Brad Biggs; "Ten Thoughts on the Bears Draft".................
Brad Biggs: 10 thoughts on the Bears' draft
By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter 9:37 a.m. CDT, April 30, 2012
Ten thoughts on how the Chicago Bears fared in the 2012 NFL draft:
1. It's been a while since the Bears' offseason didn’t make fans cringe a bit over the general manager’s focus on the floor rather than the ceiling.
Those were the terms former general manager Jerry Angelo used when talking about scouting. He wanted to know what the floor was for a player and be assured it was solid. That was his way of saying, in a worst-case scenario, the Bears knew what they would be getting in a player. Too often, it seemed, the attention paid to the floor prevented the Bears from seeing upper-tier potential, and rarely did their picks bust through that ceiling and raise the roof.
Angelo was conservative in many ways when it came to roster building. Like a lot of good personnel men, he kept his focus in the trenches, knowing that teams with solid lines have the best chance for success. Too often, he missed there and a frequent vanilla approach stunted the growth of the team in some areas, particularly at wide receiver. His replacement Phil Emery, now that we’ve had a day to consider the NFL draft, seems like a calculated gambler, the kind of guy willing to go all in at the poker table when he knows the odds in the deck are tilted in his favor. This doesn’t mean anything he’s done is guaranteed to work out, but he’s taken chances were not accustomed to seeing.
What is the floor on Brandon Marshall? It could have a trap door and Marshall could fall right through it if he doesn’t leave his checkered off-field past in Miami. The upside? He has been a Pro Bowl performer.
Fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is the latest calculated gamble. Emery was fixated on Jeffery the moment he finished selecting defensive end Shea McClellin in the first round. The Bears traded up five spots in the second round to select Jeffery, once considered a first-round prospect, 45th overall. Emery said the Bears ranked him among the top three wide receivers in the entire draft, placing him in elite company with Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd.
But there is inherent bust-factor risk with wide receivers. Jeffery is the Bears’ highest-drafted wide receiver since Mark Bradley was selected 39th overall out of Oklahoma in 2005. Bradley came with knee issues, iffy hands and an awful lot of speed. He didn’t work out. Jeffery comes with tantalizing size, acrobatic playmaking ability and weight issues. The size of Jeffery – 6-4, 216 pounds, is what really jumps out at you. Pair him up with Brandon Marshall and watch them go.
Who knows if Jeffery will pan out? It’s difficult for rookie wide receivers to make an impact in the NFL. But it does happen. The Bears don’t believe they’re getting a diva at a position known for them. Jeffery is a quiet country kid who is used to performing under pressure. He was a member of Calhoun County High’s four-time consecutive state championship basketball team in St. Matthews, S.C.
Since getting aligned with agent Eugene Parker of Maximum Sports, Jeffery has worked on his diet and eating smarter. It’s paid off. Now, he just has to come in and perform. The Bears have had wide receivers learn all of their positions at one time in the past. It’s what delayed Earl Bennett as a rookie. Maybe with Jeffery they will put him in one spot and leave him there to make the transition easier.
Emery said it came down to adding a piece to the offensive line in the second round or going with Jeffery.
“With Alshon that was a shining light up there,” Emery said. “He was the highest-rated player on our board and the highest player available to make plays that determine winning games. So that’s why we went after him. When you do that, some positions are going to go by the wayside, whether it’s O-line, whoever. You take the best player that’s going to make the most plays for you, that gives you the best chance of winning.”
Given the same choice, the guess here is Jay Cutler also would have gone with the playmaker. Jeffery’s ceiling is just immense.
2. When Brock Forsey talks about the Bears, the conversation turns quickly to the start he had against the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 when he filled in for Anthony Thomas, who was sidelined with viral pneumonia. Forsey became the hit of the town for a week in a season gone bad as he rushed for 134 yards in a 28-3 victory at Soldier Field. He carried 27 times and scored on a nine-yard run in the fourth quarter when the Bears scored 21 points to break open what had been a close game. Forsey got three carries the rest of the season and just 19 the next year as a member of the Miami Dolphins. After a training camp with the Washington Redskins, he was out of football before the 2005 season began.
Now, instead of his one-game rookie season claim to fame, Forsey can talk about the Bears again with the focus on Shea McClellin, the defensive end selected in the first round. McClellin comes from Boise State where Forsey was once a walk-on before the program gained national prominence. He was happy to see the Bears select McClellin on Thursday night.
“I was excited,” Forsey said. “I know there was a lot of buzz on Shea, where he was going to go ... I know his stock went up closer to the draft because he’s a guy who can put his hand down and he can play the outside linebacker position. He fit into a lot of different defenses. It was awesome, especially to see him go to a team I used to play for.”
Forsey remains close to the Boise program. He works for a title and escrow company in nearby Nampa, Idaho, and his good friend Scott Huff, a center when Forsey played, is on the coaching staff. So, Forsey sees the games and every once in a while he stops by the facilities to visit when he’s not balancing life with a young family, including daughters ages 3 and 8 months.
“From a fan standpoint, I look at the time when I was there, kind of when Boise started to really build the tradition of winning and started to get some national recognition, and then to see where they’ve taken the program to where I think the last four years they have been a top 10 program,” Forsey said. “It’s pretty amazing to see how fast that program has gotten to what it is.”
McClellin hails from Marsing, Idaho, a small town of 1,000 about 35 miles west of Boise. Forsey is familiar with it and said it’s the kind of town you don’t realize is there if you’re not looking for it when you drive by.
What kind of scouting report does he give McClellin?
“Just from watching Shea from my perspective, he’s just a guy that was always around the ball, always in the backfield,” Forsey said. “One of the things you hear, he is a high-motor guy going 100 mph, he’s just a playmaker. He’s versatile, he’s quick, one of those hard workers that really fit the Boise State program. That’s kind of what they pride themselves on, taking guys that aren’t necessarily the highest recruit out of high school and molding them to how they fit their program. I think the Bears will be excited about Shea. He’s a hard worker. Throughout all of his time at Boise State, he’s always been productive. I think that will continue at the next level.
“That’s a good pick. Six months ago maybe you said, ‘Really? A first-round pick?’ But he’s a hard worker. He will fit that team real well.”
3. Lovie Smith wouldn’t say where Chris Williams will line up when players hit the field for drill work in the voluntary offseason workout program, but it isn’t hard to jump to a conclusion. The guess is Williams, after spending most of the last two seasons at guard, will be back at tackle. First, here is what Smith said when I asked him if Williams would begin at left guard, where the 2008 first-round draft pick made nine starts last season before a season-ending wrist injury and 11 starts to end the 2010 season.
“I couldn’t tell you that right now,” Smith said. “We have our options with him, we’ll see how it all shakes out, but Chris of course can do both. Right now, we’ve been two weeks into our off-season program. Let us get into it a little bit more and we’ll be able to define some roles a little bit better then.”
All you have to do is dig into the roster and depth chart a little bit to see that a return to tackle makes most sense. The Bears came out of the draft without adding a lineman and the only addition via free agency has been guard Chilo Rachal, a second-round pick from 2008 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Without Williams, that gives the Bears and offensive coordinator Mike Tice seven options at guard, five of them with considerable NFL playing experience. Here is the list:
Chris Spencer: Started 14 games at right guard last season. Top contender for starting job.
Lance Louis: Made 13 starts last season with injuries forcing him to right tackle for 11 of them. Considered a more natural guard.
Chilo Rachal: Started 38 games for the 49ers and is a big, athletic option in the mold Tice likes.
Edwin Williams: Showed improvement when he started final seven games at left guard last season.
Mansfield Wrotto: Has 12 NFL starts but was a Tim Ruskell-driven acquisition so uncertain how much support he has.
Ricky Henry: Showed enough in preseason last year to stick around.
Reggie Stephens: Late addition to practice squad last season with ability to play center.
There isn’t nearly as much depth at tackle where the only movement has been the departure of Frank Omiyale. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb returns and Gabe Carimi, the first-round pick last year, is expected to start at right tackle. Behind them is Levi Horn, a practice squad member most of the last two seasons who will have an uphill battle to stick around.
So the Bears appear to have three options right now:
A. Move Chris Williams back to tackle where it looks like he would be the swing tackle.
B. Keep Louis at tackle even though evaluations are he is better suited for the interior.
C. Sign a free-agent tackle with few attractive options available. Most veterans on the street are there because of medical issues.
The guess is the Bears move Chris Williams back to tackle, but like Smith said, they have some options and some time.
4. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb receives the majority of criticism from the public and he had some weak moments last season. He allowed far too many sacks and negative plays that just crippled the offense at times. But he’s going to be the starter. That is what Lovie Smith consistently has said. It’s what Mike Tice said when he spoke to the Tribune in January during the Senior Bowl. It’s what is clear after no top pick was used on an offensive tackle.
Let’s rewind to those comments from Tice:
“Here is what I saw with him: Second-year player playing one side one year and one side another,” Tice said. “I thought he was adequate. I thought his consistency grade -- how many times does he block his guy – his consistency grade was actually solid. What grade was bad was the critical errors, the sacks, penalties, not really a ton of quarterback hits. When he made a critical error, everyone knew what it was. But, what you look at is the development of a second-year, seventh-round draft pick. Is he a guy we can move forward and win with?
“Well, if you change your drops and you’re not always in the deep drops. If you change your philosophy of making sure the guy gets chip help from a back or a tight end. If you change and move the release point of the quarterback, you’re going to already make him better without making him better. And then you have an entire offseason and now you have a chance to make him better there. So there are two ways I just told you we can get him better in. And then already I think he is a very good run blocker. That is an area that doesn’t get talked about. Do I think he is the guy moving forward? Yes, I do unless some miracle happens and an elite first-round pick that we couldn’t pass up fell in our lap which I doubt. Yeah, he’s our guy moving forward.”
We know the elite left tackle didn’t fall into the lap of the Bears with the 19th pick. They passed on Iowa’s Riley Reiff in selecting defensive end Shea McClellin 19th overall. Reiff went to the Detroit Lions with the 23rd pick, an option to help them rebuild an aging line. One of the knocks against Reiff: His arm length isn’t ideal for an offensive tackle. That was something critics said about Chris Williams when he was selected four years ago.
5. You don’t have to look too long at the depth chart at wide receiver to see that somebody isn’t going to stick around. The Bears are not going to keep more than six wide receivers and before you consider undrafted free agents, there are eight on the roster, Brandon Marshall, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas and Alshon Jeffery having been added since free agency opened March 13. This is Phil Emery’s version of Extreme Wide Receiver Makeover, the result of years of neglecting the position.
What took so long?
“I think we've been trying to bring in (receivers),” Lovie Smith said. “Each year you try to improve the room, every position. It's hard to do sometimes. This year, starting with the offseason, we were able of course to get Brandon and get Devin and some other guys too. It's worked out that way. We've constantly tried to improve our wide receiving corps and I feel like we've done that.” (Can't resist a comment here that it's a lot easier to do when you have a GM who deosn't believe his WR's are adequate and actually has the balls to do something about it instead of recycling Devin Hester with late round and busted ass FA pickups picks every year)
Now, you wonder who will stick around. A decision doesn’t have to be made until the first week of September. While the Bears haven’t publicly said they are concerned Johnny Knox will not play football next season, they’ve announced it loud and clear with their actions. Even if he doesn’t figure in the mix, which will include Earl Bennett and Devin Hester, that’s going to put a squeeze on Dane Sanzenbacher, the undrafted free agent from last season who emerged to make a few plays. Weems got paid enough money to ensure his spot, primarily as a special teams ace. That creates what looks like a battle between Thomas and Sanzenbacher for the sixth spot.
6. Continuing an early look at the offensive roster, tight end Evan Rodriguez becomes an interesting addition. General manager Phil Emery said that if Rodriguez develops he can add roster flexibility, meaning if Rodriguez can be a lead blocker in the I-formation if needed, the club might not need to carry a true fullback. Tyler Clutts did well in the role last season.
“He may allow some roster flexibility,” Emery said. “He’s got to make the team even though we drafted him but if he is that H-back role, we may not have to carry an extra fullback. It depends on where we’re at.”
The Bears sent running backs coach Tim Spencer to work Rodriguez out but that was to get a gauge on where he felt the fourth-round pick from Temple was as a blocker. Emery primarily talked about Rodriguez blocking on the edges.
“He’s going to be in the tight end meeting room,” Emery said. “We wanted to work him out for the fullback aspect to see what he felt about his skills there. He felt good about him. He came back and we had Mike (Tice) take a further look at him. As this offensive system evolved and I met with Mike to define needs for this guy, he was the guy out of all the tight ends that we looked at that fit that versatility, fit that need more than anybody, in terms of the blocking, the lead up on the linebacker and the receiving.”
Here is what you need to know about Tice’s offensive history: The Vikings employed a fullback only one of the four seasons he was the head coach there. Tice was largely responsible for Jim Kleinsasser making the transition from fullback to tight end (or H-back) and the club primarily used him as a lead blocker when needed. Tice had a true fullback in 2003: Charles Stackhouse. In 2002, 2004 and 2005 the Vikings did not have a fullback on the roster, according to profootballreference.com. That is a decent indicator of what vision Tice has for the Bears.
7. Greg McCoy was so excited when the Bears called to draft him during the seventh round, he bolted straight out of the house. The TCU cornerback was still soaking in the opportunity Sunday when he talked about the experience.
“It was a big relief,” McCoy said. “My agent Mike (McCartney) texted me before they called and said Chicago. I lost my mind. I was literally glued to the couch the whole day and when Mike sent me the text I almost didn’t believe him and then I got the call from them. I just took off running. Just being able to get this opportunity to show those guys they didn’t make a mistake, I can’t wait. I’m going to get to play again.”
Wait a minute. Did he run around the room?
“No, I literally ran out of the house and I was running down the street,” McCoy said. “I was just thanking God. I was thanking the GM and I was on the phone with him after I had calmed down so I could make sure I heard what he was saying.”
McCoy credits a lot of folks at Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas for help setting him on the right path. He struggled academically until his supporters, including high school coach Bobby Estes, convinced him he could succeed. McCoy is three classes short of a master’s degree at TCU. He received his undergraduate degree in communications. It’s a wonderful story for a kid raised in a hard-working one-parent home with older brothers who were sometimes trapped by the evils of the streets.
“It’s just a matter of knowing that you are able, that it can be done,” McCoy said. “Before I came to Woodrow in high school, I was one of those kids that pretty much thought school wasn’t for everybody. I was one of those guys that said just because of where I came from, I wasn’t supposed to be smart, I wasn’t supposed to be the guy walking around with the big backpack and doing homework. I was supposed to be out doing other things. Once I got to Woodrow, they basically let me know I was able to do it, I could achieve anything I wanted to if I just put my mind to it. When I started believing in myself, nothing could stop me.”
He’s hoping nothing will stop him in his pursuit of an NFL job. The Bears also drafted a cornerback in the sixth round, Nevada’s Isaiah Frey. McCoy has top return ability and the team needs some youth at the position.
“I want to fill in wherever they need me,” he said. “I don’t come in with expectations of filling one position.”
8. The Bears talked about the ability of Brandon Hardin, the safety selected in the third round Friday, to hit and how he will impact special teams. That is a first stop for him. But they didn’t use a third-round pick on the Oregon State product to play special teams. That is the first thing they said about Chris Conte when he was selected in the third round a year ago. Conte quickly worked his way off most of teams when he broke into the starting lineup as the free safety. The plan is to work Hardin at strong safety to start with and that means he will push Major Wright, the third-round pick from 2010. Hardin is just the latest safety to be drafted by the Bears, who have chosen one in eight consecutive drafts. Of the seven who came before Hardin, Conte, Al Afalava, Kevin Payne, Danieal Manning and Chris Harris all started as rookies.
9. There has been considerable Internet celebration over the Bears adding offensive lineman James Brown as an undrafted free agent from Troy. Slow down. While the Bears kept five undrafted free agents a year ago, that won’t happen this year. It wasn’t a sign of improved scouting when they did it. It was a sign they had open spots at the bottom of the roster because of poor drafting. ESPN’s Mel Kiper banged the drum for Brown throughout the draft and had him rated as a third-round pick. So, I called a scout I trust and asked him why the Bears and 31 other teams passed on Brown through seven rounds. He explained off-field issues that I won’t get into here because I can’t document it. Maybe Brown pushes for a spot on the practice squad and that would be a good thing. The Bears need a developmental prospect and Mike Tice has done well with projects throughout his career. But Brown is unlikely to solve any issues this season. He played a lot of football at Troy but struggled at the Senior Bowl, another reason his stock fell with teams. He had several offers to sign with other teams and chose the Bears. It’s worth wondering if his agent Bus Cook, who also represents quarterback Jay Cutler, steered him this direction.
10. General manager Phil Emery talked about restructuring the front office and adding additional staff when he was hired. But he said those moves would come after the draft. Expect some movement soon. Sources say Emery likely will promote from within to create the roles of pro personnel director and college scouting director. Then, he would have to add staff to replace those scouts in their current roles. It’s also possible some entry-level scouts will be added to the mix.But the entire staff is coming out of contract, as reported by the Tribune in January. That means assistant director of pro personnel Kevin Turks and pro assistant James Kirkland will be scouting free agents. The same can be said for the six college area scouts: Chris Ballard, Marty Barrett, Rex Hogan, Ted Monago, Mark Sadowski and Jeff Shiver. In the past, the Bears rotated contracts with their college scouts on two-year deals so three were up one year and three were up the next. The club re-signed scouts last May to one-year contracts using the NFL lockout as an excuse.
10 a. What’s in a contract for the 19th pick in the draft? Shea McClellin can expect to work off of close to what New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara received last year -- a four-year deal worth $8.1809.It should be noted Amukamara was the last first rounder to sign. There was negotiations over how much of the deal would be guaranteed. He wound up getting the entire first three years and about half of the fourth year guaranteed.
10 b. One scout for a 3-4 team really liked Shea McClellin and it’s been reported the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, both 3-4 defenses, were high on him. So, I asked the scout if he sees him as a fit for a 4-3 scheme like the Bears.
“Absolutely, that’s what he played at Boise,” the scout said.“He plays nine and five technique all day long. You can stand him up if you want. If (Rod) Marinelli puts 10 pounds on his butt, he’ll be a base end and be a real (tough player). Now, I thought 19 (overall) was a little rich but I love the pick. With as many teams with 3-4 defenses that coveted the kid, the Bears had to take him there.”
10 c. But what about the offensive line? Iowa’s Riley Reiff was on the board when Shea McClellin was drafted. Could Reiff have been an answer to some of what ails the line? Or are his short arms a problem, particularly if you are thinking about putting him at left tackle?
“I think people had a problem, not so much with his short arms, but more so the size (6-6, 313 pounds),” the scout said. “He’s not a big-framed guy but if you need a left he’s gonna be a serviceable for 10 years or even a right tackle. He’s not a bigger body than the guy the Bears have but I am willing to bet he’s a better football player.”
10 d. Finally, the Bears will hold rookie minicamp May 11-13.