How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"

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How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"

The upgrading of the Bears offensive line, whether through free agency or the draft, possibly both, is expected to be the primary task in Phil Emerys second offseason as general manager. He said as much twice while detailing the hiring of coach Marc Trestman.

Emery referred to evaluations by STATS Inc. that placed the Bears 26th, which tells me weve got to get better, Emery said. Weve got to get better. I look at that from the perspective: how does that impact winning?

The analysts at ProFootballFocus.com offer a similar assessment, placing the Bears O-line 30th among the NFLs front fives. And while no statistical ranking usually offers a definitive simple arrow pointing to success, PFFs analyses underscore Emerys conclusion.

Interestingly, left tackle JMarcus Webb was the choice as Stud, or in this case the least-bad lineman (none had positive grades for the season). Webb took a substantial step up in 2012 and is described as an adequate left tackle with the note, you can win with those.

Right tackle Gabe Carimi was the designated Dud and on the path to Bustville. Based on 2012, the final No. 1 pick of Jerry Angelo will not have a lot of supporters going into this years training camp.

The winning impact

The role of an offensive line in success certainly doesnt need any belaboring. But a correlation of rankings with NFL results in 2012 is worth noting.

The bad Cleveland Browns ranked fifth, but that includes left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the NFLs elite. The woeful Kansas City Chiefs were 12th.

But only three of the NFLs playoff teams (Seattle 20th, Green Bay 21st, Indianapolis 31st) rank worse than 17th, which is Baltimore. The Colts and Bears do demonstrate that you can be a winning, even playoff, team without an elite offensive line.

However, all three of those sub-17th offensive lines had Pro Bowl quarterbacks behind them (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Seattle and Green Bay also had top-11 scoring defenses.

As Ive noted previously, Emery in fact did some addressing the offensive line. For instance, had he drafted James Brown in, say, the fourth round (where Brown was widely projected to go), and Brown ended the season starting (he did), some of the criticism might have been less strident. And he picked up eventual Carimi replacement Jonathan Scott just after the season started, which is actually something of an accomplishment, finding a serviceable player among NFL discards.

What the Bears invest in the offensive line this offseason will be more than signing discards and undrafted rookie free agents.

Bears announce training camp schedule

Bears announce training camp schedule

The Bears released their official training camp schedule Thursday morning. After reporting to Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday, July 26, the first of ten practices open to the public will take place the following day. The Bears will be based out of Bourbonnais for the 16th straight season. Training camp will go through Sunday, Aug. 13 before the Bears break camp and finish the preseason in Lake Forest. 

All practices are tentatively scheduled to start at various times during the 11 a.m. hour with the exception of Saturday, Aug. 13, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Those times are subject to change based on weather, and a varying set of schedules that John Fox and his coaching staff have set up, as they adjust to player and training staff preferences in hopes of reducing injuries. 

Also, new this season, fans wanting to attend practices must order free tickets in advance through the Bears website. Fans will not be allowed in without a ticket, and the first 1,000 fans each day will be given various souvenirs. The practice campus will be open to the public with tickets from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Here is the full training camp schedule:

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

Quintin Demps set a career high in interceptions last year by not doing anything different. And that’s the message he’s sending a defense that generated only 11 takeaways in 2016, tied for the lowest single-season total in NFL history. 

Demps went from picking off four passes in both 2013 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 2014 with the New York Giants to notching just one interception with the Houston Texans in 2015. In 2016, though, Demps intercepted six passes, broke up nine more and totaled 38 tackles. 

“Turnovers are like, it’s not something that you go get, it’s something you let come to you by doing your job first and then helping out,” Demps said. “And then you’d be surprised how they come to you by doing your job and being aware of when you can help somebody out. A lot of times when you get help is when you get picks and turnovers.”

The danger for a defense coming off a historically bad takeaway is sort of a whiplash effect, where there’s an over-emphasis on creating turnovers and not enough attention paid to, as Demps said, “doing your job.” There’s a fine line between being opportunistic and undisciplined.

“I tell my safeties all the time, we gotta tackle first,” Demps said. “Tackle first, don’t miss any tackles and then the picks are going to come. I promise you that.”

The Bears felt positively after signs of being more opportunistic as a defense during shorts-and-helmets practices in May and June, though if that was because of any real improvements or because the defense is usually ahead of the offense is hard to tell at this stage of the year. 

The offseason program was valuable for the Bears’ secondary in growing trust within a group that had — no pun intended — plenty of turnover after the 2016 season. The hope is that the offseason additions of Demps, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Eddie Jackson will solidify the secondary and lead to something better than last year’s historically-low turnover total. 

“We’re still trying to build something, but the actual, real building happens in training camp because I think then you start to see the group start to get formed and yo know who’s going to go with the one’s, who’s going to go with the two’s, stuff like that,” Amukamara said. “So I think that starts to get formed. But I think with a lot of guys now, I think what that creates is competition and guys trying their hardest to make the team.”