Bears key to 2012 and beyond: The "Flex" Factor

Bears key to 2012 and beyond: The "Flex" Factor
July 27, 2012, 3:04 am
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. Beyond the error-plagued efforts on the first day of Bears training camp were signs of something else happening besides balls bouncing around on the ground, on the offense in particular but also deeper down.

Call it the flex factor. It is something that has been subtly running through the 2012 Bears and may be one of the true keys to the current and future fortunes of the organization.

Consider: The Dallas Cowboys of Tom Landry were famous for their 4-3 Flex defense. It was a scheme that had some defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage; some a little back from it; most players in a one-gap system; one in a two-gap.

And no one quite able to figure out where everyone was, where they were going, or exactly what they were doing.

If you were watching the goings-on Thursday, you were seeing a different kind of Flex taking shape.

A Flex offense
In theater, action is character. So it also is in the NFL.

On the first play of Thursdays team session, quarterback Jay Cutler passed off a rollout to his right. After a quick-release throw on second down, running back Matt Forte burst untouched through the middle of the line and was just about to St. Louis before he decided to stop and jog back.

It went on like that. Indeed, the exact character of the 2012 offense was difficult to discern from what was on display Thursday.

That would in fact be the whole idea, perhaps the theme in all of what is developing under offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

The Minnesota Vikings ran an eclectic offense while Tice was their head coach. He had his Randy Ratio for wide receiver Randy Moss, yet a tight end led his teams in receptions twice.

Tice coached and played under Dennis Green, he of the classic West-Coast-offense tree, and also played under Chuck Knox, of Ground Chuck notoriety for his run-based thinking.

Tice was Bears offensive line coach the last two years and the one most responsible for bring balance to the offense in both 2010 and 2011 after it had lost its compass under Mike Martz.

Jeremy Bates was hired this offseason as quarterbacks coach but is the de facto passing-game coordinator even without the title, according to insiders. Bates, Cutler and Brandon Marshall had huge production in Denver under head coach (and West Coast practitioner) Mike Shanahan.

(A side note: Marshall also caught 101 passes and had a career-high 10 TDs the year after Bates, Cutler and Shanahan all left. The message here would be that Marshall does quite nicely no matter what the system the designerprototype Flex receiver.)

What has become amply evident, however, is that where both Martz and predecessor Ron Turner were strict adherents to their systems, the new Chicago Bears offense may be difficult to pigeonhole precisely because its not wedded to one system.

Its going to be a combination of all of our coaches and our ideas, and coach Tice is flexible, as long as you really explain it and it makes sense, Bates said Thursday.

Coach Tice is going to bring his knowledge and so is the rest of the staff.

The Emery Element

The flex factor was in evidence off the field as well on Thursday.

While analysis of Phil Emerys background understandably focused on organizations of which he was a part, perhaps more immediately more relevant were the systems for which he provided personnel.

Unlike some general managers, Emery brought with him zero absolutes on schemes. He was part of staffing the 4-3 two-gap scheme of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, with 290-pound defensive ends and 350-pound defensive tackles keeping blockers away from Brian Urlacher.

In Kansas City, where Emery was prior to Chicago, the Chiefs ran one of the few true 3-4 schemes and ranked just outside the top 10 in points allowed and yardage the past two years.

He was hired in Chicago with a 4-3, one-gap coach in place and made a 260-pound edge rusher the No. 1 draft priority.

But the Thursday trade of a late-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for defensive tackle Brian Price was a flex in a completely opposite direction.

Price is listed at 343 pounds. The biggest defensive tackle on a Lovie Smith team has been Alfonso Boone at a paltry 318 pounds.

Price may very well not make the 2012 Bears roster (he did not fare well in the conditioning test in Tampa). But he was a No. 2 pick and at a time when starting nose tackle Matt Toeaina is 308 pounds, the Bears are looking outside the tackle box at options.

The NFL may be a passing league but the Bears are making sure than they do not get run on, either.

In that, they are decidedly not flexible.