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View from the Moon: Analyzing Angelo's comments

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View from the Moon: Analyzing Angelo's comments

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
9:01 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo spoke Thursday in a year-end look at a variety of issues. Rather than attempt to weave them into some sort of story, CSNChicago.com gives you the annotated questions and answers, plus some post-analysis from View from the Moon.

Q: What happened during the in-season off week to turn the season around?

JA: I think the coaches did a great job of assessing where we were at. We had a new offensive system. It takes a little time not only to learn the system but to learn the personnel and see what we can and cant do. Once our coaches had a little more time to evaluate our team and not focus on the upcoming opponent, they saw some things were werent prepared to do at the time.

I know the big buzz word was balance. We started to run the football more to create a better balance and good things started to happen from there. No more than that. Jay Cutler started to get more comfortable in the offense and with his role. You saw him starting to move around a little bit more too, which bodes well for him and the offense because he kept plays alive and started making plays downfield. So much of the offense is confidence and we started to gain some confidence and then we had some pretty good momentum going from that point.

VM: Angelo is being modest. He was intimately involved in the directional shift, on the same playbook page as Lovie Smith, and a strong voice for change. Not that Smith needed any backing for redirecting Mike Martz, but he had it.

Q: Assess the changes made last offseason to the coaching staff.

JA: We needed to make changes because things werent working. Change is never easy but the changes we made we felt would make us better not only through personnel but our staff as well. The rewarding thing is --- and difficult --- is how fast things would come together. We felt good about everybody we brought in from players to coaches. The unknown was how quickly it is going to come to fruition. In our case, it came together pretty quickly.

We didnt see it in preseason. I know a lot was made about that but you have to be realistic. With all the changes, we didnt look at that as an omen of what the season was going to be. We just knew it was going to take time and it did take some time. All in all, when you look back on it it was pretty remarkable. Again, that goes to our coaches and players.

VM: The changes of virtually the entire offensive staff, with new coordinator, line coach, tight ends coach and other assistants comes to a crashing end without that in-season correction. Things do take time, but if you simply keep doing the same unsuccessful thing, all you do is stay unsuccessful.

Q: Do you ever feel a little like gloating?

JA: One thing about you media guys, youve always kept me humble. (Smiles) Theres none of that. The only thing that I would like as we go in every year is to be a little bit more open minded and keep it on a level playing field. Right is what you see as we go through the season and not what you dont think were going to be but I understand that as well.

Theres a perception coming out the last two years and we werent getting it done. I know we lost some credibility and Im sure some people looked at us going into the year that we were going to be a hopeless team and it was only a matter of time when the ship would sink. But we never felt that way. We knew what we had to do. We were very confident that we could get it done. We had to have some things come together for us, but we felt very strongly about our plan, about our football team.

The one thing about this team that we had this year that maybe we havent had in other years that weve had success is this team really came together as a team. I dont see this team as a team of great talent. I see this as a team that played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through. I know the word resilient has been used several times to define the team and I think that really is a good word to define this team thus far and hopefully well continue that resiliency going into the playoffs.

Q: But Lovie Smith has this is the most talented team since he has been here.

JA: Im not minimizing that we dont have talent. But I remember in 06, I think we had nine Pro Bowlers. We had four this year. We have talent on the football team. You usually dont win without talent. But I saw this more as a team that really played well as a team, that hung tough and Ive always said this and will continue to say it: If you dont have a good locker room, you cant have a good team.

I see a lot of things done in free agency where you spend a lot of money out there, but money doesnt guarantee youre going to have a good team or a successful team. Its the chemistry of your football team and how you spend the money that determines the kind of football team youre going to have. I felt we did a pretty good job of that and then the team came together. And its all about the team.

I had this mantra: It starts with team and it ends with team. Anything else in between is losing football. And I felt like that was really what we saw this year and to me personally, I take great satisfaction in that.

Q: Is this then, the best team youve had since youve been here?
JA: I believe this is the best football team weve had because of the things this team had to go through. In years past, in 06, we got off to a fast start. I think we were 6-1, we had everything locked up for the most part. Our division wasnt near as tough as it was this year. But what we accomplished this year, personally I take the most satisfaction in the years that Ive been here because of how the deck was stacked against us. And again, I think that says a lot about our coaches, it says a lot about our players.

VM: If Angelo isnt doing a little gloating privately, its to his personal credit. But hes at a point in his career and life where hes really beyond any petty I told you so to outsiders. And the whole team thing is huge, as well as something you never know about for sure because its not something you can buy in free agency or draft. In this case the Bears did buy a gigantic piece of team in the form of Julius Peppers. When one of the best players in the NFL gets it, others will follow. Then you really have something.

The talented thing is interesting. The Bears have elite talent at some key positions: defensive end, linebacker, center, kick returner, arguably quarterback and running back (potentially). What they also have is superb second-tier talent in the likes of Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, the wide receivers, the defensive backfield in spots. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: How fortunate to find someone like Julius Peppers available?

JA: That happens once in a career. I remember when Green Bay picked up Reggie White. It was in the division and I know what a player like that can do to a football team. That was the missing link for Green Bay to do the great things they did that year and following years. Players like that come along, like I said, once in a career. You normally dont see that. You always have a plan going into free agency but when you see something that you consider special, you have to go after it and go after it hard.

VM: Comparing Julius Peppers to Reggie White isnt as much of a stretch as it might seem. If Julius Peppers plays in Philadelphia and then with Brett Favre in Super Bowls with Green Bay...

Q: Is there really a home field advantage when youre playing in Soldier Field, and is there thought to changing the surface given this team being built for a fast track?

JA: Anytime we play at Soldier Field its a home field advantage... The surface is the surface. Youve got two seasons here in Chicago. As the year goes on, the surface isnt going to be as good. The bottom line is that its a safe surface and thats what were fixed on, making sure we play on a safe surface... I dont see it being an advantage to anybody. Its the teams that play well that win...

I know Teds said that he wants to get more comfortable in the artificial turf research. Im not ruling it out and well do our due diligence with the research. Everybody wants a fast surface. So well go through that again and see what the results are based on the research and going forward.

VM: The surface is an issue. Itll always be an issue. And like he said, the team that plays better will win. As far as there ever being a change...

Q: Did the Bears get what they wanted with the free-agency signings of running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna?

JA: Nobody has a crystal ball to say for sure what kind of impact a player is going to have... But I felt that they answered the bell for us... We wanted to get back to a tandem running scheme. We wanted to get an experienced back to do that. Taylor had all the things that we look for that fit our scheme. Hed been in that role and all the signs aligned rightly for him. And I feel that he created competition for Matt and thats a good thing. So he met my expectations.

Brandon the same way. Its more what he does in his role. He wore a lot of hats for us. Hes a tight end, a fullback, you get him out into the routes not an easy guy to find when you draw up that job description. Because you dont see him making plays each week doesnt mean he doesnt have an integral role in our offense, and he does.

Im pleased with what weve gotten out of those players.

VM: That Angelo opened with a qualifier that says you cant always know sounded a little like he knows the free agency money spent here didnt get a whole lot. Taylor did give Forte some relief but at a far higher price than Adrian Peterson would have commanded as a returnee and with none of the special teams payoff that Peterson offered. And Forte is heading into a contract year himself now; not sure how much competition he needed for motivation.

Manumaleuna was a Martz gotta-have and there really isnt a lot to say about him. He is fined almost weekly for failing to make weight, which is a statement in itself, and impact players stand out more than he has.

Angelo may be pleased and 29 and 86 have played some parts in an 11-5 season. But integral seems like a stretch.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

How Bears are adjusting to loss of Eddie Goldman: 'We're missing a key part'

How Bears are adjusting to loss of Eddie Goldman: 'We're missing a key part'

Asked Thursday to give an example of how linebacker Roquan Smith can take his game to the next level, Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano pointed to the first two plays of the 2019 season, including a tackle for loss on the first snap.

“They run a play to our right, their left. He sees an opening. He shoots through and gets a tackle for loss,” Pagano said.

It was a great play. It showed Smith’s speed and recognition. It set the tone against the Green Bay Packers in a game the defense played very well.

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But often overlooked on plays like that is the “opening” Pagano referenced. Smith had an unblocked gap to run through because of his defensive linemen. And as Smith ran through the open hole, nose tackle Eddie Goldman was directly to the linebacker’s left, locked head-to-head with Packers center Corey Linsley. With the Packers’ entire offensive line moving to their left at the snap, the center would typically try to get inside leverage on the nose tackle and get to the linebacker at the second level. Linsley had no chance to touch Smith on this play, mainly because of Goldman’s quickness.

RELATED: Danny Trevathan considered opting out, explains why he didn't

“He has very good foot speed, which puts him in position to win blocks,” Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “He's got very good upper body strength and he stays in really good balance (too). Those are things that Eddie's been really good at. And because of all those traits, he's always in a dominant position. So when he takes on blocks, he's able to get off blocks.”

Or he’s able to stay on them, allowing his linebackers to run free. It just depends on what his job is on any given play. Those tend to be the moments that go unnoticed while his teammates make the tackle.

And that’s why the loss of Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 NFL season because of COVID-19 concerns, is such a significant loss.

“Man. Eddie’s a huge part. Huge, huge, role to this defense,” inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said Friday. “To have him not here, we’re definitely missing a key part. But I think the guys that they brought in are going to have to step up. They’re going to have to step up and it’s our job to push them each day to get to that level of play. Because it’s going to be a key factor.”

The trickle down effect of losing Goldman reaches the entire defense. Akiem Hicks will get even more attention than he usually does. It will be easier for opponents to focus on blocking the edges, where Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn await. And if Trevathan and Smith see more blockers in their face at the second level, it could lead to big runs up the middle that this Bears defense doesn’t typically allow.

The good news is, every player mentioned in that last paragraph is pretty good at football. The unit as a whole can rally to fill Goldman’s void.

“Our guys are more than willing to step up and pull the rope harder,” Bears outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “When you have a good player like Eddie, it’s hard to not see him out there, but it’s become part of our reality, just like all the rest of it.”

Football coaches are used to adapting and that has never been more important than in 2020. Fortunately for the Bears, Rodgers is one of the best defensive line coaches in the game and the team hasn’t even taken a single practice rep with pads on yet. At least the team knows the reality now, instead of losing a player like Goldman mid-season.

While no one can completely replicate what Goldman brings to the table, the Bears do have experienced players across their defensive line, starting with Hicks, who can line up anywhere and eat up multiple gaps if necessary. At this point, Bears fans know what he can do.

But what about the other options? Here’s a look a few key players:

Bilal Nichols – 6-3, 313

Nichols doesn’t trail too far behind Goldman in size and has been trained at the nose. After a very promising rookie season, Nichols took a small step back in 2019 while also dealing with injuries. Has the former fifth round pick reached his realistic ceiling or can he develop into a consistent starting caliber player? Nichols is still only 23 and we're about to find out.

“He’s done a tremendous job. Young, gifted, hungry,” Trevathan said Friday.

Roy Robertson-Harris – 6-5, 292

Already converted from outside linebacker, it’s asking a lot for Robertson-Harris to play the nose, but this will likely be a rotational plan and he does have versatility.

“He obviously has played a lot of three-technique or what we're calling inside-one technique in our sub defenses,” Rodgers said. “He has never played a nose position in base defense, but that's OK. You're playing in the A-gap once you get into your sub world.”

Translation: Robertson-Harris has experience playing the gap between the center and the guard, but he’s not your traditional two-gap defensive lineman who’s out there to eat up space. I wouldn’t expect Robertson-Harris’ role to change too much, but he’s still only 27 and could be an ascending player, so if he continues to improve, it will certainly help the line overall.

John Jenkins – 6-3, 327

Jenkins, 31, is suddenly a very important player for the Bears because he has the most experience at nose tackle and previously played in this defense in 2017.

“I think any time you bring a player back, you had a really good experience with him before,” Rodgers said. “He has size. He has length. He has power. He's got really good foot speed. He loves to play the game of football. And he's very coachable.”

Jenkins has been a rotational player for most of his career, but actually played a similar amount of snaps as Goldman last year and Rodgers has a knack for maximizing veteran talent.

Abdullah Anderson – 6-3, 297

A former undrafted free agent out of Bucknell, Anderson is now in his third year with the Bears and saw 106 snaps on defense last season. He’s still a developmental player, but Goldman’s absence provides a big opportunity for the young defensive tackle.

“He's got really good size, he's got really good quickness and he's got really good hands,” Rodgers said. “He's very sneaky with his hands. You saw some glimpses of him in the Indianapolis preseason game when he got to play a lot of snaps in a row.”

But those glimpses didn’t always translate to the regular season. It will be interesting to see how much the limited offseason impacts Anderson as he’ll have a limited window on the field in training camp to prove himself.

Brent Urban – 6-7, 300 

Urban has never played nose tackle, but is now getting trained there, according to Rodgers. The 29-year-old veteran was claimed off waivers from Tennessee in the middle of last season and acclimated himself well to Pagano’s defense. At 6-7, Urban probably won’t translate well to the nose tackle position, but he does provide dependable veteran depth elsewhere on the line, which will be important.

“At the end of the day, what you'd like to have is the best two, three, four guys out there on the field that you could possibly put out there with the ability to substitute when you need to and not have any drop-off,” Rodgers said. “So we're going to continue to train everybody at every position, and we just have some options right now, especially at this part of camp.”

Typically, the Bears would already be a week into padded practices in training camp. Instead, they have to wait until Aug. 17 to put the pads on. At that point, they’ll essentially have three weeks of competition before jumping into game-week to prepare for the Detroit Lions.

And while the defensive lineman use that abbreviated time to compete, Trevathan and Smith will get used to life without Eddie Goldman in front them.

“Me and Ro just need to adjust our game a little bit to get a feel for those guys,” Trevathan said. “So it’s just to get that little vibe. I’ve played a little bit with them.”

He's about to play a lot with them.

 

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Bears rookie watch: 5 early thoughts about 2020 draft class, and Ledarius Mack

Bears rookie watch: 5 early thoughts about 2020 draft class, and Ledarius Mack

Bears coaches, over the last few weeks, got a better sense of what kind of players and people they have in 2020’s crop of rookies. While practices don’t begin until the week of Aug. 17, rookies have been able to participate in on-field walkthroughs at Halas Hall, allowing the Bears to get their first look at these guys since April’s draft.

With that in mind, here are five things we learned this week from talking to those Bears coaches about everyone from Cole Kmet to Ledarius Mack:

Jaylon Johnson is in a stiffer competition than we might’ve thought.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said Johnson has been “a little bit limited” because of his shoulder (Johnson underwent a procedure on his shoulder in March). I wouldn’t be too concerned about Johnson’s shoulder right now, although it’s something to monitor when practices are expected to begin in about 10 days.

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But even if he’s full go in a week and a half, Johnson is not a lock to win the competition to start at corner opposite Kyle Fuller. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he isn’t on the field Sept. 13 in Detroit, with Kevin Toliver II or Artie Burns getting the nod over him.

This is where 2020’s pandemic-altered offseason hurts Johnson. He didn’t have rookie minicamp and OTAs to get his feet under him with his assignments, and he won’t have the benefit of a few preseason games to adjust to the physicality and speed of the NFL. And guys with experience in the league might be first in line come September. 

Johnson, no doubt, will be a starter for the Bears soon enough – probably early in the 2020 season – but I continue to get the sense he might not be one immediately. Although that sense could always change once practice actually starts up at Halas Hall this month.

“The good thing is it’s not like he has to come in and he has to be the No. 2 or No. 3 guy right now,” Pagano said. “Now, once we get going and we start practicing if he beats those guys out and he wins that third spot, second spot, whatever that is, then great. … We missed the whole offseason. They’ve got a lot of catching up to do and make up, but again, we’ve got a lot of time with him so we can be patient at that position.”

The early returns on Cole Kmet are encouraging.

The first words tight end coach Clancy Barone used to describe Kmet were “quick study.” And everything that showed up when the Bears scouted him coming out of Notre Dame has shown up in meetings and walkthroughs.

“He certainly looks the part,” Barone said. “He’s as big as advertised, he’s in tremendous condition, very lean, he’s a big, thick bodied guy and extremely athletic.”

More than any other rookie, the Bears need Kmet to contribute immediately given his upside and potential impact in allowing Matt Nagy use more 12 personnel – a largely untapped resource in his playbook. So it’s certainly good news that Kmet is quickly picking things up and stayed in great shape over the summer.

MORE: Fragility of 2020 season constantly on Bears' players minds

Rookie tight ends, though, rarely make major impacts. It’s not easy to transition from college to the speed and physicality of the NFL at that position. It'll be even more difficult without OTAs and minicamps, let alone preseason games. 

So the Bears will do what they can at Halas Hall to get Kmet prepared for Sept. 13, but how the No. 43 pick handles an NFL game will be an unknown until his first snap at Ford Field that day. 

“Usually there’s a mode of tempo and such that happens in practice and then it ramps up in preseason and then it doubles when you get to regular season and even more in postseason,” Barone said. “That’s going to be the thing as a staff and a team that we replicate in practice. So those young players who are going to be called upon early in their career so they can get an idea of what opening day is going to be like.”

The Bears are playing the long game with Trevis Gipson.

Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said Barkevious Mingo, Isaiah Irving and James Vaughters will compete to be the Bears’ No. 3 OLB – the first guy off the sidelines when Khalil Mack or Robert Quinn needs a breather. It was notable that he didn’t mention Gipson, a fifth-round pick, among that group.

Again, there’s a theme here: The lack of spring workouts and practices is negatively impacting the ability of almost every rookie across the league to get on the field early in the 2020 season. The Bears like Gipson’s pass-rushing upside, and that hasn’t changed. But he’s transitioning not only from college to the pros, but from being a 4-3 end to a 3-4 edge rusher. 

The good news on Gipson is Monachino has no concerns about his work ethic and ability to learn. Gipson is constantly asking questions and looking for extra time to spend with coaches, Monachino said, which will help him catch up faster.

“For a player that played in a system like he did, it’s real common for a guy to see the game through a straw,” Monachino said. “But he’s trying to see it through a barn door right now. It’s a process but he’s not shying away from it at all. He’s a super kid and I think he’s fitting in well in the room and I think he’s got a bright future.”

Here’s a quote you’ll love to see.

DeShea Townsend, talking about fifth-round cornerback Kindle Vildor: “As far as the type of guy he is, he is a Bear guy.”

While these walkthroughs have been better than nothing, most of the last few weeks has been a getting-to-know-you period for Bears coaches with these rookies. The springtime Zoom calls were nice, sure, but it’s a lot more impactful to get to know someone in person – even if you’re socially distancing and wearing masks.

MORE: Post opt-out NFL power rankings

And for Townsend, getting to know Vildor revealed something that’ll help the Georgia Southern product fit right in on the 2020 Bears.

“He is a true competitor — the way that he asks questions in meetings, the things that he wants to know, it just shows that he’s a competitor,” Townsend said. “So I’m excited to see him get a chance to get out there and play.”

Don’t count out Ledarius Mack.

I didn’t include Mack in my latest 53-man roster projection, though I do have him landing on the Bears’ practice squad. It’s going to be a tough for an undrafted rookie to beat out multiple players with NFL experience this year.

But if anyone can do it, it’s Mack, isn’t it? We'll end the first Rookie Watch installment with a glowing review from his position coach:

“Ledarius is not a very big player, but he walks around here like he’s 10 feet tall, which is exactly what you’d expect,” Monachino said. “He’s got plenty of juice. He’s explosive. He’s got really heavy hands. He’s done a lot of things that are really impressive, and he’s an easy learner, and so that part has been great.

“From a personality standpoint, he’s got a lot of the best traits Khalil has. He’s a little snarky every now and then, so he’s got some funny things to say. He also is very attentive in what his job is. It’s been a joy to have him. To see those two together, they have tried not to be Khalil and Khalil’s little brother or Ledarius and Ledarius’s big brother as much as they have been teammates, which has been kind of cool to watch. It’s not like a dad and a son. It’s two guys that are both fighting for the same things, and it’s awesome. It’s been fun to have.

“Talented young player. Right place, right time, got a chance.”   

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