The runner-up in the 2011 Super Bowl got there in part because of tight-end play. The New England Patriots, who already had 6-foot-6 Rob Gronkowski, used a fourth-round draft choice on a tight end -- Aaron Hernandez -- who provided 79 receptions and seven touchdowns last regular season and 19 more catches with a pair of scores in the postseason from a tight end measuring 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds.So the Bears went out and got themselves one of those. Just ask him.Evan Rodriguez, just short of 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, was picked by the Bears on Saturday in the fourth round of this draft. The comparisons to Hernandez were being made even before the Bears made the pick and Rodriguez seconded that impression when he was brought to Halas Hall for a pre-draft visit.Evan thinks he is, saidgeneral managerPhil Emery, laughing. Ill tell you that up front. I asked him.When we brought him into the building I met with him and asked him, Who do you compare yourself with? He said, Hernandez." Emery said "OK, lets look it up." The Bears did, and determined that Rodriguez is a fraction of an inch shorter, right at the same speed (4.55 sec. for the 40), the same weight andboth from the East Coast.So there are some comparisons, Emery said, then cautioned. Well let him play first before we say hes as good as a pro.Rodriguez is OK with that caveat. After all, Hernandez caught more NFL passes last season (79) than Rodriguez did (69) for his entire college career.Aaron has worked really hard to get where he has been, Rodriguez said. Im not there, Im not there yet but I do idolize my style as similar to Aarons.Both played three college seasons, Rodriguez at Temple, Hernandez at Florida. Rodriguez was the 111th pick overall, Hernandez the 113th.
In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.
So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games.
Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).
On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).
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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.
While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.
There's a sense of irony and, to a certain degree, concern about what changes the Bears' coaching staff has undergone.
Think of the best of Ryan Pace's 2016 rookie class: Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, and Jordan Howard. They were brought along under the position group tutelage of outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, offensive line coach Dave Magazu and running backs coach Stan Drayton. The latter was the first to depart, shortly after the season ended, to return to the collegiate ranks on Texas' new staff.
He's been replaced with former 49ers and Bills offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins (also serving as that position coach in Detroit, Buffalo, Arizona and Kansas City). Howard certainly adapted to the NFL game well, more than anyone expected, as the NFL's second-leading rusher. One would think Drayton played a part in that.
Longtime John Fox assistant Magazu was also let go after the season despite the impressive move of second-round pick Whitehair to center the week of the season opener after Josh Sitton was signed following his release by Green Bay. Whitehair was sold as a "quick study" following his selection out of Kansas State, where he was a four-year starter at three different positions (but not center).
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Like Howard, he wound up making the All-Rookie team, but whether he remains in the middle of the line or not, he'll be getting his orders now from Jeremiah Washburn.
Rounding out the trio of All-Rookie selections was Floyd, who was brought along by Hurtt. He impressed Fox enough to be kept around from Marc Trestman's staff, and moved from defensive line to outside linebackers.
That's where he assisted Willie Young in morphing to a foreign role, yet still managing 14 sacks over the last two seasons. The Bears have yet to name a replacement for Hurtt, who's joined the Seahawks in taking over one of their strengths in recent years, the defensive line.
These three were already good, and the jewels of last year's draft. But if they're to grow and ascend into impact contributors if and when this team becomes a regular playoff contender, it'll come from new faces, new voices in their respective classrooms and position groups.