General manager Phil Emery said after the Bears 26-24 win over the Detroit Lions that the decision on retaining or rejecting Lovie Smith for 2013 would be based on Smiths body of work.That could have been taken two ways.One is that Smith had in nine years gotten the Bears to the playoffs just three times, and only once in the past six. The goal of an organization is to win championships, the immutable first step toward that is reaching playoffs and Smith had not achieved that crucial objective.The fact that the Bears posted winning records in two (2008, 2012) of the five miss seasons and .500 in a third (2011) was a secondary consideration.The other take on Smiths body of work was that since his initial 2004 season, Smith has had just two losing seasons, no fewer than seven wins in any of his last eight and a career record 18 games over .500 (81-63).The bad outweighed the good in the end, according to multiple sources, with Smith fired Monday morning after the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Green Bay Packers to slip past the Bears into the playoffs.The first inkling came when ESPNs Adam Schefter tweeted that the Bears had sent out forms requesting permission to interview assistants with other NFL teams.The news points to the Bears looking first and fast at current pro coaches ahead of college prospects.
The daily litany of injuries and practice limitations through training camp and to this point of preseason have been stories. But they typically do not take on real significance until about this time of the football year, when teams swing onto final approach for their first regular-season game.
Against that backdrop, the Bears’ injury forecast was trending the right direction on Monday when No. 1 tight end Zach Miller and No. 1 nickel receiver Eddie Royal, both out for extended periods going through the team’s concussion protocol, were practicing without the don’t-hit-me red practice jerseys they were in as recently as last week.
Right guard Kyle Long, down with a shoulder injury since the New England game, was not in practice pads Monday but trotted over to a nearby goalpost at one point during practice, got into his stance and delivered a couple of linemen “punches” to the padding.
All three are vital components of a struggling offense in desperate need of impact players at any position.
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Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, held out of the Kansas City game on Saturday with hamstring soreness, was in uniform as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, was out running laps around the practice field, although he remains a longshot to be active for the Sept. 11 opener in Houston.
The situation was less encouraging for linebacker Pernell McPhee, who continues to do only controlled running and cutting along the sidelines as he works back from knee surgery in January. Chances of his return for the start of the regular season appear next to nil.
“We’ve got some avenues that we’re going to have to decide here as we cut down [the roster] to the 53 and some time from now, so I don’t like making those decisions now,” said coach John Fox. “But we’ll continue to evaluate him. There are options. He did start [training camp] on PUP [physically unable to perform]. We have a lot of options and we’ll do what’s best for us and him.”
The team has kept details of McPhee’s procedure and injury in-house. But teammate Willie Young, whose 2014 season ended with an Achilles injury of his own, offered a perspective that hinted at how serious McPhee’s injury may have been.
“It’s a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge,” Young said, adding, “but he’s on course, I would say.”
With the No. 1 units in all three phases generally done for the 2016 preseason, one of the few stats that coaches and teams focus on can be analyzed for a Bears team that doesn’t have a lot of numerical results worth noting.
Through three preseason losses the Bears curiously have a plus-1 turnover ratio, taking the ball away from opponents. Through three games last year the Bears stood at plus-6 after a 2-1 point of a preseason in which coach John Fox sought to change a losing culture with an aggressive preseason approach.
Why this matters in a preseason of failures is this: Of the 15 teams with negative turnover totals, only one had a winning record. Not that a positive preseason means regular-season success, as the Bears demonstrated last year.
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But while the Bears offense has done precious little with the football when it’s had it, at least it is not giving it to opponents. Brian Hoyer has thrown the only two interceptions in 96 throws by Bears quarterbacks, a rate of 2.1 percent.
The defense has been without starting cornerback Kyle Fuller and No. 1 nickel corner Bryce Callahan for the past two games, and top corner Tracy Porter for game one and part of game three, the latter because of a concussion.
Still, members of the defense, which has produced two interceptions and two fumble recoveries through three games, have noticed a difference this year from last year’s first in a 3-4 base defense.
“Faster, that’s the main thing,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “A year under my belt in the system, you’re not thinking as much because you should know the plays. I can play a lot faster because I know how the blocks are being made against this type of defense, for instance.”
The results have not yet been reflected in points, yardage or wins. But within the defense, players believe that team speed has been increased along with reaction speed, breaks on the ball and other elements that go into producing takeaways.
“Absolutely,” said linebacker Willie Young. “We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.
“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”
Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.
And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.
Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.
Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.
Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.
Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.
Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.
Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.
Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.
Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.
Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.
Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.
Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)