FANGIO BRINGS HIS 3-4 DEFENSE TO CHICAGO
Vic Fangio was one of the myriad of huge losses this past offseason for the 49ers, but he is a big gain for the Bears. There were plenty of moments of miscommunication, bad plays and confusion, but that is to be expected when you are overhauling your entire defensive scheme and I think the Bears will be better for it long-term. The Bears defense has been one of the most difficult for me to anticipate when putting together the depth chart, but we got a nice look as they started Ferguson (RDE), Ratliff (NT), Jenkins (LDE), McPhee (ROLB), Jones (RILB), McClellin (LILB), Allen (LOLB), and then Fuller, Rolle, Vereen and Jennings in the secondary. McClellin has been earning high praise in camp and looked comfortable donning the green dot on his helmet, controlling the play calls for the defense. McClellin is entering his contract year, and a good showing for him this season could earn him a nice second contract. They also showed that they have much better depth at ILB than I originally anticipated, with Mason Foster doing a nice job of dropping back into coverage in the jack role and Jon Bostic plugging holes as the thumper. Antrel Rolle looks like the perfect veteran free agent signing that will help stabilize a secondary that was very shaky last season. I'm looking forward to seeing how this defense continues to gel throughout the rest of preseason. Sam Acho had a strong game with an interception and sack - his experience in Arizona's 3-4 defense was important for Fangio. But at least Jared Allen seems to be having a good time...
WHAT ARE THE DOLPHINS WAITING FOR?
The Dolphins have potential to have a very good offensive line... if they sign Evan Mathis to play LG. I have no idea what is holding them back on bringing Mathis in on a 1 year prove-it deal, especially when it looks like they have enough talent to compete for the AFC East this year. Mathis was recently graded as the best offensive guard in football over the last three years by Pro Football Focus - there must be something deeper we don't know about.
BEARS MUSICAL CHAIRS ON OFFENSIVE LINE
I had read quite a few rumblings of Kyle Long potentially lining up at RT this year, and I found that to be very interesting and a good idea. After watching Jordan Mills struggle again in this game, I found a Jermon Bushrod/Kyle Long booked pairing to be an even better idea. The Bears have to figure out their best five offensive lineman and what roles they all fit in soon. I wouldn't even be opposed of letting rookie C Hroniss Grasu start and moving veteran Montgomery over to RG (or even letting Ducasse play RG next to Long). See what I mean re: Mills?
A ROYAL WELCOME
Eddie Royal had his best statistical year as a rookie in Denver (91 rec, 980 yds, 5 TDs). Who was throwing him the ball? You guessed it - smokin' Jay Cutler. Cutler and Royal have been demonstrating good chemistry throughout all of camp, and with Kevin White likely to miss the season with a stress fracture, there's a good chance Eddie Royal's fantasy value just skyrocketed. However, Bears fans will hope that plays like these will be rectified sooner rather than later.
WHO WILL BE ODD MAN OUT IN BEARS RB RACE?
The Bears showed that they have some outstanding depth at the RB position this year, especially after the signing of Jacquizz Rodgers. Rookie RB Jeremy Langford had an OK debut, with a nice first down screen run to kick off the second quarter, but nothing that really jumped out at you. It will probably be between Ka'Deem Carey, Senorise Perry and Daniel Thomas for the fourth and final roster spot. For right now, I would expect Perry as the early favorite just based on his exceptional special teams value, with Carey maybe moving over to the practice squad.
THIS IS TANNEHILL'S YEAR
Bill Lazor is a stud at offensive coordinator. Despite having a make-shift offensive line, the Dolphins running game was strong, just as it was last year, and no one on the offensive side of the ball looked stronger than Ryan Tannehill. Lazor's system is good, but we saw the Dolphins back up QBs struggle with 3 interceptions after Tannehill checked out for the game. With all the money the Dolphins just paid him, they need to make keeping Tannehill priority number one this season if they are going to make a playoff run. Hence my earler point on Evan Mathis.
-It looks like a pair of injuries are going to sideline the first round wide receivers for each of these teams. However, the prognosis for Dolphins WR DeVante Parker is much more positive than that of Bears WR Kevin White, as a stress fracture injury that was downplayed by the organization looks more severe than originally anticipated, sidelining him for the season. If so, White joins DE Dante Fowler as Top 5 picks this year who are going to miss the season on injured reserve. Ouch.
-Bears NT Eddie Goldman certainly looks the part, and I thought that this was one of the best fits in terms of player and scheme during the draft. Goldman is a space eater who is athletic enough to combine power and speed, a trait that Fangio values in his nose tackles. Look at the outstanding hand use, disruption and penetration that Goldman displays here as he is held by the offensive lineman, although no flag was thrown.
-The curious case of RB Jay Ajayi continues. Ajayi has been struggling mightily in camp so far by all accounts, and he did not even see action in the first preseason game. I was very high on Ajayi prior to the draft, so this storyline is something to keep an eye on. I thought he was going to be a steal for the Dolphins in the fifth round.
-Out of the entire first-team defense, Bears FS Brock Vereen struggled the most. I'm just not certain that Vereen can cut it as anything more than a back up, and luckily for the Bears and GM Ryan Pace, they seem to have something in FS Adrian Amos, who is going to be practicing with the ones this week following his solid performance in this game. Amos shows good instincts and tight coverage here on Dolphins RB Damien Williams.
-Dallas Thomas was one of the worst graded lineman according to Pro Football Focus last year, so if LG Jamil Douglas can't beat him out for that spot, that would be somewhat of a concern. Dolphins LG Jamil Douglas had some OK moments, but when he struggled, it was costly for the team. For example, here he picks up the wrong rusher, leading to a 2 yard loss on the run.
-The telecast kept mentioning Bears C Hroniss Grasu as the "center of the future," but I don't see why he can't beat Will Montgomery out for that job and be the center of the present. I know Fox brought Montgomery in based on their experience together in Denver, and he is a decent player in his own right, but Grasu has the type of athleticism that can make him a very good center in this league.
-I mentioned the depth that the Bears had at ILB earlier in this post, and that was without including the solid performance of ex-Washington LB John Timu. Timu was a player that I liked a lot, but unfortunately he was overshadowed by a Huskies defensive unit that boasted three first round picks in this year's draft, and he wasn't even invited to the combine. If he stacks up a couple more plays like the interception below, it will be very tough to cut him.
PLAY OF THE GAME
There were two plays on defense that deflated the game between the Sherick McManis strip and fumble recovery and the diving Timu interception, but I am going to give the edge to Timu.
BEARS GAME BALL: Sherrick McManis (4 tackles, FF, FR)/Sam Acho (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT)
DOLPHINS GAME BALL: Ryan Tannehill (6/7 56 yds 1 TD)
Dolphins LB Chris McCain (rolled ankle)