Prior to kickoff Saturday night, I tweeted a report from Zach Zaidman that the Bears intended to kick off from the 30-yard line instead of the 35-yard line, where the new rule change mandates the ball be placed.
The idea made sense considering that the number of kickoffs this preseason that have resulted in touchbacks was much higher than last year due to the five-yard advancement of the ball. The Bears — and any team, for that matter — don’t need their kicker to have practice sending the ball through the end zone. It’d behoove them to instead practice their kickoff coverage in a meaningless game.
When the NFL caught wind of what the Bears were doing, they called Soldier Field in the middle of the game to inform them that they could no longer do that because it was against the rules. That fact as well as defensive end Corey Wootton’s knee injury on the opening kickoff created a firestorm reaction which the Bears have since tried to douse.
According to Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub, the team received permission from the officiating crew that it was okay to kick off from the 30. Additionally, Bills coach Chan Gailey was informed ahead of time of the Bears’ intentions and he had no problem with it.
What’s worse than the NFL crying foul about the Bears’ intelligent idea is the outcry from some in the local media that the decision wound up costing them Wootton.
Let’s be clear that there is no correlation between Wootton’s injury and the Bears’ decision to kick off from the 30.
For starters, Gould’s kickoff was fielded at the 3-yard line. If he would have kicked off from the 35-yard line, that same kick would have landed two yards deep into the end zone, which almost certainly would have been brought out by Bills kick returner Marcus Easley.
Secondly, Wootton was running full speed and was blocked in the side. After reviewing the film repetitively, there was no violent contact. Wootton’s foot very well could have gotten caught in the lousy Soldier Field sod or his leg just might have buckled. But you can’t assert that Wootton would not have been running full speed on a touchback because that’s simply not true.
As a member of the kickoff team, you never know where the ball will be kicked. It could be shanked and come up short or it could go in a different direction than the kicker intended it to go. Also, players are taught to get down the field no matter what happens, which explains why you see the referee step in front of the kick returner on touchbacks and members of the kickoff team continue to run past them into the end zone.
Some media members even brought up the possibility that Wootton could seek a lawsuit against the Bears for putting him in that position.
What lawsuit, and based on what grounds? That the Bears were granted permission to kick from the 30 and Wootton was just doing his job? If anybody were to be at fault in this whole issue, it’d be the officiating crew that allowed the Bears to kick from the 30. Not the Bears, and not the NFL front office.
What happened to Wootton was a freak accident and it was not something that could have been avoided by kicking from the 35. Anybody in the Chicago media that tries to tell you otherwise is kidding themselves and is probably just looking for a reason to blame the Bears coaches for something.
Angelo’s plan better have a contingency, flexibility
Sean Jensen of the Sun-Times interviewed Jerry Angelo about the team’s salary-cap space, and the Bears general manager insisted that the Bears have a plan in place to which they’re sticking.
“Whatever we do, we want to do it with a plan,” Angelo said. “It’s not that we just frivolously go out and collect talent. Everyone we brought in here, we have a plan for.”
Despite swinging and missing on free agent offensive tackle Willie Colon of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Angelo maintains that the Bears are committed to developing their young talent.
“At some point, you have to let these young guys develop,” he said. “You bring in [a veteran], and he takes reps away from Lance Louis. So you know what? This young guy is on the shelf again. At some point, you have to believe in his traits, and then you have to let it play itself out.”
It’s understandable that Angelo wants to give his young players the opportunity to grow and develop, but why all at once? Why try to force four of the five linemen to learn on the job in their first or second season at those positions? J’Marcus Webb played right tackle last season and now he has to learn the left one. Chris Williams is only in his second season at left guard. Louis played only a few games at guard last season before being pulled and now he’s only in his second season at guard. And rookie Gabe Carimi may be the best lineman of the bunch, but he’s learning to play at the NFL level this season.
I won’t even mention Roberto Garza playing center for the first time since early in his career because he’s a veteran and he may not even be the team’s starting center when the regular season kicks off.
If Angelo wants his franchise quarterback and expensive investment to be bruised and battered for the second straight season, he’s well on his way to that outcome with an entire line that’s filled with inexperience.
“You can’t just continue to grab Band-Aids because the guys you have are unknown,” Angelo said in regards to bringing in veterans as temporary, stopgap solutions.
That’s a nice metaphor that Angelo enjoys using, so allow me to further use it:
If you don’t bring in a Band Aid solution when your offensive line gives up the most sacks in the NFL, how are you going to stop the bleeding when the young players fail to live up to your unrealistic expectations?