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Chicago Bears: Mid-Season Report Card

The “Monsters of the Midway” entered the 2017 season knowing it is in the middle of a rebuild.  This isn’t a team that was looking to “tank” though.  The Bears’ rebuild consist of trying to be competitive throughout the season.  It’s a way of “filtering out the excess fat” from their roster.

Quarterback:

Entering the season, the Bears faithful knew they’d be in for some nonsense.  Signing Mike Glennon in free agency and moving up in the first round to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was a recipe for disaster from day one.  Glennon was never going to get a fair shake, as the fans wanted to see the younger player and the media made Glennon’s spot on the team seem useless.  Glennon’s play on the field didn’t help to quiet that noise either.   Mike Glennon had a completion percentage of 66.4% but that was because he seemed to scared to throw it downfield and basically dumped it off to running backs and tight ends all day.   Ultimately his 8 total turnovers did him in and got him benched, which of course led to the starting of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky.  Things didn’t get much better.  Trubisky’s completion percentage is under 50% and in four games he has two touchdown passes and four turnovers.  Glennon and Trubisky don’t have a lot to work with in terms of coaching or talent (keep reading) but in just looking at production from the position a solid D minus even seems generous.

Running Back:

If it wasn’t for Jordan Howard, the Bears wouldn’t have much of an offense this season.  With that being said, it’s not as if he’s putting up “elite-RB” numbers.  His 83 yards a game coupled with his 4.1 yards per average is consistent work at least and you can’t knock him considering he’s being run into the ground.  In the eight games he’s played, he’s already carried the ball for 162 times.  Bears fans fell in love with Tarik Cohen and his 5’6″ frame in week one. Then after that, there hasn’t been much to applaud him for.  He seems to try to do too much when he has the ball now and the Bears just aren’t creative enough on offense to devise schemes for him.  The Bears should look passed Cohen on the depth chart and start handing the ball off to Benny Cunningham more.  Cunningham is more of the traditional back, who can take some of the pounding off of Jordan Howard.  Because of Howard’s toughness alone, and him alone in this backfield, you have to give it a grade of a B.

Wide Receiver/Tight End:

Nothing to see here folks.  Even if Kevin White and Cameron Merdith didn’t suffer season ending injuries, it’s hard to believe it would be a much better group of wide-outs than the one that’s currently presented.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if they aren’t getting opportunities because the play calling is so bad, or if they’re just not that good.  The loss of Zach Miller was not only horrific to watch but also took away the most reliable target on the team.  Rookie Adam Shaheen was supposed to be one of those “sleeper picks” in the draft, and so far he has one catch which was a two-yard touchdown reception. . .yay.  Hopefully the acquisition of Dontrelle Inman will help boast this group but it’s pretty pitiful.  Easy grade of an F.

Offensive Line:

Glennon and Trubisky have combined for 19 sacks this season but when watching the tape, the blame isn’t all on the offensive line.  This is a tough group led by Kyle Long and Josh Sitton.  Cody Whitehair slips up once in a while but all in all he’s continuing to be a solid contributor.  The Bears have the third most rushing yards in the league and the backs are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards a carry.  If healthy this is a good offensive line who’s grade is a B.

Defensive Line:

If there is a mid-season MVP for this Bears team, I’d have to go with Akiem Hicks.  Hicks leads the team with 7 sacks, demands attention and is the player on this defensive front who offensive coordinators must plan around.  His All-Pro-Like play has opened up more opportunities for Leonard Floyd and Eddie Goldman.  The Bears are allowing on 3.9 yards a rush this season and most of it is due to this defensive front that finds itself in the opposition’s back field more times than not. Grade A.

Linebackers/Secondary:

A healthy Danny Trevathan is a welcomed sight to this defense.  He leads the team with 52 total tackles and definitely has added that “aggressive nature” the Bears defense has been lacking in recent history.  Rookie safety Eddie Jackson came out of Alabama with a lot of talent but also a history including injuries so many were wary of him.  He could prove to be the safety the Bears have been needing for years if he keeps playing at the level he’s been playing at.  Even if you take away that game when he had two pick-sixes he’s still been playing like one of the steals of this year’s draft.  His pairing with Adrian Amos can be the building blocks for rebuilding a secondary.  Fans want Kyle Fuller to be “the guy” – but I don’t see it.  Ever.  Regardless, this is a physical group of players from the linebackers to the secondary who will get a grade of B plus.

Coaching:

First the good:

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell both get an A for their efforts this year.  Donatell has really got the young guys in the secondary playing with confidence and as mentioned above they seem to be developing quickly into legit NFL talents.  Fangio has been one of the NFL’s best defensive coordinators for years and it’s his defense that has kept the Bears in games, even when the offense is trying to give them away.

Now the bad:

Head coach John Fox, quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains all get a D at the midpoint of the 2017 season. The offensive play calling is as predictable as a New Year’s hangover.   “Run, Run, Pass, Punt,” appears to be the offensive call to arms, especially since the team made the switch to Mitchell Trubisky.  Trubiksy has displayed some arm strength and the ability to throw on the run, but the Bears refuse to open the playbook for the struggling rookie.  This all falls on John Fox, and seriously nobody even knows if he’s mentally checked out already or not.  Rumors have been floating around since the draft that he’s a lame duck coach this season and they’ll be looking to change the culture next season.  Bears fans everywhere hope so.

After calculating the grades, the Bears get an overall mid-season grade of a C.  That is both a surprising and “not-so-bad” grade for a team with a 3-5 record who at the beginning of the season was looked at as an NFL “doormat.”  The last 2-3 years saw a Bears team that would quit, especially defensively.  The re-emergence of the Monster of the Midway can give the fan-base hope.  Just imagine if this team had a decent offense what they could look like. . . They’ll be lucky to finish the season with seven wins, but if they keep playing like they are, there is definitely a core here to build on.

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

Chicago Bears 2017 Outlook

It’s that time of year for Bears fans.  You know, the premature-Doomsday talk for the Bears’ up-coming season.  The annual and agonizing punchlines about the Bears weak front office, past draft mishaps and the whole “Jay Cutler” era.  And in 2017, lets not fail to mention the touch of awful comedy bestowed upon the Bears: how a team who won three games last year ended up with one of the toughest schedules (on paper) this year.   It’s business as usual for Chicago as it appears they will once again be expected to be bringing-up-the-rear of the NFC North.

Vegas is giving Chicago a chance to be better than last year, which isn’t saying much after a 3-13 season.  The over/under for total wins is set at 5.5, which seems just about right considering this team’s secondary and wide out group.  Something that the Bears do have in their favor this season is that they are only traveling an estimated 8300 miles this season, which is the fifth lowest in the NFL this year (in some kind of Chicago Bears luck, they play all four teams who travel less than they do this year).  With a young team, this should work out in their favor more than not.

But aside from ridiculous positives this writer is trying to find, let’s look at this offense.   The Bears did some pretty confusing things in the off-season but when you sit back and think about it, they did it right. . . at least you’d hope.  They signed free agent QB Mike Glennon to a three year $45 million dollar contract, consequently outbidding nobody for his services and then months later they moved up in the draft to take QB Mitch Trubisky out of UNC.  A one year starter who the Bears say won’t see the time of day this season.  And let’s not forget they went and signed everyone’s favorite klutz, Mark Sanchez.  Aye.  Best case scenario is that Glennon puts up decent enough numbers and doesn’t get hurt all year.  The Bears signed Sanchez for two reasons: to not have Glennon worry about his starting job and to help mentor (yes mentor, look at how good he was as a cheerleader for Dak Prescott in Dallas last year) the young Trubiksy.

The issue here is, if Glennon struggles – and there’s a good chance he might – the Bears fans will be screaming for Trubisky or head coach John Fox’s head.  Fox is saying Trubisky will remain number three on the depth chart but Fox is also coaching for his job this time around so if Glennon struggles, he’ll likely put his future in the hands of Trubisky rather than Sanchez.

The Bears offensive line, if healthy, can prove to be one of the better surprises of the 2017 season.   As of right now Cody Whitehair remains at center for the Bears, but Hroniss Grasu is healthy now and he was slated to be the starter in 2016 before he got hurt.  Whitehair is versatile enough to move around the line and the Bears have shown that they will put Kyle Long, and his intensity, pretty much anywhere along that O-Line.  Anything can happen here, and the depth is the most legit that it’s been in a long time.

Jordan Howard enters his sophomore season behind this offensive line and he is looking to prove that his rookie season of over 1300 rushing yards at 5.2 yards a clip, was no fluke.  The depth at running back is interesting – Jeremy Langford who not too long ago was thought to be their guy moving forward took a step back last season.  Kadeem Carey who writer Kevin Fishbain  of the Athletic pointed out “has never rushed for 160 yards in a season” may struggle to be anything more than a special teams coverage guy, and rookie Tarik Cohen, all five foot, six inches of him – is a fan and camp favorite.

The wide outs on the Bears are a collection of under achievers looking for one more shot.  Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright all had promising careers at one point but either due to injury or just “not being as good as advertised” – things haven’t worked out their way.  Folks love Cameron Meredith, but I’d be careful to fall in love with an undrafted rookie out of Illinois State who probably wouldn’t get a chance to play wide receiver on just about any other roster than this one in the NFL.  The Bears know their wide outs are more boom than bust which is why they signed free agent tight end Dion Sims who. . . oh yeah that’s right, he’s a bust too.  Zach Miller has been okay at the tight end spot, but everyone expects the Bears to showcase rookie Adam Shaheen early and often.

Defensively, it’s all about what this front seven can do.  General manager Ryan Pace didn’t think too hard in the first round of last years draft and went with the obvious choice in Leonard Floyd who should – excuse me – will be a defensive star for years to come in this league. Veteran Willie Young has kept himself in Floyd’s ear, pushing him all through camp, apparently.  Young is a versatile defensive OLB who should probably get a lot more credit than he gets. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is primed to have a big season this year, which should do wonders for the likes of Jonathan Bullard who needs to come on strong early this year.  Jerrell Freeman is in his second year in this defense and will find his footing in it as well.  Injuries to Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan bring Bears fans close to tears because if those guys were added onto this front seven, it becomes one of the most formidable in the league.

The secondary though. . .

Can we just stop waiting on Kyle Fuller?  The corner back had two good games in his rookie year and people treat him as if he’s the next Charles Tillman. Enough. The Bears signed veteran safety Quintin Demps to a three year $13 million dollar contract, with five million guaranteed.  It took Demps 8 years to have his best season and he did it with a great defense last year (Texans) – he doesn’t create for himself but is opportunistic.  Rookie safety Eddie Jackson from Alabama could be a legit steal in the draft if he can stay healthy.  He has all the tools to be a starter in the NFL but injuries in college made his draft stock plummet.  There is really nothing to get excited about at the moment with this Bears secondary.  There is a lot of youth fighting to get on this squad.  Hopefully, at least one of these kids can be like catching lightning in a bottle.  The front seven can help make this secondary look a lot better than they actually are.

At the end of it all, Bears fans have got to stay focused on what’s really important here.  Developing the youth, and looking toward the future.  This season is tough, Minnesota’s a good team and Green Bay is Green Bay. . . The Bears have to focus on the win-able games and build from there.  Six wins – maybe even seven are not out of the realm of possibility for this team. Expect a stronger second half of the season from this team and a positive look into 2018.

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Panthers Packing A Peanut Punch in 2015

Charles Tillman was born, not raised in Chicago, but one could never tell by the way her wore that city’s name.  Tillman was the personification of the term class act.  He played the game with the class, was a leader on the field and was also known for his charity work in and around the city of Chicago.  Tillman, a Walter Payton Man of the Year award recipient,  was known for his “Peanut Punch” technique in Chicago, in which he would create turnovers by literally punching the football out of an opposing ball carrier’s hands.   Now at 34 years of age, and with his last two seasons being cut short due to triceps injuries, Tillman now finds himself out of Chicago and now in Carolina.

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Some thought that if Tillman was not to return to Chicago, it would be to play in Tampa Bay with his former head coach Lovie Smith, but Tillman opted to play for his former defensive coach, Ron Rivera who is now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

Defensively, Tillman finds himself in a position  better than that of Chicago’s.  Although they weren’t as dominant a defense as they were in 2013, the 2014 Panthers defense kept them close in games where their offense sputtered.  They are led by the best linebacker in the league in Luke Kuechly and a defensive line anchored by the likes of Star Lotulelei and  Charles Johnson.  The Panthers decided to part ways with Greg Hardy leaving a huge hole to fill in their pass rush efforts which they really didn’t address in free agency.  What they did address was their secondary by signing Teddy Williams, Kurt Coleman and Thomas DeCoud.  Okay they addressed it – they didn’t necessarily drop the world on it’s head with those signings. . .

Their latest addition was that of Charles Tillman, who brings an understanding of Ron Rivera’s schemes and the savvy of a veteran, who may not be the athlete he was 10 years ago, but is still a very serviceable piece when healthy.  Look at how good Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller looked when Tillman was playing and compare that to when Tillman was out with injury.  Things became harder for the rookie because he lacked the instinct, “know-how” and physicality that Tillman brings on every snap.

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ProFootballTalk.Com reported that Tillman’s arrival to Carolina had more to do than just Ron Rivera: “Tillman said that defensive backs coach Steve Wilks was one of his closest confidantes when his daughter Tiana was having heart problems which led to a transplant. .. that’s similar to the role Till holds with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whose young son had to undergo multiple heart surgeries as well.”

The NFC South was a laughing stock last season.  The Panthers finished the season as the NFC South champions with a record of 7-8-1.   Considering who he’d line up against in this division, Tillman, even at 34, can be a valuable asset to this Panthers team.

Considering each team, let’s start with the Saints:  After last season, it’s apparent that Drew Brees’ reputation far exceeds his actual ability to play at an elite level anymore and as far as receivers, Tillman can keep the likes of Colston bottled up quite easily.  The Buccaneers will have a rookie quarterback under the very conservative watch of head coach Lovie Smith, so he won’t ask his rookie to do much and no matter the receiver lined up against Tillman – if it’s Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans – it will be more of a physical battle than a battle of speed, which plays right into Tillman’s hands.  Let’s not forget that while the whole world was scared of Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Tillman frustrated Megatron more than any other corner did in the league – and it was because Tillman loves physical play – even against the likes of Calvin Johnson.  The team that may pose the biggest threat to Tillman and this Panthers secondary are the Atlanta Falcons, who come equipped with a quarterback in Matt Ryan who may very well be approaching that next level of quarterback.  Their wideout tandem of Julio Jones and Roddy White , when healthy, can still be the most difficult duo in the league.  Julio Jones proves time and time again that he is un-coverable while Roddy White, doesn’t mind physical play or going over the middle.

The truth about Charles Tillman going to the Panthers is this:  He is more a loss to the Bears than he is a gain for the Panthers.  The Bears needed Tillman to help in the growth of their young corner Kyle Fuller – and now with new faces up and down the organization there is nobody there for the fans to relate to anymore.  Tillman was the last true piece of that NFC Champion Bears team, Tillman was the reminder of what this Bears team is years from becoming.   It was tough enough for Bears fans when they realized that the end had come for Brian Urlacher to be wearing a Bears jersey – and now, not once – but twice this year – the fan base was hit with the departures of two fan favorites : Brandon Marshall and Charles Tillman.

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Tough times lay ahead for the Bears and in truth, Charles Tillman doesn’t deserve to have to sit through it.  He’s done his time in Chicago and gave 100% every time out on the field.  He deserves to go out with the familiarity and comfort that he now has in Carolina – and he deserves to at least play on a team with playoff hopes – not one in the middle of rebuilding.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

“Tetsuo and Youth” Album Review

Lupe Fiasco has had an interesting ride in his career.  In the early goings he was looked upon by many to be “the next big thing.”  He is without a doubt one of the more lyrical rappers of the last decade and has a confident approach on the microphone.   He has worked with the best in the industry and has been grammy nominated multiple times but for some reason Lupe seems to be lost in the shuffle.  Mostly of his own doing.

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Lupe has been politically outspoken and has been critical of the hip hop community as a whole.  At times he comes off preachy while other times he comes off as if he doesn’t care if you understand what he’s trying to tell you.  On “Tetsuo and Youth” Lupe runs through tales of growing up, the streets and knowledge of self.   Lupe is an intellectual wordsmith and likes to flex his skills as often as possible.

After the albums intro comes a lyrical onslaught called “Mural,” a nearly nine minute song where Lupe runs straight through the beat with no hook delivering rapid word play with lines like: “Reign like queens that reign over made men / And not Queen like Queen killer, rhapsody bohemian Queen / But Queen like white glove wave hand / and not wave hand like it’s a heat wave/ so you make a fan by waving your hand / I’m talking wave like you sayin’ ‘hey . . .man’ / not hay for horses and hoarse like you almost voiceless / you gotta treat your vocal chords like it’s a fortress.”  

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The song “Dots and Lines” which opens with a cool banjo solo is Lupe’s warning (or self tale) of being wary of signing your signature on any contract’s dotted line.  He equates it to selling your soul “ To make gold from garbage is not the alchemical point of this math / Truth be told it’s the pursuit of gold that turns the goals of men into trash/ The soul’s gold and they turning gold to cash / and your reflection is your connection to more collections of more directions and paths.”  Lupe’s tone is not one of being “preachy” on “Testuo and Youth”, but more like “listen if you wanna learn something. ”

Lupe takes an interesting concept of taking the Virgin Mary’s plight and comparing it to single mother’s raising their son’s in bad situations.  For many this concept may come out forced and stretched, but Lupe – ever the song writer – delivers three short verses with each line getting to the point.   He does something similar on the album’s single “Deliver” in which he playfully describes how the pizza man won’t come to his neighborhood to deliver any food because of the surrounding conditions.  The “pizza man” isn’t the focus of the song though – Lupe details everything about his neighborhood that makes it avoidable for most :”The ghetto was  a physical manifestation / Of hate in a place where ethnicity determines your placement / a place that defines your station / remind you n*ggas your place is the basement.” 

Lupe speaks to younger folks in this “selfie-era” who are trying to grow up too fast on “Adoration of the Magi”.  He paints the picture that the best thing you have is your youth and innocents so there is no reason to rush to be an adult and all that comes with it.  Within “Adoration” Lupe delivers his most remarkable set of bars on the album: “You not the first person / the first person from your first cursin’ / to your first cursive / and your curse words is in the curve version / it occurs virgin is the word version / that refers perfect to the first person in the third verse, who’s really me / In the third person but prefers the first one, that’s me again.”  Wrap your head around that one.

The problem with the album is the lack of a high point.  Although the production is good it’s the same vibe on every track.  There is a lot of self-indulgence on the part of Lupe and the album is actually difficult to get through without becoming bored or losing complete focus.  Tracks like “No Scratches” which details trying to get out of a bad relationship and “Little Death” which has “Preachy Lupe” back in full form talking about religion and politics – make it easy for one to get bored with.  Once again it’s not the message that’s boring just the overall presentation.

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Even “Blur My Hands” which features Guy Sebastian falls way short of their last collaboration “Battle Scars.”  The hook is corny and no matter how many times you play it back, you end up losing interest half way through.   “Chopper” is a track that has no place on this album as it’s a nine minute posse track with six rappers one can care less about (Glasses Malone, anyone?. . .)

This album is difficult to break down because lyrically, Lupe has not lost a thing.  His concepts are on point and his persona is evident and honest – the album’s production although creative becomes too repetitive and laid back.   If there were more tracks like “Prisoner 1 and 2” which was produced by MoeZ’art.  The track uses a simple piano loop accompanied with strings and escalates with a more violent string arrangement when the beat switches up.  The song itself has Lupe once again masterful with his wordplay describing how the jail system itself is corrupt and how these conditions do nothing for the sake of rehabilitation: “They made electric chairs for his dying days / last meals, no appeals for him to try and stay / On Death Row like Suge and the late Pac / Maybe he can dig a tunnel out of A Block / And wear gloves for the razor-wired gate top / Scared thugs going crazy in a caged box.” 

“Tetsuo and Youth” separates Lupe from the masses in terms of talent and although lyrically it is hard to find flaws in what he does, the overall feel of Tetsuo is one that can be unfortunately easily forgotten.  If Lupe had the production of his “Lasers” album, combined with the concept of this album – it could’ve been something really special.

Rating 7 out of 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio