Grizzled and experienced: Bruce Arians

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Grizzled and experienced: Bruce Arians

One of the hottest coaches and biggest names Bears general manager Phil Emery has on his head coaching list is Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinatorinterim head coach Bruce Arians, whom Emery is scheduled to interview this week.
Arians has a long coaching history with some of the greatest coaches that helped build the great game of football. Arians played quarterback for Virginia Tech, finishing his senior season as team MVP in 1974 before embarking on his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Hokies one year later.
Arians has come a long way since running the Hokies wishbone offense, where he only completed 53 of 118 pass attempts (44.9) for 952 Yards, 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions during his MVP season. Quite a turnaround from when he played and when now compared to Arians' latest quarterback project, first round pick Andrew Luck, who just broke the rookie record for most pass attempts in a season (627).
Arians was actually accused of throwing the ball too much when he served as Steelers offensive coordinator for five seasons, from 2007-2011. While coaching quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Arians helped win three AFC North Division titles, two AFC Championships and Super Bowl XLIII. Arians served as wide receivers coach when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL under Bill Cowher.
Under Arians' direction, Pittsburgh became known as a passing team where Roethlisberger averaged 247.4 net passing yards per game from 2007-2011, ranked eighth in the NFL and fifth in the AFC. Roethlisberger also became the first quarterback in Steelers history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. This same offensive unit in 2009 had two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher, which were also Steelers firsts.
Steelers ownership wanted to get back to their trademark of running the football, and it was rumored Arians was too close in his relationship with Roethlisberger. They live close to one another in Georgia and would play golf two-to-three times a week in the offseason. Roethlisberger is on record stating Arians was a father figure to him during some difficult times off the field.
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Arians is a hard-nosed coach who rides his players to succeed. He demonstratively denounces those who question his ability to run the football. I run it when the defense dictates we should run it, he told me during the SirusXM NFL training camp tour in Anderson, Ind. this past fall. Its hard to argue his point, as Arians Temple Owls led the nation in rushing while he served as their head coach from 1983 to 1988.
A little Paul Bear Bryant must have rubbed off on Arians when served on Alabamas staff, but plenty of former Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moores genius certainly has. Moore was the Colts offensive coordinator who was given the job of breaking in Peyton Manning into the NFL. His offenses and their success speak for themselves. They are quarterback-driven, where the entire playbook is at the quarterback's fingertips at the line of scrimmage. Who served as Peytons quarterback coach under Tom Moore in Indianapolis? None other than Bruce Arians.
Arians is more than capable of being a head coach and reigning in quarterback Jay Cutler. His job as interim head coach for the Colts while Chuck Pagano recovered from leukemia this year speaks for itself. Some worry about longevity as Arians was thinking about retirement before Pagano threw him a life line to tutor Andrew Luck. Arians is a lifer and why Indianapolis general manager Ryan Grigson is trying to fatten Arians contract to finish what he started in Indianapolis. On a funny note, Bears fans may have to put the earmuffs on during an Arians press conference... he's old school!

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.