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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What the Hell is a "Tweener?" Shea McClellin, Zone Blitzes, and the Evolution of Lovie Smith's Defense

“While the 6-3 1/2, 260-pound McClellin may be a bit of a tweener, he has a track record for getting after the quarterback.”- NFLDraftScout.Com

“Shea McClellin is a tweener seemingly better suited for a 3-4 defense.”- Mark Potash, Chicago Sun Times

“At 6’3” and 260lbs is a true ‘tweener and will likely be asked to add 15-20lbs if his role in the pros requires a hand in the dirt”- Pro Football Focus

Those are just three of the many profiles of Shea McClellin that discuss the biggest issue Bears fans and beat writers seem to have with the pick: McClellin is a “tweener,” a seemingly classic case of a college athlete who doesn’t have a true position in the pros, since he’s too big to be a full time linebacker and too small to be a 4-3 DE. Those are usually the guys that go to a 3-4 scheme, yet here Shea is in Chicago, a committed 4-3 if ever there was one.

So why did the Bears tab McClellin as their guy?

Was it, as some paranoid idiots have claimed, so that they have Urlacher’s replacement on the roster since he’s more hurt than the team has claimed? I doubt it.

Is it, as other paranoid idiots have claimed, because Emery is prepping for a 3-4 in a Lovie-less future? Not exactly, since I hardly doubt Emery would undermine Lovie’s system when all of his other moves have screamed “Superbowl or Bust” this year.

Is it, as I myself and others have suggested, that McClellin’s really not that undersized and that there are numerous examples of 4-3 DE’s who have been successful with similar measurables (one name I should have mentioned as well when compiling that list was Alex Brown, who was 6’3’’, 262 and very effective in Lovie’s system)? This seems most accurate, and would be my guess, but there’s also another reason I think the Bears wanted a “tweener” on their defense.

I was reading an interview today with Chris Brown of (yes I mention him a lot. He’s brilliant and you should read his stuff often if you want to pretend to know something) and Brown said something very interesting when he was asked what he was most looking forward to in the near future of football:

“…on defense the big trend I see is to take existing defenses, like the 3-4 or 4-3, but to begin using more “hybrid” defenders in the base defense, guys who were maybe considered “tweeners” a few years ago without a true position. These are the linebacker/safety hybrids and the defensive end/linebacker hybrids, who, when facing all these no-huddle or multiple-formation attacks, must be able to both take on a fullback or tight-end at the line, rush the passer, or drop into pass coverage. You're definitely starting to see it in the NFL as they need players who can stuff the run and cover athletic tight-ends down the field. But you also are increasingly seeing it in college, both given the diversity of offensive attacks from week to week -- pass-first spread to pro-style to option to run-first spread -- and the increasing speed with which they operate in the no-huddle. Defenses don't have the luxury of having time to substitute the exact personnel they want for a specific situation; they need dynamic, multi-purpose playmakers on defense to deal with dynamic, multi-purpose playmakers on offense.”

That, in a nut shell, is the reason why I think the Bears wanted McClellin. Not only can McClellin use his speed as an edge rusher to take advantage of the attention paid to Julius Peppers on the other side in order to get to the quarterback, but also because his versatility is an undeniable asset in an NFL where offenses are rapidly evolving. You can say McClellin lacks the size necessary to take on tight ends or fullbacks, but teams are starting to emphasize speed over bulk at those positions as well (think Greg Olsen, Jermichael Finley, Aaron Hernandez, etc. Those guys are receivers first and aren't going to bulldoze guys like McClellin out of the way either) so in the end it's a wash.

If you look in the Bears own division you’ll see two teams in Green Bay and Detroit who essentially operate under the same principles as college spread offenses. While Green Bay still pays some respect to their old west coast offense background and Detroit’s Scott Linehan uses a one back offense that uses pass concepts from the old Run N Shoot, among others, both teams more or less ignore the run game and move the ball by spreading teams wide with four or five wide receiver sets and putting Stafford and Rodgers in the shotgun. Obviously the Bears need to counter this if they’re going to compete.

One way the Bears counter their aerial opponents is simply by remaining loyal to their system. While people love to claim the Tampa Two is obsolete every time the Bears players struggle, their success the last two years is proof that this scheme only becomes more valuable as opposing teams become more pass-oriented than ever before.

However, the base Tampa Two scheme can only get you so far and often leaves the team vulnerable to seams, slants, and out routes as well as inside runs. The Bears actually play the Cover 2 less than 30% of the time, as they often use Cover 4 and Cover 3 in passing downs as well. More importantly for this discussion is the fact that they also use a lot of zone blitzes.

Zone blitzes? What the hell? Not Lovie Smith, that boring old biddy. Zone blitzes belong to exotic defensive coordinators like Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau. The Bears scheme is as boring and conservative as it gets! Hell, it’s not like they're 2nd in the NFL in points allowed since 2004 or that they lead the NFL in takeaways in that time period. Oh wait. They are. And they do.

Actually, zone blitzes are one of the unheralded mainstays of Lovie’s scheme. As Matt Bowen noted, when Lovie Smith arrived with the Rams in 2001 the very first play he installed on defense was the Storm blitz, where the strong safety and middle linebacker blitz while three lineman rush and the weakside defensive end (likely to be Shea McClellin) and the SAM and WILL backers drop into coverage.

Another zone blitz you’ll see the Bears use with regularity is the Cover 1 Robber, where they use a single high safety in coverage, use the other safety to play man , blitz Lance Briggs, and use Urlacher in the middle of the field in a zone as the “robber” to take away short passes toward the weakside vacated by the blitzing Briggs.

In almost all of these zone blitzes, the presence of Shea McClellin will prove to be invaluable. McClellin, who played nearly as much linebacker at Boise State as he did DE, will be a much better player in coverage than Israel Idonije, and will give Lovie even more flexibility with the pressure he chooses to bring. As teams like the Falcons in 2010 learned, playing man coverage and blitzing Aaron Rodgers leads only to a painful death. Besides simply hoping a four man rush can get home, the zone blitz is the most effective tool the Bears will have against the Packers and Lions offenses. If the Bears can use any combination of blitzing Briggs or Urlacher (or DJ Moore, who they frequently send at the QB) and dropping athletic guys like Peppers or McClellin into coverage, they have a way to pressure those QBs without sacrificing too much in coverage.

So yes, Shea McClellin is a tweener. He’s not your prototypical defensive end or linebacker. If Julius Peppers were to disappear tomorrow and McClellin would find himself as the RDE, forced to take on double teams and carry an entire Cover 2 defense with his pass rush alone, he’d probably struggle. That’s not the plan, however, and by adding McClellin the Bears have actually added a great deal of flexibility to what they can do on defense. Times are changing and anyone who refuses to adapt will be left in the dust. Lovie Smith, who is unfairly criticized far too often for refusing to change, has seen where things are going and knew he needed a guy that’s as comfortable racing around the right tackle to chase Aaron Rodgers as he is dropping into coverage and covering Jermichael Finley. It’s a shame people are too short-sighted to see how McClellin’s greatest “weakness” is actually going to become a Bears strength.

Friday, May 25, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Coaching Staff

Last one! Then Start Kyle Orton goes on hiatus for a couple of weeks as I attend to the business of getting married and then heading on a honeymoon. Anyways, onto the coaching staff.

Lovie Smith, Head Coach

I still like Lovie. I sometimes wonder if this puts me in the minority. I choose to believe it doesn't, although it may put me at odds with a very vocal and virulent part of the Bears fanbase. I think Lovie's a solid coach from Monday-Saturday. I think his defensive philosophy, when he's got the pass rush and the linebackers to run it, is still a sound one, especially in an era where passing records are falling all over the place and a commitment to avoiding the big play at all costs makes a lot of sense (especially since the Lions in particular are extremely beatable so long as you avoid the Stafford-Megatron bomb). It's a fact that his players play very hard for him and I personally think he's coaxed more wins out of the Bears roster during his tenure than most guys would have. He admittedly has won when his stars are healthy and struggled when they weren't, but he's also had, from 1-53, a thinner depth chart than most of his division rivals. Even so, he generally patches together a winning season from teams that didn't always merit it. He gets too much shit for being a "player's coach," when really you need only look at the benching of Anthony Adams, the shakeup at safety, and his move to cut Chris Harris to see that that just isn't true.

I said during my midseason review this year that Lovie should go if this team doesn't make the playoffs, simply to avoid a Jeff Fisher like malaise. I'll make an exception considering he lost his starting QB, RB, and no.1 receiver all in a span of four weeks. This year Lovie's team was close to something big, and injuries took it away from him. He's still got at least one more year with the defense that he's ridden to this point, but now he has a GM who has a clear desire to build a winning offense that can both assist that defense this year and carry it over the inevitable reloading that is to come. Emery's loaded up the depth chart in a number of places Angelo used to ignore, and for the first time it seems Lovie may be able to go toe to toe with the heavyweights rather than simply finding a way to overachieve. For one more year at least, I still believe in Lovie Smith.

Mike Martz, Offensive Coordinator

I've already discussed why the Bears will be better off without Mike Martz, and it goes far beyond simply cutting down on the number of seven step drops. As for Martz's performance in 2011, well, I honestly don't think I can say anything more than I didn't say in October:
I give him credit for improving Jay Cutler's footwork and his mechanics. Jay's unfortunately had to rush some throws this year thanks to the shoddy protection, but I feel at this point that his worst days are behind him. If the team around him melts down we'll probably still see plenty of errant throws like we saw against New Orleans and Green Bay, but I think the days of streaking passes to guys like DeAngelo Hall are long gone. True to his reputation, he's probably made Jay Cutler a better player.

However, there's another side of the coin. It's a good thing that Mike has helped Jay improve his mechanics and pocket presence, because he's needed it while dodging the free blitzers that Martz's scheme doesn't even dream of accounting for.

What we've seen [during the five game winning streak] are gameplans indicating a changed individual. We've seen 25+ rushing attempts, 6, 7, and even 8 man protections, play action passes, bootlegs, and back shoulder throws. It's been nice, and it's allowed the two most important players, Forte and Cutler, to do what they do best.

The question, however, is what this means for Mike Martz's future. If even Mike Martz himself has given up on running "The Mike Martz Offense" with capital Ms, is he worth keeping around to run "the mike martz offense"? Can't someone who specializes in this West Coast-style offense be brought in who actually Wants to run it, not a guy who has been browbeaten into what I'm sure he considers a bastardization of his offense?
Martz  really did his best in the second half of both 2010 and last year to compromise. The simplest answer was that it was a better idea to simply find a coordinator who would run the same offense the Bears switched to at midseason the last two years from day one. That's what they did. I wish Mike well in retirement, even if it is clear from every comment Jay makes that he really, really fucking hates him.

Rod Marinelli, Defensive Coordinator

Let's face it, none of us really knows where Lovie Smith ends and where Rod Marinelli begins. Since we all gave up on the "Rod Marinelli could make ANYONE into a pro bowl defensive lineman" bit from 2009 a long time ago, there's really no way of saying whether the team would be any different if Lovie was still calling the defensive plays himself. Hell, the idea of calling plays in the Bears defensive is kind of amusing, considering that the scheme is very basic outside of the occasional zone blitz. Based off of results, though, Rod's pretty good at his job. Provided that job isn't head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Dave Toub, Special Teams Coordinator

I'm still waiting for that John Harbaugh-esque leap from special teams coordinator to head coach for Dave. There's no way to argue with his results. It'd be one thing to say he benefits from the attention given to Devin Hester, but he's made productive returners out of RW McQuarters, Danieal Manning, Rashied Davis, Johnny Knox, and Earl Bennett as well. He's watched as Robbie Gould became one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. His units block more field goals than any other team in the NFL. At some point he's got to move on. Until then, I'm glad he is a Bear.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Special Teams

Just two reviews left on this whirlwind tour of the Team That Might Have Been, and today it’s time for the most consistently effective unit on the entire team: the special teams. Now, since Dave Toub came to Chicago with Lovie in 2004 it’s been no great secret that that Bears have had the best special teams in the NFL. They’ve returned more kicks for TDs and blocked more field goals than any other team, Robbie Gould has hovered right around the record for most accurate kicker in NFL history, and they’ve generally ranked very high in kick coverage as well. All of this was true again this year. Without further ado, the specifics:

K, #9 Robbie Gould, 16 games, 28/32 Field Goals (87.5%), 20-29 yds: 10/10, 30-39 yds: 6/6, 40-49 yds: 6/10, 50-59 yds 6/6. XP: 37/37, 43 Touchbacks.

Robbie Gould is awesome. You don’t need me to tell you that. He’s currently the 5th most accurate kicker of all time, with 85.8% accuracy (the record is 86.5%). He’s automatic with anything below 40 yards and generally the most accurate kicker between 40 and 50. The one perceived weak point in his game was that he supposedly couldn’t boot it beyond 50, but Lovie sacked up a few years ago and allowed him to try and, lo and behold, Robbie’s the most accurate kicker in the NFL from 50 yards or more, as he’s converted 11 of 13 tries over the last couple of years. He hasn’t missed an extra point since his rookie year. He also had a career high in touchbacks this year, but so did everyone else thanks to that damn rule change. Simply put, in 2011 Robbie Gould was…awesome. I should have stopped with the first sentence. T

he good news is, Robbie’s still young as far as kicker’s go and you shouldn’t have to hold your breath during a Bears field goal attempt anytime in the near future. Thanks, Robbie. Oh, and thanks for not standing with your back to the ball in that weird stance Paul Edinger used to use. That guy always pissed me off. P,

#8 Adam Podlesh, 16 games, 89 Punts, 3903 yds, 43.9 average, 4 TBs, 21 inside 20, 41 returns, 223 yds (5.4 avg), 3600 net yards, 40.4 net avg.

A lot of people questioned the move last year to replace the veteran Brad Maynard, who had lost quite a bit of power in his leg, with Adam Podlesh and to make Podlesh one of the NFL’s highest paid punters. Suffice it to say, Podlesh was worth the money, as he posted career highs in nearly every category. Unfortunately, the 89 punts was also a career high, but that number should drop drastically with a full season of Jay Cutler. Although he was put to work much more than we would have liked, Podlesh did his best to keep the Bears in games by pinning teams deep on multiple occasions, and he seems likely to be the field position weapon that Maynard was in his prime. Seriously though, hopefully next year Cutler will have more yards that Podlesh does, or I quit.

KR/PR, #23 Devin Hester, 28 punt returns, 454 yards (16.2 avg), 2 TDs. 33 kick returns, 723 yards (21.9 avg), 1 TD.

Do I really need to spend much time breaking down Devin Hester, the Greatest Return Man of All Time? No. He was awesome in 2011, with 3 more return TDs to put him in solo possession of first place in that category. He’s the balls.

What I’ll instead address is the usual meatball complaint that comes around every offseason when the Bears bring in more special teams guys and talk up Hester as a receiver: the addition of Eric Weems means nothing for Hester as a returner. Weems will probably take between 50-75% of the kickoff returns, while Hester will still be the primary punt returner. This is the same situation the Bears have had pretty much since 2008, when Danieal Manning and later Johnny Knox took over many of the kickoff returns. Considering that Hester’s done far more damage returning punts (career average of 12.9 yards per return and a record 15 TDs) than returning kickoffs (a good but not great average of 23.6 yards per return and 5 tds), this isn’t a big deal. Hell, Manning and Knox both have higher career averages as kickoff returners than Hester does. As does Eric Weems. It’s all mostly a moot point anyway, since the new kickoff return greatly reduced the number of returns anyway.

Will Hester’s role as a wide receiver diminish? Absolutely. Actions speak louder than words, and the team traded for Marshall, traded up for Jeffery, and extended Earl Bennett. So shut the hell up already.

KR, #13 Johnny Knox, 1 punt return, 9 yds. 15 kick returns, 397 yds (26.5 avg).

As I mentioned above, Johnny, a 2009 Pro Bowl Alternate at kick returner, also returned kickoffs this past year and did quite well. Considering he’s currently in two pieces, the move to pick up Eric Weems (who, by the way, can also play on kick coverage, something the team doesn’t use Hester for) makes a great deal of sense without resorting to WHY DON’T DEY REALIZE DAT HESTERS A RETURNER NORT A RECAIVER GORD DAMMIT FIL EBONYS NO BETTER DEN ANGERLO!

That wraps up the special teams review. Eventually I’ll move on to pouring scorn upon half of the coaching staff (or maybe just Mike Martz. Okay, it’s just Mike Martz), but that’s all for the player reviews. This is a unit that should, once again, be a strength for the Bears in 2012 thanks to the continued presence of Devin Hester and the addition of guys like Eric Weems and someone named Blake Costanzo who got Brad Biggs all lathered up in a manner not seen since Tim Shaw’s tragic departure. Go Bears.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2011 Position Reviews: the Safeties

We're reaching the end of the 2011 Bears position reviews, and we end the defense on a low note: the safeties.

The safety position has been a problem for the Bears since Mike Brown started tearing everything around 2004. They managed okay with Brown and Harris and Brown and Danieal Manning in 2006 when Mike was healthy, but they've been more or less been throwing crap against the wall and hoping it sticks since 2007. In 2010 they got a career year out of Danieal Manning, who finally put it all together just in time to price himself out of the Bears range, and Chris Harris, who had 5 INTs. This year the Bears threw Harris and Major Wright out there, hoping at least for a repeat of 2010 from Harris, and planned to bring Brandon Meriweather and Chris Conte along slowly. That all went out the window when Harris and Wright were hurt and ineffective, Meriweather was the single dumbest defensive back to ever slap on a Bears uniform, and we eventually got way more of Craig Steltz than I'd ever feared we'd see in a million years, so of course he played the best of the entire group. On the whole, the safety position was a major weakness for the 2011 Bears and we can only hope things will be better next year.

To the details!

#27 FS/SS Major Wright, 12 games, 10 games started, 58 tackles, 3 INTs (1 TD), 6 Passes Defensed

When Major Wright came out of college the guy he most favorably compared to was Mike Brown. This year he showed some of that when he managed an interception in 3 straight games during the winning streak and seemed to come around as a tackler. With 6 pass breakups he also showed that he is capable of making some plays when he's able to find the ball.

There are two problems with Major Wright, as we know. 1) He gets injured as often as late career Mike Brown. 2) He's not very good at finding the ball most of the time. Major missed several contests early and late in the year and injuries limited his effectiveness in several of the games where he did play. He was notably caught out of position on Devery Henderson's 79 yard score in the Saints game. He got hurt that game as well. Remember the infuriating touchdown throw from Tom Brady to a wide open Deion Branch on the last play of the first half of the Pats game in 2010? That was Major's guy as well. He's missed many other plays, but those two stick out prominently in my mind.

Overall, Major's 2011 campaign was a minor disappointment. He showed enough to merit the chance to fight to keep the job next year and he still has considerable potential, if he can stay healthy. I'm not going to shed any tears if Brandon Hardin leapfrogs him, though.

#47 FS Chris Conte, 14 games, 9 games started, 29 tackles, 1 INT, 2 Passes Defensed

It's humorous that Pro Football Focus' evaluation of Chris Conte (when they named him as one of the top two safeties in the NFC North by default) was that he didn't do anything special, but also didn't get beat either. That's exactly how I'd describe Chris Conte, and it isn't a bad thing. Would I like to see him make more big plays? Absolutely, but the biggest problem in the Bears secondary during their 2-3 start was that they were giving up an uncharacteristic amount of deep balls. Conte put a stop to that. He was alright against the run, but didn't play it very much since he was so far off of the line of scrimmage. I like the kid. He deserved the spot he was given on the Pro Football Weekly and Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Teams. We'll see what he can do with more responsibility next year, but he absolutely should be penciled in as the starter at Free Safety.

#20 SS/FS Craig Steltz, 16 games, 5 games started, 43 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles

I'm still flabbergasted by this. Absolutely flabbergasted. Steltz seemed permanently relegated to special teams duty (where he is very good) and got torched by Jermichael Finley in his first start of the year. Then he got more playing time throughout the year thanks to the injuries and ineffectiveness of Wright, Harris, and Meriweather, and I'll be damned if he wasn't the most effective safety the team had this year. He played the run very well, he wasn't beat deep in coverage, and he somehow forced me to accept that it was a good thing the team re-signed him. It'll be interesting to see what happens next year. He may prove that this year was an aberration or he may win a regular starting job for the first time in his career. The team clearly envisions Brandon Hardin, a natural strong safety, as a starter somewhere down the road, and Steltz's natural position is free safety, where Chris Conte seems to be the more talented player. Either way, Craig somehow managed to get me to drop "F*&king" as his middle name, so that's progress.

#31 SS/FS Brandon Meriweather, 11 games, 4 games started, 32 tackles, 2 passes defensed

Feel free to point out how big of a moron I am on this one. Meriweather was all hype, a product of Miami and a guy who made some flashy plays for the Patriots (who rightfully grew tired of tolerating his bullshit and cut him) and received way too much praise for it. The Bears were understandably infatuated with his undeniable talent and decided to force a freelancing, undisciplined rogue into their scheme, which requires absolute discipline from the safeties above all else. The result was predictably disastrous, with Meriweather frequently out of position on deep throws (Calvin Johnson's 73 yd TD on 3rd and 10 in Detroit being the one that got his ass benched) and drawing an excessive number of flags for his headfirst, no-armed style of bouncing off ball-carriers in a pathetic attempt to make a tackle. While he slowly improved late in the year, he was far too stupid and reckless to justify his contract and I'm beyond giddy that the Redskins of all teams decided to take a chance on him. So long, Brandon.

#46 SS Chris Harris, 3 games, 3 games started, 28 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defensed.

I was truly saddened by Chris Harris' fate this year. He's a nice guy, if his communications with fans on Twitter are to be believed. He was a guy that the Bears never should have let go, and he spent his three best years playing for the Panthers. In 2010 he stabilized the position, but lost a step this year and never recovered, especially after he suffered an injury in week one. He rushed back to play in Detroit, but was caught of position in the passing game and on Jahvid Best's two long runs. He was underwhelming against the Bucs and dropped what could have been a game-clinching interception, and soon got his walking papers. He was ineffective after he was picked up by the Lions, and is currently out of a job and seems likely to stay on the market. Good bye, Chris. Thanks for the memories.

There were also a couple of special teams only guys, like Winston Venable, who were technically listed as safety but took no reps at the position. Who knows if Venable will make the roster again, but he's a nonfactor on defense.

Of the 2011 safety group, Meriweather and Harris are obviously gone, leaving Steltz, Wright, Conte, and new rookie Brandon Hardin to battle it out. Hardin's an intriguing prospect, with free safety speed and coverage skills but prototypical strong safety size and strength. I'd expect the Bears to break camp with Conte and Wright as the starters, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Hardin and Conte as the main two by the middle of the season.

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Cornerbacks

Today we get to the most misunderstood unit on all of the Bears, the cornerbacks. Now I’ll admit that the 28th overall ranking in pass yards allowed is a bit higher than the Bears would like, but that’s very rarely indicative of the weaknesses of the corners and can usually be attributed to the safeties (yep) and often the defensive line (yep, especially for weeks 1-5). I’d also point out that the Bears faced Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers (2), Cam Newton, Matt Stafford (2), Michael Vick, and Philip Rivers, something no other team in the NFL had to do. It’s also worth noting that they went 5-3 against that group with Cutler starting.

Also, as those of us who still support the Cover 2 when the Bears have the talent to run it have always said, yardage =/= points, since the Bears were 14th in scoring defense (and much better than that after the lineup shakeup after the first Lions game) and teams had a 22-20 TD:INT ratio against them. Also, while they allowed 4,065 yards, they did so on 631 attempts for a meager 6.41 YPA. That’s not bad at all.

The Bears starting pair of corners were actually quite good, with neither Charles Tillman or Tim Jennings allowing people to complete 60% of tosses against them and neither allowed a pass longer than 47 yards this year. I’m still not sure how many years the Bears have to run this scheme before people realize what exactly the purpose of a corner is, but I’ll content myself with the knowledge that the top of this group is better than most want to give them credit for.

#33 Charles Tillman, 16 games started, 99 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 2 TDs, 12 Passes Defensed, 4 Forced Fumbles, 2 Fumble Recoveries 

Next to Jay Cutler, P’nut Tillman may honestly be the best Bear in recent memory to take an unwarranted amount of shit from meatball fans. “WHY DA HELL WAS HE 10 YARDS AWAY FROM DAT RECEIVER DAT CAUGHT DA 15 YARD SLANT PASS?!?!” Well, usually because that’s not his guy, or he handed him off to the safety, as the defense is designed to do.

Alas, I’m not going to sit here defending the Cover 2 once again, the important thing is discussing Tillman’s season. Suffice it to say, his Pro Bowl nod was well deserved. He nearly broke the 100 tackle barrier (a testament both to the importance of Cover 2 corners in the run game and to Tillman’s ability to limit most receivers to very little YAC, one of the major staples of the defense as well). He had 3 INTs, 2 of which he took to the house. He also forced another four fumbles, which is yet more reason that Tillman’s holographic statue (they’re coming) will just be him repeatedly punching the ball out of the hands of unsuspecting ball-carriers.

He also did his best to shut up the naysayers who think he can’t play man when he blanketed Roddy White and Calvin Johnson, among others, and owned their shit(Megatron’s only big play against the Bears, the 79 yd TD in Detroit, happened because Brandon Meriweather, per usual, was nowhere near where he was supposed to be and got his ass benched because of it). He had a couple of tough games against speedsters like Vincent Jackson and Steve Smith, but outside of those two games he was fantastic. Thanks, P’Nut.

#26 Tim Jennings, 16 games, 15 games started, 76 tackles, 2 INTs, 10 Passes defensed, 1 FF, 1 Fumble Recovery

Last year the Bears took a flyer on Tim Jennings and were pleasantly surprised as he had a career year. This year, he actually played better, so, that’s nice. Jennings does most of the things that a Cover 2 corner should do. He plays the run well, as his 76 tackles show. He is very rarely caught out of position, since, as I noted when referring to PFF’s article that named Jennings and Tillman as the top two corners in the NFC North this year (suck it, Woodson), neither Jennings or Tillman allowed a completion % of 60 against them, and neither allowed more than a 47 yarder in coverage.

Jennings, however, doesn’t take the ball away much. In two years as a mostly full time corner for the Bears he’s forced just 5 turnovers (3 INTs, 2 FF), which is okay if you’re Nnamdi or Revis playing in a man defense where the other team just doesn’t throw at you, but for a Cover 2 defense that feeds on takeaways, it’s not a good thing. Lovie’s dead serious about this, which is why you saw Jennings hit the bench for his stone hands against Oakland and a few other missed opportunities late in the season, and it’s also why the Bears lead the NFL in takeaways since Lovie took over in 2004. If Jennings wants to hang onto his spot for a third year, he’s going to need to make more big plays.

#30 DJ Moore, 13 games, 1 game started, 43 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 INT return for TD, 8 passes defensed.

I love DJ Moore. He's got personality (favorite quote of all time: "Well, shit, man, ain't nobody wants to lose to the Lions. Geez Louise.")He's everything a Cover 2 nickelback should be. He's annoying (watch the receivers he covers, they're all pissed by the end of the day), he's instinctive, and he's a ballhawk (8 INTs in two years). Lovie's defense needs that guy. Ricky Manning, Jr. did it well in 2006 before he fell off the map. DJ's managed for two years to always be there when the ball is batted in the air, and that makes him very good at his job.

His job is in the nickel, however, and no one should forget that. He's not great in man coverage. He's overwhelmed easily by big receivers. Frankly, I'll never forget the touchdown Calvin Johnson scored in single coverage against DJ back in Detroit in 2010, where Megatron didn't even deign to stiff arm DJ. He simply laughed at DJ's futile attempts at tackling while he strolled into the endzone on a 45 yard catch-and-run. That's why the team keeps giving guys like Bowman and Jennings opportunities on the outside while DJ stays put. This is smart, and no one should question it.

#26 Corey Graham, 16 games, 5 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble.

Corey Graham made the most of the few reps he got at corner this year, forcing a career high four turnovers. He was actually the highest rated of all of the Bears corners according to PFF, but his snap count was too small to actually rank him. He was mostly a special teamer, and a good one, and Brad Biggs will tearfully remind the Bears that they will rue the day he left for Baltimore on many occasions. That said, he didn't play enough to really show whether or not his good numbers this year were an aberration or an indication of his skills, and the Bears apparently never saw enough of him as a corner that they were willing to go with him full time (except in 2008, when injuries forced him into the lineup and he was God awful). I wish him well, but I doubt the Bears will miss him much on defense.

#35 Zackary Bowman, 16 games, 1 game started, 9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery

I do wish Zack Bowman had panned out. He has good size, he's capable of generating big plays (6 INTs, 10 passes defensed, and a FF in 2009, his only full year of a starter), and he would have added a nice infusion of youth to the secondary. Unfortunately, you really don't need me to tell you what Bowman's issue is, because you all watched in 2009 and 2010 as he gave up more long balls than Ruben Quevedo (yes, a baseball reference. My apologies). He got one last chance to show something this year and didn't. Now he's a Viking. That's good stuff there.

That's all for now. Last year the Bears carried just the five corners listed above. Of those five, Bowman and Graham are gone, replaced by Kelvin Hayden, Jonathan Wilhite, Isaiah Frey, and Greg McCoy. Of those, I'd expect Hayden to make the roster for sure. The Bears have eyed Hayden for most of his career, and they nearly signed him last year, although they deemed him unhealthy. His performance in Atlanta early on showed that he wasn't 100%, but I'd expect he must have improved for the Bears to take a chance on him now when they passed only a few months ago. Who knows what to expect of Wilhite, a corner from the Patriots awful (but man-coverage based) secondary. I don't expect more than one of the Wilhite, McCoy, and Frey trio to make the team. My guess is at least one of the rookies ends up on the rookie redshirt IR program. Either way, I'd expect Jennings and Tillman to enter the season as starters, with DJ still in the nickel and Hayden pushing for Jennings' job. This is one position where the Bears needed depth more than an upgrade, and they seem to have accomplished that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2011 Bears Position Reviews: The Linebackers

Well, we reach the point now where we review the unit that has been (with the exception of Urlacher’s injured year in 2009) the strength of the team since 2001: the linebackers. Whether the group was Urlacher, Warrick Holdman, and Rosie Colvin or Urlacher, Briggs, and INSERTSAMPUNCHINGBAGHERE, the Bears have had, in my opinion, the best linebacking trio in the NFL over that time period. This year was no exception.

#54 Brian Urlacher: 16 games started, 102 tackles, 0 sacks, 7 passes defensed, 3 INTs, 0 FF, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 fumble return for TD
Don’t let the mild dip in tackles and the absence of sacks scare you. Both of those were more indicative of improved pressure from the defensive line rather than anything else. Pro Football Focus still had Urlacher ranked as one of their best linebackers and you only needed to use your eyes to see that Urlacher continued the late-career renaissance he began last year. He was once again a presence in pass coverage, daring teams to throw over the middle. They usually didn’t, and why would they when they could just pick on Major Wright? Early on he took some heat as people suggested that maybe he and Briggs were slowing down against the run, but after the team replaced Anthony Adams and Major Wright with Toeiana/Paea and Conte the team gave up just 78.5 rushing yards per game. They finished 5th against the run but were far and away the best in the league for the last 11 games, and that, as usual, had a lot to do with the two lynchpins in their linebacking unit.

We’re spoiled, folks. That’s really all there is to it. Maybe the older generation can tell us what it’s like losing someone like Mike Singletary and dabbling around with guys like Bryan Cox, but I’m terrified of the future without Urlacher. The thing is, I have no idea when that’s coming. Common sense would say within the next two years, but provided his knee injury heals (and it should, nothing was actually torn) I don’t see any reason why Urlacher should drop off from the elite level he’s played the last two seasons very quickly. A slow decline is certainly likely, but that leaves him in a Ray Lewis-like situation where Urlacher after five years of slow decline would still be one of the better linebackers in the league.

#55 Lance Briggs: 16 games started, 105 tackles, 0 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 1 INT, 2 FF.
You can pretty much repeat everything I said about Brian Urlacher for Lance Briggs. He pissed us all off by moaning about his contract (again) before the season but he went out and played every single defensive snap and had another excellent season. Both he and Urlacher saw a dip in their pass rushing numbers thanks to the emergence of guys like Henry Melton, but also because they were forced to drop deep more than Lovie would have liked thanks to the injuries at safety. Next year we’ll hopefully see them mixing it up more near the line of scrimmage. I’m glad Phil Emery finally got an extension done, because anything that makes sure Urlacher and Briggs are lining up beside each other for as long as possible is a good thing.

I do think it’s smart that the Bears have a potential succession plan in place for both of them, however, and most people don’t realize it. Geno Hayes was very successful in two years replacing Derrick Brooks in Tampa before the switch away from the Cover 2 to more of a base 4-3 kind of threw him off. He’s still just 24 and capable of playing either OLB position. Nick Roach was actually much better than most people realized playing MLB at times in 2009, so you could potentially see a situation where Hayes, Roach, and Briggs play the three spots after Urlacher retires, or Roach, Urlacher, and Hayes play if Briggs should somehow go first. The important thing is that, in the short term. The Bears finally addressed the potential of an Urlacher/Briggs injury. Let’s just hope they don’t have to use it.

#53 Nick Roach: 16 games started, 37 tackles, 4 passes defensed.
The SAM position in the Tampa Two defense is one of the most thankless positions in all of football. Their main assignment is simply to hurl themselves at fullbacks and tight ends on ISO plays and then watch as Urlacher and Briggs celebrate another awesome tackle. It’s the kind of thing that leads a quality player like Hunter Hillenmeyer to take a bunch of shit from fans (like a younger, dumber version of me) over why their numbers look so paltry compared to the superstars next to them. It’s also why Hunter had to retire after six years due to a serious of concussions thanks to his role as a battering ram.

 Roach, for example, is a very solid player. Pro Football Focus actually has him rated pretty high for his career, even during that brief stretch in 2009 when he had to play some middle linebacker. Despite this, he’s constantly ignored by fans and even the coaching staff, since they’ve brought in guys like Pisa and Hayes to compete with him every step of the way. I’m not complaining about that, because depth is always a good thing, I just feel bad for a guy who is a good player and will probably never get much credit for it.

That’s it for now. I’m not going to break down the reserves who didn’t start last year, since all of them will probably be gone except for Dom DeCicco, since the staff seems to like him as a special teamer and the only other true middle linebacker on the roster. It’ll be interesting to see if the team gets anything from last year’s 6th rounder JT Thomas, who spent the season on Jerry Angelo’s beloved rookie injured reserve redshirt program. Obviously Hayes will make the team, so my early guess is Urlacher/Briggs/Roach/Hayes/DeCicco/Thomas.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: What the Switch From Mike to Mike Means for the Bears Offense

I was listening to Hub Arkush on the radio the other day and he was complaining, like many people, about the Bears failure to address the left tackle position in the draft. His critique of the people who keep saying that getting rid of Mike Martz will fix the Bears offensive line came down to this: the Bears didn't bring Jay Cutler in to throw a bunch of short passes, so simply dialing back the offensive isn't really a "fix."

I'm going to agree with Hub on the idea that the Bears didn't bring Jay Cutler into town to run an offense they could've run with Kyle Orton. I'm going to disagree, however, with the idea that Mike Martz wasn't the biggest problem.

It's true that the problem with seven step drops is overblown. That really wasn't the biggest problem with the Bears offense, and while they've said most of it has been thrown out, you'll still see them throw deep, probably out of the shotgun and especially off of play action. The issue was that Mike Martz's offense simply didn't suit the personnel he had.

I'll say here that I still think Mike Martz's offense could work in the NFL. It's not obsolete, but the the thing that Mike hasn't wanted to admitted since 2003 is that you absolutely need four things to make it work:

1) An accurate, dropback quarterback who can throw to a spot and hope that his wide receiver will be there.
2) An offensive line with TWO stalwart tackles, capable of blocking defensive ends on an island without any help.
3) Wide receivers who can run precise routes with absolute discipline and can also make the correct read on the many option routes that Martz utilizes (Martz basically borrowed the option routes from the Run N Shoot and melded them to the old Air Coryell system to create his offense).
4) A runningback that's as good of a receiver as he is a runner.

Let's look and see where things went wrong in Chicago on those four parts:

1) I'll admit that Jay Cutler, while he definitely improved under Martz and can be a great pocket passer when he has a pocket, isn't the most natural fit for Martz's offense. Jay came from look-based schemes in Denver and in college, and you really don't need a guy with Jay's skillset to run Martz's scheme. Jay's there to exploit openings and fire the ball into tight spots. Martz got career years out of marginal athletes like Trent Green and Marc Bulger simply because you don't need a cannon arm or the ability to scramble to take a seven step drop and throw the ball to a pre-determined spot.

2)The Bears certainly don't have two great tackles, and while I'm not as hard on J'Marcus Webb as many, we're all pinning our hopes on Gabe Carimi that they can manage to have at least one. This was the biggest issue, which is no surprise to anyone. In 2010 the line was absolutely terrible and couldn't manage the scheme at all. Last year, for that brief window in the preseason and the first game and a half when they had the healthy starting five of Webb-Williams-Garza-Louis-Carimi, they were running the real Mike Martz offense and doing pretty well with it, as Jay's numbers in the last two preseason games and the Falcons game show: 47/74 (63.5%), 653 yds, 8.8 YPA, 13.9 YPC. Unfortunately, Carimi and Lance Louis went down early and, for the next four games, just as in 2010, it took the rest of the world a while to convince Martz that he couldn't run the same offense with Frank Omiyale.

3) This, after the offensive line, was also the biggest problems. Now fools like me who desperately wanted to talk ourselves out of our initial gloomy reaction to the Martz hiring looked at some superficial things, like the small and speedy Johnny Knox (6'0", 185) and Devin Hester (5'10", 185) bearing some physical resemblance to Torry Holt (6'0'', 190) and Isaac Bruce (6'0", 188). Unfortunately, there's a difference between the Bears duo and the Rams duo, and it's quite simple: Holt and Bruce were good. Holt and Bruce could run the routes, get the separation, and make the adjustments that Hester and Knox just couldn't. Devin Hester's a lot of things. Smart is not one of them. As for Knox, well, lord knows how many interceptions he caused with shitty routes and his inability to take a god damn bump on a slant route.

4) Unfortunately for the Bears, Martz, since sometime around halftime of Superbowl XXXVI, forgot the fact that the single most important player for the Greatest Show on Turf was Marshall Faulk, and forgot Matt Forte for long stretches of time. Even in the games where the Bears offensive line took a lot of heat, the biggest problem was an unbalanced playcalling ratio that led to dozens of dropbacks and few runs to keep the defense honest. Take the Saints game this year for example: the stat sheet shows that Jay got sacked 6 times, which makes the offensive line look terrible, except the first sack came in the 3rd quarter, with the Bears still in the game, down 16-13. At that point, though, Martz had called 31 passes and just 10 runs. The final ratio? 52 pass plays, 11 called runs. Sure, there are teams like the Lions and Packers that throw the ball almost exclusively, but an average, but not necessarily terrible, line like this year's Bears line is going to look worse than their talent if they're asked to dropback 52 times, mostly on 5 man protections, with just 11 runs. That, my friends, is a far more heinous crime than calling seven step drops.

Now this sets me up for the crux of my argument: the new Bears offense isn't going to be "dialed back." They're not going to be running half a playbook or running the kind of stereotypical West Coast Offense (that may not even exist anymore, if it ever did) that people associate with noodle-armed guys like Jeff Garcia. They're changing philosophies. Martz believed in moving the ball in large chunks by dropping back and throwing timed routes to pre-determined spots downfield. The new Bears offense will be more or less what Cutler ran in Denver, the Mike Shanahan variant of the West Coast that began during Shanahan's time as OC in San Francisco when he worked with the athletic Steve Young and evolved during his time in Denver with John Elway. This is a look-based scheme that's going to feature a zone-blocking based run game, plenty of designed roll-outs and play action, and a wide range of 3 and 5 step drops that stretch the field horizontally and with the 15-25 yard intermediate routes that Brandon Marshall does so well. They'll go deep the way most NFL teams do, by exploiting blown coverages and defenses that cheat against the short stuff and move up against the run.

It's worth noting, mind you, that during the 11 games (including playoffs) after the Bears prevailed on Martz to "dial back" his offense after the Redskins game in 2010 and the 5 game winning streak after the Bears "dialed back" the offense after the first game at Detroit this year, the team went 13-3 and averaged 26 PPG (32 this year during the 5 game win streak) and Jay Cutler still managed 7.5 YPA and 13 YPC. If you think of most of the longest passes Jay's thrown during the last two seasons (the 67 yard bomb to Knox against Minnesota in '10, the three long TD passes to Knox and Hester against the Jets, the 48 yarder to Hester against Minnesota this year, the two long throws to Knox against the Chargers, the 58 yard pass to Olson in the playoff game) nearly all of them have come after the Bears had supposedly gone "conservative". The Bears didn't cut anything back. They simply ran the ball and took advantage of situations rather than attempting to force them. That's what they'll be doing with Tice and Bates, and it's a good thing.

More important than just the shift in approach, however, is this crazy idea Phil Emery has of matching his personnel to his scheme. You get an offensive coordinator who wants to utilize Jay's ability to throw on the run and make laser throws to tight spots. You get big, physical receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey who can win individual matchups. You have two backs (three, really, including Kahlil Bell) who can pound the ball inside and out and catch it very smoothly out of the backfield (combined receiving totals for Forte, Bush, and Bell in 2011: 108 receptions, 1041 yds, 3 TDs). Basically, you find whatever it is your guys do best and you send them out there to do just that. Football, as much as I often imply otherwise with my 25,000 word monologues, is sometimes that simple. Mike Martz may never be able to accept that, and it's why he won't be an NFL coach again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bears Draft Recap

I’ll begin with a couple of brief announcements:

1)      Iggins! says he won the draftkakke, and since I am both lazy and bad at math I’ll concede it to him. Congrats to Iggins! for winning both the regular season and draft prognostication bukakke. May he rot in hell.

2)      Wait, that was the only announcement.

Anyway, now it is time to break down the 2012 Chicago Bears draft class:

1st Round, 19th Pick:
Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State.
6’3”, 260 LBs

I’m not going to stand in front of you and say why this is a good pick. I have no idea if it is or not because I don’t know much about Shea McClellin. I’m not, however, going to boo it and I’m also going to tackle some of the common misconceptions about why it’s a “bad” pick:

Osi Umenyora is 6’3’’, 255.  John Abraham is 6’4”, 263. Robert Mathis is 6’2’’, 245. All are highly successful 4-3 ends. Zack Zaidman noted on Twitter today that the average size of the top 11 defensive end sack leaders last year was 6’3,’’ 264. Now I’m not, as Boers and Bernstein mockingly said of the many callers who mentioned those guys, trying to say McClellin compares favorably to any of them in any other way (although he does in some respects) or calling McClellin a lock for double digit sacks like they are. All I’m saying is that there are plenty of examples of successful 4-3 ends at that size. There’s no reason to just toss out McClellin for his size, which is what I’ve heard plenty of people doing.

The other big knock I’ve heard regarding McClellin’s size/strength is that he can’t take on double teams. When the hell is he going to see one? You’ve got Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, and 18 combined sacks last year on one side of the line and a 6’1”, 300 LB monster who set the combine record for bench press at the nose. What team is going to look at that and decide to double McClellin? And why shouldn’t we thank them if they do?

Ryan Clady’s a great left tackle for the Broncos. He didn’t seem to suffer from low-level competition. Also, did I miss the part where everyone forgot Brian Urlacher went to New Mexico (he also came out of college with the knock of not having a true position)?

Also, Boise State has been one of the premier programs in the country for years. They’ve performed well in BCS Bowl games against future pros. McClellin had two of his best games this year against Georgia and Virginia Tech.

The other problem I have with this argument is that the guy most Bears fans wanted instead was Whitney Mercilus. Illinois has certainly had quite a few draft picks the last couple of years, but they’re not a great program. In fact, they suck. I know this because I root for them. If Boise State met Illinois they’d win by 30. This isn’t the best way to evaluate prospects but Boise State at this point isn’t much of a small school.

First, no he wouldn’t have. Mike Mayock, a guy that many people trust, had him #14 out of his top #100 players. Mayock, while saying he expected McClellin to go to a 3-4 team, still liked the pick and said he would be fine with his hands in the dirt opposite of Peppers. SK Jensen, Mayock, and Matt Bowen are just three of the guys I trust that also said the Packers or the Patriots would have taken McClellin in the 1st if he fell to them. The idea that McClellin is a 3rd rounder at best is just sheer stupidity.

I’ve heard this one several times as well. I’ve already voiced my opinion in my offensive line review on why I think the line will be better next year, but here’s a brief recap

1) Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown made their numbers look worse. They allowed just 23 sacks per game with Cutler, with just 5 in his last 5 games, before Hanie managed to get sacked 19 times in 4 games. They paved the way for over 2,000 yards rushing and the team scored 30 PPG in the 5 game winning streak after Martz finally re-introduced balance on offense. Simply put, they weren’t as bad as the late season collapse with Hanie made them look.

2) The interior of the line is quite solid. Garza played well after moving to center. Spencer can play center and was very effective at guard. Lance Louis is a good guard who was overmatched after injuries and the awfulness of Frank Omiyale moved him to right tackle. Eddie and Chris Williams both played well at left guard, and Chilo Rachal was the best run blocking guard in all of football in 2010. There’s plenty of depth there to get three serviceable-to-good starters.

3) Martz is gone. This isn’t simply a matter of eliminating seven step drops, as some have said. The problem with Martz wasn’t just the drops so much as unbalanced playcalling. Take the Saints game for example, the Bears didn’t allow a single sack in the first half, but the offensive line wore down as Martz called just 12 runs all game and that led to the six sack barrage in the second half. The team scored more points and actually had more success going deep during the 5 game win streak because of a balanced attack. That’ll be the goal this year.

With all of those guys on the interior and Carimi coming back, the only whole is at left tackle. Riley Reiff is not going to be a very good NFL left tackle. At best, he may be an okay starter there, but most scouts have him, like Gabe Carimi, as a future Pro Bowler at right tackle. Between Webb, Carimi, and Chris Williams the Bears have plenty of guys who can be good right tackles. Reiff doesn’t solve the left tackle problem, so he wasn’t taken.

So after all that I can only say that McClellin seems to be a promising guy. His size isn’t that far from where it needs to be, and it isn’t inconceivable that he could pack on ten pounds quickly in an NFL strength training program. His 4.6 40 speed time is going to be invaluable, and all he has to do is pin his ears back and take advantage of the single matchups offered by the double teams of Peppers. I think he’ll be an upgrade, which is all he needs to be.

2nd Round, 45th Pick.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina
6’4’’, 216 LBs

Holy shit, I love this pick. Iggins! and I were texting each other just before the beginning of the second round Friday, hoping Jeffrey would be the guy. I’m not really concerned with his “baggage” issues, which basically amounted to him putting on weight and getting into one fight. No arrests, no drug issues, no team suspensions, just getting fat and depressed because Stephen Garcia got himself suspended for the 6th time and Jeffrey’s numbers tanked thanks to terrible QB play. The Mike Williams comparisons are hardly fair, because Jeffrey did not sit out a year, for one, and also because the Bears organization is not in total disarray like the 2005 Lions. Jeffrey performed well at his pro day and has lost a considerable amount of weight now that he’s under the supervision of his agent (and let’s face it, Steve Spurrier has never been a strict disciplinarian), and I really think that weight gain is pretty low on the character issues ranking when it comes to the diva position of the NFL. These are exactly the kind of guys you want the Bears new administration taking a chance on in the second: first round talents with minor question marks.

As for the on-field stuff, Jeffrey pairs with Brandon Marshall to provide a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. If you aren’t salivating at the thought of a red zone offense with Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall (6’4’’), Kellen Davis (6’5”), Jeffrey (6’4”), and Rodriguez (6’3’’), well, you’re probably not Jay Cutler. Between the 20s, Jeffrey and Marshall open up a whole new route tree, with the fade route, the deep post, the deep dig, and back shoulder throws all options for the first time in years. You put those two big targets on the outside and then put the steady route running and sure hands of Earl Bennett or the blinding speed of Devin Hester in the slot and you’ve got an NFL offense, my frent.

3rd Round, 79th Pick
Brandon Hardin, SS, California
6’3’’, 218 LBs

I’ll grant the morons trying to compare Emery to Angelo one thing: drafting pre-injured players is kind of annoying. That said, Hardin, compared to most of the damn safeties the Bears have drafted recently, is a very intriguing prospect. Unlike Conte (who had a good rookie year, mind you, and seems to be developing into a nice player), Wright, Afalava, etc., Hardin, the former cornerback, has good 4.4 speed and is actually considered a strong pass defender. He also has great size and can hit, so you’d assume he’s going to play the run pretty well. Considering Major Wright’s issues in coverage, this move makes a lot of sense, provided Hardin can stay healthy. His track record would seem to indicate otherwise. This was the one pick that really gave me pause.

4th Round, 111th Pick
Evan Rodriguez, TE, Temple
6’2’’, 244 LBs

Rodriguez compared himself to Aaron Hernandez, but he’s not the only one who has made that comparison, although most have prefaced that with the words “poor man’s.”  He’s an intriguing prospect with good size who has solid receiving skills. His blocking may leave a bit to be desired, but hell, we’re used to that by now, aren’t we? Besides, Kellen Davis is a great blocker and Rodriguez wouldn’t have to be much more than a receiving specialist as a rookie. I approve of this pick.

6th Round, 184th Pick
Isaiah Frey, CB, Nevada
5’11’’, 188 LBs

Decent size for a corner, fast and athletic. Cover 2 corners usually aren’t terribly high draft picks, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops. Not much else to offer here, other than that depth is always a necessity.

7th Round, 220th Pick
Greg McCoy, CB, TCU
5’10’’, 181 LBs

See Frey, Isaiah. We will see which one of them manages to earn a roster spot, considering Tillman, Jennings, Hayden, DJ Moore, and Jonathan Wilhite are all sure to be locks for the roster.

That’s all for now. I’m not going to assign draft grades, because that’s beyond stupid and the methodology consists of 1) WHAT POSITIONS DO THEY SUCK AT? 2) DID THEY DRAFT PLAYERS AT THOSE POSITIONS? 3) ARE THOSE GUYS PLAYERS WE HAVE HEARD OF? 4)DID THEY MAKE TRADES? TRADES ARE AWESOME. I’ll just say that it’s interesting, considering that Jerry Angelo’s drafts often seemed nonsensical, that Phil Emery clearly has a philosophy based on emphasizing size and speed above all else. We’ll see how much that upgrades the roster, but nothing about this draft has dissuaded my from my early impression after the Marshall trade and the free agency roster upgrades that Phil Emery is the right man for the job.