Chicago Bears

Marshall and Tillman selected first team All-Pro


Marshall and Tillman selected first team All-Pro

By Lauren Cook

The Associated Press announced their 2012 NFL All-Pro team Saturday, as selected by 50 members of the media.

Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Charles Tillman received first team honors. They were joined in their position categories by Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Tim Jennings represent Chicago on the second team.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt were the only players to be unanimously selected, and the San Francisco 49ers received the most selections overall with six. The only NFC North team absent from the first team All-Pro was the Green Bay Packers, though quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews made the cut for second team.

Bears’ 'other' Staley has a more important role than mascot

Bears’ 'other' Staley has a more important role than mascot

When it comes to referencing “Staley,”, most Bears fans are aware of the nickname of the franchise’s Decatur origins, which inspired the mascot you see prancing around at games and community appearances.

But we now introduce you to Brandon Staley, the new outside linebackers coach. He succeeded Clint Hurtt, whose contract was not renewed after last season despite a popularity with his players, and who is now the Seahawks’ defensive line coach. Staley’s resume won’t bowl over fans. All 11 years of his coaching experience have come at the collegiate level, and traditional powerhouses are difficult to find. He most recently completed his second tour with Division III John Carroll University, but also toiled at FCS James Madison for a year, two seasons at Hutchinson (KS) Community College, NAIA St. Thomas University, plus three years at Northern Illinois. Sprinkled among them was a season as a grad assistant at Tennessee in 2012.

“John Carroll has a real significant footprint in the National Football League,” Staley said Friday in Bourbonnais. “The way they run their program is much like how they do it here. So from a football standpoint, it really wasn’t much different. Certainly the caliber of players is. It’s been everything I’d hoped it’d be. I’m very fortunate to be in this situation. I’m just very, very lucky.”

And for those not well-versed in John Carroll football, their alumni list includes current and former NFL executives David Caldwell (Jaguars GM), Nick Caserio (Patriots Director of Player Personnel), Chris Polian (ex-Colts Vice President and G.M., and son of Bill), Tom Telesco (Chargers GM) and Hall of Famer Don Shula. Current and former offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Greg Roman hail from the University Heights, Ohio program. Former NFL linebacker London Fletcher is a former Blue Streak. It’s almost reflective of Ryan Pace’s 2017 draft, with its three small school picks. So if Staley walked into the position room after his hiring five months ago to a “Who is this guy?,” perhaps the alpha-males read up and had a more open mind. 

“They’ve been awesome. Since the time I got here in February, I was able to meet a lot of them before OTAs and minicamps,” Staley says. “ That’s always been important to me in getting to know the guys and know their personal lives. I think that’s the best way to be a coach. And it’s been great having Vic in our room, heavily involved…his expertise at being able to coach that position at the level he’s coached it his whole career, I think it makes our room that much stronger. “

Staley has the position title, but is really somewhat of an understudy to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who’s decided to spend more time with the group specifically and had no direct relationship with Staley before being added to the staff.

“The key is he knows how to coach different kinds of players. He doesn’t have a 'one size fits all' coaching philosophy. He just has all these ezxperiences to draw from and he can really draw from and coach to a player’s skill set — not only in their physical abilities, but the way they learn and putting guys in position to be successful. Not just at our position, but the whole defense.”

For the immediate future, Fangio and Staley will be without Pernell McPhee, whom Bears fans wish would be available to play heading into a third season as much he’s available to deliver a killer quoten with a nasty attitude. McPhee underwent arthrospic knee surgery Friday morning, and there’s no timetable for his return on the procedure on the knee he was not recovering from a year ago.

“He’s everything you want in a competitor regardless of which sport you play,” Staley said of Ryan Pace’s first significant free agent signee. “This game means so much to him. He does have an impact on this group because they know what it means to him. We know when he gets back, what he’s capable of. But more than anything, it’s the influence he has on this group and the rest of our team. They know that when `92’ is out there, we’re gonna be better.”

So at the outset of camp, the talent level at the position takes a hit. Another injury to Leonard Floyd, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Dan Skuta or Sam Acho would be a crippling hit to a unit that’s supposed to be a strength. And the more weapons opposite Floyd, the better the 2016 ninth overall pick will be.

“I think if you guys had a chance to watch film from his first practice a year ago, to now, there’s no comparison,” said Staley, who could only watch that film since he wasn’t here. “The game is so much easier for him. It’s slowed down for him and his body’s changed a lot. He’s got a really high football I.Q. he learns the game well and I think we can use him in a lot of different roles because of that, and that gives us a lot of flexibility on defense.

“With Leonard, he’s a really complete player. He can play in the run game, he can rush and he can cover. Really the three traits you’re looking for in an outside linebacker. Willie’s strengths are more in the pass rush and run game. But he’s done a tremendous job buying in to being a cover guy at times. Willie has a little bit more power, little longer, little heavier. They complement one another and that’s the key in a 3-4 defense. Your edge guys have to complement each other.”

Just as Staley will have to complement Fangio, making a big coaching jump to the highest level there is.

The quest for interceptions: Will Bears' secondary makeover pay off with more picks?

The quest for interceptions: Will Bears' secondary makeover pay off with more picks?

BOURBONNAIS — Ryan Pace was busy this offseason boosting the Bears. At least he hopes the additions he’s made will end up classified as upgrades.

Perhaps nowhere — other than the quarterback position, of course — did the Bears receive a bigger makeover than the secondary, a response to what has seemed like a few years’ worth of problems.

Last season, it was the team’s jaw-dropping lack of interceptions, only eight on the campaign, a number better than just one other NFL team (Jacksonville Jaguars) and one which came as a shock to those who remember the turnover-heavy heyday of Lovie Smith’s old defenses. It was a big enough problem to ignore the fact that the pass-defense numbers weren’t all bad: The Bears ranked seventh in the NFL with just 225 passing yards allowed per game.

To rectify that situation, there are three new starters in that secondary, all bringing with them some veteran experience. Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper are the new projected starters at cornerback, and it’s hoped that newly acquired safety Quintin Demps will anchor the unit after he came away with six interceptions last season with the Houston Texans.

The new-starter count could even reach four if someone beats out Adrian Amos for the starting spot at safety next to Demps. Eddie Jackson, a fourth-round draft pick out of Alabama, is one of a few candidates, along with Amos, who started 14 games last season. Deon Bush (six starts in 2016) and Harold Jones-Quartey (12 starts) are in the mix, too.

But will it all pay off? Will all those offseason investments, be they in the form of dollars or draft choices, do what Pace & Co. want them to do?

“Last year is done,” Demps said Thursday. “So we’re moving forward. I’m going forward with today. Today we looked good. We’re all young — I mean, I consider myself young, too, but the guys are young and we’re just trying to stack days up, get better each and every day.”

Last season, Demps had just two fewer interceptions than the Bears did as a team, so by signing him, the Bears hoped to fill a very particular need. Of course, there’s plenty more value to a guy who’s been to six postseasons, including each of the last two down in Houston.

“Quintin Demps, he’s a veteran guy who had a heck of a year getting the football,” Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said Friday. “We were below our standard getting the ball last year, so we needed to bring somebody in who has found it, and he’s found it recently. He’s good, he brings a veteran calmness to our secondary, which is important.”

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The big question, though, is who will line up next to Demps when the regular season starts.

Injuries and inconsistencies forced a few names into starting safety roles last season. With one of the spots on lockdown with the signing of Demps, the other has become one of the most talked-about battles of camp.

Amos obviously has the carryover from 2016, when he started all but two games, and Donatell said he sees a new drive in the third-year man out of Penn State.

“He’s kind of rededicated himself. I see a little hungrier guy right now who’s very focused, so look for good things to happen with him,” Donatell said. “He’s been a good tackler for us and a tough guy. He wants to improve his ball production.”

But those displeased with the Bears teams of years past are hoping to see a new name in that spot. Jackson, bringing the experience of playing for Nick Saban in college football’s most dominant program, has many supporters, but will he be healthy enough to catch up? He didn’t participate in OTAs while still recovering from the broken leg he suffered in the middle of last season.

“Eddie Jackson, he’s working through an injury, he was, and now he’s finally full right here,” Donatell said. “He came out of as high-level football you can play in college football, and he’s been in all those big games and he’s been coached in a really good program. So that will help him transition here. So far he’s primed. When he gets his shots, time will tell in preseason. We’ll see what he’s got.”

Donatell talked about big-picture type things he and the other Bears coaches need to see at this point in a preseason position battle, such as mastery of the system and showing competitive spirit.

But with that safety position and the three others in the secondary, the Bears would like to see something that they didn’t see too much of last season: interceptions. Demps can help, but it needs to be a secondary-wide improvement, as Demps himself spoke about.

“You’ve got to have a turnover circuit, it’s got to be part of your resume,” he said. “You’ve got to work on it. In practice it’d be stripping the ball, it ain’t all about interceptions, you’ve got to work at getting the ball out and then running to the ball and flying around, and it’ll come to you.

“I don’t think turnovers come by one guy. It’s the unit, they come as a unit. We’ve got to communicate, we’ve got to do our job, we’ve got to fly to the ball. Then they’re going to come to us, not just me but then to everybody. We’ve got to spread it around.”

That’s the goal during camp, the preseason and the regular season. And it might eventually be the measure of whether this secondary makeover was a success.