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Training Camp Thoughts, Volume III: Patrick’s Thumb, Secondary Surging & (Slightly) More

| August 1st, 2022


  • Injuries, injuries, injuries. Lucas Patrick’s injured right thumb might seem minor but it’s hard to imagine a more significant malady for a team’s center. There are still 42 days until they start keeping score, so it’s a good thing the injury happened early, but Justin Fields will need time with his center before the 49ers arrive at Soldier Field on 9/11.
    • My guess at the starting OL for the opener: Reiff-Whitehair-Patrick-Schofield-Borom.
  • Training camp practices are always a double edge sword. If one position group is thriving, it must mean the position group facing them on the other side of the ball is struggling. There is very strong reason to believe Ryan Poles has rebuilt the secondary in a single draft. Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker are not only making plays, but also carrying themselves like they belong. So much of secondary play is about swagger and these kids have it. But this wide receiver group is not very good. Darnell Mooney is a top player on the ascent. Velus Jones Jr. has the potential to be a versatile, exciting tool. But Byron Pringle, N’Keal Harry, Equanimeous St. Brown are all basically fourth options. It would be worrisome if this group were consistently winning on the practice field.
  • Teven Jenkins is severely trending in the wrong direction. No player on this roster needed to prove more during these practice sessions. His unavailability is disconcerting.

Camp Tweet of the Week

Courtney Cronin is killing it on the Bears beat and she’s 100% right about this. Teams are getting comically paranoid.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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As Summer Unofficially Begins, Reasons to Be Optimistic About the 2022 Chicago Bears

| May 27th, 2022


Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer. It launches a period of cold beer in ice-filled coolers, attractive people strutting their tattoo-riddled muscles down the boardwalk, the sweet green fairway grass of golf courses across the north and just general happiness. It is the season of optimism, so this seems like the right moment to look at why a Chicago Bears fan should be optimistic about the months to come.

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(1) Justin Fields is going to be fun to watch. 

Is Fields a sure thing to be a franchise quarterback? Of course not. But he brings two things to the position this franchise has lacked for an awful long time: athleticism and charisma. Fields is fun to watch play football and that has not been the case for most of the quarterbacks in the history of the Chicago Bears.

And now he’s the starter. He’ll get an entire summer to be “the guy”. And that’s not a small thing. Fields was neutered in 2021 by a GM and coach that had no interest in playing him; a pair that believed Andy Dalton could win enough games to solidify their standing in the organization. This is not an excuse for his struggles on the field. Those come with being a rookie. But Fields will now exist with the freedom of knowing this is his team. And it should allow his personality to flourish on the field.

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(2) The potential impact of the 2022 draft class.

Kyler Gordon, Jaquan Brisker and Velus Jones Jr. are all expected to start come September and the early word on Gordon and Jones – inside the building – is remarkably positive. (It’s a bit hard for a safety to wow people before pads get involved.)

Off-ball linebackers and running backs – the specialty of the Bears – are important pieces to a championship puzzle. But those positions, and even offensive/defensive linemen, don’t give you much to watch during the summer months. Corners are different. Receivers are VERY different. These are guys that can start to brandish their reputations in camp and create genuine excitement for the coming campaign. Gordon and Jones have that potential.

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(3) A new culture. 

Justin Fields has already mentioned it, and it has been the most consistent thing I’ve heard from folks around ownership over the last few months: the culture has shifted.

Give it a name.

Intensity.

Professionalism.

Business-like approach.

There was plenty of excitement about the prospects of the previous regime, a duo that promised to bring Bears football into the modern age with a dynamic offense reminiscent of what’s happening in Kansas City. But when that promise remained unfulfilled, the excitement turned to concern.

This group is only making one promise: they are going to build a team and coach a team that plays hard and plays fast. Ownership is already seeing that. Poles and Flus believe it will be noticeable to the fans soon too. Soon means this summer.

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Five Quick Hits for a Monday Morning

| May 23rd, 2022


It is a slow period. Here are a few things.

  • From the spectacular Twitter feed of Adam Jahns: Bears coach Matt Eberflus on CB Kyler Gordon: “Kyler’s been lighting it up the last two days. I’ll just tell you that. The guy’s got tremendous ball skills. He’s been playing the defense the right way and we’re very impressed with him.” If Ryan Poles found a reliable starting corner with his first draft pick, the 2022 NFL Draft will be remembered as a success.
  • Sort of drifted through the news but it’s somewhat telling the Bears cut punter Ryan Winslow. That means rookie Trenton Gill – who was born in 1999 and looks like he’s about 14 years old – is the only punter on the roster. A lot of confidence in the kid.
  • A Tweet from Nate Tice seemed to capture the imagine of the internet this week: “the 2021 Bears drew up isolation plays in the redzone for 34-year-old Jimmy Graham with a straight face.” Aside from the insanity of the actual concept, this is also a reason I don’t take Cole Kmet touchdown production criticisms very seriously. Kmet didn’t score in 2021 because the Bears didn’t really give him many opportunities to score. Because, you know, they had Jimmy Graham!
  • As for the offensive line, there is still nothing to evaluate until we know how the players shake out. The Bears still don’t know where Teven Jenkins is going to line up. They don’t know if Larry Borom if going to be in their starting five. Similar to the QB, these guys are still learning how to play within a new scheme/structure.
    • One thing I have heard from inside the building is Morgan likes Borom more than Poles and company did when they were first hired. Poles didn’t initially envision Borom as a starter. That may be changing.
  • Jason La Canfora’s “report” that Robert Quinn wants out of Chicago is basically poppycock. Here’s the truth. (1) The Bears have been trying to trade Quinn for months. Poles wants more draft picks, and less salary and Quinn is coming off a career year. But he’s not just going to give players away and the Bears need pass rush to be competitive defensively in 2022. It’ll take a significant offer. (2) Quinn is making a fortune and quite likes it in Chicago. He’s not unhappy. He’s not disgruntled. He’s not trying to force a trade. Would he prefer to be on a team trying to win a title this season? Sure. But he’s not creating any issues at Halas Hall.

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Secondary Rebuilt, Weapons Lacking: Assessing the 2022 NFL Draft in the Context of 2023

| May 1st, 2022

The texts buzzed my nightstand unprompted, piercing through the endless, awkward chuckling of Robert Mays and Nate Tice, as I tried to force myself to sleep on Friday evening. (I decided to take a brief, week-long booze sabbatical and it makes slumber a tricky enterprise.) The scout who I have relied upon this week to fill me in on all things draft was giving his assessment of Ryan Poles’ work over rounds two and three.



This is not someone who has any reason to inflate the work of the GM of the Chicago Bears. He has zero stake in the game. This was a professional talent evaluator evaluating the talent selected; examining the players acquired in a draft he has routinely described to me as “the weakest in the last 15 years.”

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The Complaints.

Listen, the complaints are understandable. A logical case could have been made for the Bears to spend every single pick Friday night on the offensive side of the ball. One could argue that taking shots on the potential of George Pickens or Alec Pierce or Skyy Moore is more exciting (undoubtedly) and more in-tune with the modern game. But if that’s the case, why were the Baltimore Ravens universally celebrated for their work in the first round, securing a box safety and center while trading away their best outside receiver?

Pickens will be asked to do very little in Pittsburgh (and will do little with those quarterbacks). Pierce and Moore will be no more than third options on their rosters in Indianapolis and Kansas City. The Bears would have been asking all three to start on day one and seriously contribute as rookies. Does anyone actually believe these three players are capable of that? If they were, would several receiver-needy clubs have gleefully passed on them at the backend of the first round?

But most complaints coming from fans are actually based on a fallacy. Bears fans seem to believe the organization needs to pile talent around Justin Fields to accurately assess his ability as a quarterback and make determinations on his future. That is definitively not the case. Ryan Poles and Justin Fields have been side-by-side through this process, even to the point of watching tape together on receiver prospects in the draft.



The team will not hold Fields accountable for the lack of playmaking ability around him. Poles got this job because he looked George McCaskey in the eyes and told him the roster was dreck. No one has a more sober view of the depth chart and the communication between the new leadership and the young quarterback has been impeccable.

Also, this belief that a quarterback requires a stacked roster around him in year two to improve is utter nonsense. Josh Allen’s second-year receivers were John Brown and Cole Beasley. Deshaun Watson’s second receiver in his second year totaled 32 catches. Russell Wilson’s top pass catcher in his sophomore season had 64 catches. Fields is going into this season with a new coaching staff building an offense specifically for him, a talented run game and a 1,000-yard receiver he loves. If he can’t improve in that context, fair questions should be asked.

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The Approach.

If Poles’ board had potential starters at wideout and along the offensive line at the top of the second round, those would have been his selections. But it didn’t. And with secondary being the second-worst position group on the roster, why wouldn’t he hesitate to fortify that unit? As Poles himself stated, “There were two good starting-level defensive players, and I would have made a huge mistake for this organization to say, ‘Let’s leave them there’.”

The Bears believe the best way to “develop” Fields is to take pressure off of him, not artificially inflate the wide receiver room with day two maybes. Selecting Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker (the latter described to me by the aforementioned scout as a “top 35 talent” in this draft) is about establishing a structure for the difficult season to come. The Bears want to run the ball effectively and play solid defense. If they do those two things, they will not have to ask their quarterback – now in his third offensive system in three years – to drop back and fling it 40 times a week.

If the Bears didn’t address their secondary, especially after trading Khalil Mack, the team was looking at fielding an unprofessional group at the backend of their defense. If they did that, they would be chasing every game. Is there a worse possible scenario for a young QB?

The selection of Velus Jones Jr. in the third round also plays to this approach. “Deebo light” might seem like a grandiose designation, with Samuel coming off a brilliant 2021 campaign, but it’s easy to forget that the Niners receiver was more of a prolific gadget player in his first two seasons. Jones’ speed will give the Bears a dynamic they have sorely lacked in the Pace years, a player capable of taking a quick slant or bubble screen to the house at any moment. And it’s also difficult understand how Bears fans – OF ALL FANS – don’t understand the potential viability of drafting college football’s most electric return man.

Jones is a chess piece for an organization whose offensive game strategy hasn’t ascended beyond Connect Four in the modern era.


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NFL Draft, Rounds Two & Three, Open Thread

| April 29th, 2022

Pick # 39

Washington, CB, Kyler Gordon

From NFL.com: “Cornerback who comes with an elite, high-performance engine but a GPS still in the process of loading. Gordon’s dynamic athletic qualities will show up in testing, but more importantly, they are all over his tape. His blend of play strength and explosive burst affects the passing game from press, off-man and zone coverages. He plays with an alpha demeanor and hitting is definitely part of his overall package. Gordon lacks polish and needs to play with better route recognition and anticipation, but if those elements click, his ball production could be near the top of the league as one of the top playmakers in the game.”


Pick #48

Penn State, S, Jaquan Brisker

From NFL.com: “Athletic safety prospect whose versatility and toughness will endear him to coaches during the evaluation process. Brisker continued to pick up elements of the defensive scheme and his play has steadily transformed from hesitant in 2019 to downright instinctive in 2021. He has the versatility to become a moving chess piece in a variety of coverages and has the size and talent to match up with both “Y” and “F” tight ends. He played with a banged-up shoulder in 2021 so his 2020 tape is a clearer indicator of his run support acumen. Brisker is an ascending talent with the NFL traits to become a long-time starter as a Day 2 draft pick.”


Pick #71

Tennessee, WR, Velus Jones Jr. 

From NFL.com: “Special-teams specialist with good size. Despite spending six seasons in college between his time at USC and Tennessee, Jones has very modest production as a wideout, but flashed potential in that area in 2021. He’s fearless with the ball in his hands after the catch and as a kick returner. He’s not a very fundamentally sound route-runner but might not need to be if teams view him as a catch-and-run specialist in the quick game underneath. Jones has a chance to ride his special teams versatility into a specialist spot on a roster.”

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Thursday Draft Profiles: Second Round Secondary Options [VIDEOS]

| April 14th, 2022

I don’t know which of the 115,000 individuals doing mock drafts are good at it. I try to read very few. But today I am using the mock of Ryan Wilson at CBS to establish which secondary players the Bears may see as options with their two second round selections.

The Bears have picks 33 and 52. So I’ve isolated the DBs Wilson has being selected between 35th and 50th.


Pick 34: Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington


Pick 35: Lewis Cine, S, Georgia


Pick 42: Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn


Pick 48: Jalen Pitre, S, Baylor

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