Bears

Concerns about Leonard Floyd maybe shouldn't be so concerning

Concerns about Leonard Floyd maybe shouldn't be so concerning

Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up and out of the No. 11 pick in last month’s NFL draft and into, in some opinions, a supposed problem in the person of pass rusher Leonard Floyd. Multiple problems, actually, considering all the things “wrong” with Floyd.

Fortunately for the Bears, all of these flaws come with major qualifiers – “yeah, but…” things that render those flaws suspect at least, moot at best. And the yeah-but’s come, not from scouting reports, projections or other suppositions, but from the NFL itself.

Where’s the sack production?

Floyd put up just 4.5 sacks for Georgia last season, hardly the kind of numbers general managers trade up to get. Floyd finished his three Georgia seasons with 17 total sacks – the same total Von Miller posted in his junior season alone at Texas A&M on his way to being John Fox’s first draft choice (2011) in Denver.

“He’s shown that he’s a good pass rusher in college,” insisted defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He just doesn’t have the numbers to support that on a piece of paper. But a lot of that is due to the way [Georgia coaches] used him, too.”

Fangio was asked during this weekend’s rookie minicamp if he had ever coached anyone who hadn’t been an elite college pass rusher but became one in the NFL. Fangio said nobody came to mind, a concerning comment from one of the NFL’s top defensive coaches and one who’d coached rush-linebacker Aldon Smith as a rookie.

Yeah, but…

The fact is that more than a few of the NFL’s elite pass rushers only achieved “elite” status when they reached the NFL level. Surprisingly, Fangio was involved with one prominent example: Smith.

In one of the NFL’s greatest examples of immediate impact, Fangio was San Francisco defensive coordinator when the 49ers drafted Smith No. 7 overall in the 2011 draft. Smith’s career has derailed after an impressive start that saw him compile 42 sacks over his first 43 games – effectively one per game.

This after a final Missouri season that produced six sacks – decent but not spectacular for the player who then became the fastest player in NFL history to register 30 career sacks.

Jason Pierre-Paul totaled 6.5 sacks for the 13 games of his final season at South Florida: .5 sacks per game. When he broke into the New York Giants’ starting lineup his second season (2011), he more than doubled that with 16.5 sacks over 16 starts: 1.03 sacks per game. Injuries have undercut him but when he managed 16 starts in 2014, he totaled 12.5 sacks: .78 per game, still half-again his college rate.

J.J. Watt, taken in the No. 11 slot by Houston in his draft, had 11.5 sacks in the 26 games of his two defensive-end seasons at Wisconsin: a rate of .44 sacks per game, or one every 2.26 games. In the NFL Watt has amassed 74.5 sacks in 80 games: a rate of .93 sacks per game, or one every 1.07 games.

The kid is too skinny

Legendary New York Giants general manager George Young once dubbed the first 15 picks of the draft as "the Dance of the Elephants," because of the conventional wisdom of drafting size for the NFL game. The perceived problem with the Bears' drafting of Floyd is that they traded up within that top 15 and took perhaps the lightest-weight for his NFL position. No. 4 overall pick and running back Ezekiel Elliott, for instance, weighs 225 pounds but has it on a 6-foot frame, while Floyd's 240 stretches over six more inches of altitude.

No surprise then that the topic de jour with Floyd is his weight, which the Bears said would be in the 240’s and Fangio said would be something like 230-235. Clearly not big enough at the NFL level, or at least the NFL of George Young.

Plus, he has so much trouble keeping weight on naturally that the Bears have cooked up a reminder-alarm program that uses his cell phone to prod him to eat.

Yeah, but…

Von Miller was 245 pounds coming out of Texas A&M, generously listed at 250 now. Plus, he’s a smurf at 6-3, nowhere near big enough to heft a Super Bowl MVP trophy… oh, wait, never mind.

Kalil Mack (15 sacks) finished second to Watt last season. At 6-3, 247 pounds.

For historical sake: When Richard Dent came to the Bears in the 1983 draft, he was a puny 228 pounds, principally because of dental problems that made eating a miserable experience. The Bears invested in corrective dental work, Dent at 6-5 went up to 265 pounds and then on to Canton and the Hall of Fame.

What Dent learned was leverage, how to keep his body at arm’s length and odd angles from blockers, and the ability to keep tackles from getting good sets and squaring up with him. The success or failure of Floyd projects to trace to far more than his weight.

“[Floyd] has got length, so that can help him ward off people from getting into his body,” Fangio said. “He’s gonna have to be quick and sudden with his take-on. He’s not going to be able to wrestle people as much.

“But so much of whether you win or lose on a block happens early in the down; it doesn’t happen late in the down. We’re just going to have to make sure he’s technique sound and being quick and explosive and decisive with his take-on.”

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

As the Bears set their foundation for training camp during OTAs this month, one part of that is beginning to identify each player’s strengths and weaknesses on which to build in Bourbonnais. 

Designing an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths was one of the reasons why Ryan Pace hired Matt Nagy, who then hired Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Easy is the wrong word — but it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bears to not build an offense around their second-picked quarterback. 

But as Nagy and Helfrich are installing that offense during OTAs and, next month, veteran minicamp, they’re also learning what Trubisky’s weaknesses are. And the one Helfrich pointed to, in a way, is a positive. 

“Experience,” Helfrich said. “I think it’s 100 percent experience and just reps, and that’s kind of what I was talking about was knowing why something happened. As a quarterback, he might take the perfect drop and be looking at the right guy in your progression, and that guy runs the wrong route or the left guard busts or something. The defense does something different or wrong, even. And trusting that is just a matter of putting rep on top of rep on top of rep and being confident.”

It'd be a concern if the Bears thought Trubisky lacked the necessary talent to be great, or had a lacking work ethic or bad attitude. Experience isn't something he can control, in a way. 

This isn’t anything new for Trubisky. His lack of experience at North Carolina — he only started 13 games there — was the biggest ding to his draft stock a year ago; while he started a dozen games for the Bears in 2017, the offense was simple and conservative, designed to minimize risk for Trubisky (and, to be fair, a sub-optimal group of weapons around him). 

But even if Trubisky started all 16 games in an innovative, aggressive offense last year, he’d still be experiencing plenty of things for the first time. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made this point back in September that still resonates now with regard to Trubisky:

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks,” Roethlisberger said. “In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

So the challenge for Nagy and Helfrich is to build an offense that accentuates Trubisky’s strengths while managing his lack of experience. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles succeeded in those efforts last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

For Helfrich, though, one of Trubisky’s strengths — his leadership qualities — are already helping mitigate his need for more experience. 

“He’s still in the mode of learning and doing things out here,” Helfrich said. “We might have run one play 10 times against 10 different defenses, you know? And so his response to every one of those 10 things is brand new. And so, you see his reaction to some of those is good. Some of those things you want to improve upon and then keep your chest up and lead because we need that.”
 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.”