View from the Moon: On the clock....

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View from the Moon: On the clock....

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 10:46 a.m. Updated: 8:19 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

NFC North stars

The pick of Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 raised a few eyebrows but this is another player that makes the Bears schedule ever so slightly more difficult.

Ponder is an upgrade over Joe Webb, Tavaris Jackson and Brett Favre 2010, even as a rookie. Period. Thisll be interesting now, because dont rule out Donovan McNabb being a pickup before training camp. If that happens, the Vikings are dangerously close to a legitimate divisional contender.

And then you add Nick Fairley paired with Ndamokung Suh as the defensive tackles in Detroit? Very, very scary. Throw in Kyle Vanden Bosch at one end and the Lions will be a serious problem in week five when Detroit comes to Chicago.
Falling stars

How squirrely is draft analysis? Blaine Gabbert at one time was the consensus No. 1 overall pick. So was Auburn DT Nick Fairley. So was Clemson D-end DaQuan Bowers. And Fairley and Bowers were still waiting for phone calls after J.J. Watt went from Wisconsin to Houston at No. 11.

Oooops

Its all fluid right now but the Bears tentatively will open training camp on July 22 and hold their first practice in Bourbonnais Olivet Nazarene University on July 23, All dependent on this labor thing

Scheduling conflicts

It happens every year to some degree but the Bears 2011 schedule arguably got a bit more difficult Thursday night.

Whether Cam Newton is starting by game four when the Bears face the Carolina Panthers is an unknown. If he isnt, its because Jimmy Clausen is playing better than the No. 1 overall pick. If Newton is starting, it means he is further along the NFL learning curve than a lot of other rookies, not just quarterbacks.

A scary element came in when Atlanta gave up a hefty parcel of picks to move up from 27th to Clevelands spot at No. 6. The Falcons pick: wide receiver Julio Jones, the second wideout taken in the top six picks.

That means that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta passing offense, already a problem for the Bears, adds a potentially lethal matchup problem for a secondary that struggled with the Falcons in 2008 and 2009.

Not that it will have influenced the thinking down at No. 29, but the Denver Broncos selection pass-rush terror Von Miller at No. 2 means that the pressure on Bears tackles just went up another level. This is a potential Clay Matthews type that will be a major concern for JMarcus Webb and whomever is the other tackle probably not Chris Williams.

Carolina on everyones mind

Coach Ron Rivera, GM Marty Hurney and the Carolina Panthers made Cam Newton the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. Now what happens?

The first thing is that Jimmy Clausen is likely to remain the starting quarterback. Not for long perhaps, but Clausen out of Notre Dame was a second-round pick last year and is not the stiff that his stats were with an abysmal team. What he gives Carolina and Newton is a little time, because Newton is not NFL-ready right now and if Newton is smart, which he clearly is, hell learn.

And for Clausen, the situation is anything but the end of a career. When the San Diego invested a high No. 1 pick in Philip Rivers, the quarterback already with the Chargers was Drew Brees.

Enough said.

Cullin it out

Barring a court ruling from St. Louis, teams are due to get a clarified set of rules on Friday regarding player transactions. That means free agency and if history is any indication, the Bears will strike quickly to get done what they want to do.

The first free-agency priority is expected to be Green Bay defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins, a fit at either end or tackle but projected to be the replacement for Tommie Harris at the three-technique.

Why this looms as important on an April Thursday night is that the Bears do not have to rely exclusively on the draft for defensive line help, whether Jenkins, Seattles Brandon Mebane or whomever. The likelihood of the Bears going offense at No. 29 just went up a little more.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

The start of free agency, at least in some form or other, appears to be a couple steps closer after Judge Susan Nelson delivered a second ruling in Minneapolis that for the time being keeps NFL teams from enforcing a lockout.

The NFL is appealing, of course, and clarification on free agency is due on Friday. But teams are expected to open more of their doors to players, meaning that the weight room that was closed at Halas Hall earlier this week. And a threat of charges being made that some collusion is going on will carry some weight and possibly add to pressure for the league year to begin.

Players are allowed to get playbooks, participate in offseason programs, and qualify for various bonuses tied to participation in team activities. Players will be allowed to visit with coaches and get playbooks.

Desert foxes?

Len Pasquarelli at The Sports Xchange reports sentiment is floating around that the Arizona Cardinals have an understanding with quarterback Marc Bulger, currently with Baltimore but due to be a free agent whenever the market opens.

If this is the case, or if the Cardinals believe they can get something done with a Bulger, Donovan McNabb or whomever, it projects to take them out of the hunt for a Blaine Gabbert and points them strongly in a direction of cornerback Patrick Peterson from LSU. Arizona will go for the best player available, which is likely to be one of either Peterson or Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller.

But ESPNs Todd McShay laid out myriad scenarios circulating through NFL cities, and a buzz was that the Broncos were leaning toward Miller instead of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Trades are always in the talking stages, although how many if any ultimately take place in a year when no current NFL players can be included in deals yet, remains to be seen.

As the hours before the draft tick away, specific team situations come more sharply into focus, with the implications those have on draft directions...

Buffalo wings it?

The Buffalo Bills at No. 3 have multiple needs (thats usually why you in fact are drafting third-overall), which gives them the option of taking the true best player available. Because if youre coming off a 4-12 year and havent had a winning season since 2004, you almost by definition dont currently have a best player so you might as well get one when you have the chance.

The Bills can throw the draft into at least brief chaos by taking Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. But while Ryan Fitzpatrick is not in imminent danger of Pro Bowl inclusion, Fitzpatrick also finished last season with a passer rating of 81.8 with 25 TD passes and 16 interceptions on a really bad team...

Gabbert watch

Blaine Gabbert becomes a very intriguing figure as the top 15 picks unfold. If Buffalo goes for one of the elite defensive players left by Carolina and Denver (DT Marcell Dareus, LB Von Miller, CB Patrick Peterson) as expected, Gabbert projects to fall through Cincinnati at No. 4, and then personnel chief Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and the Arizona Cardinals have a decision on whether Gabbert is indeed the franchise quarterback that they lost when Kurt Warner was finished.

And if Arizona passes (figuratively) because of Peterson in particular still being available, then Gabbert is still waiting. The Cleveland Browns arent taking him, with Colt McCoy in place. The 49ers may not be satisfied with Alex Smith under center but Jim Harbaugh was himself a quarterback and the chance to add an elite cornerback like Prince Amukamara from Nebraska may be too good to pass up.

Gabbert is still waiting.

Tennessee is a virtual lock to bring in DT Nick Fairley to play for Tracy Rocker, his D-line coach at Auburn. Dallas wont take a QB at No. 9 (Tony Romos number, coincidentally).

Now comes Mike Shanahan and Washington, which desperately wants a franchise quarterback.

Gabbert? Probably. But this is quite a tumble for a player, a quarterback, who a month ago was nearly the consensus No. 1-overall pick of the draft.

QB concerns up North

The Minnesota Vikings are determined to address a train-wreck situation at quarterback, now that coach Leslie Frazier has determined that Joe Webb is not the long-term solution. Donovan McNabb may be an answer but the labor impasse has that in limbo, meaning that right now he cant be brought in at the time of the offseason when you absolutely want your quarterback working in his new system.

That uncertainty, plus the reality that McNabb is a bridge player at this point in his distinguished career, make selecting anything but a quarterback a major surprise...

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 cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

Bears cut 10 players, trim roster to 80

The Bears have until Tuesday to move their roster down to 75, and they began Sunday by cutting 10 players.

The following players were waived: DL Keith Browner, WR Kieran Duncan, WR Derek Keaton, OL John Kling, RB Senorise Perry, WR Darrin Peterson, DB Joel Ross, TE Gannon Sinclair, OL Martin Wallace, FB Darrell Young

The Bears' roster currently sits at 80 players. After getting the roster down to 75 on Tuesday, the team will then cut down to 53 for the start of the regular season.

The Bears open their regular season on Sept. 4 in Houston against the Texans.

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

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But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

Best thing about Bears’ preseason loss to Chiefs: 'It wasn’t all bad'

John Fox’s hopes for this preseason game No. 3 actually were fairly modest: show improvement. The Bears gave their coach pretty much the exact opposite in a dismal 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, which wasn’t really even as close as that score.

Tellingly perhaps, Fox was moderately damning with faint praise: “I don’t think it was all bad,” Fox said. “It might have looked like that but so do a lot of preseason games.”

And any presumed correlation between Saturday’s woeful performance and how the season may be a stretch. Five of the last six times the Bears have lost their third preseason game, they finished .500 or better, last year’s 34-6 drubbing at Cincinnati being the lone time the game-three result foreshadowed the course of the season.

But Fox was accurate in how the 2016 game-three loss looked. With quarterback Jay Cutler and the No. 1 one offense – or what was healthy of it – played into the third quarter, by which time the Chiefs were leading 20-0, had out-gained the Bears 331-94 and had allowed the Bears into plus-territory just once in seven possessions and with the Bears picking up zero first downs on five of the seven “drives.”

“It was good and bad, like anything else,” Cutler said.

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Concerning perhaps, while not easily quantifiable from a distance, the play by too many players looked lethargic and disinterested, whether it was the cause or the result of repeated breakdowns that killed Chicago drives and extended Kansas City ones. Whether success grows out of confidence or confidence follows from success is a relevant question but one that really doesn’t matter until the Bears have at least one or the other.

“I’ve never had a problem, whether it was all of last year or this year, as far as effort,” Fox said. “Our guys try hard and work hard. Now it’s just crossing that gap to having it happen under pressure. I think with young people sometimes that’s the growing pains. We’ve got the talent to do it. Now we’ve just got to execute better."

Cutler appeared frustrated on more than one occasion, which in the past has been a source of problems. Some of it clearly was with teammates and failed assignments. But this is a young Bears team still in a molten state and frustration, even when justified, can be an accelerant for tension.

This is still only preseason, but the critical trust relationship between Cutler and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is still a work in progress. The No. 1 offense has done less than nothing – 29 total points from 12 quarters of work – other than a brief burst early in New England. History suggests that Cutler is among those who need success to believe in his chief architect, and if Cutler’s attitude is fraying even a little bit, the danger is that it spread without something positive.

“We’ve got a great attitude,” Cutler insisted. “We’ve got a good team. Coach Fox put together a heck of a staff. Dowell and his staff are doing everything possible. Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] is a proven vet… . It’s just up to the guys.”

[RELATED: Bears No. 1 offense moving in wrong direction after three preseason games]

The game was one of the poorer examples of complementary football, with no phase of the Bears – offense, defense, special teams – doing anything remotely setting up another in field position, momentum or whatever. That is unsettling, since it is unusual for a game to be marked by none of a team’s units performing well.

The offense went without a first down on its final four possessions going into halftime. That was capped off by an abysmal final three trips to the line of scrimmage that produced a false-start penalty, incomplete pass to a wide-open receiver and a sack.

The defense, which wasn’t getting much recovery time from those brief series, failed to stop any of the Chiefs’ possessions through three quarters without at least one first down. The Chiefs had six drives of 40 yards or longer and had the ball approaching 30 minutes to the Bears’ 15 through three quarters.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points, but the Chiefs had three different punt returners with at least one runback of 10 yards or longer.

As far as what might be positive in all of that: “It IS preseason,” Fox stated.