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

828045.png

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

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.

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

update-1202.jpg
USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls win first meeting with Cavs; LeBron pays off Cubs-Indians bet

Here are some of Friday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Saturday on CSN: Bradley vs. Nevada; Illinois State vs. New Mexico

Dwyane Wade, Bulls take first blood with LeBron James, Cavs

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Jonathan Toews practices but won’t play vs. Flyers

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

White Sox agree to one-year deals with Brett Lawrie, Avisail Garcia

LeBron James pays off bet, rocks Cubs uniform to the United Center

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

rondo-1202.jpg
USA TODAY

'Quarterback' Rajon Rondo executes Bulls' game plan, logs first triple-double of the year

Two nights after managing just 90 points in a lackluster home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls entered Friday night’s tilt against the defending-champion Cavaliers with a specific offensive game plan.

Attack, head coach Fred Hoiberg told his team, the interior of the Cleveland defense early to establish a presence in the paint. Knowing the Cavs, for all their strengths that made them NBA champions five months earlier, lacked a true rim protector, the Bulls made it a point to get Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez going.

The Bulls managed to do exactly that, tallying a season-high 78 points in the paint in their 111-105 victory over the Cavaliers. And while Lopez was again his usual efficient self and Gibson turned in his best performance of the season – the two scored 33 points on 15-for-23 shooting – it was point guard Rajon Rondo who proved to be the kick-starter for a Bulls offense that needed to be at its best to match Cleveland’s star power.

Rondo logged his first triple-double with the Bulls in the victory, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. But looking past the raw numbers, it was the shots Rondo took, and the passes he made, that allowed the Bulls to play so efficiently on offense and ultimately come away with their most impressive victory of the year.

Of Rondo’s 12 assists, all but two of the made shots off those passes came from a distance farther than 7 feet. Ten of Rondo’s assists resulted in baskets in the paint, of which the Bulls had 39 as a team. Squaring off against a subpar defender in Kyrie Irving, Rondo was active in knifing into the paint and finding open bigs inside. Rondo had six assists in the first quarter, and all but one resulted in baskets within 3 feet of the hoop.

All four of his made field goals in the first half were layups, as was his only bucket in the third quarter. His putback midway through the fourth quarter was also at the rim, and gave him his tenth rebound to secure the triple-double. Two possessions later he connected on a 3-pointer that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead; Cleveland never got closer than four the rest of the way. Rondo only took three shots outside of the paint. Friday marked the first time in a month Rondo had shot better than 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games.

Past Rondo’s own numbers, Gibson said that the Bulls’ point guard was instrumental in leading the Bulls’ offense to match up against a Cavaliers offense that entered the night second in the league in efficiency.

“He’s like a quarterback. Even though he never really played any contact football the way he always gathers the huddle, he always sees what’s going on in the game,” Gibson said. “He’s always encouraging. He’s pushing it. He’s a great teammate and I know he got a lot of criticism before the year, a lot of people talk about the negative that’s in it, but he’s been showing me nothing but great stuff on and off the court.”

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere to it simply because of the matchup between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, as well as the defending champs coming to town, the veteran Rondo took it upon himself to lead the Bulls offense. Though the Bulls wanted to avoid getting into a track meet against the fast-paced Cavs, Rondo didn’t allow the offense to become stagnant when it was apparent they could get into the paint at will.

“I thought Rondo was great all night long,” Fred Hoiberg said, “getting guys out and running, pushing them. You can hear him yelling “run with me” to get the guys down the floor. Rajon was a huge factor.”

His defense will continue to be a liability – Irving had an off-night shooting more than anything – and he won’t score 15 points each night, but his leadership and ability to run an offense with precision has the Bulls behind their floor general as they head into the season’s second month.

“He’s always inspiring. He’s one of those guys you want to go to war with. He’s one of those guys that’s in the huddle, you know that every time down the court if it’s a wrong call, a foul, a scuffle, if you not feeling right he’s always going to have your back no matter what.”