Was Releasing Matt Slauson A Smart Move?

Was Releasing Matt Slauson A Smart Move?

Prior to the NFL Draft, Danny Shimon produced a series of evaluations of potential draft acquisitions  for the Chicago Bears. You can find those by CLICKING HERE. Danny now continues his player evaluation by answering the question, was releasing Matt Slauson a smart move by the Bears.

So far this off season Bears general manager Ryan Pace has seemingly made all the right moves when it comes to rebuilding the team through free agency and the draft.

At the onset of free agency Pace went ahead and filled in what was probably one of the team’s biggest weaknesses on defense, their inside linebacker position, by signing veterans Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. He then filled another area of need by signing defensive lineman Akiem Hicks.

Then in the draft Pace added speed, length, and athleticism to all three levels of the defense by using six of his nine selections to the defensive side of the ball.

However, if there was a questionable move Pace and the Bears made this off season it was releasing veteran guard Matt Slauson. The move happened about 48 hours after Pace drafted selecting Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair.

The release of Slauson had been rumored for weeks but most Bears fans I interacted with were disbelieving. Sure, Slauson is a 30-year old six-year veteran whose body had been banged up over the last couple of seasons and was slowing down a bit. Yet he was still probably one of the Bears better offensive linemen last season. When the team desperately needed a center he filled in admirably. Additionally, Slauson was a respected locker room leader, not only for the offensive linemen but the entire team.

But, Slauson ready was showing signs of slowing down last season. While he was still stout at the point-of-contact and powerful enough to knock defensive lineman backwards, he did struggle a bit when asked to play in space. Whether that was quickly getting out to the second level and blocking or even when asked to pull or trap to the opposite side of the line, the tape shows Slauson’s foot speed was not what it used to be. Careful analysis reveals Slauson actually played better inside at center. That’s because he was not asked to block in space. He excelled when asked to block in a more confined area.

Having invested a 2015 third round pick in Hroniss Grasu and with free agent signee Manny Ramirez on board the Bears where not going to permanently move Slauson to center. So when the opportunity presented itself to draft a younger, cheaper, versatile lineman in Whitehair Pace took it.

In Whitehair the Bears get tremendous value. Some teams had low first round grades on him. Whitehair was a four-year starter at Kansas State. He started games at four offensive line positions (RT, RG, LG, LT) for coach Bill Snyder’s Wildcats. Whitehair played the last couple of seasons at left tackle, but I detect that he lacks the lateral agility, strength, and physical dimensions (arm length and height) to play on the outside. Instead he’s likely an NFL guard and capable of playing center.

Whitehair plays with great awareness, always on alert for blitzing defenders and shifting defensive linemen. He sets up quickly in pass protection utilizing his good body control and foot quickness to keep the defenders in front of him. Although he lacks ideal arm length he does have huge, strong hands and does a nice job of planting them inside the lineman’s chest limiting his movement or ability to escape the block. Whitehair demonstrated the ability to quickly get out to the defense’s second level with his short-area quickness (1.75 secs 10 – yard split time), locate a defender, and help seal off a running lane.

Whitehair’s quickness and athleticism will be put to use on screen passes, when asked to get out in front of the ball, on trap plays and when pulling to get in front of the ball carrier to lead block.

He needs to get stronger as he only managed 16 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the Combine. Although Whitehair does a good job of sinking his hips and absorbing a bull rush to maintain his block the concern is that in the NFL, with stronger faster athletes, he may struggle with power until he adds that extra muscle. Whitehair also played in a spread system at Kansas State where he was usually in a two-point stance and was rarely, if ever, asked to get in a three-point stance to fire out in run blocking. In the pros he will need to adjust to that crucial aspect of offensive line play, especially playing inside at guard.

While there are no declarations that Whitehair is replacing Slauson, the second round pick will get a great chance to break camp as a starter. Though Whitehair won’t offer some of the intangibles that Slauson brought to the table what he will do is allow the Bears to get younger and more athletic upfront.

Cutting Slauson could leave a leadership void both in the locker room and on the field. But, that’s unlikely given Kyle Long’s presence and the addition of veterans Ramirez and Ted Larsen. Cutting the Slauson cord earlier than expected expedites the transformation of the offensive line to a young and more agile group. If Whitehair (24) starts alongside Charles Leno (24), Kyle Long (27), Hronis Grasu (24), and Bobbie Massie (26) the Bears average age for their offensive line is then 25. That gives Chicago one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL and a foundation of youth to build the offense around.

A football team is as good as its offensive and defensive lines play. It is evident Ryan Pace believes that football games are won in the trenches. He’s executed his plan to rebuild both lines by making them the strength of the team. This is impressive. We’ll miss Matt Slauson, but the decision to replace him makes perfect sense.

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Danny Shimon

Danny Shimon

NFL Draft Columnist for http://Todayspigskin.com NFL writer for National Football post and NFCNBarroom

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