New GM means new draft strategies


New GM means new draft strategies

A leading cause of the Bears firing of general manager Jerry Angelo was failure to draft top-level talent. The decision on Angelos successor is still some time away but with whoever it is can be expected to bring with him some significant changes in draft philosophies.

This is potentially a huge factor as the Bears tilt toward building an offense around Jay Cutler rather than on Jay Cutler.

Angelo was a believer in a floor philosophy with top picks, meaning that great attention was given to establishing the worst a pick could possibly be. Maybe that stems from mistakes like Keith McCants or Eric Curry in Tampa Bay or something else, but the result logically meant few outright busts but also fewer home runs.

So there were going to be more safe, reasonable-quality picks (Marc Colombo, Chris Williams come to mind) where at the least you would have a serviceable player. The quirk here is that Angelo would have taken a Dan Bazuin in a second round; the floor there was in the basement.

But that also led to a reluctance to draft wide receivers high, for example, a true high-riskhigh-reward impact position. Angelo was right; the bust quotient is higher with wideouts than most other positions.

Receivers and offensive line changes?

The Bears first target in free agency is a wide receiver and Angelo was prepared for a major first-strike on or above the scale of his grab of Muhsin Muhammad in 2005. Assume that and cornerback will remain targets 1-2, with pass rusher and linebacker in the offseason equation.

Angelos highest draft slot for a wideout was second round and it was a bust Mark Bradley. Look for that to change with a general manager bringing a different philosophy.

Angelo drafted tackles but rarely after the first round (Colombo, Williams, Gabe Carimi). He took Terrence Metcalf in the third round of 2002 and Josh Beekman in the fourth of 2007, but both were disappointments and Angelo never took a lineman higher than the seventh round.

Lance Louis and JMarcus Webb are gems as seventh-rounders go. But pipelines are stocked with O-line hits other than first-round picks.

Green Bay example

The Packers landed tackle Chad Clifton in the second round. Guard Daryn Colledge was a 2. Guard T.J. Lang was a 4. So was guard Josh Sitton. Guard Jason Spitz was a 3. The Bears only made the Beekman and Metcalf picks in those rounds under Angelo.

Bradley was Angelos lone wide receiver pick higher than round 3. Green Bay secured Greg Jennings in the second round. And Jordy Nelson. James Jones was a 3.

Ruskell patterns

It does not work in Tim Ruskells favor that he and Angelo share both draft philosophies and history together. Ruskell was brought in by Angelo as director of player personnel and his draft patterns are near-overlays of Angelos.

He took centerguard Chris Spencer in Seattle. He was the 26th pick of the 2005 draft (Colombo and Carimi were 29s). In the next four drafts during Ruskells tenure the Seahawks took defensive players with their first picks.

Angelo and Ruskell took wide receivers in just two first rounds in all their years at Tampa Bay Reidel Anthony and Lamar Thomas. Both had decent floors and were serviceable players but neither were sustained high-impact

Ruskell will continue overseeing the Bears college scouting for the time being. And he has not been ruled out as a GM candidate. But if the Bears were not satisfied with the draft directions and results of Angelo, Ruskells resume suggests he will be a fallback candidate at best.

Bears running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

Bears running back committee still a work in progress as ground game languishes

The Bears have a fantasy football conundrum. Which of their running backs do they go with?

Jeremy Langford is listed as the starter. Then Ka’Deem Carey. Then Jordan Howard. Joique Bell was waived Monday, a clear statement that Langford is sufficiently back from the sprained ankle he suffered against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears have had three different leading rushers through seven games, which might be considered promising, except that none has established any sort of consistent identity with the opportunities.

The problem: in a production-based business, the depth chart is in inverse order of results. Howard is averaging 4.8 yards on his 73 carries and has a receiving and rushing touchdown. Carey is netting 4.7 on his 23, of which 10 came against the Green Bay Packers. Langford is rushing at the 3.7-yard average of his rookie season, but with two rushing touchdowns. Howard’s 14 pass receptions are nearly double the combined by Langford (5) and Carey (3).

And Howard has played 265 snaps, vs. 100 for Langford and 65 for Carey.

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But Howard was muzzled by the Packers and Langford is coming off a month’s worth of inactivity. And after averaging 116 rushing yards per game last season, the offense that was being committed to the run is down to 88 ground yards per game.

So who’s the Bears’ choice, because “committee” hasn’t exactly been the way, either. With the exception against the Jacksonville Jaguars when fullback Paul Lasike got a fourth-down rush for a first down, only once (Philadelphia Eagles) have the Bears had carries by all three running backs.

“When you look around the league, I don’t think many people are running it very effectively in general,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “I think in our division I think it’s maybe a little bit more important than it is league-wide. Again, to me the essence of football is still being able to stop the run and being able to run the ball. So we emphasize it quite a bit.”

If it’s being emphasized, that’s perhaps even more concerning. Better if the failed run game was due to neglect rather than an area of emphasis. And the reality is that it needs to succeed if the Bears are going to.

“We’ve got to keep running the ball well,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “I don’t think we’re running the ball well the last couple of weeks as we wanted to. That three-game span we were doing OK [4.4 ypc. combined vs. Detroit-Indianapolis-Jacksonville].”

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

No hard feelings between John Fox and Jay Cutler, but no clear future, either

Jay Cutler returned to practice as he left it before the Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him for the past five games. He was back as the No. 1 quarterback.

But the landscape changed over those five weeks, at least outwardly, with Brian Hoyer filling in with a succession of 300-yard passing games and coach John Fox indicating that as long as Hoyer was performing well, he could hold onto the job.

Now Hoyer is gone to IR with a broken left arm suffered in a Week 7 loss to the Green Bay Packers and Cutler returns to a situation where his head coach’s endorsement and support has appeared conditional.

“He doesn’t have a choice, I guess, at this point,” Cutler said on Tuesday. “Brian is out, so I’ve got to go. I’ve had good conversations with Foxy this week, last week, the week before. There’s never been any strain in our relationship. We’re both very open and honest, and we’re on the same page. We just want to win football games.”

Fox has been ripped in some quarters for what was taken as creating a quarterback controversy. In fact, consistent with a competition mantra that has applied to every position since the end of last season, Fox supported each quarterback when their time was at hand: Hoyer when Hoyer was performing well, and Cutler now that he is back.

Bill Belichick made it clear that, regardless of how well Jimmy Garappolo played for his New England Patriots, Tom Brady would be back as the starter when his four-game suspension was over. Cutler has not established a Brady lock on the position.

Speaking about the running back situation, where one-time starter Jeremy Langford is returning from injury to find Ka’Deem Carey and Jordan Howard in front of him, Fox laid out the NFL reality, which applies to the Cutler-Howard situation.

“Earlier in the season I mentioned that way back in the day, if you were the starter, when you got hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said. “Well, that’s not really the case as much anymore. It can be; you’re going to play the best guy and there’s competition to be involved in that.”

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The broader issue overhanging Cutler is whether the Bears plan to bring him back in 2017. This season has been bluntly described as a prove-it year for Cutler, who has no guaranteed contract money after this year, and Cutler has not proven a great deal in seven quarters of football, with a 75.7 passer rating, one TD pass and two interceptions.

Whether that is regressing from last year to levels closer to his career standards is what the next several weeks will reveal. At this level, the Bears would be unlikely to pay Cutler $15 million in 2017.

“I think those are conversations for the end of the year,” Cutler said. “Right now I’m working with Dowell [Loggains, offensive coordinator] and ‘Rags’ [QB coach Dave Ragone] and we’re just trying to find first downs and get our third-down conversion rate back up, score more points. That’s all we’re really trying to do and that’s all my focus is.

“Whatever happens at the end of the year, it’s supposed to happen, and we’ll go accordingly. But right now it’s not something that I worry about. It’s my 11th year, my eighth year here. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, and it’s how it goes. At the end of the year, we can have those conversations. Whatever happens, happens.”

As far as the best way to handle the inevitable questions about the future, “I think ignoring it is,” Cutler said. “I think it's going to be there; you can't completely ignore it.”