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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can Tim Tebow be Fixed? What about Jay Cutler?

When I think of Tim Tebow, I think of Kyle Boller.

You see, Kyle was drafted in the first round in 2003 because of a strong final year at Cal. Up until his last year, Boller had been a tremendous disappointment, for his cannon arm had completed just 45% of his passes, thrown for just 1721 yards a year, and compiled a lackluster 36-38 TD:INT ratio. Then famed QB guru Jeff Tedford took over at Cal, and Kyle threw for nearly 3000 YDs with a 28-10 ratio his senior year. His rocket arm and great size (6'3", 220) led Brian Billick and the Ravens to take a chance on his continued improvement and made him the Ravens QB of the future.

The Ravens, however, had overlooked that Boller, in his best year, completed just 53% of his passes. Boller's accuracy issues hadn't really gone away, so much as a new system and better coaching hid the rest of his flaws. In the NFL, Boller's accuracy proved to be his undoing, as he struggled through nine years in the NFL to a 56.7 career completion %. That is, in all fairness to the Ravens coaching staff, a tremendous improvement over his college career (47.8%), although it came at the cost of running a conservative short passing game (Boller averaged 5.9 YPA, 10.4 YPC, and just 133 YPG in his career) that rendered any offense with Boller at the helm completely impotent.

The point is, quarterbacks that can't throw the ball accurately in the NFL aren't likely ever going to do so.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2013 Bears Draft: Talent Trumps All

Every year I think it's expected that every blogger give their half-assed draft grades after the whole process is done. I've never really done that and still won't. The draft is a crapshoot and millions of dollars are spent trying to determine whether these kids are any good or not, and half or more of them will still fail. So I'm not going to say before anyone's taken a snap whether they're an A or a C. With that said, with all we have to go by being physical attributes, positions, and production...I am as excited about this draft class' potential as I can remember being at any point in recent years. Last year I was little more than cautiously optimistic about Shea, thrilled about Alshon, utterly befuddled by Brandon Hardin, surprised by Evan Rodriguez, and didn't expect much out of the rest (and none of them made the roster), but this year the Bears drafted talented players who fit clear needs in nearly every round, and it's quite possible all six players could make the roster and contribute on the field this year. That's the best you can really hope for.

#20 Overall, Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
So on last week's SKOdCast, we made a desperate plea to Bears fans to not immediately assume a guy sucks if the team drafted someone other than the names you kept seeing in mock drafts. Naturally they chose a surprise player and everybody lost their F*&KING MINDS.

After the dust settled, however, Long isn't really that big of a surprise. He was a top 30 player on ESPN's board, Scouts, INC had him ranked #26, he was the consensus third best guard in the draft...and the Bears badly needed a guard. Why is this so hard? As for the people who feel it's a reach, well, that seems unlikely for a guy who was a top 30 prospect. Some think the Cowboys traded back because they thought they could nab him and were shocked when he was gone and forced into taking Frederick. Others have said the Colts wanted him. I really don't care. In a draft like this, where top-level talent at the premier positions was largely lacking, the difference between a player at #20 and a player at #40 isn't that great, and those slots were going to be determined by team preference. If Long was their guy, and I have no trouble believing he was, it makes sense to me to take him as soon as you have the chance, because with nine offensive linemen off the board in the first round it wasn't likely he'd still be there later. Also, the 20th overall pick last year got $8 million for four years, so I really don't think the franchise is screwed if he bombs.

I don't think he will, though. He's a freak of nature athletically and he looks like goddamn Frankenstein's monster. Playing at guard he'll hopefully be less exposed as he learns on the run and his natural talent should help make up for his lack of experience. I don't think his inexperience is that much of an issue anyway, he got a full season of experience under his belt at a top five program (even if he only started five games) and started for a year at JuCo before that. The offensive line isn't exactly the most mentally demanding position on the field, and Aaron Kromer has a track record of developing linemen from Division II schools and turning them into immediate starters. I am excited to see what he can do, and unlike many, apparently, I'm willing to wait to see him do it before I pass judgment.

#50 Overall, Jon Bostic, MLB, Florida

Bostic actually makes the most sense of any linebacker that was in the draft for the Bears, if you think about it. He's not undersized for an MLB, like Arthur Brown, so he's less likely to struggle in the middle in the NFL, he was the 3rd-fastest linebacker at the combine with a 4.61 40, so he's more than capable of dropping deep into coverage in the Tampa Two, and he also made all of the calls in a Tampa Two style defense at Florida. I think Arthur Brown may have been a more tempting athletic prospect, but Bostic is as natural a fit as they were going to find, and the presence of DJ Williams keeps the pressure to produce immediately off of him.

#117 Overall, Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers

He's going to draw a ton of comparisons to Lance Briggs, who he's obviously intended to provide depth and a potential heir for, given his position, their similar measurables (and matching 4.7 40 times at their respective combines), and that's both unfair and understandable. No one can necessarily be Lance Briggs, arguably one of the two greatest players to ever play the OLB in a Tampa Two style defense, but Greene's numbers in college are promising in two categories where Lance has often thrived: impact tackles (gains of two yards or less that prevented first downs), where Greene led all college linebackers last year with 27, and forced fumbles (15 for his career). A lot of people will question his numbers by saying the scheme at Rutgers was designed to give him a free shot at the ball-carrier, but that's exactly what the Bears defense does for Briggs. It may have taken Urlacher's very rapid demise to give the organization some urgency, but it's nice to see them actively prepare for a world without their superstar linebacker. The Greene and Bostic picks should also put to a rest for all time the conspiracy theories that the Bears are still potentially planning a switch to a 3-4 in the near future, because Greene and Bostic fit exactly one type of defense perfectly, and it's the one they're already running.

#163 Overall, Jordan Mills, OT, Louisiana Tech

You never want to overrate the potential impact of a late round offensive lineman, but there's cause for optimism with Mills. He has good size and arm length and he was considered by many to be a potential 3rd round pick. Even more importantly is, as I mentioned with Kyle Long, Aaron Kromer's track record as an offensive line coach: Jahri Evans (4th Rd, Division II Bloomsburg University), Carl Nicks (5th Rd, transferred to Nebraska after two years of JuCo), Jermon Bushrod (4th Rd, FCS Towson), and Zach Strief (7th Rd, Northwestern) were all mid to late round picks mostly from small schools who have become Pro Bowl or All Pro caliber linemen under Kromer's guidance. Nicks and Evans both started and played well as rookies as well, so there's reason to believe that if Kromer thinks Long and Mills can play right from the start, he's probably right. Even if Mills is just a potential future starter and a guy who can add to the competition this year, it's nice to see that Emery has now added five completely new players to the offensive line, and that guys like Webb and Carimi (and hopefully even Garza) will have to earn both their jobs and their roster spots. The overhaul was long awaited, but better late than never.

#188 Overall, Cornelius Washington, DE, Georgia

It's never a Bears draft without a defensive lineman (although we finally broke the 8 years long streak of safeties), but I didn't look into many defensive ends before the draft so I can't tell you shit about this guy. Mike Mayock says he's fast (4.55 40) and he likes the pick for a situational pass rusher. With Wootton, McClellin, and Kyle Moore (and the still possible return of Izzy) he seems to have the toughest task of cracking the roster of any of the picks, but we'll see.

#236 Overall, Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State

Oh man do I approve of this. Marquess Wilson, ironically, is the only guy the Bears drafted that I've actually watched several games of, and I was hoping all along he might be an option for the team at some point. He's a first day talent (I don't know about first round, although some had him there before last season) who fell hard because of some admittedly concerning personal issues. As Iggins! can tell you, I'm not one to get scared off by drinking or pot (DRAFT THE WEED GUY! is one of my favorite chants on draft day, actually), but a guy who walked out on his team and made apparently false claims of abuse against his coaches probably has some maturity issues. In the seventh round, though? Absolutely worth the risk. He's 6'4'', he plays much faster than his 40 time (4.51, still not bad), and, like Jeffery and Marshall, makes himself a deep threat less through speed than his ability to create separation and fight for jump balls. In a best case scenario he's a solid #3 who rotates with Bennett, but he's also a similar type of player who can step in as a potential starter on the outside if Jeffery struggles or is injured again in year two. I just can't see a downside here.

Wilson also illustrates the difference between Phil Emery and Jerry Angelo's philosophies. If you look at the receivers that Jerry took in the 6th or 7th rounds (Derek Kinder, Marcus Monk, Jamin Elliot) or guys he signed as UFAs like Sanzenfucker or Mike Haas, Angelo preferred to go with productive college starters who lacked measurables but seemed valuable to a team through their hard work and potential production on special teams. Wilson was definitely productive (averaged 97 yards per game in his career at WSU), but Emery clearly values the potential of hitting on another big, physical receiver than on a smaller guy who might be more useful on special teams. High Ceilings, Low Floors (Emery) vs. High Floors, Low Ceilings (Angelo). Not that one option is necessarily better than the other over the long haul, but it certainly gives you more hope in the spring time when camp is still far away.

That's all for now. In short, I'm more than fine with taking a guard with tons of potential at #20 in a very odd draft, even if it may have been a bit of a gamble, but I'm even more excited about the depth and potential from nearly every round of the draft, more so than in recent memory. I can't wait for camp to start. While it's premature to tell whether they'll be any good or not, there's certainly a lot of questions I'm looking forward to seeing them answer. Go Bears.

Tune in to the SKOdCast this Wednesday for even more discussion of the draft.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rick Morrissey's First Annual Pre-Draft Mental Collapse

The draft is upon us! In just a few short hours, young men from around the country will gather in hilarious suits, and together go forth unto their destiny. Rick Morrissey is so excited, and also so, so stupid, about tonight’s events. This is actually a rare insight into Rick’s personality, because he spends the entire article spelling out exactly why and how he wants the Bears to fail for his personal and professional delight. It’s a schizophrenic mess, and I just had to get this out before the draft happened.

As ever, he is in italics.

I don’t normally start these things with the title, but in this case I’m going to because…

Draft Manti Te’o? Bears Should Take Him or Leave Him

Yes. Those are the two things it is possible to do with a player in the draft. Well done, Rick.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Episode 3 of the SKOdCast is Now Up!

Episode 3 of the SKOdcast Tonight at 6:15

Follow along live as we discuss:

-Is anyone really "Good" at the draft?
-What killed Jerry Angelo?
-Other draft stuff, probably.
-This week's Goddammit Bears fans.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Read Option, the Pistol, and the Spread are Different Things, and None of Them are Gimmicks

The NFL is a very interesting league. In many ways, as Chris Brown of Smart Football once pointed out, every NFL team, despite all of the different talk about systems and the seemingly different appearance of offenses, runs basically the same offense, or did for many years. Mike Martz ran the Coryell offense and had his own philosophy, but there's no doubt that you could crack open a playbook and find the same base runs, the same quick slants, and many other concepts that you could also find in the most conservative offense. What distinguishes NFL offenses, for the most part, aren't, as the aforementioned article notes, macro-level differences between the different systems, but the minute details.  You win by game-planning how to put your players in the best spots to attack where the defense is most vulnerable, and, most often, by having better players. Mike Tice can have the exact same playbook as Sean Payton, but it doesn't matter if he's dialing up the wrong plays against the wrong coverage and has no feel for the game. That's where the great offensive minds in the NFL show their strengths: their perception of the situation at hand and their responses.

So in this NFL where the plays themselves rarely change and the philosophies/strategies of coaches and the disparity in talent are the only real differences people are used to seeing on Sundays, it makes sense that the introduction of the read option, the Pistol, and, to a lesser extent, the spread, has absolutely blown people's freaking minds. This mind-blowing has resulted in a number of utterly predictable responses:

1)All of these things are somehow catchall terms for the same thing. Some people will even throw in the Wildcat for good measure.

2)One or all of these things is a fad that won't last in the REAL MEN'S LEAGUE OF NFL FOOTBAW.

3)One or all of these things are not just a fad, but a gimmick, a cheap way to trick people .

Now, all of these are worth discussing because I believe, frankly, they'll be around in the NFL for a long time and also because Trestman has run the read-option and spread in Canada and will probably use them at various times with the Bears, probably not as base plays but certainly as constraints on the defense. With that said, let's break down the various issues:

First off, the spread refers to an entire offensive system, the pistol refers to a specific formation (but is sometimes understandably a blanket term for the system that utilizes it as it's base formation), and the read option is a single specific play. A spread offense can run a read option from a pistol formation, but that doesn't mean the three are automatically associated or inseparable.

-The spread offense, specifically, is an offense that is based almost entirely out of the shotgun, using at least 3 receivers, but usually four or five on every play. It's name comes from "spreading" out the defense to isolate teams in one on one matchups as much as possible and to open up running and passing lanes with all of the open space the formations create. It differs from the old Run'N'Shoot in that the Run'N'Shoot almost exclusively used four wide receivers, with two on each side, and a half roll by the quarterback on each play, and because spread offenses usually do not give their wide receivers the ability to adjust their routes on the fly quite like that offense did. The spread can be a running offense, as it was primarily for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan, or it can be a primarily passing offense, like it is with Mike Leach and his disciples. Run or pass isn't important, once again, the main idea is simply that you want to stretch the defense from sideline to sideline and take advantage of open space. That's it.

The spread for years was derided as a college only offense, but starting, ironically, with the Bears under Gary Crowton in 1999 (laugh all you want, but he got over 4,000 YDs passing out of Matthews, McNown, and Miller) and then, much more successfully, the Patriots under Josh McDaniel, it's become a major part of the league. Several teams that run the West Coast offense have adjusted their passing concepts to spread formations and run hybrid "Spread-Coast" offenses, like the Packers and Saints and, presumably, given Trestman's history in Canada and his and Kromer's time in New Orleans, the Bears. Considering the spread isn't a single play, or a single formation, and relies on the oldest principle in football (isolating your players and winning one on one matchups), I'd dare you to say Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers owe their success to a gimmick or a fad.

-The pistol is a specific formation. Tom Kaczkowski and Michael Taylor, two coaches at a D-III school in Ohio, developed it in the late 1990s. It became most famous when Chris Ault adopted it at the University of Nevada. As you've probably figured out if you've seen it, the Pistol is a hybrid between the singleback formation and the shotgun where the quarterback lines up four yards behind the line of scrimmage instead of under center (as in singleback) or seven yards back (as in the shotgun). The runningback lines up directly behind him as he would in the singleback. That's really it. You can run the pistol in literally any other formation you'd like, with as many backs and receivers and tight ends as you want. You can spread the defense sideline to sideline and play a spread offense out of the pistol, or you can run Power O out of it. The two are unrelated. This kind of thinking leads to people assuming spread guru Chip Kelly is responsible for a formation he's never even used.  I mean, hell, if it looks weird and DOESN'T BELONG IN THE REAL MEN'S NFL, it's all got to be the same somehow, right?

-Finally, the read option is a specific play. The quarterback takes the ball (usually out of the shotgun or the pistol, but sometimes from under center! PRO STYLE!) and reads the backside defensive end. If that defensive end plays the outside and aims to take away the runningback who is waiting for the pitch to run off tackle, the QB keeps the ball and runs the opposite direction or up the middle. It's extremely simple and effective, because the entire play is founded on basic math. If the QB is a threat to run the ball, and the QB neutralizes one of the defenses defensive ends by "reading" him and thereby rendering him useless without even having to block him, the offense has a numerical advantage, theoretically, regardless of who ends up with the ball. Obviously the QB can make the wrong decision, or if some defensive end out there (let's call him, I don't know, Julius Peppers) is a superhuman freak of nature that can react too quickly for either option, the play can fail, but it's absolutely not a gimmick in any way shape or form.

As I've tried to spell out: not one of these things is a fad or a gimmick. People will bring up comparisons to the Wildcat, which is absolutely a limited formation that offers no passing threat and is easily countered. That description doesn't apply to any of these three things. The spread can be used to create lanes for runs and passes. You can run literally any play in your playbook out of the Pistol. The read option is a running play, but it also provides some excellent opportunities for play-action passes, as Kaepernick, Wilson, and RGIII have ably demonstrated. All of them are based on sound, fundamental principles, and belong in the NFL just as much as Power O and Counter Trey.

All of this brings me to my last point: all of these offenses are relatively new to the NFL, and many people will want them to fail because they are new and scary and the league doesn't always like that. The only way these offenses will fail, however, will be the same way other offenses fail: poor talent. Chip Kelly is going to take over an Eagles team with a turnover prone QB and a bad offensive line. They might be bad this year. People will blame the offense and ignore the fact that the Eagles were bad last year because they are, well, bad. At some point Kaepernick, RGIII, and Russell Wilson will experience the same ups and downs that confront everyone else if their left tackle goes down or their best receiver gets hurt. None of that will diminish the legitimacy of their team's offenses anymore than the Browns "exposed" the West Coast offense when they had Colt McCoy under center. Talent trumps all.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Episode 2 of the SKOdcast is Now Up


Next Episode of the Start Kyle Orton Podcast Tonight at 6:15 Follow along live as we discuss:

-Jay Cutler and his contract situation
-What the hell is an Elite Quarterback?
-This week's installment of "God Dammit, Bears Fans"

Schemin' Marc Trestman

Last year when I was attempting to get a grip on what kind of offense Mike Tice was going to run given Tice's history in Minnesota, the presence of Jeremy Bates, and the holdovers from the Martz playbook, I said the following:

I'm forced to wonder how all three of these influences (the Ghost of Martz, Tice/Linehan, and Bates/Shanahan) are going to gel into one coherent offensive scheme this year.

Unfortunately, as anyone who watched the team last year knows, the answer was that they just didn't. Tice's playbook consisted of a sometimes random assortment of ill-timed deep balls, inside zones with guards who couldn't run-block and a runningback who makes his living bouncing outside the tackles, and a motley jumble of other concepts. Tice ended up throwing deep more often than his seemingly mad predecessor, but lacked Martz's deft hand with screens and hot routes to enable the team to move the chains between the twenties.

The biggest problem with Tice's offense was that it just wasn't an offense, frankly. A true offense starts with a philosophy. This doesn't have to be Lovie Smith's "we get off the bus running" or Martz's bombs away aerial approach, but you have to have clear, delineated goals and concepts to match. What pass plays do you have that you believe will always work against Cover 2? If it's 2nd and 1, do your players know and have faith in what you are going to call, or are you just guessing? Mike Leach once rejected the description of play-calling in football as a chess match in favor of boxing. You're taking way too much time if you're trying to guess or dial up the perfect play for that moment. It should be punch-counterpunch, with an instinctual response to every situation that is honed by repetition and consistency.

Marc Trestman, at least, brings a true offense with him. Trestman is as old of a disciple as one can be in the West Coast offense without having sat in the room with guys like Paul Brown and Bill Walsh as they first put the concepts together. He's run some version of it since the 1980s, adjusting it to suit quarterbacks as different in arm strength, mobility, and accuracy as Bernie Kosar, Steve Young, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer, and Rich Gannon. Through this all, he's remained true to the core philosophy of the system, which is to move the ball methodically down the field with a controlled, timing-based short passing offense.

This is a welcome relief for Jay Cutler, most of all, because this was exactly the system that Jay was drafted to run in Denver (it's worth noting that Trestman took over as 49ers offensive coordinator in 1995, replacing Mike Shanahan). It would seemingly run counter to logic that Cutler, with his cannon arm and his sometimes erratic accuracy would be a perfect fit for this system, but consider that some of the most successful operators of the West Coast were guys, like Jay, known for strong arms and sometimes questionable decisions like Brett Favre and John Elway. The West Coast is perfect for these type of players as it places structural limitations on their recklessness and carefully manages when and where they attack the defense vertically. Trestman, unlike Tice and Martz, seems unlikely to give into the temptation of Jay's arm strength and be seduced by lower % big play attempts instead of a more efficient approach.

Simply being a West Coast Offense guy, however, is relatively meaningless in today's NFL, where a good portion of the league's coordinators will lay claim to a similar lineage. The Green Bay Packers under Mike McCarthy and the Cleveland Browns under Pat Shurmur and our old friend Brad Childress both ran the West Coast as their base offense last year, and one would hardly say they had much in common. Trestman will be judged not on what his offense has done in the past but on what adjustments he has made to suit the modern NFL, and for that it's worth looking at his experience up North.

The CFL, with only three downs, seven skill position players, and a wider, longer field seemed an odd fit for a West Coast guru. Traditional West Coast formations (remember, for years the shotgun was an almost foreign formation in the scheme) and run plays simply wouldn't work. What was Trestman's response?

Not much, actually. In Canada, Trestman still ran traditional West Coast concepts like Snag and Stick, with the routes run out of the shotgun instead of a pro set, and with extra wide receivers or tight ends running routes that previously belonged to the fullback or runningback. By doing so, Trestman could present new looks to the defense and utilize the horizontal passing game in place of the run while leaving the basic concepts and strengths of his offense in place.

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it probably should, because it's not much different, schematically, from what the Saints and Packers have done in recent years, and that's also no surprise since Trestman was actually offered the opportunity to be the Saints OC in 2006 and served as an offensive consultant for them in 2007. These teams are running more or less the same plays that the 49ers ran with Joe Montana, with a few added wrinkles, out of different formations and with different personnel, taking advantage, for example, of the mismatches created by splitting someone like Jimmy Graham or Jermichael Finley out wide.

So, going back to my main criticism of Tice, that his offense lacked a true philosophy or identity, what can we expect from Trestman? It would seem the Bears are likely to lead with the pass, although in a much less reckless fashion than Martz's deep drops. As Cutler has said, the emphasis of this offense is definitely protecting the quarterback by getting the ball out as soon as possible. Forte will get over twenty touches per game, most likely, but those touches will definitely vary between rushes and receptions based on the situation. It would also seem, from observers' comments at the first mini-camp, that Trestman believes in the boxing approach, as many said the Bears got in and out of the huddle and to the line faster on their first day of install with a new playbook than they ever did at any point under Tice or Martz. Trestman himself said that he wanted each play to "build muscle memory." It would appear that Trestman is less concerned with out-scheming or out-smarting is opponents (a difficult thing to do in the NFL where too much is made of "genius" as it is) and more with ensuring that his players understand their roles and their objectives and can execute them on each play.

If that's the case, then we'll hopefully see a more confident offensive unit in the fall, one that wastes fewer timeouts, has fewer false starts, and overall seems to be a lot less confused than the mess we saw last year. It's hard to say right now that this approach will be successful, but it seems logical to assume that you'll be able to do a lot more on offense if you know, at least, what it actually is you want to do, and Marc Trestman has at least gotten them started on that path.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mike Martz, Mike Tice, and The Myth of a Balanced Offense

There are any number of reasons why the Bears offense has been downright awful at times for the last two seasons. Jay Cutler missing 7 1/2 games during that time period is probably the biggest, followed by injuries to key contributors like Forte, Bennett, and Jeffery. There's also the obvious answer that the offensive line couldn't block a spending cut in Congress. HEY OH. TOPICAL HUMOR.

Beyond this, though, there are schematic issues. In Mike Martz case it was a matter of talent not matching the scheme that he wanted to run. Both years that he was the offensive coordinator started with him attempting to run a facsimile of the greatest show on turf before he relented and opted for a less demanding style of offense in order to keep Jay alive. Perhaps the biggest issue leading to Martz's demise, however, was the lack of a "balanced" offense. This was in reference, of course, to Martz's pass-happy nature and the frequent battering that Cutler took as he dropped back 50 or more times in single games while Matt Forte did little more than pass block.

In response, the Bears promoted Mike Tice to take Martz's place.On the surface, Tice certainly gave Bears fans and critics want they wanted in terms of balance: the team attempted 485 passes to 470 runs, a 50.8% ratio that seems downright archaic in today's pass happy NFL, where teams threw the ball at least 56% of the time on average. Was this really "balance," though?

I was reading Mike Leach's book Swing Your Sword the other day, and he made a great comment about what balance on offense is that really struck me. Leach, the spread guru who frequently dials up sixty or even seventy passes a game was talking about his love for the Wishbone, a run-centric offense that he praised for having "balance." Given the traditional interpretation of the term, it would seem impossible that Leach's offense or the Wishbone would be described as "balanced." Leach, however, defines balance differently than most. To Leach, a balanced offense is one that, run or pass, attacks the entire field and utilizes all of its playmakers.

This really stuck with me, and I think it hints at part of the problem with the Bears offense last year. Now, I'm obviously not the first one to state that the Bears focused too heavily on Brandon Marshall last year, and I understand why they did it, but the numbers are still staggering: 40% of the Bears targets, over 41% of their completions, 46% of their passing yardage, and 29% of the Bears total yardage all went to one player.

Matt Forte, although seemingly underutilized in the receiving game versus his previous years, represented 27% of the Bears total offense as well, meaning that two players combined for over 56% of the Bears total offense.

Now, naturally you would expect a team's number one receiver and starting runningback to play larger roles in the offense than anyone else, but that's still a disproportionate amount of a team's offense coming from two players.

To put this into perspective (and to stave off the people who want to blame the over-emphasis on Marshall on Jay), compare the Bears offensive output, %-wise, to the 2008 Broncos. That year, Marshall led the Broncos with 104 receptions for 1265 yards but still represented just 27% of their total receptions, 28% of their total passing yardage, and just 20% of their total offensive yardage. The Broncos also were 12th in the NFL in rushing that year, but their starting runningbacks accounted for just 20% of their offense. In total, the Broncos starting backs and #1 receiver accounted for just 40% of their offensive output despite having, by any measuring stick, pretty good years offensively.

The strength of the Broncos offense that year, therefore, was an example of real balance. While Cutler's favorite receiver, then as now, was Brandon Marshall, the Broncos had ten different players catch at least 10 passes, with four receivers catching at least 30 passes or more. The Bears last year had just six different receivers in double digits, despite a series of injuries that would seem to have required more players to step up, and Forte was the only player besides Marshall to catch at least 30 balls.

Now, I understand that Jay forces passes to Marshall, and that he had good reason not to trust many of his other targets at times, but it was also clear that Tice called numerous plays throughout the year that were designed to get the ball to Marshall at all costs. Considering he made a big deal of the "Hester Package" and is also the man who once introduced the notoriously disastrous Randy Ratio in Minnesota, Tice focused more on designing plays for specific receivers than on a balanced, ball-distributing offensive progression.

I also get the perception that the 2008 Broncos had a superior supporting cast of receivers and tight ends than the Bears, and that may be true, but considering Eddie Royal, who caught 91 balls for 980 YDs in 2008, and Tony Scheffler, who brought in 40 passes 645 YDs, have averaged just 340 and 411 yards per season, respectively, since then it's conceivable that neither player is quite the star that they appeared to be when Cutler was inflating their value.

In any case, there was no reason that the Bears couldn't at least do a better job than they did of spreading the ball around and giving the defense reason to expect that the team would at least make them defend the entire field. As it played out, opposing defenses were generally safe so long as they didn't lose sight of Marshall or, barring that, Forte.

Now, I'm obviously not saying the Bears should deliberately under-utilize Marshall or Forte next year. Obviously those two should be the focus of your offense, but Trestman has to ensure that All of his pieces are being used effectively and that teams will respect, for instance, Earl Bennett in the slot because the Bears can and will throw to him if teams make the mistake of paying too much attention to Marshall. This seemingly obvious solution didn't happen last year, and must in the future.

For reassurance that it will, one need only look at Trestman's most successful NFL offense, the 2002 Raiders, where three different receivers caught at least 50 passes, two tight ends caught 32 and 27 passes, respectively, and where the top two runningbacks and starting fullback combined for 330 carries and 113 receptions. The result was an offense that averaged 389 yards and 28 PPG. Now that's balance. Hopefully we'll see something like that in Chicago next year. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

2012 Bears Positional Reviews: Specialists

Now we reach the always anti-climactic end. There's usually not too much to talk about for the Bears special teams unit, because they're usually pretty spectacular. This year they finished as the 9th ranked special teams unit in the NFL, which gives you an idea of how solid their coverage units are since this was the first year of the Dave Toub Era where they didn't have a single punt or kick return TD. That stat alone is unbelievably impressive.

Next year things will undoubtedly be different without Toub, and I wish him well in Kansas City, but there are still plenty of strong performers left on the roster. As a returner I wouldn't make the mistake of assuming Hester's done, since we've all made the mistake before and he thundered back with great years in 2010-2011, but even if he is the team has a Pro Bowl kick returner in Eric Weems on the roster, and Earl Bennett has had great success in his career as a punt returner as well.


#9 Robbie Gould: 21/25 FG (20-29 YDs: 7/7. 30-39 YDs: 5/7. 40-49 YDs: 7/9. 50-59 YDs: 2/2), 33/33 PAT.

Robbie Gould is awesome. You don't need me to tell you that. Hopefully he doesn't get hurt again, because that really sucked. Last year he was a tad less accurate than usual (84% vs. 85.6% for his career), but shut up, it's Robbie Gould. Interesting stat: since Lovie found the balls to let Robbie regularly attempt field goals of greater than 50 yards in 2009, Robbie's made 13/15, including 8/8 in the last two years. Robbie Gould is awesome.

#10 Olindo Mare: 6/8 FG (20-29 YDs: 2/3. 30-39 YDs: 3/3. 40-49 YDs: 1/2), 7/7 PAT

If you want to know how awesome Robbie is, look at Olindo. He was an acceptable fill in, but it's never a good thing when your kicker shanks one from less than 30 yards (if you're wondering when the last time Robbie missed one of those was, it's never), but the worst thing is having to hold your breath any time he's kicking more than 40 yards. Olindo for his career has a seemingly respectable 81.3% conversion rate, but on kicks of greater than 40 yards, where kickers make their pay, he's converted just 66% for his career (Robbie: 72%). Goodbye, Olindo.


#8 Adam Podlesh: 81 punts, 3399 yds, 42.0 average

A year after setting a franchise record averaging 43.9 YDs per punt, Podlesh had another solid campaign. His predecessor, Brad Maynard, hadn't reached a 42 yard average since 2004, so the team made the right move to move on when they did. Pathetic stat: in two years Podlesh has had 89 and 81 punts for the Bears. In four years in Jacksonville (pre-Blaine Gabbert, but, still, fucking Jacksonville) he never had more than 72. That's goddamn depressing. Stop sucking, offense.

Kick Returners:

#14 Eric Weems: 13 returns, 231 YDs, 17.3 AVG, 1 punt return, 0 YDs.

Man, the new kick return rules suck. Sure, they seem to have had an actual impact as far as limiting concussions, but who cares about saving brain matter when guys like Eric Weems are struggling to provide the excitement they once did (career average of 24.8 YPR). In all honesty, Weems is a solid special teams player and I still can't figure out why he and Hester are both still on the roster if neither is going to be a contributor on offense.

#23 Devin Hester: 24 returns, 621 YDs, 25.9 AVG, 40 punt returns, 331 YDs, 8.3 AVG

Devin finished tenth in the NFL in kickoff return average, was middle of the pack in return average (although, of the four guys who returned at least 40 punts his 8.3 average was pretty much the norm, as the other three averaged 8.4, 8.7, and 10.2 YDs) and, yet, by all accounts, he was pretty much awful and is done. As I said, we've made the mistake of assuming Devin was done before, and yet he still had plenty of explosion left in him. Clearly the quality of his blocking tends to vary from year to year and has as much to do with his success as anything. It's not really worth criticizing how infuriating it is when he backpedals and loses yards, or how irritating it is when he fair catches a ball at the 7, because he did that in the years when he was returning six kicks for touchdowns, too. He's no different now than he was then, he's just not surrounded by the same guys and he certainly doesn't see the same opportunities.

With all of that, though, I'm still surprised, honestly , that he's on the roster, given his $2.9 million cap hit and the fact that his days as anything more than a role player are, finally, supposedly gone. I definitely don't think he'll be a Bear in 2014, and I'm okay with that. Not to disrespect the greatest kick returner of all-time, but the money would be better spent investing in an offense that can set up good field position for itself.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: The Secondary

The oft-criticized (by morons) Bears pass-defense had, by any measuring stick, a great year this year. In the Cover 2 you shouldn't really judge a team based on the amount of passing yards they allow, but the Bears finished 8th in the NFL in that category nonetheless, allowing just 214 net yards passing per game. More importantly, the Bears secondary limited opposing passers to just 6.3 YPA. They allowed only 19 TD passes while snagging an NFL-leading 24 interceptions, returning 8 of them for touchdowns, tops in the NFL by a wide margin. They also finished second in the NFL with 94 pass breakups. By every single measuring stick they were a great pass defense, so basically anyone I've heard criticize the Cover 2 can probably kiss my ass.


#33 Charles Tillman: 16 games, 16 games started, 85 tackles, 3 INTs, 10 FF, 2 fumble recoveries, 11 passes defensed, 3 touchdowns.

Charles Tillman is, quite frankly, probably the most underrated Bears defender ever. It's understandable, given that he's played in a scheme that's basic principles are well-known and yet completely misunderstood, leading to the oft-mistaken impression that he can't play man-coverage, and that he's played on a defense with Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Julius Peppers and other more well-known stars his entire career. The fact that he's made his first two Pro Bowls back to back in the last couple of years means he's finally getting proper recognition, but in reality he's arguably a Hall of Fame corner if people didn't identify the overrated concept of a "shutdown" corner as the only one's permitted through those doors. In his ten year career he's forced over 70 turnovers, he's broken up 126 passes, and he's scored nine touchdowns. He routinely ranks among the league leaders in lowest passer rating against, but, alas, he's a "Zone Corner" and he'll forever be viewed as some kind of lesser being in comparison to a guy like Nnamdi Asomugah, who coasted on his reputation for years and actually benefited from having shitty teammates that opposing QBs were more willing to test. What a joke.

The question with P'nut is how long he can keep it up, and whether he'll be doing it much longer in a Bears uniform. With NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings on the opposite side and also on the last year deal, it seems unlikely the Bears will be able to pay both what they'll be able to demand. At that point Phil's going to have to make a hard decision about whether a 32 year old corner is worth a gamble for one more big contract. Something tells me that decision won't be as easy as cutting a washed up linebacker with a bum knee.

#26 Tim Jennings: 14 games, 14 games started, 60 tackles, 9 INTs, 21 passes defensed, 1 TD.

Tim Jennings got a bum rap before last year. Pro Football Focus would tell you that he, and Tillman to a lesser extent, were blamed the struggles of the Bears safeties, and that since he's come to Chicago Jennings has been great in coverage and has rarely allowed the deep ball. Lovie only fed fuel to the misguided fire by benching Tim for a game in 2011 because he wasn't generating enough turnovers. Tim responded in a big way by swiping nine interceptions, and breaking up a whopping 21 passes. This seems like heresy, especially since I just referred to him as a Hall of Famer, but I wouldn't necessarily blame Phil for extending the younger (and equally , if not more productive over the last two years) Jennings before Tillman.

#24 Kelvin Hayden: 16 games, 2 games started, 35 tackles, 1 INT, 5 passes defensed, 4 fumble recoveries.

The Bears coveted Kelvin Hayden for several years, and it wasn't really surprising to see them strike the second he was finally healthy enough for an entire season. He became the starting nickel in place of DJ Moore less for his production than his ability to keep his mouth shut, and he responded with a relatively average season, although he was burned deep several times throughout the year. His main value is that he has the size and experience to play outside if Jennings or Tillman gets hurt, something DJ never really could do. I wasn't surprised to see the Bears bring him back, but at this point in his career he's nothing special.

#30 DJ Moore: 13 games, 2 games started, 30 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 passes defensed.

Oh DJ, you blithering idiot. Never mind that you'd had two great seasons leading the team in interceptions and playing a very solid nickel. Never mind that you'd developed into a very good pass-rushing artist in the nickel blitz. You had to criticize your quarterback to the media while playing for a coach who, despite his gentle facade, could teach Bill Belichick a thing or two about controlling his player's public image. Was it stupid of the Bears to give up on a promising young player because of one comment? Absolutely. That said, DJ's limitations meant he was never going to be more than a nickel, and it seems as though the team will be looking and hard about potential heirs to Tillman and Jennings in the draft, so perhaps not much was lost.

#38 Zack Bowman: 11 games, 0 games started, 2 tackles, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD.

Speaking of heirs to Tillman, the last one that failed miserably is somehow still on the roster, and just got re-signed. For what it's worth, he graded out positively in the few meaningful reps he played on defense, but he's about as much of the team's future at cornerback as I am.


#21 Major Wright: 16 games, 16 games started, 71 tackles, 4 INTs, 8 passes defensed, 1 FF, 1 fumble recovered, 1 TD.

Before this year I'd practically given up on the idea of Major Wright ever being the guy the Bears said he was going to be, based as much on his poor health as his mediocre production. Then...well, things changed. He started all 16 games, he was a dominant force against the run, he stopped making huge mental mistakes in pass defense and, outside of one brutal de-pantsing at the hands of Vernon Davis during the 49ers game, he played like a Pro Bowler in every other game this season, finishing with a +5.1 rating from PFF. He did drop an interception the Seahawks last drive in regulation, possibly changing the entire fortunes of the Bears organization, but we'll see how that works out. In the short term, I apologize for doubting you, Major.

#47 Chris Conte: 15 games, 15 games started, 67 tackles, 2 INTs, 9 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovered, 1 TD

After safety had been a never-ending revolving door for the Bears since Mike Brown's first injury in 2004, it was a huge relief to have Conte and Wright start all but one game together. In their last 21 games with those two guarding the back half the Bears have allowed just 19 TD passes vs. 31 interceptions and an opposing QB rating of 68. Conte isn't a particularly great player, as he's a an above-average defender against the pass and a less-than-good run defender, but he knows his role and doesn't make the big mistake, and that allows Wright to player closer to the box and allows the team to feel comfortable mixing up coverages and blitzes underneath. As long as the two of them can stay healthy, the future of the team at the safety position seems pretty stable.

#37 Anthony Walters: 16 games, 1 game started, 8 tackles, 1 fumble recovered

Just a body. Fine special teamer, wasn't an embarrasment when he played, probably going to get squeezed off of the roster with the addition of Tom Zbikowski and the health of Brandon Hardin.

#20 Craig Steltz: 13 games, 0 games started, 6 tackles, 1 forced fumble

We all railed against Craig Steltz for years, and in 2011 he was somehow the Bears best safety. It wasn't even a "best of an awful bunch" kind of thing. He was legitimately good. Then the Bears re-signed him, and I fearfully awaited the day when he had to play meaningful reps and his good 2011 was revealed for the aberration I believed it to be. Turns out he didn't really have to play at all. Also a good chance that he'll lose his roster spot in favor of Brandon Hardin, because the team will probably toss his higher salary in favor of the promising youngster now that Zbikowski is there to provide depth at strong safety. I'm okay with this possibility, because I still believe the best Craig Steltz is the one you never have to use.

That's all for now. Next time: Special teams.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: the Linebackers

2012 was truly the end of an era for the Bears. Ever since 2001, when Urlacher stepped onto the field with Roosevelt Colvin and Warrick Holdman, it's pretty much been a guarantee that the Bears would be in the discussion for the best linebacking corps in the NFL. All of that went out the window when Brian Urlacher's knee crumpled into a heap in Minnesota last year. The guy that came back, no matter what we tried to tell ourselves, just wasn't the same, and now he's gone. Next year Lance Briggs will line up on opening day with two new partners for the first time in his career, be it DJ Williams and James Anderson or whomever the team picks up in this year's draft. While they may turn out to be a quality unit, and there's every reason to believe they will be, the days when the Bears could count on any play run to the Urlacher/Briggs side of the field dying a hopeless death are gone.

#55 Lance Briggs: 16 games, 16 games started, 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 11 passes defensed, 2 FF, 2 TDs.

Lance Briggs finally got his contract extension (again) and responded with potentially his best season at age 32. He was dominant against both the run and the pass, finishing with a +12.1 rating from Pro Football Focus. His interception return for a TD against Dallas was one of the coolest damn things I've ever seen on a football field, and he followed it up a week later with another one. The question going forward is how well he will do without Urlacher next to him. Briggs played good football after Urlacher's injury this year, but his worst year came in 2009 after Urlacher went down. Hopefully Briggs is ready to play without a safety net, because the team needs him to continue to be dominant for at least a few more years. 

#53 Nick Roach: 16 games, 14 games started, 65 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 passes defensed, 1 FF, 1 fumble recovery.

As much as I try to understand advanced baseball statistics, WAR always eludes my grasp. What the hell, really, is a replacement player? I can tell you what a replacement middle linebacker is, though. It's Nick Roach. He graded out at a +0.2 last year, practically the dictionary definition of an average middle linebacker. At strong side he was slightly worse. He could have had the starting MLB job next year, most likely, but the Bears were very wise not to give him the $3-4 million a year that Oakland did. 

#54 Brian Urlacher: 12 games, 12 games started, 70 tackles, 1 INT, 7 passes defensed, 2 FF, 2 fumbles recovered. 

Sigh. This one hurts. I'm not going to get into the controversy surrounding his departure, or any of his statements after leaving the team. I've discussed it already. On the field, however, there's no denying that Urlacher is a liability. He graded out with a -13.5 against the run, and he was a huge factor in the run defense's decline in the second half. Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick ran wild against him, as Urlacher was no longer capable of beating a mobile QB to the edge and pinning them in the backfield. He was still effective in pass defense, but played fewer snaps against the pass than he had in previous years, and he struggled to defend the deep seam route as he had in the past. It truly was time to move on.

#58 Geno Hayes: 15 games, 3 games started, 14 tackles, 1 pass defensed.

Geno signed with the Bears in order to get some meaningful reps and earn himself a chance to compete for a starting job with someone next year. He was pretty pedestrian when he did play, although he was a pretty valuable back up with his experience in the scheme and his versatility, but it was enough to get a contract from the Jaguars that the Bears weren't interested in matching. Good luck to you, Geno.

#52 Blake Costanzo: 14 games, 1 game started, 4 tackles.

Costanzo was the latest special teams ace and linebacker-in-name-only that Brad Biggs got all lathered up over, and he was certainly very good in that department. He actually graded out positively as both an OLB and an MLB in the limited reps that he got, but I don't think the team views him as anything more than a last-resort in that capacity, and they're probably right.

That's all for now. It seems like heresy to say this, but there's a good chance that the linebacking corps could be even better next year, even if it probably won't approach the consistent excellence of the last decade. You just can't replace the production a healthy Brian Urlacher gave you, but you can most likely improve on the production an injured one gave you with two younger, experienced players in DJ Williams and James Anderson.

Next time: Charles Tillman, how I love thee.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2012 Bears Position Reviews: the Defensive Line

Ahh, good news. The Bears defensive line was undeniably the deepest and arguably the most productive unit (I say arguably because Charles Tillman is coming to punch my balls) on the team this year. The entire rotation contributed with seven different lineman getting to the quarterback. The Bears were consistently able to get good pressure on quarterbacks with just their front four, allowing the defense do run the zones they thrive in. In the end, the Bears finished 8th in the NFL with 41 sacks, with 38 coming from the defensive line. If there was a weakness, it was that the team finished just 14th in yards per carry allowed and struggled to contain the top-flight rushing attacks they faced in the second half of the season. A certain linebacker certainly contributed to the defense's struggles in that department, but it is still a place where there's room for improvement.

Defensive Ends:

#90 Julius Peppers: 16 games, 16 games started, 39 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 1 FF, 1 fumble recovery.

On the surface, Julius had yet another stellar campaign as a Bear, finishing for the second straight year with at least 11 sacks. Behind the numbers he wasn't quite as dominant as he had been his previous two years in Chicago. Pro Football Focus had him at +9.9 for the season, a very good grade, but not the +21.7 he posted the year before. He wasn't quite able to take away an entire half of the field in the run game as he had done before, and he wasn't the relentless pass-rushing force he was before, with his sacks tending to come in bunches with some distance between.

That said, we knew this would happen. The Bears were never going to get THE Julius Peppers for the entire length of that contract. That's just the reality of free agency. The important thing is that, even as he struggled with injury this year, Julius was still a damn good defensive end. You'd take Julius Peppers in a "down" year over just about all but a handful of defensive ends in the NFL at their peak. He also managed to post similar line stats to his 2011 campaign despite taking nearly 100 fewer snaps at DE. You hope going forward that Shea McClellin can continue to develop behind him and that Corey Wootton can stay healthy, because the best bet for the Bears to continue to get production, if not the superhuman annihilation of opposing offenses he was known for before, from Julius for the remainder of his deal. Regardless, I love Julius Peppers.

#71 Israel Idonije: 16 games, 11 games started, 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 FF

You don't have to know much about me to know that I'm not exactly the kind of fan who thumps his chest and gets all teary-eyed over grit and hustle or to tout the merits of some kind of lunch pail player. The exception to this rule is Israel Idonije. Izzy's been with the Bears since 2004, and in that time he's played every spot on the line. Up until 2010 he was usually the third defensive tackle off the bench. Then he switched to a mostly full-time DE, and the result was an extremely productive season. He tailed off as a pass-rusher in the second-half of 2011, even though his run defense remained stout. You couldn't really blame the Bears for opting to get younger at the position with the addition of Shea McClellin, and the emergence of Corey Wootton was also a pleasant surprise. It appeared Izzy's days were numbered.

Izzy responded with a great season, however. He was tops among all Bears defensive lineman in tackles, had an even better year against the run, with a +7.4 grade in that category. He was benched midway through the season for Wootton, and took the demotion in stride, especially he spent plenty of time at DT after his demotion.

Right now Izzy is a free agent, and I understand that the Bears brought in Turk McBride and that Shea and Wootton will both play bigger roles next year. My heart still wants Izzy back on the team, however, because he's as easy a player to root for as there is, and because he's still a damn good football player.

#98 Corey Wootton: 16 games, 7 games started, 27 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 1 pass defensed, 2 FF

Up until this year it seemed the Corey Wootton would go down as a trivia answer for his only career sack being the death of Brett Favre, but then he managed to stay healthy for an entire season for the first time since his junior year of college. With his new-found health Wootton erupted with 7 sacks as a rotational DE, eventually moving into the starting role. His development was huge as it allowed the Bears to give much-needed rest to Julius Peppers and it kept the team from having to expand Shea McClellin's role too quickly. While Wootton struggled a bit against the run when he moved into the starting lineup, it seems only reasonable to suspect that he'll improve as he gets more experience.

#99 Shea McClellin: 14 games, 0 games started, 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks

I think Shea McClellin is a good football player, I really do. Although he finished with slightly below average rating from Pro Football Focus for the season, primarily due to being a complete non-entity against the run, he graded out positively as a pass-rushing specialist, with 22 hurries to go along with his 2.5 sacks. That was all the team really needed from him last year, and, as I said, the resurgence of Izzy and the emergence of Wootton meant Shea really didn't have to do much other than provide pressure on the quarterback on 3rd down. If Izzy's not coming back, and with Pepper being a year older, Shea will have to be a more complete player next year. Hopefully with a year of experience, some better health, and a full offseason, he'll be ready, but he's going to have to put up some big numbers to silence the critics.

#95 Cheta Ozougwu: 2 games, 0 games started, 3 tackles. 

Awesome name. Otherwise nothing special. Probably won't make the roster next year.

Defensive Tackles:

#69 Henry Melton: 14 games, 14 games started, 44 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 2 FF

I really hope the Bears can work out a long-term deal with Melton, because he's truly something special. He finished the year as Pro Football Focus' 7th rated defensive tackle in the NFL, although he ranks even higher if you only count other 4-3 DTs. Considering that Henry was a runningback less than four years ago, and that he's only been a full-time DE for two, his rapid progress is nothing short of remarkable. Last year he burst onto the scene with two sacks in the opener against the Falcons but followed with a largely up-and-down season as a pass-rusher and he struggled often with being over-aggressive and exposed against traps, draws, and screens. This year he became a truly dominant pass-rusher week in and week out, and he developed into a fairly average run defender. The sky's the limit when you consider Henry's talent, however, so I'm willing to bet that the best is yet to come. 

#92 Stephen Paea: 15 games, 14 games started, 24 tackles, 2.5 sacks

Stephen Paea started to show some flashes of being the dominant nose tackle that Lovie envisioned two years ago this year. Overall he graded out positively with a +1.7 grade on the season. He was, naturally, better against the run than the pass, but he still contributed in that department with 2.5 sacks, more than his predecessor, Spice Adams, managed in his four years as the Bear's primary nose tackle.  Hopefully the Bears have found their main duo for years to come in Melton and Paea.

#93 Nate Collins: 9 games, 0 games started, 11 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 2 FF

Nate Collins was the line's second biggest surprise after Wootton, finishing the season with a stellar +4.9 rating from PFF in his time in the rotation. He has the flexibility to play either the nose or the three-technique, and he was one of the few Bears defensive linemen to grade out well against both the run and the pass. I'm glad the Bears managed to bring him back, as that leaves them with three young, talented, and still-developing players in their rotation.

#91 Amobi Okoye: 9 games, 0 games started, 12 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 FF

Amobi served two stints with the Bears this year, as he was cut early in the season after Nate Collins beat him out, but returned to finish out the season after injuries to Melton and McClellin left the team in need of more depth. While he wasn't quite the impact player he was in 2011, he was still fairly solid for a third-string DT and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bears brought him back on board if he's still hanging around on waivers this summer.

#75 Matt Toeaiana: 3 games, 2 games started, 4 tackles

Toeiana was never really much more than a body. He was more effective than a post-injury Tommie Harris and the older, slower version of Spice Adams, but he was never really going to be the long-term solution at the nose. The team is currently waiting for him to get healthy enough that they can work out an injury settlement and then cut him.

That's all for now. Next time: Lance Briggs is still awesome, but Brian Urlacher is not.