Don't blame Bears for Hurd situation

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Don't blame Bears for Hurd situation

What if the reason the Bears didnt find out that Sam Hurd was a drug figure of note was becausehe wasnt?

The knives didnt take long to come out for GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith after the Hurd case popped on Thursday. Nothing was really known beyond information contained in the federal complaint detailing Hurd activities that generally commenced in late July, but critics were declaring that there were ample indicators that the Bears should have picked up on.

An interesting rush to judgment. If you dont like Angelo or Smith, especially after a three-game losing streak, it's easy to drill them, facts optional. (If you dont think there is agenda journalism, youre not playing close enough attention. But thats getting off point here).

I had a long chat on Friday with Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk.coms PFT Live! Mike, an attorney himself, had some seriously interesting perspectives that start with some basic common sense, which is the first thing to go in hysteria reactions.

The fact that, in the 24 hours-plus since the story broke, no one is reporting anything about the scope or breadth of the operation suggests that there was no operation, Mike wrote.

Heres the overall:

If Hurd was an operation before July, when the Bears signed him, no one in the Bears, Cowboys, NFL or government appears to have known it.

If he wasnt an operation, what exactly were Angelo, Smith and the Bears supposed to have known?

Once Hurd became or was aspiring to operation status, since July, what were the Bears supposed to have done if in fact details of a covert operation were shared with them?

More on that in a bit.

Mike and my mutual conclusion, based on the complaint and other considerations, was that the real indications are that Hurd wasnt a drug kingpin at all, but that he wanted to become one and was taking his first big steps toward it (http:tinyurl.com77sahy2).

Which doesnt exonerate Hurd of even a shred of his alleged actions. It does, however, point in a different direction with respect to the Bears.

Some points of perspective

Big time? How big?

One thing that jumped out at us immediately was the clumsiness with which Hurd handled the situation of the 88,000 found in a vehicle registered to him and driven by an apparent associate, who said the money belonged to Hurd.

As I recounted to Mike, a longtime friend working for an airline told me of how a mule carrying money for a suspected drug operation very calmly denied that a briefcase containing 125,000 in cash even belonged to him. He just walked away from it when authorities opened it and questioned him.

If Hurd was Pablo Escobar, he walks away from the car and the money.

According to the complaint, Hurd was talking to undercover officers about the massive amounts of cocaine and marijuana that he would need. He wasnt already doing business at those levels; he had huge plans but he wasnt there yet, albeit because his supplier couldnt get him what he needed.

Hurd clearly was wanting to take a big step, based on the federal complaint. But every sign so far says he hadnt taken it by the time the Bears signed him. And if there were earlier steps, they hadnt tripped any bells in Texas or Illinois.

Telling the Bears?

The Feds appear to have been onto Hurd for some time, based on information in the complaint. The Bears have former FBI and police officers comprising most of their security staff, including Director of Security and Safety Services Tom Dillon, a former SWAT team member.

Dillon and NFL security people have contacts and sources. The only available information right now says that the law was tracking Hurd since July since he became a Bear, not before by more than a day or two.

Should the authorities have given the Bears information on a covertsting operation? Not if they want it to remain covert. If the Bears, whod already made their deal with Hurd, were tipped off, should they cut Hurd immediately? And alert him in the process that something big was up? A difficult spot to be in, even if officials had apprised the Bears of what was being done, which we clearly dont know at this point.

So, should the Bears

Hurd does not appear to have been enough of a drug player to have registered on federal or NFL radar in Dallas, where he was for the last five years. Five years.

Maybe the lockout and the fact that the Cowboys werent bringing him back moved Hurd to start thinking about life, such as this would have been, after football.

Whatever, there is nothing to indicate that Angelo was lying Friday when he said, there was nothing we found that would create a flag or alert or real concern in Sam Hurds case.

Best evidence is that Hurd was still not a big player when the Bears signed him. As far as him being even a fringe drug player, Dallas didnt know; the NFL didnt know; the Bears didnt know. If someone has more than just opinion that they did or should have, trot it out.

After they signed him, Hurd still wasnt a player. And whatever he was, as I mentioned before, the nature of the investigation sets this outside the parameters of a simple background character check.

Throw in a lockout that put more than a few limits on information flow for teams and players, and you have an interesting environment.

Mike made one more point: In the day-plus thats gone by since this first broke, nothing really notable has been added. One report was that a double-digit list of involved players was out there, but that was shot down subsequently.

Knocking Angelo, Smith or the Bears for not having a better backup quarterback is one thing. Bashing them for not knowing about a drug situation with what is known at this point something else altogether.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.