August 27, 2009

Bear(s who need to be put) down, Part II

If you missed Part I (the defense), click here, but I'm back with the offensive version -- yes, my writings are frequently offensive, but here I mean pertaining to the offense -- of three Bears I'm hoping will NOT make the final roster. Again, I don't wish any of these players ill, it's just that I believe there are candidates that are more deserving of a spot, and when it comes to cutdown time, there is no room for sentiment. Football can be a cruel game, and blogging about it is even crueler; if it weren't, I'd have absolutely zero interest.

Rashied Davis, wide receiver
Really, what I care about most about this preseason is that both Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox make the team. If either of them are let go, I will be devastated/furious. Especially if they keep Davis around.

Davis, who I thought was very good in 2006, has slipped badly the past two seasons. Though his numbers last year weren't horrible (35 catches, 445 yards, 2 TDs), anyone who regularly watched the Bears will recall that Davis flat couldn't catch at times. His seven drops tied for 8th in the NFC, and of the other players with seven or more -- Terrell Owens (69 receptions-1052 yards-10 TDs), Calvin Johnson (78-1331-12), Roddy White (88-1382-7), Marques Colston (47-760-5), Greg Jennings (80-1292-9), Santana Moss (79-1044-6), Muhsin Muhammad (65-923-5), and Bernard Berrian (48-964-7) -- only Colston didn't pretty much double Davis' production across the board.

Some might argue that amid all the uncertainty and inexperience at wide receiver for the Bears, QB Jay Cutler needs proven targets. But what exactly has Davis proven? That he can't catch? As far as I'm concerned, you're always better off going with a young player who might be good than a veteran that you know isn't. But time and time again, general managers and coaches choose the veteran, preferring the known quantity (even if that quantity's known to be shitty) to the risk of the unknown.

One argument for Davis' roster inclusion (seen here on is that he's a "four-phase special teams contributor". But is he really that good on any of the four phases? Do you recall him making many spectacular open-field tackles, or delivering any Devin Hester-springing blocks? I refuse to believe that he is somehow irreplaceable, and that a combination of Knox, Iglesias, and some of the young DBs couldn't do just as well, if not better.

Plus, though he's only entering his fifth season, due to his Arena Football League-detour, Davis is 30. Has any receiver, let alone a lousy one, ever gotten better in his 30s? Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Brandon Rideau, Devin Aromashadu, and rookies Iglesias, Knox, and Derek Kinder are better options than Davis. All are at least four years younger, and other than Hester (who's 5-foot-11) are at least three inches taller than the 5-9 Davis. I'm guessing they're all faster too. It's time to cut ties with Rashied.

Adrian Peterson, running back
I know. It's terrible to want this guy to be put out to pasture. Having persevered through a debilitating stutter, "The Other Adrian Peterson" is one of the best stories in the NFL. But at some point, the Bears are going to have to let him go, and I think that time is now.

Peterson is currently fourth on the depth chart at running back, and there's really no way he's going to get any playing time at the position, barring injury. With Matt Forte, Kevin Jones, and Garrett Wolfe all employing different running styles, there's really nothing that Peterson can add. Plus his performance covering kicks, which was very good for several years, has fallen off over the last few seasons, and Wolfe has actually displaced him as the running back/special-teams-tackling-machine. Besides, the Bears will need the extra roster spot to keep some of the receivers I mentioned above. Peterson is also 30, and we all know what happens to really good running backs when they hit 30; the prognosis for mediocre ones can't be encouraging.

On the positive side, getting cut would open up my dream scenario of Peterson going to the Vikings -- who might even be interested in him, given the depth of his knowledge of the Bears offense -- and backing up his namesake:
And Adrian Peterson comes in to give Adrian Peterson a breather. Peterson has looked great today, but he appeared to be a little winded so Peterson comes into the game. You know, this Adrian Peterson -- the one in the game now -- is actually the leading rusher in Division I history, with 6,559 yards at Georgia Southern. Peterson swarmed after a short gain, making it 2nd-and-9, and here comes Adrian Peterson back in the game.
Alright, maybe it's not that awesome.

Brett Basanez, quarterback
Obviously, with Jay Cutler at the helm, the Bears look better at the quarterback position than they have at any time during my life. But the lack of depth scares the shit out of me.

I like Caleb Hanie, however. Over the last two preseasons, he's looked really good whenever he's gotten on the field. But I'm not quite certain that he should be the #2 on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. And even if he is, the Bears need to have a more viable and/or promising quarterback that Basanez at #3.

Since Basanez and Hanie are the only two backup QB's on the Bears, this would mean getting someone else's reject after rosters are cut down. That's fine. I just have to believe they can do better than Basanez, who has shown absolutely nothing. Sure, it's only preseason, but for a backup QB, that is their season. And in 11 passing attempts, Basanez has as many interceptions (3) as completions, and that's playing against the opposition's third-stringers at best. In his one career regular season appearance (also spanning 11 attempts) Basanez has a 30.9 passer rating. Small sample sizes to be sure, but that is not getting it done.

So who should the Bears sign instead? I don't know, specifically. Basanez is 26, so at the very least they could get someone younger. Or a Damon Huard-type backup. Anybody. Minus Chad Hutchinson. Or Jonathan Quinn. Whoever it is, don't let Terry Shea decide.

So that's it for the O. I don't have as many guys I'd like to see go on offense as I do for the defense, where I could have easily gone deeper than three. There are, however, several offensive players that I'm hoping will claim a roster spot. In addition to Iglesias and Knox, I'm hoping Rideau and, to a lesser extent, Aromashadu make it. Also, I will be very disappointed if enormous tight end Kellen Davis is somehow screwed out of a roster spot, which could happen if the Bears opt to keep free-agent signee Michael Gaines instead. Given that Davis has three catches this preseason -- all for first downs, and totaling 56 yards -- to Gaines zero, that seems unlikely.

Finally, I'd love to see rookie free agent fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou make the team. Not only is he a punishing lead blocker from the illustrious University of California, Berkeley, but the Bears could really use someone with a few apostrophes in his name.

August 25, 2009


Thanks, Cubs. Really making me look astute.

August 24, 2009

Cubs: No pulse, still alive

I can't believe I'm writing this, but the Cubs aren't done.

Sure, they've played terribly pretty much all season, and are 8 games behind the Cardinals. I know their run differential (+19) is only seventh-best in the league. And I've seen the National League wild card standings, which currently look like this:

San Francisco..67..58..4

And yet, despite it all, the Cubs still have a chance. That's not to say that they're going to make the playoffs. But the window is still open.

I thought yesterday's series finale against the Dodgers was the biggest game of the season. Win, and the Cubs come home above .500. Lose and kiss the season goodbye.

How could one loss have been so demoralizing? I don't know -- I just write the shit, and that's how I felt. Anyway, with 40 games to play, the Cubs now need to go 28-12 -- a tidy .700 winning percentage -- to finish with 90 wins, a total that typically would put them in the playoffs.

But why in the world would I think the Cubs, at 2 games over .500 with three-fourths of the season gone, might play like world beaters in the fourth quarter? Well, have you looked at the schedule?

First of all, it is very home-heavy the rest of the way, with 24 games at Wrigley -- where they sport a .614 winning percentage -- versus just 16 on the road. But it's not just the location of the games, it's also the quality of the opponent that gives the Cubs a shot. Here are their opponents over the next 23 games, with number of games and location (home or away) in parentheses:

Nats (3H)
Mets (3H)
Astros (3H)
White Sox (1H)
Mets (3A)
Pirates (3A)
Reds (3H)
Brewers (4H)

For as crappy as the Cubs have played, they've been good at home and they've been very good against teams that are very bad (4-0 vs. Washington, 8-4 vs. Cincy, 9-5 vs. Houston, 6-2 vs. Pittsburgh). I have to think that for those 23 games, 17-6 is a remote yet somewhat realistic possibility. And at 79-66, they would be back in contention.

Then they'd need to go 11-6 the rest of the way to get to 90 wins. Could they do it against this slate?

Cards (3A)
Brewers (3A)
Giants (4A)
Pirates (4H)
D-Backs (3H)

No. Or at least Probably not. That 10-game trip that opens the stretch run is a killer, at least as difficult as their last 11 road games -- four against the Rockies and the Dodgers, three versus the Padres -- a span in which they won just three games. But they might not even need to get to 90 wins to make the playoffs (conversely, they may also need more, making this discussion largely moot) and they should roll in those last seven games at Wrigley against two teams playing out the string. Either way, the schedule before the trip gives the Cubs a legitimate shot to put themselves squarely in the wild card mix, and if they're back in contention in three weeks, that means they were not dead at this moment, regardless of the final outcome.

Unfortunately, while the schedule gives me some reasons for hope, the team has given me none. They have barely shown any signs of life all season, so there's no reason to think they'll start now. But there are two tiny slivers glinting in the late-summer sun:

1. The Cubs' best stretches of the season were May 1 to May 16, when they went 11-3, and July 11 to August 4 (21-10). Obviously, neither was close to the kind of sustained excellence they'd need to show now, but... Alright, so this is horrible, cherry-picking blogging at its worst, but let's just imagine those two stretches came back-to-back. That's a 32-13 record and a .711 winning percentage. Sure, it would have to be a statistical anomaly of enormous proportions to play their best ball of the season for such a huge chunk of games, but it's not quite impossible, either.

2. If the Cubs are ever going to do it -- and by that I mean actually win a championship -- wouldn't this have to be exactly how it would have to happen? If and when they end this drought, won't it have to be when everyone has completely counted them out? That's how these things end, with fucking miracles (see: 2004 Boston Red Sox). So while this might not the year it happens, when it does it's going to be under circumstances that are just as unlikely.

Yes, the club has shown nothing to this point, but that doesn't matter going forward. While it is an indicator that they won't take an advantage of the opportunity, it does not mean that the opportunity doesn't exist. These next 40 games are a chance to re-start the season, to channel the team they had in the 2008 regular season and play like the National League's best. Will it happen? I doubt it.

But it could.

August 11, 2009

Bear(s who need to be put) down


After coming close to landing a full-time position, it turns out I'm going to have plenty of time to blog again. So let's talk about the Bears.

I love the promise of training camp. Basically I root for any rookies, and hope that underperforming veterans will finally be shown the door. While it may seem cruel to hope for someone's livelihood to end, it is so someone else's can begin. Besides, I haven't gotten any sympathy cards from these guys during my unemployment, so why should I give a crap about them? Having said that, here are three Bears -- one from each position group on the defense -- that I hope will not make the team.

Dusty Dvoracek, defensive line
I like Dvoracek, but c'mon. The guy cannot avoid injuries. Last year was by far his healthiest, and he still sustained a season-ending injury in the 12th game. The previous year, he suffered his season-ending injury in the game's first season, the year before that in the second game... of the preseason. So in three years -- that's 48 possible regular-season games -- he's successfully navigated 11. While he's talented, the Bears cannot afford to keep handing a roster spot to a guy that clearly can't stay on the field.

Keep in mind, the injuries are not some professional fluke with Dvoracek. Recalling that this crap dated well before he was selected in the third round in 2006, I decided to dig up his pre-draft scouting report, and found this phrase:
Durability is also a major issue.
And this:
Dvoracek played in nine games as a true freshman in 2001 and had surgery following that season to repair a torn right labrum. He started one of the 12 games that he played as a sophomore in 2002, when he was bothered most of the season by a lingering toe injury. Dvoracek emerged as a 14-game starter during his junior season in 2003, when he finished with 40 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Dvoracek started the first two games of the 2004 season before being dismissed from the program on September 14th, 2004 because of an off-the-field incident. He was reportedly involved in two other fights during his first three seasons at Oklahoma. Dvoracek received a medical hardship in 2004 and underwent counseling for alcohol problems. He missed the spring game in 2005 with a torn bicep muscle but returned healthy as a fulltime starter in 2005.
When the Bears drafted Dvoracek, Jerry Angelo famously said:
"There were character issues. There were some bad decisions he made. (But) we looked into those extensively and we are real comfortable. ... I will stake my reputation personally on his character at this point."
Well, lucky for Angelo's sterling reputation, Dvoracek's character certainly hasn't been an issue. As for his health... Shouldn't we have read between the lines, and seen Angelo's unwillingness to stake his reputation on Dvoracek's durability? At this point, I'd have to say yes.

Anyway, last year the Bears kept a total of nine defensive linemen. Now Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, Mark Anderson, and the jovial Marcus Harrison are likely locks, as are rookies Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton, given their draft status. That's nine right there. I don't see how you get rid of any of them in favor of Dvoracek. So barring (someone else's) injury, he would appear to be squeezed out of a job.

However, because of Harris' uncertain health status, maybe the Bears decide to keep 10 d-linemen this year. That might put Dvoracek back on track. But do the Bears really want TWO
injury-riddled defensive tackles? Wouldn't Matt Toeaina be a better alternative? Toeaina has never had a serious injury, in college or the pros, and is three-and-a-half years younger than the 28-year-old Dvoracek. Plus, when you make "Toeaina" possessive, it sounds like Toe-anus. What more do you want, people?

Hunter Hillenmeyer, linebacker
What, exactly, does this guy do well? I realize that the strong-side linebacker -- Hillenmeyer's position for most of his Bears tenure -- has mostly funneling responsibilities in the Bears scheme, but shouldn't the guy make a play at least every once in a while? Do you ever remember Hillenmeyer making a play? Ever? Seriously, I can't remember a single, beyond-routine play from Hillenmeyer in his six years with the Bears.

Since Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are obviously locks, that leaves Jamar Williams, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach, rookie Marcus Freeman, and Hillenmeyer to battle it out for the remaining spots. Williams and Tinoisamoa are likely in, and if the Bears keep six LBs like they did last year, I'd much rather have Freeman (23) and Roach (24) than the 28-year-old Hillenmeyer. I know it'll screw up the Bears' Vanderbilt posse, but it's time for the Bears to move on.

Josh Bullocks, defensive back
With Mike Brown packing up his injuries and moving to Kansas City, the safety position and its perceived lack of depth/talent has gotten a lot of attention off-season. I think the Bears made one of their best recent decisions by moving Danieal Manning back to free safety. Manning gets a bad rap because of a blown coverage in the Super Bowl, but I think he's got the potential to be a very good player back there. He's fast as hell -- faster even than Devin Hester or Johnny Knox, according to some teammates -- and because of that he can really pack a punch in the secondary. That the coaching staff sent him to purgatory after the Super Bowl was ridiculous. Yes, he made a mistake, and it was the Super Bowl. But his mistake didn't cost the Bears that game; the fact that they couldn't stop the run and couldn't make a big play on offense did. Besides, blown coverages happen all the time in the NFL. Hell, Charles Tillman (who I love, by the way) blew some coverage in spectacular fashion last season, a play which might have cost the Bears a playoff spot. I know I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again: That veterans are allowed to play through their mistakes, while rookies are constantly pulled for them, makes absolutely no sense. It should be the veterans from whom mistakes are unacceptable, not the young guys. This drives me most crazy in basketball, but it applies here too.

Anyway, Manning's a lock. So, probably, are Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz (though I'm not sure either, especially the latter, should be). Last year the Bears kept nine defensive backs, four safeties and four corners, plus one who-knows-what in Manning. Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher, Zack Bowman, and rookie D.J. Moore are likely going to be four of the corners, with versatile Corey Graham, who was also tried at safety during the offseason and might end up being the nickelback, thrown in as well. That leaves one (I suppose two is a possibility, given Tillman's uncertain status) spot left for corners Trumaine McBride, Marcus Hamilton, and Woodny Turenne, and safeties Bullocks and rookie Al Afalava.

I'm rooting for Afalava.

By all accounts, Afalava is a big hitter. Plus, he's got a great name made up entirely of alternating a's, so he's my No. 1. I'd probably put McBride second, because he's a scrappy little fucker (he's listed at 5'9", 181, both of which seem padded) and you can afford to have one guy like that in your secondary. Somewhere way down the list? Bullocks.

Not really sure what this guy brings to the table, and anytime someone makes the effort to put together something like this, it's probably not a good sign. Remember too that Bullocks got benched by the 26th-best defense in the NFL. I'll take the nearly-palindromic Al Afalava, thank you very much.

So that's it for the defense. Coming soon (and I mean it this time! I swear!): the offense.