Chicago Sun-Times

Blue makes the NFL go round; A look at scouting the Bears' elite

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Blue.

It's the color that every personnel man in the National Football League wants to see.

Blues are what define winning organizations. They are the difference between winning and losing on Sundays. Blues shines brightest in the biggest moments. Blues command the biggest paychecks. Blues are what the game is all about.

Mike Lombardi
at the National Football Post spent the last few weeks breaking down what blue players are on every roster in the league. First, let's let him describe what a blue is. He should know. He spent more than two decades in front offices in Oakland, Cleveland. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Denver.

"Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league. Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game. Not one player can take him out of the game. Each week he has a consistent level of performance. Plays at a championship level performance. He rates in the top ten at his position in the league."

Here is how he assessed the Bears:

Blue chip

Jay Cutler: He's a blue player, now he needs to be a blue winner.
Matt Forte: Does it all--run, catch, protect--very well.
Devin Hester: Not sure he's a blue player, but he's a blue playmaker.

Almost, but not blue

Brian Urlacher: If blockers get to him, he's blocked, so he's not a blue.
Lance Briggs: No one on the Bears' defense is a blue.

It's an interesting take. Certainly Urlacher has not been on top of his game the last two seasons, and Lombardi isn't the only trained eye to make that assessment. Briggs fails to make the cut also and he's been to four consecutive Pro Bowls. I took a look at the outside linebackers who were included on the list and I think it's easy to see what Lombardi was seeking. He wanted outside linebackers who get to the quarterback.

Here is his list of blues at the position:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Joey Porter, Miami
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay

There's a leap of faith involved there that Merriman will bounce back from a serious knee injury to again be a dominant performer, and that Kampman will adjust to the move outside from defensive end in the new 3-4 scheme Dom Capers has brought to the Packers. But they're both established pass rushers and that is simply not something Briggs does. Teams don't put as much of an emphasis on weak-side linebackers as every is seeking pass rushers.

Lombardi also omits defensive tackle Tommie Harris from the list, and Harris didn't play up to a blue level last season. There are concerns about his knee, too. Tight end Greg Olsen could certainly ascend and be considered a blue quickly. In fact, it seems the Bears expect him to be an elite performer beginning this season.

It certainly makes for a good discussion. The Bears trail Minnesota and Green Bay in the division when it comes to blues.

Bears 3 blues/3 almost blues
Detroit 1/2
Green Bay 5/3
Minnesota 6/2

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19 Comments

Brad you have the packers backward. they had 3 blue and 5 almsost.. not 5 blues and 3 almsot

Lance briggs should be a blue, saying no one on bears desrvs it real dumb, esp when worst d's have blues

I think the concept of pass rushing outside linebackers has ruined the position. Let's be honest, all of these guys are defensive ends without their hands in the ground:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Joey Porter, Miami
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay


Granted, some of them can cover, but they are essentially one dimensional players. 4-3 Outside linebackers are in most cases better all-around players than these guys, but to paraphrase an old baseball ad, "chicks dig sacks."

Now while I think Urlacher qualifies easily as one of the 10 best at his position in the last decade, the fact that he is "block-able" makes him currently not blue. He is healthy this year, so we should see the Urlacher we need to see, so that could change his position. The only other who may make the list this year:

Greg Olsen

But considering the balance of the blue chippers, having 2 legit guys in Cutler and Forte, and 5 potentials in Hester, Urlacher, Briggs, Gould, and Olsen is pretty good.

Now all they have to do is live up to it and win some playoff games again...

Based on last year, I would put Devin in the "almost" category. It's hard to argue with what Lombardi has to say (about the Bears). I think if Briggs was a "blue" there is no way Chicago re-signs him for a song. Briggs is a monster don't get me wrong, but when I think of weak-side LBs I think of pass rushers as well. I miss Rosey Colvin!

Rodgers ranked as a blue for 1 good season and he did not even lead them to a winning record last year, he also threw some tough picks in critical times. Come on Rodgers will not be blue this year after the Bears get to him he will be black and blue.

Berrian is good but should he be included with this group and Pat Williams, well lets see how he does after not getting his steroid soup this year.

Kreutz should have been an almost blue, Briggs definitely a blue when you consider his stops in the backfield and turnover ability and Urlacher is a game changer who is expected to do more than most middle linebackers particularly in coverage.

Brad, lets face it, it appears the style of D a team plays seems to affect these choices since the 3-4 seems to possess a large number of blue players that get sacks.

Good this will just give some of the Bears players another reason to have a chip on their shoulder since the experts are ranking division rivals as having better talent.

Go Bears!!!

Brad,
Not disputing the value of pass rushers to any team, and I would love to have a few more of them on our team. I was being more tongue in cheek on the chicks dig sacks. I think the only person in the NFL that doesn't is Greg Blache....sorry, couldn't resist on that one...

What I do not like is that all of these linebackers are grouped into 1 bucket. These 3-4 pass rushers are not asked to do the same things as Lance Briggs and other 4-3 outside backers. I could say the same thing about defensive linemen. 3-4 DEs and DTs are very different in their roles and responsibilities than 4-3 DL. 3-4 DEs are really more like 4-3 DTs, but the nose tackle spot translates pretty well across both schemes. CBs and Safeties are a little more common, in that they all play man and zone, and while the scheme may differ a bit, they perform the same basic functions. Offensive linemen are also pretty common across all systems. But if I had to choose one player to build around, given my preference of a 4-3 defense, I would likely start with Mario Williams or Julius Peppers, guys who can create mismatches from a traditional DE position. Kampmann would be another, but I would have his hand in the dirt.

Most sports have developed specialist positions, and the NFL is no exception to that. The only difference is that they do not call them anything different. I would much prefer that 3-4 OLBs are called out as OLB/DE and 4-3 guys are considered straight OLBs. Mostly a style thing, but it would be a much more accurate way to compare the guys at the same position. The league takes advantage of this peanut butter spread in cases like Terrell Suggs, where he was franchised as a LB, and did not get DE money on the tag. So his value in the eyes of the league was negatively impacted by the "non-sack" guys. The players association took note of that, and will be adding that into negotiations for the new CBA I am sure. These guys are the money players on a defense, but the teams are protected by their designation as OLB, and not what they are, which is an OLB/DE.

While I am on the subject of things I would like the NFL to change, I would love to see the NFL come up with a turnover stat for wide receivers. For example, the pass that bounced right out of Johnny Knox's hands in Buffalo and right into the hands of the defense should not be hung on Cutler. The jump ball to Hester, absolutely, but he should not be dinged for a poor play by the receiver. Granted, it would be subjective, kind of like errors in baseball, but at the same time, tackle statistics kept by the team are subjective as well, and rarely do they match the official NFL statistics.

Anyway, enough on that...

This might be why Lombardi is writing columns instead of having a job in a front office. He has three blue chippers and two more almosts on the Packers defense, did he not see it play last year and demonstrate that it had all the stopping power of damp, single-ply tissue paper.

Why bother playing games when you can just 'scout' teams and decide which is the best.

Good real world stuff Brad.

I could quibble with individual picks, but Lombardi is spot on about the Bears. They have a lot of really good football players, that is one reason I love them. They do lack "blues".

Most blues are drafted in the first round, and the Bears have simply missed too often in the last 10 years. The only "blue" they currently have from the first round is Urlacher, and he has slipped from the list. Harris was once a blue and so was Pace. It's not impossible that they could still play to that standard.

I feel they are drafting better in recent years. Olsen could make it. Williams has a chance. They have done decently in the second round. Forte....Hester. Manning could maybe still develop into a blue.

The Bears have found a lot of good players in rounds 3-6, but not many "Blues". Take a look at the Cutler trade in this light and it really shines.

In this case the truth hurts, and the truth is that Lombardi is right. You need blues and the Bears don't have as many as they should. The "blue" end of the draft just wasn't good enough for the Bears in the early 2000s. As a result they don't currently have a big enough "core" of KNOWN blue players.

The good news is the list is of players who are known to be "blue". Most sports prognosticators like Lombardi look back more than they do forward. I'm thinking that at the end of the year we'll find that we just didn't know yet about a couple more names should have been put on his list.

Brian Urlacher, 6 time pro-bowler, defensive rookie of the year 2000, and defensive player of the year 2005. But none of that is good enough to be a blue chipper because he can be blocked? My question to Mr.Lombardi is this, If Urlacher is so blockable, then why is he around 80 tackles shy from being the Chicago Bears all-time leader in tackles. I'll say it again for emphasis, 80 some tackles short of being the CHICAGO BEARS [a franchise known for their great linebackers] all-time leader in tackles? No player that is "blockable" could have racked up the amount of tackles Urlacher has throughtout his career. Throughout Urlacher's 9 year career he's lead the Bears in tackles 7 times, and the only reason he didn't in 2004 was because he was injured. So give me a break with this nit picking BS, Urlacher is a blue chip player.

Also, had Urlacher been drafted by a 3-4 team, I guarantee he would have been a rush linebacker, and would have probably racked up double digit sacks throughout his career. Then it would have been all right to call Urlacher a blue chipper huh? Urlacher was one of only a handful of players to ever enter the league that could have conceivably played on all three levels of defense, the line, linebacker, or in the secondary. Some teams, like the 49ers, saw Urlacher as a safety coming out in 2000. Speaking of Urlacher having the ability to play safety, I wonder if any of the so called "blue chip" middle linebackers on Lombardi's list could back pedal and cover the way Urlacher has to in Chicago's scheme on defense? In the cover-2 the middle linebacker has to cover a lot of ground. But, Urlacher has been banged up the last couple seasons so it is easy for media types like Lombardi to [kick em while their down] so whatever, Id take Urlacher over any current middle linebacker in the league right now. GO URLACHER!! and GO BEARS!!

Jimmy the Bears didn't have much stopping power on the defense last year either.

I will tell you why Lance Briggs is not a blue. Lance is the weak side LB in the Bears T2 defense. He is a system LB, if you ask Lance if he would be good playing another LB position, he will tell you he is a weak side LB only. He is a system LB, thats why not a lot of teams went after him, he is a poor open field tackler, and he plays at a position in a system that funnels plays too him. This helps boost his stats. He is a solid system LB, and he knows it.

If Urlacher has a good year he will be back as a blue chip.

Now for some good news, Marshall has been suspended in Dever, Marshall has said ownership has agreed to trade him. McNugget has not denied these claims. With the way Marshall is acting, he could be had for a cheap price, the best news is if a team trades for him and he acts out and they don't one his contract is up at the end of the season. I said this wasn't over,

Oh and Dusty's season is over has reported by the Sun-Times, he has a torn ACL as reported by the Times, why do the Bears always deny stuff like this? Hey Williams has a herniated disk. No he doesn't. Ok he does but it's not the same disk you reported. Then they call the media liers, when there the ones lying. Well sorry Dusty, it's not your fault, it's the Bears fault for relying on you.

By the way I have ot disagree with Kampman being a blue, as an End he was a blue, but he is no longer a end and we have not seen him play as a rush LB in a single real game, he could suck. So Brad why is Kampman on that list? Chris Williams was a great OT in College but has yet to play a real game at the position in the NFL. How come he is not on the list? I'll tell you why because he cannot be judged at the position he has yet to play in the NFL. Kampman does not belong on that list until he proves it.

I think some responders are forgetting one thing in re: Lance Briggs and pass rushing...............Lovie wants all the QB pressure to come from the down linemen, not the LB's. He never seem to get it (in more ways than one) that the game outcome is more important than his system. This from the genius who calls a timeout with 11 seconds left in a game in which you have the lead. DUH!!!

How come this guy is basically another Joyner and yet you guys care to join in with his football-players-on-paper assessments? You would be calling him all the names in the world if he didn't call Cutler a Blue. I'm sorry but I can care less. Some of you guys have shot holes in some of his information. Why not be up in arms with another pencil neck telling us what a good player is. And you should be able to get pressure from your front four. Funny how the Bears were on the top of the list on blitzing and still someone wants to come and shoot phanthom holes in the team theories. Doesn't that mean that we do rely on pressure from someone other than the line if we were at the top of the list in blitzing?

Brad,

You're mostly right about defenses needing pass rushers since the game has changed and teams pass a lot more. But a pass rusher who is weak against the run creates a huge defensive deficiency. Look no further than Mark Anderson for an example, 'nuff said.

And while Briggs does not get sacks -- I think he could if he were put into the right scheme, but that's another issue -- he's also good in pass coverage. This guy makes the Pro Bowl every year. To say he's not a top player at his position is idiotic.

As to Urlacher, if he gets back to his old form, he's one of the best, despite that when blockers get to him he gets blocked. What Brains, er, I mean Lombardi, didn't get is that when he's playing well, blockers cannot get to Urlacher in the first place due to his speed and quickness.

Bears, just go out in that first game and make some of the guys in green and gold black and blue!

Kevin the question is not whether Brian Urlacker was ever a Blue Chipper but whether he is one right now. As has been pointed out he was earlier in his career but not the last two years. Let's hope he returns to the level of play we have become use to....

Brad,

Who cares? In the end, player's level of play has a lot to do with the cast around them. You can have a great wide receiver but if you don't have a very good QB, that wide out will never be great.
Likewise...your offensive line is gaged by how many sacks they allow.
If the QB knows how to affoid sacks and gets the ball out quicker, all of a sudden, the offensive line looks great for not allowing sacks. A running back can never be great behind a bad line.
Wide outs do better if there are other players for the defense to worry about.
Cornerbacks look good if the defensive line doesn't give the QB time to throw.
So on and so on and so on.
Now I agree when you put someone like Dan Hampton on the D line and he has to get double teamed...it helps all of the other defensive players play better....but in the end, it takes 11 players for D or O to look good. And even though a D can cover for the O and vise versa through out the season, you have the best chance of making it to the big game with both sides of the ball are good.
Now ...everybody on this blog knows this..and so do you.
Why waste our time with "blue".
If you don't have enough to write about...why don't you just ask us?
We can provide you with plenty to write about.
How about starting with some good articles on the draft picks. You should know by now how everyone is doing...(in detail please...no one liners). That should keep you busy for a week or two.

Kevin Armstead killed it, I only have a little bit to add:

This "shedding blocks" meme really needs to be stopped.

When the Ravens got rid of their "fat plug tackle" scheme Ray Lewis, Mr. "Block Shedder" was suddenly much less efficient doing so and even whined about it publicly. No MLB in this league sheds blocks at the 2nd level like a super-hero. These olineman are big, athletic and fast these days. They are a mismatch for any MLB. Its all about the surrounding cast and the scheme.

Urlacher was such a marvel at one point in his career that critics had to grasp at something, anything in order to find a chink in his armor and it was this "block shedding" meme they came up with.

Urlacher is perhaps no longer a blue chipper but it has nothing to do with some non-existence super-block shedding ability. If the rumors of his resurgence this off-season are true and he is the player he was in 05 and 06, then not only is he a blue chipper, he is a top 3 or 4 defensive player

I agree with Brad totally on this one. I miss Colvin as well. Lance while I even picked him on my FF team is not a Blue. I would have picked a much better LB than Lance if any were availabe. Rose colored glasses guy's. Url? give me a break, its not what he did 3 years ago! Its what he did the last 2 years. Nada, nothing, zero. He looks alot better this year so far but like Olsen the year has not started yet, so how could they possibly be a blue based on last year? I like Briggs, but man, I would love to see our fast LB's get sacks! We have the speed/power Briggs in my opinion would be a great Sack man - like Marshall/Wilson Colvin Notice that when they actually turn Url loose on the QB instead of racing him backwards good things usually happen, like a QB hit? Our Dline has not been getting there period. So why not send Briggs? and why not pickup a player that can get there? Yes, a Blue DE/DL

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on August 28, 2009 5:05 AM.

Bears still healing in secondary; Dvoracek could top dubious list was the previous entry in this blog.

Dvoracek done for the season with a torn ACL is the next entry in this blog.

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