Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Want to be in on Bears QB deliberations? 'Look at the film'

Back in 1992 the Dallas Cowboys were in draft deliberations around the No. 17 spot of the first round, looking for upgrades on defense. A scout made a suggestion that they target Ohio State defensive end Alonzo Spellman, one of the most physically imposing (6-4, 280 pounds) players and best athletes in that draft.
 
Coach Jimmy Johnson responded, "Tell me about the production."
 
Came back the answer: Three years at OSU, nine total sacks.
 
"Oh, please!" Johnson scoffed, calling in cornerback Kevin Smith and leaving Spellman to the Bears at No. 22. Spellman had several respectable seasons but never more than 8.5 sacks in nine NFL seasons.
 
As investment advisers counsel, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future results. But past performance can be, and an axiom in NFL personnel rooms is, look at the film.
 
CSNChicago.com is doing that as the NFL Scouting Combine approaches (Feb. 29) along with free agency and the start of the league year and its trading window. It becomes an increasingly relevant exercise to look at the intricacies behind some of the key players and positions the Bears will be addressing through the upcoming weeks. CSNChicago.com previously looked at the need to evaluate quarterbacks from the intangible standpoints first, then the measurables.
 
Using Jay Cutler as an object lesson for how immense physical skills have questionable correlations to immense NFL performance, a look at one aspect of quarterback "film" warrants more attention than the measurables that command a disproportionate share of attention and scrutiny.
 
Ball security.
 
It has been Cutler's single biggest issue through his eight Bears seasons, was a reason why coaches once wanted to stay with Josh McCown instead of returning to Cutler following a Cutler injury absence, and why Brian Hoyer played his way into prominence in the discussion of 2017 Bears plans. Adam Gase went from offensive coordinator to hottest head-coach prospect in no small measure because he managed Cutler into better ball security.

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But the point here is less Cutler – expected to be traded or released within the near future – than the level of ball security in the available options beyond Hoyer.
 
So, look at the film:
 
The widespread drooling over a possible trade with New England for Jimmy Garoppolo. The best thing in Garoppolo's favor is that he has been a Patriots backup to Tom Brady. Garoppolo, drawing distant comparisons to a Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel and other past experience-lite quarterback options, has thrown 94 NFL passes without an interception, which is impressive until matched against Hoyer's 200 last season without an interception, for comparison purposes.
 
But evaluating Garoppolo against the coming chief draft competition – DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson – suggests comparing apples to apples, meaning college ball security, since that's all the kids have to this point.
 
Garoppolo vaulted up draft boards (to New England's second round) on the strength of an Eastern Illinois senior season with 53 touchdown passes vs. nine interceptions, against chiefly FCS opposition. But in his first three seasons Garoppolo threw for 65 touchdowns and was intercepted 42 times.
 
Kizer? In his two Notre Dame seasons, 47 touchdowns, 19 interceptions.
 
Trubisky? 30 touchdowns last season, six interceptions. Including his two years as a North Carolina backup, 41 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
 
Watson? 90 touchdowns, 32 interceptions in three Clemson seasons, the last two as Tigers starter.
 
Observations:
 
Garoppolo put in four college seasons, but has a little of the Trubisky/Flynn/Cassel, one-year-wonder feel. 
 
Kizer and Watson have more starting seasons, but the Watson intangible of getting his team to two national-championship games speaks to another level of "intangible."
 
GM Ryan Pace will incorporate heavy input from coach John Fox and coordinator Dowell Loggains. Coaches love ball security. Garoppolo? Watson? Trubisky? Kizer?
 
Look at the film.

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Teams routinely evaluate draft candidates starting with measurable traits. Then, once the 40-times, height/weight results and such are tabulated, intangibles like leadership and “football character” enter in as tipping points.

For what the Bears need and want to do this offseason at their  most important position, the Bears need to reverse the process. Do it backwards.

The Bears’ first turn on the draft clock does not come around for upwards of two months, maybe effectively before that if trading draft choices for a Jimmy Garoppolo happens in the meantime. But with the start of the league year and its trading window approach, the talk around Jay Cutler is popping up more and more, whether he’ll command anything in a trade or whether to just cut ties and move on.

But the Cutler experience should be and quite possibly is figuring into what the Bears will do if a quarterback is what they target and select, presumably in the first round. And based on Cutler as a case study, subtle and not-so-subtle indications are that GM Ryan Pace is looking beyond the usual “measurables” in evaluating quarterback prospects, as he absolutely should be.

In this one position, it becomes imperative that the Bears go off-script, outside the box, and look first, hardest and longest at something that won’t show up on any stopwatch or tape measure.

“You want to look for a player who has lifted his program for the most part,” Pace said during his time at this year’s Senior Bowl last month. “That's something that's there. Quarterbacks we've been around, I think Drew Brees, for example, when he was at Purdue, he lifted that program. That's one of the things we look for. That's definitely a factor added into about 30 other things you factor into that position.”

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Why this resonance so loudly over the Bears is because for the last eight years they had a designer quarterback who unquestionably checked every measurable box: size (6-3, 225 pounds, mobility, footspeed, arm strength), yet failed to lift his team the way Pace was accustomed to from his time in New Orleans around Brees.

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is Cutler: 6-3, 209 pounds, big arm. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is Cutler: 6-4, 230 pounds, big arm, mobility.

Tellingly perhaps, Pace also cited another intangible in a way that suggests it will influence his and the Bears’ draft board: “It's your football intelligence, it's your accuracy, it's your ability to quickly process.”

But Trubisky was a starter just one year (2016). Kizer “led” the Irish to a 4-8 season and a 14-11 overall mark in his starts over two years.

Deshaun Watson, in the National Championship game the past two years, is similar in physical stature (6-3, 209) to Kizer and Trubisky, Garoppolo, too, for that matter. But “lifted his program” should be a monumental tipping point here.

And experience. Garoppolo had one spectacular year, his senior season, at Eastern Illinois. His first three years were nothing special, marked by heavy interception totals and barely 60 percent completions. Pace’s weighted criteria have experience high up.

“Yeah, [experience] carries a lot of weight,” Pace said. “I think there’s nothing that can really substitute [for] that. It’s already a big jump from college to the NFL as it is, so the more of that you have, the more beneficial it is.”

Measurables were why Russell Wilson (size) didn’t go until the third round, and why Tom Brady (foot speed) lasted until the sixth. For the Bears, the hard-to-gauge intangibles should be their first evaluation points, far ahead of the physical skills and talents that they have had here since 2009.

What if the Bears can't re-sign Brian Hoyer? They aren't alone in the hunt

What if the Bears can't re-sign Brian Hoyer? They aren't alone in the hunt

Several of the Bears’ options at quarterback for 2017 – they have, unofficially, somewhere between 10 to 15 – involve veteran Brian Hoyer being re-signed, an interim solution for a team with an empty developmental pipeline but expected to be moving on from the largely failed Jay Cutler Era.

But what if they can’t get Hoyer?

The Bears may find themselves in a situation not entirely dissimilar from where they stood in the 2014 offseason and were faced with a decision on Josh McCown after his career-best stretch in relief of Cutler. Then-GM Phil Emery wanted Cutler over the feelings of the coaching staff and signed Cutler to that $126 million contract. McCown’s price rose to eventually $5 million per season and the organization went in another direction with Jimmy Clausen.

McCown is back on the market after his release this month by the Cleveland Browns. He would be cheaper than Hoyer but is also 37 and possibly headed for a coaching job rather than back under center.

The conventional sense has been that Hoyer will be back with Chicago after his dramatic burst of four straight 300-yard games before going down for the year with a broken arm suffered at Green Bay. And he very well could be. Agent Joe Linta has some positive history with the Bears (Hoyer, Vlad Ducasse, Jim Miller) and the Bears offer Hoyer a starting job, at least in the near term after his interception-free run of 200 passes last season. Hoyer was a locker-room fit and arguably the best option not only as a veteran starter, but also a quality mentor/teammate for young quarterbacks with the organization’s goal of replacing him.

But Hoyer took a visit with the New York Jets last offseason and the Jets have youth (Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty) in training, with a short-term opening ahead of them. The Dallas Cowboys are even deeper in a true win-now mode behind Dak Prescott, and Dallas isn’t expected to keep Tony Romo as Prescott’s (very expensive) backup. Hoyer is a topic within both organizations, although the Cowboys do not offer Hoyer a shot at starting even on an interim basis.

The Jets just hired Jeremy Bates as their new quarterbacks coach, the same Bates who worked with Cutler as Denver QB coach in the latter’s Pro Bowl 2008 season, and later (2012) in Chicago. But ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that the Jets are not in the Cutler market. However, Jets coach Todd Bowles has a known preference for a veteran, Bowles is now under job pressure after a disastrous 5-11 season in 2016 and the Jets were considered more likely to lean toward Hoyer than Cutler, anyway.

But back to the Bears...

The injury riddled outcome of the season makes any projection beyond mediocrity appear laughable in hindsight. But the Bears’ signing of Hoyer last offseason, to a one-year deal worth $2 million, was a statement that the Bears believed they were in a win-now mode in addition to the rebuilding process that, frankly, every NFL team does in some degree every offseason.

Hoyer is a quality veteran, the kind of quarterback signed as a backup only amid serious expectations. Otherwise, the pipeline behind Jay Cutler is filled with youth, beginning in the draft, which the Bears didn’t do. Connor Shaw was in fact “the promising young guy” in development, a decision that was looking good right up until Shaw broke his leg late in the third preseason game.

Shaw will be back, and presumably he will be joining a depth chart that will include a drafted QB. The early handicapping here is Clemson’s Deshaun Watson but this is way too early to start making mock draft picks. Plenty of time for those.

But the name at the top of the depth chart, best case scenario, has been and is Hoyer. The problem is, the Bears’ may not be the only ones holding a door open for Hoyer.