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 challenged to replace coaches involved in three all-rookie selections

Bears challenged to replace coaches involved in three all-rookie selections

As a sign of good things to come, three Bears were selected to the NFL's all-rookie teams. But there's a negative thread running through the honors of linebacker Leonard Floyd being named to the rookie defensive team, and the selections of center Cody Whitehair and running back Jordan Howard to the rookie offensive team.
 
The concern lies not in the players or the personnel department under GM Ryan Pace that designated them for drafting. It is in the fact that the position coaches for all three rookie standouts are all gone from the staff of coach John Fox.
 
Finding talent is difficult enough. Developing it is the crucial next step in the football process, and what was evident in the rookie years of Floyd, Whitehair and Howard was that each developed into NFL-grade players with some very solid coaching.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
 
Offensive line coach Dave Magazu was not brought back, reportedly in favor of former Miami Dolphins assistant offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, as reported by Sirius XM radio and Sporting News.
 
Stan Drayton, who coached Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State, then Howard this year, left for the University of Texas.

Outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt appeared to be exiting for the New York Jets, although sources report that the deal may not go through.
 
Coaches can't create talent but they can certainly foster and maximize it. Replacing the mentors of their three top rookies from arguably the best draft class since 2004 (Tommie Harris, Tank Johnson, Bernard Berrian, Nathan Vasher) now becomes a talent search in its own right.

Accolades keep pouring in for Bears' 2016 rookie class

Accolades keep pouring in for Bears' 2016 rookie class

The 2016 NFL Draft could be one that will define Ryan Pace's tenure as GM of the Bears.

Just last week, Jordan Howard became the second rookie running back in Bears franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl since Gale Sayers in 1965.

The PFWA released their 2016 All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, and Bears center Cody Whitehair, linebacker Leonard Floyd and Howard all made the list.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Howard, the Bears' fifth round selection (150th overall) out of Indiana, set the rookie franchise record with 1,313 rushing yards on 252 carries and 6 touchdowns. Howard also had 29 receptions for 298 yards and one receiving touchdown.

Floyd, the No. 9 overall selection out of Georgia, registered 33 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 quarterback hits in 12 games.

Whitehair, a second-round pick out of Kansas State, started all 16 games at center for the Bears after spending the majority of the preseason at guard.

The Bears (tied with the Chargers) had the second-highest number of selections behind the Kansas City Chiefs.

Check out the complete 2016 PFWA All-Rookie Team below:

Offense

QB – Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
WR – Sterling Shepard, New York Giants; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
TE – Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
C – Cody Whitehair, Chicago Bears
G – Joe Thuney, New England Patriots; Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins
T – Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans; Taylor Decker, Detroit Lions

Defense

DL – Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers; DeForest Buckner, San Francisco 49ers; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs; Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB – Jatavis Brown, San Diego Chargers; Leonard Floyd, Chicago Bears; Deion Jones, Atlanta Falcons
CB – Vernon Hargreaves III, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars
S – Karl Joseph, Oakland Raiders; Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons

Special Teams

PK – Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints
P – Riley Dixon, Denver Broncos
KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs