Building the ultimate Bears: Coaching, draft & more

288410.jpg

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.

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

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.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

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.”

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

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.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

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.”

[RELATED: Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?]

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.”

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

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.

[RELATED: Bears defense can't pick up all the pieces from a broken offense]

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)