Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

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Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted: 12:30 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The NFL offseason may be in turmoil and the pre- and regular seasons may still be in for some heavy weather, but the NFLs hidden season is in full cycle as it always is this time of year.

Call it the hidden season because its the part of the NFL year that few normally see and even fewer really appreciate. Its sometimes convenient to dismiss players as only working 16 Sundays (plus the odd Monday or Thursday) a year but this is the time of year when players sometimes determine whether theyll actually have jobs on those 16 game days.

Gregg Rosenthal at ProFootballTalk.com mentions Matt Forte and Greg Olsen getting their work in at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami along with a number of other NFLers. Olsen checks in with Twitter reports as well (@gregolsen82).

The lockout is contributing to a long-standing offseason tradition among NFL players, and not just Bears players. And it wasnt always just offseason.

The current strength and conditioning staff and facilities are substantially improved at the Halas Hall that Michael McCaskey and the organization designed and opened in 1997. But a number of players, more now with Halas closed to them pending the April 6 hearing on an injunction to end the lockout, are doing their work at a number of facilities around the area and around the country.

Friends working out at Poliquin Performance Center in Northfield share machines with Robbie Gould (Man, Robbie Gould is strong! was one observation this morning), Roberto Garza (People have no idea how huge and strong these guys really are was another report) and others are spending workout time at EFT Sports Performance and TCBOOST in Northbrook and other facilities specializing in high-intensity trainings.

Theres a funny historical aside to all this, however.

Players have always used these facilities for offseason and sometimes in-season extra work. Its less the case now but players at one time were so unhappy with some of the strength and fitness directives coming from a (now-gone) strength coach that they covertly went to private trainers and facilities while at the same time complying with what the team was requiring. And they were adamant: Keep it a secret.

Thats changed in recent years with Rusty Jones, the director of physical development, athletic trainer Tim Bream and some very sophisticated technologies for rehab as well as basic programs.

And now they at least dont have to keep it a secret.

BASEBALL ALERT!

Michael Jordan once briefly left a promising basketball career for a fling at baseball. Now Matt Forte?

Forte tweeted this morning (@MattForte22), think Im gonna play pro baseball. Come to the Sox game on April 9 to catch my debut.

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.

Poor play, injuries hint at more changes for struggling Bears

Poor play, injuries hint at more changes for struggling Bears

Injuries have forced the Bears into personnel scrambles through the first three weeks of the season – the defense opened in Dallas with three new starters from the week before. But coming off three largely dismal performances on offense, defense and special teams, more changes may be in the offing and having nothing to do with injuries.

Coach John Fox, whose success in Carolina and Denver was built with a solid foundation in running the football, acknowledged on Monday that the work of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was “not good enough. That’s no indictment on Dowell or anybody else. … All our signatures are on it. It’s 0-3.”

Loggains is in no short-term job jeopardy. But the Bears have failed to establish not only a run game, but also any sort of offensive identity or rhythm, not all of which can be laid at the foot of the Bears falling too far behind to keep running. Fox would not be the first Bears head coach to dictate an in-season course correction; Lovie Smith stepped in during the 2010 season and ordered a change in the offense of Mike Martz that was inept and getting quarterback Jay Cutler annihilated in the process.

Lineup changes are a distinct possibility. Examples: Right tackle Bobby Massie has struggled and former Steelers No. 2 pick and sometimes-starter Mike Adams was signed as a viable option. Jonathan Bullard has not shown any degree of dominance on the defensive line, but the rookie end, representing an upgrade to a virtually non-existent pass rush, could edge past Mitch Unrein on a defensive line that allowed nearly 200 rushing yards with zero sacks against the Cowboys.

[MORE BEARS: Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury]

Injury adjustments are inevitable and will make some decisions for the Bears. With Ka’Deem Carey already inactive due to a hamstring injury, Jeremy Langford went out of the Dallas game with an ankle injury that Adam Schefter at ESPN reported on Monday would keep the second-year running back out 4-6 weeks. Rookie Jordan Howard may have bumped Langford out of the No. 1 slot anyway but Langford’s injury effectively makes the decision for coaches.

Lineup changes wouldn’t be official until next Sunday before the Bears take the field against the Detroit Lions. Fox said Monday that the evaluations were still focused on the Dallas game and health options.

“We’ve got to sort out,” Fox said. “The week’s kind of started, but we’re still talking about pretty much [Sunday]. But as we move forward, we dig in as coaches as far as game-planning for Detroit. And we’ll kind of figure out where we are at the end of tomorrow with our medical people. It’s based on who’s available. That can be tricky, but I think everybody in the league has to deal with it.”

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Lovie Smith was clear: “Rex is our quarterback.”

Phil Emery was clear: Jay Cutler is an “elite” quarterback.

John Fox isn’t so clear: When Jay Cutler is cleared to return from his thumb injury, Cutler is not automatically still the Bears starting quarterback.

"I don't think there are any givens and that's not an indictment on anybody,” Fox said on Monday. “This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and so we’re just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory.”

Tough love is arguably the most effective management style with Cutler. Unlike the contracts and praise heaped on Cutler by prior administrations, current coaches and the organization withheld judgment on him after taking over in 2015. Cutler, who typically played worse after getting contract extensions and gaudy compliments, responded with the best season of his career.

Cutler watched from the sidelines as the Bears were beaten 31-17 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday behind Brian Hoyer, who was able to give the Bears some production in the second half for the first time this year, albeit only after the Bears were down 24-3.

“I thought [Hoyer] made good decisions,” Fox said, then qualified, “Not all of them. I think the very first play of the game didn’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I thought he did some good things. I thought the pass-pro and some of those things helped the situation. I think we did have some explosive runs — we had more explosive plays in this game than we did in the prior two. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward and prepare for Detroit.”

The ultimate question is not whether Brian Hoyer is as good as Jay Cutler.

The evaluation will be whether Hoyer had success because the pass protection and run game worked better, or the bigger question, did those phases of the offense work better because of Hoyer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated that a primary job of a quarterback is to get the other 10 players on the huddle to do theirs well. If the evaluation process, which could include another game next Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Soldier Field, points to the offense functioning better for Hoyer, the Bears will have a major decision to make.

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Cutler has been benched because of performance only once in Chicago, late in 2014, for one game. He started the following week because Jimmy Clausen sustained a concussion.

Some perspectives on Bears QB switches

Back in 2005, while over at a social event during Super Bowl week in Detroit, a prominent member of the Bears’ defense vented on a decision that in his opinion cost the Bears their season. That decision was to go back to Rex Grossman as quarterback from Kyle Orton, who had been the quintessential game manager as a fourth-round rookie filling in while Grossman worked back from a broken ankle suffered in preseason.

“We’d’ve been here [in the Super Bowl] if we’d’a stayed with Kyle,” the Pro Bowl defender said.

That didn’t happen in the “Rex is our quarterback” phase of Smith’s tenure.

Josh McCown by his own assessment was not as good a player as Cutler in 2013 when the best-chance-to-win decision had to be made between those two. Coaches wanted to stay with McCown, the GM insisted on Cutler; the team stayed on course with Cutler, accelerated that direction actually, letting McCown leave for Tampa Bay and giving Cutler the “Jay is our quarterback” max contract.

But while Smith was invested in Grossman, who did get the Bears to the Super Bowl the next year, and Phil Emery invested in Cutler, who has won just one playoff game in his seven Bears seasons, coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace have not gone all-in on quarterbacks they inherited. They stayed with Cutler without any real alternative last year, and Fox admitted that Cutler was perhaps one of the biggest positive surprises coming out of last season, when then-coordinator Adam Gase was the loudest voice in the room on that quarterback decision and the organization stayed with the quarterback to whom millions were guaranteed.

Now there is an alternative, who like McCown was vis’a’vis Cutler, is not Cutler’s football equal physically (“Have you seen him throw?” McCown answered one reporter asking what Cutler did that he, McCown, couldn’t).

Whether the Bears take that alternative will play out in practice and possibly a game over the next seven days.