Category Archives: Bears
**This article was written by Dave Jenis**
Management for the Chicago Bears wasted very little time this past offseason when it came to making a decision on Jay Cutler and a contract extension. Despite the strong play as a backup by Josh McCown, the Bears are committed to the guy they traded for five years ago. When you look at the statistics, it is hard to argue with his productivity. In fact, a healthy Cutler could make the Bears the most efficient offense in fantasy football in 2014.
Last season, Chicago finished 5th in the NFL in passing yards, and 16th in rushing. They return all their key pieces from a season ago, and at the beginning of the season, they will be healthy as well. Cutler has only led the Bears to the playoffs in one of his first five seasons with the club, but he will have his best supporting cast in his career heading into 2014.
People in fantasy football already know about established veterans like wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte, but others stepped up in 2014 as well. Alshon Jeffery actually had more receiving yards than Marshall in 2013, despite only finding the end zone seven time. Martellus Bennett had his best fantasy football season of his career as well at tight end, catching 65 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns.
Throughout the history of the team, defense has been a calling card. With the current roster setup, it is going to be hard to get that reputation back any time soon. They are decent at stopping the passing game, but they finished last in the NFL with their rush defense in 2013, giving up 161.4 yards per game.
Cutler missed five games last year, and the play of McCown had some people wondering if he would ultimately lose his job in Chicago. Management has faith in him, and fans should do. He has the weapons to have a monster season in 2014.
I know this isn’t anything related to Chicago sports. I know you miss reading my fantastic breakdowns, my wittiness and anything else you enjoy about COBS. Chalk my lack of blog consistency up to laziness. One of these days, I’ll get back to the level of blogging you deserve, but for now, the Turkey Bowl is the most important thing on my mind.
For the 14th (?) consecutive year, 20+ guys who’ve known each other for as long as any of them can remember gather around Stein Field (Veterans) on the morning of Thanksgiving Day for a couple of hours of competitive flag football. To me, it’s the greatest game on earth. When all is said and done, a MVP award is handed out (ever since 2006), everyone meets up at Wiener Take All, and the anticipation for next year’s Turkey Bowl takes over. In all honesty, I couldn’t care less who wins MVP or who even wins or loses; I play because there’s absolutely nothing more fun than playing football with your 20 best friends one day each year. That being said, when I’m sitting in a hotel room in Cleveland for three nights and finding that my flight has been delayed when I’m already boarded onto the plane, I start thinking about all the great memories this game has brought me and what I can do to get the competitive juices flowing a little bit between now and Thanksgiving day. I figure talkin’ smack and breaking down each person’s case for MVP would be a good place to start. So without further ado, I present to you the greatest column ever written.
Adam Levy (a.k.a. Me): The 2012 MVP is back to defend what’s his after helping lead his team back from a 4-1 deficit last year to win 5-4 in epic fashion. As the “other quarterback” within this group, yours truly got the best of Ross Feldgreber in that game by going H.A.M. and making it an absolute priority to take down the man that everyone hates losing to. My style of play under center can best be described as some sort of a Michael Vick/Alex Smith/Matt Flynn hybrid for my incredible ability to scramble and make things happen outside the pocket (Vick), avoid turnovers (Smith), inability to stay off the ground and avoid injuries (Vick), and inability to throw a ball longer than roughly 20 yards downfield (Flynn). Nevertheless, just like in fantasy sports, I always draft a solid team, and this year won’t be any different. We’re comin’ for Feldgreber and, most importantly, I’m comin’ after my second consecutive MVP award.
Ross Feldgreber (a.k.a. The Gegger, a.k.a The Chin Heimer): The Gegger can deny it all he wants, but god knows he was not a happy camper after last year’s choke job. He hates losing more than anyone I know (comparable to me), but it’s also possible that every one of his opponents would rather eat shit than lose a game of anything to him, and that includes just a friendly game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Gegger is, and always will be, the best athlete, as well as the best flag football quarterback, amongst our group of friends, and we all commend him for that. Cooooooooool, Ross. Good for you. But after throwing a couple costly picks late in the game last year and allowing my squadron to rip his heart out, Gegger will be out for blood this time around. Can he grab his second ever Turkey Bowl MVP and take home this year’s crown? Only time will tell, but I’m gonna toot my own little horn a bit and say no – not today, juniaa!
Alex Dobkin (a.k.a. Ehlix, a.k.a. Xanadu, a.k.a. Flopkin, a.k.a. The Kin, a.k.a. A lot of other things that aren’t appropriate for this innocent post): So much to say about Alexander Maxwell Dobkin, so little space. At a young age, Dobkin was your token chubby kid with uneccessarily large glasses, a borderline unibrow and minimal athleticism. He was big, and he could beat me up if he ever wanted to (although, let’s be honest, who can’t?), but he was never known for his on-the-field/court greatness. Then, junior year of high school happened, and something just clicked. All of a sudden, he was an unstoppable force in any and every sport he played, and it was beyond anyone’s explanation. The dude learned how to talk to girls, throw parties and play sports at an extremely high level all within the blink of an eye. He was always a great baseball hitter, but he then miraculously started throwing like 77 MPH fastballs to BGRA bums like it was nothing. He also began to completely dominate any and every big basketball game he played in and, above all else, he became one of the biggest flag football forces known to man. A Julius Peppers-type defensive lineman (pre-2013, of course), if you will, with a plastic flag tied to each hip. An absolute animal with crazy energy. I’m sure everyone is asking, “Why in god’s name would I sit here and try boosting an already massive ego?”, and the answer is simple: I want Dobkin on my Turkey Bowl team again, and I want him to play extra hard for his captain. He’s a former Turkey Bowl MVP and a force to be reckoned with, both offensively and defensively. We love running pick-and-roll together in pickup basketball games, and we especially love doing questionable touchdown dances together on Thanksgiving. It’s time for us to defend the rock.
Jonathan Stein (a.k.a Long Arm Stooch): The Turkey Bowl would have never happened if it weren’t for Stein. In 4th grade, he, his dad, Matt Kerbis and his dad started a Saturday flag football league, where all of our friends (I didn’t play until 5th grade) and some neighborhood kids would get together every Saturday and play flag football at Veterans Field, which is now referred to as Stein Field. Why? Because I said so. It was one of the main things we’d look forward to every week, talking each Friday about who would be on whose team, how many people would show up, etc. As you could have guessed, that’s when the Turkey Bowl was born. There was simply nothing better. Fast forward to 2013, and here we are, grown men (minus Dobkin) still getting after it once a year on the best holiday in the world. Some of us don’t live in Chicago, almost none of us live in Buffalo Grove, but every single one of us manages to show up on Thanksgiving morning no matter what. Stein has never not been the first one out there, setting up the cones and handing out the flags. On top of his great manhood, he’s undoubtedly the best one-on-one defender in our group – the Darrelle Revis of flag football. He’s also a great receiver who owns solid hands and runs routes well, which is ultimately what led him to his first MVP award back in 2009. He has the longest arms for a 5’9 white guy that you’ve ever seen and, inch-for-inch, his wingspan makes Luol Deng look like.. well, look like just some guy with short arms. He’s as big a threat to take home the hardware as anyone, but with only two teams these days (we used to do three or four) and less targets to go around, Stein will likely have to put on one of his stout defensive performances to win.
Grant McNamara (a.k.a. G-Mac): After getting into a severe car accident back in 2011, G-Mac was told by his mother that he shall, under no circumstance, participate in the Turkey Bowl. What did he do? Naturally, he manned up, snuck out the door and trotted his way out onto that field. He then proceeded to take away some snaps at QB from me because he “couldn’t move much” (which makes no sense considering I’m out there running for my life with the Riskin/Lenny duo trying to rip my head off) and did flanavich at best (flanavich is a universal word for “eh” – thank you, Mike Seidmon). He then made his way out to wide receiver and ended up scoring two monstrous touchdowns, both of which were from well beyond midfield, and ended up winning his first MVP award in extremely emotional fashion. Heading into 2013, G-Mac is, once again, a threat to win MVP because of his big, tight-end frame and ball-hawking skills on the defensive end. Can it be done? Certainly. Will it be done? Me thinks UNTRUE.
Adam Silver (a.k.a. Silvs, a.k.a. Milver, a.k.a. Toilet Lips): It was Thanksgiving morning, 2006. Everyone decided that it was finally time to hand out an annual MVP award – something that can be cherished individually each year. Silver was always a good athlete – there was never a sport, besides Madden on Play Station, XBOX, or any gaming system for that matter, that he was bad at (if he played it). However, he was not viewed as a major threat to win the award, as he solidified himself as a solid role player on our SFFL (Stevenson Flag Football League) offensive line. Then, “The Silver Game” happened. He scored not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, but SEVEN touchdowns that day, which will forever go down as the greatest moment of his sporting career. He was simply unstoppable, and it was quite a frightening sight. You know what it’s like to see the Detroit Lions in the red zone, and you know exactly where the ball is going (spoiler alert: Calvin Johnson in the end zone), but the Bears still choose to go single coverage and let it happen anyways? That’s what it felt like being Silver’s opponent that day. It was miserable. But as anyone could have predicted, that was the peak of his career, and he hasn’t made much Turkey Bowl noise since then. For the rest of eternity, that game will be brought up each year, but until Silver proves he can perform at or near that level, his MVP awards will be few and far between.
Matt Riskin (a.k.a. Girthkin, a.k.a. Girthy, a.k.a. The Girth): Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Riskin is girthy. He’d have of us all believe that his 6’3, 240 (or 50, or 60? No one actually knows) pound frame is losing some of its girth, but until he refrains from eating six Lou Malnati’s deep dish slices in one sitting, or joining me on a Portillo’s run three times a week, this man will forever remain “The Girth.” He’s the strongest guy I know and an absolute man-child but, unfortunately, rarely ever ends up on my Turkey Bowl team. He chases my ass down on that football field, and being the brother he never had, he’s not afraid to put me on the ground if he can. Problem is, he can never sack me because I’m just too damn nifty for him, even after he nearly broke my kneecap one year by slamming me (may or may not have been soberly) into the frame of Dobkin’s bed the night before. But, he tries his best. In all seriousness though, I try to avoid rolling to his side of the line at all costs because I’m simply terrified at the thought of him Ndamokong Suh’ing me. Nevertheless, he is more than capable of recording a few sacks, and a touchdown or two off a roll-out near the goal-line is not inconceivable either. An MVP award is definitely within reach – unless it’s below 32 degrees, because his hands get too cold.
Lenny Goldman (a.k.a. Lennsterg, a.k.a. Loony): Speaking of Ndamokong Suh, the token Ginger in our group of friends, Lenny, is easily the most intimidating player out there (in my opinion). I always want him on my team because when he’s not, he genuinely wants to injure me. He ripped my brand new Hollister shirt in a game of touch football in 7th grade; he nearly broke my ribs after completely lighting me up in a TOUCH football game in 8th grade; and, he called a defensive play in the 2011 Turkey Bowl to have him roll to my side and then lay me out when the opportunity arose. Being a former offensive line standout for the Stevenson football team, Lenny scares the shit out of me even though he’s a lovable teddy bear (MY lovable teddy bear) and everyone’s favorite red-head off the field. He also holds an MVP award of his own, but if he continues to show up in his dumb looking spandex and perform below Lenny standards, he will not sniff another MVP award. We shall see.
Josh Frydman (a.k.a. Biggie Fry, a.k.a. Bigmund Freud): There’s nothing I love more than seeing everyone at the Turkey Bowl – it’s unreal. But of all of them, Frydman is a guy I’m as excited to see as any. He’s moved from city to city trying to live out his dream and doing a damn good job too. I miss the man and his ridiculously hairy chest like crazy, and he will fortunately be able to make it this year to his second straight Turkey Bowl after a two-year hiatus. A former Turkey Bowl quarterback himself, Biggie has played a little O-line/a little receiver now that we play one game with two teams, but he makes the most of it. He has great instincts and a phenomenal arm, which puts him in position to take some snaps and try to move his team downfield if/when Gegger or I struggle. A flea flicker involving Frydman is always a threat – I just hope that he’s throwing that bomb for my team if it happens. If he plays his cards right, the MVP could be his.
Zach Byk (a.k.a. Z-Byk, a.k.a. Z-Bo, a.k.a. Z-BUJHHHH): Talk about an athlete. Byk was a freakish athlete growing up, one of the best I’ve ever known, and he still has a lot of that athleticism from his filthy soccer skills. He was hands down the best flag football player in middle school because he was so goddamn fast – no one could come close to grabbing his flag, and it got to a point where it was just unfair. Punt returns, quarterback scrambles, wide receiver screens, half-back options, you name it – Byk would find the end zone nearly every time. However, he just hasn’t seemed to bring his best to the Turkey Bowl over the past several years – maybe because I have trouble getting him the ball enough with my noodle arm, maybe because more plays need to be run primarily for him. Whatever the case may be, Byk has all the potential in the world to win one of these things, and this year could be the year. If he can play like the Byk that we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing, limit his Bears/Bulls theories to a minimum and chill out on the below average look-a-likes, the MVP committee (Dobkin and Green) may decide to hand him the plaque – he just has to want it.
Jonathan Rubin (a.k.a. Rubes, a.k.a. Rubis Pubis, a.k.a. Doctal): Doctal Rubin is one of the best wide receivers in the game. He was Gegger’s go-to receiver during the last couple seasons of SFFL and has fantastic hands. So fantastic, in fact, that he has never once worn gloves of any sort at any time throughout his life, and that includes when it’s freezing cold on random Thanksgiving mornings. The man doesn’t feel pain and, though he’s possibly skinnier than I am, wouldn’t be afraid to go over the middle of the field in a tackle football game either. Rubin has a knack for picking off a pass or two each year, but the likeliest way for him to win MVP would be to score a couple of big-time touchdowns at wideout. Being a former standout starting pitcher for the Stevenson baseball team, I sense a potential Rubin-to-Levy-to-Rubin-to-(Insert receiver here) bomb in his immediate future. That could very well put him over the top.
Matt Kerbis (a.k.a. Kerby): Kerbis is a man amongst boys. Literally, he looks a good decade older than everyone (minus Riskin, maybe) and plays flag football like he’s Adrian Peterson. He’s relentless and quite dangerous – the lowered shoulder being his number one specialty. I’m more confident giving him a goal-line hand off and letting him bulldoze the middle of the line with it than I am watching Michael Bush attempt to do the same in a 4th-and-inches situation. He plays as hard as anyone out there and will no doubt win MVP one of these years because of it; he gives too much effort not to. The Pope may never shit in the woods, but there’s one thing you can always count on: Matt Kerbis giving 110% on Turkey Bowl Thursday and running straight through someone while he’s at it.
Mark Levitt (a.k.a. Novak Djokovic): Yes, he looks exactly like Novak Djokovic, but that’s not the point. Mark Levitt is the newest member of the Turkey Bowl crew, even though he’s not really new at all anymore. He moved to our town in 2004, befriended me and never looked back. He’s a very good athlete with great speed and agility. He’s also a Cardinals fan, which he loves to talk about, but doesn’t seem to understand that no one in our circle gives a shit about the Cardinals. I’d rather stare at the Sun for a few seconds than have to see that ridiculous Fredbird doll sitting in his bedroom ever again, but I digress. Mark can break away for an 80 yard touchdown if given any space whatsoever, so he will always be a threatening MVP candidate. Unfortunately for him, half the MVP committee is made up of Josh Green, who happens to be a Cubs fan. If Mark can learn to take some time away from Fredbird and spend a little more time focusing on how he’s going to win his first MVP award, maybe he can put on a show and win Green’s heart over. I’d rather see him win the next 15 MVPs than see the Cardinals ever win another World Series in my lifetime, so if that’s at all possible, I’ll have to give my two cents to the committee starting now.
Steven Klein (a.k.a. Mista Stayve, a.k.a. Kloyn, a.k.a. Stehb Klehn): A premier athlete way, way back in the day, the Son of Davi is no longer the stud muffin he once was. After kicking field goals for the Stevenson football team, he stopped playing sports pretty much altogether and seemed content sitting on his couch day in and day out “eating a sandwich” (see what I did there, How I Met Your Mother fans?). That’s fine, though, because Mista Stayve is one of the more entertaining people I know and a blast to hang out with. The problem is, his flag football skills are not what they used to be, but he still has the ability to play a decent safety in this game. He’s a great teammate and loves a good slap on the ass here and there, especially when he shows up on Thanksgiving in a full body suit of spandex. I enjoy having him on my team, and I enjoy his awesome mustache, amazing hair dos and preposterously hairy toes ten times more. Whether he brings his A-game to the field, I’m not sure, but a couple of (highly doubtful) interceptions and a touchdown could take him a long way.
Josh Green (a.k.a. G-Baby): There’s only one real reason why G-Baby finds himself on “The Longshots” list. Because he’s on the MVP Selection Committee, he’s the kind of person that would never give the award to himself even if he deserved it, unlike his colleague, Alex Dobkin, who would vote for himself even if he didn’t deserve it. Therefore, the chances of him winning the MVP award are slim. However, this is a guy that understands what it takes to win a game of flag football this day and age. Back in his prime, Green was one of the best middle linebackers in the game. He constantly puts his team first and limits himself to a defense-only role. He knows that he’s not quite big enough to guard “The Kin” duo on the offensive line and not quite fast enough to play wide receiver, so instead, he roams the middle of the field on defense and makes a Brian Urlacher-near-the-end-of-his-career-type impact (as opposed to a Brian Urlacher-in-his-prime-type impact back in high school). If I had to build a flag football dynasty, Green wouldn’t be one of my top picks anymore, but if I had to build a 16-inch softball dynasty, I’d pick him first ten times out of ten. That couldn’t be any more irrelevant, but it’s a fact. Green didn’t make much noise in last year’s game, but we’ll find out in two weeks whether he has the ability to display a little more Urlacher and a little less Hunter Hillenmeyer.
Lee Zucker (a.k.a. Linas Kleiza): Lee doesn’t really have a nickname, and I’ve only called him Kleiza a few times, so that was totally forced. I’m over it, though. Lee is one of the hardest workers year in and year out on the football field. He and Scott Bacalar (who I’ll get to soon) are hands down the two most underrated defensive ends in flag football history. Lee is a smaller guy who doesn’t possess a ton of speed, but he is constantly finding a way to get through the line and pressure the quarterback. He’s very sneaky and always comes out of nowhere. If I’m rolling right and find myself having to reverse direction to get to the other side of the field, Lee is never not there to meet me in the backfield. Sometimes he’s able to record a sack; other times, his cute little arms are just not enough for the Levy/Gegger quickness. Regardless, he’s a very valuable member of any team he’s put on because, like Green, he puts the team ahead of himself. If you want him to play a little offensive line and try chipping “The Girth,” he’ll do it. If you want him to snap the ball and stay in to block at all times, he’ll do it. Whatever the case may be, Lee won’t let you down. In order to win MVP, though, he needs more than the touch or two he typically gets on offense; otherwise, the committee will need to see a Robert Mathis-type performance to consider him.
Scott Bacalar (a.k.a. Cracks, a.k.a. Crackers): Aside from thinking about who will win MVP, the biggest question every year is “What dumb looking hat will Cracks wear to this year’s Turkey Bowl?” One time, he showed up in something like a yellowish, wool, female hat with some number of cotton balls coming out the top and a brim that went around the hat. Something that a Polish cleaning lady would never even consider wearing. Another time, he showed up in a smaller version of THIS. As you’d have guessed, both hats belonged to his mother. If I had to paint you a picture of what an idiot looks like (not like you’d ever ask me to do that), I would paint you a picture of Cracks wearing his oversized sweatshirt, oversized sweatpants and one of those two hats. But like I mentioned before, as stupid as he looks in each of those things, Cracks is just as underrated a defensive lineman. Besides Dobkin, Cracks shockingly leads the Turkey Bowl in sacks (based on my ridiculous memory), and I secretly always want him on my team (cat’s outta the bag, boys). I never seem to get him though, probably because Gegger secretly feels the same exact way as I do. He’s probably the slowest player out there, but he does all the dirty work. He’s just flat out good at rushing the quarterback, and he’s somehow even better at grabbing flags while diving or when they seem so far out of reach. I try telling myself that if I can beat Cracks around the edge when scrambling, I should be able to pick up solid yardage. Yet, he just never freakin’ goes away. On offense, he’s great at rolling off the line, catching the ball with his chest and picking up five yards here, ten yards there. The one thing he has working against his MVP candidacy? Dobkin could never live with himself if he gave Cracks the award, and it would haunt him for a long, long time. If he deserves it though, a re-vote amongst the committee (and some outsiders) may come into play. But chances? Remote.
Bryant Donnowitz (a.k.a. B-Donn): Whether B-Donn shows up to the Turkey Bowl this year is a mystery to us all, as he has by far the worst annual attendance – it really all depends on how hungover he is on Thursday morning. If he didn’t get lucky on Wednesday night, he’ll likely show up, touch me a lot (full disclaimer: I’m just as guilty) and screw around the whole time. If he did get lucky on Wednesday night, he won’t show up at all. It’s really hit or miss. Thing is, flag football has never really been B-Donn’s thang anyways. He’s been a hockey player his whole life, so his lack of motivation to play a minimal contact sport (our game definitely has maximum contact compared to other flag football games – just sayin’) is justified. It would be a major surprise to see him show up AND dominate the Turkey Bowl because his attention span is comparable to that of a seven –year-old, but if he digs in and really puts his mind to it, there’s no reason B-Donn can’t put up some solid numbers.
Seth Birkan (a.k.a. Sooth): There are few people I ever want on my team as I much as I want Seth. One of the funniest guys I know, Seth is arguably THE best offensive lineman in the Turkey Bowl, drawing comparisons to Jonathan Ogden strictly for his African descent (Seth is South African). He doesn’t have a ton of size, and he doesn’t have any speed whatsoever (literally none), but he somehow manages to stand his ground unlike any tackle I know. Unlike some linemen who block for half a second and then roll out hoping for a pass (Dobkin, echem), Seth never leaves his assignment until someone gets past him, which is rare. Having great offensive linemen in flag football is as valuable as having great offensive linemen in the NFL. No one wants to go through what Jay Cutler has endured over the years, and that includes both me and Gegger. That’s where Seth has found his niche. I’m hoping to steal him in this year’s draft, but it’s safe to say that his ceiling as an MVP candidate could not be lower. A few pancakes here and there and an unexpected touchdown will do him no harm.
Drew Hackman (a.k.a. Frew): You don’t know a great man until you’ve met Drew Hackman. I know Drew showed up to last year’s Turkey Bowl (he always does), but it’s quite possible he doesn’t show up this year (he’s a huge “Maybe” guy with Facebook events). In any event, he’s still a good Samaritan. Had he been with Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine in part one of “The Finale” episode, there’s no chance in hell that any of them would’ve landed in prison like they did. Drew would’ve helped that poor, morbidly obese fellow from getting robbed, and the Seinfeld clan would’ve lived happily ever after… but they didn’t. If Drew does happen to make it there on Thanksgiving morning, I’d imagine that he’ll need at least two big touchdowns to win himself MVP. He’s got the speed, but he’s never had the touches. Maybe, just maybe, things will go his way this year.
Ben Gleicher (a.k.a. DJ Marshmallow): DJ Marshmallow is another great man who really knows how to spin a disc. He knows everything there is to know about music, which is quite impressive, and he’s always down for a good time. Unfortunately for him, that knowledge of music doesn’t happen to translate to the football field. Gleicher’s one of those guys that everyone enjoys seeing and is happy to have on their team. He’ll do whatever’s asked of him, get dirty if he needs to, and catch the ball when thrown to. But when it comes down to it, it’s very difficult to see Gleicher ever contending for a MVP award unless he goes all Adam Silver circa 2006 on us. That being said, stranger things have happened.
Daniel Cohen (a.k.a. Cohen): Cohen is the first cousin of Alex Dobkin, and they could not be more opposite. All throughout our younger years, Cohen was always the number one victim of Dobkin’s bullying. Throw him on the roof of our Camp Chi cabin and launch shoes and other large items at him so he could never get down? Check. De-pants him in places where actual people are around? Check. Attempt borderline illegal wedgies until the ass hole bled (I’m also a victim of such foul activity)? Check. Throw the high school party of the year at HIS house without his permission? Check. What does this have anything to do with the Turkey Bowl? Nothing, but it will never get old. If Cohen wants to win MVP, a lot will have to go right. He’s unquestionably the best long-distance runner in this group and is fast as shit, but we’re not anticipating any Forrest Gump-type performance. A couple streaks down the sideline may do the trick for him, but one must remember that his cousin (and now roommate) does indeed have half the say in the MVP conversation. He’ll need to get the ball time and again and play flawlessly on defense in order to win this thing.
Sean Saltzberg (a.k.a. Salty): I love Sean like a brother. He’s hilarious, entertaining and always down for whatever. Him and I always had two of the biggest tempers growing up and fought a lot – always over sports. But it was always he who got in trouble at school, whether it be him lying about drawing with craypon on the new Tripp School carpets and blaming it on me, pushing the Assistant Principal into the lunchroom garbage can, having a fist fight with Andrew Ulm in front of the entire third/fourth grade, getting daily detentions, etc. He enjoys living on the edge, and that’s what makes him Salty. The point of all this, you ask, is to demonstrate that the rebellious actions he has displayed throughout his life are what has led to his rebellious attitude towards the Turkey Bowl. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be there – he really enjoys coming and being with all the boys – it’s that he just doesn’t care much anymore. Salty was recognized as a very good athlete for a long time and even considered himself the Randy Moss of our flag football team (which was pretty accurate). But now, just getting him to show up to the game in something other than blue jeans is a lot to ask. Drafting him last overall has become a running joke amongst all of us, which he knows, but he’s got top-notch potential if he were to give a couple shits. Until that happens, though, Salty stands no chance at winning MVP, even though Green would get quite a bit of pleasure out of handing it to him.
Ryan Fox (a.k.a. Foxy, a.k.a. Fox Train): Last year was the first time in a long time that Foxy chose to sit out the annual Turkey Bowl extravaganza. He did, however, find it within himself to walk 100-some feet from his driveway (he lives across from the field, as do half these guys) to the field and watch the game while catching up on some Pharmacy reading. Overrated? Absolutely. But until I know that Fox is gonna show up to actually play, dust off the ole’ Vans (he doesn’t wear cleats) and prove he’s got a mean bone or two hidden under that soft skin, I just can’t move him out of this category. Fox is, without question, the best non-sports video game player I will ever come across, but when it comes to flag football, a MVP award could be near impossible for him to come by. If he shows up and gets drafted by me, I will do everything in my power to get him on the board, because any touchdown dance involving Fox could easily turn into a YouTube sensation.
Champion: My team (awbvi).
MVP: Winning back-to-back MVPs in this game is more difficult than winning back-to-back NBA MVP’s, and I’m not quite LeBron or MJ. Zach Byk takes it home.
MVP Runner-Up: Jonathan Rubin. 2 interceptions and a touchdown. He’ll make things wicked close.
22.9: The percentage of games won during Lovie Smith’s nine-year tenure when trailing at halftime (14-47). In 2013? 1-0.
87.3: Jay Cutler’s total QBR (ESPN’s QB rating metric) in the fourth quarter since the start of last season. Significance? It happens to be the highest in the NFL over that time frame.
249: The number of yards that Devin Hester compiled on five kickoff returns against Minnesota on Sunday, breaking his own 2006 record for return yards in a single game (225). His 49.8 yards per return ranked as the third best in franchise history among players with three or more returns in a game.
After decades of inept offenses and embarrassing predictability, Phil Emery decided he’d seen enough. No more unfathomable play-calling stupidity; no more relying solely on the defense to win games. It was time to make a change. The result? Marc Trestman at the helm, an offensive genius with a true knack for keeping quarterbacks upright and ultimately transforming them into stars; a revamped offensive line consisting of players that actually care about improving their craft every day and protecting their quarterback (looking at you, J’Marcus Webb); and a tight end who can actually catch the ball and not fall down while attempting to do so (flicking you off, Kellen Davis).
So far, the outcome of Emery’s offseason decision-making has been nothing but positive for this franchise. The Bears are 2-0, having won both games in comeback fashion while giving me and other diehards alike near heart attacks along the way. The going will only get tougher from here on out, as trips to PIttsburgh, Detroit and home dates with New Orleans and New York (Giants) loom over the next four weeks (and, of course, the two inevitable games against Green Bay down the road), but there’s no reason to believe that this team can’t find itself playing football in January for the second time in seven seasons. What has led to this early season success, you ask? Let’s take a look.
The Offensive Line
I’m fully aware that newly acquired (and highly paid) left tackle, Jermon Bushrod, has been straight up bad. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the worst of Chicago’s offensive linemen on Sunday against the Vikings by surrendering a sack, a quarterback hit and three hurries (he graded out negatively against Cincinnati as well). However, we’re talking about a guy with a legitimate track record, having protected Drew Brees’ blind side in New Orleans for four years and making two Pro Bowls, not a beady-eyeballed 330-pound ogre who can’t tie his own shoes, eats Taco Bell on the reg and seems to actually enjoy sucking at life. Bushrod will be fine.
The focus here is on the right side of the line, which contains two hard-working rookies in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, both of whom dominated in the preseason. The duo did an excellent job in week one containing arguably the NFL’s best defensive tackle in Geno Atkins (he did absolutely nothing all afternoon). Surprisingly, Mills actually finished the first week of the season with one of the best games for any offensive lineman, as he posted an overall blocking grade of +3.4. He struggled a bit more against Minnesota when matched up against the underrated Brian Robison all game but, nevertheless, has yet to give up a sack from his side of the line. Long and Mills haven’t perfected anything yet – they will have their ups and downs throughout the year – but it’s certainly safe to say that the two of them have made Phil Emery look even smarter (if that’s possible) than he already is.
Another little something to point out: for the first time in god knows how long in Chicago, the coaching staff, along with the offense, has actually shown that it trusts its line. Trestman has been calling a lot of three-step drops for Cutler and keeping seven men in to block on slower-developing routes. Cutler has had faith in his O-line, demonstrating his ability to step up in the pocket, survey the field and spread the ball around to receivers other than Brandon Marshall. He is learning to trust the concepts of the offense and not force as many plays as he’s used to — all because the offensive line is finally giving him time to throw.
It isn’t always pretty, but for whatever reason, Jay Cutler knows how to win games late. His decision-making will never be perfect (he has too much confidence in his arm and his receivers to ever change his ways), but he is playing as well as we’ve ever seen him play in a Bears uniform. Sure, the interceptions will almost always make me want to pull my eyebrows out,. But with the game on the line and defeat staring him in the face over the last two weeks, Cutler has delivered. He’s registered a game-winning 8-play, 81-yard touchdown drive and a game-winning 10-play (including a spiked ball), 66-yard touchdown drive in back-to-back weeks by overcoming the adversity of multiple turnovers and staying cool, calm and collected in both the huddle and pocket. I hate on Cutler far more often than I support him, but it’s moments like these that take me back to the excitement I felt the day Jerry Angelo traded for him. He deserves all the credit in the world for the fourth quarter greatness he has displayed, so here’s to hoping 15 more weeks of working with Coach Trestman will continue to bring out the best in our quarterback.
Ladies and gentlemen, Devin Hester is officially back, and all it took was a little confidence. It only took six years for someone within the Bears organization (Phil Emery, Marc Trestman, and Aaron Kromer) to realize how stupid it was to try turning Hester into a receiver; it just wasn’t made to be. Fans knew it. Players knew it. Analysts knew it. But naturally, the coaching staff did not. The man needed to continue to focus on returning kicks and returning kicks only. None of that slant-over-the-middle-and-try-not-to-get-obliterated bullshit; none of that streak-down-the-field-and-tiptoe-the-sideline nonsense. Just. Return. Kicks. After a mini-hiatus from the kick return spotlight (his longest kick return last year was 40 yards), Hester now has gained his mojo back, averaging nearly 47 yards per return and consistently answering opponent touchdowns with very favorable field position. The 2013 Devin Hester highlight reel is already in progress; there’s no doubt there will be a bunch more to add by season’s end to his case for the Hall of Fame.
Sex, Drugs and Turnovers
The void left by Brian Urlacher will be tough to fill for a long time, but with the Cover 2 still in tact and Lance Briggs now calling the plays, the defense is still doing what it does best: forcing turnovers. The Bears rank only behind Seattle in the takeaway department with six (three interceptions, three fumble recoveries), and it all starts with, you guessed it, the formidable cornerback combo of Peanut Tillman and Tim Jennings. Tillman picked up week one right where left off with two interceptions (had a touchdown called back) and two passes deflected, as he continues to add to his legitimately realistic Hall of Fame case as well. Jennings did the same, finishing off the first two weeks of the season with an interception return for a touchdown, a forced fumble and two passes deflected of his own. Tillman may have had a hard time defending A.J. Green while throwing up on the sideline during breaks (due to dehydration) last Sunday, but overall, these two men continue to provide unheralded consistency for another rock solid Bears defense. I may not ever know what I’m going to eat for my next meal until ten minutes beforehand, but I am always certain of one thing days in advance: the Bears will force a turnover or three come Sunday (or Monday), and I’ll never stop appreciating that.
On top of that, Briggs has solidified himself as the true leader of this defense and simply hasn’t missed a beat since taking over play-calling duties. He continues to grade out positively in coverage (+3.2 against Minnesota according to Pro Football Focus), disrupting any passes thrown within his vicinity and adding 17 tackles to the mix. Some things never change.
Amongst all of the positive play the Bears have shown us on both sides of the ball, not everything has been smooth sailing. The defensive line has been shockingly horrendous in both games so far, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Some feel Julius Peppers and Henry Melton aren’t in the football shape they need to be in to have any sort of success; others are making excuses for Peppers, who experienced flu-like symptoms throughout Sunday’s game. Whatever the case my be, it’s time for this entire unit to get its act together. Outside of Stephen Paea, who has been very productive (specifically in stopping the run), no one has shown any signs of life whatsoever. Shea McClellin, who continues to vastly underachieve given his draft position, and Corey Wootton have done next to nothing, while Pro Bowlers Peppers and Melton have been even worse. I’m confident Peppers will find his stride and start getting to the quarterback, but Melton has only given us one great season to feel the same way. If he’s looking to get paid as much as he was expecting to this past summer, then it’s time to stop partying at John Barleycorn (saw him at the River North one twice this summer) and start focusing on pressuring and sacking the quarterback (he has zero pressures so far). Get your shit together, Henry. You too, Julius.
If this Bears defense can start getting some pressure on the quarterback with its four-man front (Pittsburgh’s completely depleted offensive line should be a great place to start), this team can be as dangerous as anyone. The rest of the team has shown new signs of life under Marc Trestman and his coaching staff, giving fans every reason to believe a playoff berth is within reach. With a relatively tough four-game stretch coming up, the true identity of the 2013 Chicago Bears will become much clearer.
Until then, see you in Pittsburgh.
***This article was written by former sports columnist of the Pioneer Press, Scott Gutmann – his debut on The City of Broad Shoulders***
It took just one swing to learn a lot about Marc Trestman’s golf game at last month’s Encompass Championship in Glenview. The Bears’ new head coach chose to hit an iron off the first tee, a 424-yard par-4, during the Champions Tour pro-am event. Trestman obviously isn’t too fond of his driver, and he later acknowledged that as a golfer he’s a pretty good duffer.
Bears fans hope he’s better as a football coach, but don’t blame them if they’re about as confident in Trestman as he is in his driver. After all, the Bears’ fourteenth head coach in their illustrious history has not worked in the NFL since 2004 and spent the last five years in the Canadian Football League, aka pro football Siberia. And yet somehow, when Bears General Manager Phil Emery seemingly endless parade of candidates finally reached the finish line, it was Marc Trestman who hit the tape first.
Trestman had served as an NFL offensive assistant for seventeen years with nine different organizations. He is credited with helping nurture the likes of quarterbacks Steve Young and Rich Gannon. In 2002 Trestman was the Oakland Raiders’ o-coordinator as they led the NFL in total offense and passing yards per game. Gannon was the league’s MVP and the Raiders made it to Super Bowl XXXVII.
That was then, this is 2013. There are 32 NFL franchises, and for reasons unknown not one chose to employ Marc Trestman the past eight seasons. Not as a head coach. Not as an assistant coach.
Makes one wonder why the hell not.
In his maiden search for a head coach, Emery interviewed no fewer than thirteen candidates. He wanted a coach who would be more media friendly than predecessor Lovie Smith, who seemed to have a genuine disdain for the main conduit between him and the general public. Emery also said he was looking for someone who was very organized, positive and synergistic. Maybe he confused football coach with investment banking COO.
Emery eventually cut his pageant of coaching candidates to three finalists: Trestman, Bruce Arians and Darrell Bevell. Arians merely was 2012 NFL coach of the year in an interim role with the Indianapolis Colts. Bevell’s Seattle Seahawks offense made the Bears look like they were wearing roller skates in a crucial Soldier Field matchup last December.
Why Trestman? Maybe Emery was swayed by the two Grey Cups and 59-31 record in five years of coaching the Montreal Alouettes. He could have liked the fact Trestman didn’t insist on bringing in his own defensive staff as Arians (who eventually landed as the Arizona Cardinals’ boss man) reportedly did. Or perhaps Emery and Trestman hit it off over a steak dinner, boom. (After all, Jim Hendry’s five-star dinner date with Milton Bradley led to a three-year deal for the latter . . . and a death sentence for the 2009 Cubs.)
Or maybe the ultimate reason Emery chose Marc Trestman is he believes Trestman is the man with the brainpower to do what other coaches have not: turn Jay Cutler from a top-15 into a top-5 quarterback. Good luck with that — after seven NFL seasons, Cutler still makes rookie-caliber mistakes. Perhaps Trestman will have the temperament and game plan to succeed where Lovie Smith and his three o-coordinators in the last four years failed.
Lots of questions await Trestman, Emery and the rest of the Bears organization as they approach the 2013 season’s first tee time. Most important: Will Marc Trestman be a capable driver?
It was April 15, 2000. I had recently turned 11-years-old and, as always, my entire life revolved around sports. I loved the Bulls, but Michael Jordan had already been retired for almost two years. They were truly atrocious, having combined for 45 wins in three seasons. Quite frankly, they were unwatchable.
I loved the Cubs, but they only won 67 games the previous season and would go on to win 65 the next. Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood were the only two players an 11-year-old could actually look up to.
I loved the Blackhawks, but they hadn’t made the playoffs in four years. Hockey may have been my favorite sport at the time, but any Blackhawks fan could tell you that Tony Almonte was the only Blackhawk even worth talking about during those dark days.
That left me with the Bears, a team that had made the playoffs once in seven years and gave young kids no good reason to believe in them. The two Bears jerseys I had growing up: Chris Zorich and Rashaan Salaam. The former was out of the league after 5.5 seasons, and the latter is considered one of the biggest busts in Bears history. That’s how terrible it was. No one, not even my own father or uncle, could convince me to like them. The Bears weren’t cool to talk about during lunch and recess, because when you’re just a kid, all you really want to do is root for the good teams.
The Denver Broncos were my team back then, and Terrell Davis was my favorite football player in the world. I swore I’d never forget watching Super Bowl XXXII with my dad in 1998, when Davis came out of the locker room at half time after puking from excruciating migraine headaches, just to score the game-winning 1-yard touchdown with only 1:45 remaining. Even at such a young age, these were the moments that I lived for, that taught me what it was like to be a fighter, to never back down, and to appreciate sports.
When the Chicago Bears took some converted safety-turned-linebacker named Brian Urlacher on that gloomy April day, I didn’t really think anything of it. They were coming off a typical 6-10 season under first-year head coach Dick Jauron, and I knew nothing about the All-American out of New Mexico. As the end of training camp neared, I remember hearing about how big and fast Urlacher was – how he wasn’t your prototypical NFL linebacker because of his unique size and athletic ability. He knew how to lead, and he was apparently always in the right place on the field at the right time. Maybe, just maybe, this kid would actually live up to the hype, something that nearly every former first-round pick of the Bears over the past decade (Cade McNown, Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam, John Thierry, and Alonzo Spellman) had failed to do.
And live up to hype he did. After losing his starting job after Week 1 of his rookie season, then re-gaining it back Week 4 after a Barry Minter injury, Urlacher led the team in both tackles (123) and sacks (8.0). He was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was Chicago’s lone representative in the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, the Bears finished that season 5-11. Urlacher certainly had my attention, but the Bears still sucked. I needed something, anything, to convince me that being a Bears fan would be cool again.
Then the 2001 season rolled around, and the tide began to turn. Urlacher catapulted their defense from 20th in the league to first overall. Like every single Bears team that we can remember, the offense was mediocre at best, led by Jim Miller, Anthony “A-Train” Thomas, and Marty Booker; it was the defense that got everyone talking. In Week 3, Urlacher held some highly touted rookie quarterback named Michael Vick to 18 rushing yards in the second half and returned one of Vick’s fumbles 90 yards to the house. Three weeks later, the Bears completed one of the most memorable come-from-behind wins in franchise history, when San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens dropped the ball in overtime on a slant in an attempt to elude Urlacher. The ball fell into the hands of Mike Brown, who ran it back 33 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 37-31 win.
The Bears ended that season with a 13-3 record, clinching themselves the division for the first time since 1990, as well as a first-round bye. Because of their relatively weak offense, they weren’t expected to make much noise in the playoffs, especially with the St. Louis Rams and their “Greatest Show On Turf” lingering in the NFC field. Chicago eventually lost to Philadelphia in the second round, but that magical 2001 season was much bigger than a disappointing playoff appearance – it marked my first season as a true Chicago Bears fan, and Brian Urlacher was the sole reason why. He made his first of five All-Pro teams, his second of eight Pro Bowls and, along with Marshall Faulk, he led the entire league in pro-football-reference.com‘s Approximate Value statistic, which puts a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position. He was becoming an unstoppable force at the linebacker position, and kids of all ages began to look up to him as the savior of Chicago Bears football.
Of course, the Bears didn’t make the playoffs for another four years, but as a fan, I never looked back. They had finally become my team, my Denver Broncos, and Brian Urlacher had become my favorite football player ever. It’s impossible to pinpoint one moment in Urlacher’s career as his greatest, as the list is never-ending, but his most memorable season in the NFL does happen to coincide with one of the greatest years in my life: 2006-07, the year the Bears made an unfathomable run to the Super Bowl – the year I graduated high school.
It wasn’t necessarily because I was graduating that made that year so great for me; it was because, as a senior, I knew it may be my last chance to spend countless hours with the guys I grew up with talking sports on a daily basis. So every Sunday (or Monday), we took extra advantage, watching as many Bears games together as possible, cherishing every moment that we could. The night the Bears went into Arizona, trailed 23-3 late in the third quarter and won 24-23 remains, to this day, my most memorable Bears moment. Sure, everyone remembers Rex Grossman’s six turnovers, the Mike Brown fumble recovery, the Charles Tillman fumble recovery, the Devin Hester punt return and infamous Dennis Green “crown their ass” post-game tirade. But, to me, as my friends and I huddled around the TV with our arms around each other, it was Urlacher’s second half performance on that crazy, miracle night that will always stick out. As Peter King explained it, in the last 16 minutes, “Urlacher choreographed the Bears D into a scheme that led to one touchdown, had 10 tackles and two passes defensed and a forced fumble. He had five tackles of [Edgerrin] James after a one-yard gain or less.” He single-handedly took over that game, imploring as much will and as much determination as he could to carry us to an impossible comeback victory. That game, above all else, epitomized Brian Urlacher as a football player.
Urlacher may not have accomplished his one main goal of bringing a championship to Chicago, but his impact on football fans all over can never be understated. A likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, he will go down as one of the greatest linebackers to ever live. He set a Bears single season-record with 151 tackles in 2002, won AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2005, won the Ed Block Courage Award in 2011, holds the crown for most tackles in Bears history (1,358 combined tackles) and made the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. Urlacher was an extremely rare breed of a football player and will always be known by Bears fans for the fear he instilled in opposing quarterbacks, the leadership he displayed on and off the field, his unteachable work ethic, and his utmost loyalty to his teammates, coaches and fans.
The fairytale 2006 season was one of the greatest times in my life, but had Brian Urlacher never been drafted by Chicago, or had he spurned the city at any point in his career for a better chance to win, who knows where my allegiance would stand. I owe my Bears fanhood to him, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Next season will be strange without no. 54 roaming the middle and calling the plays, knowing he will never put on the blue and orange again. Like everyone in that locker room, we will miss him. But we will never forget him.
Stop me if this sounds all too familiar: the Bears are on the clock, and there’s a plethora of value out there. Experts and fans get fired up, discussing perfect fits and can’t miss talents. For what seems like a lifetime, Roger Goodell finally makes his way to the podium and gets booed, per usual. He announces the pick, the cameras pan to a bunch of random Bears fans with their arms out, shaking their heads, and within minutes, everyone starts calling, texting and tweeting each other to ask something around the lines of, “Who the hell is that?! What the f**k are they thinking?!”
If that chain of events does, in fact, sound familiar to you, then you’ve had the ability to follow or tune in to the first round of the last two NFL drafts (or any Jerry Angelo-led draft for that matter). And both times, you’ve more than likely ended the night with a bitter Bear taste in your mouth. I hated the Shea McClellin pick last year, and I hate the Kyle Long pick even more this year. McClellin was considered a project going into the 2012 season, a guy NO ONE in their right minds predicted the Bears to draft in the first round. He wasn’t a projected first rounder on any mock draft boards, and he sure as hell wasn’t a projected starter for that Bears defense. The Bears passed on two stud defensive ends, Chandler Jones (drafted 21st by New England, two spots after McClellin) and Whitney Mercilus (drafted 26th by Houston) to select the undersized, still-a-work-in-progress Shea McClellin. Here’s how their rookies seasons fared:
- Shea McClellin: 14 games, 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 0 forced turnovers, 0 pass deflections
- Chandler Jones: 14 games, 45 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 5 pass deflections
- Whitney Mercilus: 16 games, 20 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection
Now does this mean that I’m not a McClellin believer, that I think he’ll end up a bust when it’s all said and done? Absolutely not. The sky is the limit for this kid, and anything can happen as he continues to get stronger and improve his game. However, the numbers speak for themselves and prove that Phil Emery decided to place a premium on a project-type prospect in the first round of the draft as opposed to an instant-impact player, which Jones and Mercilus clearly were last season. And that is exactly what he did again last night.
Before we dive into the prospect overview, here’s the baggage that Kyle Long brings with him to Chicago: DUIs, drug rehab, flunked out of Florida State, converted from a defensive lineman to an offensive lineman just two years ago, and started a whopping five games during his final season of college football at Oregon. Emery claims Long has rebounded from the issues and is “not concerned about Long’s character.” That’s fine – maybe Emery’s right. To be quite honest, I don’t even really care about the baggage. Everyone makes mistakes – flunking out of college not typically one of them – but I care about getting pancakes and hammers out from my offensive lineman, not getting F’s in The Art of Basketweaving. It’s mainly the last two points above, the draft profile, and the absurd amount of talent we passed up for Long that are concerning.
The athletic ability that Long possesses is undeniable. He’s a 6’6, 313 pound offensive lineman with great reach and excellent mobility. He has great physical gifts, and he’s the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long and brother of former second overall pick Chris Long. The issue, however, is not his athleticism – it’s his football inexperience, especially on the offensive line, as well as his tag by many experts, including Bill Polian, as a “developmental player” (and he’s already 24 years old). This is a huge risk/mediocre reward pick if I’ve ever seen one, as Long doesn’t seem to be possess the instant-impact characteristics that Phil Emery claims he does. Apparently, just playing well in the Senior Bowl and doing well in the Combine are the key determinants for future NFL success. It doesn’t make any sense at all, as the Bears need to win NOW, not later. And the only way to do that at this point is to load this team up with as many instant-impact players as it can through the draft.
The Bears could have drafted a defensive tackle like Sharrif Floyd, the man-child out of Florida whom the Vikings potentially stole with the 23rd pick and was scouted as a top-10 talent (plausible nightmare scenario here). Or Tyler Eifert, the tight end out of Notre Dame who some experts have compared to Rob Gronkowski (his playmaking ability, NOT his partying) and drafted immediately after our pick by the Bengals. Or Alec Ogletree, the freakish linebacker out of Georgia who could’ve ended up being an excellent weak side linebacker in the Bears’ 4-3 defense (though if the Bears are able to snag a linebacker like Arthur Brown in the second round, then I won’t care). Or Xavier Rhodes, the 6’1 cornerback out of Florida State who has drawn comparisons to, and has a higher ceiling than, pro-bowler Brandon Browner from the Seahawks. Or, better yet, they could have traded down to acquire more picks and possibly select Long or another capable lineman later since a) the Bears have the least amount of picks of any team in the draft with 5, and b) Long would have absolutely lasted past round one (even he was surprised), plus there are plenty of other good linemen still out there. Instead, Emery went with the player whom many are deeming as a “project” once again, one who will certainly take time to develop and whose “still new to the game of football, and his play is still a bit unrefined.”
What you might consider pessimism, I consider realism. I may regret all my doubts a year from now, as Long’s play on the field may actually shock me more than the pick itself, and I truly hope that’s the case. Maybe Aaron Kromer has something up his sleeve and sees something in this kid that other football people do not. I want to be wrong about this. But after last year’s first round doubts proved to be valid for one season, I’m entitled to have my doubts now for similar reasons. The next two days of the draft may go better than we’re hoping. But until I see Kyle Long actually starting on the offensive line when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town on September 8th until December 29th against Green Bay, I will remain a skeptic.
Phil Emery, please prove me wrong.
Wait, what? Did I really just ask that question? Charles Tillman, a Hall of Famer? Am I out of my mind? Maybe. Maybe not. As of today, I will admit that there is probably zero chance, given how extremely difficult it is to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that Charles Tillman will be inducted into Canton. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be the homer than I am and make the case anyways.
Peanut is arguably the most under-appreciated cornerback of our generation, having been to one Pro Bowl his entire career and never making it onto an All-Pro team, and he will continue to be for the rest of eternity. Whether the lack of appreciation or career accomplishments will be his kryptonite, I’m not sure. Only true Bears fans, like ourselves, and Tillman’s teammates can acknowledge all the little things he has done on a weekly basis since the day he stepped onto Soldier Field for the first time in 2003. Whether it be punching the football out of a receiver’s grip with Ivan Drago-like strength or exemplifying himself as a role model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage on and off the field (recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2009; finalist for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2011), there is nothing that Charles Tillman has done to disappoint me in his 10+ year career. Sure, he’s had some bad games over the years, such as the 2006 NFC Divisional Game against Carolina (to Tillman’s defense, it was a poor collective effort from both him and Nathan Vasher; Steve Smith led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that season – he was simply unstoppable), but what cornerback hasn’t? Like the rest of this ageless Bears defense, Tillman refuses to regress and has shown that, at 31 years of age, he is more than capable of playing another three, four or even five years in the NFL.
So, where does this whole Hall of Fame argument come from, you ask? Well, I decided to put together the statistics of every cornerback currently in the Hall (there are only 15 of them) and compare them to Tillman’s, which I pro-rated through the 2015 season (assuming the Bears re-sign him or give him an a two-year extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next year). In other words, forget Pro Bowl appearances and all that bullshit: if Tillman continues to record the same number of interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, tackles, passes defended and total touchdowns that he has averaged throughout his career for the next 3.5 seasons, how will his numbers measure up to those of the greats? Let’s dive in.
As you can see, tackles and forced fumbles did not become recorded statistics until relatively recently, so it’s more difficult to compare Tillman’s potential statistics at career’s end than anticipated. Nevertheless, we’ll compare anyways.
Clearly, the interceptions aren’t as high most of the studs on this list, but interceptions have never really been Tillman’s staple. He has never been the shut-down corner that you’d expect out of a Hall of Famer. Instead, he has made his living by forcing an incredible amount of turnovers and limiting his counterpart’s yards after the catch. What Tillman lacks in speed, he makes up for in strength. He has forced more fumbles at this point in his career than ANY defensive back in the history of the NFL, including Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Ronnie Lott (also tied for 5th in forced fumbles among all positions). He is the second player since 1991 (the other being Brian Dawkins) to record 30 interceptions and 30 forced fumbles. He is the ONLY player since 2005 to record 25+ interceptions and 25+ forced fumbles. He is tied with Donnell Wolford for third in Bears’ history with 32 interceptions (Gary Fencik is the leader with 38), and he ranks first in Bears’ history with seven defensive touchdowns. You get the point.
Tillman also ranks third amongst these Hall of Famers in total defensive touchdowns and can easily tie or surpass Deion Sanders by career’s end, and his 10 fumble recoveries is equal to, or more than, seven of the players on the list. Pretty amazing.
In order to give ourselves another perspective, I figured it might be beneficial to compare Tillman’s numbers to those of two cornerbacks that are still currently playing and are considered to be instant Hall of Famers by a majority of fans and nearly everyone within the NFL circle: Ronde Barber and Charles Woodson.
There are a couple important things to keep in mind when looking at these numbers: 1) Barber is more than likely going to retire after this season, so his career statistics (besides tackles) shouldn’t change that much going forward, and 2) Charles Woodson has another two years remaining on his contract after this season, so his numbers will certainly improve. That being said, he’s a banged up 36-year-old cornerback-converted-safety, so exactly how much those numbers will improve is really difficult to project. He will also have played a lot more NFL seasons than I have projected Tillman to play. Analyze his statistics however you see fit.
Based on these projections, Tillman should have nearly the same amount of tackles and interceptions as Barber by career’s end. The lack of passes defended compared to these two should be completely negated by the absurd amount of forced fumbles that Tillman may potentially end up with, as well as the ten or so total defensive touchdowns. You’ve got to remember now: Barber and Woodson are locks for the Hall of Fame. If all goes according to plan, Tillman’s numbers will be right up there with the likes of those two, so who’s to say that he doesn’t belong in the same breath as them?
Peanut Tillman’s production as the Bears’ top cornerback for the past ten years and counting can’t be understated. He’s as underrated as any player you’ll ever find, and he’s a major reason why the Bears defense has had so much success implementing the unpopular Cover 2. He does all the little things necessary to win football games, and he’s as smart as anyone on the field. Most importantly, his numbers will be right up there with some of the all-time greats at his position. Tillman likely won’t make the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done, but he sure as hell should never be an afterthought.
**I realize it’s been a couple of months since my last post, and I apologize. I got busy and I got lazy, but Monday night’s win gave me some of my mojo back. After two long months, the hiatus has been lifted for the time being, starting with a recap of the Bears’ beat down of the Cowboys.**
Punt, punt, punt, pick six, touchdown, pick, pick six, field goal, pick, pick. This is how each of the ten Tony Romo-led drives ended for America’s beloved Cowboys on Monday night. It was a statement game for both Chicago and Dallas, and it was Chicago who rose to the occasion and then some. The Bears simply embarrassed the Cowboys, and it all started with a defense that continues to shit in the mouths of any and every doubter that said it’s too old to continue its greatness this past off-season.
In a three-hour clinic, the grizzled veterans of the Chicago Bears defense let the world know that age doesn’t mean jack. Sure, Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers and Tillman are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but with age comes wisdom, and it’s that very wisdom and knowledge that has helped this defense make up for any lost speed and athleticism.
Briggs and Tillman took two of Romo’s five interceptions to the house, while Urlacher and Peppers continued to hold down the fort and establish themselves as two of the greatest defensive leaders that we have in this game. They’ve anchored a front seven that has been in complete shut-down mode since Week 1, allowing a measly 67.2 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry to opposing running backs, good for third in the NFL. That front seven includes third-year tackle Henry Melton, who has been bull rushing his way through offensive lines like this streaker through a tennis court had he been successful (I may or may not have forced that analogy just so you can watch that video – it’s too funny). He recorded a team-leading fourth sack Monday night, as well as a tackle for a loss, and he was the direct cause of the Briggs interception to top it off. Dude’s been a beast. Straight up.
The younger guys in the secondary, including Tim Jennings (single-handedly caused another interception) and Major Wright (two interceptions) are playing out of their minds, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to stop. Before Monday’s game, Tim Jennings was arguably the best cornerback in football over the first three weeks; opposing quarterbacks had posted an absolutely ridiculous passer rating of 4.9 when throwing his way. Through four games, he has four interceptions, nine pass deflections and 16 tackles. He may not have been as impressive in Dallas, but he sure as hell has been as important as anyone to this unit’s success thus far. I can’t say enough about how far that man has come. As for Major Wright, he’s finally healthy (fingers crossed). Maybe that’s all it takes for him to play good, smart football.
We can go on and on about the Bears’ defense and their inspired efforts, constantly keeping us in games over the years even when we have no business winning. However, I can’t move forward without mentioning the solid (not fantastic, but solid) performance by the offense. Most people who know me know I’ve never been a Jay Cutler fan. The fact that we are both Type 1 Diabetics is the only thing that keeps me sane when talking about him sometimes (people don’t realize how unbelievably impressive and tough it is for anyone to play quarterback in the NFL with a disease like that). That being said, I really only care about the Bears scoring points and winning football games, and Cutler has proved very little throughout his career from a success standpoint (1 playoff appearance, 1 playoff win). I want to see a Super Bowl appearance before I start fully supporting him after the awfulness and poor demeanor he displays on the field sometimes.
With that awfulness, though, comes occasional greatness (read Grantland’s Bill Barnwell’s dead-on perception of Cutler from the other week here). Monday night was one of those occasions. It was one of Cutler’s most efficient performances in a Bears uniform, as he completed 75% of his passes (18 of 24) and threw two touchdowns to give him a passer rating of 140.1 and a QBR (ESPN’s QB Rating metric) of 81.1. Time and time again, he found Brandon Marshall over the middle of the field (Marshall reeled in seven of his eight targets), allowing the offense to move the chains and maintain a consistent offensive balance (28 rushes to 24 passes). The running game may have been a little weak (3.7 YPC for the running backs), but given the fact that Forte re-tweaked his ankle on his first run and is still trying to get his rhythm back, I can live with it.
The offensive game plan was nothing short of magnificent, so for the first time this season, I applaud Mike Tice (the beat down of the Colts doesn’t count; it’s not hard to score points on that horrendous defense without its best player in Dwight Freeney). He called a flawless game, and most importantly, he found a solution to the offensive line woes (at least for the time being) that every fan has been begging for: use our tight end blocking machines, Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams, to help chip in during pass protection, otherwise known as “Max Protect” (essentially dedicating more personnel to protecting the quarterback and taking pressure off the offensive line). There was no doubt in my mind that Tice would eventually figure it all out, like he did as our Offensive Line Coach the past two years, but it takes balls to swallow your pride, realize what you’re doing wrong as a coach/coordinator and actually fix it.
If Tice hadn’t finally implemented this game plan, the NFL’s best defensive player in DeMarcus Ware (yes, the best defensive player – 104.5 sacks in just over seven seasons is no joke, people) would’ve made J’Marcus Webb his personal bitch. I legitimately lost sleep all last week thinking about Ware ripping Cutler’s head off and posting it on a stick for Kristen Cavallari and their newborn son to come home to, Joffrey Baratheon-style (Game of Thrones reference and spoiler alert; do yourself a favor and watch that show if you don’t already). But thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Besides one sack and a forced fumble that happened to be Cutler’s fault and not Webb’s, Ware, along with the rest of the Dallas front line, mind you, was relatively quiet all night. Snaps to Mike Tice for finally implementing a game plan that played to the strengths of the offense and covered up the glaring vulnerabilities that it has demonstrated. Here’s to hoping he and the rest of the unit continue down this path to collective stardom. The sky is the limit for this offense, and accomplishing what it did against a very underrated and much improved Cowboys defense should make us all feel comfortable.
We’ve all seen this before with the Bears – looking terrible one week and fans acting like the world is about to end, then winning a huge game in extremely convincing fashion the next – I get that. But so goes the roller coaster that is Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears’ offense. The lows get so low that we actually feel like vomiting, while the highs get so high that we never want to get off and can’t help but feel better about our lives – there’s never a medium. As long as we can accept that, let’s all just buckle up for the ride, pray the offense can continue playing like this consistently and allow the defense to remain our blueprint. If all goes well, this ride may very well lead us straight into the Superdome on February 3rd.
Once word got out that Matt Forte and the Bears had finally agreed on a long-term contract (four years worth roughly $32 million with roster bonuses and incentives), it felt as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. It scared the living shit out of me that the most important player in our offense (other than Cutler) was just hours away from holding out. With him, we’re a Super Bowl contender. Without him, we’re not. It’s as simple as that. And to the people who previously thought that Forte’s presence is overrated and that Michael Bush can easily carry the load: stop talking. Right now.
Forte’s uncanny athleticism and versatility are what separate him from today’s mediocre running backs and make him one of the best in the biz. I understand that the last two Super Bowl champions had gotten less production out of their backfields than the Bears have gotten from their offensive line (Giants ranked dead last in 2012, Packers ranked 24th out of 32 in 2011), indicating that the NFL has rapidly transitioned into a passing league, but why does that matter? Without Forte, this is an offense without a true identity. ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright did him justice in coming up with these stats:
Since entering the league in 2008, Forte ranks sixth in the league with 6,218 yards from scrimmage and is the only player in NFL history to gain 900 yards rushing and 400 receiving in each of his first four seasons. Forte is also one of four Bears to gain at least 4,000 rushing yards (4,233) and 1,500 receiving yards (1,985) in his career.
Those numbers, by themselves, should indicate how impactful Matt Forte is on the football field. His incredible ability to protect Jay Cutler, catch 50, 60 or even 70 balls out of the backfield, and his knack for breaking off long runs (especially last season) will ultimately be the offense’s biggest assets yet again. Except this time, there will be more playmakers to help this team score points and no Mike Martz to call atrocious plays. The additions of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett’s great health will force defenses to pick their poison with this offense. No more worrying about whether or not Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester can run the correct routes and hold on to the football anymore. The threat of Forte opens up the field for our everyone and vice versa, putting less pressure on Jay Cutler and much more pressure on opposing defenses. The legitimate balance in our offense should also keep the defense off the field more, giving them the opportunity to make stops more efficiently, and allow the punting unit to stay on the sidelines longer, meaning that opposing offenses won’t have as many short fields to work with. One little thing Forte does on the field can positively impact a number of different facets of the game.
The deal Forte signed was great for both sides. The Bears locked up one of their most valuable players for four years, and Forte gets insurance and nearly $18 million guaranteed until the age of 3o, which is known to be the age in which great running backs lose whatever ability they used to have and become backups or platoon candidates at best. Some may argue that Forte got shafted and deserves more money (which he very well may), as he was originally seeking a contract comparable to that of Darren McFadden ($10 million/year, $26 million guaranteed) or Chris Johnson (9.17 million/year, $30 million guaranteed). But, given the amount of leverage the Bears had in this negotiation (Forte was more than likely going to be franchise tagged again next season), this is probably the best deal that he could have gotten. It makes him one of the six (or so) highest paid running backs in the league, ahead of the likes Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner and in the same ballpark as Ray Rice, Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Not too shabby of a list, that’s for damn sure.
After the way last season ended in such disappointing fashion, the only way for this team to go is up. Locking up Forte was a major step in the right direction and should give Bears fans the optimism we’ve lacked since Cutler broke his thumb. Not only is Forte a great player, but he’s also a great teammate and professional. He couldn’t have handled this situation any better by playing out his contract and doing what was best for the team, unlike what many football players would do. Forte’s presence alone should put the Bears in position to make a run in the playoffs next winter, and I’m confident he’ll live up to the expectations of his contract and then some. September 9th can’t come any sooner.
Everyone has a different interpretation of what a draft “steal” is. Is it someone who was drafted near the end of the draft and had a serviceable career? Is it someone who was supposed to go early but ended up slipping more than he should have? Is it someone who went after the first round? Who knows. A steal, in my mind, is someone who overcame expectations and gave his team/fans more greatness than we could have ever imagined. It’s pretty much a mixture of all the questions I just posed. For instance, a player like Brian Urlacher can’t be considered a steal because he was drafted 9th overall and was projected to be a perennial pro bowl linebacker. Marques Colston, who was drafted in the 7th round out of Hofstra, is, without a doubt, considered a steal. Aaron Rodgers, who was supposed to be a top 5-10 pick at worst, was absolutely a steal at 24, even though he was still taken in the first round. You get the point. So without further ado, here is my idea of the five biggest draft steals in Chicago Bears history:
5) Matt Forte, 2nd round, 44th overall pick in 2008, Running Back, Tulane University: Putting Forte on this list may be a bit of a stretch, but I don’t care – I love Forte and highly enjoy watching him play. When Roger Goodell called his name just four years ago, I didn’t have a clue what to think. At the time, Cedric Benson was still our running back, so it was difficult for me to understand why we’d waste our second round pick on another running back after how the Jones/Benson experiment played out. The Bears passed on two guys I loved in college to draft Forte: Desean Jackson and Ray Rice. I was pretty skeptical. However, Forte was extremely underrated in college (his senior season was unheard of) and won MVP of the Senior Bowl, so I tried to be optimistic. 2 months later, Benson was let go by the Bears, and a star was born.
During his very first game in the NFL against the Colts, Forte rushed for 123 yards (including a 50-yarder) and 1 touchdown to go along with three receptions for 18 yards. Instantly, I believed we struck gold, and that has very much been the case. After an incredible rookie campaign (1,715 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns) that would have landed him Offensive Rookie of the Year had it not been for Chris Johnson’s historical season, Forte struggled during his second season, as he and the entire offense tried to adapt to playing with a new quarterback (Cutler) and a pass-first offense that contained zero legitimate wide receivers whatsoever. Since then, though, Forte managed to finish in the top 10 in yards from scrimmage in 2010 (1,616) and 2011 (1,487) even after missing four games during the 2011 season. He has totaled 6,218 yards from scrimmage through 60 career games (4,233 rushing, 1,985 receiving) along with 29 total touchdowns. Over the past two seasons, Forte has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and an amazing (for a running back) 10.1 yards per reception. He has been as valuable to the Bears offense as any running back, and almost any player, in the league.
That being said, PAY THE MAN!
4) Devin Hester, 2nd round, 56th overall pick in 2006, CB/WR/KR/PR, University of Miami: Right after the Bears drafted Hester six years ago, I watched this like 17 times in a row. No joke. I started to fantasize about how great it would be if Hester could pull off crazy maneuvers like that for the Bears. And before I knew it, that fantasy became an incredible reality.
Against the Packers in the 2006 season opener (Hester’s first NFL game), Hester took a punt 84 yards to the house. Right then and there, everyone knew he was legit. The lightning-fast speed, the ridiculous footwork and downfield awareness, the ability to break tackles – we all witnessed it with our own eyes. It was a very magical season for the Bears, and a lot of it had to do with Hester. He returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. His 83-yard punt return TD in week 6 (Grossman turned the ball over six times that game) to beat the Cardinals 24-23 led to one of the greatest rants in sports (I’ll never forget that game for the rest of my life). He returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a touchdown in week 9 against the Giants. And most importantly, he became the first player ever to return the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl for a touchdown.
Hester became such a threat that opposing teams had to start game planning around him. That the only way to beat the Bears was to keep the ball out of Devin Hester’s hands. Think about that for a second. If you keep the ball out of the kick/punt returner’s hands, you should win. It sounds insane, but it worked a lot of the time. Hester didn’t return one punt or kickoff for a touchdown during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and we finished a couple of unexciting seasons with a combined record of 16-16. That’s how important he has been to our franchise. He has made three All-Pro First-Teams and Pro Bowls, and he holds the record for most career punt returns (12) and total returns (17 punts and kickoffs) in NFL history. And that doesn’t even count his Super Bowl XLI kickoff return or 108-yard field goal return, either.
3) Olin Kreutz, 3rd round, 64th overall in 1998, Center, University of Washington: When the Bears and Kreutz decided to part ways last summer, I was legitimately upset. He stuck with this franchise through thick and thin and was our most consistent offensive player throughout the 2000s decade. It’s tough for anyone to justify how truly good a center or offensive lineman is because most people don’t understand what their statistics mean. So, if you look at the accomplishments that Kreutz made as a Bear, you should understand exactly why he’s on this list. As a six-time pro bowler (2001-2006) and a four-time all-pro center, Kreutz started 159 out of 160 games from 2001-2010 and did every single thing the Bears asked of him and more. He also secured a spot on the NFL 2000s all-decade team. He was irreplaceable and, at times, under-appreciated. Any team would be lucky to have a player like Olin Kreutz.
2) Lance Briggs, 3rd round, 68th overall in 2003, Linebacker, University of Arizona: After the 2006-07 Super Bowl season, Lance Briggs became a free agent. Everyone wanted to see him back in a Bears uniform, but no one knew what was going to happen. The Bears franchise tagged him a couple of weeks later, but he made it known that he was upset with the amount of money he was earning and didn’t feel the Bears wanted him in their future plans.
Soon after that, I saw him at the movie theater with his girlfriend. At that moment, I went from a (really cool) 17-year-old high school senior to a pubescent 12-year-old girl. I got so nervous, had butterflies in my stomach and couldn’t get this stupid little smile off my face. As he walked past me, I managed to maintain some composure and said “Hey Lance, I just want you to know how much we love you here in Chicago. Please come back, we need you more than you can even imagine.” He proceeded to stick his fist out, give me a pound and said “I’ll do what I can, my man.” True story.
It wasn’t until a year later that Briggs’ value to the defense surmounted the absurd stinginess of Jerry Angelo and the McCaskeys, when they finally offered him a much deserved 6-year, $36 million deal. But, I can’t help but ask: was it because of me, and me alone, that Briggs decided to stick it to the man, be patient and play (at a pro-bowl level, mind you) through the entire 2007-08 season with these contract distractions? Or was it because of Urlacher, who was willing to take a pay cut to keep Briggs on the team, and the rest of the players that he decided to stay in Chicago? Probably the latter. But do I try to convince people that it actually was because of the me? Absolutely.
Anyways, Briggs belongs on this list for a variety of reasons. He has made seven consecutive pro bowls dating back to 2005, and he’s a three-time all-pro linebacker. Briggs has only missed four games in his entire nine-year career. During that period, he has recorded 969 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 13 interceptions (three for touchdowns), 14 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), and 64 pass deflections. I defy you to find any great Bears linebackers who were drafted as late as Briggs and have had the kind of success that he’s had. You can’t. He deserves the 2 spot on this list.
1) Richard Dent, 8th round, 203rd overall in 1983, Defensive End, Tennessee State University: A 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Richard Dent is, by far, the biggest draft steal in Bears history. He was, and still is, widely considered the best player on the greatest defense of all time. The Bears finished 15-1 during the 1985 season and shut out both of their opponents in the playoffs en route to a monstrous Super Bowl XX defeat over the Patriots. With a league-high 17 sacks during the regular season, Dent performed in what’s believed to be the most impressive defensive post-season performance in NFL history: 7 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in the divisional playoff game against the Giants. Legendary. Dent went on to win Super Bowl XX MVP, and he remains one of six defensive players ever to do so.
Throughout his career, Dent made four pro bowls and five all-pro teams. He recorded 137.5 sacks, making him one of only 27 players to be a part of the 100 sacks club. How many 8th round draft picks can say all of this for themselves? Well, not many considering there are only seven rounds in the draft these days, but you know what I mean. Richard Dent was an absolute steal if I’ve ever seen one.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Singletary, Linebacker; Doug Plank, Safety; Johnny Knox, Wide Receiver
Stay tuned for the 5 Biggest Draft Busts: Chicago Bulls Edition.