Building the ultimate Bears: Coaching, draft & more

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Building the ultimate Bears: Coaching, draft & more

Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
Posted 6:41 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

In the first of a four-part examination of the 2011 Bears, CSNChicago.com looks the four main areas at issue for a team that considers itself just a few players away from another run at a championship:

Part I Coaching, free agency and the draft

Part II Offense

Part III Defense

Part IV Special teams

The Lovie Smith deal

GM Jerry Angelo was clear in his season epilogue: The Bears want Lovie Smith back in 2011 and beyond as their head coach. But do not by any stretch take that as a pronouncement that a contract extension is a fait accompli.

It isnt.

Smith is under contract for the 2011 season at 5.5 million. At that pay grade he ranks among the best-paid of his peers, meaning that he is unlikely to be looking at a new deal with a significant raise.

Other than the 5 million-per-season ransom the San Francisco 49ers were pressured into paying first-timer Jim Harbaugh, teams have been shrinking payroll for field bosses. The financial considerations are reasons are obvious. Uncertainty over the future of the collective bargaining agreement is working against teams lavishing money on head coaches who may not have teams to coach this season.

Experience countssort of

Also, the head coaches in this years Super Bowl Mike McCarthy for Green Bay and Mike Tomlin for Pittsburgh were newbies when they took their jobs. McCarthy was never a head coach at any level before Green Bay hired him in 2006, yet he has been to the playoffs three of the four years after a .500 first season.

Tomlin succeeded Bill Cowher with the Steelers a year after McCarthy went to Green Bay. He too was never a head coach before becoming one on the NFL level, was a coordinator just one year (Minnesota) and then won a Super Bowl as a rookie head coach.

Smith was never a head coach previously, yet won in Chicago. Same as Mike Ditka. Now Smith is in the ironic position of being the expensive proven head coach in a market that is turning away from those (see: Fisher, Jeff; Tennessee Titans).

Whose price?

With Angelo and Cliff Stein structuring contracts, the Bears have done consistently sound contracts with little over-extension to require cutting players for cap reasons. They took care of Smith in 2007 with a market deal and he will play that one out, at least.

The tightrope for the Bears will be to make the genuine effort, which they will, to get Smith done, possibly for a year or two at the current money, possibly longer for a lower figure, without poisoning the situation in a way that will leave scar tissue on Smiths side if it doesnt work out.

Which it may not.

Best strategies:

The Bears offer to add one year at 5.5 million and a second at 5 million, securing Smith through 2013, when Angelos own deal is up.

Smith? Two alternatives. Acknowledge a serious offer made in the right spirit and market conditions, then gamble on his team keeping upward pace with the leaders and gamble on himself that hell be worth even more with another deep playoff run to his credit.

Or, more sensibly, accept the market deal. If the Bears slip, hes bargaining this time next year from a weakened position, possibly in a further reduced market if one of the newbies this year do extremely well. And if the Bears do well, just not NFC Championship well, he is still signed for two more years in the NFL coaching-salary penthouse.
Free-agent bonanza

The constricted market of 2010 will be replaced by one with as many as 500 free agents hitting the market this year, with four and five years experience. In a supply-and-demand business, that is not at all good news for the supply but potentially very good news for the demand side.

Elite players will command contracts of the magnitude, relative to a possibly reduced salary cap, that the Bears gave Julius Peppers last year, that the New York Giants signed Antrel Rolle for, that the Miami Dolphins used to secure Karlos Dansby.

The cap is indeed the wild card. The Bears have paid elite money for free agents (Peppers, Muhsin Muhammed, John Tait, others) and cannot be faulted if they dont make a preemptive signing as theyve done in some situations.

Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson and New England guard Logan Mankins are available (pending tags or new deals with their existing teams) at need positions for the Bears. If the Bears go to that level, of player and price, it will be a surprise.

But rarely has Angelo let an area go unaddressed that he views as a major need.

In-house first
The Bears will endeavor to re-sign nose tackle Anthony Adams and the expectation is that they will fortify defense perhaps ahead even of offense; keeping a strength strong is a must.

But they have what they view as three defensive ends (Peppers, Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton) and tackle help with former Kansas City ChiefCarolina Panther Tank Tyler to go with an emerging Henry Melton, steady Matt Toeaina and still-developing Marcus Harrison.

The fate of Tommie Harris remains to play out but he is unlikely to be back with his roster bonus and salary hits facing the Bears.
Feeling the draft

The Bears have the 29th pick of the first round, the same slot where Angelo selected Marc Colombo in the 2002 draft, his first as Bears GM. The draft is expected to go off as scheduled in April irrespective of the collective bargaining agreement but trading players in draft scenarios wont be possible, so some limits may be in place.

The draft is not a sure call for the Bears to plan on needed help. For example, when you look at the guard situation right now, theres nobody that really jumps out at you and says theyre going to wow somebody and be a guaranteed first- or second-round pick, said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Theres nobody at that position unless you move some tackles inside. There arent that many guards who are going to be those immediate hole-fillers.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

With Bears players reporting for training camp Wednesday, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz have been spending the last two weeks looking at three burning questions at each position group. The series concludes with Boden’ s look at the coaching staff.

1. Can John Fox find a balance between necessary snaps, and staying healthy?

Unless he’s practicing this team every day (he’s not) and hitting every day (he’s not doing that, either), a coach really can’t be blamed for injuries. That out-of-his-hands factor has kept his first two years from a true evaluation, yet every team has to deal with them. He and Ryan Pace have been particularly hamstrung (pun intended) by the fact so many key, high draft picks/building blocks and impact free agent signings (see Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Royal) have spent significant time on the sidelines. 

Fox tweaked the workout schedule in Bourbonnais with more consistent start times (all in the 11 a.m. hour), mixing in off-days and walk-throughs. Yet there are heavy competitions to sift through, particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety, and projected starters must learn to get used to each other (and the offense get used to Mike Glennon) so that miscommunication is at a minimum. The Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers and Packers won’t wait for them to get on the same page over the first 19 days of the regular season.

2. How does Dowell Loggains divide up quarterback snaps?

His starting quarterback basically hasn’t played since 2014 and is trying to master a new system, working with new receivers. All while Mike Glennon tries to be “all systems go”-ready on Sept. 10. Loggains is also in charge of developing the quarterback of the future, who never previously worked under center or called a huddle. If Mitch Trubisky isn’t the backup to start the season, Mark Sanchez, who missed all of minicamp with a knee injury, has to gain enough of a comfort level with the playbook and his receivers to slide in in the event of an emergency. These practices usually top out at about two hours, maybe a bit longer. Will there basically be two practices going on at the same time? If so, how can Loggains and the offensive assistants not overdo it for those at other positions?

3. Are Vic Fangio and Leonard Floyd tied at the hip?

The defensive coordinator still oversees all the position groups, but will focus particularly on the oustide linebackers and the prized pupil, Leonard Floyd. Fangio says he liked what he’s seen of the 2016 first-round pick this off-season, once he recovered from his second concussion. But he said all the bumps, bruises, strains, pulls, and bell-ringing didn’t mean anything more than an incomplete rookie grade. At this point, he’d probably like to be joined to Floyd’s hip in Bourbonnais, because that means he’ll be staying on the practice field, learning. “3b” in this category would be Ed Donatell sorting through a long list of young defensive backs to find the right pieces to keep for the present and future, in addition to finding four starters who’ll take the ball away a lot better than they’ve done the past two seasons.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case.