Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears


Kickoff changes could actually benefit Bears

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011Posted: 11:30 p.m.

By John Mullin Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Maybe everyone is looking in the wrong direction with respect to the new kickoff rules. More than a few analysts and observers think the moving of the kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 may in fact benefit the Bears.

A lot.

The Bears dont have Danieal Manning anymore, Johnny Knox of 2010 (22.8 yards per return) was well short of the Johnny Knox of 2009 (29.0 ypr). Devin Hester is a threat anywhere anytime but hes returning punts and only handled 12 KORs last year. So the loss to the Bears kickoff-return game.Well see.

But look beyond that one phase.

As good as the Bears were returning kickoffs, they were among the NFLs worst at giving opponents field position after kickoffs: average start, 28.5 yard line, 27th in the league. Now, given Robbie Goulds leg strength, take, say, three kickoff returns and turn them into touchbacks. Starting point, the 20.

Put another way, every touchback Gould causes nets the Bears 8.5 yards of field position, using last years numbers for illustration purposes only.

And put into a bigger context: The Bears defense allowed a total of eight drives of 80 yards or longer last season. Every defense and its coaches will always take opponents starting at their 20-yard line.

Take this a step further: Every touchback theoretically starts those offenses 8.5 yards farther back, meaning that every defensive stop forces teams to punt 8.5 yards closer to their own goal line. And when they do punt, guess whos waiting 8.5 yards closer to the other guys end zone:

Devin Hester.

Bears considerations

Another reality to consider in the whole kickoff thing:

This years Bears coverage teams are young. No, they are young.

We may have four rookies starting on each phase kickoff returncoverage, punt returncoverage, said teams coordinator Dave Toub. Thats a lot.

Unreturnable kickoffs by Gould then cut down the chances for mistakes, breakdowns and other misfortunes that befall NFL newbies in any position.

Toub shakes his head a little and manages a half-smile as he says that. To put this in perspective, the 2011 Bears offense has one rookie (Gabe Carimi) starting. The defense has none.

So Toub is tasked with staffing his units, where every play is potentially a highlight-film score, with NFL kids who wont be allowed to be kids very long. Not at all, in fact.

Those will likely include Chris Conte, Dom DeCicco, Tyler Clutts, Mario Addison and others.

I played it all through college, DeCicco said. I stayed on kickoff and punt coverage every year. So its something Im comfortable with.

So who has more anxiety going into Sunday, Toub or the rookies?

The rookiesll be fine, Toub said, laughing, then adding the clincher for who will be the stress leader. I think.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”