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Why the Chicago Bears Are Doing the Right Thing With JaMarcus Russell
A mini explosion occurred on June 4th, 2013. On an otherwise quiet day in the world of sports Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds kicked into a frenzy when word spread that a team stepped to the forefront of the JaMarcus Russell story by announcing an intention to work him out. In past years such teams would usually be the New England Patriots or Philadelphia Eagles. Teams that never mind exploring different options. So when word broke that it was the Chicago Bears, fans just about lost their minds screaming for the team to rethink such a ludicrous idea. However, there is a method to the madness.
Phil Emery conducts business differently
The first thing that needs to be remembered is these Bears are run by a scout-turned-GM. That has made Phil Emery a man who leaves no stone unturned. The first thing he did when he took over was expand the scouting department into one of the largest in the NFL. His goal is to know where all the talent is, no matter what school they play for or what they did in their past. That includes unexpected free agents. Last year Chicago brought in a number of surprise names for workouts. In previous years with the old regime that usually gave a good indication of a signing. That isn't the case with Emery. While a signing is always possible, the purpose of bringing in free agents for workouts is to keep updated files on their progress, how they look in the workout and how they might fit in with the team. In that way the Bears will know if they should place a phone call in an emergency. That no longer excludes the quarterback position.
Jay Cutler and the contract gamble
Another fact that is apparent is the risk being run by the team with current starter Jay Cutler. After another failed season to reach the playoffs, the Bears have decided to let the 30-year old play out the rest of his current contract in hopes he puts forth his best effort to perhaps not repeat what Joe Flacco did but at least get the team to the postseason. If he fails in doing that then Emery is faced with a hard decision. Does he bring Cutler back at a reduced price or look somewhere else.
Russell is 27 with every physical tool in the book. He is 6'5" with a gun for an arm and mobility. What had a lot of people concerned, his weight, which had ballooned to over 300 lbs has since dropped to 265. That is the same number he was at when he dropped jaws at the NFL scouting combine in 2007. Physically, he is just entering his prime and he doesn't have the number of hits on his body that Cutler has taken over the past few years. That kind of talent and health is never a bad thing to have at the most important position on the football field, whether he is playing or not.
Marc Trestman offers new possibilities
An overlooked factor about this move by the team is the new atmosphere around their coaching staff. Gone are the days of defensive-minded coaches who look for stability and consistency from the offense. The new Bears belong to the offensive innovator Marc Trestman. At age 57, the new head coach has almost three decades of experience coaching offensive football, with a growing expertise in teaching the fundamentals of the quarterback position. His reputation grew in the 1990s as a "guru" who could get the most out of even lesser quarterbacks.
For example, in 1997 he helped journeyman Scott Mitchell throw for over 3,700 yards with the Detroit Lions en route to the playoffs. A year later he did the same for Jake Plummer, who guided the Arizona Cardinals to their first playoff victory in 51 years. Perhaps his greatest success came shortly after that with the Oakland Raiders, where he developed another discarded quarterback, Rich Gannon, into the 2002 league MVP.
There are not many coaches better equipped to handle a case like Russell than Trestman. The former first overall pick has said he doesn't want to start right away but learn the game instead. This is precisely the knock on him from how he washed out of the league in the first place: a general lazy attitude and disinterest in hard work. If he can prove he's changed then one can understand why Trestman is so interested in bringing that kind of talent to training camp.
How should the Chicago Bears approach the Russell Question?
What Bears fans must remember is that players don't get drafted first overall by accident. Russell proved at LSU that he could play, winning All-SEC honors and the Sugar Bowl MVP for his dominant showing against Notre Dame. The guy can play good football. What will determine his comeback is whether he wants to put in the work and accept the coaching to become the great player he's physically built to be. Chicago is willing to leave him a small crack in that door. They need proof he can walk through it.