Urgency building in Bears coaching search

973755.png

Urgency building in Bears coaching search

It was nine years ago Tuesday that the Bears hired Lovie Smith to coach their team. They are unlikely to hit that date this time but perhaps not by much.

The divisional playoff round was not a great weekend for four candidates in the Bears search for Smiths successor. But the Bears and several NFL teams may not have been entirely unhappy with Denver, Green Bay, Houston and Seattle losing in divisional-round playoff games because it unlocked several doors.

The Bears have the offensive coordinators for all four teams and those individuals are now free for second interviews with Phil Emery if the Bears GM has them on his finalist list. Emery said that his search would include college coaches but none have been among the 13 reported candidates.

The only still-unavailable known candidate interviewed by Emery is Atlanta special-teams coach Keith Armstrong, who is not widely considered one of the leading prospects. Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan are believed to be among the top candidates so far but Emerys final list was still unfinished as of Sunday night.

Emery said on Jan. 1 that his ideal would be to have his new coach standing with him watching this months college all-star games and he may yet get his wish. Some of his competitors hope he does.

Indeed, at least one other NFL team is privately irritated at the pace of the Bears search because it wants to know if it needs to replace its offensive coordinator. That decision could be coming within a week based on Emery narrowing his finalist choices to 2-3 as planned, those candidates meeting with Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips, and a deal being reached.

Urgency rising

A note of urgency does in fact enter the process now because several of the Bears candidates are high on other teams lists.

Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, interviewed by Emery last week, is set to interview now with San Diego, is on the Philadelphia Eagles list, and has met with and impressed the Arizona Cardinals.

Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have met with Emery and have been linked to other teams as well. Bruce Arians was on Emerys Sunday interview list and also is a candidate with the Chargers.

Looking for assistants

The need for prompt action concerns more than just the top spot. The organization still has Smith's assistant coaches under contract, giving the incoming coach a ready selection of coaches familiar with Bears personnel but no coach retains the full former staff and each hiring around the league sets in motion the search for assistants.

Bears In-Foe: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?

Bears In-Foe: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?

Coming off two long fourth quarter drives by the Titans the week before that cost them their home opener, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers kept Detroit's defense in the dumps Sunday, shredding the Lions for 31 first-half points.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been tasked with replacing the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Stephen Tulloch over the last couple of years, and having to Band-Aid the unit from key injuries. One was game-changing linebacker DeAndre Levy, who played just 17 snaps all of 2015 after signing a $20 million extension. Austin, who's had nine head coaching interviews the past two off-seasons, had to be welcoming Levy back with open arms. Then he suffered a quad injury in the Titans game, sat out versus the Packers, and his status will be one to watch this week.

Then there's Ziggy Ansah, the fifth overall pick from 2013 who's only in his sixth year of even playing football.  His 14.5 sacks last season gave him 30 in 46 career games and made him the new centerpiece of the defense. But the Ghana native sustained a high ankle sprain in that same game against the Titans and is not expected to be ready for Sunday's noon date on the lakefront.

Who could possibly pick up some of that pass rush slack? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kerry Hyder.

Who?

The undrafted free agent spent 2014 on the Jets' practice squad, then moved to the Lions last year. He almost seemed destined to spend another year on The Squad before he finished the preseason strong. The door opened, and the 6-foot-2, 270-pound end has four sacks so far. Tackle Haloti Ngata, who is 32 years old, struggled with injuries after coming over to help replace Suh, but finished strong, and has started well. Second-round pick A'Shaun Robinson rotates in after the Alabama product was passed over by the Bears.

[MORE BEARS IN-FOE: From Megatron to MegaMarv?]

Levy's injury left the Lions with only four linebackers at Lambeau after one promotion from the practice squad. Speedy, physical Tahir Whitehead took over for the now-departed Tulloch in the middle and earned his way into the starting lineup the last couple of years. Austin has given the other starting spot to Kyle Van Noy in a last-ditch attempt to prove spending a second-round pick on him in 2014 wasn't a mistake.

The secondary includes a stud corner and safety. Darius Slay (2013 second round) has turned into their shutdown guy and signed a four-year, $48 million extension in July. Nevin Lawson is just 5-9 but plays physical and fast opposite Slay - and was called for a 66-yard (!) pass interference penalty Sunday. Free safety Glover Quin's interception has the defense's lone takeaway this season and is one of the game's best. The team invested a fourth-round pick on heavy-hitting Miles Kinnebrew, and injury-prone Rafael Bush in free agency. But former Illini Tavon Wilson was signed away from the Patriots and held down the strong side before departing Sunday's loss with a neck injury.

Special teams

The Lions' coverage teams are top ten in both punts and kickoffs. The loss of Ameer Abdullah to his foot injury will affect the return game firepower, with backup wideout Andre Roberts filling in. Kicker Matt Prater is 5-for-6 on field goals thus far after being fifth in accuracy last year, including a 59-yarder versus the Bears at Soldier Field in last year's season finale.

Bears In-Foe: From Megatron to MegaMarv?

Bears In-Foe: From Megatron to MegaMarv?

Jim Bob Cooter. An interesting name. Some interesting stuff in his past, too. But since he took over the Lions offense about midway through last season, Matthew Stafford's been as good as ever, and it's carried over so far into this season. Even after his Megatarget - Calvin Johnson - decided to retire after last season.  But one aspect remains a concern after a recent injury.

Detroit is top-five in points, total yards and passing yards per game. They've jumped from last in the NFL last season to 15th in rushing, but after second-year back Ameer Abdullah averaged 5.6 yards per carry into their Week Two matchup, he tore a foot ligament and could be out for the season. With that, they managed just a 2.2-yard average Sunday in Green Bay, falling behind 31-3 before walking out of Lambeau a 34-27 loser to drop to 1-2.

Theo Riddick is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield (16 catches, 130 yards) after 80 receptions for nearly 700 yards a year ago, but he's still averaging just 3.3 per carry after 3.1 in 2015. Enter seventh-round rookie Dwayne Washington, who had a couple of touchdown runs in the preseason (one for 58 yards), along with a 96-yard kickoff return TD. He carried 10 times for 38 yards against the Packers.

[MORE BEARS IN-FOE: Can this offense expose two key Lions injuries?]

Stafford finished last season with 17 touchdowns against just two interceptions. That ratio is 7-to-2 this year. Through three weeks, he's second in passing yards, fourth in yards-per-attempt, and sixth in completion percentage. And wouldn't you know? His main target is the guy they brought in to replace Calvin Johnson: Marvin Jones. Many thought he wouldn't come close to comparing.

So far, the former Bengal has been targeted 29 times, with 18 catches for a league-high 408 yards. Six of those receptions and 205 of those yards came Sunday against Green Bay. Soon-to-be-36-year-old Anquan Boldin was a late signing despite still being physically imposing, and the 12th-leading receiver in league history. He's caught a pair of touchdowns among his 11 receptions for 105 yards. For the past two years (189 catches), Golden Tate was to Johnson what Randall Cobb is to Jordy Nelson in Green Bay when both are healthy. The Golden Domer has 13 grabs for 94 yards. And 2014 first-round tight end Eric Ebron has tested Motown's patience with knee, quad, and hand injuries his first two seasons. He's caught 14 passes thus far after 47 a year ago.

Stafford has a five-year non-injury starting streak after some health issues his first couple of seasons. That's amazing with the way he's been knocked around (44 sacks a year ago). He's hit the turf eight times the first three weeks. They've gone to great lengths in recent drafts to fix that, spending high picks trying to shore up protection and get a ground game going to complement their aerial assault. That continued this spring under new GM Bob Quinn, who came over from New England and kept coach Jim Caldwell in place. Tackle Taylor Decker out of Ohio State was chosen 16th as 2012 top pick Riley Reiff has underachieved heading into his contract year. Last year's number-one pick, guard Laken Tomlinson out of Lane Tech High School, has yet to live up to his selection. 2013 third-rounder Larry Warford compared to Kyle Long in the same draft class, but has struggled with injuries. And for the second time in three years, the Lions drafted a center in the third round (Graham Glasgow from Michigan via Marmion Military Academy in 2016; Travis Swanson in 2014).