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Buddy Ryan, I Owe Ya

| June 29th, 2016

When Buddy Ryan told his players he was leaving Chicago for Philadelphia, they didn’t take it so well. Years earlier these men had written a desperate letter to George Halas begging for their leader to remain their leader. This was more than a football coach for the likes of Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael. This was a man. This was a father.

Buddy didn’t have steakhouses in town or high profile guest spots on local radio shows. He wasn’t on the cover of cigar magazines or idol worshipped on Saturday Night Live. His life – seemingly all 82 years of it – was about the game he loved. His legacy is left on a Soldier Field whiteboard featuring the numbers “4” and “6” and in the work of two sons genetically enhanced with his voluptuous personality and hunger for hitting quarterbacks.

Pete Prisco Tweeted yesterday, “Ryan’s defenses in Chicago were as nasty as any we’ve seen. They never played scared. Attacked.” And that demeanor, the anger, the ferocity, made Ryan’s defenses the rightful heir to the thrones of Bill George and Dick Butkus. Can anybody really list something Mike Ditka left behind from a strategic perspective? With Buddy, that list requires a second page of the notebook.

Lovie Smith had successful defenses in Chicago too but they never found their way into the city’s blood stream. They had a soft side, bending but not breaking, in the shell of the Tampa 2 (which was affectionately referred to here as the Lovie Deuce). They were successful without ever being intimidating. Individuals emerged as stars (Urlacher, Peanut) but the collective never did.

With Buddy it was all about the defensive machine and the machine had one goal: make the other team scared to play their game. Buddy’s defenses, specifically in 1985, played offense.

And his coaching job that season is the finest performance by any assistant coach in the history of any sport ever played in this country. Your initial reaction to that comment may be that’s it’s hyperbolic. But it’s not. What grants Ryan this status is the autonomy with which he acted. Every other assistant’s performance one could name falls under the umbrella of the head coach. Not Ryan. Ditka rarely addressed the defensive locker room, let alone tell them what to do. The ’85 Bears defense were authored by a single, steady hand: Ryan.

I owe Buddy Ryan. My love of the Chicago Bears is based on his creation. My success with this dopey site and my yearly trips to Chicago with all the fucking joy they entail are direct results of his work. I can never pay that back. Never.

So rest in peace, Buddy. And thank you.

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Bears Secondary: A Perceived Weakness May Be a Blossoming Strength

| June 22nd, 2016

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One position group quite a few people wished the Bears did a better job addressing this offseason was the secondary. But, despite not having any household names, they’re better back there than most think.

In 2015 the Bears defense ranked fourth in passing yardage allowed. But that’s not the eye-opening statistic. The thing that jumps out is a new metric Football Outsiders started using last year called ALEX, named after everyone’s favorite Checkdown Charlie, Alex Smith. The number ranks how often defenses forced quarterbacks to throw short of the first down marker — a clear sign of good coverage.

The Bears were the best in the sport.

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Turn the Beat Around: Words of Wisdom From the Hired Hands

| June 20th, 2016

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ADAM L. JAHNS (THE L IS SILENT) ON KEVIN WHITE

From his piece in the Sun-Times:

How does Kevin White look?

Like a work in progress. His physical gifts are apparent. He’s fast and imposing. But his drops stood out, especially when Jeffery was out of town. White is under pressure to be a difference-maker and is clearly learning the finer points of being an NFL receiver. But I’ll say this: when Jeffery did return for minicamp, White’s play seemingly improved.

Many have larger expectations for White in what will be his rookie campaign. None of those expectations are possible if he doesn’t catch the ball. Whilst other writers – including one for this site – have been leading the White Hype Train, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

BIGGS (TOM) CALLAHAN

From his piece in the Tribune:

Cornerback Bryce Callahan, defensive end Akiem Hicks and, not surprisingly, wide receiver Kevin White consistently flashed during the spring. Callahan is the leading candidate to be the nickel cornerback, a position he played last season. He took advantage of ample time working outside while an undisclosed injury sidelined Kyle Fuller. Callahan led all defensive backs with four interceptions in the offseason, a statistic kept on the wall of their meeting room.

“That’s one of the main things Vic (Fangio) was preaching,” Callahan said. “We need more takeaways and more interceptions.”

Callahan has added nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his upper body, getting to him 193 pounds. He felt being under 185 might have led to getting dinged last season. While he’s not tall at 5-foot-10, he has a 41-inch vertical jump and is fluid in the middle of the field.

Callahan’s emergence would greatly improved the backend of the Bears secondary, still the team’s least talented meeting room.

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Expect a Career Year From Alshon Jeffery

| June 15th, 2016

With so much talk about Alshon Jeffery’s contract and value, it’s been largely forgotten — or ignored — that the Bears wide receiver is poised to have a career season.

You know, if he stays healthy.

While on the field, Jeffery was mostly great last year. His per game averages total out to about 96 catches, 1,435 yards and 7 touchdowns. Great numbers for sure, but not far from what we saw from him in 2013, especially considering the increase in targets. In 2016, however, the stars appear to be perfectly aligned for the fifth-year receiver to explode.

Here are a few reasons why:

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Five Thoughts on Stuff That’s Been Going On

| June 10th, 2016

I haven’t written much of late for one reason: I have very little to say. I’m a firm believer in football having a definitive offseason and for me that offseason is from the Monday after the NFL Draft until the start of training camp. But here’s a few thoughts on what’s been going on.

(1) Manny Ramirez retired. So that’s a depth piece gone from the middle of the Bears offensive line. Explain to me again why Matt Slauson is not on this roster.

(2) I’m starting to believe the unit that could hold the Bears back from being a playoff contender is the offensive line. 40% of the unit is a complete question mark. (And someone who wasn’t madly in love with Cody Whitehair could argue 60%.)

(3) Andrew Dannehy was critical on Twitter of Brad Biggs apparently stating Adrian Amos has a make or break season coming up. Didn’t hear the spot but here’s what I’ll say about Amos: he’s being put in the best possible situation to success. Hicks/Goldman up front. Trevathan/Freeman in the middle. Amos won’t have to clean up much in the run game and when he does he’ll be able to do what he does best and that’s hit people hard. (He’s never going to be great in the pass game.)

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Can Jay Cutler Become The Next Carson Palmer?

| June 8th, 2016

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It’s the time of the season when major media outlets waste time and space by ranking players. And Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is regularly ranked amongst the best quarterbacks in the NFL, despite not even being on the radar two years ago.

Which begs the question: Can Jay Cutler do the same?

The question isn’t can Cutler be as good as Palmer. I’d argue he currently is and always has been the betteir player. Even after Palmer’s last two monster seasons, they’re comparable statistically. The consensus amongst mainstream media members, however, appears to be that at 36 years old with a number of major knee surgeries and a brief retirement, Palmer is somehow better than he used to be.

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Trench Warfare: Pace’s Roster Building Strategy Comes Into Focus

| June 6th, 2016

The following is a guest column by the artist known as Data, also going by the name Johnathan Wood. If you’d like to write a guest column for DBB, email jeff@dabearsblog.com.

General manager Ryan Pace has had 2 offseasons to shape the Bears roster the way he sees fit. There are a number of different ways you can look at his moves and draw conclusions about his priorities, many of which have been discussed in detail. Pace himself has talked repeatedly about wanting size, speed, length, and football junkies. He has shipped out locker room problems and replaced them with high character football players (Ray McDonald aside).

But when I’m looking at what a GM prioritizes, I look at how he allocates his resources. Who does he invest his high draft picks and big free agent contracts in? Looking at Chicago’s recent moves through this lens gives a clear answer: Ryan Pace wants to build a team that wins in the trenches.

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