Bears

Bears key to 2012 and beyond: The "Flex" Factor

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Bears key to 2012 and beyond: The "Flex" Factor

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. Beyond the error-plagued efforts on the first day of Bears training camp were signs of something else happening besides balls bouncing around on the ground, on the offense in particular but also deeper down.

Call it the flex factor. It is something that has been subtly running through the 2012 Bears and may be one of the true keys to the current and future fortunes of the organization.

Consider: The Dallas Cowboys of Tom Landry were famous for their 4-3 Flex defense. It was a scheme that had some defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage; some a little back from it; most players in a one-gap system; one in a two-gap.

And no one quite able to figure out where everyone was, where they were going, or exactly what they were doing.

If you were watching the goings-on Thursday, you were seeing a different kind of Flex taking shape.

A Flex offense
In theater, action is character. So it also is in the NFL.

On the first play of Thursdays team session, quarterback Jay Cutler passed off a rollout to his right. After a quick-release throw on second down, running back Matt Forte burst untouched through the middle of the line and was just about to St. Louis before he decided to stop and jog back.

It went on like that. Indeed, the exact character of the 2012 offense was difficult to discern from what was on display Thursday.

That would in fact be the whole idea, perhaps the theme in all of what is developing under offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

The Minnesota Vikings ran an eclectic offense while Tice was their head coach. He had his Randy Ratio for wide receiver Randy Moss, yet a tight end led his teams in receptions twice.

Tice coached and played under Dennis Green, he of the classic West-Coast-offense tree, and also played under Chuck Knox, of Ground Chuck notoriety for his run-based thinking.

Tice was Bears offensive line coach the last two years and the one most responsible for bring balance to the offense in both 2010 and 2011 after it had lost its compass under Mike Martz.

Jeremy Bates was hired this offseason as quarterbacks coach but is the de facto passing-game coordinator even without the title, according to insiders. Bates, Cutler and Brandon Marshall had huge production in Denver under head coach (and West Coast practitioner) Mike Shanahan.

(A side note: Marshall also caught 101 passes and had a career-high 10 TDs the year after Bates, Cutler and Shanahan all left. The message here would be that Marshall does quite nicely no matter what the system the designerprototype Flex receiver.)

What has become amply evident, however, is that where both Martz and predecessor Ron Turner were strict adherents to their systems, the new Chicago Bears offense may be difficult to pigeonhole precisely because its not wedded to one system.

Its going to be a combination of all of our coaches and our ideas, and coach Tice is flexible, as long as you really explain it and it makes sense, Bates said Thursday.

Coach Tice is going to bring his knowledge and so is the rest of the staff.

The Emery Element

The flex factor was in evidence off the field as well on Thursday.

While analysis of Phil Emerys background understandably focused on organizations of which he was a part, perhaps more immediately more relevant were the systems for which he provided personnel.

Unlike some general managers, Emery brought with him zero absolutes on schemes. He was part of staffing the 4-3 two-gap scheme of Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, with 290-pound defensive ends and 350-pound defensive tackles keeping blockers away from Brian Urlacher.

In Kansas City, where Emery was prior to Chicago, the Chiefs ran one of the few true 3-4 schemes and ranked just outside the top 10 in points allowed and yardage the past two years.

He was hired in Chicago with a 4-3, one-gap coach in place and made a 260-pound edge rusher the No. 1 draft priority.

But the Thursday trade of a late-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for defensive tackle Brian Price was a flex in a completely opposite direction.

Price is listed at 343 pounds. The biggest defensive tackle on a Lovie Smith team has been Alfonso Boone at a paltry 318 pounds.

Price may very well not make the 2012 Bears roster (he did not fare well in the conditioning test in Tampa). But he was a No. 2 pick and at a time when starting nose tackle Matt Toeaina is 308 pounds, the Bears are looking outside the tackle box at options.

The NFL may be a passing league but the Bears are making sure than they do not get run on, either.

In that, they are decidedly not flexible.

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Can the Bears make enough plays to beat the Carolina Panthers?

Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions. 

But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.

The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins. 

The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win. 

Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.