As Camp Nears Bears have Few Questions, but, there are a Few

The Kicking Quandary:

As the Bears July 25th report date for training camp approaches, the Chicago Bears begin the finally phase of their off-season preparation for games that count, the team embarks on a quest to repeat as division champs and better still, Superbowl champs. For the first time in a long long time that aspiration doesn’t seem like false bravado absurdity. This is a team that can match up with any roster in the league and surpassing most in elite talent level and depth. Put that into the hands of a coaching staff that can both develop that talent and put together game plans to exploit their abilities this team should be among the most if not the most dangerous in the league.

However, with that said, there are still some question marks albeit more limited than in years past. The number one question mark is the kicker position, which has been talked to death about ever since the Bears cut Cody Parkey shortly after his Good Morning America’s appearance immediately after his double doink miss of what would have been a game winning field goal that advanced the Bears to the divisional round of the post season. Most of the media members that cover the Bears locally seem to think that the kicker will come either through a trade or on a waiver pickup as they have not been impressed with what they’ve seen out of Eddie Pinero and Elliott Fry.

Fry was impressive in his short term with the Orlando Appollos of the now defunct Alliance of American Football league where he hit all 14 of his field goal attempts. However, his range was not tested with a long of just 44 yards. Fry did have a pretty prestigious career at South Carolina as well. Fry ended his collegiate career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 359 points. He connected on 66-of-88 field-goal attempts (75 percent) and 161-of-162 extra-point tries (99.4 percent).

As for Pinero he has the much better leg and the bigger potential for greatness if not just being a steady Eddie. His viral you-tube videos are known to most Bears fans by now where he shows amazing accuracy and distance. He also had an amazing career at Florida. This from his Wikipedia page.

During his final year of college Pinerio had the best field goal percentage in the nation, 94.4% (17-for-18).[1] He finished his career with an 88.4% (38-for-43) field goal conversion rate, which ranks first in UF history (min. 35 attempts) as he passed Bobby Raymond (87.8%, 43-of-49, 1983-84.) His 38 made field goals place him sixth all-time in Florida history. He also connected on 16 straight field goals to close the 2017 season, which tied Jeff Chandler (2001) for the second longest streak in program history. [1] He played for the Gators during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.[4]During his final year of college Pinerio had the best field goal percentage in the nation, 94.4% (17-for-18).[1] He finished his career with an 88.4% (38-for-43) field goal conversion rate, which ranks first in UF history (min. 35 attempts) as he passed Bobby Raymond (87.8%, 43-of-49, 1983-84.) His 38 made field goals place him sixth all-time in Florida history. He also connected on 16 straight field goals to close the 2017 season, which tied Jeff Chandler (2001) for the second longest streak in program history. [1] He played for the Gators during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.[4]

Pretty impressive stuff. A nearly 90% career field goal percentage puts you in the elite accuracy range. What isn’t shown here is his incredible range. He was a perfect 2 for 2 from 50 plus and 4 of 5 from 40 to 49 yards away at Florida, but can make them from much much longer as his numerous youtube video’s show, one of which he kicks a 70 yarder almost dead center between the posts. For those who haven’t seen it here is the link to that video. He is clearly the favorite to win this competition by virtue of ability, pedigree and the fact the Bears actually traded for him and may risk giving up a late round pick for him if he stays on the roster past the 5th game.

That said, there’s a reason a lot of the local beat reporters seem to think the next Bears kicker is yet to be on this roster as no one has made themselves the clear favorite from this bizarre and unprecedented kicker competition. Two names pop up immediately. The first guy and most mentioned is Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik. He was extremely impressive in the 2018 pre-season before being put on IR after a bizaare incident where he was assaulted but said he doesn’t remember what led up to it or any significant circumstance from that incident. It was enough to stash him on the IR and give the Ravens a chance to hock his services out to another team as he has no chance of beating out Justin Tucker. So, if the Bears have eyes on Vedvik they will likely need to win a bidding contest for him.

The other name is Cleveland place kicker Greg Joseph who Bears beat reporter with NBC J.J. Stankevitz went so far as to predict he would be on the roster when he did his roster projection piece a few days ago. Joseph had a nice debut season with the Browns. He did hit 17 of his 20 field goal attempts( 85%). He made 1 of 2 beyond 50 with a long of 51, 5 – 7 from 40-49, 7-7 from 30-39 and 4-4 from 20-29. He also performed in a similar weather environment the Bears play in. However, one thing to take note of is that he did miss 4 of his point after attempts (25 -29). There’s also the fact the Browns spent a pretty decent pick (5th rd.) to draft a collegiate kicker in Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert. That’s a big investment for a kicker. To put it in perspective the Bears got Bilal Nichols, Jordan Howard and Adrian Amos in that round. Three starter quality players and two that made a pro bowl. Something I would be wary of if I was Ryan Pace. I would sooner stick to Pinero rather than take someone else’s discard. There will be options at Kicker though. If Fry or Pinero don’t impress there are 10 teams carrying 2 Kickers including the green and yellow team up north into camp.

Is Mitch Good?

The second thing on this list is the progression of Mitch Trubisky. This has been another hotly contested topic by fans and media alike. The score’s sports radio talk show host Laurence Holmes devoted an entire week to the topic during MLB baseball’s all-star break. Here’s a link to Holmes’ mash-up episode taking the best parts from all of his guests during the, “Is Mitch good?” week. The summarization of all the guests were pretty unanimous. Yes, he is. Sure, there are some naysayers with Michael Lombardi being president of the Mitch is bad club. Ross Tucker also came on the score on the Bernstein and McKnight show and did not give glowing reviews of him. The real question (as the Bears 100th player on Dan Pompei and Don Pierson’s list of top 100 all time Bears and longest tenured all-time Bear and long snapper extraordinare’ Patrick Manelly pointed out) is whether Mitch can be great. I think given his skill set, his intangibles and his genuine quest to be elite the answer is clearly yes he can. However, will he?

As we know, it’s not always up to the individual himself. Jay Cutler is a prime example of this but I am not going to get into the whole Cutler debate. My point is talent and the willingness to be great doesn’t get you to greatness alone. It’s a lot about being in the right place at the right time and in the case of Trubisky it appears he hit the trifecta here. The Bears appear to have the coaching, the personnel on offense and the defense to make Trubisky a very successful player and one who should maximize every ounce of his ability. So, if he doesn’t get there he would only have himself to blame for it or he would have to befall a whole bunch of unfortunate career robbing injuries.

There are statistical facts that play on the side of the naysayers and the pro Mitch factions. Pro Football Focus has not been kind to Trubisky according to their metrics. Particularly in regards to his accuracy. Here’s a link to a piece they did on this very subject. By their metrics he’s the 32nd ranked passer from a clean pocket and 35th in percentage of drop backs rating in a negative result. Here’s a blurb from the blog.

He ranked 32nd among passers in PFF grade from a clean pocket and 35th in percentage of dropbacks that earned a negative grade. The latter variable is the most stable we have when evaluating quarterbacks and is one from which a player usually does not rebound from one season to the next. He was 30th among quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage, an accuracy measure that carries when looking at our ball-charting data, where he rated 30th in percentage of throws labeled “accurate” and 31st in percentage of throws labeled “catchable, but inaccurate” (as in he had relatively few of the former and many of the latter).

In this particular blog they actually penalized Trubisky for having a good play caller in Head Coach Matt Nagy and a good offensive line that was ranked in the top 10 according to their pass pro metrics. While most predict progression for Trubisky based on his familiarity with the offense (and that of his teammates making them more likely to make less mistakes and recognize more adjustments to the blocking schemes and routes run according to the defensive alignments up front and the coverage scheme in the secondary) they are actually predicting regression based on the fact accuracy rarely improves with Quarterbacks.

While this may be true there are circumstances not being taken into account with Trubisky like his inexperience out of college, forget in his current system. Processing more quickly will improve his accuracy as he’ll throw his passes more on time and be able to not only hit the right players in his progressions but also complete more of his anticipation routes. It will also improve just by his being able to call the correct protections to give himself a better throwing platform, as well as, calling the correct audibles. If Trubisky is in fact advanced in his mental processing of this offense there is no way he will be worse. The only thing I see derailing his progressing to elite status is if he doesn’t have the IQ to be able to process plays quickly enough and get himself and the passing offense on time.

There are some out there that actually make a case for either regression or progression. A piece recently written in the Athletic by Mike Sando forms one of those ambiguous types of conclusion. Sando has done this before when with ESPN where he groups Quarterbacks by 4 tiers. Tier one being the highest, 4 being the least highest. Sando polls a combination of 55 NFL coaches and evaluators and groups the Quarterbacks and places them in their tier by percentage of votes. In this piece Trubisky is in the third tier which on the surface isn’t exactly flattering. However, Trubisky also had one of the biggest jumps from 2017 to 2018 ranking as having the 4th biggest jumps ranking only behind Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes, Baltimore’s Andrew Luck and L.A.’s Jared Goff. That’s a pretty impressive group of Quarterbacks to be associated with. His jump was +0.47 (3.54 to 3.07) from 2017 to 2018. You can read the full article here. On a recent interview with Dan Bernstein on the score (You can listen to it here) Sando admitted that even though Trubisky ranked 24th on this list the difference from 24th to say 14th is not that big of a distance apart. With just a slight improvement he can easily jump into the 2nd tier and with a big progression he could even jump into the top tier.

Most analysts seem to put Trubisky in the mid tier of starters which is completely fair and probably where he should be to this point in his career. However, this is solely based on his drop backs. When accounting for his ability to run and get big chunks on the ground to extend the sticks and get first downs, as well as run some into the end zone he should inch his way closer and maybe even sneak into the top tier of the league. Couple that with his increasing comfort in the pocket and familiarity with the offense and defenses around the league his jump could be game changing for the Bears and make them an annual Superbowl contender during the career run of Trubisky paired with Nagy.

Conclusion:

Some of the negative narratives out there have to do with the loss of Vic Fangio and the natural likely regression the defense might make especially with it’s turnover ratio. I personally do not agree with these narratives and actually have a blog in the hopper on why I think the defense will be even better. So stay tuned for that. Some believe the loss of Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan will also loom large in that defensive regression which I also disagree with. While Callahan is a better player than Buster Skrine you could always count on an IR stint of some sort at some point from him. Skrine is the opposite. He is very durable. His issue is being overly aggressive and committing penalties and getting beat on double moves. You hope the penalties can be coached out of him and the defense behind him help minimize his getting beat while maintaining the aggressive nature the Bears clearly liked in him when they signed him this off-season.

As for the Amos thing, while being a very sound player and someone who you can count on being assignment sound he is woefully over-rated. Most seem to take the PFF metric love for him as gospel. While it is true he is less likely to make mistakes he is also less likely to make big time impact plays which is why I feel replacing him with Hassan (Ha-Ha) Clinton Dix is actually an upgrade. While most experts tend to look at his deficiencies and deem him a down-grade I see it as the opposite. He may not be as good of a tackler but he creates turnovers. In 80 career games Dix has 14 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumbles recovered. By contrast Amos has 3 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries in 60 games. This is why I did not include the defensive regression as an issue to be wary of. As a matter of fact, I will go so far as to say I think Chuck Pagano will be a better fit for this defensive personnel than Vic Fangio was. Just some of the things I’ll cover in my next blog. Keep an eye out for it as I’ll have it tapped out and posted in the next day or two.

If the Bears figure out the kicker spot, get a big bump in the development of Trubisky and as with all teams stay healthy I see absolutely no scenario keeping the Bears out of Superbowl contention. As for the success of this season for the Bears the question is very similar to the is Mitch good one. Not will it be successful, but how successful will it be?

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