Posts Tagged ‘Henry Melton’
While most fans and analysts agree that the pre-season isn’t a great indication of how things will go, I’m going to step up and disagree with that assessment. Having seen all three of the Bears’ pre-season games to this point I can clearly say without much hesitation that the pass rush is back.
The Bears’ defense struggled last year against the pass, and it was the main reason they missed the playoffs. Meanwhile in 2009 the CB situation is far from settled and most fans would prefer to see a ball hawking free safety back there, the bottom line is thee success of this defense starts with the front four.
The top off-season priority was to find a way to fix the pass rush and to do it without overhauling the current crop of defensive lineman who were so successful in 2006 together. Enter Rod Marinelli one of the preeminent defensive line coaches in the league, if not the last couple decades. Marinelli’s resume speaks for itself although most Bears fans see only 0-16 and the coach of the Detroit Lions.
However Lovie Smith knows Marinelli well and knew that he was just the guy to fix the front four. There was a reason Smith called him the biggest free-agency acquisition of the 2009 off-season. Marinelli is a motivator of men, and is all football all the time. Toss in that he may be one of the best teachers of the game and is a disciple of the Tampa-2 defense and the choice was an easy and obvious one.
I predict and can say that it has already paid huge dividends for the Bears’ defense. While most fans remain skeptical the fact of the matter is the Bears’ pass rush has improved and it has improved drastically. The Bears currently rank eighth in the league with a pre-season total of 11 sacks. So? It’s the pre-season come the naysayers, fine but consider the opponents the Bears’ pass rush has looked the best against, the Giants and the Broncos.
Then the naysayers come with “the Broncos only allowed one sack the entire game”. Yes I’m aware of the stat, but the Broncos’ offensive line was also the cause of numerous holding penalties. A sign that the Bears’ defensive line was particular aggressive and dominating to the point that they had no choice but to grab and hold.
The Broncos mind you were the best offensive line in the league in pass protection last year. The Broncos only allowed 12 sacks on the season which good for first overall. Part of this has to do with Jay Cutler’s ample mobility and the other part would be they simply were good. Considering how many pass attempts the Broncos and Cutler attempted last year you can certainly see just how well they were in protecting the passer.
Cutler attempted 616 passes last year and was sacked the aforementioned 12 times. An average of 1 sack every 51 pass attempts. A phenomenal stat in pass protection for the Broncos. Yet the Bears’ offensive line did well to attack that well protecting front.
Not only are the sack totals up during the pre-season the intensity level is up. The D-Line seems to never quit on the pass rush and it shows. If one player gets the penetration forcing the QB to step up or move around in the pocket, typically someone else is there to make the sack. The front’s motor never seems to stop where as last year if they were stopped on their initial moves they seemed to just stop.
There is a clear difference in motivation along the front four. A never ending collective effort to get pressure and they have been successful. What also is a healthy indication is it’s not just the starters that have performed well. The backups have been just as intense and just as focused. Add on that the Bears will use a healthy rotation among the 11 members of the front four they could keep and the future looks bright.
There seems to finally be an intense focus as well as a realization of how important the “rush men” are to the success of the defense. The line has bought into what Marinelli is yelling, but more importantly they are learning from what he is teaching. The improvement to this point, has been visible to the untrained eye and that has the makings of what could be a very exciting season of Chicago Bears football.
In part two of the wrap up of the Bears versus Giants pre-season game I’ll be covering from the point on where the back up players started flowing into the game. Caleb Hanie, Kevin Jones, Josh Beekman at center and Kevin Shaffer at left tackle moved into the line up.
First Drive Cale Hanie
Well blocked running play to the right with starters Chris Williams and Roberto Garza sealing down and Jones sprinting outside for a nice run. Second play is a complete opposite of the first run, Williams gets locked out and moved aside by the DE Jones reverses field to try to make something out of it and is thrown for a loss. Third and four Hanie out of the shot gun, no one open well covered well protected incomplete.
Most of the Starters Still in on Defense
Anderson in at DE, Harrison and Idonijae in at DT.
Three step drop by Manning with a good pass rush up the middle and off the edge. The play is out of the shot gun and is a combined three step drop. Manning makes his first read and first throw which is why the pass rush didn’t get there. Good tackle right after the catch.
Run play is a penalty for an illegal formation, but the play ran before the flag was thrown. Good run defense by Alex Brown and Briggs and Urlacher clean it up.
Second down gain of one on the play, Bears blitz Manning with a hot read the reception Bears right on the tackle Kevin Payne.
Bears with another blitz on third down, Corey Graham gets in on Manning incomplete great pressure by the defense again.
Caleb Hanie second drive
Kevin Jones running hard behind a pulling Garza, lowers his pads and just bowls forward good gain by Jones here. Kevin Jones fumbles on the next play in a pile.
David Carr’s first drive
Bears cover well, Carr rolls out and is pushed out of bounds by Alex Brown. Israel Idonijae good pressure up the middle Carr throws deep incomplete. Another Bears blitz, picked up for the most part, pass incomplete. Giants kick a field goal the scoring in the game ends here.
Caleb Hanie drive
Hanie out of the shot gun…big up the middle blitz and Hanie is buried, he had no chance. Well disguised blitz by the Giants, Hanie didn’t have a clue it was coming and was buried. Second and 21 Hanie rifles a ball to Kellen Davis the TE down the middle and picks up a first down. What a throw by Hanie these types of throws make it easy to know why the Bears like him as their back up. Good catch by Davis too, who had a good camp last year and a good pre-season but never made a catch in the regular season.
Hanie just over throws Johnny Knox on the next play, good arm strength. Draw play to Garrett Wolfe doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a nice effort. Empty backfield Hanie out of the shot gun, pocket breaks down holding by Ballogh on the play. Third and 17 a slant to Rideau gets a gain of 21…what a great confident throw by Caleb Hanie. Rideau gets a nice run after the catch to get the first down. Next throw is a good placed throw just slightly overthrown good try here good protection. A good run by Garrett Wolfe gets a first down good block by Dan Buenning in at right guard now. Good pull and trap block by Lance Louis from the left guard spot, well executed run play here.
Hanie takes off into the end zone on a broken pass play. It comes back on a holding by Shaffer on the play, it’s a bad call by the officials it was very ticky tack to call this holding penalty. There is no clear indication of a hold by Shaffer, just a good fundamental block to the inside. Not sure what the ref saw here and the replay in close shows as much.
A nice screen play to Garrett Wolfe who gets good blocking and uses the blocks well to get down inside the five. Wolfe appears to fumble but it’s a very close call that should have been reviewed. The Bears could have come away with a touchdown or at a minimum a field goal here. It looks more like bad officiating than bad execution on the part of the Bears. Should be more points on the board after this superb drive led by Caleb Hanie.
End of the first half
First half stats Giants held to 99 total yards and five first downs. 48 yards rushing 51 yards passing, great defensive stats for the first half in which most of the starters played for both teams save for one drive by David Carr. Bears 282 yards of total offense 15 first downs 109 yards rushing and 173 yards passing. Two fumbles one by Kevin Jones and a questionable fumble by Garrett Wolfe to close out the half.
Of note the Giants’ average start of drive was their own 35 where as the Bears started at their own 24 so the Bears started out with a worse average field position and still played good defense and drove the field on offense.
Start of the second half Giants’ ball
Dusty Dvoracek, Jarron Gilbert, Mark Anderson, Idonijae in. Gilbert at the DE spot instead of the three technique. LBs are Jamar Williams, Marcus Freeman and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Craig Steltz in at safety. The first play is a run that gets strung out wide by the defensive lineman. Good job of stringing this play out and Steltz stepping up into the box to take on a FB block. The linebackers step up and make a decent tackle.
Mark Anderson on the very next play great pressure, just misses a sack for himself but forces Carr into a sack. Josh Bullocks sacks him but the play was made possible purely by Anderson who used a great speed rush to get the pressure. Idonijae as well with good pressure up the middle on this play. It was a four man rush, and Bullocks was able to step up and make the play. Dvoracek double teamed on the play which freed up the rest of the rushers to get to Carr. Great play by the defense here.
I have to emphasize on this play just how great of a rush Mark Anderson put in on this play. He showed a great burst off the line of scrimmage, great speed off the edge, everything you look for in a great speed rush was here on this play. Well done by Anderson to make this play, Indonijae as well getting pressure up front. You want to see this from players who could potentially be starters but are back ups dominating the back ups in front of them. Anderson catches a lot of heat, but this was a great rush by him.
Third and 11 Carr out of the shot gun they try to slip a screen out by not blocking Anderson. But Anderson is just so fast when he is blocked and when he’s not blocked he throws off the timing of the screen. The Bears smother the screen play, great defense and even more speed shown by Anderson. Anderson gets his arms up and into the throwing lane, just great things all the way around here. Nothing but compliments for Anderson and the defense here. Also a good hustle by Dusty Dvoracek to go after the screen and get in on the tackle. Good awareness and motor by the big man.
Hanie play action pass swing to the full back dropped for a loss. Bad play call here on first down not sure what the call was here. Next play is a running play and it’s a well blocked play for Garrett Wolfe. Dan Buenning gets a good initial block and then gets up to the second level very quickly which gets Wolfe just short of a first down on the play. Superb blocking here by Buenning not only at the initial point of attack, but also in getting up the field to the second level after his scrape. Good execution and blocking by the whole offensive line, as a whole. You really like to see this level of execution by the offense on plays like this. It makes the Bears look like a well disciplined and a well coached team. Can’t ask for much more.
Bad call here on the QB sneak. Hanie is not the strong type to be able to drive his legs or use his height to get a first down. Should have been a give to the RB on this play. But Ron Turner makes up for it on fourth down and one with a power running call it gives his lineman a better chance to get up and into the defenders and actually have success at the point of attack. Good blocking by Kellen Davis who is looking to keep a spot on the roster and will make it hard on the coaches to cut him. Kevin Jones picks up the first down on fourth and one here.
Caleb Hanie with a play-action pass, pump fakes pulls it down, rolls out and makes a good read by keeping his eyes down the field and completes a small pass to Rashied Davis. Beekman and Hanie with a communication problem on the snap count here, he snapped before Hanie was ready and Hanie never got the play rolling dropped for a loss. Hanie drops back to pass, find Rideau on a crossing route that’s complete but not enough for the first down. The Bears stop themselves on another drive. They likely should have scored again, but shot themselves in the foot. It’s pre-season these are kinks that can get ironed out.
David Carr, Bears on defense
Mark Anderson jumps off sides here free play pass complete and a good tackle right on top of the catch. Good defense here. Bears take away the dink and dunk crap that killed them the previous week in Buffalo. On the next play with Ahamad Bradshaw getting the carry the Giants get a pretty good run blocked play here. Dvoracek etc were walled off pretty handily and the run went for a few yards here. This is one of the first real running plays that the Bears get beat at the point of attack, for the most part the Bears spent the game dominating in the trenches and dictating the pace of the game to the Giants. The play did only go for a gain of five yards and a first down however before Bradshaw is tackled.
Israel Idonijae again gets great pressure up the middle here after the Giants elect to double team Mark Anderson. The pressure leads to a fumble (Giants recover) but it’s great to see pressure coming from every where. Whether it’s Anderson, or Idonijae the Bears are getting the pressure from their front four. If someone gets double teamed another guy steps up and creates pressure on the Giants’ QB. What a night and day difference from last year, pencil in Rod Marinelli love here.
The very next play is very poor run defense. The whole front seven gets knocked off the ball here. No penetration in any gaps, no push at the point of attack and Bradshaw gets some big yards here. Two plays in a row that really make the run defense look bad. Bradshaw on the other hand could start so he is at a bit of an advantage here. At the end of the day you’d like to see better run defense and on this play you clearly don’t see that. Major disappointment that there wasn’t more of a push here.
Another big hole on the next play here. Dusty Dvoracek gets double teamed, Mark Anderson with a piss poor move inside which guarantees he takes himself out of the play and is sealed off inside. This opens up another big hole, Steltz comes up and makes a good tackle, but poor run defense again by the front seven on this play. But on the flip side Hunter Hillenmeyer was held on the play by the fullback. He could have made an earlier tackle were it not for the holding. Still Mark Anderson’s move is inexcusable on this play. Especially on first down his move was more of a pass rush move rather than a hold your ground at the POA run defense move.
First and 20 on this play Carr from the shot gun, zone-blitz with Mark Anderson dropped back into coverage the pressure gets to Carr who has to get rid of it in a hurry. Jamar Williams with a great blitz to get a hit on Carr, the pressure from Williams makes this play. Anderson was a bit behind on the zone coverage on the TE so if the pass had been complete there could have been some damage here. Nice to see some creativity here with the zone-blitz call.
The next play is a pass play Giants sell out in a max protect mode here. Dvoracek double teamed, Anderson gets a good rush but gets chipped by the RB and into a double team block. The TE makes a good chip on Jarron Gilbert before catching a pass out in the flat, the pursuit is pretty good but the TE gets some decent yards. Good execution by the Giants here, but the Bears still kept the ball in front of them and the pass went for minimal gain for the most part. Hard to get a good pass rush when you have the backs and a TE in to block.
Next play is a pitch to the RB out of the shot gun, illegal shift on the offense, but since a play happened here it’s of note that Jamar Williams got good pursuit to make the tackle on a unique call on third down. Williams showed a lot of speed here to make this play, but it’s for not for the Giants due to the penalty. Good defense and tackling here by the Bears. This showed how deep and fast the Bears are on defense.
Bears on offense with Hanie
Good run defense here by the Giants, not bad run blocking by the Bears but the Giants stepped up at the POA and made the play in this case. Donovan Raiola in a center, Beekman to left guard, Lance Louis to left tackle Shaffer to RT.
On third down the Bears call a little bubble screen for Juaqin Iglesias who breaks into the clear on a very well executed screen play, (GREAT CALL BY RON TURNER HERE) gets a nice first down for the Bears. Play-action pass by Hanie just slightly underthrows Kellen Davis here. I don’t know if he got a full follow through because the pressure got there late. Kevin Jones with a good run here, good run blocking here Buenning, Shaffer get good blocks on this well executed play.
Andre Woodson at QB Bears on defense
Great run defense here by the Bears on the next play play really stepping up and winning the battle at the POA. Good tackle by Jamar Williams here and then again on the second play good defense here by the Bears. Good run defense, Bears swarming to the football. Making up for the last drive where they struggled a bit to control the LOS.
Great stunt up front by the Dusty Dvoracek, he gets good pressure and flushes Woodson and then hustles down the field to make the tackle. He gets a cheap shot block on him and falls on his leg awkwardly.
Bears back on offense
Bears great run blocking a nice eight yard gain on the run by Adrian Peterson, just an awesome run blocking play the Bears really dominating this game. Next play the Bears don’t run block so well so it’s stuffed up. False start on the offense, two false starts in a row. Third down, and 11 Hanie tries to hit Juaqin Iglesias, good defense not a bad throw just slightly tipped away. Good defense.
Bears on defense
Good run defense followed by bad run defense, Melton in Rivera in the bottom of the roster here. Rudy Burgess on the coverage on the slant. Burgess is a former WR in college should have played CB is now and is behind the learning curve on defense. Flushed from the pocket is Woodson off-sides. Good run defense, the line strings it out and the linebackers clean it up. They set the edge will and pursuit comes from the inside. Bad run defense on the next play the Bears get blown by for 15 yards. Illegal contact on Craig Steltz on the next play. Dvoracek back into the game, gets good pressure on Woodson who throws to high. Rivera also good pressure with a blitz up the middle and gets the hit on Woodson, good execution good defense here.
Good defense by Melton gets double teamed sees the back slip out and pursues down the line of scrimmage to make the tackle. Good hustle here good awareness by Melton to make the play. Not a lot of pressure but good coverage pass is complete but the Bears stop him short of the first down. Giants on third down, a run good play call a counter move on third and two. Pick up the first down. Bears with a good blitz, Freeman with good pressure, pass incomplete. Good defense getting down the line of scrimmage on this toss play. The scrub defensive line makes a good play here. Bears good coverage again without much of a pass rush but overall good coverage.
Fourth and 10 Bears blitz and Josh Bullocks just misses an INT. Should have caught that one Bullocks.
Well after over 3,000 words I think it’s time to wrap this one up. The Bears for the most part dominated the entire game on offense, defense whether it was starters in or back ups. The D-Line got pressure or they played good defense. The coverage was good and the Bears limited YAC very well. On offense the Bears ran the ball well, Caleb Hanie did a good job at QB and the only way the Bears were stopped is when they had silly penalties or turnovers. If they play like this the entire season in all three phases they’ll win a lot of football games.
The Chicago bears looked like they were in dominant mid-season form. The offense looked as good as it did in the early stages of 2006 when the Bears made their Super Bowl run. Nearly 300-yards of total offense, a 92-yard touchdown scoring drive, big runs from Matt Forte including a big touchdown run. Complete destruction of a Giants team that is a Super Bowl contender out of the NFC.
Yes we need to reel it in and realize it’s only the pre-season but the flashes of excellence are there by the starters. Both offensively and defensively the Bears stepped up and made plays. Their execution was top notch with only a few shaky plays here and there in what was overall something that made the Bears look like a Super Bowl contender.
If there was a way for the Bears to play like this against for 18-games this team will not lose a lot of games. Sure they had some trouble tackling the big Brandon Jacobs, but they swarmed to the football and stopped the Giants cold.
Some brief criticisms would be Devin Hester misjudging a deep pass, one questionable pass by Cutler on a slant and Frank Omiyale missing a major block on a linebacker that led to a run only gaining one yard.
On the flip side Hester did make plays, Cutler made great throws and was able to use his athleticism to roll out and make throws and Omiyale made a big block later on that sprung Forte for a touchdown. On defense Urlacher had trouble squaring up on Brandon Jacobs, but later dropped him for a loss once he got low on him. Kevin Payne made a huge pass break up on a third and long and pressure come consistenly from the defensive line. Alex Brown caused a fumble, and Adewale Ogunleye got a sack.
If this is a sign of things to come the Windy City will be buzzing with excitement well into January 2010.
The second half was more of the same for the Chicago Bears, at least on defense. The offense didn’t get anymore points on the board but they did play well. Caleb Hanie solidified himself as the backup to Jay Cutler.
The defense all the way around dominated the New York Giants getting consistent pressure on their QBs. Whether it was Mark Anderson or Henry Melton the Bears got after the QB. If you were to point to an example of Rod Marinelli’s influence it would be tonight in this game for four quarters the line played and played hard.
Dusty Dvoracek stood out and made plays in a game he likely needs to stake his spot on the roster and did as much playing through to the whistle on one sack he made. There was just a mentality on the defensive line that had been lacking for the past two seasons that is back in full effect now.
The defense finished with five sacks on the night, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of carnarge the “rushmen” caused in the backfield. Time after time Giants QBs had lineman in their face and were unable to set their feet or make even a good throw to their receivers. Knockdowns, pressure, QBs with happy feet it was just an all around exciting game.
Overall this is the type of game the fans of the Monsters of the Midway have been waiting to see, and must be happy to witness. Optimism will only get stronger after tonight as the Bears march forward to what will hopefully be a great 2009 season.
There were a few things that happened down at camp today really caught everyone’s attention today. One really good thing and one thing that could be something to keep an eye on going forward.
The most important thing that happened today was Jay Cutler’s command of the offense and the accuracy to his receivers. Cutler was on target most of the day with his throws and they were delivered with a level of zip that has become his trademark. What we saw today was what we have come to expect of Cutler and it’s easy to see he is starting to really get a feel for his receivers and for the offense. Cutler was great in the two-minute drill and you can really see the rapport that exists between him and Earl Bennett. Yes I said Earl Bennett, who looks light years ahead of where he was last year and is practicing with a new level of confidence.
Cutler had a couple shaky days in a row, but today was one of his best days, and it was on a day you wouldn’t expect him to be on top of it given it was the fifth practice in a row in full pads. Lovie Smith has sorta become notorious for taking it easy on his veterans (he still is) but he has the Bears practicing five straight days in full pads. This to me shows a renewed level of dedication by Smith not to mention he senses the same urgency that the fans of the Monsters of the Midway do.
Adding more to the reasons the Bears brought Cutler here, and to the reasons why you can consider Cutler a franchise level QB was hearing again about his passer rating in the fourth quarter. Cutler’s rating in the fourth quarter was up over 90. Which is when having a high QB rating matters most, in crunch time with the game on the line. Sure the Broncos struggled in the red zone last year but you still want your QB to be at his best when the game matters the most and that’s yet another example of Cutler being on top of it.
To talk more about Earl Bennett’s development may not do him justice. He has come along way from last year and while we likely won’t see the true results of that until the season starts, at least we can have some confidence going forward. There is reason to be optimistic about Bennett’s work ethic and his consistency in practice. No the Bears likely don’t have a true number one wide receiver that’s going to going to haul in 90 to 100 catches and put up 1,200-yards receiving. However that doesn’t mean that the Bears can’t be successful or win the Super Bowl with the talent that is on the roster. The Bears have won without a major player at receiver before and if the players they have on the team perform up to expectations the offense will be just fine.
There is no reason to blow smoke up your ass and make you think that the receiving core is fixed or is going to be feared, but there is reason for subtle optimism that the Bears will have players capable of making plays when it matters. Earl Bennett is one, Johnny Knox is another, Brandon Rideau is another and quietly but subtly Juaqin Iglesias is becoming more consistent with his receptions in practice.
The other news we like to cover is the development of Zack Bowman’s hamstring injury. Bowman has been the stud on defense since camp started and looks like he’s fully capable of taking over for Nathan Vasher who is likely attending his final training camp as a Chicago Bear. Bowman injury while not rumored to be serious is cause for concern. After all anytime a player tweaks a hamstring it can be one of those lingering nagging injuries that cause a lot of problems, especially if that player is rushed back in or rushes himself back in. Right now Bowman is listed as day to day and hopefully he’ll be back on the field soon.
In the mean time look for Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride and rookie DJ Moore to get more attention with the first team defense. Moore is about where you’d expect for a rookie, making plays and showing potential, while at the same time getting worked over like a rookie usually does.
It’s of note to mention that Brett Basanez has looked better the past couple practices. While he may still struggle to stay on the 53-man roster it is nice to see him starting to find a bit of a groove. Overall though he’s still a country mile behind Caleb Hanie for the back up spot. Hanie is just more crisp and accurate with his throws and has the arm strength necessary to make NFL level throws that Basanez struggles with. Hanie is turning out to be a nice surprise for Bears fans and I’m really excited to see him in pre-season action again this year after he performed so unexpectedly well last year as a undrafted free agent signee.
On defense it’s of note that Adawale Ogunleye still hasn’t found himself yet. All last year you could question his heart and his desire and whether or not one of the lone over 30 players on the team was about done. Now you can really start to question it as O-Gun has yet to really make much of a play all camp long. At some point the light bulb needs to flick back on for O-Gun and he needs to perform up to the level he’s getting paid for. I think if Henry Melton were a little further along in his development there would be the potential to see O-Gun cut after this camp. Since the Bears need a more secure defensive front, O-Gun’s job is safe for now.
On the offensive line the players are playing up to expectations. Not a lot to report when it’s pretty much what you would expect from everyone. The key will be how healthy Orlando Pace remains at the LT spot. He is obviously still a very capable pass blocker which will matter most against Aaron Kampman of the Packers and Jared Allen of the Vikings. John St. Claire was abused by pass rushers most of last year, especially Allen so it will be nice to have a player out there that can protect the most valuable player on the roster. On the flip side Chris Williams continues to show why the Bears drafted him. The redundant he’s big athletic and strong may get old, but it is become more and more obvious that the Bears are overall better along the offensive line than they were and they will be better on offense because of it.
At the running back position Matt Forte is back close to full strength and practicing as such. Sure the team will still bring him along slowly but he is more active in practice than he had been through the first few practices. Seeing Forte starting to get his groove on in full pads is a welcome sign.
Two relatively high draft picks were spent on two players who were thought to be addressing needs on the team in 2009. Henry Melton provides the speed off the edge that the Bears seem to lack with his 4.6 40-yard dash time and his explosion off the edge. While Juaqin Iglesias is supposed to develop into a solid two option if not a number one option at receiver. To this point of training camp neither has been very impressive at either one of their jobs.
Juaqin Iglesias was talked about as being worthy of the second round selection the Bears traded away. Most everyone viewed him as a player that should have been taken at that slot. Ironically six receivers and nearly two rounds of draft later, the Bears scooped Iglesias up at 99th overall in the back end of the third round with their compensatory pick. Iglesias’ value was seen as high for that slot in the draft, but to this point it appears that his value was on target or maybe even a shade under the third round.
To this point he has yet to establish himself among the top receivers on the roster. Through OTAs and the first week of training camp Iglesias has struggled with his consistency catching the football, and in his route running which is far from polished. There has even been discussion and observation between most of the analysts about who really is the receiver drafted in the third round (Iglesias) and the receiver drafted in the fifth round (Johnny Knox). Johnny Knox has shown a superb level of speed and pretty consistent hands through OTAs and on into training camp. Knox is pushing for playing time against some of the more experience veterans.
Iglesias may only make the roster at this point due to his high draft status and Angelo’s penchant for “red shirting” inexperienced rookies who have time developing over the steep rookie learning curve they see. He seems like a candidate to miss a lot of the season the same way Earl Bennett did last year. Bennett by the way is looking better after a year of development.
On the defensive side of the ball most Bears fans were asking Who is that? When the Bears selected defensive end Henry Melton early in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Melton is a converted RB/FB to defensive end and has only played the position for two seasons in college. To say that Melton is a raw project may be a bit of an understatement. He is however a big athlete with a lot of speed. Whether or not that translates into a spot on the 53-man roster over a spot on the practice squad remains to be seen. As it stands now Melton is easily behind O-Gun, Brown, Anderson and Idonijae who is back full time at DE this season. That’s a solid four DEs that are ahead of him on the depth chart leaving it very unlikely he will make the 53-man cut.
With Mark Anderson having a better camp and looking a bit improved over the past two years Melton’s job of making the cut is even harder to overcome. Melton has all the tools you look for yes but will it ever develop into something more? That remains to be seen.
While not every rookie the Bears draft will make the 53-man roster and the odds were already stacked against Iglesias and Melton for the most part. There is some comfort in seeing Knox and safety Al Afalava exceed expectations thus far in camp.
Apparently I am painting to rosey of a picture for the liking of some Bears fans so I’m going to do my best to point out the negatives that have gone on thus far in practice to try and even out the coverage.
Since I’m being too optimistic and not negative (although wait until we lose our first game or the Packers’ RB gets a long run or a first down catch on a 3rd and 12) so I’ll follow through with some things that are disconcerting.
Beyond Tommie Harris and his never going to heal arthritic knee we have Devin Hester who is still dropping balls. Hester is also still to small to truly be a number one receiver because to take him away all you have to do is jam him at the line of scrimmage. Jam him, throw off his timing and he’s not going to get open or be able to do much to get into his route. You don’t see a lot of this in the Cover-2 defense nor do you see it when the team is running through practice with about half the speed and intensity you would see in a real game. Hester had made some plays but he’s still showing he drops a lot of balls and his routes are better but not as precise as you’d like to see out of him.
Cutler has seemingly got worse day by day he throws INTs pretty consistently in practice. On day five it was Urlacher and Bowman who were making picks of Cutler. This belies the problems he’s had with his 18 INTs to just 25 TDs on so many attempts. You prefer to have a QB who has about a two to one TD to INT ratio. Cutler doesn’t have that for his career even with the offense he had in Denver he was still unable to attain a two to one ratio. The fact that he’s showing so many picks is not a positive sign moving forward. You can tell at times he’s trying to force his throws because he has air mailed a few balls here and there that should have otherwise been on target.
Tom Waddle mentioned that the best receiver out there has looked like it’s been Rashied Davis. Davis looks to be the sharpest route runner, the best in and out of his breaks and looks like a pro receiver. Waddle remarked that he didn’t see anything from Hester that looked all that good, nor did he see much from Earl Bennett. I bring up Waddle’s observations because he played WR for the Bears and KNOWS what it takes to be a good player. His opinion carries more weight because he’s been there done that.
So if Rashied Davis looks the best out of the players that are out there practicing at wide receiver according to a former WR, the Bears could be in deep trouble. Beyond all the happy go lucky feelings that are coming out of camp, I’ll take Waddle for his word on the receivers. Sure there are subtle signs but until the games get going we’re not going see much evaluation wise because everyone usually looks good in practice.
Nathan Vasher is likely participating in his last Chicago Bears training camp. Vasher has been a shadow what he once was before he demanded and received his hefty pay day. Same goes for a lot of the Bears on defense. They’ve gotten lazy and have not performed up to expectations since they got their palms greased.
Most notably the player who seems to have not done much and is on the hot seat is Adewale Ogunleye. O-Gun just doesn’t seem to have much left in the tank or much motivation. He has for the most part been dominated by Chris Williams who is a solid pass protector and is earning pretty strong reviews for his pass blocking. Typically you’d like to see a talented veteran like O-Gun getting more than his fair share of positive talk from practice, but he hasn’t.
At safety Danieal Manning is still himself, the guy who can get lost in coverage or make a big play to keep himself around. He’s a good nickel player but after that he’s a ghost for the most part. Free safety is really starting to become even more of a question mark. Free agent signee Josh Bullocks has pretty much been passed over on the depth chart by rookie Al Afalava. When you have a veteran second round draft pick getting beat out pretty handily by a sixth round draft choice rookie you know the coaches likely missed on that evaluation.
Speaking of other rookies, Juaquin Iglesias and Henry Melton, (if they make the team) will likely make the roster based simply on their draft status. Neither one has stood out to this point Iglesias especially given his draft status in the third round. More was expected out of him but all the knocks on him that existed that caused him to fall to the third round, still exist now. Iglesias’ route running is damn near horrible and that’s a direct result of being in the spread passing game that Oklahoma ran. The defenses in college aren’t near as complex or intricate or efficient as they are in the NFL. So in college a player like Iglesias can get by on just being in the right place at the right time or being in a place where a player completely missed his assignment.
Since Oklahoma often times spread teams out rather thin this gave them even more holes to work with and Iglesias was the beneficiary of bad defenses. Now that he’s seeing tight coverage that requires precise route running to get open he’s being shut out and talked about in terms of being lucky to make the 53-man roster. Brandon Rideau and Rashied Davis easily have an argument to make the team, but if the Bears keep only five receivers like they did last year then Rideau or Davis is likely going to be phased out in favor of a rookie who’s only saving quality is where he was selected in the draft.
Iglesias’ Big-12 counterpart Henry Melton is full of raw talent, but lacks any other quality you’d like to see in an NFL football player. He’ll likely make the team as a practice squad player who the Bears hope can develop and move through the rookie learning curve at a good pace. Melton is behind Alex Brown, O-Gun, Idonije and Mark Anderson on the depth chart plus with Jarron Gilbert’s ability to play inside or out ala the bigger Idonije that versatilityi for him is more valuable on the 53-man roster than Melton is.
The next big question is why hasn’t Frank Omiyale beat out Josh Beekman for the number one spot at left guard? Beekman has consistently ran with the ones day in and day out. Beekman while a solid performer last year left a lot to be desired among most Bears fans. Yet to this point has managed to hold off Omiyale’s challenge at guard. It should also be noted that Omiyale is an OT learning a new position. There is no guarantee that Omiyale will take to the new position all that well given that his success has always been playing OT. OTs tend to work better out and space and guards typically need to be able to work in tighter quarters and be more of a mauler type of player. Omiyale’s pedigree doesn’t seem to fit the mold of a guard.
While the defense has stolen the show for the most part of the first two days, the offense didn’t want to take that lying down on day two.
The passing game continues to find it’s groove with both Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie getting in on the action. Cutler was overall sharp while Hanie continued to shine and show a high level of improvement over last year. Hanie has the arm strength to get the ball down the field and the accuracy behind that rocket to make big plays in tight spots. It looks as though they are the one and two (Cutler obviously) but Hanie is running away from Basanez. Honestly it’s not even close at this point even when Basanez improves his accuracy he still seems to get picked off once a practice.
On the offensive line Chris Williams is beginning to show signs of being fully healed from his back surgery last year. On top of being healthy Williams has shown the talent that made him the Bears’ first round selection in the draft last year. While most fans are skeptical given the recent lack of overall success with first round picks, Williams seems to be fighting as if his job were on the line. He’s had a few pancake blocks here and there and has been solid in pass protection as well. Williams has also been talking with a chip on his shoulder with the media. He seems to be fuming somewhat that they (the media) helped anoint a bust before he played his first real game.
The Bears need stability along the offensive front, especially at offensive tackle and it’s Williams and Pace that are attempting to do just that. The severely disappointing play from the offensive line last year really hampered the Bears’ success in both the running game and in pass protection. Now Williams seems intent on changing that and earning his pay check.
A bit of a surprise thus far has been the success of Lance Louis as a second team LT. Louis has shown that he may be a capable back up, at least from the early going of camp. Free agent signee Kevin Schaeffer is showing why the Bears signed him in the first place. Also playing with a high motor and a lot of intensity. Schaeffer was noticeably solid in the first pads practice and showed up again today. If for any reason Williams goes down Schaeffer is more than a capable back up in his place. On the flip side Williams would likely flip to the left side in place of Pace and Schaeffer would move up to starting RT.
At wide receiver Earl Bennett and the coaching staff may get the last laugh. Bennett is showing the signs that Jay Cutler and the coaching staff have been talking about from the get go. Bennett put a nasty double move off of a pump fake on Nathan Vasher and hauled in a pass 40-yards down the field from Cutler. Bennett also snatched the ball out of the air on a diving reception that brought a roar from the crowd. Bennett’s consistency is the most promising sign and it really helps that he shows to showing the signs of the same rapport he had with Cutler at Vanderbilt. ’08 may have been a wasted year for the rookie, but ’09 could be a year that makes the fans forget all about that.
With Juaquin Iglesias struggling to adjust to the pro level, the need for Bennett to step up his game and show why he was a third round pick is even more apparent. Iglesias had the first drop of the practice tonight and has made too many drops for our liking. Most people are beginning to ask who exactly was the third round selection and who was the fifth round selection between Iglesias and Knox. Knox is taking to the game like a duck to water, continuing all the great catches and route running he showed in OTAs. Further cementing his status on the team and moving up the depth chart to second team WR.
On defense Pisa Tiniosamoa is another player showing why the Bears were excited to sign him. He has laid the wood to both Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones on more than one occasion. Even at the smallish 224-pounds Tiniosamoa has made up with it with his intensity. Still you have to worry about things a bit when your strong side linebacker is tipping the scales in the range of some safeties.
Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer took the day off for the most part with the veteran injury excuse of “general soreness”. This gave Jamar Williams the reps with the first team defense at the WILL ‘backer spot. Williams got popped pretty good by Olin Kreutz towards the end of practice. Williams is another player that has been the story of OTAs showing that he’s versatile enough to play all three LB positions while being the first player to come off the bench if an injury occurs.
Perhaps the best excitement of practice was the debut of the Wildcat formation or the Cane formation as the Bears are calling it. Devin Hester lines up behind center with Cutler split wide and fireworks happen. It’s just another reason to get Hester the ball in space or on a misdirection play that let’s him use his speed and moves in the open field.
As I predicted in an earlier article rookie Al Afalava is moving up the ranks in the secondary. He’s moved up to take reps with the second team defense. Even though Afalava was only around for a week of OTAs, he is out there showing off why the Bears are essentially experts at finding solid talent late in the draft. The more Afalava improves the better for the overall health of the secondary.
Unfortunately the secondary is not all stable. Nathan Vasher has been described as looking like a first year player, getting lost in coverage and beat by younger receivers. The sixth year veteran may very well be participating in his last Chicago Bears training camp. Coupled with his injury problems and his lack of consistent play Vasher looks like he’ll like be supplanted by Zack Bowman once Charles Tillman returns to reclaim his starting job.
At this point it’s one person’s opinion, although he has a lot of overall backing from everyone else in attendance in practice that there is absolute new attitude on the D-Line. The Rod Marinelli effect is being felt and the players continue to rave about as much as the media does. Adewale Ogunleye stated this is the first time he’s been able to implement what he’s being taught into real game situations (via game film). Alex Brown has taken to Marinelli’s approach like a duck to water. Not surprising given Brown naturally plays like Marinelli coaches. Rookie Jarron Gilbert is showing why the Bears are excited about his potential. Gilbert is versatile strong and very fast, he’s taking to the intensity. One observer made the comment that some D-Lineman have a tendency to look like Tarzan and play like Jane, while Gilbert is Tarzan on both counts.
Israel Idonije is looking like a slimmed down beast. Down 40-pounds from 306-pounds to 266-pounds. This gives Idonije a fierce burst off the ball and his already impressive power is magnified by the speed he possesses. This could be Idonije’s coming out party this year and it’s none too soon to have happen.
Unfortunately it’s coming down to the end of this season’s OTAs with only a week left until the Bears wrap it up. Although it might be a good thing since the nagging injury bug has taken it’s toll on some of the players this year.
Among the most notable injuries, Matt Forte with a strained hamstring, Brian Urlacher a strained groin, Charles Tillman with a shoulder problem, Nick Roach, Tommie Harris, Glenn Earl, Josh Bullocks among others out with injuries.
Only Tillman has managed to return to participate in two of the OTA practices thus far.
The story however has been Tommie Harris and his knee. The never-ending story that his knee is. Harris has apparently taken exception to recent talk about his demise, I even covered it in this blog here how Harris rarely participates and never looks to be at full strength. His knee problem is a major one in the fact that he hasn’t been a 100-percent participant in workouts of any kind for over a year.
Sports talk radio lit up the air waves with talk about whether the Bears should pick up his option next year or is the Jarron Gilbert and Marcus Harrison combination the way to go. My take is we’ll know all we need to know after this season.
Elsewhere the Bears signed all of their rookies during these OTAs. All nine of the draft picks were signed with third rounders Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias signing four year deals yesterday. The Bears as usual are the first team to have all of their draft picks signed and ready to go.
News from the rookie class seems to be that Johnny Knox is making a small name for himself as the rookie that has stood out the most to this point. Knox’s speed in undeniable and his production in college was undeniable leading reason to believe teams may have underestimated how solid of a receiver prospect he actually is.
He came from a small school with high production, but no one really noticed just how dynamite of a play maker he is. He has shown of his speed in camp making big plays out of short routes and showing an ability to get deep. Knox will be one to keep an eye on in the pre-season games once the Bears face some real opposition. You’d like to think that Knox could develop along the same lines as Bernard Berrian did.
Berrian was primarily a deep threat who developed into a more well-rounded receiver as his career went on. Knox has the same level of speed and work ethic that may pay off for the Bears in the long run.
Elsewhere the Bears have been utilizing the TEs in more wide out type roles. Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark both proved to be favorite targets of Jay Cutler. Olsen got loose on a seam pass yesterday for what was probably the play of the day.
This is a dimension of the Bears’ offense that has been severely under utilized the first two years of Olsen’s career. While Olsen was effective last year, this year should be a case where Olsen puts up Tony Gonzales like production. Olsen is to big, to fast and has to great of hands to not be a multi-year Pro-Bowl player from this point forward.
Elsewhere on defense with Brian Urlacher absent Jamar Williams took all of the reps at first team MIKE. Williams appears to be a lock for a roster spot with his ability to play all three LB positions. While he was primarily talked about as Lance Briggs’ eventual replacement, he has now worked himself into position to be the primary back up at all three spots.
Williams’ only downfall is he could be the starter at the SAM spot, but because he has focused on learning all three LB spots and been a special teams wizard he is a back up for now.
The secondary is still getting shuffled around on a near weekly basis. Corey Graham took some reps at nickel back and is starting to show he has versatility to his game with an ability to play corner, safety and nickel. Danieal Manning sat out this work out with a minor injury.
Pisa Tinoisamoa ran with the first team at SAM with Nick Roach battling the injurgy bug. The recent Bears free agent acquisition is battling to start at the SAM spot. He led the Rams in tackles last year but doesn’t have the ideal size you’d like to see in a SAM backer.
The Bears definitely favor speed over size at the SAM spot. A report had Tinoisamoa playing at only 225-pounds last year. An extremely lean weight for a linebacker prospect in the NFL. Hopefully the report is more myth than fact, but that weight report is something I”ll keep an eye on going forward.
On the offensive line Josh Beekman has been sliding between center and guard but has kept ahold of his job as first team offensive guard to this point. Obviously there won’t be much movement on the offensive line of any real important note until the pads go on. Frank Omiyale and Beekman will have a major battle ahead of them at training camp. Both offer versatility in that Omiyale can slide out and play tackle and Beekman can slide in and play center.
The battle between Beekman and Omiyale figures to be one of the best battles to watch during training camp. Beekman may not be an elite level player but he continues to play well, continues to improve and there’s no reason to think his job is in danger.
We’ll have another full report next week at the conclusion of OTAs. Any news that happens between now and then we’ll keep you updated on.
Other coverage will include how the pre-season magazines rate the Bears’ strengths weaknesses heading into 2009. First up on the list will be coverage from Athlon Sports’ pre-season NFL magazine.
This is Danieal Manning’s make or break year. He’ll likely get THIS season to prove his value, and then the Bears could move on from him. I make this statement based on the same statement Jerry Angelo made about Dusty Dvoracek.
Not because Manning has been as injured as Dvoracek, but because with each passing season Manning seems to slip lower onto the depth chart. He currently has no true position on the roster. Kick returner and nickelback sure, but more was expected out of a player with some of the best athletic ability on the roster.
Manning should be the starting free safety this year especially with the dire need for one and his speed. Talk about a true center fielder type, with his previously mentioned athetic prowess Manning should be able to cover a lot of ground in the secondary. Instead he looks completely lost out there at times, giving up the deciding touchdown to Andre Johnson in the final game of the season. Among other mental errors he has committed Manning, has been a part of game deciding plays and has been no help in run support.
Manning’s worth has been bumped up slightly only because of Devin Hester’s decent from elite kick off return man. Manning led the league in kickoff return average last year and did score a touchdown on a return. That being said Manning’s worth needs to be added to the secondary.
Especially because of his second round draft status in 2006. The Bears traded out of the fisrt round and then drafted Manning with their first pick. Manning fits into the mold of current athletic prospects Henry Melton and Jarron Gilbert. Players with elite level talent and athleticism that the Bears hope they can coach into players.
Manning to this point has failed to show up or take advantage of numerous starting chances. Due to Mike Brown’s constant injury problems Manning has started and gained what should be valuable experience moving forward.
Instead the coaching staff is choosing to go in a completely different direction with Saints castoff Josh Bullocks and strong safety Craig Steltz getting looks at the free safety spot.
More recently has been the development of CB Corey Graham being moved to safety. The tenous situation there is a direct result of Manning’s failure to develop.
So now the question is, what next for Danieal Manning? Can he be the team’s primary kickoff return man? Can he get enough value from his duties as the nickelback?
My guess is yes Manning will be on the roster through 2010. However he will not be in line for a comtract extension, and depending on the 2010 draft picks, may be gone before 2010.
Hopefully Manning can think of this as his one last shot and his play begins to reflect a player playing for his NFL life.