Jordan Howard

Players flock to social media after Fox's dismissal

Players flock to social media after Fox's dismissal

For Bears fans, John Fox's termination couldn't have come a moment too soon. For young, core members of the team, though, the firing was a moment for reflection.   

Jordan Howard, who's only known NFL life with the former Bears head coach, thanked Fox for his unwavering belief. The running back has been a revelation since coming into the league, posting back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. 

Thunder wasn't the only one to chime in, though. Lightning, or better known as Tarik Cohen, also expressed gratitude: 

Another rook, Eddie Jackson, was appreciative of the coach's communication: 

Say what you want about Fox's record, which was a miserable 14-34, the guy seemed to have won over a few key pieces for the future.

The Bears' pitch to prospective coaches will be enticing, but not perfect

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USA TODAY

The Bears' pitch to prospective coaches will be enticing, but not perfect

MINNEAPOLIS — The John Fox Era came to a close Monday morning, less than 24 hours after the 2017 season ended with a 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. 

As the Bears begin the search for their third head coach since firing Lovie Smith after the 2012 season, keep this in mind: It won’t be as simple as the Bears identifying their guy and hiring him. With plenty of franchises expected to also have head-coaching vacancies — including sides with established quarterbacks like the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions — the Bears will have to pitch themselves, too.

New Year’s Eve wasn’t exactly a great pitch for the Bears, with Michael Burton the team’s leading rusher at halftime with one carry for zero yards (Jordan Howard carried five times for minus-one yard). Mitchell Trubisky made a rookie mistake when he flipped the ball to no one in the end zone for an intentional grounding-caused safety, and the offense didn’t cross midfield until early in the first quarter. The Bears committed 10 penalties; they finish the 2017 season having committed at least eight penalties in nine games.

But looking at the larger scope of the Bears, there are three clear ways Ryan Pace, Ted Phillips and George McCaskey can sell the Bears to prospective coaching candidates:

1. Mitchell Trubisky

While Trubisky’s final 2017 numbers might not look too impressive (seven touchdowns, seven interceptions), those are in line with what plenty of rookie quarterbacks have done in recent history. The No. 2 overall pick has shown flashes of brilliance this year and has the athleticism and intangibles to be molded into a much better player. His leadership qualities shined even as the Bears again slipped to the bottom of the NFC North: The best anecdotal evidence of that is multiple veteran offensive linemen saying Trubisky would tell them to “shut the f*** up” if they were goofing off in the huddle.

There’s no better way for a head coach to obtain job security than by developing and tying himself to a franchise quarterback. Trubisky’s already worked through a lot of the growing pains of being a rookie, and the Bears should be able to entice some of the league’s best coaching candidates with an improving, highly touted quarterback.

2. The rest of the core

In addition to Trubisky, a good number of the Bears’ best players are in Years 1 or 2 of their NFL careers: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, Nick Kwiatkoski and Eddie Jackson fit that bill. Eddie Goldman and Adrian Amos just finished their respective third years in the league. Adam Shaheen flashed his potential a few times between when the coaching staff played him more (following Zach Miller’s injury) and a chest injury that wound up ending his season (after the Cincinnati game). Akiem Hicks was a home run free-agent signing, Danny Trevathan a rock-solid anchor of the defense and a healthy Kyle Long is a key building block.

There’s still a lot of building that has to happen to fill out this roster, with wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback red-line needs. The Bears could look to upgrade at tackle, too. The free agency whiffs since Pace became the team’s general manager in 2015 — most recently and notably, Markus Wheaton and Marcus Cooper at those red-line positions — have made those needs even more pressing. The Bears won’t be able to address all of them through the draft; Pace will need to hit on a free agent signing or a trade if all of them will be filled.

But there’s enough of a core here — it’s certainly better than things were after the end of the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery Era — that the next coach won’t have to do as much “erasing” as Fox did when he took over in 2015.

3. Updated facilities

The Bears picked an odd time — 4:30 p.m. on a Friday — to announce plans to significantly expand and renovate Halas Hall back in November. But the renovations are designed to add plenty of space and resources for the team’s players and coaches, and could be a selling point for not only the next coach, but future free agents. The renovations are expected to be completed in time for the 2019 season and include:

— A 13,000-square-foot indoor turf space with a 133’x26’ video projection wall and an adjacent virtual reality room.

— The weight room being expanded by 2,000 square feet.

— The sports medicine space being four times larger than the current space; there will also be an equipment room, recovery space and a nutrition and fuel station that are double the current size at Halas Hall.

— Coaches offices increasing by 50 percent, and position meeting rooms doubling in capacity.

— The locker room being expanded by 1,700 square feet, and a 3,250 players’ lounge will be added.

— The cafeteria being expanded by 4,300 square feet.

— Two additional practice fields that are already under construction, doubling the team’s outdoor practice field capacity.

The Bears need more than just a win vs. Browns this week

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USA TODAY

The Bears need more than just a win vs. Browns this week

NBCS colleague JJ Stankevitz and I do a quick “key to the game” before each Bears outing but this week did more than just look at two tipping points we see in the Bears-Browns game. More important at this point of the season has become more than simply winning the game, the point of it all until they stop using scoreboards, is the “how” that happens, looking at more than just the Browns.

First, some context:

The Bears are 0-6 in games when they fail to attempt at least 20 rushes. Those losses include the true embarrassments vs. Green Bay, vs. San Francisco and at Detroit. They also include vs. Atlanta.

Why I cite these four out of the nine total is that the Bears rarely have been so far behind so late in a game that they were forced to pass. And those four in particular are all games decided by a touchdown or less (I’m including Detroit II because that was an opponent against whom the Bears had rushed for 222 yards month earlier, and because it deserves to be in this cluster of aberrant performances for reasons to follow).

O-coordinator Dowell Loggains has been savaged for stating a simple football fact, that defenses can dictate what an offense does, like it or not. The reality is that if you are willing to sacrifice enough in other areas, you can take something away from an opponent.

“As a defense, they really do get to control how they decide to play us," Loggains said. "And [at Detroit], if we were going to throw for 500 yards, they were going to let us throw for 500 yards and say, ‘Hey, can you guys beat us? Can you guys win outside one-one? We’ve got Slay and these other guys. We’ll take out chances.’ They’re going to play an eight-man box, put the safety in the box and they’re going to take it away. You can beat your head in the wall or you can be pragmatic and throw the football.”

The Browns are among the NFL’s best at limiting the run – 3.3 yards per carry – and they stack the box. “We’ve seen more of that of late,” Fox said. “We’ve got to execute better in the passing game to counteract that.”

Which is absolutely true. But what the Bears have too often failed to do is to impose their will on a game or opponent, with both personnel and scheme, and that right now is the key to watch in this game. If the Browns are willing to sell out to stop the run, and the run is axiomatic in the Bears identity, then what do the Bears do to impose their will on a woeful opponent? Are Loggains and Trubisky capable of using the pass, formations and personnel to loosen a defense packed to take away exactly what the Bears need to be?

*                          *                          *

It is a throwaway game in the greater NFL universe but the best hope is that this Bears-Browns tilt avoids becoming another theater of the absurd as some prior ones have been, particularly involving the quarterback position.

The last time quarterback Mitch Trubisky saw the Browns, they were landing on him in the form of a sack on the final play of a 25-0 blowout to wrap up the preseason – a game that began with Trubisky handing off nine straight times on three straight three-and-outs, then finished with coaches calling two pass plays in the final 11 seconds for Trubisky, who was forced back into the game when Connor Shaw was injured scrambling on a – yep – pass play. And the defensive lineman who sacked Trubisky – defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi – who was not a throwaway Browns scrub, making the final 53.

John Fox and staff may have done a spectrum of positives in the course of developing Trubisky, which will stand as a positive in their post-season evaluations. If the decision is made that not enough positives unfolded for Fox to keep his job, the bizarre handling and unnecessary exposure to risk of the franchise quarterback vs. Cleveland may head the column of negatives in a pivotal year for Fox.

Trubisky is not the first Bears quarterback involved in a head-scratching Cleveland situation.

Then-GM Phil Emery cited the comeback engineered by Jay Cutler in the 2013 Bears-Browns game as the tipping point for giving Cutler a seven-year contract that impaled the organization (and Fox ultimately) on a deal with $54 million guaranteed.

This was a comeback against a Browns team that would finish 4-12 and came the week before Cutler gagged away a chance to clinch the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter was not enough for Emery, who mentioned, “I was really fascinated by his press conference [after] the Cleveland game.” Not sure how many GM’s use press conferences as any benchmarking standard for quarterback evaluations, but hey….

*                          *                          *

Looking beyond 2017 at positions that the Bears might address in the offseason, this probably won’t happen, and maybe shouldn’t happen (some thought is that his snakebitten injury run followed his last switch involving this position), but…

…should Kyle Long stay at right or left guard? Or would he and the Bears be better served with him at tackle? Either tackle.

People close to Long say no, and Long himself has said flatly, “I’m a guard.” But by way of context: Back in 2012 when Kyle Long was headed for Oregon, father Howie Long told the Oregonian that he’d always seen Kyle as a true offensive tackle, telling the Oregonian, “I’ve always found it to be more of a natural for him.”

As Kyle recovers from neck surgery this week, the latest procedure to address a succession of significant injuries since he returned to guard from his one-year (2015) stint at right tackle, the Bears (and Long) might be served considering getting Long out of the interior and to an edge spot with an offseason (when he’s not in rehab) to settle into the job. The injury litany has exploded since his return to guard. Perhaps there’s a message lying there amid the braces and tape.

After just seven days of orientation at tackle and then playing the entire 2015 season there, Long, by consensus already one of the NFL’s best guards, went to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Philadelphia tackle Jason Peters. This was after a Bears linemate and Long booster confided that Long wasn’t yet temperamentally suited for tackle – reason being, pass blocking in particular was a different enterprise in space, requiring the ability to regroup mid-play and stay under control when you start to get beaten by a speed rusher. Long’s instinct, his teammate said, was to just react and try to hammer the guy.

Again, probably not something that’ll happen, under this staff or any presumed next one. But Long’s physiology has taken a beating both on the field and in the medical arena, and he has missed 15 games since going back to guard. So maybe…