Bears

Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

Evaluations will come, but Bears got players, traits, intangibles they wanted

And the grade for the Bears’ 2016 draft is… let’s wait at least until, as coach John Fox consistently says, the players get “on the grass.”

Collective bargaining rules prohibit real competition between offense, defense and special teams units. Five of the Bears’ top six picks were on defense, which aren’t allowed to hit the offensive guys until camp (and vice versa), and the sixth – second-rounder Cody Whitehair – is a guard, and linemen evaluations are really only worthwhile when pads come on.

But poor drafts undid two Bears general managers in the span of four years (Jerry Angelo after 2011, Phil Emery after 2014) and the evaluation process now moves from college campuses, bowl games and scouting events to NFL venues.

The Bears are in major need of GM Ryan Pace equalling or exceeding his first (2015) draft. His head coach thinks that’s happened.

“Obviously experience helps,” Fox said. “The more you do it, the better you get. Ryan’s got a great skill set and we’ve got a great relationship between the coaches and personnel. I think he does a tremendous job. I thought we had a tremendous draft a year ago and I anticipate this year being even better.”

Pace came to the Bears from a New Orleans Saints background heavy on the pro-personnel side. But one school of NFL thinking is that personnel evaluators with roots on the pro side are better suited to oversee drafts simply because their expertise is in seeing what NFL players look like.

Pace’s first draft netted starters at nose tackle (Eddie Goldman), center (Hroniss Grasu), running back (Jeremy Langford) and safety (Adrian Amos), plus theoretically wide receiver (Kevin White) but for a season-ending stress fracture to his left leg. Not all of those are guaranteed starting jobs this season because of the organization’s commitment to competition, but it was a better start than most recent Bears drafts.

Several key directions were evident within the nine picks made by Pace, coach John Fox and their staffs this extended weekend.

Defense, teams priorities

While the prime draft directive was best player available, the Bears moved around in the various rounds to suggest that they were targeting players, and most of them were on defense.

Of the Bears’ eventual nine picks, six were on defense. Of those, four were defensive backs. Among those are expected to be impact players on special teams, and if one wins a starting job the way Adrian Amos (fifth rounder) did last year, the 2016 draft stands to be special.

“You saw us struggle [on special teams] early in the season a year ago,” Fox said. “Getting to know your team, understanding how they react, the speed – trying to increase our team speed even to the deadline to start the season. We got better as the year went on and I think we’ll get better this year.”

QB-lite

Despite indications that the Bears liked some of the quarterbacks down in the mid-round range, they did not select a quarterback for the third time in the last four years. One scenario is that they would add a veteran backup, which they did with the signing of Brian Hoyer, who worked with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains as a Cleveland Brown, to a one-year deal.

“I like the idea of having an experienced backup there,” Pace said. “It’s important for that position and it just gives us security going forward. I think it’s key, like we’ve talked about in free agency, I love it when we have familiarity with these guys from coaches. I feel like it reduces some of the risk and some of the questions we may have. Dowell was passionate about this player and then watching the tape, I was to. I’m glad we got him in the mix.”

The Bears did trade two first-round picks to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler in 2009. But they have actually not drafted a quarterback higher than the fourth round (Kyle Orton, 2005) since 2003 when they took Rex Grossman in the first round.

With all of the draft choices (9) at their disposal going into this draft, the Bears made trades to move up or back for targeted players. None of them were quarterbacks.

Old guys

Not every pick will work out, but the Bears minimized risk in one area, taking college players with extensive resumes on tape, Pace’s stated standard of evaluation. Of Pace’s first eight picks, six of them were four-year college players, with only first rounder Leonard Floyd and fifth rounder Jordan Howard passing up their senior seasons for the NFL. Seventh-rounder Daniel Braverman missed his sophomore season due to injury but played the following two years and will turn 23 in September.

“Some of these guys are three or four year starters,” Pace said. “I think it talks about the caliber of players they are. A lot of these guys are team captains. We talk about that. But really it’s just individual tape and who are the best guys when looking at the talent. But the fact these guys are multi-year starters, and team captains, that is significant.”

Competition stoked

Pace and the entire coaching staff has wanted intense competition, not simply for starting jobs, but also for roster spots. And that was created with more than just numbers of picks, but the quality.

No. 1 pick Floyd projects to take a job from season-end regulars and sack leaders Lamarr Houston or Willie Young, both of whom reportedly were shopped during the early rounds of the draft.

Despite signing interior linemen Ted Lawson and Manny Ramirez this offseason, and drafting center Hroniss Grasu in the 2015 third round, the Bears used a second-round pick on Whitehair. It will be an impossibility for Grasu, Lawson, Ramirez and Whitehair to all start. And that does not factor in Matt Slauson, one of the Bears’ best linemen as recently as 2014 but now clearly on the outside looking in.

“I’m not getting into that,” Fox said. “It’s a fluid process. But right now we’ve helped build competition on our football team.”

The use of a third-round pick on defensive end Jonathan Bullard improves the pass rush of the down-linemen portion of the 3-4. But that likely comes at the expense of Ego Ferguson, returning from knee surgery, and Will Sutton, a seven-game starter and all-purpose defensive lineman but who had zero sacks for his two Bears seasons.

Just as with the interior offensive line, linebacker signings (Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan) did no signal any end to serious competition. The Bears used the first of their three fourth-round selections on West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, whose abilities in coverage make him a threat to starters.

Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford impressed coaches enough that Matt Forte was not brought back. But the fifth-round pick spent on power running back Jordan Howard was not done for special teams.

‘Teams competition was addressed in part with the picks of two safeties and a cornerback in rounds 4-6. How much those additions challenge for starter jobs is one thing, but they were not picked up just to fill out a training-camp roster.

“The common trait with all these guys,” said Pace, “I would say is toughness and instincts, something we've emphasized and something we've drafted today for sure.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: How much will Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game?

Mark Carman, Scott Merkin and Chris Bleck join Kap on the panel. Jon Lester looks to get back on track against the Pirates? Should he still be the Cubs Game 1 starter in the playoffs?  Len Kasper joins Kap to discuss.

 

How much will Mitch Trubisky improve in his 2nd preseason game? And will Carlos Rodon end up being the White Sox’ best starter?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

How aggressive will the Bears' offense be? 'That's our attitude'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Matt Nagy provided a defining quote for his offense when a reporter observed that Mitch Trubisky was continuing to take shots downfield instead of checking down during practice. 

“That's never going to stop,” Nagy said. “Not in this offense.”

For a team that had neither the personnel nor scheme to be successful on offense over the last few years, that one quote felt like a breath of fresh air. Not in this offense would the Bears be conservative, plodding and predictable. What’s never going to stop is the aggressive mentality Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich have worked to instill in this group during the installation phase of preseason practices. 

“That’s our attitude every time we come out on the field, is to be aggressive, to go full speed and it’s to execute all our assignments,” wide receiver Anthony Miller said. 

Just because Trubisky has frequently hucked the ball downfield over the last few weeks of practice doesn’t mean this offense will go from one of the worst to one of the best in the NFL. There’s plenty of work still to be done, a large chunk of which falls on the shoulders of Trubisky. The coaching staff will begin paring things down next week, when a dress rehearsal of gameplanning begins leading up to Aug. 25’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

But while that week of gameplanning surely will lend itself to less reflexive aggression, that overall approach isn’t going away. Not when the Bears are confident in Trubisky and the multitude of weapons surrounding their franchise quarterback. In a more narrow scope, Nagy said Trubisky's arrow is pointing up after back-to-back days of quality practice against the Broncos here in Colorado. 

"It wasn't one good day, one bad day. It was two good days," Nagy said. "That's what his expectations are. That's what he knows that we want. He's done that and we're not gonna stop him." 

For some perspective, last year Trubisky only attempted 30 passes of 20 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, 41 percent of Trubisky’s attempted passes traveled 0-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage; drilling down further, 21 percent of his attempts were 0-10 yards and over the middle, representing most frequent “zone” to which he threw the football. Not all of those were check-downs, of course, but plenty of them were. Only nine percent of Trubisky’s throws traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. 

This was, of course, partly a personnel issue — Josh Bellamy was the most-targeted receiver on deep balls (eight), while guys like Dontrelle Inman (six), Kendall Wright (four), Deonte Thompson (three), Markus Wheaton (three) and Tre McBride (three) weren’t reliable downfield targets, either. But then again, Tarik Cohen was only targeted twice on deep balls — the first one, Cohen had a step on an Atlanta Falcons linebacker, but Mike Glennon’s pass was slightly under thrown an broken up in the end zone; the other was a 70-yard completion from Trubisky against the Carolina Panthers. 

The point being: Not only did the Bears lack the personnel to create mismatches and be aggressive, but the conservative nature of the offense meant there wasn’t much opportunity within it to do so, either. 

The Bears can be aggressive now in part because of the nature of the offense, and in part too because of the personnel they now have. If an opposing team wants to double anyone — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cohen, etc. — that’ll open up a mismatch somewhere else on the field, which lends itself to aggressiveness. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this offense (is), just, there’s a lot of answers,” Trubisky said. “We’re not always going to have the perfect play call for the perfect coverage or whatever. But there’s always somewhere to go with the ball, pass to run, run to pass, there’s a lot of kills, options — there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Said Burton, who’s put together a strong preseason to date: “That’s why (Ryan) Pace and Nagy brought all those guys here, to win the one-on-one matchups. I know we’re all looking forward to those whenever it’s our time, we gotta take advantage of it.” 

Exactly how aggressive the Bears’ offense will be will become apparent in the next week and a half. While the Bears will still hold some things back against Kansas City to keep them off tape, the overall tenor of the offense will be more readily apparent on Aug. 25 than in the team’s other preseason contests. 

And if all goes according to plan, not only will this offense be aggressive — it’ll be aesthetically pleasing to everyone watching, too. 

“We’re going to keep taking shots,” Trubisky said. “We’re going to keep being aggressive because it opens up everything else when you can hit those shots. The key is just to be consistent with them, hit them and then it really stretches the field and opens up the run game and opens up the intermediate throws as well. So we’re going to continue to be aggressive, which I love.”