Posts Tagged ‘2009 NFL Draft’

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September 13, 2009

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Two rookies to keep an eye on as camp progresses

August 1, 2009

OTAs came and went rather quickly with little fanfare. We all know the main glut of the coverage and excitement was going to come from the start of training camp. With training camp kicked off and entering day two it’s fair to mention again two rookies who caught the eye of people.

The first player to step up and show a lot of promise much to the delight of everyone is wide receiver Johnny Knox. Knox had arguably some of the best workouts (and rookie mini-camp) of any of the receivers on the roster. Showing off not only his exceptional speed that everyone has heard about up to this point, but also some great hands.

Based on Knox’s production alone it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. Oh but it is because he played at a lower level of competition coming from Abilene Christian. This automatically is a knock on him even though it wasn’t a knock on Steve McNair or Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie coming out of Tennessee State.

But Knox has been better than predicted out playing Juaquin Iglesias who has struggled in his route running and ability to get open.

Knox is definitely a player that could come in and surprise a lot of people during camp. He will definitely be a player we’ll be keeping an eye on during pre-season games. Even if he doesn’t line up with Cutler and the starters, Caleb Hanie has a strong enough arm to get Knox the ball down the field.

Speed is great at any level, but it’s how you use your speed that is the best way to be productive. A player is a lot more likely to be wide open if he runs a precise route that is combined with speed. Then it’s about making the catch and with Knox early on it hasn’t been a problem.

Another player who caught an eye briefly and by briefly it was because he wasn’t around for a lot of OTAs because school commitments. Safety Al Afalava showed that he has the speed size and aggressiveness to be a successful safety.

Afalava is a gap filler hole plugger who can come up and make a tackle. This is the primary priority the Bears require out of their safeties with the style of defense they run.

Afalava didn’t play a lot of free safety at Oregon State due to his ability to come up and play in the box. However he has the speed and athleticism to get the job done as a free safety. He won’t need to be the ideal center fielder that so many of the Bears fans have been desiring because that is not what the Bears require.

Afalava has the ability to come up and hit and he has the measurables you desire out of a safety. How he performs once the pads are on is going to be something we keep an eye on moving forward

NFL Network Path to the Draft: Chicago Bears Draft Grade

May 1, 2009

The most complete NFL draft coverage you can find anywhere on T.V. today comes via the NFL Network and their half hour, now hour long program covering the NFL draft and all of the prospects in it’s entirety. You can find a more in-depth show anywhere else and the commentary is first rate and non-biased. Plus if anyone makes a biased sounding comment they typically go out of their way to correct it or clarify exactly their opinion on a team or player.

Charlie Casserly kicks off the NFC North segment with commentary he received from Jerry Angelo. Angelo stated to Casserly, and Casserly followed with this interesting quote “Well Jerry Angelo when I talked to him at the end of the season, he’s what he told me (paraphrasing his conversation with Angelo) I wanna upgrade the following things, pass rush, offensive line and I wanna bring some competition or challenge into the quarterback position, I’m gonna look at everything out there, Casserl paraphrasing his conversation with Angelo. Casserly then goes on to state, “So what does he go and do? He trades for Jay Cutler, HE HIT A HOME RUN! He was just trying to get in some competition, he threw out the competition.”

“Alright so now you have a Pro-Bowl quarterback, how does that help your receiving core? He didn’t mention receivers prior to me. It makes Devin Hester a better player, why what can Hester do? He can run by everybody in the league, Jay Cutler’s strength? Throwing the deep ball so automatically they get better at the receiver position.”

“Hey at the offensive line he brought in depth he brought in Kevin Shaffer, he brought in Orlando Pace at the left tackle. Now I KNOW there’s controversy over whether he can play or not (Orlando Pace) but hey the Bears think he can play. Let’s hope they’re right. ”

“On the pass rush in the second round (third round) he draft the best inside pass rusher in the draft, potential wise, why do I say potential wise? You don’t see it on every play. But I’m gonna watch this, Rod Marinelli is one of the best defensive line coaches in the league, if not the best, one of the best I’ve seen. A hard-nosed ex-Marine, he’s gonna fire these guys up. Hey Jarron Gilbert is either going to be a player or he’s going to be on a long bus ride back to California.”

Charlie Casserly seemed pretty pumped up about the Bears’ draft and based on the conversation he had with Angelo you can see that Angelo met and fulfilled most of the needs he had laid out after the off-season. While most everyone wishes the Bears had the next Jerry Rice, or even Anquan Boldin on the team, the main point cannot be missed. That point is that the Chicago Bears finally have a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The final point is it took a lot to get Cutler and it didn’t leave the Bears a lot of ammo left to land a top receiver prospect via the draft or via a trade. The one possible top target in free agency that may have been worth the money was Torry Holt, but Holt decided to play with a different team.

The final word from the draft won’t be written for another few years, but the word as it is right now, is the Bears had one of the best off-seasons of any team in the league. Arguably the best off-season in the history of the franchise.

Examining the Bears’ offense: WRs versus RBs

May 1, 2009

Is anyone really comfortable with the wide receiver rotation we have in place right now? Three drafted rookies, Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder dot the roster currently. The equivalent of two second year men are the starters in Devin Hester and Earl Bennett, and former Arena-League football star Rashied Davis rounds out that corps. Hester yes is in his third year as purely a WR but he’s really only developing in the role for the second year in his career.

So why then is Jerry Angelo and the Bears’ coaching staff speaking so highly and confidently regarding this crop of receivers? There’s not one receiver who has even come within 300 yards of a 1,000-yard receiving season in his career. Nothing with this group inspires even the slightest bit of confidence from fans and the media in Chicago.

However there is one thing that we as a fan base seem to be forgetting in all the media driven fear we have regarding the wide receiver position. That is the reliance upon the receivers within this offense is pretty minimal almost down right non-existant and yet that strategy has been effective so far in helping the Bears win football games.

For proof look no further than the ’05 and the ’06 season, seasons in which the Bears won the division and were in the playoffs. Bernard Berrian for all the money showered upon him and the gaping hole he seemed to leave behind in the offense after he signed with the Vikings, never has had a season of 1,000-yards receiving. He’s come close, twice last year he had 964-yards, and the year before with Chicago 951-yards. Sure to most it would seem to not matter that he came up short, but it misses the point of what the Bears’ offense needs to be successful.

The Chicago Bears offense is built around the running game first and foremost. The tired and redundant statement that the Chicago Bears get off the bus running is accurate, but more about a philosophy. The run and a strong running game will set up the pass here. The Bears will not ever go to a three wide receiver spread set like the Colts, or any offense coached by Mike Martz for that matter. So the reliance upon the receivers takes it’s first credibility hit.

This offense needs to be efficient, it does not need to be one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. It needs to be effective and what it primarily needs to be effective in is running the football. Sure the addition of Jay Cutler to the offense gives it a new dimension, and the chance that it will be more explosive, but this team will still rely heavily upon the running game.

This in turn leads back to the title of this article. The back-up running back situation here in Chicago. The Bears are relying on a back up who has been completely ineffective throughout his career due to injuries. Kevin Jones is the second strong option behind Matt Forte and a player who has yet to prove he is fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery. Matt Forte was fourth in the league in carries last year at 316 on the season. That’s quite a load of work for a rookie, on top of the 63 receptions from a year ago Forte represented a large chunk of the offense.

What this means is that the Bears need likely need a more effective back up running back than they do a big time play maker at receiver. So long as Lovie Smith is running the show, this team will be a defense first team and an offense team second. Compounding the philosophy is that the passing game is a third option for this team. Even with Jay Cutler in the mix the Bears are not suddenly going to turn into the Broncos from last year of the Saints. Throwing the ball all over the field and relying on their passing game to win football games. Will that be a part of the offense and a part of the reason the Bears win games this year? Certainly it will be, but this offense will be able to have success with the players in place and will be even better off if Kevin Jones is more effective.

Look no further than the Super Bowl seasons when the Bears led the league in rushing both times in ’85 and ’06. This is where the Bears need to be effective is in running the football. The engine that drives this offensive machine will not be Jay Cutler. Could Cutler be the engine that drives this offense? Most certainly he is that good of a quarterback, but sticking to the ground game is always a better strategy.

The Bears will be a better team by running the football more than they pass the football. To understand this point look no further than the pass-happy New Orleans Saints’ offense under Sean Payton. The Saints’ best year to date under Payton is the 2006 season in which they had a record of 10 wins and six losses. That year the Saints had a stronger rushing attack than they did passing attack and their offense benefited from it. Their win loss record reflected it in that 55-percent of their plays were passing plays. Conversely the following two seasons in which Saints record fell to seven wins and nine losses their passing game made up 62-percent of their offense in 2007 and 61-percent of their offense in 2008.

The same typically holds true for most of the offenses in the league that rely more on the run than they do the pass. So yes there is a very important aspect that the wide receivers will play in the Bears’ offense in 2009. Equally or perhaps more important will be the success of the rushing attack and the health of Matt Forte.

With the addition of Jay Cutler and the continued health and success of Matt Forte the Bears offense can be effective enough for the Bears to go to the playoffs. Further illustrating the point even with the anemic offense that was led by Kyle Orton and the borderline tackling dummies that made up the receiving core last year, it was the defense that cost us this team the playoffs.

When the offense had a lead in the fourth quarter in games against the Panthers, Falcons, and Buccaneers due to the offense primarily putting the points up on the board, it was the defense that failed to generate a pass rush that directly led to last minute drives that lost the games.

Winning championships seems to always come back to the old worn out cliche, running the football and playing good defense, will in the end be what it takes to be successful.

GM Jerry Angelo Interview from ESPN 1000 Part II

April 29, 2009

In part two of the interview Bears general manager Jerry Angelo expands upon the value of some of the prospects who were drafted afterr Juaquin Iglesias.

Talking about the value of fourth round selection D.J. Moore who fell primarily because of his 5-foot-9 inch height Angelo talked about why he is such a good value. “He plays a lot taller than his height, as you know there are players in the league who play a lot taller than what they are and he is one of those players. He’s got tremendous ball skills some of the best ball skills I’ve seen since Vasher. He’s got really good leaping ability, he can go up and get the ball at it’s highest point.” Angelo definitely mentioned how Moore has first round ability but fourth round height and a lot of teams reached for players with the height because of the height of the receivers these days.

While it is true that you do like to have a CB who has good height, a player who plays taller than his height, and who has the ball skills and talent that Moore has is of equal importance.

The next question comes regarding the perceived lack of a true free safety in this draft. Silvy feels that Al Afalava is more suited for a strong safety rather than a free.

Angelo became pretty adamant in saying that they like Craig Steltz, the coaching staff feels really confident in him and feel he is the starting point for the discussion. They also brought in Josh Bullocks as another person to come in and player. It appears that Steltz is going to get the first crack at the free safety spot. Steltz leaves a lot to be desired athletically but he did prove that he is a gamer and someone that won’t give up on a play. Hopefully the learning curve is something he’s crossed in moving into his second year in the league.

Angelo went on to point out that in a one-gap scheme that the Bears utilize a safety has to be good tackler first and foremost. He has to cover his gap and help out in the running game primarily. It’s also true that the Bears’ defense was typically better when Mike Brown came up in run support and the pass defense was better when there was a better pass rush.

To understand where Jerry Angelo is coming from, yes there were blown coverages last year that led to touchdowns, but the most important aspect for the success of the defense is the pass rush first and foremost. There is no argument that can be made against a weak secondary when there was such an anemic pass rush generated by the front four. This is why the Bears drafted Gilbert and Melton to specifically better the pass rush which in turn makes the safeties better.

Yes it would be ideal to have a safety who is great in the run and a great center fielder, but those types of safeties are rare. There are not a lot of safeties in the league that have the combination of great ball skills and dynamite tackling ability in the run game.

The next question that popped was in regards to Charles Tillman being moved to safety and Brian Urlacher being moved to outside linebacker. Angelo talked about it be a possibility further into their careers but right now they’ll remain at their current positions. Tillman specifically was talked about how he was a safety coming out of college and they feel if he were to make the transition to safety he’d be an excellent safety. From what they saw of him as a kid coming out of college they felt he had corner skills so they felt they would try him there at CB and if that didn’t work out he’d be an excellent safety.

Urlacher there are no immediate plans to move him to SAM. Though Angelo expressed he could be successful just about anywhere you put him. If you moved him to tight end he could probably have an impact there.

To wrap up the interview the focus was on the receivers and Angelo feels that they like the group of receivers they have, they think they have a good balance of players with size and speed. He hopes one can emerge into the complete player the Dairy Queen referenced player with a twist and sprinkles. Right now they are going forward with the group they have and they think they’ll get good production from them.

I don’t think the words Angelo used necessarily put the receiver position at ease or into stable territory. I don’t think the rotation out there is chiseled in stone and going forward they can add to it as necessary. They are not starting camp tomorrow and don’t play a game for a few more months so things can change between now and then.

GM Jerry Angelo Interview from ESPN 1000 Part I

April 28, 2009

Jerry Angelo joined the Waddle and Silvy show yesterday to talk Chicago Bears football after the NFL Draft on Sunday. It’s one of the first interviews Angelo has done with local sports talk radio in a few years and it was great to hear where some of his motivation lies in regards to making this team better. In part one of the interview we cover what steps the Bears made to trade for Anquan Boldin and cover the motivation behind trading down out of the first day of the draft.

To start things off it’s fair to say that everyone should recognize and mostly does recognize that this draft wasn’t about any of the players taken, but rather about Jay Cutler. The talk of the draft and it’s impact essentially starts and stops with Cutler.

A point that should be made that maybe hasn’t been touched on as much as it perhaps should be, is that lack of overall great talent in this draft. The value in the players from the Top-5 arguably all the way down to the top of the second round wasn’t all that much different. Evidence in this can be seen in some of the players who fell out of the first round and into the second. Ray Maualuga considered by many as a Top-5 talent fell out of the first round. Everette Brown precisely the same thing, arguably a top-10 level pick who fell to nearly the middle part of the second round.

So the talent and the depth not being as strong as it was in past years made it all the more easy for the Bears to trade out. There are players in this draft that are hard to project and have a very high boom or bust factor that was likely taken into consideration when the idea to trade for Cutler came around.

The Bears also made a trade phone call to the Arizona Cardinals about Anquan Boldin. Angelo could not and didn’t want to get into all the specific details surrounding the trade talks (Boldin is still under contract) and he wants to be able to keep a solid reputation around the league with other GMs. Angelo could have said explicitly what prevented the trade from Boldin from happening, but that in turn would hurt any future endeavors he may have in the trade market. He wants to keep a good solid working relationship so the refusal to go into specific details is easy to understand.

A certain level of respect needs to be maintained and he didn’t want to throw the Cardinals under the bus or affix any blame for any possible outrageous demands the Cardinals may have made etc.

However the point of emphasis should that Jerry Angelo did everything within reason, and within his power to explore the possibility of landing Anquan Boldin. Angelo definitely feels that Boldin would make the Bears a better football team and with the line of thought being that the Bears want to win now, Boldin is a player that would help him achieve that goal.

The next segment flowed into the decision to trade down out and out the first round of the draft. Angelo was pretty explicit with this answer as well in that the Bears had an idea of what player they would take at 49 and what type of player gave them the most value at 49. The focus obviously being on the big three receivers that we had all hoped would slide into the second round. In my Chicago Bears Draft Day Thoughts Blog I touched on the exact line of thinking that Angelo went with. The dream scenario being all three receivers fall into the second round, giving the Bears a better chance to grab one at 49. The more likely scenario I gave obviously is the one that panned out and I was right on target with where I thought the Bears could target either Massaqoi or Iglesias. Iglesias turned out to be the player taken at 99th overall in the third.

Angelo did the best thing for this football team by trading back and picking up an extra third and an extra fourth round pick. The third round pick netted him high value prospect Jarron Gilbert (arguably a first or second round worthy target). This immediately boosted the position on the team that cause the most losses on the team in a direct way. The pass rush defensive end problem that was again addressed in the fourth round with the Henry Melton selection.

Angelo touched on the Jarron Gilbert selection by talking about a few points:

A) Jarron Gilbert is a player that they plan to play at defensive end “versus the run but when we get into our third down situation he’s going to shift inside just as he was in his senior year. He’s been exposed to playing defensive end a bit.”

Dick Tomey (San Jose State’s head coach) as Angelo went on to explain has been a college football coach for a number of years. Tomey has been a specialist in developing defensive lineman for a number of years at schools that he’s coached. Tomey is probably most famous for the Arizona Wildcats’ “Desert Swarm” days when the UofA had one of the best and most consistent defensive lines in the country. Tomey is unquestionably a good football coach and any NFL coach or GM (Angelo in this case) receiving advice from him should take it to heart because he’s one of those coaches that’s been around the block a few times. Tomey feels that Gilbert’s best potential is still ahead of him and he’s just beginning to scrape the surface of what he can do on the football field.

I think some of the points to look at here regarding Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton is the the idea of getting a lot of speed and athleticism up front. The big fad right now in the NFL is the 3-4 because it’s the defense the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl with. However what is consistently overlooked is the New York Giants won the Super Bowl title merely a year ago with the 4-3 defense in place. The Giants led the NFL in sacks with a 4-3 defensive scheme.

The point is and always will be to get the most pressure you can from your front four. This is always accomplished best with speed off the edge and athleticism up the middle. The song remains the same and you could argue that it has since the days of the Bears’ dominating pass rush utilizing the 46 scheme. It’s about getting to the quarterback plain and simple, giving him little no time to throw the ball, it doesn’t matter if it comes from the 3-4, 4-3, 4-4, 5-2, 46, flex-eagle look, ANYTHING that you want to throw out there. The song remains the same get to the quarterback on third down.

Adding speed like Gilbert to the middle of the defense and speed of the edge with someone like Henry Melton is geared specifically towards that idea. The Bears don’t need to switch to a 3-4, they just need to have more speed and with a front four of Israel Idonije, Marcus Harrison, Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton that is a very fast and athletic front four geared to get to the QB on third down. Much the same way the New York Giants focus their defense so much on speed, the Bears are attempting to do the same things.

With Juaqin Iglesias the Bears wanted to get an established receiver. With Mark Bradley they looked at his ceiling and where he could go. Bradley was a defensive back and was moved around before he was the third best receiver on a team that had two other WRs drafted. Iglesias was THE man at Oklahoma, the established number one target and Angelo felt he really compliments what they are trying to do on offense. It’s not taking an expert to see why the Bears targeted these prospects based on what we saw and what the Bears lack on offense and defense.

Digesting the hype from the NFL Draft

April 28, 2009

Well after about 48 hours of diegesting the Bears 2009 NFL Draft I have come to a simple conclusion. I don’t care right now who they drafted and where and I won’t care until I see these players do something on the football field. I can read all the draft grades and evaluations in the world, it’s not much different than reading a lot of the pre-draft hype. What matters a lot though will be how these players look on the football field during the pre-season games. It’s then we’ll get the best idea of what each one of these players is REALLY capable of.

For now it’s all still names heights weights and 40-yard dash times on a piece of paper mixed in with college stats. We know that the players drafted were the best players in college football, but we also know that doesn’t mean it translates them into being the best in the NFL. For all the hype and excitement of Jarron Gilbert jumping out of a swimming pool onto the deck from the shallow end, it doesn’t mean he’ll be able to go toe to toe with Steve Hutchinson on Sundays.

For all the speed and athleticism and potential we have heard about regarding Henry Melton, it doesn’t mean he’ll have the NFL work ethic to become a contributor to this defense. For all great catches Juaqin Igelsias made at Oklahoma, it doesn’t mean he’ll be able to get separation and get open against NFL level DBs.

What this all means right now is that these are the players the Bears felt were the best available at the time. Right or wrong the Bears are stuck with these players for a while and hope for the best coming out this draft.

I can also say without question that of these draft picks on this roster not one of them will be a starter on the field against the Green Bay Packers on opening night. Juaqin Iglesias has the most potential to be an opening night starter given the lack of overall depth at the WR position, but given the giant learning curve receivers go through during the transition from college to the NFL I can say almost certainly he won’t be a starter.

The hope from my vantage point is that these players will play their best football during the pre-season. That is typically where most young players begin to stand out and show what they have in terms of NFL ability and promise. If given opportunities during the regular season I want to see them make the most of those chances much like Marcus Harrison did for the Bears last year. The hope lies with Gilbert, Iglesias and Melton that in three years they will be players that are likely to start or will already be starting.

For the rookies now it’s developing good work habits, study habits and knowing that their job is primarily to learn. There is enough talent ahead of them, that they should be able to apply themselves and develop well enough to become successful players in this league. I hope that they know that they do not carry the weight of the world on them, the expectations for them for right now are extremely low. There is no pressure to contribute on day one, the pressure is to just show that you belong on the 53-man roster.

Learn from the veterans ahead of you who have been around for more than four years. Listen, to they have to give you in the way of advice and no that you are not expected to be a starter on day one. If they do happen to become a starter on day one, that’s pure gravy. But their presence represents the future of the Chicago Bears franchise, and does not represent a chance to win the Lombardi trophy.

Speed to burn: Bears Draft Pick Johnny Knox

April 27, 2009

One of the three draft picks the Bears used on wide receivers today went to a player from a small school with one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the combine. Abiliene Christian’s Johnny Knox was the Bears’ fifth round draft choice and Bears fans should not be asking why.

Knox is mixture of good size at 6-foot 198-pounds and has shown some pretty good ball skills to go with that speed. He was one of the top performers at the combine that I noticed while scouting it in my live blog earlier this year. He is a very smooth athlete who shows some great athletic promise with an ability to go up and get the ball at it’s highest point and he has excellent body control.

His only downside would be he’s not as strong as you’d like in a receiver. He won’t break a lot of tackles or make a lot of yards after contact because of his small hips and legs.

Overall though he was very productive at a small school. With 118 career catches to go with 2,227 yards and an 18.9 yards per catch average and lastly 30 touchdowns you can see he easily dominated a low level of competition. He may be a bit of a project but he gives the Bears another option in stretch the field.

Reminds me a bit of a young Bernard Berrian a player with a lot of athletic prowess who needs some polish. If he gets that polish and develops he could make an impacct sooner, rather than later.

Bears target Henry Melton, pull the trigger on the Longhorn

April 26, 2009

Henry Melton can be questioned by some people as being a reach early in the fourth round of the NFL draft today. But rest at ease Bears fans, Jerry Angelo and his crew did their homework on him as a prospect. He was one of the players on the Private Workout list we were the first blog or media outlet to provide and we did a prospect preview on him based on the Bears’ interest in him.

Melton is a classic 4-3 DE prospect with his size and speed of the edge. He is strong enough to hold things down at the point of attack in the run game, and he’s got enough of a burst to get to the QB. He is the type of player that would immensely benefit from learning under the veterans the Bears do have on the roster currently. Not to mention the plus of learning the techniques he’ll get from Rod Marinelli. Melton is a project, but with proper grooming and learning from Marinelli he could be an impact player. He has tremendous upside and he will easily learn good workout and technique habits from the new D-Line coach.

Melton is very new to the position having only played it for two years for the Texas Longhorns. Everyone spoke about him being a prototype DE coming out of high school, where he was a running back, but he never worked out. From there they flipped him to DE where he is now a draft pick for the Chicago Bears.

Juaqin Iglesias good value at 99th overall

April 26, 2009

Earlier this week I was a bit hard on Iglesias in my prospect preview of him. However I was hard on him for being talked about as a prospect at 49th overall, in the second round. I had no problems with him being selected at the 99th slot in the draft which is where he landed.

Iglesias has value for the 99th overall selection, he could have been a small reach at 49 and a player who could have been scooped up in the second round. Some experts had him pegged with second round value, but the safest place to take him was in the third round and beyond. The Bears looked like they knew what they saw in Iglesias snatching him up in the back end of the third round.

The loss of Bernard Berrian in free agency brings the Bears a solid possession receiver who will get get yards and hopefully continue to move the chains. He’s not going to go deep and make big plays, he’s not going to run away from people. But he should be a third down option who keeps the chains moving in important games late in the season. Decent size, good hands and the ability to seperate and mak plays in the soft spots of zones is what the Bears needed at WR and Iglesias brings good value for that at the 99th overall spot.