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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DBB’s Three Rules for Training Camp.

| July 26th, 2022

Welcome to the Unofficial Beginning

of the

2022 Chicago Bears Season!

Rule #1. Injuries Matter Most.

The Bears can’t evaluate the myriad of young players on this roster if they’re not on the field. And the number of young players they must evaluate is overwhelming. Gordon. Brisker. Gipson. Jones Jr. Borom. Jenkins. All pivotal. All likely starters. Yes, the Bears will have the opportunity to complete reshape their roster next off-season. But they have to exit the 2022 campaign knowing which of these guys can be significant contributors. That means they have to stay healthy.


Rule #2. Teams Don’t Show Fans, or Media, Anything.

It is always the most puzzling thing about the summer. NFL teams, the most secretive organizations in professional sport, hold practices in front of fans and media. And the fans and media think what they’re seeing is relevant. Why? Why would a team run a single play of note in front of a crowd that could easily be filled with spies from rival organizations (and usually is)? With every single fan in attendance now possessing the equipment to record every moment of practice, why would a team risk putting something they are going to rely upon during the season on tape?

Training camp practices are fun for fans. And the videos produced from these practices go a long way towards building excitement for the coming season. But if you’re trying to discern who is going to be good and who is not going to be good from a series of vanilla concepts run at 3/4 speed, you’re making a classic camp misstep.


Rules #3. Avoid The Joe Anderson Boner.

The following is excerpted from a piece I wrote in July 2014:

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Yes, 2022 Comes with Low Expectations. But Low Expectations End There.

| July 25th, 2022

The Chicago Bears don’t think they are going to be good in 2022. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t sell off Khalil Mack for (essentially) future cap space. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t enter a season with 3/5 of their offensive line unsettled. Teams that think they’re going to be good don’t balk at just about every available free agent, including several at positions of extreme need. The Bears don’t think they’re going to be good in 2022 because being good in 2022 is not essential to this new leadership.

Rebuilds are a weird discussion in the NFL. In baseball, a rebuild requires selling off every viable commodity and losing for a decade while stockpiling draft picks and minor league assets. In the NBA, there are teams with multiple superstars and teams without them; everyone else is irrelevant. In hockey…I don’t know anything about hockey. There’s something with a forecheck I think?

In the NFL, rebuilds don’t exist. There are teams with top-level quarterbacks and teams without them. The teams with them are relevant each and every season and the Bears believe Justin Fields will get there. They do not believe, however, that he’s there right now. (And no one watching the 2021 tape would objectively disagree.)

When it comes to the roster around the quarterback, and when there is turnover at the head coach/GM positions, it takes no more than a single off-season to dump men and money and start the whole program over. Poles and Flus have followed a repeatable template, specifically one engaged by the regime running things in Buffalo currently.

But next season will be Fields’ third in the league and second in the system. No more excuses.

Next off-season the Bears will be loaded with cap space, chock full of draft picks and operating with endless roster flexibility. No more excuses.

The Bears are not going to be good in 2022 and that will be understandable. But the excuses end entirely in 2023. The new leadership will have had two drafts. They will have had two full off-seasons with the quarterback. They will have had the economic flexibility to craft the roster in their image. And while they took over a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game in many-a-moon, the cupboard was not entirely bare when they arrived.

If the 2023 Bears aren’t competing for January football, questions can again be seriously asked about the men in charge of football operations in Chicago, including the quarterback. But in the meantime, we will all try and find minor joys in a season replete with minor expectations. This team needs to play hard. They need to play fast. They need to display, on Sundays and not Thursdays, they are a well-coached group. They need to show fight, even when they are undermanned talent-wise. And perhaps most importantly, they need to provide entertainment to a fan base tired of being bored to death when they turn on their televisions to watch Chicago Bears football.

After all the mediocrity, that’s not too much to ask from 2022. In 2023, we’ll all expect much, much more.

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Grading the Roster: Defense and Specials

| July 22nd, 2022

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Defensive Tackles: 3

Key Players: Angelo Blackson, Justin Jones, Mario Edwards Jr.

Roster Depth: Khyiris Tonga, Mike Pennel Jr., LaCale London, Auzoyah Alufohai, Micah Dew-Treadway

Justin Jones is the highest paid defensive tackle on the roster, but his underlying statistics suggest he is a poor pass rusher and mediocre run defender. He was a panic signing after the Larry Ogunjobi deal fell through, and expectations for him should be low. Angelo Blackson is Chicago’s best defensive tackle, and he is pretty much the definition of average both from a rushing the passer and stopping the run standpoint. Mario Edwards Jr. can provide some pressure as a situational pass rusher, but struggles with stupid penalties. The fourth defensive tackle will likely come down to Khyiris Tonga, a 7th round pick in 2021, and veteran Mike Pennel Jr., both profiling more as traditional nose tackles that can stuff the run but don’t offer much rushing the passer. This group isn’t terrible, but they also don’t really have anybody who’s all that good, which is a problem in a league that more and more needs disruption from the interior of the defensive line.

Edge Rushers: 6

Key Players: Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson, Al-Quadin Muhammad

Roster Depth: Dominique Robinson, Sam Kamara, Charles Snowden, Carson Taylor

Robert Quinn was a good (but not great) pass rusher last year, and he has a history of following strong seasons with poor ones. He’s also a bad run defender. Trevis Gipson showed real promise in a part-time role last year, and I am excited to see what he can do in an expanded role as he enters the third season of his career. New head coach Matt Eberflus brought Al-Quadin Muhammad over from Indianapolis with him, but he was bad against the run and pass there, so expectations should be low. Rookie 5th rounder Dominique Robinson is an intriguing player with all sorts of physical tools, but he is still incredibly raw after switching from WR to DE two years ago, so I don’t think it’s fair to expect much from him as a rookie.

Linebackers: 6

Key Players: Roquan Smith, Nicholas Morrow

Roster Depth: Matt Adams, Joe Thomas, Jack Sanborn, Caleb Johnson, Noah Dawkins, CJ Avery, Christian Albright

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Grading the Roster: Offense

| July 21st, 2022

Camp approaches, which means it’s time for me to grade the roster. Like I’ve done the last few years, I’ll grade on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the worst in the NFL, 10 being the best, and 5 being an average NFL unit. Let’s get right down to it.

Quarterback: 3

Key Player: Justin Fields

Roster Depth: Trevor Siemian, Nathan Peterman

I should start here by noting that I’m grading based on past production and trying to minimize projecting what I personally think will happen in the future. Accordingly, Justin Fields was statistically one of the worst starting QBs in the NFL last year. That is common for rookie QBs. Underneath the really bad stats, there was actually quite a bit to like about Fields’ rookie season, so I’m excited to see how big of a sophomore leap he can make. Hopefully he will be viewed as at least an above-average starter by the end of 2022.

Trevor Siemian is a quality backup with plenty of experience, which helps the grade here a bit. Nathan Peterman has thrown 135 NFL passes, with less than 6x as many completions to his own team (71) as the opposing defense (12). I seriously hope I never have to watch him play a regular season snap for the Bears. I don’t understand why the Bears didn’t give that spot to an undrafted rookie, because we already know Peterman is terrible and doesn’t belong in the NFL.

Running Backs: 5

Key Players: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert

Roster Depth: Triston Ebner, Darrynton Evans, Khari Blasingame, De’Montre Tuggle

David Montgomery has put up solid volume numbers through three NFL seasons, but a closer look at his performance reveals he’s been one of the least efficient high-usage running backs in the NFL. Khalil Herbert had a quality rookie season last year, and the Bears also brought in Darrynton Evans and Triston Ebner as guys who possess a different skill set than Chicago’s two lead backs. Fullback Khari Blasingame was also signed, and the Bears say they want to use him as more than just a blocker. It’s hard to give this group too high of a rating due to the lack of a premier player, but quality depth makes it a solid room overall. I fully expect we’ll see much more of a rotation this year than the last few seasons, which should be good for the offense overall.

Wide Receivers: 2

Key Players: Darnell Mooney, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle

Roster Depth: Equanimeous St. Brown, N’Keal Harry, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharp, David Moore, Dazz Newsome, Isaiah Coulter, Chris Finke, Kevin Shaa, Nsimba Webster

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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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Three Questions with [REDACTED] About the Potential of the 2022 Chicago Bears

| July 19th, 2022

[REDACTED] is not some source I have cultivated through years of letter writing (yes, that’s how I started doing it) and emails. [REDACTED] is a guy from my neighborhood who just happens to be very high up in an NFL organization. We found ourselves together in our local this weekend and I took the opportunity to ask him some questions. I didn’t record him, but I did take notes. These answers are constructed from those notes.


DBB: Bears fans on Twitter seem obsessed with proving Justin Fields is good. What does the league think of him after his rookie season?

[REDACTED]: I was talking to [ALSO REDACTED, BUT HE INTERVIEWED FOR BEARS GM JOB] the other day and he might be Fields’ biggest fan. But man, even he can’t get a handle on the 2021 tape. The word he used was “nonsensical”. One of our pro personnel guys recommended we throw out his rookie year and start over with him in September. I think Bears fans would be wise to do the same.


DBB: You have been part of two organizations at this stage of their process. Twice you’ve come into a franchise and started a “rebuild”. But in both instances, you guys got to select your quarterback. How does having a first-round QB here already change the dynamic for Ryan Poles?

[REDACTED]: It doesn’t. They will evaluate Fields like they would any young player, and that evaluation started the second they walked into the building. Ryan could have taken the Minnesota job, convinced them to move on from Kirk, which wouldn’t have been that hard, and drafted his own quarterback next year in a great quarterback class. He didn’t. He thinks Fields can be his guy. I agree with him. But he has the luxury of being able to move on from Fields too.


DBB: What is the biggest concern for a team like the Bears in 2022? What will the front office be worrying about?

[REDACTED]: Great question.

DBB: Thank you. You want another Guinness?

[REDACTED]: Yea, one more.

DBB: Brogie, back up [REDACTED]!

Brogie: Ah, back your arse up!

[REDACTED]: The fear is everyone not buying into “the project” and that usually means older guys. Robert Quinn knows he’s not part of the long-term there and that’s why you’re hearing rumblings about him wanting out. Locker rooms can get away from you fast. The best course is just clearing out as many guys as you can when you arrive. You want a roster in that first year where all 53 think they are on the ground floor; that THEY are building something. Poles has done that pretty well. You get a young, hungry team that believes in their coaches and what they’re doing, you’ll end up winning more games than you expect. 



Training Camp Questions for a Season Lacking Urgency (Not Import)

| July 18th, 2022

Training camp for the 2022 Chicago is now next week, and thus this seems the appropriate time to think about the questions that will need answering over the coming month. Do these questions require urgent reply? Not necessarily. 2022 is not an urgent season. But just because it’s not an urgent season – a season defined by lofty expectations – does not mean it lacks import.

Here are some questions worth considering.


Question #1. Can the offense resemble a professional unit? 

Dannehy did a nice job detailing the first-year struggles of this offense historically, and it would be unfair not to expect those same troubles here. The offensive coordinator has never done the job. The quarterback is on his third offense in three years. The team is going need solid production from a third-round wide receiver and a fifth-round left tackle. None of these elements are dealbreakers but they portend a period of struggle.


Question #2. Are the kids alright in the secondary?

The Bears are assuming Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson will be just fine. (Jackson back into a defense that fits his skills is a huge bonus.) But if the same can be said for rookie Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, the secondary goes from one of the team’s weakest units in 2021 to one of its strengths in 2022. There will be a lot of bullshit emanating from training camp about young players. There always is. But the narrative arc of a professional career usually begins that first summer. And expectations are high for Gordon and Brisker.


Question #3. How does the offensive line shake out?

This is probably the most pertinent question facing the Bears this summer because, right now, everybody is just guessing. Is Braxton Jones going to anchor the blindside? Is Larry Borom going to start over Teven Jenkins? If Borom usurps Jenkins, does that kick Jenkins inside? No franchise wants to enter camp with this much uncertainty across the whole of their offensive line but that is where the 2022 Chicago Bears find themselves.

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