The NFL Draft: 2 Weeks away and Counting…..


The building blocks of every great NFL team come from the NFL draft. The NFL is a business first and foremost, and the ability to have a great front office that can find the right player, for the right position, drafted at the right time, and signed for the right price, can literally have the ability to propel your team immediately into contender status. See the defending Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks, who have drafted well over the past few years, and have a core of their players still playing under rookie contracts at a very cap friendly price. On the flip side, if you have a bad draft, or multiple bad drafts, your franchise can me mired in mediocrity for years.

The Bears seem to finally be getting it right. After years of so-so drafts from former GM Jerry Angelo, a guy who drafted Cedric Benson, David Terrell, Rex Grossman, and Marc Columbo, all in the first round, the club has finally moved on with new GM Phil Emery who has seemed to find stellar players in the draft, see Kyle Long and Alshon Jeffrey. It is no secret that the Achilles heel for the Bears last season was the Defense, and Emery has made it very clear that rebuilding the “D” was going to be his number 1 priority in the offseason. He proved that by bringing in a total of 7 new defensive players, Jared Allen, and Llamar Houston just to name a few. Signing free agents is only half of the rebuilding process, and the Bears are certainly looking to gain youth and depth on the defensive side of the ball during this draft.

Who are the Bears looking at taking? Well although all the “experts” don’t completely agree, they do all agree that it will be defense. The debate seems to be if it will be a Defensive Tackle, a Cornerback, or a Safety. Which ever way Emery decides to go, a lot will depend on how the draft winds up prior to the Bears picking at the 14th spot.

Here are three guys that have been closely associated with the Bears and who I think are good possibilities at playing in the Windy City this season:

Aaron Donald Defensive Tackle out of Pittsburg. Donald was a beast last season for the Pitt Panthers, and has the explosiveness to get off on the ball, and disrupt the interior line. He had a great showing at the combine and at the Senior Bowl that reinforced everything that the scouts saw on tape. He has the potential to become the type of interior lineman the Bears haven’t had since the early days of Tommie Harris.

Justin Gilbert Cornerback out of Oklahoma State. Gilbert is a tall strong corner, standing at 6′ and running a 4.37 40 yard dash, he has the size and speed to play with any NFL receiver. He had 7 pass breakups and 7 interceptions in 2013, returning one for a touchdown. He is also versatile with being able to return kicks. Drafting Gilbert, and allowing him to learn from Pro-Bowl Corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, could set him up for a long and successful NFL career.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix Safety from Alabama. Clinton-Dix is a tall hard hitting safety that has experience in playing in big games playing at Alabama, and playing against the best competition in college football. He is tall at 6’1″ and has good closing speed, making him great at closing on receivers and coming up for run support. He would be a great addition to a Bears secondary that is clearly in need of secondary help.

Who ever the Bears end up selecting, I have complete faith that GM Emery will make the right choice, based on the greatest need for the team, and the best player that is available.

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Christmas has Come Early for NFL Fans, the 2014-2015 Schedule has been Released

The NFL knows what they are doing. This league that has risen above all other leagues to rule the sporting universe, knows how to keep their fans begging for more, and they know how and when to give it to us. Not enough to get us sick of it, but enough to keep us hooked.

The Super Bowl was played almost 3 months ago. The scouting combine took place February 22-25. Then free agency began on March 11th. When the majority of big names had been signed and interest may have started to waiver, and with another two weeks until the NFL draft, the league drops the 2014-2015 schedule. With that the league was thrust back into the spotlight, right where it wants to be. Think about this, the NFL schedule release happened on the same night when there was NBA Playoff games, NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games, and regular season MLB games, and what dominated the conversation on SportsCenter, and social media….THE NFL SCHEDULE! If that does not tell you how important the NFL is to the nation, I don’t know what would. People, myself included, were excited to see what games where not even going to be played for another 4 months.

It seems that the NFL drops its yummy goodness for us to devour about every 2 weeks to a month, therefore always keeping us addicted and begging for more.

The Chicago Bears 2014-15 schedule is very interesting. With the team opening up at home for the fifth consecutive season against the Buffalo Bills. Their schedule also includes 5 primetime games, including opening up the San Francisco 49ers new stadium in week 2, playing the NY Jets in the Big Apple on Monday Night Football in week 4, traveling to Green Bay in week 10 for their first match-up with the Packers on Sunday Night, then the Bears will host “Americas Team” in week 14 on Thursday Night Football, and finally will host the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field in week 15 on Monday Night Football. Not to mention the Bears will play the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day. It is the first game the Bears have played on Thanksgiving since 2004. In total the Chicago Bears will play a total of 6 nationally televised games this season, with the opportunity to have others “flexed” or moved into primetime depending on how the season unfolds.

http://www.chicagobears.com/news/article-1/Bears-announce-their-2014-schedule/a4882e58-edb5-4115-b8c5-37178944b887

They make a very compelling point about the Bears in saying that the NFL rewards teams by putting them in the spotlight of primetime games, so it seems that in the eyes of the league that the Chicago Bears are doing something right.

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Shea McClellin Embracing Posititon Change

When the Bears selected Defensive End Shea McClellin in the 2012 draft with the 19th pick, many experts were puzzled with the selection. He was not the typical Lovie Smith defensive lineman. McClellin was a light, quick, outside pass rusher, a complete opposite of the big bodied, collapse the pocket and stop the run, type of defensive lineman that Coach Smith loved. There was much speculation as to the direction the Bears were going, and as to who had complete control of the direction of the franchise, was it Lovie Smith or new GM Phil Emrey?

McClellin had a difficult rookie season, that was riddled with various injuries such as a concussion and sprained MCL. Although he was drafted and spent his first 2 seasons as a defensive end, speculation was that he would be moved to linebacker, and that he was drafted as a possible replacement for Brian Urlacher. McCellin was always known for his great speed on the field and uncompromising work ethic, but many in the league worried about his size as a detriment in getting to the quarterback. McClellin quickly gained favor with the Chicago faithful when he recorded his first career sack against the hated Packers and Aaron Rodgers, and last season he recorded the sack heard throughout the NFC North, when on a Monday night he sacked Rodgers in the first quarter and broke his collarbone, putting the quarterback out for the next 8 games. Unfortunately, that was the biggest highlight in what was a disappointing season. With many questioning if McClellin was a bust or not, the Bears management made the decision to move him to a linebacker slot. The move was praised and ridiculed at the same time. With supporters saying that allowing McClellin to keep his hand off the ground and create some space between himself and offensive linemen, he would be able to use his biggest asset, his pure speed to get to the quarterback or running back before the linemen could get in position. Opponents of the move and more of the actual drafting of him, said that the Bears are trying to cover themselves and keep from having their number 1 pick from being a waste.

Only time will tell if the position change will help or hinder Shea, but reports are that he is embracing the change and the opportunity. He has been in California for the past 12 weeks working with trainer Scott Prohaska. “McClellin dropped 11 pounds and eight percent body fat in the offseason in anticipation of his much-anticipated move from defensive end to linebacker. McClellin currently checks-in at 252 pounds with 10 percent body fat, while running a 4.5 40 yard dash and bench pressing 365 pounds.” (ESPNChicago.com)

One thing that has never been questioned was Shea’s work ethic. As Bears fans, we all hope that this transformation and hard work will equal results on the playing field.

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Player Spotlight: Kyle Long

In the NFL draft last year the Bears were drafting in the 20th spot. There were many glaring needs that needed to be filled, most notably on the offensive line. The Bears have their franchise Quarterback, but were unable to keep him off the turf. Everyone knew that the priority of the new coaching staff was to revamp and upgrade the offensive line. 

So with the 20th pick the Bears selected Kyle Long at Offensive Guard out of the University of Oregon. What? Who? The experts were stunned with the selection, saying things such as they waisted their pick to they reached on a guy who would have been available in later rounds. But GM Emery and Coach Trestman saw something in the rookie. After all Long did come from a football family, with his father being Hall-of-Fame member Howie Long, and his older brother Chris being a defensive lineman for the Saint Louis Rams. But to take a guy in the first round who had only started 10 games in college? Bears fans were baffled, and had fully expected Long to be a decent player after a few years, but only serviceable at best. 

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Well Emery and Trestman once again proved that they were the smartest guys in the room. Long not only took the Bears training camp by storm, and he earned the starting right guard job in training camp, he started all 16 games as a rookie, he was voted to the all-rookie team, and was voted to the Pro-Bowl. Pretty impressive for a guy that all the experts thought was a reach at the 20th pick. 

Long brought a nastiness and toughness that the Bears line was in need of. Jay Cutler has said many times that he believe’s Long may be insane, and he would not want anyone else blocking for him. Just to show the type of attitude that Long brings, look at this video from last season when the Bears played the Rams, and the two Long brother’s got into a little brotherly love spat on the field.

There has not been a Bears rookie that the the fans have gravitated to, and has become such a fan favorite since William “the Refridgerator” Perry back in the 1985 season. If Long helps to bring a championship back to Chicago, he too, will enjoy eternal imortality like Perry in the Second City.

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Twitter is Almost Mandatory for NFL Fans

With the NFL becoming a breaking news, 24/7, 365 days a year league, passionate fans salivate for information on their favorite teams on almost a daily basis. For those passionate fans, such as myself, Twitter has become our daily, dare I say hourly fix. NFL reporters have seen the power of twitter and the best inside men in the game use it masterfully in breaking news first. It is also a great place to find the local beat reporters for your individual teams, and they are the guys that can give you the true day-to-day insights into your favorite team.

I love to check my twitter feed looking for that next big story regarding the Bears, or even the next big free agent move. The best follows for accurate information regarding the NFL are Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) this guy seems to break all the new quickest, and he is always accurate. Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) from Fox Sports is another guy that seems to get the scoops before anyone else, plus he seems to be friendly with many current players and offers really cool views into the players personal lives as well as posting pictures with them, he is also a big MMA guy so he is a good follow if you like Ultimate Fighting as well. Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) works for CBS Sports and is also good at breaking details about specific deals, like dollar amounts in contracts. He is also a big soccer fan and tweets about that quite a bit, so there is that, if your able to wade through that then he is a good follow.

As far as the Bears go, the best follows are obviously Waddle and Silvy, (@WaddleandSilvy) (@TWaddle87) although they don’t break news, they are awesome at interacting with fans, getting in there and mixing it up, and talking trash when needed. Silvy is a huge Chicago sports fan, namely the Cubs, and it’s always enjoyable to read his almost daily suffering regarding the Cubs. The Bears beat writer Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) is great at letting you in on the day-to-day operations at Halas Hall, and he is always tweeting links to his daily blog which is all Bears all the time.

Regardless of what your favorite team is, there are reporters out there that are breaking news daily into the activities of every single NFL team. I don’t know how any true NFL fan can go without having a twitter account, especially during the season. I my opinion, it is as important as owning the jersey of your favorite player. If anyone is interested in my personal rants and raves feel free to follow me on twitter as well @cardona2011.

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Brandon Marshall + Harvard Business School = ???

This one of the more interesting stories about a member of the Bears this offseason. Brandon Marshall posted on his instagram a picture of his acceptance email into Harvard Business School Executive Education program. The program is titled “The Business of Entertainment, Media and Sports”. The schools website describes the program as focusing “on the unique challenges of developing, distributing, and marketing a successful entertainment offering,” and says participants “emerge with a deeper understanding of the steps needed to create sustainable competitive advantage” (Chicago Tribune).

Throughout his career Marshall has shown an interest in branding, wearing bright orange cleats for an endorsement deal, drawing a fine from the league. As well as wearing lime green cleats on a nationally televised game to raise awareness for mental health. Something that he was also fined for.

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Not to bad for a guy that was branded as a loose cannon, and disrespectful for his first few years in the league. Some guys take a little longer to grow up, but when they do, they are able to accomplish amazing things. Congratulations to you Mr. Marshall.

 

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My Brief Interview with the Famous Waddle and Silvy

For my quote regarding the Bears, I was able to speak to Marc Silverman or “Silvy” of the Waddle and Silvy show, a sports talk show broadcast on ESPN 1000 Chicago.

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Tom Waddle on the left, is a former Wide Receiver for the Bears, and Silvy is a life long Chicago resident and lifetime Bears fan.

One of the really cool things about ESPN 1000 is that their studios are viewable from the street, giving the fans the opportunity to come and watch the show, and see the famous guests they have live in studio. When I was in Chicago I was able to go and watch the Jay Cutler show live.

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So I decided because they are so interactive with their fans, that I would try and get their thoughts on how the Bears offseason has been. This is the email that I sent to them and the reply I got back.

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So I called them, and after being on hold I was able to speak with Silvy for just about 2 minutes as they were in a commercial break. I asked him what he thought was the biggest free agent move the Bears made was.

“I really like the signing of Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. I know that Jared Allen was the “big” name signing, but the Bears were able to sign two guys who show a lot of upside, entering the prime of their career, and at a relatively cheap price. Plus these guys are going to have the opportunity to learn their craft from Allen on how to be a true professional.”

Silvy was extremely friendly, in asking how I became a Bears fan all the way in Idaho, and he was very engaging during the short time we were able to speak. I was amazed that someone with his personality and stature, who has millions of people listen to him on a daily basis, was kind enough to take a few moments out of his day to speak with a little college student from Idaho.

When this was assigned, I was really worried at how I would be able to get an “expert” quote on my blog. After doing really not a lot of work I was able to speak with a man who I admire his opinion, and someone who I do listen to when I get the opportunity. I have always thought that the Bears have the best fan base, and now I know they have the best personalities who are extremely nice, and are truly the best at what they do.

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Player Spotlight: Matt Forte

Every football fan knows that the foundation of a good offense is having a good running game. The Chicago Bears have one of the very best in the business in Matt Forte. Forte was drafted in the second round in the 2008 NFL draft. He was drafted to compete for the starting job with then starting running back Cedric Benson. During the offseason, Benson had a difficult time staying on the right side of the law and was released before training camp began.

Forte earned the starting job that year and has not looked back since then. He set Bears rookie records with 1,238 rushing yards and 477 receiving yards. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a 50 yard run against the defending Super Bowl champions the Indianapolis Colts. Forte finished his rookie campaign third in the rookie of the year voting.

Over the next 2 seasons Forte surpassed the 1,000 yard barrier, and had over 500 yards receiving in both seasons. Forte became the only player in NFL history to tally over 900 yards rushing and 400 yards receiving in his first 4 seasons.

Despite sustaining a knee injury that forced him to miss 4 games in 2011, Forte still managed to rush for 929 yards and be named to his first of 2 Pro-Bowl’s. After the 2011 season, the rookie contract that Forte was playing under expired, and he wanted to be paid as one of the top 10 running backs in the league. The Bears waivered citing his recent injury history, the Bears wanted to franchise Forte, which would have resulted in being paid $7.75 million dollars. Forte refused to sign the offer sheet, and held out of training camp for a multi-year deal. The Bears, realizing the type of talent they had on their hands, finally budged and Forte signed a 4 year 32 million dollar deal.

The investment has paid off for both sides, as Forte has stayed injury free, and was second in the league last season with 1,339 yards rushing. He has thrived in the new offense that Coach Trestman has installed, and is now an important part of a record shattering offense that will only get better in year two.

Matt Forte One Handed Catch vs Colts Matt Forte Makes One Handed Grab

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Soldier Field, the Bears Home Field and Memorial to Americas Fallen

Soldier Field
Soldier Field, every red-blooded American sports fan knows of it. Soldier Field is the oldest is the oldest NFL stadium. Opened in 1924, it has been the home of the Chicago Bears since 1971. Famous for its columns, it was renovated in 2003 and is currently the third smallest stadium with a capacity of 61,500. The renovation was a giant topic of controversy within the city, with much question being directed at what was going to happen to famous columns on the outside of the stadium. There was also talk of making it a domed arena, something that the Bears faithful vehemently fought against, with the team seeing that being able to play in the constant swirling winds coming of Lake Michigan as a distinct home field advantage.

While there has been much criticism on the look of the new stadium, with many saying it looks like a UFO has landed inside of it, when opened, it was rated as one of the most technological and environmentally friendly stadium in the league.

The stadium is named in honor of all the fighting men and women who have died defending the country. It is also currently the only NFL stadium that does not have any corporate naming sponsorship. The city of Chicago and the Bears have vowed to never change the name, keeping the stadium as a constant memorial to fallen soldiers.

The stadium has been used for multiple events, from boxing matches, ski jumping, and hockey to local high school football games. To this day, it is still used as a multi-use facility, but the Bears are still its number one tenant.

     

   

 

 

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Bears Make Huge Free Agent Splash

Phil Emery has done it again. Just when Bears fans thought that the team was done making free-agency moves, the Emery blindsides not only the NFC North but the entire NFC. It was no secret that the Bears needed to bolster their defense if they wanted to be major players in the NFC. With the team signing Lamar Miller, Willie Young, Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings coupled with the re-signing of Charles Tillman and D.J Williams, the team seemed to be set on defense heading into the draft in May.

Lo-and-behold the announcement was made this morning that the Bears have landed the biggest name remaining on the free agency list: Jared Allen. Allen who spent the last 6 seasons with division rival Minnesota Vikings. At the beginning of the free agent signing period there were rumors that Allen could be heading to the Windy City, but those were quickly dismissed when the Bears didn’t scoop him up in the first few days of the signing period. Allen then made multiple visits to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, and a visit to the Dallas Cowboys. It was also reported that Allen had a deal in place with the Seahawks, but he left Seattle without signing, saying that he was going to take the weekend to talk to his family and make his decision next week.

Allen’s agent had spoken about a mystery team that was “in the mix” but much of the speculation was that team was the N.Y. Jets, who’s coach Rex Ryan was very outspoken about how the team wanted to sign Allen.

Meanwhile in Chicago strange things were happening. First the Bears made a few roster moves by releasing a few players who refused to restructure their contracts in order to free up some cap room. Then not more than 3 months after signing his deal, Quarterback Jay Cutler’s deal was restructured converting base salary into bonus money, freeing up an additional $4 million in cap space. With those moves being made, the Bears suddenly had around $11 million in cap space available. This set off a few sirens around the league, with the experts wondering what the Bears were going to do. Speculation was that they wanted the extra space in case of injury and they needed to sign a player or two in case of injury. The Allen speculation began again with inquiries as to if he signed with Seattle, or if he was still mulling other offers. Then this morning the news broke that Allen was staying in the NFC North.

The Bears have found their replacement for Julius Peppers, a DE that has more sacks over the past 6 years, and one who is 3 years younger. Allen has 122.5 career sacks, and has tallied double-digit sack totals since 2007. His deal is for 4 years at $32 million with $15.5 million guaranteed. Now more than ever, the Bears seem serious about competing for not only the NFC North but for the Super Bowl as well.

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