Bears

View from the Moon: Bears business-like after win

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View from the Moon: Bears business-like after win

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010
2:31 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Bears did some celebrating on the field after Monday nights pasting of the Minnesota Vikings. They were wearing party hats and T-shirts that said 2010 NFC North Division Champions.

But in the locker room there was a mood and universal demeanor best described as business-like. The elation over Devin Hester setting the NFL record was shared throughout, an accomplishment truly group in nature, which Hester will honor with elegant watches for those whom he considers responsible for his honor.

The reason for the lack of other celebration was pretty obvious: The Bears havent won anything yet. And this is where the quality core of veterans becomes crucial.

Division titles are nice; a number of Bears have a handful of them. Lance Briggs, Olin Kreutz, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, others.

They also have something else a failed trip to a Super Bowl. They know how important first reaching the playoffs is but they also know painfully well how incomplete a win that really is.

This is a great accomplishment for me, for this team, for the young guys, everybody, Peppers said. But weve got to stay focused at this point. We have to realize that its only one of the first steps toward the ultimate prize. Thats our role as veteran leaders, to let guys know that, and let guys know that it only gets harder from here.

And there is a deeper realization the leaders are beginning to pound into younger heads. Rookies and NFL newbies think this sort of thing, even reaching a Super Bowl, happens every year.

Lovie Smith reached the divisional round of the playoffs in his second year as Bears coach. He was in the Super Bowl (and lost) his third year. Both accomplishments were achieved faster than Mike Ditka managed. He went to a Super Bowl his first year as a defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams (and lost).

He now joins his veterans in delivering the same strong message to young players in particular.

You assume youll be back every year, Smith said. It just doesnt work like that.

Peppers was a member of the Carolina team that lost to the New England Patriots in the Pats first Super Bowl win. He experienced that same sense of NFL entitlement.

That was my thought, Peppers said. My rookie year we didnt do well but the next year we went to the Super Bowl and you think its going to happen all the time. I was lucky enough to win a couple of division championships but Ive never been able to get back to the Super Bowl.

The stats, even things like the divisional title, theyre nothing compared to the big things.

Favreing it up again, or...

Corey Wootton has been active only occasionally this season, four games in fact, counting Monday night. Yet here was this rookie defensive end setting up a Pro Bowl left tackle, beating him and putting his first career sack on a Hall of Fame quarterback.

The nerve of that kid...

Wootton beat Bryant McKinnie on a second-quarter rush, got the edge on the massive blocker, and took down Brett Favre with enough of a smash-down to put the quarterback out of the game with head and shoulder injuries.

McKinnie is a great player, Wootton said. I was able to get a good jump on the snap, use a little bit of power, rip outside and get to Favre and get him down. I kind of set him up wit a little inside pressure to make him think I was coming inside and then went outside. Coach Marinelli has done a great job of helping me get better every week and thats what I want to do, just keep improving.

The rookie impressed an important teammate, whose first thought was worry.

He got a sack? linebacker Brian Urlacher said Hell probably get fined.

The sack could give Wootton a place in Favre history, although a part of Favres NFL history the QB wouldnt mind forgetting about.

Favres last passes as an Atlanta Falcon, Green Bay Packer and New York Jet all were intercepted. His last 2009 pass as Minnesota Viking was intercepted in the playoff loss to New Orleans but Favre returned for 2010.

And given that injury and the lost cause that is the Minnesota season, the sack could well be Favres final pass play.

Goal-setting

The Bears indeed have something very, very important to play for. The Nos. 1 and 2 playoff seeds, the two division winners with the best records, receive a bye week (as distinguished from the mis-named bye week in-season, which is simply a week off, not a bye, because no one advances in that week).

The others face wild-card qualifiers, meaning they need to play an extra game, meaning they can see their playoffs come to abrupt endings. In each of the last three postseasons, fully one-half of the wild-card games were lost by the division winners.

Chicago Bears Facial Fur Society

A number of Bears are looking a little ratty around the edges but its a good thing. They are letting beards grow until after the Super Bowl or after the Bears lose in the playoffs, whichever comes first.

Not all the chin upholstery looks bad by any means. Wide receiver Johnny Knox is letting his grow, although he looks to me a little like a Mennonite, very distinctive, actually. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has his trimmed in a fashion a little like my own (mine is not coming off, regardless of playoff outcome, in case you were wondering).

It helps keep a little warm in this cold weather, too, Toub said, laughing.

Yep, sure does.

Lez e-talk

If youve got any Bears thoughts, lets chat tonight at our usual 7-8 p.m. on CSNChicago.com. Should be some good fodder to noodle on. Always is.

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.

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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USA TODAY

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman.