Bears

View From the Moon: Jumping into the draft

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View From the Moon: Jumping into the draft

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011
12:22 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
It is never too soon to start thinking about the draft.

ESPN guru Mel Kiper, in his first mock draft last week, IDd Texas cornerback Aaron Williams as the Bears first pick at No. 29. With the age of Charles Tillman, the lack of size in Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore, and the shaky play of Zackary Bowman, thats addressing a key need area.

Best guess here, though, is that Angelo and Ruskell hold to their base course and go line, probably offense. One big reason is that while Mel develops in-depth grades on players and Williams rates that slot at this point, Angelo believes that you frequently have to reach for offensive linemen. There are 160 of those jobs in the NFL and not enough talent in the annual pipeline to fill those with top players.
Team-building

Jim Finks anchored his team-building around staffing the offensive tackles with top picks (witness No. 1s on Dennis Lick and Ted Albrecht in successive years, then Keith Van Horne and Jim Covert when injuries took away those first two), and then the quarterback.

In a similar vein, Angelos philosophy is that you build out from the ball; the closer to the ball, meaning the lines, the more critical is the need to be strong, both physically and in quality.

And you address quarterback, running back and pass-rushing defensive lineman as your franchise players. Those Angelo has secured with Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Julius Peppers (all acquired by different means), so now the lines need attention after a time in which Angelo has not gone line with a pick higher than in the third round since 2008,

Ironically, given the difficulties up front these past two seasons, Angelos drafts going back through his time with the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Bears have nearly always involved selecting a lineman with the first or second picks.

Look for that to continue.

Angelos pattern

The picks have not been overly distinguished. Tommie Harris is the only of his linemen picks to reach a Pro Bowl. But consider:

2002 OT Marc Colombo (29th overall); third pick: G Terrence Metcalf, 3rd rd;

2003 DE Michael Haynes (14th overall);

2004 DT Tommie Harris (14th overall); DT Tank Johnson, 2nd rd;

2005 RB Cedric Benson (5th overall); WR Mark Bradley, 2nd rd;

2006 DBs Danieal Manning, Devin Hester, both 2nd rd;

2007 DE Dan Bazuin (2nd rd, after Greg Olsen 1st rd;

2008 OT Chris Williams (14th overall);

2009 DT Jarron Gilbert (3rd rd, first pick after trades);

2010 DE Corey Wootton (4th rd, second pick after S Major Wright).

One reason for leaving the offensive line lie fallow was the successful acquisitions through free agency: tackles Fred Miller and John Tait, guards Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza.

The Ruskell factor
The personnel department has been rebuilt at the top with the departures of Bobby DePaul on the pro side and Greg Gabriel overseeing college scouting.

In their place is Tim Ruskell, who shares Angelos draft philosophies from their years with Tampa Bay and who also has a history of line-building.

His first pick as head of the Seattle Seahawks was guard Chris Spencer and in the 17 Tampa Bay drafts with which he was involved, linemen were taken with the first picks 10 times.

In 1996 the Bucs took two defensive linemen in the first round; in 1997 they grabbed a tackle in the second round and more than once invested multiple mid-round picks in the offensive line in particular.
QB thinking

Sometimes from the outside its difficult to see how a system really makes that huge a difference in a quarterback. They all throw the same ball, line up in the same place, but somethings different.

Pittsburgh Steelers great Jerome Bettis (whom the Bears passed on in 1993 to draft Curtis Conway, by the way, as long as were starting to swing onto early approach for the draft) said on Wednesdays The Dan Patrick Show that Ben Roethlisberger warrants inclusion in that class with Brady and Peyton Manning.

The numbers dont really support that, but thats because its easy to be looking at the wrong numbers. Roethlisberger is going for his third Super Bowl win, at only age 28), which would tie him with Brady and further his lead over Mannings one.

Bettis observation on Roethlisberger is that hes in a system thats not built for him to throw the ball 40 times a game. Thats the point. Roethlisberger is eighth all-time in passer rating at 92.8, and that measure factors in interceptions heavily, which Roethlisberger doesnt throw and shouldnt, given the defense and level of run game behind him.

Staffing up

The Bears have brought back Kevin ODea as assistant special teams coach, the role he filled in 2006-07 with the Bears before moving on to the New York Jets for two seasons and the Hartford Colonials of the UFL.

ODea replaces Chris Tabor, who went to the Cleveland Browns as special-teams coordinator.

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?