View from the Moon: On the clock....

View from the Moon: On the clock....
April 28, 2011, 3:52 pm
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Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 10:46 a.m. Updated: 8:19 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

NFC North stars

The pick of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 raised a few eyebrows but this is another player that makes the Bears schedule ever so slightly more difficult.

Ponder is an upgrade over Joe Webb, Tavaris Jackson and Brett Favre 2010, even as a rookie. Period. Thisll be interesting now, because dont rule out Donovan McNabb being a pickup before training camp. If that happens, the Vikings are dangerously close to a legitimate divisional contender.

And then you add Nick Fairley paired with Ndamokung Suh as the defensive tackles in Detroit? Very, very scary. Throw in Kyle Vanden Bosch at one end and the Lions will be a serious problem in week five when Detroit comes to Chicago.
Falling stars

How squirrely is draft analysis? Blaine Gabbert at one time was the consensus No. 1 overall pick. So was Auburn DT Nick Fairley. So was Clemson D-end DaQuan Bowers. And Fairley and Bowers were still waiting for phone calls after J.J. Watt went from Wisconsin to Houston at No. 11.

Oooops

Its all fluid right now but the Bears tentatively will open training camp on July 22 and hold their first practice in Bourbonnais Olivet Nazarene University on July 23, All dependent on this labor thing

Scheduling conflicts

It happens every year to some degree but the Bears 2011 schedule arguably got a bit more difficult Thursday night.

Whether Cam Newton is starting by game four when the Bears face the Carolina Panthers is an unknown. If he isnt, its because Jimmy Clausen is playing better than the No. 1 overall pick. If Newton is starting, it means he is further along the NFL learning curve than a lot of other rookies, not just quarterbacks.

A scary element came in when Atlanta gave up a hefty parcel of picks to move up from 27th to Clevelands spot at No. 6. The Falcons pick: wide receiver Julio Jones, the second wideout taken in the top six picks.

That means that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing offense, already a problem for the Bears, adds a potentially lethal matchup problem for a secondary that struggled with the Falcons in 2008 and 2009.

Not that it will have influenced the thinking down at No. 29, but the Denver Broncos selection pass-rush terror Von Miller at No. 2 means that the pressure on Bears tackles just went up another level. This is a potential Clay Matthews type that will be a major concern for JMarcus Webb and whomever is the other tackle probably not Chris Williams.

Carolina on everyones mind

Coach Ron Rivera, GM Marty Hurney and the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Now what happens?

The first thing is that Jimmy Clausen is likely to remain the starting quarterback. Not for long perhaps, but Clausen out of Notre Dame was a second-round pick last year and is not the stiff that his stats were with an abysmal team. What he gives Carolina and Newton is a little time, because Newton is not NFL-ready right now and if Newton is smart, which he clearly is, hell learn.

And for Clausen, the situation is anything but the end of a career. When the San Diego invested a high No. 1 pick in Philip Rivers, the quarterback already with the Chargers was Drew Brees.

Enough said.

Cullin it out

Barring a court ruling from St. Louis, teams are due to get a clarified set of rules on Friday regarding player transactions. That means free agency and if history is any indication, the Bears will strike quickly to get done what they want to do.

The first free-agency priority is expected to be Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, a fit at either end or tackle but projected to be the replacement for Tommie Harris at the three-technique.

Why this looms as important on an April Thursday night is that the Bears do not have to rely exclusively on the draft for defensive line help, whether Jenkins, Seattles Brandon Mebane or whomever. The likelihood of the Bears going offense at No. 29 just went up a little more.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

Desert foxes?

Len Pasquarelli at The Sports Xchange reports sentiment is floating around that the Arizona Cardinals have an understanding with quarterback Marc Bulger, currently with Baltimore but due to be a free agent whenever the market opens.

If this is the case, or if the Cardinals believe they can get something done with a Bulger, Donovan McNabb or whomever, it projects to take them out of the hunt for a Blaine Gabbert and points them strongly in a direction of cornerback Patrick Peterson from LSU. Arizona will go for the best player available, which is likely to be one of either Peterson or Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

But ESPNs Todd McShay laid out myriad scenarios circulating through NFL cities, and a buzz was that the Broncos were leaning toward Miller instead of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Trades are always in the talking stages, although how many if any ultimately take place in a year when no current NFL players can be included in deals yet, remains to be seen.

As the hours before the draft tick away, specific team situations come more sharply into focus, with the implications those have on draft directions...

Buffalo wings it?

The Buffalo Bills at No. 3 have multiple needs (thats usually why you in fact are drafting third-overall), which gives them the option of taking the true best player available. Because if youre coming off a 4-12 year and havent had a winning season since 2004, you almost by definition dont currently have a best player so you might as well get one when you have the chance.

The Bills can throw the draft into at least brief chaos by taking Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. But while Ryan Fitzpatrick is not in imminent danger of Pro Bowl inclusion, Fitzpatrick also finished last season with a passer rating of 81.8 with 25 TD passes and 16 interceptions on a really bad team...

Gabbert watch

Blaine Gabbert becomes a very intriguing figure as the top 15 picks unfold. If Buffalo goes for one of the elite defensive players left by Carolina and Denver (DT Marcell Dareus, LB Von Miller, CB Patrick Peterson) as expected, Gabbert projects to fall through Cincinnati at No. 4, and then personnel chief Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals have a decision on whether Gabbert is indeed the franchise quarterback that they lost when Kurt Warner was finished.

And if Arizona passes (figuratively) because of Peterson in particular still being available, then Gabbert is still waiting. The Cleveland Browns arent taking him, with Colt McCoy in place. The 49ers may not be satisfied with Alex Smith under center but Jim Harbaugh was himself a quarterback and the chance to add an elite cornerback like Prince Amukamara from Nebraska may be too good to pass up.

Gabbert is still waiting.

Tennessee is a virtual lock to bring in DT Nick Fairley to play for Tracy Rocker, his D-line coach at Auburn. Dallas wont take a QB at No. 9 (Tony Romos number, coincidentally).

Now comes Mike Shanahan and Washington, which desperately wants a franchise quarterback.

Gabbert? Probably. But this is quite a tumble for a player, a quarterback, who a month ago was nearly the consensus No. 1-overall pick of the draft.

QB concerns up North

The Minnesota Vikings are determined to address a train-wreck situation at quarterback, now that coach Leslie Frazier has determined that Joe Webb is not the long-term solution. Donovan McNabb may be an answer but the labor impasse has that in limbo, meaning that right now he cant be brought in at the time of the offseason when you absolutely want your quarterback working in his new system.

That uncertainty, plus the reality that McNabb is a bridge player at this point in his distinguished career, make selecting anything but a quarterback a major surprise...

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.