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.

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

Is Adam Shaheen finally starting to live up to his potential in Bears offense?

"Where is Adam Shaheen?"

It was a fair question and one that was uttered often by Bears fans through the first 11 weeks of the season.

The rookie tight end — a second-round pick (45th overall) this spring — had little impact on the 2017 season through 10 games, playing only around a quarter of the team's offensive snaps.

But Sunday's loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions marked the best game of Shaheen's young career. He caught all four of his targets for 41 yards and a touchdown.

That total doubled his season yardage line, and his four catches were more than he had in the first nine games combined (three). Two of those three catches — and 39 yards — came in the Week 10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, one game prior to Sunday's.

He even made an impact as a blocker, too:

"These last two weeks, playing with the starters has been a big confidence-builder for me," Shaheen said. "Getting those early catches. Hopefully continue to build on it."

Shaheen has gotten his chance to show what he can do in a Bears offense that's missing veteran tight ends Zach Miller (out for the year with a knee injury) and Dion Sims (who missed Sunday with an illness), and he's taken a common sports trope — "next man up" — to heart.

"I feel like I've gotten better every game in the receiving role," Shaheen said. "Taking advantage of the opportunities I've been given.

"The more you rep it in games and the more you're actually out there running around, catching the ball, you build up some confidence."

And with that confidence comes more comfort in the offense and on the NFL gridiron for a raw tight end who played Division-II football at Ashland.

It's a cycle the Bears need to continue as the year moves on and delves into a focus on the future with the 2017 playoffs an extreme longshot at this point.

Even with Shaheen's big game and a clear rapport developing with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the rookie tight end wasn't in the game on the final drive when the Bears were running their two-minute drill.

Why?

It still comes down to how raw Shaheen is, along with fellow inexperienced players (running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen).

"In a two-minute situation, not everybody on the team knows all of that," Bears coach John Fox said. "We have Adam Shaheen, we have Mitchell Trubisky, we have Tarik Cohen — they are playing in their eighth games in their NFL careers, as rookies.

"They have a lot on their plate as it is, and they can't do everything. They're definitely good, young players, for sure."

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

View from the Moon: Bears 'siestas' continue, leaving progress difficult to find, but it’s there ... somewhat

Consider this a connect-the-dots exercise, with the end game being to figure out what the overall picture is. Because the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions was many things, a couple actually very good, but too many of them kinda-to-very bad...

The overarching point of the 2017 season, per senior Bears management, is progress. Not just on the part of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who had a fourth solid performance in six NFL starts; but on the Bears as a whole. A week after showing anything but, the Bears showed something that could masquerade as progress.

How real is it? The Bears in the past eight days have given few reasons to trust it.

Because while coming close against a respectable Lions (6-4) team counts for something, the Bears are still 3-7 at the end of the day and 3-13 under John Fox against the NFC North – a division winning percentage of .188, which would be lower than that of the Marc Trestman Bears (.250), who managed to win their three NFC North games in two seasons vs. Fox’s three.

As concerning perhaps, the loss left the Bears 3-9 under Fox in games decided by three or fewer points, the hallmark of what simplistically can be ID’d as “losing” teams.

“We’ve had a lot of close games, and it’s just finding a way to close those out,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to work towards that, and figure it out for sure.”

What makes “progress” difficult to see, though, is that the Bears do not play like a team either coached to be or with the proven ability to play at a professional level all the time. Teams with that problem typically make coaching changes at the ends of seasons, since the conclusion usually is that the talent can be there, just that the coach in hand, fair or not, can’t get it out of the roster.

“We’ve shown spurts and moments, like we have for some time now,” Fox summarized. “But we have lulls. We have siestas. We just don’t do it for 60 minutes. ... People have ups and downs. Well, we’re in a stage as a football team where we have those moments in games. We have to do a better job of coaching it and we have to do a better job of executing it in games.”

The Green Bay Packers were one kind of measuring standard last week, and the 3-7 Bears were embarrassed against a foundering team that had been soundly beaten by the Lions the week before the Bears faced them, and buried 23-0 at home Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Lions were a different kind of quiz, a real offense putting up more than 27 points per game. The Bears allowed the Lions their requisite 27 points (seven of those coming on a touchdown return of a Trubisky fumble), but put up nearly 400 yards and 24 points of their own in a game that ended on a Connor Barth missed field goal from 46 yards, Barth’s fifth miss in 11 attempts from beyond 40 yards.

(Barth’s miss may have been particularly bitter for Fox, after watching Detroit’s Matt Prater win the game from 52 yards – the same Matt Prater who kicked for Fox in Denver in 2011 when Fox’s Broncos beat the Bears in the Marion Barber Game with Prater field goals from 59 yards to tie with 3 seconds left, and from 51 yards to win in OT.)

“All these games in the NFL – they’re hard games – but when you have a game like this that you should win, you just have to win those games,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright. “I think with us, when we win one of those close games, it will help us get over the edge and we’ll start stacking them up on top of each other.”

Then again...

The Bears seemed to lose their compass in the third quarter, with one rushing yard on four attempts. But they finished with 222 yards and the way they amassed them mattered: 125 and a touchdown for Jordan Howard; 53 for Trubisky, a number of them on designed runs; and 44 plus a TD for Tarik Cohen – all combining to average 7.4 yards per carry.

Bigger picture, the Bears were in the position of having at least a chance to tie because Trubisky managed to drive the Bears 55 yards in the final 1:32 from the Chicago 17 to the Detroit 28. This would constitute something shiny lying there in the mud, and make no mistake: This is a big deal.

To put Trubisky in some kind of context: Rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman, the fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills, replaced Tyrod Taylor in the Bills starting lineup Sunday, against a Los Angeles Chargers defense allowing opponents to complete more than 64 percent of their passes. Peterman completed 11 of 14 in the first half, about 79 percent. But – five of the Peterman “completions” were to Chargers.

DeShone Kizer has been in and out and back in the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns, suffering through a rookie season with one of the worst teams arguably in NFL history. But – Kizer, with 12 interceptions vs. four TD passes, is one of the reasons the Browns are in various “worst ever” discussions.

Trubisky threw 30 passes without an interception on Sunday, and 65 without a pick over his past two games. He’s thrown 145 NFL passes with just two interceptions, an INT rate of 1.4 percent that ranks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan and a list of others. Critics of his development can have their points, but the kid has learned ball security at an early NFL age even while averaging 32.4 pass plays per game.

The next step is getting his team over the top, because he is still completing just 53.1 percent of his passes and was missed badly on a number of throws on Sunday. His deft TD pass to tight end Adam Shaheen in the first half was NFL-perfect (where his guy or nobody catches it), but his throw low and behind running back Benny Cunningham at the goal line in the first quarter forced the Bears to settle for a field goal in a game decided ultimately by three points.

Trubisky clearly gets the big picture, too, pointing the thumb and not any fingers. He paused before answering a question about his rookie learning curve:

“I think adversity is a great teacher,” he said. “Overcoming the struggle is a great teacher. There’s no rookie excuse. You don’t get a freebie because you’re a rookie.

“My teammates trust me and they have confidence in me, so I’m preparing as I should. Coaches have me prepared and my teammates have my back. New situations are going to arise every time, but there are no excuses. I’m just looking at these opportunities as chances to overcome, and not dwell on it.”