It’s that time of the year where all we really have are the dreary eggshell walk of the preseason and collar-adjusting paranoia surrounding injuries and if the team really is that bad (or in some cases that good). Much like the NFL draft festivities, it’s much ado about nothing, as until the team trims its roster in 2 weeks (and then once more on 9/3), we can’t do much else besides watch and gauge ourselves as to who Ryan Pace & John Fox will part ways with.
During the summer I spent a few weeks putting together a “Top 40 Most Important Bears” sheet that I published to BearsFansOnline.com and to reddit.com/r/CHIBears to a pretty good reaction. Hilariously enough, Manny Ramirez retired maybe two weeks after I posted the write-up about his importance to the season, and Ted Larsen was actually one spot behind him and is arguably now one of the most important pieces to the roster.
We don’t know this team well enough in actual game situations yet to determine what they’re made of, but if you based the results of your gut feelings on 1 preseason game against the Broncos, you’d think the Bears would have the talent and gumption to win 4, maybe 5 games in 2016. There was definitely palpable outrage and disgust, some of it justified, but most of it not. I along with many other fans were definitely overreacting, but let’s be real here: Most fans have endured years of being good but not good enough for a title, bad but not bad enough for a #1 overall pick, promising rookies that never pan out into anything of value. Ultimately it took the team gutting itself from the inside out and hiring one unknown in Pace and one known commodity in Fox.
Let’s talk about Pace a bit. I think he’s proven to be a rather crafty draft manager who is willing to take risks but can also stockpile future picks when something’s in the air he doesn’t like. Compared to Jerry Angelo who was almost reluctant to make a 1st round pick as GM, Pace seems to have a pronounced enthusiasm for that aspect of being a general manager that is, at least to me, a bit refreshing.
He’s only had two draft classes, one of which has yet to see a regular season game, and it’s not at all fair to judge his picks for at least another two years. Unlike Angelo & Emery, for the Bears to truly see success in the next 4-5 years they need to have a percentage of these players stay with the team for an extended duration. Developing homegrown talent requires keeping your GM, your coach, and a quantity of players. The need to establish and reinvent a winning tradition requires pillars and time. Fans of the team have the patience for neither.
The majority of draft picks aren’t going to pan out. That’s just the way it is, and the ones that do pan out won’t prove to be standout players, much less bonafide stars. Really what Ryan Pace needs to see within the next 2-3 years to validate his success as a GM is a healthy underbelly of the roster that has talent enough to provide stability where you can use free agency to put a few bricks together to be supplemented by the mortar. From there it’s about managing the stars you do have while hoping a decent amount of your 1st/2nd round picks blossom according to their potential.
In the meantime, John Fox, Vic Fangio, and their roster of coaches have the duty of developing and polishing some of the roster into a palpable thing, and we don’t know what that is just yet. Since their world is mostly on defense, today I’d like to speculate a bit about the offense.
Last year’s offense was…well, it was like an episode of Chopped where the cook is Gordon Ramsay and he was given a basket of potato chips, Jimmy Dean sausage, some cat vomit, and a spoonful of caviar to make something delicious; the end result being a surprisingly good-tasting gourmet Hot Pocket.
The 2016 offense is the same Hot Pocket, only now it’s got more cat vomit than last time and it’s being microwaved by Gordon’s most mediocre sous-chef. Dowell Loggains is a totally unimposing dude who has a rapport with Cutler and the trust of the coaching staff. His history as a coach has been unimpressive and based on the infinite number of people Cutler’s apparently had good coaching relationships with, this felt like a gentle regression to buy the team time before they get a new quarterback and likely a new coordinator. As always, when it comes to the Bears and offensive coordinators, who in the hell knows what the future holds.
In addition to losing Ramsay, er, Gase to the inevitable coaching purge that occurred in Miami, the Bears parted ways with Matt Slauson for reasons that had more to do with principles in style than crucial financial finagling. Slauson was by no means some kind of superstar, but he was one of those brick/mortar guys I mentioned earlier, and with Ramirez retiring and Grasu blowing out his knee, Ryan Pace must have felt pretty irritated that Lady Luck chose to teach him this lesson now and in the process deliver a devastating blow to the roster.
Depth is now so bleak on the offensive line that the team is wringing their hands that Amini Silatolo, a mediocre lineman formerly of the Panthers and is recovering from his second blown ACL, can get healthy enough to be anything of value to the roster. They also inked Khaled Holmes, a nobody from the Colts who couldn’t stay healthy, and Shelley Smith, another faceless journeyman who hasn’t seen playing regular game reps since 2014. Both players have gone from likely dropping applications off at Hardees while waiting for CFL callbacks to suddenly being vital veteran depth for an NFL team.
This is the state of the offensive line, and it all could’ve been avoided if Matt Slauson wasn’t released. Ryan Pace will hopefully never take that kind of talent for granted again.
The Bears also decided to kick the can on solving the ever-nebulous future of the quarterback position, and the timing felt weird as hell. Pace reportedly attempted to trade up at one point to acquire Connor Cook, but he ultimately went to the Raiders, a team that doesn’t even really need him. So here we are with Brian Hoyer as the team’s backup, a guy who is on a 1-year deal and is essentially a crappier, balder version of Jay Cutler: Capable of surprising you with some big plays; unreliable and inconsistent enough to blow games to pieces with turnovers. Hopefully by the time the 2017 draft is over, fans will have an exciting quarterback prospect to banter about.
Wide receiver is looking extremely promising, actually. Your top three receivers – Kevin White, Alshon Jeffery, and Eddie Royal – are nightmare matchups on paper for opposing defenses, but the best way not to encounter this trio?
Wait a few weeks. Based on Alshon’s hamstring/soft tissue problems, White’s freshly recovered fractured shin, and Eddie Royal’s knee/concussion issues, chances are probably excellent that by week 3 or 4 one or more of these guys won’t be in the starting lineup. Last season was spent instead adding immense value to the careers of Marc Mariani, Josh Bellamy, and Cameron Meredith, who turned chicken shit into chicken salad. It wasn’t a pretty season to be a Bears wide receiver in 2015, but we observed quite often that there was some fairly reliable depth chart talent there. Adding a guy like Daniel Braverman, should he make the team, could provide a spark from the 7th round. Who knows, but the position is stockpiled.
Tight end is kind of a wasteland. Zach Miller got another concussion, and if you wanted to compare having a guy with his health history as a game-in-game-out starter to something in life, I’d say it’s on the same level of reliability as having a few sheets of Saran Wrap and duct tape serving as your car’s windshield. There’s not much after that. At all.
Still way too early to define the running back situation. Jeremy Langford didn’t impress in a few snaps against Denver; the team loves Jacquizz Rodgers’ versatility; Ka’Deem Carey runs so hard he gives himself concussions constantly; rookie Jordan Howard did extremely little in his snaps last Thursday.
If it came down to Carey or Howard, I would think Howard would make the roster simply because he’s Pace’s rookie and Carey is a known commodity. I love Ka’Deem Carey’s style of hard-nosed, energy-filled runs, and the guy is a ball of energy that makes a team better, yet for all of that he gets concussions regularly as hell.
I’d rather keep Carey than Rodgers, but I don’t make the decisions (thankfully).
With that, the Bears are a couple days away from taking on the New England Patriots, and with joint practices underway it appears the Bears are, if nothing else, scrappy as hell. The team wanting to show some fight and pride are good things. Whether it translates into wins or a bunch of dumbass penalties/injuries/losses…
…well, let’s just wait and see, shall we?