View from the Moon: Analyzing Angelo's comments

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View from the Moon: Analyzing Angelo's comments

Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
9:01 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo spoke Thursday in a year-end look at a variety of issues. Rather than attempt to weave them into some sort of story, CSNChicago.com gives you the annotated questions and answers, plus some post-analysis from View from the Moon.

Q: What happened during the in-season off week to turn the season around?

JA: I think the coaches did a great job of assessing where we were at. We had a new offensive system. It takes a little time not only to learn the system but to learn the personnel and see what we can and cant do. Once our coaches had a little more time to evaluate our team and not focus on the upcoming opponent, they saw some things were werent prepared to do at the time.

I know the big buzz word was balance. We started to run the football more to create a better balance and good things started to happen from there. No more than that. Jay Cutler started to get more comfortable in the offense and with his role. You saw him starting to move around a little bit more too, which bodes well for him and the offense because he kept plays alive and started making plays downfield. So much of the offense is confidence and we started to gain some confidence and then we had some pretty good momentum going from that point.

VM: Angelo is being modest. He was intimately involved in the directional shift, on the same playbook page as Lovie Smith, and a strong voice for change. Not that Smith needed any backing for redirecting Mike Martz, but he had it.

Q: Assess the changes made last offseason to the coaching staff.

JA: We needed to make changes because things werent working. Change is never easy but the changes we made we felt would make us better not only through personnel but our staff as well. The rewarding thing is --- and difficult --- is how fast things would come together. We felt good about everybody we brought in from players to coaches. The unknown was how quickly it is going to come to fruition. In our case, it came together pretty quickly.

We didnt see it in preseason. I know a lot was made about that but you have to be realistic. With all the changes, we didnt look at that as an omen of what the season was going to be. We just knew it was going to take time and it did take some time. All in all, when you look back on it it was pretty remarkable. Again, that goes to our coaches and players.

VM: The changes of virtually the entire offensive staff, with new coordinator, line coach, tight ends coach and other assistants comes to a crashing end without that in-season correction. Things do take time, but if you simply keep doing the same unsuccessful thing, all you do is stay unsuccessful.

Q: Do you ever feel a little like gloating?

JA: One thing about you media guys, youve always kept me humble. (Smiles) Theres none of that. The only thing that I would like as we go in every year is to be a little bit more open minded and keep it on a level playing field. Right is what you see as we go through the season and not what you dont think were going to be but I understand that as well.

Theres a perception coming out the last two years and we werent getting it done. I know we lost some credibility and Im sure some people looked at us going into the year that we were going to be a hopeless team and it was only a matter of time when the ship would sink. But we never felt that way. We knew what we had to do. We were very confident that we could get it done. We had to have some things come together for us, but we felt very strongly about our plan, about our football team.

The one thing about this team that we had this year that maybe we havent had in other years that weve had success is this team really came together as a team. I dont see this team as a team of great talent. I see this as a team that played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through. I know the word resilient has been used several times to define the team and I think that really is a good word to define this team thus far and hopefully well continue that resiliency going into the playoffs.

Q: But Lovie Smith has this is the most talented team since he has been here.

JA: Im not minimizing that we dont have talent. But I remember in 06, I think we had nine Pro Bowlers. We had four this year. We have talent on the football team. You usually dont win without talent. But I saw this more as a team that really played well as a team, that hung tough and Ive always said this and will continue to say it: If you dont have a good locker room, you cant have a good team.

I see a lot of things done in free agency where you spend a lot of money out there, but money doesnt guarantee youre going to have a good team or a successful team. Its the chemistry of your football team and how you spend the money that determines the kind of football team youre going to have. I felt we did a pretty good job of that and then the team came together. And its all about the team.

I had this mantra: It starts with team and it ends with team. Anything else in between is losing football. And I felt like that was really what we saw this year and to me personally, I take great satisfaction in that.

Q: Is this then, the best team youve had since youve been here?
JA: I believe this is the best football team weve had because of the things this team had to go through. In years past, in 06, we got off to a fast start. I think we were 6-1, we had everything locked up for the most part. Our division wasnt near as tough as it was this year. But what we accomplished this year, personally I take the most satisfaction in the years that Ive been here because of how the deck was stacked against us. And again, I think that says a lot about our coaches, it says a lot about our players.

VM: If Angelo isnt doing a little gloating privately, its to his personal credit. But hes at a point in his career and life where hes really beyond any petty I told you so to outsiders. And the whole team thing is huge, as well as something you never know about for sure because its not something you can buy in free agency or draft. In this case the Bears did buy a gigantic piece of team in the form of Julius Peppers. When one of the best players in the NFL gets it, others will follow. Then you really have something.

The talented thing is interesting. The Bears have elite talent at some key positions: defensive end, linebacker, center, kick returner, arguably quarterback and running back (potentially). What they also have is superb second-tier talent in the likes of Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, the wide receivers, the defensive backfield in spots. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: How fortunate to find someone like Julius Peppers available?

JA: That happens once in a career. I remember when Green Bay picked up Reggie White. It was in the division and I know what a player like that can do to a football team. That was the missing link for Green Bay to do the great things they did that year and following years. Players like that come along, like I said, once in a career. You normally dont see that. You always have a plan going into free agency but when you see something that you consider special, you have to go after it and go after it hard.

VM: Comparing Julius Peppers to Reggie White isnt as much of a stretch as it might seem. If Julius Peppers plays in Philadelphia and then with Brett Favre in Super Bowls with Green Bay...

Q: Is there really a home field advantage when youre playing in Soldier Field, and is there thought to changing the surface given this team being built for a fast track?

JA: Anytime we play at Soldier Field its a home field advantage... The surface is the surface. Youve got two seasons here in Chicago. As the year goes on, the surface isnt going to be as good. The bottom line is that its a safe surface and thats what were fixed on, making sure we play on a safe surface... I dont see it being an advantage to anybody. Its the teams that play well that win...

I know Teds said that he wants to get more comfortable in the artificial turf research. Im not ruling it out and well do our due diligence with the research. Everybody wants a fast surface. So well go through that again and see what the results are based on the research and going forward.

VM: The surface is an issue. Itll always be an issue. And like he said, the team that plays better will win. As far as there ever being a change...

Q: Did the Bears get what they wanted with the free-agency signings of running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna?

JA: Nobody has a crystal ball to say for sure what kind of impact a player is going to have... But I felt that they answered the bell for us... We wanted to get back to a tandem running scheme. We wanted to get an experienced back to do that. Taylor had all the things that we look for that fit our scheme. Hed been in that role and all the signs aligned rightly for him. And I feel that he created competition for Matt and thats a good thing. So he met my expectations.

Brandon the same way. Its more what he does in his role. He wore a lot of hats for us. Hes a tight end, a fullback, you get him out into the routes not an easy guy to find when you draw up that job description. Because you dont see him making plays each week doesnt mean he doesnt have an integral role in our offense, and he does.

Im pleased with what weve gotten out of those players.

VM: That Angelo opened with a qualifier that says you cant always know sounded a little like he knows the free agency money spent here didnt get a whole lot. Taylor did give Forte some relief but at a far higher price than Adrian Peterson would have commanded as a returnee and with none of the special teams payoff that Peterson offered. And Forte is heading into a contract year himself now; not sure how much competition he needed for motivation.

Manumaleuna was a Martz gotta-have and there really isnt a lot to say about him. He is fined almost weekly for failing to make weight, which is a statement in itself, and impact players stand out more than he has.

Angelo may be pleased and 29 and 86 have played some parts in an 11-5 season. But integral seems like a stretch.

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.

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a minor foot injury suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

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2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

[RELATED: Porter balancing job as 'coach' and starting CB]

Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

Balancing act: “Coach” Tracy Porter works at his own CB job while helping Bears wobbly young secondary

When Charles Tillman retired earlier this year, more than an elite cornerback was exiting the game. Tillman was a mentor to young defensive backs, even though he made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in moving on to coaching in his next career.

When the Bears re-signed Tracy Porter to a three-year contract this offseason, one that committed some $4.5 million to a cornerback who’d been with five different teams over the past five seasons, they were cementing in place more than just their top defensive back. They were committing to one of those hard-to-find individuals whose presence makes the whole greater than just the sum of the parts.

Porter, who has played 16 games just once (Oakland, 2009) in his eight NFL seasons, has started as many games in his career (79, including six in postseason) as the rest of the Bears defensive backs combined (75). The result is that Porter suddenly becomes the bell-cow for a group that is struggling to establish itself and a level of NFL competence.

“We’re young in the secondary outside of Tracy Porter for the most part and we’re just going to have to see what they’re capable of doing mentally as we go through the process here,” said coordinator Vic Fangio, “and how many schemes we can ask them to do effectively.”

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A significant measure of how many of those schemes and everything else the secondary will be able to do traces (no pun intended) to Porter. He is not only the best defensive back on the roster; he also is the most experienced, from time in schemes with New Orleans, Denver, Oakland, Washington and now the Bears.

The situation is complex, however.

Veterans are too often assumed to be mentors to young players, even to the point of helping know where to line up, techniques and such. That involves in-game help, which is the nature of defense anyway. But a player assuming too much of a role in coaching others in his group can lose focus on his own job, a prelude to disaster.

“It can, but I try to do my best to focus in on what I need to do, and then once I see those guys taking their reps, then that’s when I go into the coaching mode,” Porter said. “But when I’m out there on the field, I’m locked in to what ‘21’ [his own number] and the rest of the defense has to do.

“But when the younger guys are in, I’m definitely in coaching mode. I’m getting my mental reps. At the same time, I’m watching those guys what they’re doing, if they’re having a missed assignment or having a not-so-good technique that I can help them with.”

The Bears had high hopes last year for tall cornerback Alan Ball, who started the first three games as Porter worked his way back from a preseason hamstring strain. Ball failed to capitalize on his opportunity and Porter replaced him at Seattle, then started the rest of the year.

And he has has begun this year working at setting an example as he did last Nov. 26 when he intercepted one Aaron Rodgers pass and broke up four others – most by any player in Rodgers’ career. Last Thursday’s game at New England was preseason, meaning that stats are typically dismissed as meaningless (which they are decidedly not when they indicate a pattern or trend). Inside the Chicago 10 Porter stripped the football from a Patriots running back and recovered it. The play was one the Bears practiced and the result was a takeaway in a second straight game, something the Bears were unable to accomplish over the final seven games of 2015.

It also was the only pass breakup or forced/recovered fumble by any member of the secondary in the game.

But that is part of preseason, and with the spiraling injury list in the secondary, Porter’s work away from the football will continue to be an unofficial on-field “assistant” to defensive-backs coach Ed Donatell.

“My biggest challenge?” Porter reflected. “Just keeping the guys into it that are injured and bringing the guys that weren’t getting many reps, getting those guys up to speed, to catch up the first- and second-team defense.”