Moon: Bears DL rotation healthy, top in the NFL?

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Moon: Bears DL rotation healthy, top in the NFL?

Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
11:49 a.m.
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The players dont particularly like it, and the coaches know that but do it anyway. But it is perhaps the biggest collective reason why the Bears are in the debate over the NFLs top defenses and why no defensive lineman has been on the inactive list because of injury.... there've been 1-2 inactive every week, just not for injury

Since Lovie Smith arrived as head coach the Bears have employed and thrived on a defensive-line philosophy built around a rotation of players, even starters, even the premier players. And it is to some extent now being run by the players themselves, putting players in places some have never been before.

Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison, the Bears biggest defensive lineman at 315 pounds, suddenly appeared at end. Julius Peppers was considering jumping down inside from end to tackle at one point. Defensive tackle Henry Melton has moved out to Peppers spot at end on occasion, with 2 sacks to show for his efforts.

The result has contributed to days like last Sunday when the defensive line sacked Michael Vick four times while simultaneously holding one of the NFLs best rushing offenses to nearly 50 yards below its average.

Defenses have gone to rotating substitutions against Vick this season. But Bears players already were accustomed to coming off the bench with throttles wide open, sometimes an art in itself for a sub who for most of his college career was a star and every down player. Bears defensive linemen are used to being a full power immediately.

Against Philadelphia you really dont have any choice but to play a rotation, said defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Luckily were used to playing a rotation and in a game like that, it comes in handy because you really cant just have the same front four out there all the time chasing him down. When we rotate, we can do it.

The effects of freshness appear to be cumulative. The Bears had 2 sacks, total, through the first three games. They had 11 in the last three.

The Bears do have situational players whose appearances are dictated by downs and distances: a run-stopper here who comes out on obvious passing downs, a speed rusher there who drops in as his replacement.

But beyond those, their order of battle becomes particularly interesting.
Sound reasoning

The Bears have two solid reasons for preferring a rotation. One is that it keeps players fresh in a system where coaches demand that linemen play at maximum on all plays.

The other is because, well, they can.

Im not bragging, Harrison said, but as a defensive front, were so deep and talented that we can afford to do that.

Melton, who has become a key part of the rotation and positioning, is more blunt.

Some teams dont have the pleasure of rotating, Melton said. Theyve got to keep their guys in because their second string isnt that good. But were deep here. Once one of us gets winded, we can get a break and bring in a guy whos good and whos ready.

Rotation for rotations sake is not the program, nor do the Bears practice it or advocate it for all positions. Safety, yes. Linebacker, no. Offensive line, no. Wide receiver, yes. Cornerback no.

Defensive line, absolutely.

Some positions you can do that, Smith said. Defensive line, with the pace that we ask the guys to play. None of them can play the way we want them to without taking a few plays off.

Funky options

Where those players come in, as well as when, is where the Bears rotation becomes particularly intriguing. While some early game substitutions are scripted and assigned by coaches, the players are given increasing latitude and responsibility for managing themselves rather than leaving it all on coaches or coordinator Rod Marinelli to remember a change or notice a player in need of relief.

Thats what Rod tells us, to watch our guy, Harrison said. It doesnt matter how many plays you go; Rod just wants you at your best. When we see one of our guys tired or winded, were already rotating. We dont wait or ask; were just paying attention to our position.

Im the fourth end so Henry will go in before me. But if Henry is gassed or playing the 3 technique, tackle, I know where Im supposed to go. We communicate on and off the field and thats really the key.

A defensive lineman may start onto the field but he is not making the change himself. The player in the game is involved in the communication and decisions are worked out.

When Peppers was considering the jump to tackle, he was talking about that with Melton.

We have a deep rotation and if you feel comfortable somewhere, you can switch with a guy, Melton said. Pep was talking to me about rushing inside.

If they had their druthers

A debate always is whether it is better to be fresher vs. being able to work against your opposing offensive lineman over time, setting him up on first down for a move on third or a series later.

Being on the field consistently is better, in my opinion, said defensive end Israel Idonije, who began this season in a rotation with since-released Mark Anderson, himself a situation pass rusher as a rookie. Being on the field, getting the reps, getting into a rhythm, just getting a feel for the game, I think you get into a better rhythm that way rather than rotating six plays in, six plays off.

Its tough to get in a rhythm that way and get into the flow of the game, setting a guy up. I think being able to get in consistently and get a feel for the game, how I want to rush and attack a guy, getting that helps production and overall play.

The sentiment is understandable, and understood. Lovie Smith was a linebacker and strong safety as a player at Tulsa so he can relate to players wanting to play, period.

But there are other factors at work, including the fact that the Bears have more than just four players at starter level.

You do want to be the guy. Smith acknowledged. You dont want to be in a rotation. Players want to play as much as they can but in the long run its not all bad to be in a rotation over the course of a long season and what they go through. You can be fresher to come in and you may have a guy whos best suited for a certain situation.

Guys would like to play every down. You start with that. But when you have a few players that you would like, guys realize that they deserve to play too.

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 OL Nate Chandler has retired

Bears OL Nate Chandler has retired

Less than two months after Nate Chandler signed with the Bears, the team announced on Saturday that the offensive lineman has retired.

Chandler, 27, signed with the Bears on June 2. He is the second offensive linemen the Bears have signed this offseason that has retired. Manny Ramirez retired in June after signing in March.

Chandler was expected to push Charles Leno for playing time at left tackle. 

Amini Silatolu was signed by the Bears earlier this week to add more depth to the offensive line, but was thought to be more of a replacement for Ramirez at guard.

Chandler played collegiately at UCLA. He went undrafted, but signed with the Carolina Panthers and played in 37 games, with 19 starts, from 2012-2014. Due to a knee injury he was placed on injured reserve in 2015 and did not play.

Bears release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

Bears release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

The Bears released a player who was expected to be a special teams contributor next season and signed a player who officially retired from the NFL on Friday.

After signing Charles Tillman to a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Bears, the team terminated the contract of defensive back Omar Bolden.

Bolden originally signed a one-year deal with the Bears last March after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos, including the first three years under current Bears head coach John Fox and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The 27-year-old Bolden, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, has amassed 27 special teams tackles and 24 defensive tackles in 56 career games. Bolden has also added 1,085 yards on 44 kickoff returns and 123 yards and a touchdown on five punt returns.

The Bears 90-man roster currently sits at 89.

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

When Charles Tillman arrived at Halas Hall Friday morning, after a season in Carolina as a Panther but now retiring from the game, Bears President Ted Phillips was there to bring Tillman back where he and the Bears knew he belonged.

“Welcome back home,” Phillips said to Tillman.

For Tillman, it was a 13-year love affair with a passion of his – football – that officially ended on Friday, with the 2003 second-round draft choice of the Bears signing a one-day contract that allowed him to retire as a Chicago Bear.

“I think I’ve done OK,” Tillman reflected as his family and members of the Bears organization looked on.

But Tillman, named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013, was also clear beyond the “I” part of his observation: “I didn’t do this all by myself,” he said, repeatedly remembering Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Chris Harris and a litany of teammates he credited with much of what he was able to do.

[RELATED - Athletes react to Tillman's retirement]

Bears Chairman George McCaskey spoke of Tillman in terms beyond football.

“Every once in a while a player comes along with uncommon ability and tenacity on the field and unsurpassed compassion and charitable spirit off the field, the kind that makes us grateful as fans and proud as an organization,” McCaskey said. “Charles Tillman was such a player and is such a person.

“For 12 seasons, he made life miserable for Bears opponents, revolutionizing his position and adding ‘Peanut Punch’ to the football vernacular. In the community, in countless hospital rooms, he counseled the worried parents with a 'been there' perspective and a sympathetic ear and offered them hope. He also supported the brave men and women who defend our great country.”

The decision to leave the game after starting 12 games last season with the Carolina Panthers was not difficult in the end for Tillman.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘I’m done,’” said Tillman, who’d been talked out of several retirement impulses by his wife over recent years, the last three of which ended with him on injured reserve.

A career marked by myriad highlights contained a couple that were the most notable. The first one that Tillman mentioned was the game in 2003 when he got the better of legendary wideout Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings, including out-fighting Moss in the end zone for a game-saving interception.

“It showed the world I could play with anybody,” said Tillman, acknowledging that he carried a chip on his shoulder, coming out of a small unknown college (Louisiana-Lafayette) and working to overcome doubters.

Tillman also cited the 2006 season, which ended in the Super Bowl in no small part because of efforts like Tillman’s in the comeback win at Arizona, in which he returned a fumble for one of the Bears’ second-half touchdowns in the 24-23 win over the Cardinals.

But it was less the highlights than one specific off-the-field part of his football life that will miss. Asked what he in fact would miss the most, Tillman’s answer was immediate:

“The locker room. The locker room, more than anything. Not the games, not the… just the locker room in general. The games that we played in there: the ‘box ‘em up,’ the ‘4-square’…

“You know, we’d have a 10-minute break out a meeting and we would literally, I called it ‘Team Got Boredom.’ You get bored so you just make up a game. And we would make up some of the craziest games. We had a soccer game that we used to play. I think the most volleys we had off this little soccer ball was like 90 and the entire team was playing. So more than anything that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tillman has been hired by FOX to be part of their NFL coverage. But as for staying involved in the game as, say, a coach?

“Absolutely not,” Tillman declared.

He will be coaching his kids in their various activities, but overall, “I’m going to try to enjoy retirement, being the dad, I drive all my kids around, so I call myself the ‘d’uber guy. I’m a duber. Really, just be a family guy. I’ve got the Fox gig, so I’m one of [the media] now. So I guess I’m a journalist. I’m a black anchorman. That’s what I’m going to do. The black anchorman. We’re going to get into fights. We can meet up at like Jackson Park. I’ll have my crew. You’ll have your crew. We can get down. Get a little anchorman fight going on. Something like that. But we’ll keep it casual, respectful.”