Super Bowl 50: Ron Rivera compares Panthers' offensive line to '85 Bears


Super Bowl 50: Ron Rivera compares Panthers' offensive line to '85 Bears

Earlier this week, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera noted the comparisons and unsung importance between his team's offensive line and that of the 1985 Bears.

The Super Bowl XX champs had two first-round picks as bookends (Jimbo Covert and Keith Van Horne), a fourth-rounder and an eighth-round selection at guard (Tom Thayer and converted defensive lineman Mark Bortz) and the undrafted Jay Hilgenberg at center.

[MORE SUPER BOWL 50: For Ron Rivera, dumped in Chicago, living well is the best revenge]

The Panthers' offensive line has been incredibly good as well, considering where some of its members have come from. After winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, former first-rounder Michael "Blind Side" Oher had such a miserable 2014 in Tennessee that the Titans simply cut him in 2015. He was there for anyone's taking until signing a two-year, $7 million deal with the Panthers. Left guard Andrew Norwell was an undrafted free agent from Ohio State. Center Ryan Kalil was a second-round pick in 2007 and right guard Trai Turner was selected in the third round in 2014. Right tackle Mike Remmers went undrafted in 2012, is on his fifth team since, but has been starting since late last season.

The credit goes to Panthers' offensive line coach John Matsko for piecing the unit together, leading the NFL's No. 2 rushing offense. He's assisted by Ray Brown, just an eighth-round pick himself, whose 20-year playing career included a Super Bowl title with the Washington Redskins.

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Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and his talented group found a way to pressure and exploit Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' offensive line in the AFC Championship. But Cam Newton won't quite be the sitting duck Brady was (which certainly helps that Carolina offensive line), so one of the fun things to watch in Super Bowl 50 will be whether Phillips can dial up enough pressure and confusion, as many expect the Panthers defense to do against a virtually immobile Peyton Manning, who'll need to get rid of the ball quickly.

What do the Bears have in their running backs? They’re about to find out

USA Today

What do the Bears have in their running backs? They’re about to find out

The Bears were pleased with what they saw from their overhauled running back room during non-padded OTA and minicamp practices during the spring, but consider that an incomplete evaluation. 

David Montgomery, in particular, impressed with his quickness, athleticism and route running. Nothing Mike Davis showed dissuaded the team from believing in the free agent signing’s untapped potential. Positive things were said about seventh-round pick Kerrith Whyte Jr. and second-year undrafted free agent Ryan Nall. 

The only running back returning from 2018’s unit is Tarik Cohen. But while Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy and the Bears’ talent evaluators did their homework on their new players, they won’t really get to see what they have until the pads come on in Bourbonnais (Nagy expects the first padded practice of training camp to be Sunday). 

“I know (Montgomery) kept asking coach, ‘when do we put the pads on?” Pace said. “And so we’re to that point. One of his greatest strengths is his contact balance and his ability to break tackles, and now we’re at a point where that can be showcased.”

It’s one thing for a rookie to stand out during OTAs and minicamp. Tight end Adam Shaheen did two years ago, bodying up NFL-caliber defenders to make some impressive plays in those non-padded practices. But he faded when pads came on in training camp and didn’t play a significant role in 2017’s dour offense. 

The Bears believe Montgomery’s ability to break tackles — he forced the most missed tackles among FBS running backs in 2018 with 99, per Pro Football Focus — will translate to the NFL, giving their ground game a dimension it didn’t have in 2018. Jordan Howard avoided 22 tackles on rushing attempts last year, 28th in the NFL and nearly half the total of Kareem Hunt. Hunt appeared in 11 games (five fewer than Howard) before the Kansas City Chiefs released him after video surfaced of him pushing and kicking a woman; Montgomery’s style of play has favorably been compared to Hunt’s.  

As for Davis, Pace said: “I think I feel like he’s a little bit under the radar right now. Mike’s had a great offseason and we’re fortunate to have him. That’s a strong room — we talk about the receivers, we feel the same way about the running back room. And Mike Davis is a real important part of that.”

The Bears feel like Montgomery, Davis and Cohen leading their running back room will allow them to be less predictable and more efficient on offense. Last year, Howard carried the ball two-thirds of the time he was on the field, while he was targeted with a pass on just six percent of his plays. Yet no skill position player (except Mitch Trubisky, of course) was more involved in the Bears’ offense last year — 33 percent of the Bears’ total plays involved Howard. 

All three of the Bears’ top running backs in 2019 will be expected to catch passes out of the backfield as well as running the ball with a blend of efficiency and explosiveness. We’ll begin to find out this week in Bourbonnais if Pace’s overhaul of that corner of his depth chart will produce the results the Bears’ offense needs. 

Confirmed: Vic Fangio is still grumpy as hell

USA Today

Confirmed: Vic Fangio is still grumpy as hell

Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is starting his first (overdue) season as an NFL head coach. 

It's his first time running the show, making the rules, etc. One particularly important rule that Fangio has emphasized to start the year? Music has no place on the football field! 

Fangio won't be playing music during practice because, as noted Grump Bill Belichick can attest to, if you're having fun, you're not getting better. Here's his rationalization: 

"There's no music in games. And when it comes to the point where we need to simulate crowd noise in practice, which we will do, it will be noise. It won't be music," said Fangio, via NFL Network's James Palmer. "Noise, by definition, sounds annoying. Music sounds nice."

He's not wrong - music DOES sound nice. That's about where he stops making much sense, though. 

Vic Fangio: still kinda grumpy!