Interview with Dave Razzano by Dewey Hammond.
Dave Razzano is a former NFL scout and Playmaker Mobile correspondent with more than 22 years of professional scouting experience with the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals under NFL coaches including Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Chuck Knox and Dick Vermeil. He's been a part of five Super Bowls with three Super Bowl wins (49ers, 1989, 1990; Rams, 2000).
Q: Brian Urlacher says Julius Peppers is the best football player he has ever seen. Considering how many plays Peppers takes off, Urlacher's statement seems a bit of a stretch, don't you think?
A: Well he probably is the greatest he has ever seen physically, but it's usually dangerous to listen to teammates and coaches when they're talking about their own players' abilities. I think there defense has lost a bit, and it will help getting Peppers and Brian Urlacher healthy, but I've always thought Peppers was overrated. There is more hype than ability. He's got all of the physical abilities and talents, but he does not play every down. He is not one of those competitive guys. At the end of the year he'll have double-digit sacks because he's a good player, but he is not a top talent and I don't agree with Urlacher. He's probably talking about the physical look of the guy. When you study Peppers, and if you didn't know it was Peppers, you wouldn't necessarily be raving about him. He's a flash guy. He's got ability but he's not a consistent player, especially in the run game. He can rush the passer but he needs to get an edge. He doesn't have a variety of moves. He's a big athletic guy and that alone will get you X number of sacks, on sheer size and athletic ability, but at the end of the day he's not an all-out competitor by any stretch.
Q: So who on that defense is an all-out competitor? Who plays above expectations?
A: They need to get Tommie Harris healthy and obviously Urlacher. Those are their two best players to go along with Peppers. They don't have a lot of depth on their defensive line. Anthony Adams, Mark Anderson — they don't have much depth behind those guys so an injury will really hurt their D-line. Their linebackers beyond Briggs and Urlacher don't impress. I think Hunter Hillenmeyer is a fringe guy. Their secondary is also a weakness. Charles Tillman is a decent player, but I have my doubts about Zackary Bowman, and of course Danieal Manning, the safety, and Chris Harris — those are second-tier and third-tier safeties. Their secondary has fallen off, their depth has fallen off, and they've lost their defensive identity. I don't see that defense as a top-tier defense like it was three or four years ago.
Q: Mike Martz, what impact will he have on that offense and specifically Jay Cutler?
A: He'll help in the numbers. Statistically they'll be better than they've ever been, and Cutler will throw in the neighborhood of 4,000 yards. It'll be a pass-heavy offense and the onus will be on the receivers. I think the receivers need to focus on route-running and reading zone coverages on the fly. It's a timing offense. The ball is released before the receivers even make the cut. You have young guys like Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. It takes a while to learn this offense. Martz will help them but their O-line doesn't have depth either. Their starters have a couple of guys who are very average, and in the long run that's going to hurt them because Mike doesn't give his QBs a lot of protection, as everybody knows. His quarterbacks do tend to get beat up a little bit. It's going to be a work in progress, and they're going to struggle, but at the end of the day they're going to have decent stats, better than they've had in a while. But it's going to be a struggle for that team to win games this year.
Q: Johnny Knox is coming into his second season, a small-college guy who not every fan knows about, and you have him pegged as a top 15 fantasy receiver in point-per-reception leagues. Tell us more about Johnny Knox and what he brings to the table for the Bears.
A: Work ethic, absolute speed and quickness, great hands — he's a very good football player. Mike Martz likes the speed guys. Those are his number-one qualities: speed and hands. This guy is a good route runner, a fifth-round steal who dominated at a small school, Abilene-Christian. There is no way he should have fallen to the fifth round, but some teams are afraid of small-school guys and I don't know why considering there have been so many of them over the years. Johnny Knox is an absolute good football player who will continue to get better and in this system I think he'll catch a ton of balls and maybe have double-digit touchdowns just on his sheer speed and burst. He'll become the go-to receiver in that offense.