Ryan Pace’s resolve is admirable — no matter how big the move he doesn’t worry about public perception or the consequences.
The second-year general manager let Matt Forte go at the height of his popularity in Chicago and the Bears’ locker room. He not only traded tight end Martellus Bennett in his prime, but traded him to the team — the New England Patriots — that could make the deal look the worst. But arguably the biggest surprise of all was releasing left guard Matt Slauson, a popular teammate and leader, an ultimate team guy coming off a season that had teammate Kyle Long promoting him for the Pro Bowl.
Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury — and the subpar play of the offensive line in the preseason opener — put the light back on Pace’s decision to release Slauson, who replaced Grasu and Will Montgomery at center on two occasions last season. They would have had the replacement for Grasu right there.
Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t. Slauson was everything you’d want in a teammate with the Bears, a respected leader on and off the field. But Slauson didn’t grade out as well with the new regime as he did with the old. Even without Grasu, they Bears are confident they can grow better with Whitehair at guard and Ted Larsen at center. They have virtually zero room for error on the interior of their offensive line with Grasu out. But there’s no second-guessing at Halas Hall. They like what they’ve got.
Matt Slauson has been a starter in the NFL for six seasons. He started on a Jets team in 2010 that reached the AFC Championship Game. Even last year, he was rated a “stud” by Pro Football Focus, the Bears’ best offensive lineman. He was ranked 13th among NFL left guards by Bleacher Report. He’s currently starting at center for the Chargers, a team that like the Bears finished in last place last season. But the Bears didn’t see Slauson as a starter. So they thanked him for his service, wished him well and moved on. That’s business.
The games will tell us if they’re right. It’s all about intuition and evaluation — some guys got it and some guys don’t. This will be an interesting season indeed for Ryan Pace.
2. It might turn out to be a rationalization, but a bad match-up against the defending Super Bowl champions seemed to exaggerate the Bears’ issues on the offensive line Thursday night. Even without four key starters — Demarcus Ware, Aquib Talib, Chris Harris and Von Miller, Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips threw a lot at the Bears — as he should — including corner blitzes, a delayed safety blitz and line stunts.
To the Bears’ credit, they weren’t complaining. They know they just have to be better.
“That’s just how it goes,” said right tackle Bobby Massie, a four-year veteran. “You can’t control what your opponent is going to do.”
“It’s not surprising,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “I’m not the defensive coordinator. I’m an offensive tackle. I do my job. If that’s what they’re going to do, I’m fine with that.”
3. The sluggish start for the Bears’ offense was disappointing, but not surprising.The Bears’ offense has always struggled in the first preseason game. In Jay Cutler’s seven appearances (he did not play in the 2012 preseason opener), the offense has produced one touchdown and three field goals and averaged 4.7 yards per play in 15 possessions for the first-team offense. (Cutler’s pass to Zach Miller against the Eagles in 2014 was the lone touchdown).
That’s the price you pay for having so many first-year offensive coordinators — six in Cutler’s eight seasons — and so little continuity. In fact, Over the last 17 seasons, the Bears have scored just two touchdowns, 3.9 yards per play and 29 net points in 43 possessions with their starting quarterback in the preseason opener.
4. In five preseason games under John Fox, the Bears have been outscored 21-3 in the first quarter and 62-22 in the first half — when mostly first- and second-team units are on the field. The only touchdown in that span came in the second quarter of the fourth preseason game last year against the Browns, in the fourth game last year against Cleveland — on David Fales’ 19-yard pass to Marc Mariani.
5. Overall, the Bears’ blocking and tackling was weak against the Broncos — not surprising considering how little the Bears “go live” in practice. It’s just their luck that the one time they did scrimmage and take ball carriers to the ground, Grasu suffered his torn ACL without contact at Family Fest at Soldier Field.
It would be great if NFL teams could condition themselves for the regular season by tackling live in full-contact competition during training camp like the bad old days of the Mike Ditka era, when Mike Singletary & Co. and Walter Payton & Co. used to beat the crap out of each other twice a day. But in this day and age, with bigger, faster players, it’s just not feasible.
6. At 5-9, Bryce Callahan doesn’t fit the prototype the Bears are looking for at cornerback, but he figures to get his shot if Kyle Fuller is out for very long. Callahan’s confidence is high after he started the preseason opener when the Bears rested Tracy Porter.
“For the coaches to do that, they obviously have some trust in me, so that’s a good feeling,” Callahan said.
Callahan considered it a lesson learned when he let Damaryius Thomas blow past him for an easy 32-yard touchdown reception from Mark Sanchez.
“It was just a mental error. I turned too soon,” said Callahan, an undrafted free agent from Rice in 2015. “I thought the ball was being thrown to [Bralon Addison], so I kind of fell off my man. I was mad that my eyes weren’t good. It wasn’t like [Thomas] outplayed me. It’s an easy fix. I just have to keep my eyes in the right position.”
6a. Callahan redeemed himself to a degree by forcing a turnover when he leaped to tip a pass that was intercepted by Jerrell Freeman.
“I felt pretty good about that,” Callahan said. “But I’m still mad about the touchdown.”
7. It’s usually a good sign when you ask a player who has made an impression on him and he picks a teammate on the other side of the ball.
“It’s going to be exciting to see No. 83, our receiver who just got here,” Callahan said, referring to rookie Daniel Braverman. “I’ve been in the slot with him a couple of times. He’s a quick, little shifty dude. His routes are really sharp and he can catch the ball. He’s got a little bit of everything working for him.”
8. Rookie cornerback Deiondre Hall made a good first impression with two pass break-ups in the end zone and five tackles in the preseason opener. The challenge will be to build off of that. In 2013, rookie linebacker Jon Bostic returned an interception for a touchdown against Cam Newton in his first preseason game, then had a tremendous hit on Chargers receiver Mike Willie in the second that seemed like a sign of better things to come. Hall got good advice from teammates and coaches during the game.
“Just keep working,” he said. “Just keep working.”
9. One of the most overlooked players in training camp is running back Jacquizz Rodgers. His experience could prove invaluable as the Bears’ running game struggles to find its legs. And the other running backs follow his lead. Rodgers also was making an impact on special teams before suffering a season-ending broken arm in Week 5 against the Chiefs.
“This is probably the most competitive camp I’ve been a part of,” Rodgers said. “Every day you’ve got to bring it or you’re going to get embarrassed. That elevates everybody’s play.”\
10. Nickel back/cornerback/safety Demontre Hurst is battling for a roster spot, but getting good reps at nickel behind Bryce Callahan. He has been with the Bears since 2013.
“You can definitely the vibe, feel the energy and it starts with the head coach,” Hurst said. “He’s definitely bringing in positivity, bringing in guys he knows are going to compete and be tough, smart players. And that’s going to help us get to the next level. That’s how you build a championship team. My second year with Coach Fox, I can tell he’s on a mission. And I want to be on that mission with him.”