Bears GM Phil Emery is rooted in Patriotic approach
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org April 19, 2012 7:24PM
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches game action from the sideline in the second quarter of an NFL football game with the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010, in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Updated: May 21, 2012 8:59AM
During his introductory news conference, Bears general manager Phil Emery emphasized that his scouting approach would be an amalgamation of the assorted systems in which he’s worked.
Much of it, though, would be rooted in the “Patriot system,” he said.
Nearly three months into the job, Emery has initiated that transition, but the process won’t be complete until after the NFL draft. The grading system hasn’t been implemented yet, for instance, but scouts have been schooled on labeling players in the manner Emery prefers.
And, as he hinted in the news conference, Emery eventually will have a system that will be all his own.
“I don’t know what the Patriot Way is,” coach Lovie Smith said. “But I know about the Bear Way, and I’m excited about that.
“I don’t know where it came from. I’m excited about the way we’re going to do things with Phil leading.”
Under former general manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears used a scouting system developed in Tampa, one that helped turn the Buccaneers from doormats to Super Bowl champions.
But Angelo endured endless criticism for his lack of draft success despite a Super Bowl and NFC Championship Game appearances.
Emery is a unique scout in that he worked under Angelo, but he also is steeped in the so-called Patriot Way, a system developed in New England by coach Bill Belichick and former player personnel vice president Scott Pioli.
When the Patriots stacked their draft board, Belichick often would get frustrated because the game had changed, emphasizing and de-emphasizing different positions. The third cornerback, for example, could play 60 percent of the defensive snaps in a game.
“So the third corner is a starter in today’s game,” Pioli said. “We were talking about guys who were third corners and weren’t given high-enough grades.
“It’s not anything that’s genius. It’s just trying to look at today’s league and understanding matching value versus just saying, ‘He’s a starting running back.’ ”
Pioli pointed to running back Kevin Faulk as an example. He has played 12 years with the Patriots because of his versatility — including being able to start — and his ability to pick up the blitz.
“Kevin Faulk may not be a starter, but he has tremendous value,” Pioli said. “He’s not really just a backup running back.”
So Pioli retooled the Patriots’ grading system with significant input from Thomas Dimitroff, the college scouting director who would become the general manager of the Falcons.
Emery learned the system under Dimitroff for one season, then headed to Kansas City, where Pioli was hired as general manager in 2009.
Dimitroff, however, made clear that he has tweaked and tailored his own system in Atlanta, one that includes philosophies he learned from his father, Tom Dimitroff Sr., a long-respected coach and scout who died in 1996.
To Dimitroff, one of the keys is eliminating the gray area.
“It’s very important to be very direct and very succinct with your summaries and your reporting on the players and not to be wavering,” Dimitroff said. “The way the system is set up, it prevents a scout or a team-builder from wavering. It’s about being very definitive about our grades and our approach.”
But what the Falcons and Chiefs might value won’t necessarily be the same for the Bears. For one, Emery’s previous two teams played 3-4 defenses, and the Bears play a 4-3. So one position that’s valued in the 4-3 but not in the 3-4 is the under tackle, the position Henry Melton plays.
So for a 3-4 team, a starter-caliber under tackle would have less value than a comparable two-gap nose tackle.
Eventually, Bears scouts will grade college and pro players on the same scale to ensure continuity on how a particular player will fit on the roster.
For now, though, president Ted Phillips couldn’t be more pleased. When he looked to replace Angelo, he was intrigued by the Patriots’ approach, a point bolstered by the fact that the two finalists (Emery and Jason Licht) had learned it.
“It was fascinating to hear some of the details of that,” Phillips said of the Patriots’ system. “So it wasn’t coincidental that they both had that similar system, and they were the two final candidates.”