Bears

View from the Moon: On the clock....

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View from the Moon: On the clock....

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 10:46 a.m. Updated: 8:19 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

NFC North stars

The pick of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 raised a few eyebrows but this is another player that makes the Bears schedule ever so slightly more difficult.

Ponder is an upgrade over Joe Webb, Tavaris Jackson and Brett Favre 2010, even as a rookie. Period. Thisll be interesting now, because dont rule out Donovan McNabb being a pickup before training camp. If that happens, the Vikings are dangerously close to a legitimate divisional contender.

And then you add Nick Fairley paired with Ndamokung Suh as the defensive tackles in Detroit? Very, very scary. Throw in Kyle Vanden Bosch at one end and the Lions will be a serious problem in week five when Detroit comes to Chicago.
Falling stars

How squirrely is draft analysis? Blaine Gabbert at one time was the consensus No. 1 overall pick. So was Auburn DT Nick Fairley. So was Clemson D-end DaQuan Bowers. And Fairley and Bowers were still waiting for phone calls after J.J. Watt went from Wisconsin to Houston at No. 11.

Oooops

Its all fluid right now but the Bears tentatively will open training camp on July 22 and hold their first practice in Bourbonnais Olivet Nazarene University on July 23, All dependent on this labor thing

Scheduling conflicts

It happens every year to some degree but the Bears 2011 schedule arguably got a bit more difficult Thursday night.

Whether Cam Newton is starting by game four when the Bears face the Carolina Panthers is an unknown. If he isnt, its because Jimmy Clausen is playing better than the No. 1 overall pick. If Newton is starting, it means he is further along the NFL learning curve than a lot of other rookies, not just quarterbacks.

A scary element came in when Atlanta gave up a hefty parcel of picks to move up from 27th to Clevelands spot at No. 6. The Falcons pick: wide receiver Julio Jones, the second wideout taken in the top six picks.

That means that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing offense, already a problem for the Bears, adds a potentially lethal matchup problem for a secondary that struggled with the Falcons in 2008 and 2009.

Not that it will have influenced the thinking down at No. 29, but the Denver Broncos selection pass-rush terror Von Miller at No. 2 means that the pressure on Bears tackles just went up another level. This is a potential Clay Matthews type that will be a major concern for JMarcus Webb and whomever is the other tackle probably not Chris Williams.

Carolina on everyones mind

Coach Ron Rivera, GM Marty Hurney and the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Now what happens?

The first thing is that Jimmy Clausen is likely to remain the starting quarterback. Not for long perhaps, but Clausen out of Notre Dame was a second-round pick last year and is not the stiff that his stats were with an abysmal team. What he gives Carolina and Newton is a little time, because Newton is not NFL-ready right now and if Newton is smart, which he clearly is, hell learn.

And for Clausen, the situation is anything but the end of a career. When the San Diego invested a high No. 1 pick in Philip Rivers, the quarterback already with the Chargers was Drew Brees.

Enough said.

Cullin it out

Barring a court ruling from St. Louis, teams are due to get a clarified set of rules on Friday regarding player transactions. That means free agency and if history is any indication, the Bears will strike quickly to get done what they want to do.

The first free-agency priority is expected to be Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, a fit at either end or tackle but projected to be the replacement for Tommie Harris at the three-technique.

Why this looms as important on an April Thursday night is that the Bears do not have to rely exclusively on the draft for defensive line help, whether Jenkins, Seattles Brandon Mebane or whomever. The likelihood of the Bears going offense at No. 29 just went up a little more.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

Desert foxes?

Len Pasquarelli at The Sports Xchange reports sentiment is floating around that the Arizona Cardinals have an understanding with quarterback Marc Bulger, currently with Baltimore but due to be a free agent whenever the market opens.

If this is the case, or if the Cardinals believe they can get something done with a Bulger, Donovan McNabb or whomever, it projects to take them out of the hunt for a Blaine Gabbert and points them strongly in a direction of cornerback Patrick Peterson from LSU. Arizona will go for the best player available, which is likely to be one of either Peterson or Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

But ESPNs Todd McShay laid out myriad scenarios circulating through NFL cities, and a buzz was that the Broncos were leaning toward Miller instead of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Trades are always in the talking stages, although how many if any ultimately take place in a year when no current NFL players can be included in deals yet, remains to be seen.

As the hours before the draft tick away, specific team situations come more sharply into focus, with the implications those have on draft directions...

Buffalo wings it?

The Buffalo Bills at No. 3 have multiple needs (thats usually why you in fact are drafting third-overall), which gives them the option of taking the true best player available. Because if youre coming off a 4-12 year and havent had a winning season since 2004, you almost by definition dont currently have a best player so you might as well get one when you have the chance.

The Bills can throw the draft into at least brief chaos by taking Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. But while Ryan Fitzpatrick is not in imminent danger of Pro Bowl inclusion, Fitzpatrick also finished last season with a passer rating of 81.8 with 25 TD passes and 16 interceptions on a really bad team...

Gabbert watch

Blaine Gabbert becomes a very intriguing figure as the top 15 picks unfold. If Buffalo goes for one of the elite defensive players left by Carolina and Denver (DT Marcell Dareus, LB Von Miller, CB Patrick Peterson) as expected, Gabbert projects to fall through Cincinnati at No. 4, and then personnel chief Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals have a decision on whether Gabbert is indeed the franchise quarterback that they lost when Kurt Warner was finished.

And if Arizona passes (figuratively) because of Peterson in particular still being available, then Gabbert is still waiting. The Cleveland Browns arent taking him, with Colt McCoy in place. The 49ers may not be satisfied with Alex Smith under center but Jim Harbaugh was himself a quarterback and the chance to add an elite cornerback like Prince Amukamara from Nebraska may be too good to pass up.

Gabbert is still waiting.

Tennessee is a virtual lock to bring in DT Nick Fairley to play for Tracy Rocker, his D-line coach at Auburn. Dallas wont take a QB at No. 9 (Tony Romos number, coincidentally).

Now comes Mike Shanahan and Washington, which desperately wants a franchise quarterback.

Gabbert? Probably. But this is quite a tumble for a player, a quarterback, who a month ago was nearly the consensus No. 1-overall pick of the draft.

QB concerns up North

The Minnesota Vikings are determined to address a train-wreck situation at quarterback, now that coach Leslie Frazier has determined that Joe Webb is not the long-term solution. Donovan McNabb may be an answer but the labor impasse has that in limbo, meaning that right now he cant be brought in at the time of the offseason when you absolutely want your quarterback working in his new system.

That uncertainty, plus the reality that McNabb is a bridge player at this point in his distinguished career, make selecting anything but a quarterback a major surprise...

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.

Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

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Do the math: Ryan Pace's draft 'cloud' allows for a tantalizing trade-down possibility

Ryan Pace had his annual strategically-cagey press conference on Tuesday, with the Bears’ general manager not wanting to reveal anything about his plans 48 hours before the NFL Draft begins. 

But there was at least one morsel of information dropped by Pace that could be useful in looking ahead to Thursday. 

Pace said the Bears have eight players in their “cloud” who they’d be comfortable taking with the eighth overall pick. None of those players are quarterbacks, of course, but there will be no fewer than two quarterbacks taken in the first seven picks (by the Cleveland Browns at No. 1/No. 4 and New York Jets at No. 3). And there’s a strong possibility three quarterbacks will be off the board in the first seven picks, too, either by virtue of the New York Giants or Denver Broncos taking one or because a team (like the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals) traded up to take their guy. 

So here’s a scenario: The Browns, Jets and Broncos all draft quarterbacks, leaving one of the consensus top four players at that position (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield) on the board when the Bears’ pick comes around at No. 8. If three quarterbacks are off the board, then most likely four of the eight players in Pace’s cloud are also taken after seven picks. 

The Bills didn't trade their left tackle to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up from pick No. 21 to No. 12 to not draft a quarterback, not after dealing away Tyrod Taylor and signing A.J. McCarron a year after making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. In short: It would be a failure for the Bills’ front office if they didn’t draft a quarterback in the first round. 

So if we get to the Bears’ pick at No. 8, and the Bills haven’t moved up and drafted a quarterback yet, here’s where the trade-down possibility comes into play for Pace. If he were to move down to the No. 12 pick, and the Bills took a quarterback at No. 8, that would mean at least four quarterbacks would be off the board by the time the Bears would pick at No. 12. 

And that would mean that at least one of those eight players who Pace would be comfortable selecting with the eighth overall pick would be available at No. 12. Maybe the Miami Dolphins take a quarterback, too — Lamar Jackson would presumably be their guy — with the No. 11 pick, meaning two of those eight are on the board. 

“I think, especially with the quarterback situation this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some movement because of the quarterbacks in the draft,” Pace said. “I think there’s more trading that’s going on now. I don’t know if it’s a new wave. Sometimes with these trades and you have relationships with these other GMs, there can be win-win scenarios. There’s always this fear that someone is going to get the short end of the stick. Well, if you’re thorough with your research, and they are too, there can be win-win scenarios in these trades.”

A lot would have to break right for this scenario to play out, of course. The Bills could opt to trade up with the Browns (No. 4), Broncos (No. 5), Indianapolis Colts (No. 6) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7) to limit their risk in getting burned in finding their quarterback of the future. 

There could be four quarterbacks taken in the first four picks, too, which would limit the Bears’ trade-down opportunities but ensure half of Pace’s draft “cloud” is still there when he goes on the clock. The Bears could see that situation as an opportunity to draft one of the top four players on their draft board despite having the No. 8 pick. 

“If four quarterbacks go in front of us, I’m all for it,” Pace said at the league meetings last month. “I think you see the value of that position right now when you see people posturing to get up in the draft and get a quarterback. It’s critical. … So us personally right now, we’re all for as many quarterbacks going.”

Pace has traded up in the first round in each of his last two drafts to pick a guy on which there was conviction and a consensus (Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky). But the math makes sense for him to trade down, if the possibility is there, and still draft a guy he likes while adding picks for Friday and/or Saturday. 

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

Speaking of players’ draft traits, what about those of Ryan Pace?

The days/weeks/months leading up to the NFL draft are all about players’ traits – size, speed, arm length, arm strength/throwing, arm strength/lifting and so on. Those ultimately determine whom is drafted where and by whom.

 

But what about the “traits” of the selectors, one selector in particular: Bears GM Ryan Pace?

 

Borrowing James Bond’s standard of measure – “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action” – the fact that Pace has now directed three drafts allows viewing him through the Bond prism.

 

And three particular Ryan “traits” begin to come into sharper focus when the camera is pulled back to look at the bigger Pace picture.

 

 

Subterfuge

 

Last year Pace didn’t even tell his head coach that the Bears were going to get Mitch Trubisky with their No. 1 pick. The plan was always to land a quarterback; Pace’s decision on which one surprised more than a few people even at Halas Hall.

 

But Pace isn’t exactly an anomaly. Over the years, NFL teams have become increasingly secretive in its handling of draft information. Pre-draft get-togethers typically produced any number of “We really like….” declarations regarding particular players. Those statements found their ways into the informational mainstream, which produced situations where opposing teams used that information to jump ahead of the Bears to snag a player targeted by the Bears.

 

So “this time of year I think it’s OK to be a little boring in these moments,” Pace said, laughing.

 

 

A “ceiling” guy

 

NFL personnel execs loosely fall along two general lines: the ones who gamble on a player’s upside (his “ceiling”) and those who factor in a bigger safety component in evaluating a prospect (his “floor”). And obviously there are similar elements in most execs.

 

Jerry Angelo was a “floor guy,” wanting to minimize the risk in a No. 1 pick even if it meant doing without a little upside. Pace is more “ceiling guy,” inclined to gamble more on projection, what a player could become. That was apparent even in some of his free-agent signings. Quarterback Mike Glennon was signed for his upside. So was tight end Trey Burton this year.

 

Now consider his high draft picks:

 

Wide receiver Kevin White, one huge (109 rec., 10 TD’s) college season, taken No. 7 overall.

 

Edge rusher Leonard Floyd –  productive all-around player at Georgia but a too-light 231 pounds. Trade up from 11th to 9th.

 

Trubisky – one good college season, 13 starts, 68% completions, 30 TD/6 INT. Trade up from 3rd to 2nd to select.

 

Tight end Adam Shaheen – small-college product, never faced top competition, taken 2nd round.

 

“You see a lot of physical traits and talent, and you're projecting how much better they can get,” said Pace, who characterized himself as both a ceiling and floor guy. “That's part of the art of doing this. I think a lot of that goes into the work by all of us — by our scouts and our coaches — and also knowing the football makeup they have. We talk about the desire to get better, their passion and their love for the game.

 

“If they have all the physical traits but they don't have that desire, then it might not work. But if they do have that desire, they do have that passion, those are the kinds of players we want because we have more faith they'll improve.”

 

 

Creative flex

 

The Bears have bordered on stodgy too many drafts. Contrasted to that, Pace’s draft aggressiveness has been amply chronicled. Pace has made seven draft day trades, four in 2016 and three last season. Pace’s four trades during the 2016 draft were the most by the team since 2000.

 

Pace traded up in each of the last two drafts to select clearly targeted players. The Bears hadn’t made a deal involving their first-round picks since giving away two of them in a trade for Jay Cutler in 2009. More noteworthy, the Bears before Pace had rarely made a move UP in a first round and in fact were far more inclined to trade out of their No. 1 slots.

 

Not necessarily to be viewed as organizational timidity, but besides the Cutler trade, they’d given Buffalo their No. 1 in 2006, going all the way out of the first round. They’d traded out of No. 4-overall in 2003, down to 14 and 22. They gave away their 1997 No. 1 in a trade for Rick Mirer.

 

Pace doesn’t shrink from the moment. "When we identify a guy that we like, and there's a unified vision in the building on a player that we want,” he said, “I don't think we're ever afraid to go up and get that guy."

 

But he also traded down in second rounds of each of the last two drafts. He in fact traded down twice in the 2016 second round, adding picks each time and still winding up with rookie O-line starter Cody Whitehair. Pace's second-round picks (Whitehair, nose tackle Eddie Goldman) have been better than his No. 1’s.

 

“In this [GM] chair, you're taking a lot of information,” Pace said. “We can have 10 to 12 reports on one player. You're taking all that information in. I have a really good feel now for, like, ‘OK, this coach or this scout's kind of a high grader; this guy's a low grader,’ taking it all in.

 

“Being aggressive when you need to be aggressive. Make a move if you need to make a move. And that can go the other way, too. The last two years, we've traded back in the second round and accumulated some more picks. That helped us a lot last year getting some good players. So, I think not being afraid to move around in the draft and use that to your advantage.”