Hoge’s Offseason Notebook No. 12: Ranking The Bears’ Moves
By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — Phil Emery listens to Lil Wayne.
Well, at least a little bit.
“Occasionally, I will rock our scouts with a little quote or two from Lil Wayne,” Emery told the Mully and Hanley Show this week. “No one can put together a phrase better than that gentleman.”
So now I’ve wasted too much time this week thinking about Phil Emery dropping Lil Wayne lyrics.
“(Expletive) get on my level, you can’t get on my level,” he might say.
I can also see him giving his alma mater, Wayne State, a shoutout: “Two words you never hear: Wayne quit!”
Or maybe, “Cause Wayne win, and they lose.”
But here’s the most fitting lyric for this offseason: “Man, I got summer hatin’ on me ‘cause I’m hotter than the sun.”
Because is any NFL general manager hotter than Phil Emery right now? And, of course, I mean that in a football sense.
It would be hard to argue that any GM has had as good — and as active — of an offseason as Emery has. He has now signed 34 players since the final week of the regular season, and that’s not including rookie and reserve/future contracts.
So to look back at all the activity, here’s how I would rank the top 10 most important offseason moves:
1. Re-signing Jay Cutler — The offense returns all 11 starters from last season, but stability starts at the quarterback position, and Emery locked up Cutler with a flexible contract that could last up to seven years.
2. Signing Jared Allen/cutting Julius Peppers – I group these together because the Bears needed to free up money by letting Peppers go. Cutler’s contract also played a role here, because the flexibility allowed the Bears to move some money around to free up the space to add Allen. The pass rush has to be better in 2014, and Allen will lead the charge.
3. Signing Lamarr Houston – As much as the pass rush needs to improve, the Bears have to stop the run first. Houston will help in that area and provide versatility as he lines up all over the defensive front.
4. Drafting Kyle Fuller – Adding a young cornerback was important, and Emery found one that can play right away. Expect to see the Bears playing three corners a lot next season, and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be able to match up Fuller each week the way he sees fit.
5. Re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff – The Bears need better play from their defensive tackles, and Ratliff proved in his limited playing time last season that he’s still a productive player. New defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni said Ratliff currently looks like the guy he used to coach in Dallas, which is a good sign for the Bears’ defense.
6. Re-signing Matt Slauson – Slauson was arguably the NFL’s most underrated free agency signing a year ago, and Emery was smart to lock him up to a four-year deal as soon as the season was over. He was probably the Bears’ most consistent offensive lineman last season.
7. Re-signing Tim Jennings – Jennings’ four-year extension was announced the same day as Slauson’s and Cutler’s. The cornerback may be undersized, but he’s a ball hawk and playmaker. The Bears couldn’t afford to lose their best cornerback from last season.
8. Re-signing Charles Tillman – It looked for awhile like Tillman’s Bears career might be over, but he came back on a one-year deal. Everyone expects him to be pushed by Fuller for playing time, but it’s in the Bears’ best interest for Tillman to stay healthy and productive so Fuller’s versatility can be utilized each week.
9. Re-signing Robbie Gould – Kicker is a position you don’t want to have to worry about. That’s what the Bears have with Gould. He’s now locked up for four more years and is currently the highest paid special teamer in the NFL. When you consider he might end up being the most accurate kicker in NFL history, he deserves it.
10. Extending Brandon Marshall – The only reason he isn’t ranked higher is because his deal didn’t need to be done this offseason. That said, it was important to get the extension out of the way now so it didn’t become a distraction this season. It’s no coincidence that the Bears’ offensive turnaround started with the trade for Brandon Marshall in 2012. Emery had to lock him up past 2014.
Underrated move: Signing Willie Young – After being underutilized in his first three seasons in Detroit, Young broke out a little bit in 2013 and will now be a focal point of the Bears’ pass rush in 2014. There’s a sentiment around the league that Young is a late bloomer who will now be in a much better situation in Chicago. He’s still only 28 years old and could prove to be a underrated signing this fall.
@AdamHoge if you could replay the final snap against GB last year w/ this years personnel, which def players do you have on the field?—
Eric Almaguer (@Word_Jockey) May 22, 2014
This is a fun question and really the perfect way to show how the defense has improved — at least on paper — from Week 17 when the Bears almost beat the Packers to win the NFC North.
So let’s take a look at the 48-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb:
The Packers line up in “11” personnel, which means they have three wide receivers on the field. The Bears, naturally, counter with nickel personnel (five defensive backs).
Remember, the Bears checked into a zero-blitz (all-out blitz with man coverage on the back end), which was the plan if the Packers showed a spread formation. Some people were unhappy with the call by Mel Tucker, but the problem wasn’t the call. It was the execution.
So let’s look at who’s on the field. Your four defensive backs manning up downfield (from top to bottom on the screenshot) are Zack Bowman, Chris Conte, Major Wright and Tim Jennings. Two of these four players are now gone. Using the depth chart as of today, a healthy Charles Tillman would replace Bowman and Ryan Mundy would replace Wright. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily fix the play, as it’s Conte who played zone on the play instead of man.
So let’s look at the rest of the defense:
The defensive front is where the outcome of the play could possibly change. Only three of these seven players would be the same using today’s depth chart, and one of the returnees (Shea McClellin) would be playing a new position, although he’d still be rushing the quarterback standing up. Lance Briggs and Jeremiah Ratliff would also be out there, but let’s say the other four players are Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Kyle Fuller. Sounds like a better pass rush, right?
Let’s specifically focus on the right side of the line. A big reason why the Bears like Fuller is his ability come into the box and blitz. That was Isaiah Frey’s job (circled in yellow) on this play and, while he does occupy the left tackle, he’s immediately stonewalled and doesn’t require any kind of help or cause any disruption. That contributes to fullback John Kuhn being completely free to make the key block on this play — a chip on Julius Peppers that allows Rodgers to roll out and hit Cobb down field. Maybe — just maybe — Allen gets off the line a little quicker and gets to Rodgers a split-second faster.
Of course, this is all immensely hypothetical and doesn’t change the fact that the breakdown on the play was on the back end, where Conte played zone instead of man. Fun question, though.
@AdamHoge in terms of depth, what are the positions of concern on both offense and defense?—
Ryan Cox (@MrRyanCox) May 22, 2014
I’d say tight end and safety. By not drafting a tight end earlier this month, that tells me that the Bears really think Fendi Onobun can contribute this season as the backup tight end. He was dismissed by fans last preseason because of some big drops, but he actually made some nice catches in training camp and showed potential. I think the Bears were really happy they were able to keep him on their practice squad and develop him for a season in their offense. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him as the No. 2 tight end in Week 1 against the Bills.
Frankly, I’m surprised the Bears didn’t do more with the safety position this offseason, but you can’t hit a home run at every position. Emery deemed the defensive line more important, and it’s hard to argue with that. At least there’s better competition at the position this season.
Chris Williams in lead for return job?
The Bears made a sneaky move the last week of the regular season when they signed former Canadian League kick return star Chris Williams off the Saints practice squad. At only 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, I can’t see him fitting into the offense as anything more than a package player, but he might be the frontrunner to take over as the Bears’ kick returner.
“We’re obviously going to give him that full opportunity (to win the job),” Emery said on 670 The Score this week. “But we’re going to continue to put competition up against him, and we’re going to continue to look for competition.”
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said he heard from coaches in New Orleans who weren’t happy to lose Williams, but then again, he was just a practice squad player for the Saints.
That said, Emery believes Williams would have been a mid-round draft pick this year.
“Typically in the third and fourth round of the NFL Draft, all the returners are gone,” Emery said. “And Chris Williams would fit exactly into that category.”
Once again, there seems to be concern about the Bears’ backup quarterback. Of course, that’s a pretty common concern across the NFL, and Emery provided some great numbers on 670 The Score to explain why:
“Twenty-six percent of the players (drafted at the quarterback position) end up being at minimum short-term starters, which is about two-and-a-half years,” he said. “The cut-off for me was Derek Anderson, who started 43 games. So only 26 percent become starters. Only 54 percent of those players have winning records. So when you are talking about backup quarterbacks, what are you really talking about? You’re talking about a lot of inexperienced guys or you’re talking about guys who have not been winning quarterbacks in the NFL.”
In other words, the talent pool at quarterback is extremely shallow. So how do you get the most out of your backup? Emery went on to say that the key is to surround those backup quarterbacks with talented players to throw the ball to. That worked out pretty well last year for Josh McCown, and the Bears’ approach this year is no different with Jordan Palmer, who is still the frontrunner to beat out David Fales to be the backup quarterback.
You may have heard second-round draft pick Ego Ferguson say that the Bears want him to the play the two-technique. So what does that mean?
The two-technique is when a defensive tackle lines up directly over either offensive guard. It’s typically a two-gap technique, which means you are playing the opposing offensive lineman, instead of a single gap between two offensive linemen.
Here’s a good example of a two-technique in the Seahawks’ 4-3 hybrid defense:
As you can see, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel is lined up directly over the guard. This is actually a good example of a front you might see the Bears use this season, with a defensive end in a nine-technique (spread out wide to the left) and the Sam linebacker showing a rush from a two-point stance on the right side.
Our access to Halas Hall during the offseason is limited, but every time I’ve been there the last month or so, I’ve run into the same guy: Kyle Long. The word around Halas is that the Bears’ second-year offensive lineman is always there, which is a good sign considering he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year. The truth is, Long is well on his way to becoming a face of the franchise. He has the personality, leadership skills and — most notably — the football ability to represent the Bears for a long time.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.