Thanks to our affiliation with SB Nation, we have access to hundreds of other experts that cover both the NFL and college football and we like to draw on that expertise from time to time.
This series of Five Questions With... will focus not only on the 2015 draft class for the Chicago Bears, but some of the undrafted free agents as well. This series of articles has become one of my favorites to do here at Windy City Gridiron, as I feel it gives us an added insight to the new players on the Bears.
Next up we'll focus on another of the undrafted free agents and talk with Chris Landon, one of the Site Managers of UW Dawg Pound, the SB Nation site that covers the Washington Huskies, about defensive linebacker John Timu.
Windy City Gridiron - With the Chicago Bears employing a 3-4 defense this year, they'll probably ask Timu (6'1", 245) to play inside linebacker. Coordinator Vic Fangio asks one of his starting ILBs to be more of a run plugger (the Mike) and he asks the other to be a little more versatile in terms of coverage and in rushing the passer (the Jack). Where do you think Timu's skill set fits best?
UW Dawg Pound - Timu is going to add value more in his versatility as a multi-position player than a straightaway Mike or Jack backer. His strengths are in his ability to read plays, anticipate and get a ball carrier on the ground. He is tough and he can stay in on plays even with a blocker hanging on him. He doesn't possess the stoutness to be a true run plugger and he has not had a lot of production as a blitzer or pass rusher. He is strong in coverage and is good at slipping blocks while pursuing the ball sideline to sideline.
While I agree that Timu's home is more than likely to be as more of a Mike style backer, I would expect him to have to show an ability to play more than one backer position and to contribute as a special teamer if he is to make the team.
WCG - In Timu's draft profile that you did for UW Dawg Pound, you mention his instincts being one of his strengths, but the scout you reference in your article (Rob Rang of CBSSports) mentions that Timu takes too many false steps, do you agree with that assessment?
UWDP - Timu is a former Safety / Quarterback prospect who has always shown a high degree of football intelligence (in addition to classroom intelligence) during his time at UW. As a three-plus year starter in the Pac 12, he's seen just about every offensive style that exists and he's demonstrated an ability to produce against all of them. I think he certainly has some habits that won't translate well into the NFL and I'm sure that Rob Rang has forgotten more about scouting 'backers than I'll ever know. However, I don't see the two observations as mutually exclusive.
WCG - I've seen Timu knocked for both his strength and athleticism, but then at his pro day he runs a 4.8 forty, which is just 2 hundredths of a second slower than 2nd round ILB Denzel Perryman, and he puts up 33 reps on the bench. His combine numbers were very comparable to the other top ILBs drafted, so does his work out speed and strength not translate to the football field?
UWPD - There are a lot of Huskies that were labeled with the "not athletic" tag before new Strength and Conditioning Coach Tim Socha came on board with the Chris Petersen staff. Socha has been a revelation in the weight room and on the training table for many Huskies that had been previously dinged for their lack of athleticism including guys like Danny Shelton (Browns), Hau'oli Kikaha (Saints) and Marcus Peters (Chiefs). For Timu, I think some of those observations are more of the legacy variety. While his athleticism and strength won't floor anybody, he's by no means ill-equipped to compete.
WCG - Washington has had a lot of defensive talent the last few years and Timu was their leading tackler in two of the last three seasons (328 total tackles in 4 years). Why do you think there was such little buzz about him as an NFL prospect?
UWDP - Timu has always been rated as a late-round NFL prospect going all the way back to his sophomore year, and I think the consensus is accurate. As you've already noted, he doesn't have the typical physical tools that you'd associate with a highly rated ILB like a Luke Kuechly or Eric Kendricks. He has gotten credit for his productivity, his work ethic and his leadership over the years.
One of the things that works against guys who see the field early and often in their college careers is that the tape that they produce early in their development gets "frozen in time" and becomes part of their resume, for better or worse. It takes a lot of scouting discipline to go beyond grading strengths of weaknesses and to actually track that kind of players improvement over time. This was probably a factor for Timu.
WCG - The Bears have had issues with teams that run the read option the last few years, how was Timu's awareness against the zone read teams of the PAC-12?
UWDP - Playing in the Pac 12, Timu has certainly had his share of experience playing against the zone read offenses of teams like Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State. I'd have to say that purely on results, his production has been a mixed bag. If you go back through his first three seasons, you'd see that his best games were against the tougher, power blocking offenses that he faced - particularly Stanford. Against zone read teams, he did struggle with maintaining that eye discipline that is so critical to making sure that you can cover your gap if the ball ends up in it.
That is probably what led to Rang's observation around "false steps". But this season under a new staff, I think you could see a clear turning of the corner in that regard. I think Timu's tape shows good discipline and reliable tackling against teams like Arizona and Oregon from this past season. He clearly understands the style of the offense and he's had countless reps defending it in live action.
Thanks again to Chris Landon for giving us the skinny on John Timu!