PFW's Hub Arkush answers subscribers' Bears/NFL/Life questions in every newsletter:
How is James Daniels doing transitioning to center? Smart move or dumb move by coaches? Submitted by Tom
Tom, center is clearly Daniels' natural position, and after playing it his last two seasons in Iowa it’s not really even a transition for him. The whole offensive line looks better with him at center and Whitehair at guard, but all we’ve seen so far with OTAs and minicamp is a bunch of guys “running around on grass in their underwear,” as John Fox loved to tell us, so it’s a little early to make any big statements about him.
It is absolutely the right move, I know Harry Hiestand supports it, and he really is one of the best O-line coaches in football at any level, if not the best, so I have no doubts it’s the smart way to go.
I think the Bears could still use a true backup nose behind 91, especially if Nichols starts at DE. Safety depth is also a concern. What are your thoughts on those 2 topics? Submitted by I. M.
There isn’t a team in the NFL — including the Bears — that can’t always use more depth at every position, but I actually think they are in pretty good shape at the two spots you mention.
If his head is on straight, there is simply no question that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a big upgrade over Adrian Amos, and of course Eddie Jackson is a first-team All Pro. I like Deon Bush a lot, and other than the one big mental error vs. Philly, he didn’t hurt the Bears at all in the three games he started at the end of the season for Jackson.
DeAndre Houston-Carson is also capable of stepping in and making plays, and Sherrick McManis is really a better fit at safety than he is on the corner. Though they drafted Stephen Denmark to be an over-sized corner, they may decide he has an even more intriguing future at safety, so there’s really a lot to work with there.
As for the nose, the reality is, with sub packages, the Bears are only in 3-4 35-40 percent of the time. I had a long talk with D-line coach Jay Rodgers about this just a few weeks ago, and he pointed out that, based on matchups, he doesn’t want all his linemen to be 320-pounders. Akiem Hicks, Goldman, Nichols and Jonathan Bullard are all true interior linemen, while Roy Robertson-Harris is built more like an end but has dominated inside and on the nose at times.
Would I have taken a Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh? Of course. But with the damage it would have done to the cap, it really isn’t a need.
Hi HUB, 2 questions. I follow you religiously. You have mentioned time and time again you feel a weakness on the bears [is] tight end ... I dont see it. Please explain again. 2nd question: Your name, Hub, what is the full name and is a story behind it? Submitted by Tony Guzman
Tony, thank you for sticking with us.
But if you check back, I’m pretty sure you won’t find anywhere that I called tight end a weakness. However, it is my biggest concern. I can’t call it a weakness because we still have no idea what Adam Shaheen can do healthy. My concern is this is the year the Bears have to find out and if he isn’t better than average, then the position becomes a weakness.
Shaheen has to be your every-down tight end to block the run game — and his blocking has improved. Trey Burton is one of the better "move" tight ends in the league, but you can’t run the ball with him on the field in "11 personnel."
In "12 personnel," Burton can be the seam splitter and the deep threat, but Shaheen has to be a factor to maximize the passing game, and whether it’s injury, bad luck or he’s just not that good, he hasn’t been yet. Ben Braunecker is strictly a number three, and Dax Raymond is intriguing.
It’s the only position on the depth chart where the Bears aren’t comfortably set with their starters and don’t have at least one backup you feel OK about if Shaheen were to go down again. He’s a great kid, and I really hope he breaks out this year, but it has to happen now.
I’ll answer Question 2 — even though I suspect you may be the only person who reads it who cares.
My folks had several “normal” names for me but my dad’s dad died a few weeks before I was born, and in the Jewish tradition when you lose a parent you name your next born child after them. They hated the name Herbert but Dad’s side of the family was very religious so we were all stuck.
My brother Dan was about 15 months old and just starting to talk, and every time he tried to say Herbert, it came out Hubby. My Dad was a young sportswriter and desk editor at the Sun Times, where one of his partners on the desk went by Hub Logan, so they assumed it was fate and I became Hub (Herbert) Arkush.
Both Herbert (Herbie) and Hubby were pretty easy names for the little kids to make fun of, and I was quite the punk so I was getting in fights every day.
By the time I was six or seven, my parents and teachers agreed Hub was the only safe way to go and it’s been that way ever since.
What is your opinion of Nagy as a game day caller? Not to be confused with game plan strategist or designer of plays. IMO his play calling contributed a good degree to both of his playoff losses. Submitted by Tom Pappalardo
First of all, Tom, when you say “both of his playoff losses,” you’re obviously hanging the Chiefs ’17 loss on him. I was on the sidelines for that one for Westwood with the national radio call and I can assure you that one was on the head coach, Andy Reid, more than it was on Matt. Also remember Travis Kelce went out late in the first half with a concussion, and his run blocking is very much underrated, so that one was about a lot more than just play calling.
I think he does a great job calling the passing game. He’s extremely creative. And it’s hard to remember more than one or two of his gimmicks that haven’t worked, so you certainly can’t dock him for that.
The question which he himself raised just after midseason last year and again late in the year is whether he and his staff had yet to figure out the best way to marry their run game and passing game, and then you have to add that his quarterback last year was practically a rookie and trying to assimilate in one of the most complex offenses in the league.
I’d give him a "B" for strictly play calling last year, but I expect it to be better this year, now that he’s redesigned his running back depth chart the way he wants it.
As young head coaches go, I couldn’t be much more impressed with him so far.
Hub, do you think there is added pressure on the Packers to get out to a good start in order for everything to mesh well with Rodgers and the new coach? Am I the only one who sees the potential for disaster in Green Bay if they start slow? Submitted by Tyler Renkes
Tyler, it’s hard for me to imagine a disaster in Green Bay as long as Rodgers and Davante Adams are healthy, but I just wrote a fairly in-depth analysis of the Packers depth chart the other day pointing out they are no better than the third-most-talented team overall in the NFC North, and probably not all that close to the Bears or the Vikings right now.
Will they be no better than third in the division this year and maybe a .500 team? I think so.
Could the Lions catch them, too? It wouldn’t shock me.
But if Rodgers is Rodgers again, Adams stays healthy and Aaron Jones, Marquez-Valdes-Scantling and Jace Sternberger become the players the Packers think they will, they could surprise some folks and contend.
I don’t have high hopes for the defense. I think they will overachieve because Mike Pettine is really good, but I just don’t see the talent.
As for the whole LaFleur-Rodgers thing, I really think it’s being overrated by most folks because of the huge Bleacher Report piece on Rodgers and McCarthy. I am loathe to critique another reporter’s work, but how does he explain the simple fact that during the Rodgers-McCarthy era they were clearly the second-most-successful team in the league (other than the Patriots) if things were really that bad?
We think we know Rodgers from the anecdotal evidence we have of who he is, but the simple truth is I don’t “know” Aaron Rodgers and I have no idea how he’s going to work with LaFleur
And LaFleur is like any other rookie head coach: who knows until we see the results?
Disaster? No, I don't see that. But a third straight season at home in January seems likely to me.
Is Matt Forte a good comp for David Montgomery? Higher or Lower ceiling than Forte? Submitted by Iuksli
Forte is a very good comp as far as style, size, personality and temperament. It is also an extremely high bar to set for any young running back.
Matt was a high second-round pick; Montgomery a high third-rounder. Matt was exceptionally healthy for a back over the course of his career; Montgomery has been very durable so far.
But until I see Montgomery go full tilt in a few NFL games, there’s no way I can tell you his ceiling is as high as Matt’s was. Forte was a special player, and if there was a Hall of the Very Good, he’d be a legit candidate.
We can’t say that yet about Montgomery.
How scared should the AFC North be of the Browns? Submitted by Menthol Moose
Scared? Not at all. The Browns have a number of special talents on the roster but also a number of question marks — most notably an offensive line — that could turn out to be real problems.
Are they a vastly improved football team over 1-31? Absolutely. Are they better than 7-8-1? Probably.
If I were a general manger, would I rather have their roster than the Steelers'? No. Would I prefer it to the Ravens'? I can’t really say that yet.
The AFC North is probably the most balanced division in the league right now and should be a horse race, but you tell me: would you rather have Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh or Freddie Kitchens running the show?
The Steelers are the favorites in the North until someone proves on the field they shouldn’t be — and not in their fantasy football leagues.
Do you think that the NFL and NFLPA will come to a new collective bargaining agreement before the start of the season? Submitted by Chris
Chris, never say never, but I will say there’s a much better chance of hell freezing over.
I will have an in-depth column on this coming at PFW between now and the beginning of next week. Please stay tuned and I’ll explain why all the positive vibes are a marketing smokescreen.
— Hub Arkush