Dannehy: Poles Needs to Extend Roquan Smith

| August 10th, 2022

If Ryan Poles has made one thing clear during his short time as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, it’s that he never wants to spend more than he thinks a player is worth. But, when it comes to Roquan Smith, getting him signed should be a no-brainer.

Smith is the best player on the Bears roster, without question. He is also unquestionably one of the five best linebackers  in the entire league and a perfect fit for what the head coach Poles hired wants to do.

It is hard to see where the disconnect is. Good players cost money and Smith is a really, really good player.

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Dannehy: Don’t Judge Bears Offense Yet

| August 3rd, 2022

After one week of training camp, the reports regarding the offense were all pretty much the same: They had some big plays, but no consistency. That, very likely, is what the team should reasonably expect from the passing game this year, but we’re all still a long way from finding out exactly what this offense will be.

Based on the talent on the roster and the scheme being implemented, we can assume the Bears will have a run-based offense. It wasn’t until Tuesday of this week that the team practiced in pads and, therefore, impossible to accurately gauge how effective they will be in the ground game. Even with the pads, it will be difficult to tell as most teams don’t do full contact tackling in camp and the Bears won’t be able to incorporate the quarterback in their running game during practice.

The quarterback’s ability to run is something we won’t see at all until the real games begin.

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Dannehy: Late Signings Should Protect Fields, Bears

| July 27th, 2022

Evaluating Justin Fields is the most important aspect of the 2022 season, but it would’ve been impossible to do if he was constantly on his back. While neither Riley Reiff nor Michael Schofield are actual difference makers along the offensive line, they are capable bodies who should help keep Fields upright in 2022.

Going into the season with some combination of Sam Mustipher and late-round draft picks at right guard and Larry Borom and a late-round pick at left tackle would’ve been asking for disaster. The inevitable outcome would have been an injury to Fields and a Fields injury is the worst 2022 outcome possible.

Nobody should mistake the late activity as a great success. The Bears still have one of the worst starting offensive lines in the league. But it probably isn’t the worst, which it was five days ago. Bears fans have seen Reiff enough to know that he’s a below average offensive tackle. The same can be said for Schofield at right guard. Both players were on teams who made considerable moves to upgrade their offensive lines this past offseason.

In both cases, the players possess some position versatility. If one of the young tackles — Tevin Jenkins, Larry Borom or Braxton Jones — breaks out, Reiff can switch sides or move inside to guard. (The team reportedly guaranteed him $10 million, so you can bet he will be playing somewhere.) Schofield could move to right tackle if none of the tackles perform at a capable level.

Both players should also be familiar with the scheme as both played in the wide zone under Gary Kubiak. Reiff did so in Minnesota and Schofield began his career with the Broncos when Kubiak was the head coach.

The signings aren’t long-term fixes, and they don’t make the Bears Super Bowl contenders, but they should help keep Fields healthy and nothing is more important.

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Dannehy: Ranking the Bears, or Who are These Guys?

| July 20th, 2022

The annual “Ranking the Bears” series needs to take the year off.

The process starts at the top, but the most tedious work takes place at the bottom of the roster. The problem this year, though, is that players typically considered “bottom of roster” take up half the roster.

As the Bears prepare to enter training camp, the team has 25 rookies, 17 players who have played fewer than ten games and 26 players who have appeared in fewer than 20 games. Most of the players who appeared in 20 games or fewer did so primarily on special teams. Some others played for really bad teams which eventually benched and released them.

Considering most teams typically fill the back of the roster with undrafted rookies, it isn’t necessarily alarming that the Bears have 25 rookies entering camp. What is concerning, though, is that only three were taken in the first 100 picks of the 2022 NFL draft. Having 22 rookies who are essentially crapshoots is…unsettling.

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Dannehy: Five Bears on Hot Seat in 2022

| July 7th, 2022

A new year, scheme and regime could have several players could leave some formerly key contributors looking for new jobs in 2023.

The new coach and general manager have nothing invested in the current players; surely a scary thought to some of the youngsters on the team. There are no certainties. Nothing is guaranteed. We thought John Fox and Ryan Pace were inheriting young talent like Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Both were gone before Fox’s third season. Matt Nagy was greeted by Jordan Howard and Adam Shaheen was supposed to be his Travis Kelce — neither made it to his third season.

In some of these cases, the players may be one-and-done if they don’t produce in 2022. In others, they might get a second year to prove themselves simply because their contracts make it difficult to move on. In any case, these players will have pressure to perform in 2022.

David Montgomery

Entering a contract year, Montgomery is an obvious candidate for this list.

The previous regime loved Montgomery because of the leadership he provides off the field and his versatility on it. (Eberflus has already praised Montgomery’s character.)

However, there have been some questions as to whether Montgomery fits this new scheme. He isn’t Aaron Jones-like, nor is he A.J. Dillon — the two running backs new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy worked with in Green Bay.

There is also some question about Montgomery’s talent level. His career 3.9 yards per attempt certainly doesn’t look worthy of a second contract and advanced statistics are somewhat mixed on his performance.

With the lack of playmakers available, Montgomery figures to have plenty of opportunities to make plays. The team needs him to be more efficient than he has been.

Cole Kmet

There’s no real reason to think Kmet won’t continue to improve, but that isn’t always how it works.

Kmet had rather exceptional production for a 22-year-old tight end, but there’s still questions regarding his receiving ability. He certainly looks the part physically, but his hands aren’t always reliable, and his routes aren’t always smooth.

The third-year Notre Dame product is a solid blocker and possesses good straight-line speed, but the Bears need him to create more big plays and find the end zone. (Throwing him the ball down there should help.)

Eddie Jackson

Jackson is finally returning to a scheme that keeps two safeties back and he needs to show that he can still attack the ball.

Once Vic Fangio left, Jackson’s position changed. He still played safety, but Chuck Pagano wanted to move him around more. That didn’t really work. Sean Desai liked to keep him back, but in a single-high approach with man coverage all around him. That didn’t work.

There’s truth to the thought that opponents have been avoiding Jackson, but we’ve also seen him fail to make plays that have been available.

The Bears might be tied to Jackson contractually through the 2023 season — it depends on how much dead cap space they’d be willing to eat. In any case, he turns 29 during the 2022 season and needs to show he can still play.

Trevis Gipson

Is Gipson a starter or a solid backup? That’s what the Bears need to find out in 2022.

Regardless of what happens with Robert Quinn in 2022, it’s a safe bet that the veteran won’t be on the team in 2024 and probably not in 2023. Do the Bears need to find one new starting defensive end before then or two? Al-Quadin Muhammad signed just a two-year deal and really should be a backup.

This Cover-2 scheme relies on the front four being able to get to the passer; the Bears need to know if they have defensive ends who can do that. Gipson flashed with seven sacks and five forced fumbles in 2021 after barely playing as a rookie. Can he build on that?

Justin Fields

Regardless of what anyone thinks the Bears think of Fields, nobody outside of Halas Hall actually knows.

Hell, they might not even know inside Halas Hall.

The hard truth is that, while he showed flashes, his rookie season did nothing to guarantee that he is going to be a franchise quarterback. The Bears certainly didn’t bet on him becoming one this offseason, unlike the last regime did with Mitch Trubisky.

Whether the Bears 2022 season is a success or failure is going to depend largely on Fields. If he can build off success of late last season, the team might be OK. If he can’t, they’ll have a very high draft pick and, very likely, will be looking at another talented quarterback prospect.

It’s fair to say the Bears haven’t given Fields the necessary tools to succeed.

It’s also fair to say that really good quarterbacks make the players around them better.

The worst thing that can happen — which is perhaps what the Bears have set themselves up for — is that they still don’t know what kind of player Fields is following this season. In that case, they’d probably jump on the opportunity to draft another top quarterback prospect and trade Fields.

But, make no mistake, the current long-term plan has to be for Fields to be the guy and he has the opportunity to make sure that is the case. We know he can make big plays; we need to see more consistency on the routine concepts.  His performance in 2022 doesn’t have to be judged by statistics; he needs to show leadership and the ability to come through for his team when it needs him the most. We need to see more performances like the one he had in Pittsburgh.

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Dannehy: Bears Should Kick Jenkins Inside

| June 23rd, 2022

Before officially demoting Teven Jenkins to the second team, Matt Eberflus and the offensive coaching staff should try him at right guard.

Jenkins’ demotion was a surprise because, if the Bears had any questions about his ability to play right tackle, why didn’t they do more to address the position in the offseason? As it stands, the team promoted fifth-round rookie Braxton Jones to left tackle and moved 2021 fifth-rounder Larry Borom to right tackle, with Jenkins taking snaps with the second team.

Eberflus has said it was always part of the team’s plan to move players around, but that excuse doesn’t make sense for a variety of reasons. For starters, the team didn’t even have Jones until the draft. If they planned on having a draft pick seriously compete for playing time, they would’ve spent an earlier pick on the position. Secondly, it isn’t as if Jenkins is in a rotation, he was firmly on the second team, with Borom switching positions to take Jenkins’ starting reps. Lastly, the idea that they’re getting a good look at offensive linemen at this point is flawed because they have yet to see the players do any blocking.

It’s hard to figure out how Jenkins could’ve lost the job or why they made the move at all, but — anyway you figure it — it doesn’t look good for Jenkins’ 2022 outlook, at least not at tackle.

There is so much we don’t know, but assuming Jenkins is physically capable of playing, the team would be wise to try him at guard instead of forcing a competition at tackle.

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Dannehy: Bears Need Real Value To Trade Quinn

| June 15th, 2022

With news that Robert Quinn isn’t likely to attend the Chicago Bears mandatory camp practices, it seems likely that he would prefer to play elsewhere next season. But the Bears shouldn’t trade him unless they get equal value in return. Based on media reports and what r Ryan Poles has said, the team didn’t prioritize value when Khalil Mack was dealt. They can’t do that again.

Quinn is coming off of a season in which he broke the franchise record with 18.5 sacks, doing so as the only serious pass rush threat for much of the season. While his cap charge is currently slated to be near $18 million — fifth highest at his position — his average salary is tied for 23rd with Randy Gregory (among others). Gregory is 29. Quinn just turned 32. Gregory has fewer sacks in his career than Quinn had last season.

While moving Quinn would guarantee the team is punting on the 2022 season — a tough sell in the locker room — the Bears would save nearly $13 million in salary cap space. Had they done the trade earlier in the offseason, the cap saving was less than $4.5 million. While the free agent market is nearly depleted, the Bears could use those savings in the 2023 offseason, when Quinn’s value likely won’t be as high.

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Dannehy: Young Bears I Just Cant Quit, Volume II (The Case for Kindle)

| June 10th, 2022

Kindle Vildor, CB

Vildor has been ruthlessly dogged by fans, mostly deserved, but he was also hurt by the decisions of the previous coaching staff.

The Bears really liked Vildor after his rookie season and he played well in the playoff game against New Orleans. But why Sean Desai felt comfortable leaving the second-year corner from Georgia Southern on an island game-after-game last year is a mystery. A reasonable expectation would’ve been for Vildor to be a reserve in his second season. Instead, he barely had to compete for a starting job and was left to his own, oft-limited resources.

When Vildor played well as a rookie it was in Chuck Pagano’s zone concepts. As a result, they held a 13-win Saints team to 14 points through three quarters. Vildor gave up four catches on four targets, but limited receivers to just 24 yards. He was also seven-for-seven on tackle attempts.

The 2021 coverage statistics for Vildor look horrendous — he allowed a passer rating of 136.1 — but the tape isn’t nearly as bad. He was often in position to make plays but failed at what some refer to as “the moment of truth”. (This is when the ball arrives, and the receiver and cornerback have to battle to get to it.)

It’s also worth mentioning that several of the touchdowns blamed on him appeared to be coverage breakdowns, including the Week 15 game in which he jammed Ihmir Smith-Marsette and went to cover the flat before realizing nobody followed the Vikings wide receiver into the end zone.

Vildor was benched midway through last season but came back and played well. He played 133 snaps combined the last four games and allowed a total of 57 yards, while fan favorite Thomas Graham Jr. played 112 snaps and allowed 67 yards. (It’s worth noting that much of the yardage Graham gave up was on a 41-yard touchdown pass because Dasai left him on an island with fricken D.K. Metcalf).

As bad as he was at times last year, the new staff seems to like Vildor. While we maybe shouldn’t read a lot into the decision to demote Jaylon Johnson to the second team in an OTA, it is worth noting that it was Vildor who replaced Johnson in the starting lineup. If Vildor can be disciplined in zone coverage, make plays when they’re available and continue as a sure tackler, he can have a future with this team.



Dannehy: Young Bears I Just Can’t Quit Yet, Volume I (Oink, and Others)

| June 9th, 2022

As the Chicago Bears have already seen, the changing of regimes often means a lot of roster turnover, but there are several players carrying over that could potentially still be relevant with the organization. Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus took over a roster with players designed for a hybrid, Andy Reid-style West Coast offense and a defense that played mostly Cover 1.  But new schemes and new coaches can often help uncover diamonds in the rough.

Below is a list of a few lesser-discussed players who might benefit from the regime change.

Sam Kamara, LB/Edge/DL

Kamara was kind of a weird fit in the base 3-4 scheme the Bears played last year. They ended up sticking him at edge, but at 6’1”, 285 pounds, he could find a new home inside at three-technique. He showed some pass rush burst in preseason last year and actually played 108 defensive snaps. A move inside wouldn’t be a complete projection. Kamara rushed inside at times while in college at Stony Brook.

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Dannehy: History Says Fields May Need Time to Learn This Offense

| June 3rd, 2022

Everything is on the table for the 2022 Chicago Bears, including the possibility that Justin Fields will initially struggle to learn a new offense. That is not a comment specifically about Fields, but instead based on the historical trends of this offense around the league. The Bears have spoken extensively about playing to what Fields does best and last week Cole Kmet detailed what that might entail. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, and history shows it’s unlikely to be quick.

While Matt Nagy’s offense was rightly criticized, saying the new offense fits Fields’ strengths better is mostly a projection. As Fields said himself, what the Bears did last year was familiar to him.

“I think the only different thing with our offense is that at Ohio St., we did signals from the sidelines so actually getting in the huddle and calling the play out is the only different thing,” Fields said in a press conference May 21, 2021. “Everything else is pretty much the same when it comes to concepts and stuff like that.”

It’s likely that Nagy had sound offensive concepts, and coming from the world of Andy Reid, that would be expected, but he couldn’t coach the execution. The scheme Nagy wanted to run works, he just wasn’t able to successfully teach it or call it in the framework of an actual ballgame.

This new scheme should better fit what Fields can do well at the NFL level. Getting him out of the pocket on more designed rollouts and emphasizing play action should, in theory, benefit Fields, but this scheme doesn’t always click right away. Luke Getsy comes from Green Bay, and even they, with one of best quarterbacks ever, had issues in the first year.

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