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 In-Foe: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?

Bears In-Foe: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?

Coming off two long fourth quarter drives by the Titans the week before that cost them their home opener, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers kept Detroit's defense in the dumps Sunday, shredding the Lions for 31 first-half points.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been tasked with replacing the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Stephen Tulloch over the last couple of years, and having to Band-Aid the unit from key injuries. One was game-changing linebacker DeAndre Levy, who played just 17 snaps all of 2015 after signing a $20 million extension. Austin, who's had nine head coaching interviews the past two off-seasons, had to be welcoming Levy back with open arms. Then he suffered a quad injury in the Titans game, sat out versus the Packers, and his status will be one to watch this week.

Then there's Ziggy Ansah, the fifth overall pick from 2013 who's only in his sixth year of even playing football.  His 14.5 sacks last season gave him 30 in 46 career games and made him the new centerpiece of the defense. But the Ghana native sustained a high ankle sprain in that same game against the Titans and is not expected to be ready for Sunday's noon date on the lakefront.

Who could possibly pick up some of that pass rush slack? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kerry Hyder.

Who?

The undrafted free agent spent 2014 on the Jets' practice squad, then moved to the Lions last year. He almost seemed destined to spend another year on The Squad before he finished the preseason strong. The door opened, and the 6-foot-2, 270-pound end has four sacks so far. Tackle Haloti Ngata, who is 32 years old, struggled with injuries after coming over to help replace Suh, but finished strong, and has started well. Second-round pick A'Shaun Robinson rotates in after the Alabama product was passed over by the Bears.

[MORE BEARS IN-FOE: From Megatron to MegaMarv?]

Levy's injury left the Lions with only four linebackers at Lambeau after one promotion from the practice squad. Speedy, physical Tahir Whitehead took over for the now-departed Tulloch in the middle and earned his way into the starting lineup the last couple of years. Austin has given the other starting spot to Kyle Van Noy in a last-ditch attempt to prove spending a second-round pick on him in 2014 wasn't a mistake.

The secondary includes a stud corner and safety. Darius Slay (2013 second round) has turned into their shutdown guy and signed a four-year, $48 million extension in July. Nevin Lawson is just 5-9 but plays physical and fast opposite Slay - and was called for a 66-yard (!) pass interference penalty Sunday. Free safety Glover Quin's interception has the defense's lone takeaway this season and is one of the game's best. The team invested a fourth-round pick on heavy-hitting Miles Kinnebrew, and injury-prone Rafael Bush in free agency. But former Illini Tavon Wilson was signed away from the Patriots and held down the strong side before departing Sunday's loss with a neck injury.

Special teams

The Lions' coverage teams are top ten in both punts and kickoffs. The loss of Ameer Abdullah to his foot injury will affect the return game firepower, with backup wideout Andre Roberts filling in. Kicker Matt Prater is 5-for-6 on field goals thus far after being fifth in accuracy last year, including a 59-yarder versus the Bears at Soldier Field in last year's season finale.

Bears In-Foe: From Megatron to MegaMarv?

Bears In-Foe: From Megatron to MegaMarv?

Jim Bob Cooter. An interesting name. Some interesting stuff in his past, too. But since he took over the Lions offense about midway through last season, Matthew Stafford's been as good as ever, and it's carried over so far into this season. Even after his Megatarget - Calvin Johnson - decided to retire after last season.  But one aspect remains a concern after a recent injury.

Detroit is top-five in points, total yards and passing yards per game. They've jumped from last in the NFL last season to 15th in rushing, but after second-year back Ameer Abdullah averaged 5.6 yards per carry into their Week Two matchup, he tore a foot ligament and could be out for the season. With that, they managed just a 2.2-yard average Sunday in Green Bay, falling behind 31-3 before walking out of Lambeau a 34-27 loser to drop to 1-2.

Theo Riddick is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield (16 catches, 130 yards) after 80 receptions for nearly 700 yards a year ago, but he's still averaging just 3.3 per carry after 3.1 in 2015. Enter seventh-round rookie Dwayne Washington, who had a couple of touchdown runs in the preseason (one for 58 yards), along with a 96-yard kickoff return TD. He carried 10 times for 38 yards against the Packers.

[MORE BEARS IN-FOE: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?]

Stafford finished last season with 17 touchdowns against just two interceptions. That ratio is 7-to-2 this year. Through three weeks, he's second in passing yards, fourth in yards-per-attempt, and sixth in completion percentage. And wouldn't you know? His main target is the guy they brought in to replace Calvin Johnson: Marvin Jones. Many thought he wouldn't come close to comparing.

So far, the former Bengal has been targeted 29 times, with 18 catches for a league-high 408 yards. Six of those receptions and 205 of those yards came Sunday against Green Bay. Soon-to-be-36-year-old Anquan Boldin was a late signing despite still being physically imposing, and the 12th-leading receiver in league history. He's caught a pair of touchdowns among his 11 receptions for 105 yards. For the past two years (189 catches), Golden Tate was to Johnson what Randall Cobb is to Jordy Nelson in Green Bay when both are healthy. The Golden Domer has 13 grabs for 94 yards. And 2014 first-round tight end Eric Ebron has tested Motown's patience with knee, quad, and hand injuries his first two seasons. He's caught 14 passes thus far after 47 a year ago.

Stafford has a five-year non-injury starting streak after some health issues his first couple of seasons. That's amazing with the way he's been knocked around (44 sacks a year ago). He's hit the turf eight times the first three weeks. They've gone to great lengths in recent drafts to fix that, spending high picks trying to shore up protection and get a ground game going to complement their aerial assault. That continued this spring under new GM Bob Quinn, who came over from New England and kept coach Jim Caldwell in place. Tackle Taylor Decker out of Ohio State was chosen 16th as 2012 top pick Riley Reiff has underachieved heading into his contract year. Last year's number-one pick, guard Laken Tomlinson out of Lane Tech High School, has yet to live up to his selection. 2013 third-rounder Larry Warford compared to Kyle Long in the same draft class, but has struggled with injuries. And for the second time in three years, the Lions drafted a center in the third round (Graham Glasgow from Michigan via Marmion Military Academy in 2016; Travis Swanson in 2014).