), I too am not sold on the idea that the Bears can count on Webb, Carimi, Louis, and Williams ALL to pan out. Unfortunately, however, help doesn't appear to be on the way. Those are the guys you're stuck with, so here's why you and I shouldn't start drinking Clorox, or something.

1. The biggest offender of 2010 is no longer in the lineup.
Funny thing about last year. After Chris Williams went down in week two against the Cowboys, Frank Omiyale moved over from right tackle to left tackle and stayed there for the rest of the season. After that we were force-fed horseplop about how Omiyale was "surprisingly solid" at left tackle blah blah blah. Omiyale allowed 13 sacks last year, by far the highest total of anyone on the team. Hell, Orlando Pace allowed 3 sacks in 11 games in 2009, for comparison, and while raw sack totals are sometimes flawed and Orlando allowed a hell of a lot of pressure overall, Omiyale sucked and let no one tell you otherwise. While Frank was certainly an improvement of Chris Williams/Kevin Shaffer at left tackle in the run game, he was still in my opinion the weakest link of the unit and he's been relegated to the bench, hopefully for good. That's a bonus.

2. They're bigger.
Mike Martz's offense calls for five big, beefy offensive linemen who can hold their own in the passing game. Olin Kreutz as a 292 pound center was a poor fit, and moving Garza to center in order to get greater size at both center and guard makes sense. As it stands right now, that starting five combo of Webb, Williams, Garza, Louis, and Carimi would average about 312 LBs per man. Hopefully that size alone should cut down on some of the interior penetration which caused so much trouble last year. If this group can simply fall down and make a mess of things in the middle and allow Cutler to scramble outside of the pocket, well, that's an improvement over the disaster that was the first half of last year.

3. The unit that ended last season is not the unit that started last season.
There are a lot of enduring, painful images of last year's offensive line that have us all sweating balls about this group. It's worth noting however that the unit that ended last season was far different than the unit that was responsible for debacles like the 10 sack game vs. the Giants, the 6 sack against the Seahawks, and the 4 sack games against the Lions and the Redskins. The Bears opened the season last year with a left-to-right alignment of Chris Williams, Garza, Kreutz, Louis, and Omiyale and got the following results:

-Chris Williams at left tackle was a disaster, and he went down in week two with an injury shortly after getting pantsed by DeMarcus Ware on consecutive possessions. That forced Omiyale over to left tackle, where he was only an improvement compared to Chris Williams, and sent Kevin Shaffer in at right tackle.

-Kevin Shaffer blew and was absolutely shellacked by the Giants (2 sacks, 2 false starts in just 1 start), so he was benched after one start for J'Marcus Webb at RT.

-Roberto Garza struggled with a knee injury early on before he missed two starts after surgery. In his place Edwin Williams was less than spectacular, allowing 1 sack and several pressures in two starts.

-Louis played well, but it was hard to tell between the overrated mediocrity of Olin Kreutz and the general suckitude of Kevin Shaffer. Louis missed one start due to injury and then was lost in the shuffle after Chris Williams returned to play left guard.

The Bears didn't settle on a group of five that lasted more than one game until the eighth game of the season against Buffalo. After that, things got better:

First Seven Games: 31 sacks (4.4 per game), 89 yards rushing per game, 18 PPG
Last Nine Games: 25 sacks (2.7 per game), 111 yards rushing per game, 23 PPG

So the Bears have now replaced two weak links on that much less embarrassing second half offensive line (Kreutz, Omiyale) with Roberto Garza at center and Gabe Carimi at right tackle. Will it work? I don't know, but there's reasons ot believe it can and will, but there's also little reason to fear a regression to last year's nightmarish first half numbers. At the very least this a group that should be able to run the ball effectively.

4. There's Some depth.
Chris Spencer isn't currently in the starting lineup, and I do believe Tice when he says he'd prefer to go into the season with Roberto Garza at center. Roberto has been a quality linemen (except in the four games last year before his knee surgery) in his time for the Bears and a move to center could prolong his career. He also knows the Martz playbook and all of the line calls and seems to be handling center well after a rough start to camp. And hell, if he botches a few snaps, has a couple false starts, and maybe can't handle a shotgun snap real well, it's not like he's any worse than vaunted leader Olin Kreutz in that department. However, Garza can always move back to guard to replace either Louis or Williams if either of them falters, and hopefully by that point Spencer will be ready to step in at center. Spencer's also got an entire 16-game season of experience at guard under his belt, so the Bears may go that route if need be.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Bears didn't score the big-name free agent linemen that we (and they) were hoping for and now they have to hope one of their young guys can play better than whatever over-priced, lower-tier free agent they could bring in at this point. If you're asking me, I'd say Carimi will be in improvement over the Omiyale/Shaffer/Rookie Webb combo at RT, while it won't take much from Webb to be an improvement over Omiyale at left tackle. Garza can probably handle center, and I'm high on Lance Louis.

My biggest worry is Chris Williams, but I'd say that the worst case scenario for the Bears at this point would be marginal improvement over last year's second half-numbers (the acquisition of Matt Spaeth, who HAS to be a better blocker than the Manu/Olsen combo of last year, should help as well), while anyone fearing a retreat back to the full-on CutlerRape of the first half can probably cease the pants-wetting. As for the best case scenario? I don't know. If Carimi and Webb can be what Mike Tice believes they can be, this could be one very good offense. If not, well, they could probably survive another year with an offensive line like the one they took into the playoffs last year, just not the offensive line they took into the Meadowlands.

Or they could be fucked, in which case somebody's getting fired, and that's always fun, no?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Getting to Know Your New Chicago Bears

So it's been a pretty eventful offseason as far as player movement goes for the Bears, and while I recapped the team's free agent efforts, I still feel some of you may want some more information on the more notable additions to the Bears roster, be they draft picks, undrafted rookies, or free agents. So without further ado, meet your newest Bears:

WR Roy Williams
HT: 6'3'' WT: 210 LBs
Years in the League: 7 Seasons
Draft: 1st Rd, 7th Pick, 2004 NFL Draft (Lions)
So for the last year meathead Bears fans have been screaming from the top of their lungs that they wanted a big target for Jay Cutler. The Bears went out and got one in Roy Williams, whom most fans have already decided to hate. Now, I myself hate Williams' personality and the useless bravado he exhibited with the Lions, but I have no beef with the signing. He fits well in Martz's offense and, considering I have more faith in the Bears' current crop of wideouts than most, I think the team will be fine whether Roy pans out or not.

However, many fans are pissed because Roy didn't produce much as Romo's third or even fourth option in Dallas as he had just 37 receptions for 530 yds and 5 TDs last year. Now, Bears fans, in their infinite wisdom, are smarter than Jerry Angelo and know that a guy like Sidney Rice (averages 44.4 ypg in his career, Roy averages 52.1) would have been a much better option, since Roy Williams is a fluke who only has one 1300 yard season in his career to hang his hat on. Oh, wait. That sounds like it might apply to Sidney Rice, too.

Well, the Bears at least should have gotten Plaxico Burress, because a guy who is older than Roy Williams and hasn't played a down since 2008 must automatically be better than Roy.

Okay, well the Bears should have gone with Mike Sims-Walker, even though he's never had a 1,000 yard season and he's averaged 43.4 ypg in his career. Maybe, just maybe, this WR crop in FA wasn't as great as people made it out to be and MAYBE, given Roy's previous sucess in the system and the fact that he's actually produced better in his career than both Rice and Sims-Walker, he actually was the smart pick. I don't know.

WR Sam Hurd
HT: 6'2'' WT: 187
Years in the League: Five
Draft: Undrafted
As I mentioned the other day, Hurd's biggest contributions will come on special teams, where, based on the reports I've heard, he's possibly an upgrade over Rashied Davis and, considering Rashied generally couldn't catch Syphilis in a 16th century French brothel, I'm guessing Sam would be at least a mild upgrade if forced to take meaningful reps at wide receiver. He also went to Northern Illinois, for all of you Huskie homers.

WR Dane Sanzenbacher
HT: 5'11 WT: 185 LBs
Years in the League: Rookie
Draft: Undrafted Free Agent
It'll be alright if Roy Williams doesn't pan out, however, because the meatball crowd now has Dane Sanzenbacher, scrappy white wide receiver from Ohio State, to root for. If you're on twitter, do a quick search for "Sanzenbacher" and marvel at the results from Bears fans already stating that he'll be better than Roy Williams and inquiring desperately about his roster status. I'd be truly sad if this annual tradition wasn't kept up. I'm sure he'll be just as great as Mike Haass. He also went to Ohio State, so, you know, f*&k him.

WR Andy Fantuz
HT: 6'4'' WT: 220 LBs
Years in the League: Rookie
Draft: Undrafted, Acquired from CFL
As a CFL fan, I'd normally root for any guy like Fantuz to succeed in the NFL and legitimize the league, but Fantuz played for the Roughriders, sworn enemies of Smilin' Hank Burris' Calgary Stampeders, so woe unto him. Also he's just a tall, slow wide receiver that can't block. And you thought they'd miss Greg Olsen.

DE Vernon Gholston
HT: 6'4'' WT: 265 LBs
Years in the League: 3
Draft: 1st Rd, 6th Pick, 2008 Draft (Jets)
Gholston was a beast in college, where he had 22.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for a loss in 34 games. In the NFL he was a surprisingly poor fit after switching from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB. Then Rex Ryan moved him to a 3-4 defensive end, which is never much of a premier pass rushing position. The Jets then brought in veteran 3-4 DE Trevor Pryce, and Gholston had just 2 starts while attempting to learn an entirely new position. In my opinion, Gholston never should have been put anywhere in a 3-4. He's still got incredible burst and straight-line speed for a 4-3 DE (4.56 40 time) and he may very well progress into something resembling the guy he was supposed to be under Rod Marinelli. At worst, he's a big upgrade at the #4 DE spot over Mark Anderson, who broke camp at that position last year, and over Henry Melton, who was more of a fit at defensive tackle, where he now lines up this year. At best...he could be a terror in a pass-rushing rotation with Peppers, Idonije, and Corey Wooton. The standard response as I've mentioned before was "LOL, look at ol' Angelo pickin' through the trash," but I absolutely support this move. There's nothing to lose.

DT Amobi Okoye
HT: 6'2'' WT: 292 LBs
Years in the League: 4
Draft: 1st Rd, 10th Pick, 2007 Draft (Texans)
Akoye is another "bust" the Bears have picked up for their DL, but unlike Gholston he actually has produced in short stints. He had 5.5 sacks as a rookie, a very solid total for a DT, and he has 11 sacks overall, for an average of 3 a year. In Chicago he's not going to be asked to be a three-down defensive tackle, eliminating his struggles against the run, and if he manages to be part of the 3-technique rotation during passing downs, I think his speed will be a benefit to the team. Some people are pissed the Bears failed to add some secondary depth during this offseason and instead addressed the DL. If the Bears can get similar production from their line as last year, they'll be able to get by once more with the secondary they have. If they get improved production from guys like Idonije, Wooton, Melton, and Toeiana they'll be in really good shape, and if guys like Gholston and Okoye tap into their potential you'll probably stop hearing all of that crap about Detroit's defensive line being something near-godlike (especially since Fairley is already hurt). The only constant on the Bears' D-Line this year may be Peppers, but if the other three spots can keep up a consistent pass-rush by committee, the entire Tampa-Two will click better than it has since 2006.

DT Stephen Paea
HT: 6'1'' WT: 311 LBs
Years in the League: Rookie
Draft: 2nd Rd, 2011 Draft (Bears)
Of course, one key to ensuring that the Bears defensive line turns into the monster unit I'm optimistic that it can be is if Paea is able to earn his way to a starting job and become a force either at the three-technique or the nose tackle. Paea's versatility is an asset, since he's got the size to take over for Anthony Adams at the nose if Melton or Okoye proves to be a better penetrator at under-tackle, but his burst and his absolutely ludicrous showing at the combine (that's a video of him doing 49 bench press reps of 225 lbs. No big deal) indicate that he's got the quickness and brute strength necessary to be a disruptive pass-rushing force at under-tackle. Plus, he an Toeiana give the Bears a +1 over Detroit and Green Bay in the all-important category of Polynesian defensive linemen. Suh, Raji, your move.

OT Gabe Carimi
HT: 6'7'' WT: 315 LBs
Years in the League: Rookie
Draft: 1st RD, 29th Pick, 2011 Draft (Bears)

Of course, Gabe Carimi will be the most watched rookie on the Bears this year and the one that absolutely must make an impact. I've heard some minor hand-wringing about the Bears moving J'Marcus Webb to LT and Carimi to right, but I don't really consider it an issue. Webb was a small school talent with similar overall measurables to a guy like Carimi who got much better as the season went along last year and has every bit as much of the potential to be a starting LT as Carimi does, plus a slight edge as far as experience goes. Carimi by all accounts could be a great left tackle in the NFL, but there's some disagreement there, while I haven't heard anyone yet say that he wouldn't be a great right tackle in the NFL. Carimi's greatest strength is plowing people over in the run game, while he's an above-average, but not elite blocker in pass protection. Hopefully they both work out. If Carimi and Webb can lock down both ends of the line the team then the team will be in great shape for years to come at two of the most important positions on offense. I understand the fear that the team may be lying about their faith in Webb given the $33 million contract they offered to Willie Colon, but reports that I heard even then seemed to indicate that Willie would be moved to guard in Chicago and only moved to tackle if Webb struggled. So hopefully this is a move that pays off. Either way, I'd expect Carimi to succeed at right tackle, to say the least.

C Chris Spencer
HT: 6'3" WT: 309 LBs
Years in the League: 7
Draft: 1st Rd, 26th Pick, 2005 Draft (Seahawks)

Spencer is now the replacement for Olin Kreutz at center. I gave my feelings on letting Olin go before, and I definitely think Spencer can be an improvement over what Olin gave the Bears over the last several years, even if he's a step down from the Pro-Bowl caliber center that Olin Kreutz used to be (and that apparently some people still imagine he is). For one, Spencer has both height and a nearly 20 pound weight advantage over Kreutz, which should hopefully allow the team to reduce the amount of pressure up the middle from guys like Suh and Raji. Spencer's only 29, and he's also got a full year's experience playing guard under his belt. While some have ragged on Spencer for inconsistency, he's generally performed adequately when he hasn't struggled with injuries, something that plagued him from 07-09. Last year Pro Football Focus had him as comparable to Kreutz in pass protection and a much better run blocker. Spencer at 29 should be able to sustain that production, if he doesn't improve under Tice, while Kreutz at 34 is likely to continue his decline. Spencer may not be an all-pro, but he was certainly the best center on the market, and that market included Olin Kreutz.

Those are all of the additions I deem worthy of an actual breakdown, although I will add that the Bears signed Oregon State's center Alex Linnenkohl (6'2'', 303 LBs), who was the highest rated center that wasn't drafted this year. While he's not ready to start now, he's a strong candidate for the practice squad or a guy who can be stashed on injured reserve for a year while he adds strength and could possibly replace Spencer if he Spencer disappoints over his two-year contract.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Where Do I Begin (Part Two): Free Agency

There aren't many words that could easily define this free agency period. At first the Bears were accused of inactivity. After signing 48 players in less than a week, the accusations changed from inactivity to stupid activity. Then, Jerry enraged everyone by trading or releasing franchise cornerstones Greg Olsen and Olin Kreutz. Wait, I'm not enraged at all. Those were totally the right moves to make. So let's move on to the run down:

Good Moves:
-Signing Roy Williams
Believe me, I didn't expect to consider this a good move. I hate Roy Williams. As a Bears fan, how could you not? The smarmy cockface is still most memorable in my mind for stating after a 34-7 loss to the Bears in 2006 that it was "stupid" how close the Lions were to scoring 40 points. Gah. However, Williams could certainly thrive in an offense where he's comfortable with the scheme (something evident by the 2148 yards he gained in his 28 games in the Mike Martz offense in 2006-2007), has a solid quarterback (something he never had in Detroit), and is, more than likely, going to be the featured target (unlike Dallas). Now, Williams truly was awful in 2008-2009. Nagging leg injuries appeared to have robbed him of much of his speed, and a series of brutal drops eventually led Tony Romo to largely ignore him. This year, Williams had a pretty great year for a guy who was usually Romo/Kitna's fourth option behind Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. I'm one of the few people who think that Cutler would do fine throwing to Knox, Bennett, and Hester if he had the protection to allow him to find them downfield with regularity, but I think Roy Williams would add a dimension with his height (6-4) and speed (14.6 YPC in his career) that would make him very good in this offense. If he fails, well, the Bears gave up very little to get him and they'll surprise with the rest of their wideouts, but, much as I loathe his stupid face, I think he seems to be in a very good position to shock a lot of people.

-Re-signing Nick Roach.
I'd probably have wagered on Pisa, but Nick has never really disappointed in the OLB position and has never actually had the chance to play a full season with Urlacher and Briggs there to support him. He struggled at times shouldering much of the load in 2009, but I think the talent is there and he's much more experienced. He could be a key piece on a linebacking corps that will soon have to begin to prepare for life post-Urlacher.

-Re-signing Corey Graham and Brian Iwuh and replacing Rashied Davis with Sam Hurd
Dave Toub's special teams unit wasn't ignored, as Corey Graham and Brian Iwuh were two key pieces that returned on very favorable deals. Rashied Davis was excellent at covering kicks, which appears to be Sam Hurd's speciality, and Hurd probably wouldn't rank among the worst receivers in the NFL in dropped passes if he was forced into a bigger role on offense, something Rashied managed to do in 2008.

-Taking chances on Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye
The fact that the Bears have signed these two has been thrown around more as a "LOL, look at Angelo takin on other people's garbage" joke the last few days, but these were both low-risk, high-reward moves that would look brilliant if either one paid off. The Bears aren't even remotely depending on either of these guys. One or both could get cut before camp is out, or either one could cash in on their talent and potential and offer young, cheap options at two key positions on the defensive line. If the Bears were going to sign these two and then cut Izzy or Corey Wooton or if they didn't re-sign Anthony Adam, I'd say it was foolhardy to expect them to contribute as starters. But they aren't. They're back ups with huge upside. Fine by me.

-Bringing back Anthony Adams
Anthony Adam's is nothing particularly special. He's a rich man's Ian Scott. He is, however, an underrated cog in the team's run defense, which was absolutely stellar last year if anyone was paying attention. He's probably going to give way even more this year to pass-rushers like Melton and Toeiana and possibly Okoye, but in non-passing downs, Anythony is key and the Bears were smart to bring him back.

-Getting the entire draft class into camp on time
Even if the new CBA hadn't made the job of signing rookies even easier, I think Cliff Stein would have managed to get the Bears draft class into camp earlier than most. He's just that good. It's absolutely invaluable to get Paea and Carimi as many reps as possible before the season, since both will be starting sooner rather than later, and both are vital to the team's success this year. Also helps to get Chris Conte in at safety, since the departure of Danieal Manning (it sucks, but he wasn't worth 20 mildo for one good year and that's all there is to it) means that the Lurking Demon Who Feasts Upon the Healthy Limbs of Bears' Safeties will most likely mean he'll get some starter's reps at some point this season.

-Getting Marion Barber
This is excellent for two reasons: 1. Barber, especially in a limited role as Forte's backup, can be a total menace in short yardage, something this team's needed for years. 2. Chester Taylor's probably gone, so I no longer have to throw things at the TV when he comes chugging along with his 2.4 yard per carry average.

Meh Moves:
-Replacing Olin Kreutz with Chris Spencer
This would be a good move if I was higher on Chris Spencer. As it is, I think he's a guy with talent and size and a first-round pedigree who could turn into an upgrade on the line if he's healthy and Tice is able to get the most out of him.

As for Kreutz, well, most media members and a large chunk of the fanbase are pissed off, so it was probably the right move. There's no love lost here for Olin Kreutz. I'm on record as stating multiple times that he was never as good as advertized in the past and he's been barely above-to-well below average since 2007. Something tells me Chris Spencer can probably move the pile six inches at the Detroit goal-line, or that he wouldn't manage to get destroyed for a sack by a completely disinterested Albert Haynesworth, who also blew up Olin on Cutler's attempted sneak/fumble. B.J. Raji drew a lot of fire in 2009 when he said that Olin simply wasn't strong enough to block him, but he was right. Olin was always an undersized, athletic center who got by on leverage and movement, and since he's no longer as fast and athletic as he was when he was young, he's average at best against the rest of the league and practically worthless against big bodies like Raji or Haynesworth or the two-headed monster that Detroit is going to throw at the NFL this season.

I guess the best indicator that Kreutz was washed up would be the fact that everyone opining his loss is complaining about "morale" and "intangibles" and "leadership" rather than his "blocking" and "the team's ability to maybe possibly get a yard or so when running through his gap." I'm not going to completely disregard the idea of leadership on a football team, but I also know that people have a tendency to value performance over anything else. If Chris Spencer can handle the job, and the team wins ballgames, you're going to hear the bitching about Olin's leadership disappear. Also, if Olin was such a goddamn "team" guy and such a splendid leader, why did he: A.) Once bust a teammate's jaw (actually the second time he'd broken a teammate's face, but the first was in college) B.) Demand a $4.5 million salary and walk away when the team said they couldn't pay him that, when apparently his other option was to retire? Face it, people. Olin's been over the hill for years and when he refused to admit it and get paid accordingly, the team called him on it and chose to split. Better to let Olin go a year early (and I don't think they are) then see him completely collapse.

-Trading Greg Olsen for a 3rd round pick and replacing him with Matt Spaeth (and dumping Manumaleuna).
I realize this is three moves at once but they're all related and I'm getting tired of writing. I thought Olsen was gone last year, and I was opposed at the time because I was unwilling to see the team part with a guy who still had some value if the Martz experiment was going to blow up in their face.

I've seen enough now where, crazy though it may be, I believe the best thing for this team is to run the Martz offense right if they're going to run it at all. The hybrid attack of the second half of last season helped them do enough to not-blow games, but the team is going to need to do more. People are panicking because they assume this means an automatic return to the chaos of last year's first half, but I think things will be different. The blocking will be better, as the team did improve in that department in the second half and Carimi and Spencer should be upgrades over Omiyale and Kreutz's old ass, while Webb will have far more experience and there's hopefully still the looming figure of a yet-to-be-signed veteran guard to throw into the mix. Forte will get more touches, as Martz finally realized last year what a weapon he can be, and there are now more targets at wide receiver. I've read good reviews on Spaeth's ability as a blocker, and he certainly has to be an upgrade over the miserable efforts of Olsen and Manu in that department.

If you think they're going to miss Olsen's 400 yards receiving, well, I'm pretty sure Roy Williams will manage that. I had hopes that Olsen would eventually be a complete tight end, and it would be unfair to him to say he didn't improve somewhat in the blocking department, but at this point he's still not much more than a slower wide receiver. He can exploit a shoddy batch of safeties like he did in the Seahawks playoff game, but it's worth noticing that he disappeared right away against Green Bay in the next game because he isn't the devastating matchup problem he was advertised to be when he's playing against safeties that can keep up with him.

Even more puzzling is that some people think the 3rd round pick that the Bears got for him wasn't enough. That's absurd, considering Ochocinco just drew a 2012 5th and a 2013 6th and people (including myself) were shitting a brick that Kevin Kolb brought a 2nd round pick and a cornerback in a trade. Angelo got good value for Olsen. I have no beef with this. Oh, and Greg, next time don't fumble all of the goddamn time.

Those are the major points. I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't covered but this last week has been pure madness. I'm still hoping the Bears will get a veteran guard or tackle in sometime in the next week or so, as there are still good bodies out there and teams are now trying to lower the cost of the second-tier free agents now that the stars are off the board, and if they do so I'll be more than satisfied with this offseason. If they don't, well, that'll lead to some trepidation, but for the most part there's been a lot of hand-wringing over what I think has been one of the Bears' smarter offseasons.

Where Do I Begin?

You know, I've never really considered myself to be a shill for Jerry Angelo or any of the brains behind the Chicago Bears organization. In the dark, dark depths of the the end of the 2009 season I succumbed to meatheadedry and admitted I wouldn't be terribly upset if the entire regime was dismissed. The fact that I backed off that stance following their offseason maneuvers last year and predicted a return to the playoffs for the Bears made me a damned idiot fool in the eyes of a lot of people. Now, I'm not saying I'm some kind of brilliant wizard for correctly predicting the 11-5 record the Bears would enjoy, or the 6-10 downfall of the Vikings, even if I did predict both, but I am going on record as believing that the Chicago Bears have a good football team, one that Jerry Angelo has assembled.

I've got major beefs with Jerry, that's for sure. His refusal to address the offensive line in the early rounds of drafts until the botched pick of Chris Williams in 2008 has been my biggest beef, naturally. I understand that he was handicapped the last two years after trading away a number of picks for Jay Cutler (smart!) and Gaines Adams (not smart! And not just because he died, sadly) and that the free agent market was thin on quality o-line starters in the last two offseasons, but last year's motley crew was hard to stomach and the blame for that falls on him.

His first round picks have been widely slammed, although I think it's worth adding some context to the whole "only two remain with the team, Carimi and Williams" statement. That's true, but it's worth remembering that he didn't even Make first round picks in 2010, 2009, and 2006. So of 11 possible first round picks, that's 3 that never even existed. He traded down in 2006 out of the 27th pick and got Devin Hester and Danieal Manning. Works for me. The 09&10 picks got us Jay Cutler. Fine by me. So of the 7 first round picks that Jerry actually made, 2 remain (Williams&Carimi) and 6 are gone (Marc Colombo, Rex Grossman, Michael Haynes, Tommie Harris, Cedric Benson, Greg Olsen).

Of that group, Marc Colombo was a solid left tackle for the Cowboys for several years, exactly what he was drafted to be. The Bears had to move on from Colombo not because he was a bust in Chicago, but because he suffered two major knee injuries that wiped out nearly three whole seasons and they were forced to move on because they couldn't rely on him to man the blindside and got John Tait. Fair move, but hardly makes Colombo a bad pick, since he had no injury history in college and the knee injury he suffered was an artificial-turf induced freak of an accident. Tommie Harris was absolutely the best pick they could have made in 2004 and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot who has forgotten exactly what Tommie was before his injury in 2007. A great under tackle makes the entire Cover 2 defense work, and Tommie absolutely was a great under tackle before he lost the burst that made him so tough to defend. Bad luck sucks, but to count Tommie as any kind of first round bust is lunacy. Greg Olsen, for all his faults, was at least a talented, somewhat productive player who earned a pretty good pick in return. I thought he was a stupid pick to begin with, but for the 31st overall pick he wasn't a particularly damning miss.

So that leaves Jerry with three damning busts in Rex Grossman (who still started a Superbowl at quarterback, however you want to view that), Cedric Benson, and Michael Haynes. Having three flops sucks, but he's hardly the absolutely incompetent drafter that statistic would indicate.

What's my point with all of this? I'm not saying I trust Jerry Angelo. I'm saying that his perception as a stingy, incompetent boob seems to be a bit of a media/fan creation. I'd say it's absurd to act like he never makes big moves (Cutler? Peppers?) or that he's generally inactive in free agency. In 2004-2005 he completely rebuilt a shitty offensive line that allowed 66 sacks in 2004 with Fred Miller, John Tait, and Ruben Brown. He brought in Thomas Jones, Desmond Clark, Adewale Ogunleye and several other excellent veterans who carried the team to a superbowl on a team that had Jerry Angelo draft picks starting at almost every other key position (Bernard Berrian, Tommie Harris, Alex Brown, Ian Scott, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher, Chris Harris). The fact of the matter is, Jerry's track record is that he's an above-average GM. He may not be elite, and I understand the desire for an elite organization. This team needs to win consistently and take its place among the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, Packers etc. They have some pieces in place, primarily in the form of Jay Cutler, that make me think those days are coming. I myself haven't been pissed off that much by this free agency period, and I'm going to address those moves specifically in my next post, since this one has gotten extremely long. My point, however, is that simply raging that Jerry Angelo is an idiot gets no one anywhere and would have blown up in most people's faces where they able to be held accountable as fans for their statements after a season like last year. As of right now, the Bears are reigning NFC North champions. They deserve the benefit of a doubt until, unlike last year, they prove on the field that they aren't a good football team, rather than in the minds of an incredibly fickle and irate fanbase.