Bears

Head cases: Are field conditions affecting Bears?

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Head cases: Are field conditions affecting Bears?

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010
2:47 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The state of TCF Bank Field is looking more and more like there will be football in the great north on Monday night, according to individuals at the University of Minnesota.

But the issue of whether or not the Bears will play the Minnesota Vikings there now may be working in the Vikings favor, possibly to a significant degree.

The growing sense around the Bears is that this whole mess is in the heads of the players, and that is a potential disaster for a team possibly one victory away from a division championship. It may be in Vikings heads as well but the Bears are the ones with something to lose Monday night besides their health.

It isnt the number of media queries directed at players feelings on the situation. It isnt that players answer the questions; they do that, usually very accommodatingly. Its literally the length of the answers that is troubling.

Normally players, and anyone for that matter, are short and dismissive of non-issues or things not worth the attention. But the safety concern with this game and it is absolutely warranted is in peoples heads almost the way you might expect an opponent would want to be after delivering a blow intended to intimidate.

Man, its like a huge fight, a big ordeal all year about concussions and the NFL saying, What can we do to protect the players: Lets send them out to Minnesota on the potentially frozen surface, linebacker Lance Briggs said with more than a touch of disgust. Some things make me want to scratch my head all the time...

But whats the point of playing there if Adrian Peterson goes down with a career-ending injury? Hes a running back. Guys are going to be sliding all over the place. You never know. It could cost you in a bunch of different ways."

Hes not alone.

This is the year were cracking down on players safety and concussions and stuff like that, cornerback Charles Tillman added. You want to fine guys 75,000 for blows to the head, but are we going to play on this frozen field? I dont know. It doesnt really make too much sense to me.

Make no mistake: These are not soft people. They are some of the voices who have spoken about the realities of this sport, that it is rough and people do get hurt. But this situation is getting to even them.

I dont want people to get the wrong idea that guys dont want to play outdoors, said safety Chris Harris. We play outdoors here. We just played in 6 inches of snow Sunday. So guys dont have a problem playing outdoors dont have a problem with the weather, with the wind, with snow, with any of it.

We dont care about weather, we really dont. We can play in zero-degree weather; it doesnt hurt us. Its more the playing surface than the actual weather.

But the issue is safety. Thats a field thats not equipped Minnesotas not equipped for playing outdoor games. A stadium thats been under snow for a month in those temperatures its been minus-degree weather up there. The field will be icy. It just doesnt make for a safe environment.

And Harris, like Tillman, Briggs and others, goes on extensively about their concerns, without a whole lot of prodding from anyone. If the Bears are talking about this in the locker room and not as much about the Vikings, that is when a bad slip and fall could definitely occur.

I mean, Im talking about it now, and when we get out there obviously were going to check it out, Briggs said. But once the whistle blows, its time to play football.

That would be a good thing.

Stupid consideration

The one truly inane element filtering through various discussions of venue for the Bears-Vikings game is Minnesotas concern that playing in Detroit or Indianapolis or St. Louis renders this too much of a home game for the Bears. Those cities are too easy for Bears fans to reach and turn support into an advantage.

Suggestions ranging from Atlanta to New Orleans to wherever have taken this to a different level of stupid.

So the idea is that the Vikings, if they cant have the game in front their home fans would rather have it at a neutral site where no one in the host city cares about the two teams? If the NFL stands by and allows that logic to enter into the discussion, then it deserves even more criticism than it is getting already for letting the decision (and misguided work) on TCF Bank Stadium drag on and on and on.

The Bears already have been distracted and inconvenienced enough by a situation brought on through zero fault of their own. To make any decision based on keeping the game away from a huge pool of interested fans would simply make the situation just a little more ridiculous than it already is.

Backup QBs rule

While the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers turn to reserve quarterbacks out of necessity brought on by injuries, the Washington Redskins reportedly are benching starter Donovan McNabbb for the rest of the season and turning to Rex Grossman as their starter.

And just noodling here, but before the talk goes much further on how lucky the Bears are to be facing backup quarterbacks this season, its possibly worth remembering that Michael Vick was a backup coming into this season. So was Tom Brady in 2001. So was Brett Favre in 1992. So was Matt Cassel. So was Lou Gehrig.

Joe Webb probably isnt the next name to go on that list. But backups are dangerous because they know the value of opportunities when they arent handed to them.

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.

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.