Bears

NFL’s beauty pageant convening in Indy

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NFL’s beauty pageant convening in Indy

The NFL doesn’t have a swimsuit competition but it comes pretty close this time of year when the annual Scouting Combine convenes this week in Indianapolis, the next phase in football player evaluations (after in-season scouting and bowl games) on the way to the draft in Chicago during the last weekend in April.

For the next week, teams’ extended staffs (coaches, scouts, general managers, player personnel execs, medical evaluators) will subject the more than 300 invited college players to a football beauty pageant, complete with drills and exams measuring those players on times in the 40-yard dash, cone drills, shuttle drills, some position-specific work and more, in addition to private interviews with teams back in the team’s hotel rooms.

(Beauty pageants don’t give a definitive read on how each contestant will work out as a life fit for someone, but it’s one element, right? No? Hopefully for their sakes, the players all have their prepared remarks ready for individual-team interviews, when the question of personal goals may come up and the right answer, of course, is, “World peace.”)

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An athletic-wear company will have players shrink-wrapped in logo’d shorts and shirts, which put that logo front and center every televised stride of every 40. By informal consensus, Cam Newton won the equivalent of his year’s swimsuit competition, looking just terrific in his Under Armour ensemble as he charmed the mass interview on his way to becoming the No. 1-overall pick in the 2011 draft. (Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers probably didn’t base their Newton pick on the shrink-wrap competition, but Newton DID look the part, for those who are into that sort of thing.)

“That sort of thing” has been the way less and less, however, ever since Mike Mamula stunned the Combine with his ’95 performance in the various competitions, prompting the Philadelphia Eagles to invest the No. 7 pick overall, apparently figuring that anybody who looks that good in the NFL’s equivalent of a decathlon had to be at least pretty good at pro football, which Mamula really wasn’t.

Rondel Melendez showed up in Indy in ’99 out of Eastern Kentucky and ran a 40 in 4.24 seconds, still tied for the fastest official time ever at the Combine. But all that speed didn’t impress the way Mamula’s results did several years earlier, earning Melendez just a seventh-round call that draft from the Atlanta Falcons. A knee injury that preseason didn’t do Melendez, already a marginal player, any favors, and he wound up the subject of a Deadspin “where are they now?” piece last February.

Of course, legend has it that Bo Jackson ran an unofficial, i.e. hand-timed, 4.12 in ’86 and Deion Sanders a hand-timed 4.19, and they weren’t bad.

[MORE: Bears still facing three major, difficult roster decisions]

The evaluation process typically includes players taking the Wonderlic test, the NFL’s attempt at some sort of intelligence testing, although ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio makes an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a test not taken, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.

Increasing numbers of players have taken to attending special training operations designed to improve something as specific as time in the “40” or vertical jump, about the way high school students queue up for short-term courses to improve SAT or ACT scores.

Watching players settle into sprinter’s stances and blocks at the start line for the 40, you do almost wonder why the teams don’t ask players to run their 40’s out of three- or four-point stances, but again, at least it’s apples-to-apples if everybody does it.

The NFL doesn’t refer to the 40 track as the “runway.” But it could.

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

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USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20.