Martz gone, Tice to take over?

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Martz gone, Tice to take over?

You cant fire me. I quit.

That was the statement effectively made mid-Tuesday as Mike Martz resigned as offensive coordinator, citing philosophical differences. Which would be more noteworthy if Martz werent already leaving anyway because he was without a contract for 2012.

Going with him is quarterbacks coach Shane Day following a year in which the assessment and play of Caleb Hanie as a backup was a disaster, and rookie Nathan Enderle never developed enough to even be active by week 17.

Martz created a firestorm around himself late this season when his camp began to put his name in play for other jobs, NFL and college. The lack of focus in a season that was in peril angered coach Lovie Smith and sealed his fate in Chicago.

The search will be on for a Martz successor, which may extend only as far as down the way at Halas Hall where offensive line coach Mike Tices office is. However, Tice was a pick of now-former GM Jerry Angelo in 2010, and Martz was brought in over Tice.

Bill Callahan is out of contract with the New York Jets, is a Chicagoan and also is considered one of the top offensive line coaches in the NFL. If Tice is elevated to Martzs job, Callahans roots in Chicago may be a pull.

But a concern of coaching candidates will be the unmistakable pressure Smith is under to win in 2012. This was a problem when Dick Jauron needed to replace Gary Crowton in 2001 and was left with John Shoop from his incumbent staff members. That works in Tices favor in a win-or-else year.

Martzs departure marks the third time since he has flopped with a defense-based head coach since leaving the St. Louis Rams. He was fired by Rod Marinelli in Detroit and Mike Singletary in San Francisco before getting a shot from Smith to return to the NFL.

The offense achieved some successes under Martz, who succeeded Ron Turner. But the past two seasons have been bumpy as Martz frequently went to his preferred downfield passing game and had to be reined in by Smith in both mid-2010 and again in early 2011 after eschewing offensive balance and going with game plans that were ill-suited for what his players could do.

On the personnel side, Martz pushed for signing a veteran backup in 2010, bringing in Todd Collins who proved to be more of a disaster than Hanie this year. The Bears also traded away tight end and former No. 1 pick Greg Olsen when it was determined that he was not deemed a fit for Martzs offense.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.