Jerry Angelo’s good graces are quickly wearing out.
I don’t hold letting Thomas Jones go against the Bears. It was obvious he would not be back before the ’06 campaign began and I understand why they had to stick by their #4 draft pick. But I thought that Angelo had gambled this season on the assumption that Benson was going to be, in his words, a “special back.” And I had serious doubts about Benson’s abilities and durability. Sure enough, he sucked and got hurt.
And he’s not going to get better. He let everybody know he was offended by the fore-coming competition in next year’s camp, and repeatedly claims he was just starting to “turn the corner” before he got hurt. If it takes you over ten games a year to start to “turn the corner” then you are a worthless primary back. There’s just no other way around that.
So the offense is seriously handicapped by a poor runner who has made it very clear he is not motivated to work to get much better.
Now Jerry Angelo, in all his infinite wisdom, has let Bernard Berrian, the only real receiving threat we had, go. To Minnesota, no less. After he sent Muhsin Mohammad, our second best receiver, packing. So not only did we lose the only two real good receivers on the team, but the premier receiver went to a division foe, whom we already lost to twice, so we can see him run all over us two more times every year until 2014. Smart.
And while the Bears waited to see if Berrian would re-sign, every other receiver on the open market capable of taking his place signed with other teams. There are few good ones left to sign, and probably not any number one receiver, which means the Bears now have to either trade for or draft one.
The problem with trading is that’s not really a viable option. There’s not anybody on the team who is simultaneously dispensable and tradable for a starter.
The problem with the draft is there just aren’t enough picks to solve their offense problem. We need a new offensive line. Badly. There are several tackles that are legitimate number one picks, so I felt decent that we could at least do a decent job there. But now one has to wonder if the Bears are going to be able to spend a number one draft pick on them because there are so many other holes to fill.
The reason why losing him makes so much difference is because it’s like losing two players. Berrian forces the defense to go man-to-man and keep a safety in the area. This makes Bradley, Hester, and Davis (especially), all more effective. He would ease some of the strain from the offensive line by forcing a linebacker into coverage to make up for the safety going deep. And he would allow a better running back, but not a necessarily great running back, to have more room to roam.
The problem isn’t really that we don’t have good receivers, it’s the receivers we have won’t work without some serious reordering of the offensive alignment. We’re left with three capable choices; Mark Bradley, Devin Hester, and Rashied Davis. None of these are possession receivers. There’s some thought that Bradley could replace Berrian as a deep threat, leaving only a possession receiver position to fill. But Bradley has underperformed so far and is prone to injury. I’m not buying it. Hester is going to take some more time in the oven before he becomes the receiver he’s capable of becoming.
Rashied Davis is the closest thing we have to a possession receiver, but he is most useful as a third or fourth receiver on the field. I like this guy a lot. But his best work is running options and finding an open spot, and in order to accomplish that the field must be spread out. That means you have defenders focused on deep receivers, a possession receiver, and a receiver around the line of scrimmage, causing holes in the secondary for Davis to exploit. Bradley and Hester can be covered man-to-man downfield (at least for now; eventually Hester will command more attention but I don’t think that will happen this year), allowing the safeties to concentrate on zone defenses in the mid-field. But what’s worse, the Bears don’t have much of a short-field threat to occupy the linebackers.
Their best options to get the defense to focus on the passing game near the line of scrimmage are their tight ends. The Bears do have very, very good tight ends. But they can’t use them in three receiver sets. Benson is terrible in the passing game all-around; he can’t catch and he can’t block. So since Benson can’t catch or block, you’re almost required to have fullback Jason McKie stick around in the backfield to help with pass protection. This is especially true if the offensive line isn’t fixed. But he’s not much good catching; since he can’t be counted on to run quick-outs and screens consistently well he is of no help keeping defenders occupied near the line. And with both a half-back and a full-back on the field, you don’t have enough players for three wide receivers and a tight-end. So you’re left with two choices; do you keep Benson in the backfield all by himself so you can occupy the middle of the field with a tight end, even though that probably won’t allow Davis enough time to find an opening? Or do you keep Benson and McKie in the backfield together, essentially leaving the entire middle of the field to Davis alone? Neither of these are choices conducive of a successful passing attack.
The result is that right now defenses can focus man-to-man down the field, let their safeties zone in the mid field, and let their linebackers zone closer to the line. Since the Bears don’t have a running game good enough to worry the linebackers, the area between the line and Bradley/Hester is going to be pretty crowded with defenders. Davis doesn’t work so well in these situations, and relying on Olsen/Dez Clark is going to make the offense one-dimensional and predictable.
The good news is the Bears re-signed Lance Briggs. Excuse me if I don’t jump for joy. Lance Briggs is a good player, and we would have missed him if he left. I’m glad he stayed. But we have a good linebacker to take his place, Jamar Williams, and another good linebacker just in case, Michael Okwo. Optimally both Briggs and Berrian are signed, but we certainly needed Bernard Berrian much, much more.
The Bears are obviously thinking their defense will be able to carry the team. But they have done nothing to improve it. They have kept the status-quo, and that didn’t work last year so it’s moronic to think it will this year. I like the Bears defense, but it’s simply not good enough to carry a poor offense, as it was in 2005. Strong safety Adam Archuleta is terrible, so if Mike Brown gets hurt again (and going on precedent that’s more of a “when” than an “if”) their safeties are in trouble. The problem is their offense is in such shambles it’s hard to justify a high pick for any defensive player.
And they can’t really win with the number one draft pick. It has to go to either a running back or offensive tackle. But if you don’t draft a running back number one then you’re probably left with Benson, who’s a detriment to both the running game and passing game. And if you don’t draft a tackle number one then you’re dooming your running back to failure. It’s a catch-22. Again, with Berrian it wasn’t so much a problem. You draft a tackle number one and find a serviceable running back. But now serviceable probably won’t cut it.
So let’s do the math: starting-caliber players required are one running back, one offensive tackle, one offensive guard, one wide receiver, and one strong safety. All the good free agents are gone. There’s not enough depth to trade for these positions without opening another hole just as big somewhere else. And you probably only get two people capable of starting right away from the draft (if they’re better at the draft then they’ve been previously).
And this is a conservative estimate. It is based upon the assumption that: a.) either Grossman or Orton are going to be a viable quarterback, b.) only two new starters on the offensive line will make it good again, c.) Urlacher’s back won’t be as problematic next year as it was last year, d.) Bradley doesn’t get hurt and does end up being a viable deep threat, e.) Mike Brown stays healthy, and f.) the defensive line finally stays healthy for a whole year. I’m not entirely confident in any of these assumptions.
Jerry Angelo said he didn’t want to pay too much for Bernard Berrian because it might handicap them in a few years. But without him it may be a few to overcome the handicap of not signing Berrian.