Archive for the ‘Chicago Bears Mini Camp’ Category

Bears Rookie Mini Camp and the Aftermath

May 5, 2009

I’d like to be able to sit here and tell you as many glowing things about the rookies and draft picks as we’ve heard for the last two weeks, but I can’t. I’m going to take a very fair and measured approach to what we can take away from our top draft picks from rookie camp this weekend. It’s going to be straight from the hip and it won’t coincide with a lot of the hype that I have generated over the past week over our top draft picks.

Yes you can be certain that what we saw this weekend was comforting in that the players we expected to step up in mini-camp did just that. The players reported on did what they were expected to do in rookie mini-camp and that is a good sign.

However it’s no more of a positive sign beyond what we already knew about this crop of players. Why?

Hear me out on this one because it’s going to be very easy to follow.

These rookies did as well as THEY should have. We can take nothing more away from this camp regarding these prospects than we already know. We knew these kids were good from the start and the three day camp changes nothing.

This was a camp against their peers, it was rookies on rookies. Essentially it was the same thing we have already seen from these players since the scouting combine began. These players excelled against each other and each one of them is essentially at the same level as their peers. Those that are a step above, stood out above the pack because they already had, and that is why they were drafted in the slots that they were.

Saying that Juaquin Iglesias could step in and be a starter or compete as a starter is more than a little premature. Because Iglesias dominated a level of competition this weekend that he dominated throughout his college career. Saying that Henry Melton, Jarron Gilbert and Iglesias looked the part is no more of a different assessment of them as players as we saw during the scouting combine and pro-day workouts.

The only real difference was the new football helmets atop their heads. The rookies went out and competed against other rookies, rookies most likely that are not going to be on an NFL roster come opening night against Green Bay. Beating a free agent signing or a player here strictly on a tryout basis is not something to form a solid opinion on as to who will compete well against the veterans.

These are still the same kids we saw playing and practicing football the last nine months. They are excelling against the same level of competition they did in college. Only in a slightly different setting than what we are used to seeing.

So while yes I am happy to report on the positive things we saw at camp from the top rookies we are all excited to report. I think it’s only fair to keep things in perspective going forward. The perspective is that things will change dramatically between now and the end of training camp.

These players learned this weekend the level of expectations that they face. They learned that the NFL coaches are a lot better at their jobs than college coaches. They soaked in the fact that the play books they face are a lot bigger than what they are used to. The defenses they face are a lot more complicated and intricate.

They learned that football no longer just a hobby and a sport that they play. But it’s also their job, a job that many of us would love to have and earn money doing. However we should all still recognize that and I hope that the rookies recognize is what they are facing is all the more daunting.

I hope that these players can face the reality that IS THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE and that they are prepared to pay the price to succeed in this league, but more importantly as a member of the Chicago Bears.

Training camp will be a whole different ball of wax for these rookies, once they face the talent and experience of the veterans. Put the pads on and face the speed of a level of competition they have never faced before then we will all get a better look at what these players truly are.

The question then will be easier to answer, can these rookies cut it?

Bears on the lookout for SAM I am

May 4, 2009

The basic assumption with the drafting of Marcus Freeman the linebacker out of Ohio State the Bears took in the sixth round was that he would compete for the SAM ‘backer spot. Word out of rookie mini-camp this weekend however has Freeman listed as a WILL ‘backer on the roster. Rightfully so by my estimate in that Freeman is built like a WILL at only 6-foot 239-pounds. He is not the type of player who fits the ideal mold for a SAM ‘backer in the 4-3 defense.

Leaving the question who exactly is going to compete with Hunter Hillenmeyer for the SAM spot? That spot in the line up struggled to show a consistent level of production last year. Sure it’s not as important as a position as the WILL spot that perennial Pro-Bowler Lance Briggs mans. But the Bears don’t need weak links in the defense piling up year after year either.

Last year Hillenmeyer began the year as the starter, but eventually was replaced by second year man Nick Roach. Roach however isn’t built like a SAM ‘backer and better fits the mold of a WILL backer as well. At only 6-foot-1 234-pounds Roach doesn’t have the size of the strength to hold up against the RT/TE combination on the strong side shift if the offense.

The same also goes for Jamar Williams who has been spoken of in high regard as a linebacker who can play all three linebacker spots, but can he play all three successfully is another argument. Williams is yet another 6-foot-1 237-pound fleet linebacker better suited to make plays in the open field utilizing his speed to cover a lot of ground in the flats.

Then there was rookie LB Joey LaRocque a special teams demon who may be tall enough at 6-foot-2 (not ideal height) to match up well with TEs, but he’s only 226-pounds further cementing his standing as a likely special teams player if he continues to stay on the 53-man roster.

So really is there a former draft pick on the roster who has the size, the build and the strength to hold up against the strong-side shift on running downs but is able to if need be cover a TE down the field on passing downs?

When looking at the roster the answer clearly is no, there is not a player who is likely to make the 53-man roster as be the type of player Hunter Hillenmeyer was at the peak of his career a mere two years ago. Hillenmeyer himself has not always been a good player, but he’s been good enough and made enough plays in critical situations to keep his job. Now however it appears that he is on the downside of his seven year NFL career and could be in a position to be replaced.

The only real player that looks like he’s a SAM ‘backer on the roster opposite middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is free agent signee Mike Rivera. Rivera as I talked about in previous blog posts seems like the obvious choice to be in competition to replace Hillenmeyer. Rivera is listed as 6-foot-3 254-pounds so he is the linebacker best built to hold up against the run. However it may be asking a lot of a non-drafted free agent signee to make the roster.

So that leaves the Bears in a bit of a pickle as they head to camp. Hunter Hillenmeyer is clearly on the down side of his career, the rest of the linebackers on the roster are small and undersized, and Mike Rivera is the undrafted free agent signee.

Clearly there must still be a level of confidence that Hillenmeyer can bounce back and revert to his 2007 season form where he had a career high 78-tackles. However if Hillenmeyer again struggles with injuries or just isn’t as productive as he was in 2007 the Bears could be looking for at a SAM ‘backer as a draft option in 2010.

Bears Rookie Mini-Camp Report

May 2, 2009

I gathered information from various sources yesterday on how the rookies looked on the first day of mini-camp today. Obviously it’s very exciting when you have some of your newly minted fresh out of the box studs out there and Lovie Smith covered as much after practice.

The players who stood out were the best of the first few picks. Jarron Gilbert for is big and athletic, still some room to grow on his frame and if he gets with Idonije and picks up his work out habits he could be one of those unstoppable force type D-Lineman. Henry Melton looked good, showed his burst and speed off the edge and it’s where you would like for an NFL level DE. Love Smith was impressed with both of these players stating

“It’s good to see your first pick Jarron Gilbert, a lot of athletic ability both he Henry Melton both moved well today.”

Coach Marinelli was also equally impressed with his class of rookie defensive lineman. Two the first four picks were used on D-Lineman and Marinelli is known for being able mold some of the game’s best defensive lineman. Marinelli stated in various reports that he was highly impressed with how athletic Gilbert is and how tall he is, but what makes a great D-Lineman is their ability to bend, and get low to the ground to generate power. Gilbert has that flexiblity for a 6-foot-5 defensive tackle, that ability to get low and generate power from his hips.

Most defensive tackles you see in the league aren’t usually over the 6-foot-4 mark because they taller they are the more easier it is for them to get stood up. But because Gilbert is such a unique athlete for his size he’s able to play the under-tackle position and generate a lot of power and leverage to drive opposing blockers and make plays.

You can tell from the various reports on the Chicago Bears.com website and the Tribune where Marinelli gave the most coverage that he’s excited with Gilbert stating to the ChicagoBears.com

““It’s kind of what we saw through the evaluation process,” said veteran defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

“For a guy that tall, he can bend, and that’s the key; you’ve got to be able to bend your knees. If you’re tall and stiff, you can’t bend down and you play tall and you have no power.”

Expanding upon Gilbert’s ability Marinelli told the Tribune,

“You like to see some position flexibility,” Marinelli said. “He’s an ‘under’ tackle right now. He’s got the movement, the power and the hands to be a left end. He can do some of that. But you don’t want to give him too much.”

“These guys are very talented athletes,” Marinelli said. “When I talk about talent, I mean short-space quickness. Then I look at them being tall and being able to bend. A guy like [Gilbert], if you can jump out of a pool, you’re in pretty good shape to bend.

“If you can bend and your feet are quick, that means you can play with a good base. They run extremely well. They’re coordinated. Now I have to coordinate them into a rush mode.”

While all eyes may have been on the first overall pick the Bears had last Sunday, most fans also want word on how wide receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox looked in his drills. The reports are positive regarding Iglesias as well. He stood out for how well he’s put together at around 6-foot-2 212-pounds and he showed good quickness coming out of his breaks in the route running he was doing, and showed great hands catching numerous balls in practice.

Knox is as fast as advertised and his hands are at a level that if he put it all together mentally he could be a good receiver for the Bears. Knox come in like former Bear Bernard Berrian, a mid round draft selection from a smaller non-BCS level school with a ton of raw athletic potential good hands, but that just needs to be polished up some over the next couple of years.

Coach Smith stated “I liked what our receivers did, Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox. Both have a lot of upside and can run well.”

Iglesias and Knox both were excited to be out there for their first day of practice and spoke with the media afterward about how proud they are to be wearing a Chicago Bears uniform.

Juaquin Iglesias talked about what his mind set was coming into practice even with a hole in the roster where Iglesias is likely to fit in “No matter what they had (in the way of openings to play) I think I was going to come in here and work as hard as I can and try to play regardless of who is here. I’m just trying to do the best I can and get as much as I can from Coach Drake.”

Johnny Knox too was able to talk to the media stating “I’m really excited, just trying to get the feel for the field because it’s different up here than it is down there in Houston. Just trying to get used to it.”

Both Iglesias and Knox were a bit overwhelmed with the difference between the NFL playbook and their college playbook. Both mentioned to the media how they are doing their best to pick it up and they hope to be able to digest it and then utilize what they’ve learned out on the field in practice this weekend.

The playbook is what hamstrung fellow rookie Earl Bennett last year from playing but both Knox and Iglesias seemed pretty determined to not let that happen to them. They realize the opening that exists on the roster for receivers that fit the mold of the type of receivers they are. Iglesias a tough physical over the middle first down machine with great hands, Knox a speedy receiver with great burst and hands to go deep and catch something underneath and is a threat to score on any given play.

It should be a very exciting weekend for the Chicago Bears as weekend rookie mini-camp rolls along, and always you can count on some of the most in-depth coverage of camp, from any blog on the net right here at MMI.

Chicago Bears Roundtable Discussion Tribune Live

March 21, 2009

MMI caught the Chicago Bears’ mini-camp wrap up discussion on the Chicago Tribune Live. I must say the host and the moderator David Kaplan of the panel was highly critical of the Bears from the outset. He went along the lines of what most of the message board faithful are ranting about lack of free agency activity and just how bad the team was last year at WR. He spoke in a very condescending tone from beginning to end, making it seem like he is the subject matter expert and the voice of reason. For the most part he took a negative stance with the Bears and their off-season activities and then turned it over for questions.

Kaplan’s stance from the get go, and the lead into the discussion was the Bears did not add a single wide receiver in free agency and our biggest free agency acquisitions are Brett Basanaez and Frank Omiyale. The Bears have no one that can get to the quarterback and they let Mike Brown leave without a replacement. The instant laughter around the panel was that no one got hurt coming out of mini-camp.

Vaughn McClure picked up into the discussion with the Jay Cutler talk stating rather easily that if there is something to look in there that the Bears should at least make the call to see what it would take to land Cutler. McClure followed it up with that he’s not sure that Cutler can be the savior of this team and that he wonders if he has proven himself as a high level high caliber QB. McClure’s early stance is that he’s not confident that one year is enough to judge Cutler by. He’s interrupted by a mention that Cutler was unable to lead Denver to the playoffs even with his monstrous numbers last year.

Kaplan interjects that the Bears he has absolute confidence and faith in Cutler and his statement is that the Bears have an arena league roster of quarterbacks, and that the Bears have never had a big time guy behind the controls. He’s a Pro-Bowler that’s 26-years-old bring him in. Kaplan is then asked what would he give up for him (draft picks player-wise in a trade) and Kaplan says whatever it takes, whatever they want. He’s also talked over when someone says “He’s not Johnny Unitas in his prime” and then is asked would he give up three number ones. Kaplan’s response is that he would give up Orton, Urlacher and a number one for Cutler.

He’s then asked about the three number ones question and Kaplan begins to back track, no he wouldn’t and then, okay your next two number ones (first round picks) and he back tracks again and says no….but is then is called out and said you said whatever it takes. This is why Kaplan is like most fans in that he can’t exactly hold a position when he’s called out on it by someone better than or even on his level in the sports discussion realm.

McClure is hesitant to do the Urlacher Orton and #18 pick for Orton because he states emphatically that Angelo is going to blow the first round pick anyway because the Bears always do blow it. Bob Foltman gets involved in the discussion calling Kaplan a fantasy GM for wanting Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Cutler. Kaplan’s response is he wants some personality on this team. As if cancerous team wrecking personality is a good thing for a team to be successful.

Foltman begins to assert himself into the conversation questioning Cutler’s maturity level. Wondering if there are red flag warnings to be wary of given the situation and the stand that Cutler has made. Not every unfamiliar to Bears fans given the Lance Briggs situation from a couple years ago. It sorta boggles the mind that most of these sports caster experts haven’t taken into account the temper tantrum that Briggs through, but how he is now signed to a long-term deal to remain in Chicago.

As an example of just how clown like this Chicago Tribune Live sports show is produced a graphic is flashed on to the screen stating ” Bears look to build on 7-9 season” excuse me? 7 wins and 9 losses in a season? Mr. sports producer the Bears finished 9 and 7 a full two games better than your graphic implies and were one win away from the playoffs. This would be where Lovie Smith said the Bears are close, they were close to making the playoffs and playing in the playoffs anything is possible because the Bears hung with and were with 7 points of beating two of the playoff teams there. Also they beat two of the playoff teams reps on the NFC side of the house in Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Foltman gets his turn on the soap box reasserting that this isn’t like the Joe Montana Steve Young type of controversy. Cutler isn’t an established super star NFL quarterback to be acting this way. The panel wraps up the discussion with Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal being productive NFL wide receivers, which segue ways into the Bears having no WR talent so who is Cutler going to throw to.

With no WR talent Kaplan gets back on his roll of anger and frustration. He starts off by talking about how the Bears had a suspect O-Line even before the start of free agency and now with John Tait and John St. Clair gone it’s one of the worst lines in the NFL. Apparently the Bears said that “we gotta get John St. Clair re-signed according to Kaplan (the Bears said they would like to have him back never said it was a necessity).

Kaplan more forward into his rant that Lovie Smith stated that Earl Bennett has to continue to develop to which Kaplan then countered you have to play to develop. The panel then emphasized that Bennett stated that he didn’t learn the plays very quickly and that is a major area of concern. It’s unanimous that no one like Bennett and it was a mistake to draft him, as well as Kaplan interjects it was a mistake to draft Chris Williams because he had back problems that caused other teams to not draft him at all. In that same vein nothing was ever established or concrete regarding Williams’ back problems being something he had coming out of college that kept other teams from drafting. So that’s rumor being put out as fact by Kaplan.

The panel wraps up the discussion about the possibility of bringing in Torry Holt to help boost the WR core.

Wow quite the mind-numbing bit of reporting full of inaccuracies, anger and a demand for Jerry Angelo to be more like Dan Snyder of the Redskins and spend wildly and freely to upgrade this team. More opinion versus analysis not a lot of in-depth talk. Didn’t speak to much of what went on at Mini-Camp and ranted about how the Bears should get Jay Cutler. Some of this sounds like what we hear every day on the message boards. When the draft comes and more importantly training camp gets underway we’ll be able to better establish just how good or bad the Bears will be this year. Right now in March with the draft and more free agency yet to come and the season still nearly six months away, it’s not easy to judge this team.

NFL Network puts the Bears on the clock

March 21, 2009

The NFL Network’s Path to the Draft show is essentially a prospect and team preview show that happens every day for half an hour. It’s better than any of the crap on ESPN because it encompasses real analysts who have played the game and gasp a real former GM. So when you’re getting opinion on these players from these guys at least they’ve been there done that or have made a living off of doing it. Instead of the Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay pissing match you get real in-sight and analysis on the players. Plus it’s not a five minute segment that they do on ESPN’s sports center where you have to watch the douche bag commentators on there who are trying to be as witty and funny as Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were. Never can beat the original.

So with that in mind they’re addressing the Chicago Bears’ first round team need at O-Line, WR and apparently QB. Until the Bears have a hall of famer under center well the majority opinion is that the Bears will need to draft a QB. There’s a quick mention of the Bears’ last four first round draft picks, Tommie Harris at 14, Cedric Benson at 4, Greg Olsen at 31 and Chris Williams at 14. Benson being the biggest bust of the bunch Angelo made up for it immediately before cutting him by drafting Matt Forte last year.

The analyst brought in to talk about the Bears is Dan Pompei. There’s a major advantage the Bears have in already holding mini-camp, they know how well some of the players have stayed in shape in the off-season. Additionally they know whether or not the players on the roster are serious about football and how it is a year round job. Pompei immediately dives into the Bears’ need at OT. Pompei’s opinion is far different than mine, he seems to have completely bought into the argument that Frank Omiyale was brought in to strictly compete at left guard. That’s pretty funny because Omiyale has never played guard in his career and earned his money based on his ability to play OT for the Carolina Panthers. The media has fallen for the smoke screen that Jerry Angelo put out there regarding Omiyale. Angelo puffed up the smoke screen because he wanted to not publicly apply pressure to John St. Clair that they had already found his replacement. They did find his replacement because after one day at guard, Omiyale moved over to RT immediately upon St. Clair signing.

Omiyale would have likely supplanted a starter and it wouldn’t have been Josh Beekman because Beekman didn’t play as bad as St. Clair did last season. Plus you can be safe in the starting five being what it would have been last year had Chris Williams not been injured. Williams will be an upgrade over St. Clair and Omiyale might be an upgrade over Tait, because Tait aged so fast.

Pompei next has to answer to the column in which he wrote about “If Jay Cutler is available the Bears should pursue him. To which Pompei has to essentially back track on that column with more support towards Kyle Orton than he originally intended to give when he wrote the column. They wax poetic about the Jay Cutler trade, to which the question immediately shifts to, do the Bears take a QB at 18 or a OT. Ummm…the consensus is the Bears need a WR or an OT at 18. Kyle Orton is fine as a QB, his production slipped due to injury. He played five games he likely shouldn’t have because his production in those five games where he was injured was better than what Rex Grossman would have been healthy. That says a lot about Grossman that a hobbled Kyle Orton is better than you.

Pompei not the subject matter expert you would expect here. He says Angelo likes to draft lineman and is pretty good at drafting lineman. Yeah perhaps D-Lineman but certainly not O-Lineman. Angelo has only drafted two OTs in the first round in drafts that he was allegedly a part of in his career (including Tampa Bay and Chicago). One OT had a decent career and is currently a free agent, the other had injury problems forcing the Bears to release him, but now he’s a multi-year starter in Dallas. Angelo’s evaluating strength is on defense rather than offense, let’s be clear on that immediately.

So who would Dan Pompei take at 18 if an OT was available? Eben Britton from Arizona. Pompei’s opinion is that he could man that RT spot immediately because he’s big and strong and help in the run game. Uh Britton was rarely asked to run block the last two years at Arizona. They ran most of their offense out of the Texas Tech passing spread offense. So there wasn’t a lot of creativity with their run plays at the UofA. To say Britton can stick his hand in the dirt and be a run blocker is a bit ignorant when the guy comes out of a pass first pass heavy offense. The same questions arise when people talk about Jason Smith at Baylor because he played in the spread too.

So apparently in this segment Dan Pompei has no clue to which he speaks he talks in generalities and football cliches about players of which he has no clue about what they are like or what system they come from. This is not to say Britton wouldn’t be a good pick at 18, it’s just saying his strengths lie elsewhere beside run blocking. To add to my point the high-lights they show of Britton show him run blocking, albeit out of two point stance. He stands in his two point stance essentially giving the DE the idea that he’s going to pass block, the DE shoots up the field and Britton simply walls him off like it’s a draw play. Britton already has the inside advantage because the play is going to the opposite side of where the defender is attacking, advantage to the blocker.

Sticking your hand in the dirt and firing off the line when it’s a HB-Iso or zone blocking running play is much more important to the Bears than being able to fool the defender by making them think you’re going to pass when in fact it’s a run call. Neither the host of the segment or Pompei has a clue about this little common sense difference between OTs who come from a spread offense and OTs who come from a pro-style offense.

Pompei’s next line of thought as to who the Bears might select at WR if they go that route at 18 is Kenny Britt from Rutgers. He might be a bit of a reach at 18 but I could definitely see him in the second round. Britt is as Pompei says the perfect compliment to Devin Hester, he’s big fast and catches the ball well. If the Bears don’t trade down, but can trade up into the earlier part of the second round to take a WR like Britt after they draft an OT at 18 that’s a good strategy as well.

The next question is why the Bears were not more active in free agency and Pompei is a better subject matter expert on this than most of the Bears related talk we’ve heard to this point. Pompei has spoken to Angelo at length and he essentially stated that this is the worst free agent class he’s ever seen. Why were the Bears not more active, when the GM feels like it’s the worst free agency class ever, there’s your answer. Rightly or wrongly Bears fans Angelo is the GM and is getting paid for his judgment and based on that football knowledge and judgment the Bears didn’t go on a spending spree to add average to marginal level talent. They did add players that are marginal or average, but they did so in a cost effective manner.
History will prove Angelo right or wrong on this call so we’ll see how things go.

So to wrap up the segment of the Bears on the clock with Dan Pompei as the subject matter expert the Bears may look at Eben Britton or Kenny Britt at 18. WR and OT are the most important aspects to this franchise, heading into the draft. Although if I’m making the call it’s a player like Hakeem Nicks at 18 and maybe a Phil Loadholt in the second round.

Mini-Camp Report Day 2

March 18, 2009

No one should be shocked with the thought that Frank Omiyale would move over to RT with John St. Clair signing with the Cleveland Browns. That’s precisely what came to fruition on the second day of mini-camp today as Omiyale lined up at his more comfortable OT position. There is really no concern with making this move it’s the smart thing to do. While publicly stating and showing for the time being that Omiyale was brought in to compete at LG the fact of the matter is he’s an OT first and foremost and Josh Beekman did nothing to hurt the notion that he is the true starter at LG.

Bears fans can be upset that Angelo blew a smoke screen up their butts, but the fact of the matter is Omiyale was likely to end up at RT the entire time. Joh St. Clair’s value was as a backup, Omiyale’s value is as a starter, look at the contract numbers that Omiyale got and what the Bears offered St. Clair if you have any doubts. The position that Omiyale was brought in at guard was only a negotiating ploy to make St. Clair feel better about the likelihood he would be replaced.

I predicted as much in my mini-camp preview that the starting five on the O-Line come September would be Williams, Beekman, Kreutz, Garza and Omiyale. Having Omilyale as the starter at RT for the duration of the contract also ensures that the Bears could easily take an OT project type of player who could develop for two to three years as a back up before being asked to start. St. Clair maybe had one or two years left, and they certainly would not have been good years at that. Omiyale looked comfortable and more natural at RT anyway. It’s where he fits in and the position he knows the best.

Elsewhere the question would be are the Bears likely to keep four running backs on the roster this year like they did in 2008? Or will that fourth RB be replaced by a sixth WR on the roster? The next question who is likely the odd man out if the Bears stick with only two RBs? The guess is Adrian Peterson given the Bears just signed Kevin Jones to a shiny new two-year contract and since Garrett Wolfe is younger than Peterson and offers more versatility with his speed. Kevin Jones for his part looks a lot more in shape having spent a year rehabbing from his knee problems and now working out with the club. With less weight and more muscle Jones will be faster and hopefully should take carries away from Matt Forte.

The likelihood he can take carries away from Forte seem even less likely given how Forte has looked so far in camp. Forte gets it he doesn’t have to be brought along or mentored he realizes that the only way he can be successful and get better in this league is to work on everything that makes a great back a complete back. Forte’s versatility is evident by his 60-plus receptions he had as a rookie. Look for him to get more involved in the offense as a pass receiver as well. Causing that much more of a head ache for defensive coordinators throughout the league.

While Lovie Smith often times is accused of being disinterested or not enthusiastic, there is one thing Smith takes personally and that’s the performance of his defense. Smith has been quite hands on with the defense thus far realizing that the drop off in defensive production and success will likely be what could cost him his job. Given that Smith is a defensive minded guy it should make Bears fans sleep easier that Bob Babich has for all intents and purposes been demoted. Combine Smith with new hires Rod Marinelli and secondary coach John Hoke and the expectations of a Monsters of Midway level defense return.

Speaking of the secondary thus far Craig Steltz has been cutting his teeth at the strong safety position with Kevin Payne out due to a minor injury recovery process. Josh Bullocks is the “starting” free safety for the time being and so far has taken to the ease of transition in the Cover-2. Bullocks’ responsibilities in coverage will be lessened by the more safety oriented zone packages the Bears run. He’ll have less ground to cover and he’ll be able to read and react more which should give him an easier task of making more plays.

First Day Impressions of Mini-Camp

March 17, 2009

Reports in from Halas Hall has the Bears pretty excited to be back in camp. Though they only did team drills and seven on seven work today in no pads it’s to have the team focusing in on 2009 at this juncture.

Some of the talk via ESPN 1000 sports radio had bits from Rod Marinelli who is excited to be back out there as a positional coach. This is the area of expertise that Marinelli has and working with the D-Linemen and their technique is stuff you like to hear. Warren Sapp has given a lot of credit to Marinelli for making him the sure fire hall of famer that he is at the DT position. Given Tommie Harris’ level of talent hopefully he can develop him along the same line.

Marinelli talked about how excited he was to be out there and how much he loves football. To him football in general is just a wonderful thing and he looks forward to continuing to work with this group of guys. Having followed Marinelli’s career since his young days at Arizona State there is little doubt in my mind of his enthusiasm and intensity as a coach.

Talk from Marinelli also surrounded how much he loves coaching the D-Lineman. He has a great appreciation for those guys that do battle in the trenches and fight hard week in and week out. To put it simply perhaps no one better understands that the success of the defensive unit as a whole starts with the men up front.

Marinelli has a lot of talent to work with, guys that have had successful careers and guys just cutting their teeth in develop a successful career. Don’t underestimate the type of player DT Marcus Harrison is going to be for this defense. Although he better fits the 3-technique type of player in this scheme, Harrison could see more time with Dusty Dvoracek recovering from his triceps surgery.

Elsewhere on the field today the first reports came in regarding WR Earl Bennett. Bennett caught some balls and worked on some things with Kyle Orton. Not much happened though since it was a little breezy out today. Hester is out there as the self-proclaimed #1 receiver and seems determined to be THE player the Bears need out there. He’ll get every opportunity in mini-camp to prove just that.

Jay Cutler rumors also don’t appear to have effected Kyle Orton’s mentality about being the long term solution at QB. From the NFL Network Orton said “I think I’m going to do everything I can and work as hard as I can and be the guy that stabilizes it (the QB position). I don’ think that say I’m not going to be that guy, I think I am going to be that guy. I think this is my offense and I’m working as hard as I can to show everybody that it’s my job.”

Lovie Smith himself feels confident in Orton as the long term solution given how well he performed the first half of the season. The numbers back up Lovie’s assessment of Orton and given that the Bears will likely bring in a receiver on day one of the draft Orton will have every opportunity to play himself into a long term extension in the final year of his contract. The more weapons surrounding Orton the better off the offense and Orton will be. Orton should only build upon the early success he had in 2008 and will likely have a break out year which causes fans to forget about this Cutler crap.

Elsewhere with the news that John St. Clair is moving on to play with the Cleveland Browns second year man Cody Balough was getting the reps at first team RT. There could be movement on the free agent market to keep an eye on in the coming days with Orlando Pace, Levi Jones, Marvel Smith of three former Pro-Bowlers available in free agency. If the Bears don’t choose the free agent route they could move Frank Omiyale out to RT (he was running 2nd team LG today) or they could draft a solid prospect on day one. For the sake of mini-camp it will be Balough as the “starter”.

When asked if the Bears were still in the market for more offensive lineman Lovie’s answer was more direct in saying “It’s the off-season we keep all our options open.”

Those options could be in free agency or the draft, either way now that St. Clair is in fact gone, the Bears will be upgrading the OT position from last year.

Mini-Camp Position Breakdown: TEs

March 17, 2009

The only reason the Chicago Bears had an even remotely productive passing game last year was because of tight ends Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark’s level of play. They were essentially the only real threats in the passing game. They were at times under utilized but also at times completely taken out of the game.

Olsen is to date one of Jerry Angelo’s most successful first round draft picks. Which is really saying anything given the inconsistent level of player from Olsen. Why do I label Olsen as inconsistent? Because all to often last year teams were able to shut him down with their nickel back. Yes that is to say typically a CB or a safety shut Olsen down and kept him covered well enough that he wasn’t in a position to consistently be a threat within the offense. For the Chicago Bears’ offense to be successful and consistent in 2009 Greg Olsen is going to have to change that. Olsen needs to use his size to out muscle any player that is trying to make a play on the ball.

Mini-camp focus should almost primarily consist of Kevin Payne and Charles Tillman harassing Olsen on everyone of his passing routes in man to man coverage. Given Tillman’s physical play as a corner he would be the perfect guy to help develop his skills. Unfortunately neither Tillman or Payne will be participating in the mini-camp so the staff will have to find more ways to punish Olsen. The most important aspect of Olsen’s game is that he should be nearly unstoppable for a player of his size and athleticism. Olsen ran a 4.5 in the combine workout, he’s 6-foot-5 252-pounds so he should easily be dominating in this league. This will be his chance to show he’s taken his game to a new level in preparation for 2009.

Desmond Clark simply makes plays when called upon. Unfortunately Clark is not called upon all to often so his production is limited. Even though Clark is the past and Olsen the future there is still enough consistency in his game that he could be a weapon to help in the consistency in the passing game. Working both TEs into the rotation and offensive game plan at the same time should be given more consideration by Ron Turner. It adds another dimension to the offense and could give the Bears more consistency on third down.

Rookie Kellen Davis had a pretty remarkable first year. He wans’t expected to even make the team by most accounts. But he fought his way on to the team via his blocking ability and special teams play. What would be nice is Davis developing into a mildly consistent pass catching threat over the next couple of years. Davis is after all a TE that is supposed to catch passes. Though his role will never likely be on the level of Greg Olsen. Running a two TE set of the future with both Davis and Olsen being capable of blocking and catching passes would help in the even the Bears move on from the older Desmond Clark or Clark moves on wanting to seek a chance to start.

Mini-Camp Position Breakdown: O-Line

March 16, 2009

Going into the 2008 season there was a lot of questions surrounding the offensive line after the Bears let go of proven and aging veterans Ruben Brown and Fred Miller. In their place stepped in rookies Chris Williams and Josh Beekman. To be fair Beekman was not in his first year in the league, it was only his first year receiving game experience. Williams was injured about 20 minutes into training camp and barely played the rest of the season. Earning snaps in live game action but nothing more than that. From there the Bears posted a better rushing attack than in 2007 and mediocre pass protection at best. Yet some how with average production and protection at best the line earned somewhat rave reviews after the 2008 season.

Puzzling as it may be the 2009 Chicago Bears find themselves in an eerily similar situation heading into mini-camp this week. The offensive line is a question mark with aging veterans and an unproven second year player at the LT spot. John St. Clair’s unresolved free agency situation also hasn’t provided much comfort to the Midway Monster faithful.

Center: Olin Kreutz is a 12-year veteran who is winding down his NFL career. Kreutz is the glue the anchor and all the other fancy adjectives you can throw out there to describe the best lineman on the team who makes everyone around him better. Kreutz has never been a mauler of a center and by almost all scouting accounts is to small for the position at only 6-foot-2 292-pounds. Funny thing is he has been one of the most effective players in the league at his position over the last 12-years. Kreutz has been to six Pro-Bowls in his career earning all the respect necessary from his peers by achieving such an honor.

Kreutz is perhaps known as a fighter both literally and figuratively and he doesn’t back down from anyone. He’ll be the crusty old veteran out there on the field and while he may not be the player he once was he still plays well enough at a consistent level that he could easily be here a few more years at the right price.

RG Roberto Garza may be the most underappreciated lineman on the team given his tenure on the team as a starter. While Garza isn’t a player on an elite level he has been consistent most of his career. Sure with Pat and Kevin Williams in the conference you’d like to see someone who could better hold his ground against those two, but Garza does well enough.

He has struggled more lately and could be seeing some competition from recently acquired free agent Frank Omiyale. Omiyale is being paid starter level money so the speculation is that he’ll be there to push Garza. Garza doesn’t need much pushing but the additional sure fire competition never hurt any team. Omiyale however has yet to play a down at guard and we’ll see how fast he picks up the blocking scheme the Bears run. Developing chemistry will be the key for Omiyale. My guess though is Garza’s job is safe and Omiyale might better push John St Clair at RT though the front office has stated otherwise.

RT Well John Tait retired and John St Clair is unsigned currently visiting the Cleveland Browns so the Bears just may start out with Frank Omiyale at RT for the sake of mini-camp. That would be the smart thing to do is get the younger probably better Omiyale used to playing with the first team. Doing so would also send the message that the Bears do in fact have a contingency plan in place should St. Clair decide to walk.

From my perspective the Bears should most certainly stand pat with their contract offer. St. Clair is not a starter level player. He is a career back up who gets a lot more respect than he deserves for his time as a starter. He is easily the worst OT on the roster and if he decides to walk the Bears would be better off for it. It would easily put the Bears at a point where they would have to draft St. Clair’s replacement amongst their top three picks in the draft. Moving Omiyale over to start or having a solid rookie there to start at RT would make me feel better than having St. Clair back.

I hear the arguments for him being back and if he comes back at the price the front-office wants him back at then fine. But there shouldn’t be ANY movement towards giving St. Clair more money if he gets a better offer from the Browns. The Bears will be able to move on from him, without question. Plus Angelo will look like a genius for letting him go in the long run because building up talented youth will be far more important than caving in to any demand St. Clair would try to make.

LG Josh Beekman came in with not a lot of expectations for 2008. Most everyone figured he would be awful so they had already resigned themselves to the fact that he wouldn’t play at a high level. Thing is those people and myself were wrong and Beekman played well for a second year pro just getting his feet wet. The good news is Beekman will only get better, and he will benefit from playing next to Kreutz for any length of time. Beekman is the heir apparent for now at center but getting him game experience is paramount to his continued development and success. There likely won’t be a lot learned at mini-camp other than developing chemistry with Chris Williams on the left side.

LT Chris Williams is already labeled a bust by some strong opinionated Bears fans for not being a Pro-Bowl starter his rookie year. The demands put on by some in the Chicagoland area both fan and media alike can be at times outrageous. Absolutely it was disappointing that a rookie drafted so highly as Williams didn’t come in and start. But the disdain and worry about Williams didn’t start with his back, it started much earlier when articles popped up about his arms being to short. A simple google search brings up articles on just the topic.

The odd thing is with all the reporting down on Willliams and his arm length no one picked up on the back problems that propped up later on in training camp. Williams states the Bears knew about it, Angelo states the Bears didn’t and the media has a field day with it . Ironically this wasn’t talked about during Williams time at the scouting combine and the media failed to pick up on it then.

So apparently Williams will be an abject failure because a) his arms are to short b) his bad back c) He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and Jerry Angelo. All of which seem preposterous on a whole new level. One thing is for sure it will be great to the Bears earning a return on their investment either way. It’s time to move beyond the short arms, beyond the back problems and focus on what Williams can do from here on out. If he performs as well as Josh Beekman did after sitting out his entire rookie season the Bears will be just fine.

Mini-camp will do a lot to clear the air surrounding both Williams and Omiyale. Chemistry development takes root at this point and that is what is most important for the Bears right now. If the starting five were in fact to be Williams, Beekman, Kreutz, Garza and Omiyale I would be quite confident in that line up being as productive or more consistent than the O-Line of 2008. Mini-camp just may be the start of where this level of play is established.

Mini-Camp Position Breakdown: RBs

March 12, 2009

The Bears start mini-camp in six days and we’re bringing you position previews and expectations for this one of the earlies mini-camps in NFL history. Today we profile the RB position which is a solid position right now, provided Matt Forte doesn’t get hurt.

Matt Forteis the best thing to happen to this Bears franchise in a long time. Arguably since Brian Urlacher’s draft selection and that was nearly a decade ago. However the biggest fear we all should have is of a sophomore slump. Not because Forte’s prone to lapsing into laziness or anything negative on his part, but because of the number of times he ran with the rock last year whether it was with a carry or a reception. 373 touches and countless hits, shots, tackles, dog piles and anything else you can think of. Forte took a pounding for a first year rookie, more than just about any one else in the league.

While Forte is well built for the pounding at 6-2 217-pounds there is always a concern anyway you look at it. Given the average life expectancy for an NFL RB is at best four years it wouldn’t hurt to ensure Forte’s health for the long term.

Which brings us to Kevin Jones the anointed back up after re-signing for two years to be Forte’s backup. Jones did barely a thing to take the pressure off of Forte last year. Whether or not he does this year will be determined by the strength and health of his knee. Jones’ performance may literally be the most important aspect of this offense. He needs to take carries away from Forte to help preserve him for the long term. The better Jones peforms the better it is for the future of this franchise.

Jones should have one goal and that is beating out Forte for the starting job. His goal should be I am a veteran, I am back healthy from my knee surgery, I have a chip on my shoulder, I want to stay in this league and earn a big amount of money so I don’t want to be just a backup. His stated goal should be to supplant the second year pro. It won’t happen Forte is the entrenched starter, but Jones was willing to play special teams at the end of last year he should be gunning for Forte’s job. That level of expectations for himself will lead to the type of production the Bears need out of a backup option behind Forte.

For a third round pick you would hope the Bears would get more value out of Garrett Wolfe than they have. That being said Wolfe is not built to come in and light the world on fire, he’s a fairly one dimensional player who should try to round his game into better shape. He improved somewhat last year from his first year and if he gets behind an improved run blocking O-Line he could turn into a strong scat back contributor ala Darren Sproles or arguably Maurice Jones Drew. He may not ever be on the same level as those two but his ability to contribute could be enough to be a back up option to Forte.

It’s of note that Sproles didn’t light the league on fire in his first three years and only emerged in his fourth year for the Chargers. Given that Wolfe is the same type of player as a Sproles there could still be a bright future ahead for Wolfe. Some Bears fans have lacked patience with a guy entering only his third year in the league.

Adrian Peterson hangs on and keeps his spot on the roster not because of his production but because of his value on special teams. Peterson has proved himself worthy on special teams and because the Bears value special teams as such an important aspect of their overall game plan, he will likely stick around. There’s not much more you should ask or expect from Peterson. If he doesn’t keep up a certain level of production the Bears will give him his walking papers. For a sixth round pick that has been on the team since 2002 it will have been a productive career.