After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider

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After Lovie Smith? Bears have issues to consider

Bears management would not have jettisoned head coach Lovie Smith without a plan in place for his successor. The first indication of Smith being done in fact came in the form of other teams receiving permission forms from the Bears, requesting clearance to interview members of their staffs for the top field job in Chicago.

FOXs Jay Glazer first reported that Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was among those on the Bears short list. Other names, including some from successful college programs, will be surfacing.

But the issue is not automatically as simple as deciding on a candidate and making a lucrative financial offer. The Bears can interview coaches with current playoff teams but it is a busy market, with six other coaches already fired and their organizations looking for replacements.

A lot of things we dont know, said quarterback Jay Cutler. A lot of things are up in the air right now. I dont think were going to have a clear idea of whats going to happen in the future and what direction were going to go until we get some coaches.

Taking offense

Smiths problems finding a coordinator to direct the offense failed four times, three of them over problems involving Cutler: Ron Turner, Mike Martz, Mike Tice. None was able to build a sustainable program around Cutler, or in Tices case, Cutler and Brandon Marshall.

Cutler and Marshall are still here, Cutler with just one year remaining on his current contract. It will be something of a significant surprise if GM Phil Emery goes forward with a long-term extension (or even a short one, for that matter) for Cutler, whom he regarded as a franchise quarterback back when the Bears were winning.

Unlike Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis (Andrew Luck), Andy Reid in Philadelphia (Donovan McNabb) or even Dick Jauron in Chicago (Cade McNown), the new Bears head coach will not come in with a high draft choice and option of getting the quarterback of his choosing.

Given that Smiths successor is expected to be from a background on offense, this may be very significant.

The Bears do not draft until No. 20 this year and already have Cutler, 30 next season, in place.

Change isnt always a bad thing, Cutler said. Sometimes, it can be good. The prospect at the time was unfavorable, but ... no one really wants to change or think about changing. Now that its upon us, weve got to be positive about it. It is what it is.

Weve just got to keep moving forward, and whoever it is, weve got to make the most of it.

Problems ahead on defense?

The next Bears head coach will come into a situation where many of the elite core players on the defense are on the veteran side of age 30. Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman were both voted to the Pro Bowl.

More significantly, the Smith-Rod Marinelli defense was typically termed the Cover-2 but in fact was a simplified system that worked well with a particular type of player.

It has been a 4-3 scheme that places a premium on speed over just size. Where the 4-3 scheme of Dick Jauron-Greg Blache was a two-gap system using massive down linemen (in 2001 the starting ends were 290 pounds and the tackles 340 and 360) who controlled blockers and kept them off linebackers.

Smiths system has flourished with speed rushers: Super Bowl ends Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye were 260 pounds and three-technique Tommie Harris was 285.

The current Bears roster is not staffed with the quantity and type of linebackers or sized defensive linemen to switch to one of the versions of a 3-4 now in use.

Who knows? said defensive end Corey Wootton, who had a solid season in 2012. I might have to gain 20 pounds.

Personnel policies

Brian Urlacher is not expected back after a year that began with him sitting out training camp with knee problems and sitting out the last four games with a hamstring problem.

His replacement, Nick Roach, is not a gimme at this point.

My contract is up as well, Roach said. Its just a part of the NFL, and its going on all around the league today. Thats the part of the league that people dont like if youre associated with it.

Henry Melton was voted to his first Pro Bowl but is an unrestricted free agent and expected to command a bank-shaking contract. Whether it is from the Bears is what the next couple of months will determine.

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Bears' Josh Sitton finds fourth Pro Bowl most meaningful yet

Sometimes the passage of time makes things a little sweeter.
 
Josh Sitton had been selected to three Pro Bowls while a member of the Green Bay Packers. At the end of training camp last year, the Packers abruptly released Sitton.
 
On Monday, Sitton was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, replacing former Green Bay teammate T.J. Lang. At age 30, this Pro Bowl was special.
 
"It's a great honor, always a goal of mine every year," Sitton said via conference call. "It's an honor to me and to the guys I play with, the guys helping me along...
 
"I would say just the age thing, the older you get, the more you appreciate them. You can't play at a high level in this game so the whole age thing makes it even more special."

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
 
When the Bears were forced to go into Week 1 of the 2015 season with a shuffled offensive line, the situation wasn't ideal; Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long moving to right tackle as a hurried fill when neither Charles Leno nor Jordan Mills were an answer.
 
The 2016 season also began with an unexpected and significant shuffle, but this time with one that immediately bumped up the quality of the line. GM Ryan Pace moved quickly to sign Sitton after his release by the Green Bay Packers, a step that bumped rookie Cody Whitehair from guard to center, where he earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers Association of America.
 
"It was challenging for sure," Sitton said. "It was something I haven't had to do for quite some time but it was stimulating being thrown in and needing to learn the offense in four or five days."
 
Sitton, who signed a three-year contract worth as much as $21 million with $10 million guaranteed, joins rookie running back Jordan Howard as the two Bears scheduled to play in the Pro Bowl. He started 12 of 13 games in 2016, missing time with an ankle injury but being a strong presence in a line that ranked No. 8 in sack percentage while getting Howard to a franchise-record 1,313 rushing yards even with a rookie center and a group that never played a game together before Week 1 in Houston against the Texans.
 
"I think we can only get better, now that we'll have an offseason together," Sitton said. "We'll see what we can do."