The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline

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The Lovie Smith firing: A downward spiraling timeline

The 2012 season and its fall from 7-1 to out of the playoffs was the proximate cause of Lovie Smiths dismissal. Smiths tenure was marked with its share of highlights but also with some significant disappointments:
2004 5-11After negotiations break down to land Nick Saban, Smith is chosen over Russ Grimm to succeed Dick Jauron. He hires Terry Shea as offensive coordinator and inherits a dismal quarterback situation involving Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn.In an ominous foreshadowing, 2003 No. 1 pick and anticipated starting quarterback Rex Grossman is injured and lost for the season a week after beating the Packers and Brett Favre in Green Bay. The Bears arguably never adequately solve their quarterback situation through Smiths tenure.
2005 11-5Smith replaces Shea with Ron Turner as offensive coordinator, who ran the Bears offense under Dave Wannstedt before leaving to coach Illinois in 1997. Grossman goes down with a broken ankle in preseason and Turner goes to fourth-round rookie Kyle Orton.Bears hit bottom at 1-3 after loss in Cleveland, then win eight straight with suffocating defense under Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher. Drafting Cedric Benson spurs Thomas Jones to 1,335-yard rushing season. Grossman returns from his leg injury late in the year but season ends with first-round home loss to Carolina.
2006 13-3Bears reach the playoffs for the second time in Smiths first three seasons. Defense again dominates and Grossman has seven games of 100-plus passer ratings, Benson and Jones each average 4.1 yards per carry and the Bears post their only 400-point season (427) under Smith. Breakdowns on offense and defense doom Bears against Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.Ron Rivera is let go as defensive coordinator after philosophical differences with Smith, and Bob Babich takes over as defensive coordinator.
2007 7-9Smith receives a contract extension for four years and 22 million that moves him into the upper (5 million-plus) tier for head-coach salaries.But the quarterback maelstrom returns. Grossman starts the first three games (1-2), Brian Griese starts the next six (3-3), Grossman the next four (1-3) and finally Orton for the final three (2-1).
2008 9-7Bears go to Houston and lose to 7-8 Texans to finish 9-7 when a victory would have allowed them to leapfrog 9-6-1 Philadelphia into the playoffs. In the aftermath, Kyle Orton and two No. 1 draft choices are traded to Denver for Jay Cutler.
2009 7-9Brian Urlacher is lost for the year with a wrist injury in the first half of the first game but the Bears still start 3-1 before a spiral of six losses in seven games dooms the season.The decision is made to keep Smith as head coach before a 31-7 crushing in Baltimore on Dec. 20. The decision stands after the Bears win their final two but Turner and most of the offensive staff are fired post-season after differences with Cutler widen. Mike Martz is hired as offensive coordinator after Bears lose out on several top college candidates because of scheduling and recruiting.
2010 11-5A game-16 loss to Green Bay will haunt Smith and the organization. With playoff position clinched, veterans are rested and the Packers slip past New York and Tampa Bay for the No. 6 seed. Bears get past 7-9 Seattle in the divisional round but Cutler suffers knee injury and is out for the second half. Green Bay goes to the Super Bowl after Bears mistakes on offense (B.J. Raji TD interception, failed third-down conversions) finishPerhaps most fateful: Caleb Hanie relieves Todd Collins and does enough for Mike Martz and the organization to move forward with him as Cutlers backup in 2011.
2011 8-8After Smith orders the offense to return to balance mindset with Mike Tices role again expanded, Bears reach 7-3 with a run of five straight wins. Cutler fractures his right thumb in game 10, Bears lose five straight and miss the postseason.Low points are reached with 3 points scored against the Kansas City Chiefs and in Denver when Marion Barber runs out of bounds to help the Broncos tie in regulation and then fumbles in overtime, leading to winning field goal.Jerry Angelo is fired as general manager, replaced by former Bears scout and Kansas City college scouting director Phil Emery.
2012 10-6Addressing the passing offense, Emery trades for Cutler favorite Brandon Marshall, OKs hiring Jeremy Bates as QB position coach and drafts Alshon Jeffery in the second round. Smith states during the NFL Scouting Combine that the offensive line, with promising rookie Gabe Carimi back from injury, and JMarcus Webb are sufficient at left tackle and that Kellen Davis is capable of top-shelf play at tight end. The offense is a disaster area.A 7-1 start evaporates in a succession of inept offensive performances. Defensive stumbles against San Francisco and Seattle against inexperienced quarterbacks raise eyebrows and red flags. Then the Bears cannot get past Minnesota and Green Bay in the final weeks.

Early 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Who would Bears take?

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Early 2017 NFL Mock Draft: Who would Bears take?

It may be too early for projecting the 2017 NFL Draft, but it can't hurt to look ahead.

Rotoworld's Josh Norris released his mock draft on Thursday for next year's draft.

According to Norris, if the Bears finished in the order of their Super Bowl LI odds, Ryan Pace & Co. would hold the No. 12 pick.

Their selection? Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Norris gives his explanation of the pick:

"My personal favorite running back in the class. Cook’s market share of FSU’s rushing yards and percentage of 20-plus yard runs last year was ridiculous."

Also in the first round, Norris has five Big Ten players projected to land in the first 32 picks.

Click here to check out Josh Norris' full 2017 mock draft.

Bears need to find solidarity on revamped offensive line

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Bears need to find solidarity on revamped offensive line

Overshadowed in the aftershocks of the Bears’ release of veteran guard Matt Slauson (and safety Antrel Rolle) was another roster trim this offseason that went largely ignored because four days earlier, the Matt Forte non-return had gone down. That was the release of Jermon Bushrod, as much a fixture for two years at left tackle as Slauson was at left guard.

Probably because Bushrod had been replaced by Charles Leno Jr. last season as the starter, Bushrod’s exit had been expected since mid-year as he struggled with injuries. Bushrod had voiced his own farewell address late in the season.

But Bushrod, as with Slauson, was a core member of a group that arguably needs to be closer-knit than any other position group. Bushrod and Slauson were mentors to Kyle Long and to even Leno as he was replacing Bushrod, if anyone needs a character testimonial.

While coaches and GM Ryan Pace are on record stating that the best five offensive linemen will start, which points to positions for each being determined through this offseason, that also demands cohesion, which the group had with Bushrod and Slauson.

Bears history is replete with solid centers who anchored and fused lines together: Jay Hilgenberg, Jerry Fontenot, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, even Bulldog Turner and Mike Pyle, looking further back. One key was that each was the best lineman in the group, or close to the best. That makes leading easier, when you’re secure and very good.

Hroniss Grasu is neither at this point of his career. Manny Ramirez is a new guy and on a one-year deal at age 33. Meaning: Who is the linchpin of an offensive line on whom the healths of Jay Cutler, Jeremy Langford and others rest? Kyle Long is the Bears’ best offensive lineman and a force in more ways that just talent-wise.

The challenge for the Bears projects to be less finding talent to replace Slauson in particular, but finding the individual and collective character to make the whole thing work. This is about more than just the 2016 season.

After Bears release Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson, question looms: Who else?

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After Bears release Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson, question looms: Who else?

Just as the draft selections of guard Cody Whitehair heralded the Chicago end for Matt Slauson, and safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson brought in alternatives to Antrel Rolle – both vets let go sooner rather than later – an obvious question hanging fire right now in the wake of other draft picks and signings is, “Who else?”

One expectation this offseason is that the Bears would make a difficult decision on rush-linebacker Lamarr Houston, who’s due $6 million this year and next and $8 million for 2018. That situation won’t stand as-is.

The final year of Willie Young’s contract calls for $2.5 million this season. That’s only slightly less than the $2.9 million Slauson was due for 2016 and that was rendered expendable by the Whitehair draft selection and the signings of Ted Larsen and Manny Ramirez.

In the Houston-Young cases, the Bears used a No. 1 pick on Leonard Floyd, a Young-type edge rusher. They used a No. 3 pick on Jonathan Bullard, a 290-pound defensive end with size-rush blend that Young doesn’t have. The Bears re-signed Sam Acho, who doesn’t give the Bears what Houston does as an edge rusher, but Houston doesn’t do anything on special teams, the roster entrée for non-starters.

Then there is the matter of Eddie Royal, with an injury speckled 2015 injury resume’ that defines “vulnerable” for player at age 30 and carrying a $4.5 million salary for 2016. What little the Bears did draft-wise on offense included diminutive wideout Danny Braverman in the seventh round.

Teams don’t make roster decisions based on seventh-round picks before the first minicamp. But Braverman, who led all FBS schools in receptions last year, is 5-10, around 180 pounds.

Forget the knee-jerk comparisons to Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Wes Welker just because they’re little white guys (and why is it that people grab those instant so-called comparables based on skin color? For another time.)

But NFL slot receivers in the Braverman mold include Seattle’s undrafted Doug Baldwin (5-10, 189, also a Florida native like Braverman); Randall Cobb (5-10) up in Green Bay, a No. 3 slot guy his first three NFL seasons; Jamison Crowder, a true smurf at 5-8 who caught 59 passes for Washington as a rookie.

Braverman does not make Royal roster-surplus the way Whitehair did Slauson, or Bush did Rolle, or Floyd makes Houston or Young (whom the Bears reportedly tried to trade during the draft). And Royal was banged up in part because he was thrust into a starter role by the injuries to Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.

But numbers on depth charts and salary cap balance sheets force decisions. And the surprise of the offseason would be if the Bears were done making theirs.