Being a part of the SB Nation network allows us privileged access to a plethora of NFL experts, so during a critical offseason time like free agency, we can dip into the well of knowledge and find out the real deal about the newest players on the Chicago Bears directly from those that have covered their careers.
I recently caught up with John P. Gilbert, an Editor for Field Gulls, the SB Nation site that covers the Seattle Seahawks, and I asked him five questions about new Bears offensive lineman Germain Ifedi.
Since I admittedly didn’t know much about Ifedi’s play, most of my preconceived notions about him were formed via Twitter after the Bears gave him a one-year deal. Gilbert’s answers both surprised me and set me straight about a player that could be a surprise in 2020.
Windy City Gridiron - In four years Ifedi has started all 60 games in which he’s appeared, but before the 2018 season the Seahawks decided to pass on picking up his 5th year option as a first-round pick in the 2016 draft. Were Seattle fans okay with the decision at that time and what reasoning did the team give for declining?
John P. Gilbert - The team never really gave a firm answer on why they declined the option, but many fans were happy with the decision. Some players are fan favorites, and some players are the opposite of that. Ifedi is the latter of those two. He entered the league completely raw with next to zero technique, and he has certainly improved from the time he was drafted until now. That said, that development appeared to many to have have plateaued or even regressed, so at this point most fans will be fine with him leaving.
WCG - The Bears are likely to let him compete to start at right guard, so during his time in Seattle was he better at guard or at right tackle?
JPG - This is almost seems like a trick question setting me up to anger Bears fans, given most seem to expect him to play at guard. The answer is that he was far better at tackle during his time with the Hawks for the simple reason that he played guard as a rookie. As noted in the previous question, he entered the league having never really used technique. In high school and college he was simply a monster who could handle most opponents with his size and strength. Whether he simply never learned technique or whether he wasn’t coachable, I have no idea, but his rookie year tape at guard is ugly. Very ugly.
During his second season he was better in terms of technique, but it was so unnatural that he looked almost robotic on the field. Watching his 2017 tape it’s almost possible to feel him concentrating on his technique, so he appears slow and lumbering. By 2018 he appeared more relaxed and more natural, but in 2019 it seemed more like he was just going through the motions.
WCG - What’s up with all the penalties?
JPG - His penalties are weird. I did a full look at his penalties after the 2017 season and noticed some very interesting patterns.
First, if he’s playing at guard, then there shouldn’t be too many concerns about holding penalties. He played over 900 snaps at guard for the Hawks and was not flagged for holding once. When he was called for holding at tackle, the overwhelming majority of those penalties came on either scrambles to the right or off tackle runs to the right where the defensive end would attempt to go after the ballcarrier and Ifedi would fail to disengage.
Next are his false start penalties. I stopped charting his false starts after Week 2 of the 2019 season, but through that point of the 21 false starts he’d been called for during his career, 17 came while he was lined up across from a player drafted 2.46 or higher. I’m not sure if it’s a mental issue where he’s psyching himself out, or if it’s simply a coincidence, but I did find it rather interesting.
WCG - Ifedi won’t turn 26 until June, so do you think his best football is in front of him?
JPG _ I do think his best football is in front of him, and I’ll explain why in the answer to the next question.
WCG - The Bears run a zone blocking scheme and they will probably pass more than they run, so do you think Ifedi would be a decent fit in Chicago?
JPG - Zone or man shouldn’t make that much of a difference. Ifedi has the build and athleticism to perform in any scheme, but his issue since entering the league has been technique and execution.
For those who put any stock into PFF grades, his pass blocking grade improved significantly from his rookie year to his second year, but then largely plateaued. I’ve heard that a lot of that may have had to do with a personality clash with his offensive line coach the past two years, but can’t say that for certain. Long story short, by all accounts Juan Castillo is the type of personality under which Ifedi has the potential to thrive, and so I won’t be surprised if Ifedi takes to coaching better from Castillo simply because of a different delivery than what he’s had the past couple of years.
On top of that, he’s never really had to really fight for a starting role. In Seattle, just like in college and high school, when he was healthy he started, and if that’s not the case in Chicago, that’s the kind of thing that could motivate him.
In summary, Seattle fans will tell you that Ifedi is the worst offensive lineman in the NFL, but considering the Bears ran J’Marcus Webb out as a starter for three years most Chicago fans have likely seen worse. I don’t expect Ifedi to make the Pro Bowl next year, but he in the right environment he could certainly blossom into a competent starter.
Thanks again to John for helping us get to know Ifedi a little better!