After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider

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After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider

Bears management would not have jettisoned head coach Lovie Smith without a plan in place for his successor. The first indication of Smith being done in fact came in the form of other teams receiving permission forms from the Bears, requesting clearance to interview members of their staffs for the top field job in Chicago.

FOXs Jay Glazer first reported that Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was among those on the Bears short list. Other names, including some from successful college programs, will be surfacing.

But the issue is not automatically as simple as deciding on a candidate and making a lucrative financial offer. The Bears can interview coaches with current playoff teams but it is a busy market, with six other coaches already fired and their organizations looking for replacements.

A lot of things we dont know, said quarterback Jay Cutler. A lot of things are up in the air right now. I dont think were going to have a clear idea of whats going to happen in the future and what direction were going to go until we get some coaches.

Taking offense

Smiths problems finding a coordinator to direct the offense failed four times, three of them over problems involving Cutler: Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice. None was able to build a sustainable program around Cutler, or in Tices case, Cutler and Brandon Marshall.

Cutler and Marshall are still here, Cutler with just one year remaining on his current contract. It will be something of a significant surprise if GM Phil Emery goes forward with a long-term extension (or even a short one, for that matter) for Cutler, whom he regarded as a franchise quarterback back when the Bears were winning.

Unlike Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), Andy Reid in Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb) or even Dick Jauron in Chicago (Cade McNown), the new Bears head coach will not come in with a high draft choice and option of getting the quarterback of his choosing.

Given that Smiths successor is expected to be from a background on offense, this may be very significant.

The Bears do not draft until No. 20 this year and already have Cutler, 30 next season, in place.

Change isnt always a bad thing, Cutler said. Sometimes, it can be good. The prospect at the time was unfavorable, but ... no one really wants to change or think about changing. Now that its upon us, weve got to be positive about it. It is what it is.

Weve just got to keep moving forward, and whoever it is, weve got to make the most of it.

Problems ahead on defense?

The next Bears head coach will come into a situation where many of the elite core players on the defense are on the veteran side of age 30. Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman were both voted to the Pro Bowl.

More significantly, the Smith-Rod Marinelli defense was typically termed the Cover-2 but in fact was a simplified system that worked well with a particular type of player.

It has been a 4-3 scheme that places a premium on speed over just size. Where the 4-3 scheme of Dick Jauron-Greg Blache was a two-gap system using massive down linemen (in 2001 the starting ends were 290 pounds and the tackles 340 and 360) who controlled blockers and kept them off linebackers.

Smiths system has flourished with speed rushers: Super Bowl ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye were 260 pounds and three-technique Tommie Harris was 285.

The current Bears roster is not staffed with the quantity and type of linebackers or sized defensive linemen to switch to one of the versions of a 3-4 now in use.

Who knows? said defensive end Corey Wootton, who had a solid season in 2012. I might have to gain 20 pounds.

Personnel policies

Brian Urlacher is not expected back after a year that began with him sitting out training camp with knee problems and sitting out the last four games with a hamstring problem.

His replacement, Nick Roach, is not a gimme at this point.

My contract is up as well, Roach said. Its just a part of the NFL, and its going on all around the league today. Thats the part of the league that people dont like if youre associated with it.

Henry Melton was voted to his first Pro Bowl but is an unrestricted free agent and expected to command a bank-shaking contract. Whether it is from the Bears is what the next couple of months will determine.

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Both teams are on track to be drafting in the top five, and the inevitable “the loser is the winner” talk has made its rounds, meaning that a defeat moves the loser higher in the draft order. The reality is that neither team will tank the game for draft position.

But the chances of two woeful teams playing well are slim. The 49ers won in Week 1 and then have lost 10 straight. The Bears are trying to avoid losing four straight for the first time under John Fox.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst upon the NFL scene in 2012 with a blowout of the Bears in his first start. He has regained his starting job in San Francisco and is still one of the prototypical mobile quarterbacks.

But the 49ers are the NFL’s worst defense in both points and yardage allowed, and they are the worst rushing defense in the league. Expect the Bears to try exploiting that and give quarterback Matt Barkley a balanced run-pass game plan.

Prediction: Bears 24, 49ers 20

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.