Friday, Jan. 7, 2011
By John Mullin
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.