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Charting The Bears: 2016 In Review

| January 17th, 2017

Before the season began I decided to try to do something a little different by charting some of the things you don’t regularly see in box scores and the end result was some really interesting numbers that may change the way you feel about certain players.

The most time-consuming part of my weekly job on DBB was charting the little things that you don’t see. As most hardcore football fans know, completion percentage doesn’t always tell you if a quarterback is accurate, Pro Bowl voting doesn’t always tell you if an offensive lineman can block, sacks don’t always tell you if a player is getting pressure on the quarterback and interceptions don’t tell you if a guy can cover. There’s more to the game, a lot more and I tried to discover some of that here:

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Three

| August 24th, 2016

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Dennis Green: “Who the hell takes the third game in the preseason like it’s bullshit?”

Me: Raises hand.

I used to believe we could get something meaningful from the third preseason game. There are dozens of reasons why that’s wrong, but the strongest was one I realized just a month ago. It doesn’t mean anything to the players who aren’t fighting for jobs or coaches.

I challenge anyone to watch a regular season game, follow it with the third preseason game and try to tell me there isn’t a significant difference in the product. I did just that a month ago, choosing to re-watch the Bears’ third preseason game against the Bengals last year. It’s just a different game.

This is true for many of the same reasons why none of the preseason games matter. Maybe there’s more game-planning in the third preseason game. Maybe teams do a bit more schematically. Maybe. But it isn’t a lot and whatever it is they do isn’t done with the same urgency as the regular season simply because it doesn’t have to be.

The Bears have most of their starters figured out already. They know what they’re doing schematically. The practice and simulation of a game-like atmosphere should help them. But this is preseason. The coach won’t lose his job, neither will the starters. It’s a practice and should be treated as such.

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Across The Middle: Preseason Week Two

| August 17th, 2016

When the Bears were fighting with themselves, I thought it was annoying. Now that we’re seeing them get one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL to lose its cool, I think the Bears just might be developing an identity.

The Bears are going to be scrappy, just like the defenses Fox built in Carolina and Denver. They’re going to push the envelope and they’re going to frustrate their opponents.

And it just might be great.

There is a thin line to walk. The Bears certainly don’t want to be known as a “dirty” team like Jim Schwartz’s Lions were. There certainly is a point where the personal foul penalties get to be too much, but if they can continue to be aggressive and scrappy, they’re going to be the team nobody wants to play. If they keep adding talent, they’re going to be the team hardly anyone can beat.

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Bears Need Improved OL Play to Reach Potential

| July 6th, 2016

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The Bears have plenty of weapons at the skill positions and a terrific quarterback, but their offense won’t take a big step if their offensive line isn’t better than it was a year ago.

On paper, the Bears line should be significantly better. They lost Matt Slauson, but Kyle Long moving back to guard, combined with Cody Whitehair or Ted Larsen have to be better than Vlad Ducasse and whoever else they played last year. At his worst Bobby Massie was as good as Long was at tackle last year and, over the last 10 games last year, he was actually pretty good. Charles Leno Jr. and Hroniss Grasu should be better with experience.

But outside of Long, who should be expected to return to his stellar form at guard, there’s the possibility it all goes the other way.

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Pace Wisely Using Draft to Invest in Offense

| May 11th, 2016

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With just two drafts under his belt, Ryan Pace is doing something neither of his predecessors did. He is using the draft to build an offense and support the quarterback.

One of the first things I wrote for DBB came at a time when we didn’t know if Jay Cutler was going to be the quarterback. It was clear the Bears had failed to provide the quarterback with necessary weapons and I argued Pace needed to do better.

Through two drafts, he has.

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Around the Beat: Samplings from the Papers

| May 9th, 2016

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BIGGS ON GRASU

If Hroniss Grasu develops into a frontline center, the Bears may have a terrific offensive line in 2016. But Grasu would have to make a significant leap if that’s going to be the case. From Biggs in the Trib:

The statistics in the eight games Grasu started last season and the other eight games that were split between Slauson and Will Montgomery are similar with one glaring difference. I tallied the stats for Jay Cutler’s 15 starts, (excluding the dud of a performance in Seattle in Week 3 when Jimmy Clausen was at quarterback) and what jumps out is the Bears averaged 4.22 yards per carry with Slauson and Montgomery at center. With Grasu, they averaged 3.77, nearly a half-yard less.

If the Bears had a high level of confidence in Grasu, they wouldn’t have made three additions even while removing Slauson from the equation. When the season opens Sept. 11 in Houston, left tackle Charles Leno could be the only starter in a position he played for the team last season.

My favorite line in the piece? “One front-office guy said his team nearly drafted Whitehair about 20 picks before the Bears.” I maintain a firm belief that Whitehair is going to be a ten-year star at guard for the Bears.

JAHNS ON THE UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

Adam’s piece in the Sun-Times is a solidly comprehensive breakdown of all the UFAs but I’m sampling the one position they may have had been most focused on: tight end.

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Releasing Matt Slauson Makes No Sense

| May 2nd, 2016

I have heard the rationale. Matt Slauson is not an athletic fit for what the Bears want on their offensive line. Fine. But let’s try a quick experiment.

Rank the Bears offensive linemen in terms of quality, including Slauson.

  1. Kyle Long at guard
  2. Matt Slauson
  3. Bobby Massie

Yesterday the Bears released their second best offensive lineman and, in my mind, their second best offensive player in 2015. They released a player who seamlessly slid over to center a season ago and put a patchy offensive line on his back.

Even more importantly they released a leader on the field and in the locker room. They released a player who after suffering through the indignity of 2014 and transition of 2015, his held proudly high, deserved to taste the candy apple at the end of the boardwalk.

Is Cody Whitehair going to be great player? I certainly believe so. But he’s yet to play a down in the NFL and until he or any other draft pick does the question mark remains at the end of the sentence.

The Bears released a good player. A valuable player. And a not particularly expensive player. How does this make the 2016 a better team? It doesn’t.

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Ten Thoughts on Chicago’s 2016 Draft & Aftermath

| May 1st, 2016

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(1) The Leonard Floyd pick will be the most heavily scrutinized moving forward but he will actually have little pressure on him in 2016. With Houston, Young and McPhee already situated at OLB, Floyd will be able to assimilate into Vic Fangio’s defense by doing what he does best: getting after the quarterback.

(2) Cody Whitehair is ready to play right now and the Bears should start him at left guard immediately. What does this mean? It means the team should follow the old offensive line maxim and play their best five. Leno. Whitehair. Slauson at center. Long. Massie.

(3) No, I’m not confident Hroniss Grasu is the future at center for the Bears. And that’s fine. You’re allowed to swing and miss in the name of athleticism. Giving him another season to develop, with Slauson at center, is probably the best thing for him.

(4) I like Pat O’Donnell. I really do. But North Dakota State’s Ben LeCompte – who accepted the Bears invite to camp – is a special player and a special kid. Don’t be surprised to see an actual competition emerge this summer. (The Bears didn’t go out and invite the best punter in the land to camp for no reason.) Read this piece on one of the best punting performances I’ve ever seen.

(5) I won’t be surprised to see Jonathan Bullard have a more productive Bears career thanFloyd and that’s not knocking Floyd. Bullard is a grinder. Staying away from all the draftspeak, Bullard just made life horrible for offensive linemen and he went up against some terrific ones in the SEC.

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Draft This Guy: Cody Whitehair, Guard, Kansas State

| April 29th, 2016

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I am not going to spend much time over the next mont breaking down which college players is going to go where. Frankly, I don’t care that much. Instead I’m going to write about college players I really like. Cody Whitehair might be my favorite player in this year’s draft.

From NFL.com:

Four-­year starter voted team captain in 2015. Tireless worker bee in the weight room and in practices who brings a high degree of dependability and consistency to the table. Team­-oriented. Played exceptionally well while out of position at left tackle for Kansas State. Atypical body composure and control. Is almost always in complete control of his body thanks to outstanding core strength and balance. Extremely efficient with his movements after the snap. Has played both guard and both tackle spots and has roster value at all five positions. Mirrors with a wide, stout base and has great feel for keeping defender squared up throughout the rep. Confident, composed and competitive. Smooth and athletic when asked to pull and has radar to find target and strike accurate blow. Makes up for shorter arms with massive hands that function as vise grips. Consistent with hand placement and extremely sticky blocker. Combines hand strength and balance to snatch and control a defender until the whistle blows. Can sink hips at contact and should be able to stalemate bigger players across from him. Exceptional body control and core strength allows him to successfully redirect defenders who get to his edge.

He can play all across the line. He’s nasty. And he reminds me of Zack Martin, who might be one of the two or three best guards in the league. I think Whitehair will get there in a couple years.

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