Lovie: Bears facing uncharted waters with Newton

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Lovie: Bears facing uncharted waters with Newton

Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011
Posted: 10:35 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Lovie Smith has been a defensive coach in the NFL for 15 years. He has seen the great, the near-great, the faux great and just about every form of good in NFL quarterbacks.

But hes never seen one quite like this one, not like Cam Newton.

Were in uncharted waters right now with him, Smith said.

Indeed, this was supposed to have been a uniquely difficult season for rookies. The lockout prevented an offseason for installations of schemes, a special challenge for a quarterback coming into the pro game and in particular for one coming to a team with a new coaching staff.

Newton began his truncated offseason in a brief competition with Jimmy Clausen for the Carolina Panthers starting job. All of which meant that not every coaching moment was being spent on just his development and orientation.

Then Newton went into a season starting with a road game, a game against the defending Super Bowl champion and a third in a rainstorm bordering on epic.

The results were 1,012 passing yards, more than any other rookie quarterback in NFL history, two seven-point losses (including one to the Green Bay Packers) and a win last week over Jacksonville. That gave the Panthers the same victory total they had after 13 weeks last season.

You could talk forever about most of the stuff hes doing has never been done, Smith said. But to go without an offseason, for a rookie, to come in and make the plays and just be able to handle an offense like that, no one has ever done it like this.

Now, what are the Bears going to do about it?
Attack angles

Heres the riddle the Bears will face on Sunday:

Question: How do you tackle a 6-foot-5, 248-pound super-athlete with a football and more speed than virtually everyone chasing him?

Answer: With friends.

Getting pressure on Newton is the plan, just as it is with every quarterback the Bears face. But once the pressure gets there, assuming it does, the approach is different than it is for a shorter, less-imposing player. Those you can take down with one arm or a partial hit.

Not Newton.

Its like rushing former Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper back in the day, said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Sometimes when you get close, you go for the ball. Youre always looking for the ball. Its easier knocking the ball out sometimes than knocking these guys down.

But youve got to wrap him up, go high, get on the arm. You go around his waist and he stands up, and youre not hustling getting a bunch of men to him, hes going to complete passes. Hes just tough to get down. Youve got to get the arm and the ball.

A problem with Newton is that for all of his athleticism and speed, he is not behaving like a mobile rookie coming out of college where he could build a career on being a runner first.

The Bears view Newton as a I really see him as a passer, with the ability to escape and get out of trouble. They would prefer he act like an athlete first and a quarterback second.

Hes not looking just to take off, Marinelli said. Hell sit back in that pocket and hes got really good patience and you can have that type of poise when youre that type of athlete. You know you can get yourself out of trouble.

Trending?

Newton started with 422 passing yards against Arizona, a completion percentage of 64.9 percent and a passer rating of 110.4. He threw two TD passes and one interception.

He went up to 432 yards against Green Bay but threw three interceptions and completed 60.9 percent of his passes. In the monsoon against Jacksonville, his yardage total was down (158). But his team won and he threw more TD passes (1) than INTs (0) for the second time in three games, plus he ran seven times.

Yes, he is a rookie but hes playing at a high level and better than most quarterbacks whove been in the league for however long, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. There are some things he hasnt seen because hes a rookie but hes playing well for a guy whos only played three games.

The learning curve

As dangerous and productive as Newton has been in his early going, this may be only a hint of some things to come, which is not good news for the Bears or anyone else.

It isnt just that Newtons skill set, his abilities to read, his decision-making and other attributes will improve.

Its his attitude.

Newton sought out Tom Brady, Warren Moon and other greats whenever possible and worked at learning his craft. Much better for the NFL if he came in believing that he already knew it all. Not so.

I think success comes if you continue to yearn to be good, or to strive for your common goal, Newton said. Do you want to be average, do you want to be good or do you want to be great?

I think that's what separates the Tom Brady's from the other quarterbacks in this league, the Aaron Rodgers'es from the other quarterbacks in this league. Anybody that stands out as an elite player in this league, it's something that they're doing. They're not being complacent.

Ok, you had a good game, or OK, you had a good practice, but you know that's not the ultimate goal that you want to be. There's something bigger and better that you want to get at.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are the Bears getting better?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times) plus former Bears Jason McKie and Patrick Mannelly join Kap on the panel. The Bears win but are they getting better or did they just crush an awful team?

Rajon Rondo gets suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team. Will he be suspended again?

Plus CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes has the latest on the Chris Sale watch and does Big Ten Champion Penn State have a legitmate gripe about not making the playoffs?

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below:

Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved

Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved

Leonard Floyd wasn’t doing particularly well in the early stages of Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers. First there was the snow, which was a new experience for the Bears rookie rush-linebacker, who was born in Georgia and played his high school and college football in the Peach State.

Then there was the matter of getting back up to NFL game speed after suffering a concussion sustained in a frightening collision with teammate Akiem Hicks two weeks ago against the New York Giants.

“Yeah, the beginning of the game I was playing too jittery,” Floyd said. “I wasn’t playing like myself. The more the game went on, the more I settled down.”

And finally was the problem of facing All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley, who repeatedly dominated Floyd in the first half the way a five-time Pro Bowler can do to a rookie.

“He’s up there with the top,” Floyd said. "He’s definitely a guy that has been in the league and has been dominant while he’s been here. I was looking forward to the matchup the whole week, and I enjoyed the whole matchup during the game.”

Staley might have been, too. He isn’t looking back at it fondly right now.

Floyd sacked Colin Kaepernick in the third quarter and Blaine Gabbert in the fourth, the latter for a safety. The sacks were in addition to four solo tackles, one for loss, as Floyd shook off his early troubles with Staley. That, as much as the actual plays, might have been the biggest positive for a young player.

“Even early in yesterday’s game we could have played a couple of things a little bit better,” coach John Fox said. “What was impressive about Leonard was being able to put maybe a couple of not some of his better plays behind him. I thought he responded really well in the second half.”

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The significance of Floyd’s playmaking, Sunday and in other recent games, cannot be overstated.

No draft pick carries as much weight in the early formation of Ryan Pace’s job evaluation and legacy as Bears general manager than that of Floyd. Period. Pace is in his position in part because the Bears as a franchise has fallen behind division and NFC rivals over the past decade because of a succession of misses on first-round draft choices.

To some extent, Fox’s personnel skills were involved. Fox began his turnarounds in Carolina and Denver with top-10 picks of edge defenders: Julius Peppers in 2002 and Von Miller in 2011, both No. 2 overall. The priority placed on Floyd was in no small part rooted in evaluations of the two ranking members of the coaching staff for defense, Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio, whose building of a championship defense in San Francisco also began with a top-10 pick on an edge rusher: Aldon Smith, the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft.

Floyd means even more than injury-plagued Kevin White, the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft, Pace’s first. Floyd was not only a high first-round pick, he also was one that Pace regarded so highly that the Bears general manager felt compelled to trade up two spots to beat the Giants to Floyd.

For a time last offseason, with Floyd ill to start training camp, then suffering from a handful of injuries, the choice was open to serious question, even as Floyd was a mild surprise as a starter on opening day. Floyd collected half a sack in the loss at Houston but then was far from an impact factor in the next three games and then inactive with a hamstring injury the two after that.

Since then, however, Floyd has become nothing short of a significant contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Floyd suffered his concussion and had to leave the game against the Giants and was inactive last week against the Tennessee Titans. But in the four complete games since he was inactive those two weeks, Floyd has totaled 6.5 sacks, one of those accounting for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers and another going for a safety Sunday vs. the 49ers.

Floyd’s seven sacks lead all rookies, and his play in the San Francisco game will have him under high consideration for Rookie of the Week.

All of that pales next to seeing Floyd come through the hit that produced the concussion. Floyd lay on the field as teammates raced to him, and he eventually was taken off the field on a cart and a board to immobilize his neck.

“I can’t really remember much after the hit,” Floyd said. “I just knew that the trainers were telling me that I was gonna be all right, I was gonna be fine, and I was just listening to them the whole time and what they were saying. It was the first time I experienced (that). I was kinda scared at the moment. Like pretty much a day later, I felt like I was going to be back out there soon.

“It was just bad technique. I’m looking at myself, studying myself. Bad technique. My head was down.”

With his safety Sunday and touchdown in Green Bay, Floyd (eight points) is outscoring receiver Alshon Jeffery (six). Floyd is 6-foot-4, has speed and he played tight end in high school. So ... offense?

“Nah,” Floyd said, laughing. “I’m going to stick to getting after the quarterbacks, man.”