[February 18, 2014]
(The Sports Xchange) — A 180-degree turnabout by the Chicago Bears under coach Marc Trestman
in 2013 left them where they have been six of the last seven years.
They once again watched the playoffs with one key thought going
through their minds.
"We don't want to be sitting here next year with 46 seconds left and
not be able to get to where we want to go," Trestman said.
The last-minute touchdown that put Green Bay into the playoffs with
a third straight division title left Trestman and general manager
Phil Emery knowing another offseason reconstruction project is in
order, but this time on the defensive side.
Impacted greatly by injuries, the Bears defense collapsed in a year
when they finally managed to reverse decades of futility on offense
to finish with more yardage (6,109), passing yardage (4,281) and
touchdown passes (32) under Trestman than in any season in franchise
Finishing last in rushing defense and 30th overall on defense may
have been the result of injuries to linebackers Lance Briggs and
D.J. Williams, cornerback Charles Tillman, and defensive tackle
Henry Melton, or it could have been the result of different
defensive coaches teaching a system they knew little about running.
It's a question they'll ponder over coming months.
The advancing age of their defense and injuries left Trestman and
general manager Phil Emery knowing they had to treat the defense
like when they added four offensive line starters and a tight end
"Chicago is about defense and playing a certain way," Trestman said.
"There's a toughness to the way we want to play, and that's what we
did in the first three games."
After those three games — all wins — the injuries occurred and the
Bears lost eight of 13. They dropped from leading the league in
forcing turnovers to middle of the pack. They were eighth in
interceptions even while tieing for last in sacks, and the lack of a
pass rush impacted them all year.
"As the season progressed and we had more injuries, we fell
dramatically," said Emery, who pointed out opponents averaged 6.4
yards per run from the ninth game on against the collapsing defense.
"We went from the beginning of the season of being a little over 20
percent (of) plays creating disruption against the pass," he said.
"When we first started having injuries we were in the 15 percent
"There was a dramatic dropoff. So we're going to examine all
aspects, but it starts with me. From a personnel perspective and
from my perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth.
We were at least one defensive lineman short."
The increased offensive production with both Jay Cutler and Josh
McCown at quarterback was remarkable. It seemed to matter little
which played as the offense moved up and down the field at will.
Trestman thinks what he saw from the offense will only improve
considering where it all started.
"I've had the opportunity to go to San Francisco and be part of a
good offense," he said. "I've had a chance in another instance to go
into Oakland and be part of a good offense. But when I went in
there, the system was in place, the language was in place, there was
a foundation that was in place.
"When we came in here last January, it wasn't in place. We had to
start over and the credit has to start with the players and the way,
particularly our quarterbacks Jay and Josh took control of the
Running back Matt Forte had his best year (career-highs 1,339
rushing yards, 74 catches, 594 yards) and wide receiver Alshon
Jeffery (89 catches, 1,421 yards) and wide receiver Brandon Marshall
(100-1,295) ranked as the best 1-2 receiver duo in the league.
None of those numbers mattered in the end, though, as it all seemed
like the Bears merely traded one losing approach for another.
Emery looked at 8-8 with a defeat in a season-ending division title
game and saw progress over a 10-6 mark under Lovie Smith when they
needed help to get into the playoffs but never got it.
"A year ago, we had to win those last two games and we had to have
other people lose games for us to go and we didn't," he said. "This
year, we were in control of that situation the last two games after
having all our ups and downs of our season and fighting adversity
and fighting injuries.
"We were still in a position the last two games to win it, so that
is a little bit different to me."
Different, perhaps, but the end result produced a very familiar
feeling of disappointment for all involved.
—Bears quarterback Josh McCown does not plan to retire, ESPN
reported. McCown led the Bears to a 3-2 record while filling in for
injured starter Jay Cutler for part of the 2013 season.
Some believed McCown may retire but he reportedly plans to file for
free agency in the offseason and is expected to be one of the top
McCown, 34, and Michael Vick are expected to lead a thin crop of
free agent quarterbacks.
The Bears reportedly want to bring back McCown, but other teams more
needy for a quarterback may have a better chance of luring him. The
Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans are among the teams in search
of a starting quarterback.
McCown threw for 1,829 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception
in eight games this season.
—The Bears fired defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers
coach Tim Tibesar. Phair originally joined the team in 2011 as an
assistant defensive line coach and Tibesar began in January of 2013.
The remainder of the coaching staff will remain in place for 2014.
"We thank Mike and Tim for their effort and dedication," Head coach
Marc Trestman said. "They are men of high character and integrity.
These are not easy decisions and we do not attribute our lack of
success on defense to two individuals. We need to improve in all
areas defensively and that will be a focal point for us this
offseason. The process starts with me as the head coach. Our search
for a defensive line and linebackers coach has begun and we will be
looking for the best candidates whose experience can bring the most
out of our veteran and young players in both areas."
One of the retained coaches who was potentially believed to be in
jeopardy was defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. Said Trestman, "Our
team evaluation remains ongoing. We believe Mel is the right person
to lead our defensive unit. He fully understands where we need to
improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes
that need to be made and to execute our plan to get the results we
know are necessary."
—The Bears hired Reggie Herring as linebackers coach and Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach.
Herring, 54, has 33 years of coaching experience, including eight as
a linebackers coach in the NFL.
Pasqualoni, 64, has 42 years of coaching experience, including 22 as
a collegiate head coach and six seasons as a NFL assistant.
The two coaches worked together with the Cowboys in 2010 when
Pasqualoni was Dallas' defensive coordinator/defensive line coach
and Herring was the linebackers coach.
Herring spent the last three seasons (2011-13) as the linebackers
coach of the Houston Texans, his second such stint with the team
Pasqualoni was most recently head coach at the University of
Connecticut (2011-13) before being fired four games into the 2013
season. He also has served as head coach at Syracuse (1991-2004) and
Western Connecticut (1982-86).
As a collegiate head coach, Pasqualoni compiled a 151-94-1 record,
posted 15 winning seasons, won five conference titles and led his
teams to a 6-3 record in nine bowl games.
—The Bears hired Clint Hurtt as their assistant defensive line
coach to replace Michael Sinclair, who was notified he would not be
back with the staff in 2014.
Hurtt has 13 years of collegiate coaching experience, including the
last four as Louisville's defensive line coach/recruiting
coordinator. This will be his first NFL job.
—Defensive end Julius Peppers seems to rate high on the list of
Bears who are going to either be asked to take a pay cut or
restructure their contract, or be outright released.
His 7.5 sacks were his fewest as a Bear and fewest since he had 2.5
General manager Phil Emery said Peppers "had an 8-8 season."
"Obviously, Julius had a lot of good games, like a lot of our
players, and he had games that he would want back," Emery said. "And
I think Julius would say that, too.
"We will work through each and every player on our squad and to
determine where we're going with him in the future, and that process
is going to take time. But Julius is under contract. We're proud
that he's a Bear, and that's where we're at."
—The Bears promoted Pat Meyer to offensive line coach and hired Joe
Kim to their coaching staff as assistant strength/skill development
Meyer spent the 2013 season as the Bears assistant offensive line
coach as Chicago's offensive line allowed just 30 sacks in 2013,
tied for fourth fewest in the NFL. Along with Aaron Kromer, who will
hold the title of offensive coordinator and continue to be involved
in all aspects of the offense including the offensive line, Meyer
helped develop 2013 first-round draft pick Kyle Long into a Pro
Bowler during his rookie season.
"Pat came in with an understanding of the offense and quickly
assimilated himself with the players," head coach Marc Trestman
said. "He worked with Aaron, collectively, to not only teach the
offensive linemen but to bring them together collectively and
cohesively as a group.
"The move will allow Aaron to still be closely connected to the
instruction and development of the offensive line while expanding
his coordinator duties and free up time to help in the growth of all
of our offensive players."
Kim has 21 years of experience as a consultant and assistant
strength coach. He most recently worked in the NFL as a pass-rush
consultant with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2010-12. Kim has also
been a consultant with the New York Giants (2010), Buffalo Bills
(2009), Penn State University (2009-10), the Denver Broncos (2007),
Green Bay Packers (2005), Miami Dolphins (2001-06) and Dallas
Cowboys (1998). He got his start in the NFL with the Cleveland
Browns as an assistant strength coach/pass-rush specialist from
1992-95, his first of two stints with the team (1999-2000).
Kim is a 7th Dan Black Belt recognized by the World Taekwondo
Federation, Kukkiwon and USA Taekwondo. He has produced over 250
Black Belts as well as several National and International Champions.
He was a multi-time member of the U.S. National Taekwondo team
including earning a bronze medal at the 1990 Pan Am Games and World
Cup. Kim is a two-time U.S. Olympic Festival Gold Medalist and
—The hiring of Lovie Smith in Tampa has led to plenty of
speculation about which Bears free agents will be heading south to
Defensive tackle Henry Melton is always on the possibility list, but
cornerback Charles Tillman seems to be a consensus future Buc based
largely on his close ties with Smith in the past.
The Bears' signing of Tim Jennings for $22 million over four years
seems to make Tillman's return less likely, but not a certainty.
Prior to Smith's hiring in Tampa, Tillman seemed to anticipate
something like this happening when he said, "I have some options. I
have some thoughts. I have some decisions that I have to make that's
what's best for myself and my family and my football career."
—The possibility middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic could move to
outside linebacker was suggested by no less an expert than Emery.
Bostic was drafted as a middle linebacker and played it this year
after D.J. Williams went on injured reserve.
"I made that comment because his skill set — he's a hit-and-run
player in terms of the guy can really cover ground," Emery said.
"He's very dynamic in his speed, and he's very dynamic in his
ability to hit and the physicalness and the impact of it."
Emery ranked Bostic second among Bears in terms of an ability to
"unload on another player in space and produce an impact tackle or
an impact hit."
Bostic often failed at a basic requirement in the middle this year.
He had trouble finding his way through blocking schemes to the ball
"He can improve dramatically in that going into his second season,"
—The Shea McClellin reboot is about to occur.
"Shea is capable of more and it's our job and our responsibility as
coaches to get that out of him, and we're going to do everything we
can to do that," coach Marc Trestman said.
In two seasons, Emery's first first-round pick has 6.5 sacks and has
become a target for opposing running attacks. Coaches see his great
speed and figure there must be a way to get production from a player
they passed over Chandler Jones (17.5 sacks) and Whitney Mercilus
(13 sacks) to take.
"He was brought in to the Chicago Bears to be a rotational,
complementary pass rusher," Emery said. "The whole idea and thought
behind Shea is the high end of the athleticism he has and his speed
to handle the quarterbacks that we face and the mobility that they
have. The role model was some of the players that Lovie (Smith) had
in the past in terms of being somebody that comes in during the
nickel downs, primarily, and then goes anywhere from the high 40
percent to about 60-62 percent (of snaps) is the effective range of
a player that has the skill set that you're looking for."
The possibility they'll play 3-4 in some situations or go to a
different variation of the 4-3 all seems to hinge on McClellin.
—Melton's arrest for assault and public intoxication did not escape
Emery's scrutiny when he discussed the future of the defense.
Melton is a free agent, but is rehabbing from his torn anterior
cruciate ligament and Emery hasn't liked what he has seen in terms
of the arrest.
"The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the
engine that drives the defense," he said of Melton's spot. "And when
he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he
wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was
a very important part of the defense.
"So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you
for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously
he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure that
he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:
LB James Anderson
CB Zack Bowman
DT Nate Collins
C Roberto Garza
KR-PR Devin Hester
LS Patrick Mannelly
DT Henry Melton
QB Josh McCown
DT Jeremiah Ratliff
CB Charles Tillman
LB D.J. Williams
DL Corey Wootton
S Major Wright
T-G Eben Britton
DT Landon Cohen
LB Blake Costanzo
CB Kelvin Hayden
S Derrick Martin
CB Sherrick McManis
QB Jordan Palmer
TE Dante Rosario
T Jonathan Scott
S Craig Steltz
QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Jay Cutler. Backups — Josh McCown, Jordan
Cutler described himself as "married" to coach Marc Trestman and his
system, and he displayed what the team needed to see in terms of
running and leading the offense to decide to pay him about $22
million of next year's salary cap. Cutler has all the throws and
finally stepped forward and took the leadership role with this team.
What they really need to see now is Cutler beating Green Bay, since
he failed despite playing a solid game against them with the
playoffs on the line. Retaining McCown might be difficult, but is
preferable to keeping Palmer as backup and drafting a young third
quarterback or signing another backup. McCown could draw interest as
a backup from other teams, but at age 34 the best he'll do elsewhere
in terms of playing time is a promise to let him compete to be a
starter. He had plenty of support to start in Chicago with his 109
passer rating, but on the other hand he failed to beat two
last-place teams (Minnesota and St. Louis) in starts and another
last-place team (Washington) when he played most of the game. Any of
those wins would have given the Bears a playoff berth.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Matt Forte. Backups — Michael Bush,
Michael Ford, FB Tony Fiammetta.
Forte is among the top three all-around backs in the league and at a
peak as a player. He's coming off career bests in receptions (74),
receiving yards (594) and rushing yards (1,339) and has been a good
blocking back except for the prime-time failure against
Philadelphia. He even improved in goal line or short yardage last
year. Trestman's ability to use multi-purpose backs definitely
applied in Forte's case. Bush got very few chances that weren't in
short-yardage situations, but generally appears too slow into the
hole to be a power-style complement to Forte. His $8.45 million cap
figure over the next two years makes him a prime candidate to be cut
for salary-cap purposes. The Bears would need to find a power back
replacement, as Ford is more a multi-purpose back in Forte's mold,
but without as much speed. They need this position filled to help
preserve Forte, too, as there has been a tendency to overwork him.
The Bears quickly locked Fiammetta up to a new deal based on his
ability to help free Forte off the edge with his run blocking, and
an ability to pick up blitzers on passes.
Bennett's hands eventually proved better than billed, after a few
games when he seemed plagued by drops. His ability to make plays
with good quickness for a big player and also his run blocking on
the edge proved critical in the offense when defenses focused on
Brandon Marshall. Rosario had no impact as a receiver with one catch
in 15 games and three starts. He was an effective extra pass
blocker, but showed no ability to separate on short patterns. The
Bears could use a second tight end with better size that is more
physical. They had Fendi Onobun on the practice squad all year, and
physically he shows he can be a big-play type with reach, speed and
athleticism like a wide receiver. He also has skillets for hands and
needs to work hard at making the most simple catches.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery.
Backups — Earl Bennett, Marquess Wilson, Joe Anderson, Eric Weems,
It's difficult to deny Marshall's importance both as a target and a
decoy to take pressure off Jeffery, but he also led the NFL in
dropped passes (12), according to STATS Inc., and had a huge drop on
the last drive against Green Bay to ensure no playoff berth. Still,
Marshall and Jeffery together ranked as the league's best receiver
tandem and also strong blockers downfield in the running game or
screen game. The only thing the Bears lack in those two is world
class sprinter's speed, although they make up for it with
athleticism and the ability to go vertical for difficult catches.
Bennett reworked his contract before last year, but could be a
salary-cap victim with a $5 million cap number over the next two
years. Replacing Bennett is no easy matter, since he had an ability
to find dead spots in zones for third-down or goal-line catches.
Wilson might have better speed than the other receivers, but needs
to work on his strength and downfield blocking. Anderson is athletic
with decent hands and speed but finished the year on injured reserve
with two less serious injuries. Williams is a project, but has good
speed and, like Weems, has special teams value.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Jermon Bushrod, LG Matt Slauson, C
Roberto Garza, RG Kyle Long, RT Jordan Mills. Backups — C Taylor
Boggs, G-T Eben Britton, T Jonathan Scott, T-G James Brown, T Joe
Bushrod came in with a big free-agent contract questioned by many
analysts, but finished an excellent season protecting Cutler's blind
side. He had only one poor game. The Bears thought enough to give
Slauson a new deal. He proved solid and worked well in the
inside-out pass blocking scheme. Garza does not play like a 34 year
old and has been very durable for a player missing an anterior
cruciate ligament, with only two missed games since becoming a Bear.
Only on a few occasions did a player come up the "A gap," although
Garza isn't the best short-yardage blocker and sometimes gets
overpowered. Long played well enough as a rookie to be an alternate
to the Pro Bowl. His speed and strength made it easy for him to pull
and help with the edge rushing game and screen passes. It won't be
surprising if he eventually becomes a tackle because of his athletic
ability. Mills, who had surgery to repair a broken foot bone when
the season ended, has been burned by speed rushers and is still
developing in terms of footwork. That explains how Pro Football
Focus had him ranked among the league's worst pass-blocking tackles
all year. He was at his best sealing an edge for Forte, but also had
value pulling to block off the left side in the run game. The Bears
have a glut of backup tackles and it's expected Scott could go.
They've brought Brown, Boggs and Britton along as young players in
their system. Boggs might be an answer when Garza retires, but he'll
need to bulk up. Britton produced all year as the sixth offensive
lineman in run blocking formations, and played effectively replacing
an injured Mills in the season finale. Joe Long has pedigree — as
Jake Long's brother — and was good enough that the Bears plucked
him from Pittsburgh's practice squad and put him on the active
roster when they already had a plenty of tackles. Could challenge
Mills in the future.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DT Corey Wootton, NT Jeremiah
Ratliff, RDE Julius Peppers, LDE Shea McClellin. Backups — DT Henry
Melton, DT Nate Collins, DT Landon Cohen, DE Cheta Ozougwu, DE David
Bass, DE Cornelius Washington.
Season-ending knee injuries suffered by Melton and Collins turned
this into a collection of waiver-wire pickups. Peppers still is the
best defensive lineman they have, although there are 30.4 million
reasons in unguaranteed salary dollars to think he'll be cut unless
he agrees to a drastically revised deal. He is a non-factor on too
many plays and often was completely taken out by blockers on running
plays. Wootton is no tackle, although he tried playing it to help.
He's very versatile and as a player could also play end in a 3-4, he
has value for a team that could be switching either to a 3-4 or else
a 4-3 hybrid that uses a two-gap approach at times. Ratliff showed
an ability to cave the pocket, and will only get stronger. With
experience in one- and two-gap approaches, he also would be a free
agent to keep. McClellin has been an abysmal failure as an end with
his hand on the ground. From general manager Phil Emery's comments,
they're obviously looking at turning him into a pass-rushing
linebacker or some type of hybrid player. Collins is on course with
his rehab to return by training camp, as is Melton. But Melton also
had off-field problems after an arrest for being disorderly. Their
return depends greatly on if the scheme continues emphasizing the
three-technique role. Ozougwu is the young project who can rush the
passer but can't stop the run, while Bass is the young end who can't
rush the passer but plays the run. Washington has to step up both as
a rusher and run stopper as he has been outperformed by many
waiver-wire pickups despite being a drafted.
LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Lance Briggs, MLB Jonathan Bostic, SLB
James Anderson. Backups — MLB D.J. Williams, WLB Khaseem Greene, LB
Blake Costanzo, LB Jerry Franklin.
Briggs' shoulder fracture healed, but he appeared out of shape when
he returned. He remains the defense's best tackler and led a poor
tackling team in tackles for losses. Although they want to get
younger, letting go of a player with such skills seems
counterproductive. Bostic's rookie season made it apparent he has
outstanding speed and may be better suited to playing outside rather
than the middle. He often failed to break down and missed tackles or
overran his gap. Anderson is a versatile veteran capable of helping
in several schemes, and although he initially wasn't expected to be
on the field in the nickel, he wound up playing it all year fairly
well — except for failing to pick up a live ball against Green Bay.
Like many defensive players this year, his tackling left something
to be desired. Williams made a quick adjustment to a new scheme, was
effective despite missing training camp with a knee injury, and then
was quickly gone with a torn triceps. Like with all 30-somethings,
his return as a free agent is not a guarantee. Costanzo has been a
solid special teams player, but has little or no value as a backup
and may not be someone a team lacking salary-cap room can afford.
Greene had a debut much like Bostic. As Briggs' backup, he showed
great speed, but played out of control and failed at the basic
requirement of knowing his run fits. He also showed far less ability
to deliver big hits than had been billed. Franklin is only a special
teams player who was cut and brought back due to injuries.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Tim Jennings, RCB Zack Bowman, SS
Major Wright, FS Chris Conte. Backups — CB Isaiah Frey, CB Kelvin
Hayden, DB Derrick Martin, CB Sherrick McManis, S Anthony Walters, S
Craig Steltz, CB Charles Tillman.
Jennings signed, solving one problem. His ability to play man
against taller players because of great leaping ability and speed
have made him valued. Tillman's torn pectoral muscle and rehab are
not a problem, but his return is anything but a lock. It's possible
he'll get a bigger contract for one extra year in free agency than
the year or two the Bears may be willing to give. Tillman will be 33
next season and although he hadn't missed a game in the previous
three years, he's been bothered by nagging injuries. It's a tough
call. Bowman showed great improvement in man pass protection this
season as Tillman's replacement, and remains a physical player in
run defense. Still, he hasn't shown the knack for shutting down big
receivers like Calvin Johnson that Tillman has had. Neither Conte
nor Wright distinguished themselves. They showed this year they had
been beneficiaries from a good pass rush in the past since without
the rush there they were beaten repeatedly. Conte missed out making
big plays, and also gave up big plays. He may not have the speed to
play safety in a scheme relying at times on single deep or man
coverage. Frey played a whole year at nickel and was average. His
tackling came into question at times, and some teams near the end of
the year targeted him on third downs. Hayden's return from knee
surgery is likely by the start of training camp, but whether he'll
maintain the speed that made him starting nickel remains to be seen.
Martin and McManis are special teams types and Steltz has been a
dependable third or fourth safety. A lack of speed keeps Steltz from
being a starter. Walters has not shown an ability to be a ballhawk
and hasn't been physical enough.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Robbie Gould, P Adam Podlesh, KOR/PR Devin Hester,
LS Patrick Mannelly.
Robbie Gould's missed field goal in Minnesota looms as one of the
plays that kept the Bears from the playoffs, but he remains both
accurate and one of the better kickers from 50 yards or longer. And,
of course, he has handled the fickle weather and poor playing
surface at Soldier Field well. Mannelly still remains very
effective. The team will have to weigh whether someone 39 years old
on opening day can also avoid being a detriment in punt coverage.
Podlesh suffered through a roller-coaster season with his hang time
and occasional shanks, so his departure might be a possibility.
Hester's return seems unlikely. The Bears even signed a potential
replacement during the regular season in Chris Williams, who was a
standout return man in Canada.