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Dannehy: Memories of Cade & Culpepper, Plus Thoughts on San Francisco

| September 7th, 2022


For Chicago Bears fans in their 30s, or early 40s, it might be hard not to compare Sunday’s quarterback showdown at Soldier Field with a similar contest 22 years ago. This one will hopefully end far better for the Bears in both the short and long term.

The San Francisco 49ers are led by a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. They face a Bears team with a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player. On Sept. 3, 2000, the Minnesota Vikings – a playoff team the year previous – started Daunte Culpepper, a raw, second-year quarterback with tantalizing physical tools. He faced Cade McNown, a second-year quarterback who struggled as a rookie but was more highly thought of as a complete player.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I watched this game as a college student at the ESPN Zone in Times Square. Most bars in NYC still didn’t have league-wide accessibility.]

That game ended up being perhaps McCown’s best as a professional. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception. He also ran for 87 yards on 10 attempts, adding another touchdown. The Bears managed 425 yards and 27 points, and the Gary Crowton offense looked like the future of the league.

But the Bears lost the game.

Culpepper struggled as a passer, completing just 13 of 23 passes for 190 yards and an interception. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass but ran for three scores and 73 yards. A 20-9 Bears lead disappeared in the second half but both teams exited Week One feeling good about their young passers. Ultimately, neither proved a long-term answer. McCown was benched eight weeks later and exited the NFL abruptly. Culpepper had a far more substantial career, but the Vikings continually fell short of lofty expectations.

What can we learn? Simply that one game does not make a season and certainly won’t define a career. But the quarterbacks will always be connected.


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Dannehy: Upside is Evident, Especially at Coach and Quarterback

| August 31st, 2022


While the most likely scenario is the 2022 Chicago Bears being out of contention before December, last Saturday’s preseason game was a reminder that the outcome of this campaign is far from certain.

There are plenty of question marks on the roster. Will Larry Borom, Teven Jenkins or Kindle Vildor end up being quality players? Flip a coin. Will Justin Jones and Nicholas Morrow stay healthy? Who knows? But there is a world in which a lot of these roster decisions go right, and fans caught a glimpse of that world on Saturday night. The talent on this roster may be better than it has been given credit for, especially considering some think it’s the worst in the league.

But there are two positions on every team that can drastically improve the outcome of any season: head coach and quarterback. That’s where fan focus should rest.

Eberflus.

It has been said over and over that Flus had top-10 defenses with worse talent than he has now. Of course, Eberflus isn’t the defensive coordinator (still a question mark) but his scheme is relatively easy to learn and the principles that made him successful in Indianapolis are being taught in Chicago.

What we’ve seen from the preseason is a Bears team that plays fast, but in control. Control is everything. They’re disciplined and assignment sure. Gone are the days of overcomplicated systems. The Bears will be simple, and they will play harder than their opponent.

Fields.

Enough has been written about his struggles as a rookie.

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Dannehy: Aaron Rodgers Doesn’t Like Bears Scheme & Other Preseason Thoughts

| August 24th, 2022


While fans have celebrated the offensive scheme change the Chicago Bears have implemented, count Aaron Rodgers as one who thinks it is a downgrade. In a somewhat recent interview with Pardon My Take, Rodgers went on a tangent about how the West Coast offense — which the Bears ran under Matt Nagy — is better than the scheme Luke Getsy is bringing from Green Bay.

“This scheme has flaws,” Rodgers said. “I grew up in the West Coast offense, which I think is the most beautiful offense ever created. It’s about timing and rhythm and balance and everything makes sense protection wise. You know where your hots are, you know where your eyes are going every single time, you know how the concepts fit together.”

Rodgers was drafted by Mike Sherman, who ran a variation of the West Coast he learned from Mike Holmgren. Mike McCarthy then took over, bringing a version that he learned from one of the scheme’s originators, Paul Hackett. Rodgers offered many complaints about the Shanahan-style outside zone scheme implemented by Matt LaFluer, when he was hired in 2019.

“This is a schematic offense. That (West Coast) was not a schematic offense. That was built on timing and precision and rhythm and guys being in the right spot at the right time and putting the ball on the proper number,” Rodgers said. “(It is) predicated on winning one-on-one matchups and being accurate throwing the football.”

Roughly translated, it sounds like Rodgers prefers the West Coast because it’s more about Jimmy’s and Joe’s than X’s and O’s. He probably has a point.

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Dannehy: Ryan Poles Will Be Judged by Players HE Brings to Chicago

| August 17th, 2022


Shortly after this space was used to implore Ryan Poles to get a deal done with Roquan Smith, the GM did something that surely moved the sides further apart. Poles met the media for an odd press conference, accusing the linebacker of being overly emotional and insisting the deal Smith wanted didn’t “make sense” for the team. While he complimented Roquan as a player and clearly stated his intention to resign him, it is fair to wonder if that was just GM talk, especially after reports came out that the Bears’ offer was backloaded with money that Smith would likely never receive.

[Editor’s Note: While these reports were delivered by reputable media members, they surely do not tell the whole story of the contract dispute. They tell Roquan’s side of the story.]

Does Poles want to sign Smith? Only on his terms.  The Bears later removed Smith from the Physically Unable to Perform list, leaving two sides are at a stalemate. It’s impossible to think that the team is better off without Smith or that any draft assets they would get in a trade would be fair value. The best play for Poles, at this point, would be to give in to Smith and sign him to a deal that someone who is clearly one of the best linebackers in the league deserves.

But Roquan Smith won’t define Poles’ tenure as GM and that became clear on Saturday, when fans got their first look at his first assembled roster. It was a reminder that his tenure will be defined by the players he selects, not the ones here upon his arrival. And while it is always risky to put stock in preseason games, there were exciting flashes from Poles’ new acquisitions.

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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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