Bears

Mullin: Martz's input on personnel makes no sense

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Mullin: Martz's input on personnel makes no sense

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Posted: 8:42 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Word now is that the owners and players will extend their fail-safe point 24 hours, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com (http:tinyurl.com486pj6g) and other reports. Mikes take is that the intent here is to buy time for concluding a longer extension, which I agree with since it is going to take longer than that to wrap up anything of real substance.

What remains encouraging through all of this is the absence of rhetoric intended to curry favor with fans, legislators or anyone else. That neither side is violating the cone of silence is a good thing, in small part because it suggests that neither side is wasting time and breath on invective and histrionics, which are beneath meaningless in a situation where there are no good guys.

The public thinks athletes are overpaid and that owners are greedy. In an industry where workers minimum wage is more than 300,000 and ownership already is making money in the billions, fans dont really care here whether a billion dollars goes to one side or the other. That the principals are talking to each other and not to microphones is a good thing.

Market-watching

The absence of a labor agreement hasnt stopped teams from locking up the likes of safety O.J. Atogwe (with Washington, five years, 26 million) and linebacker A.J. Hawk (Green Bay, five years, 6 million - 7 million per season, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

It wont rank with the dollars or years of those deals but the Bears not getting one done with center Olin Kreutz has been a touch surprising. Kreutz is not the long-term solution at center, which he and the Bears obviously know. Kreutz and the Bears are talking about a deal but its a short-term package for a guy who has made no secret of his wish to finish his career as a Bear.

The Bears believe they have alternatives to Kreutz in Roberto Garza and Edwin Williams. Both started their careers as centers but theres a reason why they didnt continue them there.

One suggestion made to me is that if the Bears land a draft target like Floridas Mike Pouncey, a projected starter at either guard or center if he comes to Chicago, Kreutzs chances of returning diminish, although his value as a mentor is borderline incalculable, even with Mike Tice coaching the offensive line.

And even if the Bears do not secure Pouncey or suitable alternative (a post-Tommie Harris defensive tackle is a priority), Kreutzs value is possibly even higher for a offensive line that could have only Garza or Kreutz back in the same spots they filled in 2010.

The Bears were wrong with Josh Beekman as Kreutzs successor. They cannot afford to be wrong again with a line still in transition.

Making sense?

Mike Martz said in a recent Chicago Tribune story that it wouldnt make any sense to part ways with running back Chester Taylor, as a source told CSNChicago.com that the Bears will be doing. Martz wondered why that would happen why you would release a running back whose average yards per carry has gone from 5.4 in 2007 to 4.0 to 3.6 and finally to 2.4 in 2010, who does nothing on special teams, who ties up 1.25 million of a salary cap that is very possibly going to dip in 2011, and who will be 32 this September.

It was Martz who was adamant about bringing in Todd Collins and then twice slotted Collins ahead of Caleb Hanie on the QB depth chart. It was Martz who needed free agent Brandon Manumaleuna, the tight end who was regularly fined in 2010 for failing to make weight.

And Martz told the Sun-Times that Garza played really well last season at right guard where he has never played before. That would be excluding the 74 straight starts Garza had at right guard prior to 2010.

So as far as what makes sense to Martz from a personnel standpointoh, never mind.

Martz is right from one angle, that it doesnt make sense to cut Taylor, now. He is not due prohibitive offseason bonuses and BYU rookie running back Harvey Unga, whom Jerry Angelo thought enough of to spend a seventh-round pick via the supplemental draft is coming off IR with a hamstring injury. Once Unga is through training camp healthy, with Garrett Wolfe back after tying for second in special-teams tackles, maybe the Taylor thing will make sense to some people.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com'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.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

Even in a controlled gameplan, Mitchell Trubisky's playmaking ability shines through

While the Bears praised Mitchell Trubisky’s operation of a controlled gameplan in his second NFL start, they’re not losing sight of the special kind of athleticism and playmaking ability the rookie quarterback possesses. Two plays in particular stand out — plays that led to anywhere from a five-to-10 point swing in the game. 

Trubisky’s 18-yard third down completion to Kendall Wright in overtime seems to looks better every time you watch it on film. Trubisky was pressured by two Baltimore Ravens pass rushers, but managed to wriggle free and slide to his right, only to find linebacker C.J. Mosley waiting in front of him. The blend of athleticism and aggressiveness Trubisky displayed in firing high over the middle toward Wright — who made a specular play of his own — is one of the many reasons why the Bears are so excited about him. 

“To be able to throw that ball with both hands in the air and changing your arm angle – that’s why you draft a kid second,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Because of things like that.”

But there was another instinctual, athletic play Trubisky made that was just as impressive, and just as important. Cody Whitehair’s snapping issues cropped up at the Bears’ 13-yard line, with the center sailing a snap over Trubisky’s head and toward the end zone. 

If Baltimore recovered that ball, it would’ve tied the game; had Trubisky simply fell on the ball, it very well could’ve led to a safety that would’ve brought the Ravens within five points about a minute after the Bears took a 17-3 lead. Instead, Trubisky picked up the ball, scrambled to his right and threw the ball away — one of six throwaways he had on Sunday. 

“(That) was a critical, critical play at that time,” Loggains said. 

This isn't to say that two plays — only one of which gained yards — are enough to say the Bears' offense is in a good place. It's still a group that necessitates a controlled gameplan, similar to the one they used with Mike Glennon. But the difference: Trubisky can make plays. 

Briefly, on Whitehair

Since we’re on the subject of another poor snap by Whitehair, here’s what Loggains had to say on that topic: 

“He’s gotten better. We still had one too many. The thing and point I want to make with Cody Whitehair is, obviously wants to talk about the snap, but you’re talking about two weeks in a row of completely dominating. We’re an outside zone team that ran 25 snaps of inside zone because of what they were playing. It changed our game plan and Cody’s a big part of that. The last two weeks we’ve been able to move those guys inside. He’s a really good football player. 

“We’re going to battle through these snap issues. We’re cutting them down. He’s more accurate. He did have the one that obviously is unacceptable and no one owns that more than Cody Whitehair does. But he is a really good football player and let’s not lose sight of the 79 snaps where he really helped the team run the football and you can’t do that without a Cody Whitehair at center.”

Loggains has a point here — if Whitehair were struggling in the run game, against the defensive looks the Ravens were showing, the Bears wouldn’t have been able to run the ball 50 times with the kind of success they had. But the poor snaps nonetheless are ugly and have to be eliminated — imagine the uproar over them if Trubisky didn’t make that play in Baltimore. The Bears' offense won't always be good enough to overcome those kind of self-inflicted mistakes. 

Loggains and coach John Fox have praised Whitehair’s attention to the problem, and as long as Hroniss Grasu is still limited with a hand injury, Whitehair will have some time to work through these issues. One final thought: Who would’ve expected, back in May, that Whitehair would have the problems with snaps, and not Trubisky?