Random News of the Day: Fixing the Pro Bowl


Random News of the Day: Fixing the Pro Bowl

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
10:07 a.m.

By Joe Collins

The Pro Bowl is starting to resemble a routine Thanksgiving at Aunt Hildas: nobody really wants to be there (its kind of an unwritten obligation to show up in the first place), the smarter ones phoned in their I cant go excuse weeks ago, the day kindasorta revolves around football, theres a good chance the participants are slightly hung over from the night before and everyone just hopes they can get through the day and leave without getting hurt.

Woo hoo! Pro footballs All-Star Game! Yes!

The Pro Bowl has been the Glass Joe of organized football for quite some time now. OKOKmaybe its more Von Kaiser-like. But still, the game lacks a punch. Its abused even more by the players who dont show up. And it takes even more hits with the country club rules that are enforced (nothing says football like no blitzing). Finally, the game is kicked to the curb with in-game entertainment like(wait for it) The Goo Goo Dolls. Apparently Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 were unable to attend.

Sunday night's 55-42 track meet won by the NFC did not resemble football at times. It was like when one of your parents picked up a video game controller for the first time and tried to challenge you in a game of Madden. Im sure you would have put 42 points on the board before halftimejust like the NFC did to the AFC. Players were diving at feet, avoiding direct contact with the opposition and oleing players into the end zone. All-star football? Hardly. It didnt help matters that Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Matt Cassel combined to throw five interceptions.

Look, the game is an exhibition. Sports exhibitions are just thatexhibitions of talent, a display. Maybe its supposed to look like flag football at times. I know that the league has already Purrelled itself many times over, sterilizing the celebrations, helmet-to-helmet hitsetc. Maybe the NFL doesnt want to change the status quo and start enforcing real football for players who dont want to get hurt in the first place. I get that. But I think that, with a few tweaks here and there, the Pro Bowl can be put back on the map as a somewhat legitimate football experience. How about

Winners Get Paid, Losers Get Some Lovely Parting Gifts: Money is a great motivator. The members of the winning team currently walk away with 45,000. The losers get 22,500. Why not just combine the two figures and just round it up to 70,000 for each player on the winning team? I mean, just think of the car that could buy. The winners get cash and bragging rights. The losers walk away with a box of Tide.
Trick Plays Man-In-Motion Encouraged: Currently, Pro Bowl offenses have to use tight ends and there can't be any shifting. Hmm. Well, the game is already a showcase of offense (nobodys playing any defense anyway, right?), so why not hit the gas and liven it up a little? Julius Peppers as a man-in-motion? Done. Terrell Suggs in the backfield? Surewhy not. As long as the game doesnt get too gimmicky on offense, lets do it. As for the defense

The No Blitzing Light Has Been Turned Off: The NFL rules are clearly set up to protect the quarterback anyway, so turn the defenders loose. You'd think there would already be a gentlemens agreement or an unwritten rule not to spear the opposing quarterback in an exhibition game. But putting a little pressure on the QB or at least, showing a pulse-- would be nice.
Bonuses for every tackle: If you had a chance to watch the Pro Bowl Sunday night, the Alex Mack touchdown that ended the game looked like a bumper car ride at a county fair, minus the puke bucket. The defense tried to bump instead of tackle-- Mack as he rumbled down the sidelines for a touchdown. If you start throwing 500 incentives for every clean tackle, youd start to see the tomfoolery clean up pretty quick. Coach Bud Kilmer of Varsity Blues would love it. And I know that might sound a little contradictory to the trick plays entry up above, but hey: I'm just looking for equal contributions from both sides of the ball.

The devils advocate in all of this would say leave it alone. The game lit up the ratings nationally, with numbers biting at the heels of what is normally seen in the World Series. The 7.7 rating (12 share) was the highest numbers for the game since 2000. And Im surprised the numbers werent higher, given how the game was up against tumbleweeds on the sports calendar Sunday night. But it wouldnt hurt to boost the product. The NHL had captains picking teams during their All-Star weekend like it was 5th grade gym class. Maybe thats a start. Or maybe they combine elements of the Lingerie Bowl and the Pro Bowl. Talk about ratings, right? Whatever the case, the Pro Bowl needs to avoid turning into Thanksgiving: an event that induces people to pass out on the couch. Its definitely a fixer-upper project, but with a little TLC, it could be another dream house for the NFL.

Either that, or just get rid of it.

Or something like that.

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

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


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.”