The Seattle Seahawks come to Chicago having wonfour out of their lastfive games.Granted two of those wins came against the lowly St. Louis Rams, but the Great Northwest seized on confidence sinceWeek 10by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 22-17.The Bears are the better team, but with continuing offensive issues along with added distractions, it will take a great deal of focus to get a victory this weekend.Normally the focus required to win occurs during the week of preparation. Unfortunately, the Bears lost that luxury when Sam Hurds alleged drug arrest unfolded mid-week. It is just another variable mentally and physically the Bears must deal with when facing the Seahawks.Releasing Hurd should have a positive impact in the locker room along with sending a message about the kind of character the Bears organization wants represented. Hurds special teams contributions will be lost but special teams coach Dave Toub will fill the void with another capable player. Open it upIve been preaching for MikeMartz to minimize Caleb Hanie's opportunities for mistakes. Martz did an incredible job in this department against Denver last week and the Bears still lost 13-10. Seattle is stouter defensively with their front seven than Denver and running the football will be a challenge for Chicago. Marion Barber should be motivated after being last weeks goat, but rushing for over 100 yards on 27 carries like against Denver will be difficult.The running game works against the Bears this week because being productive on first and second down was an issue last week. They cannot survive trying to convert as many3rd and 16situations like against Denver.Rushing attempts will be better served onthird down or second andsix yards or more situations when Seattle substitutes in their speed rushers.Thus, offensive production is going to be required fromHanie and the receivers onfirst andsecond down. I dont particularly like this matchup either for Chicago as Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are both over six feet tall with excellent running ability. They both have played very well the past few weeks.If wide receievers Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester or Roy Williams do not get physical off the line of scrimmage throughout the entirety of their route, it will be a long day for the Bears again offensively. Play with your hair on fireI love that saying.It truly applies this week for the entire Bears roster in all three phases. Seattle presents an absolute must win game scenario for the Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive. Chicago has good matchups in the trenches on defense against Seattles offensive line which has been decimated by injuries.Seattle has backups upon backups starting at this point on their offensive line.The Bears defense is still number two in the NFC and eighth overall yielding only 19.6 points a game.But this is where the Bears biggest problem exists. Chicago only averages 11 pointsper game offensively since Hanie assumed the starting quarterback role for an injured Jay Cutler.
When Jay Cutler came to the Bears in that 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, he was “the new guy.” The locker room belonged to Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher on their respective sides of the football, and while the quarterback position by definition places its occupant in a necessarily leadership position, that wasn’t the Bears. They weren’t going to be “Cutler’s team,” not for a while.
But Matt Forte exited this past offseason and with him went the last position player – on either side of the ball – who had been here longer than Cutler now has. The reality wasn’t lost on Cutler.
“I was looking at the roster a couple of weeks ago and I feel like there’s been a major shift in experience — especially on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m at 11 [years] and then you look down, there’s a couple of nines, a couple of eights and mostly five and under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a new talent and new guys in the building, there’s new energy and new attitude. I’ve embraced it. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff’s done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It’s a good group right now.”
It is also a group that looks to Cutler perhaps in ways teammates haven’t. Where Forte was at least the template for an NFL professional for his position group, Cutler now becomes the go-to veteran for everything ranging from details on a play-call to how to behave as a rookie.
It is a role that at times Cutler did not always appear to fit into comfortably, particularly with established veterans and personas that were the Bears’ identity for, in cases like Kreutz and Urlacher, a decade or more. Now, a player once sometimes perceived by outsiders as poutish or petulant has become something of a standard-setter for teammates.
“Obviously Jay does a great job with the younger guys,” said guard Kyle Long. “He brought me along, and continues to bring me along. He can be a little honest and blunt with me from time to time, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s the right thing to do in his position, as the leader and vested player.
“The quarterback is the leader of our team. I think he’s done a great job. I see him with the defense a lot, which is something I didn’t see a lot the first few years. I don’t necessarily know if that’s on Jay, or if it’s a perception-of-Jay basis. He’s a great guy. People in that locker room love him. He’s tough as hell. He’s got a cannon. He can run. And he’s a competitor. We love him. He’s been great this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll be this season with this new O-line and with the defense getting us the ball back a lot.”
Tough love approach
Cutler has earned the respect of his teammates. But gaining the confidence of his head coach and general manager through last year were possibly career turning points.
Cutler had been given a contract extension six games into his first (2009) year with the Bears. He responded by leading the NFL in interceptions.
When Phil Emery arrived as general manager, he spoke from the outset of Cutler as a “franchise quarterback” and “elite.” Emery gave Cutler a seven-year contract after the 2013 season, whereupon Cutler again led the league in interceptions in a 5-11 season marked by friction with coordinator Aaron Kromer and coach Marc Trestman, whose staff was fired after that year.
Instead of fawning treatment, Fox, coordinator Adam Gase and GM Ryan Pace were decidedly noncommittal on Cutler through last offseason and into the year. Cutler produced the best statistical year of his career, still not as good as Aaron Rodgers’ poorest single season, but with an overall performance that settled the Bears’ quarterback situation for the foreseeable future.
"I had questions on everybody," Fox said. "You come in, you take a job, you evaluate and you have to make decisions oftentimes before you even meet somebody in Year 1 as a head coach or general manager. They could be robots for all you know. But the game is still about people and relationships.
“I will say this: At the conclusion of the whole season working with Jay, I was very impressed. So I feel way more confident about him."
The Bears announced in a press release on Wednesday that the team has made numerous changes in their front office this offseason.
One such move included the hiring of Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications. Faber was with the Blackhawks communications department since 2008, where his most recent position was Senior Director of Communications and Community relations.
"The club created a new executive layer of SVP’s to better lead and develop various areas of business with a focus on innovation & strategy," the release detailed. "The club promoted Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein and Lee Twarling to the newly created SVP level. The Bears have also added three new members to the VP level, promoting Doug Carnahan to VP of Corporate Partnerships and Jake Jones to VP of Finance and hiring Brandon Faber as the VP of Communications."
Hagel has been promoted to SVP, Marketing and Communications after 20 years with the Bears. Murphy has been promoted to SVP, Business Strategy and CFO. She has been with the Bears for 17 years.
Stein has been with the Bears for 14 years and has been promoted to SVP and General Counsel. He is the legal advisor for all of the club.
Twarling, who has been with the club for 12 years, has been promoted to SVP, Sales and Customer Relations.
Bear-ly Possible? Maybe Not…
As the Bears prepare to take the field for the first time in Training Camp-apalooza 2016, we present a little food for thought here that Leonard Floyd was too full to finish. As Ryan Pace continues to build this roster, this team’s injury margin for error remains smaller than the Minnesotas, Green Bays, Carolinas, Seattles and Arizonas of the NFC. Idle football off-season minds can start working with actual news and reality as teams charge toward the first full week of September. But here are a few thoughts about this team that’ve passed between my ears over the past week or so, and you can decide whether I should’ve slathered the top of my head with sunscreen, too.
2nd and 3rd before 1st
As we anxiously await Saturday’s first contact practice at camp to see how Leonard Floyd stands up to attacking NFL linemen, the thinking here is guard Cody Whitehair and defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard will play a greater role for the Bears this season than their top draft pick. Even with his role simplified compared to what it was at Georgia, there’s still a physical and mental learning curve that might not be as steep for the two guys in the trenches. Whitehair started for four years at Kansas State, Bullard the equivalent of three at Florida, and many scouts believed both could’ve been drafted even higher than where they landed with the Bears. I’m still confident Vic Fangio can turn Floyd into the player the team projects, and will make some impact plays in 2016. I just think the steadier contributions will come from the other two.
White will be a Beast
….eventually. Call him an “advanced” rookie because he had to settle for just being around the team, getting a knack for NFL life, as well as mental playbook reps and a month of actual on-field practice. And that will help him now. He had an big-target NFL body before his injury a year ago and that size and speed figures to win a lot of battles down the road, along with his share this season. But his limited route tree he had at West Virginia has to grow, and how quickly that happens immediately affects the level of his impact this fall. Is 65 to 70 catches (4-plus per game) too much to ask? If….if…he, Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal and Zach Miller don’t miss significant time and those weapons are available options all season, White’s numbers could exceed that.
Top 10 “D”
Consider Coordinator Vic Fangio taking over a unit that had its two worst seasons in franchise history, and taking it from 30th overall in 2013 and 2014, to 14th in 2015. And he didn’t have close to the pieces he needed. So many square pegs for round holes. Now, add Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as an inside linebacker tandem that can’t be surpassed elsewhere around the league. Throw in an end who can anchor one side of the line in Akiem Hicks to pair with an ascending young nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. Pernell McPhee’s knee needs to be ready, with Willie Young and Lamarr Houston rotating in. With health, that’s a front seven to be excited about for the first time, post-Lovie. Now, the secondary is another issue, needing Tracy Porter to stay healthy, Kyle Fuller to put it all together and Adrian Amos and a safety-to-be-determined required to make more plays on the ball. Between the improved first two lines of defense and Year Two of defensive back tutorship under Ed Donatell, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance.
The Houston Texans are a better team than the Bears right now, and should be a better team this season. But if they open the season without J.J. Watt (back surgery), Brock Osweiler feels the weight of $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) with a green receiving corps outside of DeAndre Hopkins, and the new-look Bears defense can create some chaos and uncertainty for the hosts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could steal that opener, depending on their health going in. So after that? It’s Philadelphia at home, what should be a dreadful Cowboys defense in Dallas, then Detroit at Soldier Field. Of course, this franchise has to figure out a way to beat the Lions, which they haven’t done since 2012. The biggest test to a four-win first month would seem to be the first one. They pull that off, maybe that baby bear baseball team won’t steal all the attention come October. If they get there.
In closing, I have not been sipping the Bears Kool-Aid that on-air partner Dan Jiggetts loves to swig. But who knows? Maybe I needed to shampoo with some of that sunscreen, after all.