Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

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Moon: Bears finally have a 'Pro Bowl quarterback'

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted: 10:56 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears have a Pro Bowl quarterback (whatever that means and implies, which is a topic for another time). They traded for one 20 months ago who had been to a Pro Bowl but now they actually have one.

Jay Cutler probably won't get to the All-Star game this year he'd have to vault one of Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan at this point and he's trailing too far in Q Factor behind those guys -- but Cutler is a "Pro Bowl quarterback" in 2010. And he is more of one now than he was when he was voted to the all-star game in 2008.

(What he needs to do, and the Bears desperately need him to do, is to lapse into the post-selection spiral that finished his 2008. More on that in a moment.)

Cutler piled up 4,526 yards and 18 touchdown passes in his Pro Bowl year, but he was in a Mike Shanahan offense that had him throw 616 passes. Of those, 18 were intercepted, a rate of 2.9 percent that is roughly comparable to the 3.1 percent he's throwing to wrong jerseys this season.

What will hold him back in the voting that's wrapping up now is those 17 TD passes. Brees has 25 (oh, and a Super Bowl ring and TV commercials). Rodgers has 23 and has the love of the national media and better track record. Ryan has 21 touchdown passes (and a cool nickname, "Matty Ice"). And Vick has 15 (and a Sports Illustrated cover story). Those are tough numbers and images to overcome in a selection process that is one-third fan recognition.

But Cutler currently has his team (and make no mistake about it; it is his play that has keyed the five-game win streak) at 9-3 and in the discussion of "NFL's best" if for no other reason than they keep winning while some of the others (like Vick and the Eagles, or the Giants, or the Chargers, or ... pick one) stumble. He also is doing what he's doing so effectively that the focus of the Bears' offense suddenly is Matt Forte, quietly adding 201 rushing yards of his own when things have broken down.

And Cutler is simply a better passer and, more important, a better quarterback than he was when he put up the eye-popping '08 numbers. He has been an offensive player of the week twice in 12 games. He is completing 63.2 percent of his passes, second only to the 63.6 he connected on in 2007. He is fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt (Vick and Rodgers are among the top four), one of the key single statistical indicators of team success.

Cutler is far and away the NFL's best at third-down completions to pick up third downs over the last five weeks.

He has a 92.8 passer rating this season, higher than any year in his career and dramatically reversing a trend that has seen his ratings begin at 88.5 as a rookie and fall to 88.1, 86.0 and 76.8.
But here's the thing ...
Most of the voting for Pro Bowls is done before the final weeks of seasons. Cutler virtually made his Pro Bowl in 2008 when his team was 8-5 and he'd posted ratings of near 95 or better in four of his previous five games; he'd had five 100-ratings in 13 games.

Then he laid three eggs with ratings below 75 in all three of those final games, throwing two TD passes vs. four INTs. His Pro Bowl billet was secured by then but that was hardly the finishing kick of a true "Pro Bowl quarterback." He wasn't.

Now he is, whether the voting says so or not. What he needs to do, though, to earn that de facto distinction for the year is to avoid a meltdown in the tradition of '08. Then the Bears will have the Pro Bowl quarterback they thought they were getting back in April 2009.

"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.

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

View from the Moon: Bears make statement in taking tight end while passing on defensive backs

With their second pick in the 2017 draft, the Bears addressed offense and did it in a way that, when coupled with one of their main offseason moves, makes for some very interesting what-ifs for the upcoming season.

The choice at No. 45 was tight end Adam Shaheen, who at 6-foot-6 and 278 pounds becomes the second significant addition at the position following the signing of Dion Sims (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) to a three-year deal. In a sometimes over-specialized NFL, the Bears have brought in not one but two every-down tight ends.

“Yeah, that’s accurate,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “So it opens up a lot of possibilities for our offense.”

The acquisitions of Shaheen and Sims hold some intrigue, if only because of sheer bulk, because the inescapable conclusion with the commitments to big tight ends is that the Bears might be serious about running the football. They ran 28.4 percent of their 2016 plays in personnel packages of two or three tight ends or with a tight end and fullback.

Under coordinator Dowell Loggains the Bears ran the football just 39.3 percent of the time in 2016. Head coach John Fox and Loggains cite the Bears’ frequent need to play catch-up as the reason why, though in 12 of the 16 games the Bears were tied, led or were within seven points at halftime. In fairness to Fox and Loggains, the Bears in fact arguably did not have the physical firepower at tight end to sustain a smash-mouth base of operations.

That said, both Shaheen and Sims also have a fully formed receiver side to their games, which is where the bigger-picture interest lies. Shaheen had 122 receptions over his last two seasons at Ashland. Sims caught 36, 25 and 35 passes in his final three years with the Miami Dolphins. Both Shaheen and Sims were high school basketball standouts; Shaheen played a year of basketball at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, while Sims was dual-recruited for football and basketball at Michigan State after finishing fourth in voting for Mr. Basketball in Michigan in 2009.

“I definitely think (the basketball stuff) helps,” Pace said. “Half the time, it’s like these tight ends are going up for a rebound and boxing out. And (Shaheen) definitely has it. When we talk about body control and catching radius, the ball is not always going to be on target. And Adam has the ability to do that. We confirmed that through the tape, and Frank (Smith, tight ends coach) was able to confirm it during the workout.”

Why not take a defensive back?

During the NFL owners meetings this spring, Pace said that the draft's depth of talented options was a factor in free-agency decisions as well as the draft. So his willingness to trade down in the second round of this draft was expected, given that it has been rated as one of the best-ever drafts for quality and depth at defensive back.

Of course, these were the same experts’ analyses that concluded that no quarterback would be drafted before the middle of the first round, when in reality three went in the first 12 picks after teams traded up, so ... oh, never mind.

The NFL collective seems to agree with the take on defensive backs: Of the 107 players selected through three completed rounds, 29 (27.1 percent) have been defensive backs (18 cornerbacks and 11 safeties). Meaning more than one-fourth of the 2017 draft picks have been defensive backs.

What wasn’t expected was Pace then making no move at either cornerback or safety even after the trade-down that recovered much of the draft capital expended to deal up to No. 2 for Mitch Trubisky. When the Bears’ pick at No. 45 came around, the Bears instead chose a smaller-college tight end.

First thoughts were that Pace agreed with thinking that said starter-grade corners in particular could be had as late as the fourth round — he reacquired a fourth-round pick in the trade with Arizona, giving him two (Nos. 117 and 119) — or that he had been outflanked by a sudden minor run on defensive backs. In the eight picks from No. 36 (the Bears’ original second-round slot) to No. 43, four defensive backs were snatched up, three of them safeties.

That clearly didn’t bother Pace, though the Bears ended Friday with a plan to take a revised look in the defensive back direction.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to kind of sort through it tonight and we’ll be here late tonight and early in the morning,” Pace said. “Kind of resetting our board and going through it again. We’re going to take best player available, and if it ends up being offensive players, that’s what it is.”

Adam Shaheen travels a different path to being the Bears’ second-round pick

Adam Shaheen travels a different path to being the Bears’ second-round pick

Adam Shaheen was a couple of things coming out of high school in Galena, Ohio: He was 6-foot-4 and weighed about 195 pounds, and was headed to Division II Pittsburgh-Johnstown to play basketball. 

Four years later, the Bears on Friday made the now 6-foot-6, 278 pound tight end their second-round draft pick. He was the fifth tight end selected, behind first-rounders O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay, No. 19), Evan Engram (New York Giants, No. 23), David Njoku (Cleveland, No. 29) and Gerald Everett (Los Angeles Rams, No. 44). 

Shaheen said he missed football after a year of playing basketball (he played football at Big Walnut High School in Ohio), with 2013’s memorable Ohio State-Wisconsin game giving him the itch to return to the sport. He wasn’t big enough to play football when he came out of high school, but coaches at D-II Ashland University saw something in him following his freshman hoops year and brought him into the program.

Then the weight gain began. Shaheen, initially weighing 225 pounds, was Ashland’s No. 3 tight end in 2014. And he continued to grow in his final two years there. 

Shaheen described how he bulked up last month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis:

“A lot of Chipotle burritos,” Shaheen said. “A lot of burritos. No, it all honestly it was a lot of burritos.” 

It wasn’t as easy a process as housing burritos would seem, though. 

“It was just a grind,” Shaheen said Friday. “You know, to put on that kind of weight and still maintain my athleticism, it was a good grind for two years.”

Shaheen went from catching two passes in nine games in 2014 to totaling 122 receptions for 1,670 yards and 26 touchdowns in his final two years at Ashland. Few players at the D-II level have the opportunity to pass up a final year of eligibility — Shaheen could’ve been a fifth-year senior in 2017 — to turn pro, but there wasn’t anything left for him to accomplish. 

“I did all I could really do to help my draft stock there,” Shaheen said. “Another year at that level — I didn’t think after discussing it with my family and friends and stuff it was really going to increase my draft stock if I did similar to what I did the previous two years.”