Trotter: NFL won't expand season to 18 games

Trotter: NFL won't expand season to 18 games

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Posted: 6:57 p.m. Updated: 7:37 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Good friend Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated got a moment with NFLPA President Demaurice Smith late Wednesday and it does look like there wont be an 18-game NFL season anytime soon (http:tinyurl.com4j9cc7d).

That means rosters and schedules and myriad other details wont have to be adjusted, at least at this point.

Indeed, nothing is done til its done and hard information has been difficult to come by with the NFL and NFLPA adhering surprisingly well to their vow of silence over the past couple weeks. But indications are that some progress is being made, although substantive issues are still a long way from resolved, and those may be deal-killers.

National Football Posts Andrew Brandt does a great job of laying out the proposals for capping rookie salaries, fittingly titled The Rookie Sacrifice (http:tinyurl.com4d78mv3). Its something which both sides and most of the football public agree have spiraled out of control vs. the success rate of high draft choices, for instance.

Andrew, who negotiated contracts while a member of the Green Bay Packers front office, offers a compromise package of his own which includes splitting the mandatory contract lengths for the 32 first-round picks. Not sure how this will play with players agents, but right now they are the only ones really pushing hard for the yet-to-be players.

These ideas havent been finalized by any means. But getting a look at some of the proposals on the table, literally, as well as the kind of compromise that could effect some movement, is revealing.

Revealing is the problem, however. The players remain insistent that the owners open their books to wider scrutiny as a way to buttress claims that their profits need the 1 billion kick-in they are demanding that the players make. And the owners, whether for competitive reasons among themselves or whatever, dont see that issue as discussable.

The way out of that stalemate, as Ive alluded to previously, may be the independent verifier mechanism that the league has had for checking validity of contract claims in free agency. An independent auditor has been selected by the players to review books in confidence but whether that works for the owners still is unresolved.

Thursday and Friday are expected to be heavy negotiation days, with another extension not out of the realm of possibility. At least theyre still talking.

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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.