GM candidates have solid draft history

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GM candidates have solid draft history

The interview process for Bears general manager candidates is ongoing this week, with Marc Ross from the New York Giants making it to Halas Hall Wednesday, after San Diegos Jimmy Raye and New Englands Jason Licht earlier. Tim Ruskell has his formal interview Thursday and Phil Emery from Kansas City will complete the first cycle.

Bears President Ted Phillips is the point man by his own account. And it is always difficult to get a complete fix on how good each individual has been to this point in their careers, because they have typically not been the top guy in their current organizations, as they will be in Chicago.

But it is interesting to pick a spot and compare apples and apples, more or less. So CSNChicago.com took the last five No. 1 picks for each candidates organization (with the exception of Ruskell) as a point of comparison (recognizing that Licht was not with the Patriots for all five). This was a problem area for the Jerry Angelo regime so how have others done:

Jimmy Raye: The Chargers have had decidedly mixed results with their top picks. They selected Craig Davis in 2007 and he was a bust, a wide receiver, a position of high need for the Bears. Antoine Cason (08) is a starting cornerback and Ryan Matthews (10) starts at running back. Corey Liuget (11) from Illinois was a starter at defensive end because Luis Castillo (05) was injured. Defensive end Larry English (09) has had injury problems.

Analysis: A solid record, with GM A.J. Smith the prime architect. But the Chargers have consistently secured talent that has stuck around. The focus in round one has been on defense in San Diego since Philip Rivers selection (04).

Phil Emery: The Chiefs over the past five years have twice selected wide receivers in the first round. Dwayne Bowe (07) was a major hit and is on the Bears radar this offseason in free agency. Jonathan Baldwin (11) had a serviceable first year primarily coming off the bench. Safety Eric Berry (10), defense end Tyson Jackson (09) and defensive tackle Glen Dorsey (08) have been starters, as has left tackle Brandon Albert (08).

Analysis: Again a solid record at core positions.

Jason Licht: The Patriots drafted very well in first rounds since Brandon Meriweather (07) and even he was a Pro Bowl safety, if not ultimately a fit with Bill Belichick. Jerod Mayo (08) was defensive rookie of the year and a Pro Bowl linebacker, and New England got quality at cornerback with Patrick Chung (09) and Devin McCourty (10). Nate Solder (11) is listed as a starter at tackle and was a pick for the future.
Analysis: Licht has been with the Patriots twice, returning in 2009 after stops in Philadelphia and Arizona. New England does personnel the right way.

Marc Ross: The Giants, like the Patriots, are still playing in January because of hits in the draft. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (11) isnt starting but thats mostly because Kenny Phillips (08) and Aaron Ross (07) are. Jason Pierre-Paul was a home run at defensive end (10), and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (09) is a major reason why New York is in the NFC Championship game.

Analysis: The Giants have had fits and starts but they have not had a losing season since 2004 and have been to the playoffs five of the last seven years, and missed in 2010 in a tiebreaker with the Packers after going 10-6.

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.