Published by Jerz on 9/1/2014
There is something special about final cuts at the end of the preseason heading into the NFL’s regular season. For some, dreams will come true and for others they are put on hold or dashed completely. For fans it has the energy of your favorite music award show. We’ve kept up with every off season transaction and organized team activity and kept up with every training camp practice and preseason contest. Some have watched 3rd stringers do battle with other team’s 3rd stringers this preseason with playoff level intensity. Others could care less and don’t watch after the starters have been pulled. After the clock hits all zeroes in the final preseason game, the anticipation of who stays and who goes makes everyone an NFL “talent evaluator”. It ALL comes down to this. And the winners are…
When Phil Emery assumed the post as General Manager of this football team he stated that his primary objective would be to build this team through the Draft. Teams that maximize this resource and develop young players into viable contributors consistently are the ones that make runs to Championships. The Draft is no exact science, as Emery’s predecessor showed us on many occasions, but when used effectively can put your franchise in position to compete with the best of the best for the ultimate prize. A few things I can admire about Emery, after 3 years on the job, is that he’s smart enough to take calculates chances that have more reward than risk and isn’t too arrogant to admit when he’s screwed up. Emery draws criticism from many of the fan base, because of his 1st Draft class. Taking Shea McClellin (19th overall) out of Boise State, in hopes of making him a productive Defensive End, was as risky a proposition as there could be for a 1st year General Manager. To this point, it’s a move that hasn’t panned out but all is not lost. If McClellin doesn’t make a smooth and successful transition to Linebacker (as the BEARS hope he will) he could be off the team next year leaving Alshon Jeffery as the ONLY remaining player on the roster (out of 7 picks in 2012). That is very “Angeloish” and NOT in line with what Emery hoped to create. It’s safe to say that McClellin’s success or failure will ultimately shift the balance in how fans rate Phil Emery as a talent evaluator. I know he’s thanking the most high for Alshon Jeffery, right now, after huge swings and misses on the likes of Brandon Hardin (3rd rd) and Evan Rodriguez (4th rd).
The 2013 Draft class yielded 2 starters on the offensive line (Pro Bowl Guard Kyle Long and Right Tackle Jordan Mills) who helped turn a team weakness into a strength. Linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are looked to be the future at 2 linebacker spots and Marquees Wilson and Cornelius Washington were 2 late round gems that were too athletically gifted to pass up in the last 2 rounds. Wilson was on course to open the season as the team’s #3 Wide Receiver and Washington (to my surprise) showed the BEARS staff enough to make the 53 man roster to start 2014. Emery is expecting big things out of this group, in the not so distant future, and hopes their imminent production can erase the bad taste left by the 2012 Draft.
This year’s Draft class has the potential to yield immediate contributors as well. Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Ka’Deem Carey and Brock Vereen become primary backups that could see immediate playing time and Punter Pat O’Donnell won the starting job (though the BEARS hope they won’t need to use him much). Longshots to make the team in Quarterback David Fales and Tackle Charles Leno Jr. secured roster spots with solid preseason play. All 8 of Chicago’s Draft picks made the 53 man roster. Throw in Undrafted Free Agents Senorise Perry and Christian Jones with waived Free Agent Michael Ola and 11 rookies go into 2014 on Chicago’s opening day roster. GM Phil Emery is sticking to his plan and will depend heavily on his coaching staff to develop these players into big time contributors for seasons to come.
The reality is the BEARS go into 2014 with 36% of their roster being 1st or 2nd year players. They are a combination of promising youth and veteran experience that Phil Emery and Head Coach Marc Trestman hopes can play a game in Arizona in February. There were some tough decisions made to finalize the 2014 roster and I’ll look at some surprise “cuts” and “keeps”. The 2 most shocking, to me, were veteran Corner Kelvin Hayden and versatile O-lineman Eben Britton. Both are former 2nd round picks (of the Colts and Jaguars respectively) but were looked to add veteran depth to 2 key position groups. Britton missed time with a hamstring injury so it’s hard to justify keeping him over the likes of rookies Charles Leno Jr. and Michael Ola. It’s hard to win a job on the trainer’s table, in this business. Hayden was a shock because he was having a solid camp but was ultimately beat out by 2nd year man Demontre Hurst (who was an undrafted free agent in 2013 that made the practice squad). The BEARS opted to go younger here because it was something they’d need to do eventually (with Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman both over 30) and they feel with a year of coaching and development under his belt (in addition to solid play in the preseason himself) that he was the guy. I liked the play of 2nd year Corner CJ Wilson and rookie undrafted Free Agent Al Louis-Jean as well but Hurst got the nod from the coaching staff. Veteran Austen Lane looked to have a spot in the Defensive End rotation on lock but the BEARS decided to continue the development of talented young rush men David Bass and Cornelius Washington. I thought Washington was as good as gone but the staff obviously didn’t want to risk losing such a tremendously gifted athlete at the position and feel he can learn a ton watching the likes of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. Return man Chris Williams was an early favorite to be the teams Punt Returner but a hamstring injury cut his playing time and he just didn’t show the team enough at Wide Receiver (despite a 73 yard TD catch) to justify keeping him over the likes of Santonio Holmes or Michael Spurlock (both of which can contribute at receiver and also return punts).
The BIGGEST surprise of all, to me, was Senorise Perry actually making the team. He brings a versatility as a runner, receiver out of the backfield, kick returner and special teams contributor that made the BEARS decide to keep 4 Running Backs which you rarely see. As excited as I was to see what last year’s #3 Running Back Michael Ford could do with more looks on offense, Perry made him expendable and a virtual preseason “no-show”. The BEARS wanted to go into 2014 deeper and younger and that’s exactly what they’ve done. We’ll see what transpires as we enter season 3 of “The Emery Plan”…