Connect with us


Can Justin Fields Improve From the Pocket, and Which RB Will Step Up?



After finishing with the NFL‘s worst record in 2022, the Chicago Bears will enter their organized team activities (OTAs) with improvement on the brain. Having added multiple impact players through free agency, the draft, and the trade market, could the Bears go from worst to first next season?

Chicago will have nine OTA sessions over the next three weeks before holding a mandatory minicamp from June 13-15. Let’s break down the top storylines from Bears OTAs, including whether their third-year quarterback can take the leap.

2023 Chicago Bears OTAs Preview

Can Justin Fields Develop as a Passer?

Justin Fields’ abilities as a rushing threat can’t be denied. He led all quarterbacks with 1,143 rushing yards a season ago, coming within 70 yards of breaking Lamar Jackson’s QB running record. Fields posted more than 130 rushing yards three times and topped 60 yards in eight of his final nine games.

Fields’ work on the ground gives him a remarkably high floor, but the Bears’ offense won’t be able to take another step forward unless the former first-round pick progresses as a passer. The former Ohio State star finished dead last among 33 qualifying quarterbacks with just 4.63 adjusted net yards per attempt in 2022.

MORE: QB Power Rankings 2023 — Where Does Fields Rank?

Chicago has taken steps to cajole development from Fields, including reinforcing their offensive line and adding new playmakers. But Fields also worked with Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and Andrew Janocko to observe how other quarterbacks play inside similar offensive systems.

“It starts with our film study,” Janocko said earlier this month. “We watch a lot of stuff. We watch our stuff, and we evaluate it. We watch guys around the league. We watch a lot of that, so just seeing stuff be successful — similar offenses, different offenses, but seeing them be successful. So we always have an open dialogue on what we’re studying and just looking at different ways to approach things.

“His studies, his studies with guys around the league, I think that that helps. Seeing guys play within this offense, within this footwork, around the league, different guys — this offense is pretty prevalent throughout the league — seeing those guys do it and then just being able to mimic some things, but put your own way, what he does well.”

The Bears acquired receiver DJ Moore from the Panthers as part of their trade back from No. 1 overall in the 2023 draft, and they also picked up fellow pass catcher Chase Claypool from the Steelers at last year’s trade deadline. Along with Darnell Mooney, Moore and Claypool will give Fields the best set of weapons he’s had at the NFL level and should be able to help Chicago’s passing game become more productive and sustainable.

How Will the Bears’ RB Rotation Work?

Last season, David Montgomery led the Bears with 201 rushing attempts, but he’s gone after signing a free agent deal with the division-rival Lions. Fields will remain a critical part of Chicago’s rushing attack, but the club also has three backs ready to contribute.

Khalil Herbert handled 232 carries over his first two NFL seasons as Montgomery’s backup and is now poised to take on a larger role. Viewed as potentially a better fit for the Bears’ zone scheme than Montgomery was, Herbert has the talent to ascend. However, in order to become an every-down back, he still needs work as a receiver and pass protector.

MORE: Chicago Bears Season Preview — Projected Depth Chart, Rosters, and Predictions

Chicago’s current regime didn’t draft Herbert, but general manager Ryan Poles did sign free agent D’Onta Foreman and use a fourth-round selection on Roschon Johnson. Foreman posted a breakout season as an early-down grinder for the Panthers last year, while Johnson was buried behind Bijan Robinson at Texas but profiles as a bell cow.

None of Herbert, Foreman, or Johnson has demonstrated an ability in the passing game, so the Bears’ RB rotation could become four-deep if Travis Homer is forced to become the team’s third-down back.

chicago bears otas
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

Is Chicago’s Offensive Line Set?

The Bears’ offensive line figures look quite different in 2023. Although Chicago only added two new players up front, several other projected starters are switching positions.

Braxton Jones, last year’s fifth-round steal of a left tackle, will be the only player remaining in the same spot year-over-year. At right tackle, the Bears will deploy rookie Darnell Wright, whom they selected out of Tennessee after trading back one spot in the first round.

MORE: How the Chemistry Between Justin Fields and DJ Moore Can Work for the Bears

“(Wright) has put some really good stuff on tape from college,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said after the draft. “He knows what he’s doing. The game is kind of slow for him. That’s one of the things we really liked about him.

“Some guys, when the ball is snapped, they just play. Things look slow for him. He puts his hands where he wants to put them. He’s very controlled in his sets. He’s got good tempo. He does some really nice things.”

Meanwhile, Chicago will insert veteran Nate Davis at right guard after he signed a three-year, $30 million deal. Davis’ addition will force Teven Jenkins — a former second-round pick who thrived after moving inside — to left guard. Cody Whitehair, the longest-tenured player on the Bears’ roster, is scheduled to slide back to center after not having played there full-time since 2018.

Where Will the Pass Rush Come From?

The Bears have spent much of the offseason attempting to rectify a defensive unit that ranked dead last in scoring and efficiency last season. They used early draft picks at defensive tackle and cornerback and spent heavily to sign free agent linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards.

The one area of the defense that hasn’t been addressed? Defensive end.

Sure, Chicago signed veterans like DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green to help fill out the roster. And they can hope that young players like Trevis Gipson or Dominique Robinson can show signs of progression. But given that the Bears managed the second-lowest pressure rate (15.9%) in the league in 2022, they could stand to make another addition.

Luckily, high-quality free agent defensive ends are still available on the board. Veterans like Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Houston, Frank Clark, and old friends Robert Quinn and Leonard Floyd are freely available. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Chicago signs a member of that group in the coming weeks.

Source link


Safeties, Rookies, and Dan Campbell Highlight Lions Camp




Detroit Lions OTAs will feel a bit different in 2023. For the first time in a long time, Detroit comes into voluntary workouts pre-June with expectations. Dan Campbell has changed the organizational culture one bitten kneecap at a time. There is an almost high-school football feeling to the team. It’s an oddly “pure” feeling for an NFL team.

Nevertheless, the Lions are not perfect. Questions still surround the roster, and after a few years of building the trenches and drafting well, the Lions changed up their strategy, and not everyone was happy about it.

2023 Detroit Lions OTAs Preview

The most significant question surrounding the roster has to continue to be the secondary. Emmanuel Moseley is coming off an ACL tear, and Tracy Walker is rehabilitating a torn Achilles and may not be ready. But the Lions drafted guys to produce immediately, and the pressure will be on that group to perform.

Lions Secondary Taking Shape?

Walker’s recovery seems incredible. The veteran safety suffered a torn Achilles in Week 3, and he was seen on the field with his teammates at the start of May. However, being on the field and being the same player on the field are separate conversations, and history tells us the latter could be difficult to accomplish for Walker.

Meanwhile, Moseley said that he was about five months out back in March.

“I would definitely say it’s going well,” Moseley said to the media of his injury recovery. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work. I’m about five months out now. We got a lot of time in between training camp, so I am going to continue to do that, and then when it’s time for me to get out there and go, I’ll go.”

MORE: Analyzing Detroit Lions’ Best and Worst-Case Scenarios

When training camp rolls around, Moseley will be nine months separated from the injury, which is seemingly beginning to become a longer timetable for many ACL returns. But again, there’s no guarantee that he’s the same guy when he comes back.

Detroit’s additions of Cameron Sutton, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Brian Branch should help quell concerns. However, only one of them is an outside cornerback.

The defense will undoubtedly try to win through versatility. Most of the secondary defenders have spent time at safety and cornerback in their careers. Walker and second-year man Kerby Joseph will likely patrol the back end early, so where does that leave rookie Branch, with CGJ likely holding down the overhang/slot role in their base defense?

Is there a chance that Ifeatu Melifonwu can win back some favor on the roster at CB with some of the questions on the outside?

Can Lions Rookies Make a Splash?

detroit lions otas
Detroit Lions linebacker Jack Campbell goes through drills during Rookie Minicamp Saturday, May 13, 2023.

After signing David Montgomery in free agency and already having D’Andre Swift on the roster at the time, it was a bit surprising to see the Lions select Jahmyr Gibbs No. 12 overall in the draft. Like Swift, Gibbs is a big-play threat, which gives the Lions a nice complement to the less-explosive Montgomery. Gibbs’ explosiveness should be on full display in the light and no-contact drills associated with OTAs.

Jack Campbell was another low-positional-value selection, but CBs were taken with each of the previous two picks, and Detroit likely didn’t love their options. Campbell is the kind of freak athlete the Lions have struggled to find at the linebacker spot over the past decade or so. But his first-round selection will undoubtedly create lofty expectations.

Sam LaPorta was another high selection, and at a position that historically takes time to develop properly at the NFL level. Look no further than T.J. Hockenson, who the Lions just traded away last trade deadline. However, it arguably fits the team’s most significant need in the draft.

Branch is the big one. Can he crack the lineup somehow? Where will he play? He’s not necessarily the sort of athlete that usually finds success covering receivers around the line of scrimmage, but he played almost exclusively in the slot at Alabama.

All Ears Are on Dan Campbell

He’s the best quote in the NFL at the moment. The former NFL tight end — unsurprisingly, if you know literally anything about the position — sounds like he’s about to cut a WWE promo any second.

But the difference between Dan Campbell and other coaches that have been quotable and a bit silly is that there’s a sincerity he possesses that doesn’t often exist in the coaching ecosystem.

He got emotional and cried after a close loss to the Vikings in his first season as a head coach. The coach’s emotions showed once again when he was asked a question about the Lions in 2022 during an episode of Hard Knocks.

“When you see your players give all that they have, and you lose that way, it’s tough,” he said. “You know, you don’t want that for them.”

There is a long list of memorable quotes from Campbell. And with likely even more microphones and cameras around, he’ll likely add a few more memorable moments to the list.

Source link

Continue Reading


What Are the Changes and the Impact?




The NFL voted to implement a one-year trial run of a rule change that would establish a touchback for all kickoffs fair caught behind the 25-yard line. This NFL kickoff rule change should substantially decrease the number of kickoffs in the NFL that are returned — already a feat that’s dying out.

The new rule still allows returns, and any team behind a few scores late in the game will want to chance it by returning the ball even when the kick goes deep. However, it should mean that the newly evolved strategy of attempting to force returns with balls kicked inside the 5-yard line should no longer be viable.

History of Recent NFL Kickoff Rule Changes

NFL rule changes have significantly altered the kickoff over the years. Prior to a 2010 rule that moved the kickoff line from the 40-yard line to the 35-yard line, over 80% of kickoffs were returned. That number dropped to about 60% and then roughly 50% as kickers entered the league with stronger legs and an incentive to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone.

In 2015, we saw an increase in kickoff returns from 50% to about 55% as the NFL rules committee voted to establish a rule against running starts for kickoff coverage players on kickoffs, which gave returners more room and a bigger reason to take the ball out of the end zone.

The NFL soon decided to give kick returners more of a reason to kneel out the ball, moving the touchback from the 20-yard line to the 25-yard line in 2018. Kickoff-return percentage dropped to around 38% after that touchback rule change.

MORE: NFL Spring League Meeting Notebook — Thursday Night Flex, No Washington Commanders Sale

With this new rule, which expands touchbacks to any fair catch caught behind the 25-yard line, the NFL expects kick returns to drop to a 31% rate. As a result of this change, they anticipate a 15% drop in concussion rate, following the declines from previous rule changes. According to the league, the NFL saw a 38% drop in concussion rate after legislating against the running start.

Before the touchback change, kickoffs accounted for 12% of all football concussions, despite only being six percent of plays. They accounted for 18% of all injuries of all types.

NFL Coaches Oppose the NFL Kickoff Rule Change

All 32 special teams coaches have opposed the change, according to MMQB’s Albert Breer. Thirty-four players, drawn from all 32 teams, also opposed the change.

The coaching that has already gone into perfecting the forced return will have gone to waste, and the alternative options to making the kickoff return more than just a perfunctory ritual are bleak. As the competition committee themselves pointed out, kicks that cannot be fair caught, like squib kicks, aren’t used in this situation. College squib kicks reduced after implementing their own version of the touchback rule.

In addition to the special teams coordinators uniting to oppose the change, several head coaches, including Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh — who both have special teams coaching experience — registered their disagreement with the changes.

When asked why they didn’t listen to those coaches, competition committee chairman Rich McKay said, “At the end of the day, health and safety drives decisions like this. I’ve sat on the health and safety committee for a number of years now.”

He added, “We used that committee to give us data and inform us on plays involved higher risk of injury, and then take it to the competition committee and try to come up with a proposal that it can deal with those.”

nfl kickoff rule change
Oct 10, 2021; London, England, United Kingdom; Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Jets 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 31% return rate seems optimistic from the NFL’s side, and there won’t be much incentive for teams to ever return the ball if they aren’t forced to unless they’re desperate in a late-game scenario. The NFL’s modeling tends to be pretty poor, too.

As they themselves pointed out, they didn’t anticipate the adjustment made by kickoff units to kick inside the 5-yard line on kickoffs. As a result, concussion rates slowly crept back upwards to prior levels.

The change might mean that starting field position on kickoffs might be universal across teams. Variance in starting field position has already dropped dramatically over the years, but this could mean that kickoffs all look the same.

MORE: The Best NFL Games To Watch Each Week of the 2023 Schedule

Taking competition out of the game generally isn’t popular among players and coaches. And it should reduce the number of things that separate teams, as well as the low-frequency, high-impact events that fans love to see.

Some of the most exciting moments in football came on kickoff returns, including two touchdowns in the emotional Buffalo Bills comeback and rally against the New England Patriots a week after Damar Hamlin’s life-threatening injury against Cincinnati.

NFL May Consider the XFL Kickoff

The NFL indicated that they may consider implementing the XFL’s kickoff rule, though they would need to get a good volume of kickoff injury data before feeling confident in implementing it. The XFL moves the kickoff coverage players to a spot five yards ahead of the kicker, with the blockers all lined up five yards away from the coverage players. The kicker lines up at the team’s 30-yard line.

Neither the blockers nor coverage defenders can move until the ball is fielded. The XFL touts the improvements made in player safety as a result of the change, and 97% of XFL kickoffs are returned.

Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Affairs, and Policy Jeff Miller indicated that they’re looking at those types of proposals, saying, “[We’re looking at data] certainly from the XFL, some certainly from the USFL, certainly from the European League of American football. If there’s American football being played somewhere in there trying something different, we want to understand it.”

McKay has watched the XFL kickoff and initially expressed skepticism about the play, but says he’s seen the benefits from the perspective of creating the potential for an exciting play. He said, “I do think it’s something we will discuss. And we have a history as a league of, ‘if we’re not quite sure, we’re not ready to do it.’ We can do it in the preseason for a year. There’s plenty ways we’ve done it in the past experiment.”

For now, we’ll likely see a play that’s much more ceremonial than impactful.

Source link

Continue Reading


Who Will Back Up Jalen Hurts?




Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts signed a massive extension this offseason. He clearly sits atop the quarterback depth chart in Philadelphia, but there are questions regarding the talent behind him. Let’s take a closer look at Philadelphia’s QB depth chart.

Philadelphia Eagles QB Depth Chart

  • Jalen Hurts
  • Marcus Mariota
  • Ian Book
  • Tanner McKee

Last season, Hurts took a massive step forward. While some questioned if he could be “the guy” in Philadelphia, Hurts performed above and beyond anyone’s expectations. He cemented himself as an MVP candidate and led the Eagles to Super Bowl LVII.

Yet, despite Hurts’ impressive performance, questions still remain behind him at quarterback in Philadelphia. Considering that Hurts has missed at least one game in each of his first two seasons as a full-time starter, depth is important.

MORE: Where Does Jalen Hurts Rank in the 2023 QB Power Rankings?

Last season, Hurts missed two games down the stretch of the regular season, and the Eagles’ offense struggled. Gardner Minshew tried his best to fill Hurts’ shoes, but the offense was inconsistent and basic. Philadelphia’s lack of a running threat at quarterback behind Hurts hindered their normally powerful offense.

Which is exactly why signing Marcus Mariota in free agency this offseason was a perfect move. Despite an unceremonious ending to his time with the Atlanta Falcons, Mariota is an ideal backup behind Hurts. Mariota has a limited arm, but his rushing ability will allow Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson to run a similar offense if Hurts is unavailable.

Will Marcus Mariota or Ian Book Backup Hurts?

Marcus Mariota is clearly the better option to back up Hurts next season. Mariota offers the ideal combination of experience with rushing ability, which Philadelphia lacked with Minshew as their primary backup QB last season.

MORE: Where Does the Eagles’ Offense Rank for 2023?

After spending a full season as the third quarterback in Philadelphia, Ian Book will likely have to earn that job this year. The Eagles selected Tanner McKee in the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, who offers plenty of upside as a developmental QB.

Book might have the edge due to his extra season of experience in the NFL. Yet, the Eagles are clearly intrigued by McKee and what he can bring to Philadelphia. McKee isn’t much of a rushing threat at all, but his arm is impressive, and he was held back by a weak supporting cast at Stanford.

Although Mariota has a firm grasp on the QB2 spot in Philadelphia, the battle for that final QB3 spot will be intriguing. Especially with the NFL implementing a new rule that allows a third quarterback to be active on game day without counting toward the active roster limit.

Source link

Continue Reading