Beyond DE and WR, Bears will not be idle

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Beyond DE and WR, Bears will not be idle

The league-wide focus on the elite members of the free-agent class of 2012 has been on a handful of superstars who will command money that will confirm them as franchise players even without any teams tag designating them as such.

The Bears have made a pass rusher and wide receiver their two top needs but what happens after that will have some significant impact on the fortunes of a team that believes itself close to playing for a Roman numeral trophy.

In order of descending priority, three areas with anticipated Bears sightings:

Cornerback: The Baltimore Ravens did not sign Chris Carr, 29 this season, who played all 16 games in his first six years before missing seven in 2011. At 5-foot-10, he has experience but not a top-shelf starters price tag. Brandon Carr has not missed a game in four seasons as a Kansas City Chief as is a Charles Tillman-like 6-feet, 205 pounds. Carr also is someone with whom GM Phil Emery is very familiar from Emerys time in K.C.

Tight end: Lovie Smith has extolled the qualities and upside of Kellen Davis. Whether Davis is adequate to the expected role of a tight end in the offense of Mike TiceJeremy Bates is open to question, however. John Carlson, a former second-rounder out of Notre Dame, missed all of 2011 with a shoulder injury suffered in a training-camp practice. Joel Dreesen could join Amobi Okoye and (possibly) Mario Williams from the Houston Texans to Chicago. Dreesen is rated a bargain by ProFootballFocus.com and the sixth-rated TE by the stats analysts at PFF with receiver skills.

Quarterback: David Garrard has been a starter (Jacksonville) who is working back from injury and willing to take a berth as a backup. Jason Campbells broken right collarbone re-opened the career door for Carson Palmer in Oakland and Campbell has been closely evaluated by the Bears. Campbell had the Raiders off to a 4-2 record before his injury and rates as the sleeper in efforts to upgrade the No. 2 spot at quarterback. Despite the lack of immediate activity on a new deal, Josh McCown is expected back to at the very least compete for a roster spot.

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

One very distinguished voter for Pro Football Hall of Fame inclusion once explained a criterion of his for inclusion in the league’s most hallowed circle: If you wrote the history of football, would you have to include this individual?

Buddy Ryan is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he should be, but that’s for another discussion, another time. Because the simple fact is that if you were indeed writing a history of the National Football League, that history would be incomplete without Buddy Ryan.

“I think Buddy changed the game of football,” said Mike Ditka, Bears head coach with Ryan as his first, albeit inherited, defensive coordinator. “He is the reason why teams started going to all these three- and four-receiver sets.

“He never let offenses do what they wanted. The game of football is what it is today because of Buddy.”

Ryan did not create great defense. That had been done wholly or in parts by others – Bill George, George Allen, Dick Butkus, and so on. But what Buddy Ryan did echoes down through the history of the NFL, in more a few of its defining moments.

Super Bowl III is always remembered as Joe Namath’s day. Obscured by all that Namath and the New York Jets’ offense did was what the defensive line of Buddy Ryan was doing to the Baltimore Colts, specifically holding them to exactly seven points, on a late afterthought touchdown, a team that was coached by Don Shula and included John Mackey, Jimmy Orr and averaging nearly 29 points per game.

Super Bowl III was beyond cataclysmic for the growth of the modern NFL. And all that was long before Super Bowl XX.

Maybe the best measure of how truly great a coach Ryan was lay in the fact that he managed to turn OFFENSIVE players into fire-breathers.

“He’d say to the offensive line, ‘you fatasses can’t block anybody in practice, how you gonna do it in a game?’” recalled Hall of Famer Dan Hampton. “And [left tackle Jimbo] Covert and [left guard Mark] Bortz would just turn into animals.”

Ryan loved his players. But it was tough love, affection that had to be earned, and once earned, was something they treasured.

At the end of Otis Wilson’s rookie (1980) season, No. 55 may have been the team’s first-round pick, but Ryan was publicly blunt.

“We did OK, but that ‘55’ killed us," Ryan said after one game. 

Wilson turned the humiliation into something, becoming a student of the game, his craft, even to the point of cramming for Ryan’s legendary written tests.

“'I’m out of school, Buddy,'" Wilson said he wailed. “'Why you givin’ me these exams?'"

“You need to understand the total package,” Ryan ordered. “I want you to know what everybody’s doing.”

Today that sounds almost quaint; everybody’s supposed to know everybody else’s assignments. But never lose sight of the originator, who beat that concept into every head on his defense.

In the end, Ryan belonged to more than Chicago. He was a Jet. He was a Viking. He was Bear. He was an Eagle. And finally a Cardinal.

He belonged to the NFL, which, exactly as Ditka said, was changed forever by him.

Mike Ditka on Buddy Ryan: 'We never were as good separately as we were together'

Mike Ditka on Buddy Ryan: 'We never were as good separately as we were together'

They feuded, on the practice fields, on the sidelines, in locker rooms, even in showers. Yet Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan were joined in football history in one of the great “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” in all of sports.

“We had a helluva run,” Ditka told CSNChicago.com. “Buddy had a helluva run. Was it always as smooth as it might have been? Noooo. But I don’t think Buddy would’ve wanted it any other way.

“We accomplished so much together and we were never as good separately as we were together.”

Ditka saw Ryan about eight months ago.

“I knew he wasn’t doing real well. But you know, he was always a tough guy, right to the end.”

Ryan was Ditka’s defensive coordinator, inherited by Ditka when Ditka was hired by George Halas in 1982 to restore the lost passion to one of the NFL’s charter franchises. Ryan’s players convinced Halas to keep Ryan as defensive coordinator even as head coach Neill Armstrong was dismissed.

Ryan refused to run the Dallas Cowboys’ “flex” defense that Ditka wanted, bluntly declaring that Halas had hired him, Ditka didn’t. Ditka ran the offense, Ryan the defense, and the fire was never far from the surface.

Ryan didn’t care if his defensive players went hard in practice to the point of blowing up Ditka’s offense.

“He’d get those guys going, and I remember yelling at him, ‘Check the schedule. We’re not playing the Chicago Bears this week,’” Ditka said. “But he made us a great offense.

“He attacked you. Always attacked you. All the time. He made you – made every offense – adjust to what he was doing.

“He changed the game of football forever.”

Bears chairman George McCaskey releases a statement on Buddy Ryan's passing

Bears chairman George McCaskey releases a statement on Buddy Ryan's passing

Bears chairman George McCaskey released a statement Tuesday morning after the passing of legendary Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who died at the age of 85.

“Buddy Ryan was the architect of the greatest defense our league has seen," McCaskey said. "He was brilliant when it came to the X’s and O’s of the game, but what made him special was his ability to create an unwavering confidence in the players he coached. 

"From the day he was hired in 1978, his defenses bought into more than the scheme, they bought into him and took on his personality. Buddy was brash, intelligent and tough. He was a perfect match for our city and team, which is why George Halas took the extraordinary step of keeping him at the behest of his defensive players while transitioning to a new coaching staff in 1982. 

"We will always be grateful for Buddy’s contribution to the Bears. He is one of the team’s all-time greats. Our prayers are with his family.”

McCaskey has been chairman since 2011, but his older brother, Michael, was chairman of the Bears during the last few years of Ryan's run as defensive coordinator, including the Super Bowl XX championship.