Bears

Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

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Bates-Cutler reunion doesn't guarantee good things for Bears

When Mike Martz was hired in 2010 as Bears offensive coordinator, the euphoria was palpable in some quarters. This was going to be the great leap forward for Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense.

It didnt prove to be entirely the case. The Bears were the No. 6 scoring offense when Cutler went down with his broken thumb. But the greatest leaps forward over the past two seasons followed when coach Lovie Smith gave then-OL coach Mike Tice a greater voice in the game planning.

Tice was elevated to coordinator and Jeremy Bates brought in as quarterbacks coach, without the designation of passing-game coordinator. The positive buzz began again because Bates coached Cutler with the Denver Broncos in the quarterbacks first three NFL seasons.

Its a big advantage for us, coach Lovie Smith said during last weekend's rookie minicamp. When I was looking at filling the position, I took all of that into consideration. Jeremy has a background, has a history.

But not all the Bates history is good. The rejoicing that some accorded the hiring of Martz and what it would mean for Cutlers development was premature. Any celebration of Bates arrival simply because he was in Cutlers ear during the 2006-08 seasons should be put on hold as well.

Reality check

This is not to say that Bates, a position coach, cannot emerge as a major positive force in a passing game built around and on Cutler.

But the stark reality is that Bates needs to produce better results than he has at any previous time in his NFL career. Otherwise his addition to the staff may end up in the MartzTurnerHamilton file.

Since becoming a position coach with Tampa Bay in 2004, Bates has coached on only one winning NFL team (the 9-7 Denver team in 2006, Cutlers rookie season). That team did not reach the playoffs despite being 7-4 when Cutler replaced Jake Plummer as the starter.

Notably perhaps, that Denver offense was the most balanced, with a near 50-50 split between run and pass. The next two years saw Denver tilt increasingly toward throwing, at 56 percent in 2007 and 38 percent in 2008 when Bates was the chief play caller.

The 2008 team stood at 8-5 but lost the final three in a row with Cutler throwing 2 touchdown passes vs. 4 interceptions and posting three consecutive sub-75 ratings in that span.

Given Tices commitment to offensive balance and Bates relationship with Cutler, Bates buy-in to that philosophy looms as a pivotal mindset for 2012.

The only NFL team to make the playoffs was the 2010 Seattle Seahawks, which went 7-9 and fired Bates after the season ended with a playoff loss to the Bears. Bates, like Martz after his failed 2008 season with San Francisco, was out of football the following season.

We lost in the 10 playoffs, and Im just very fortunate to be with a great Bears staff and great ownership and some good players, Bates said.

Bates Cutler management

Bates role in molding Cutler warrants some particular scrutiny. Cutlers fundamentals were a target of Martz from the beginning and of critics within the NFL community who saw throws off the back foot and other flaws.

Not all of those could be blamed on Cutlers one year with Ron Turner and Pep Hamilton, since he didnt particularly listen to them anyway.

The operating principle now is that Cutler will listen to Bates.

We were together in Denver for three years, Bates said. I think hes got great talent. Hes a Pro Bowl quarterback. And Im excited to be with him.

The Bates-Cutler yarn ball is difficult to unravel and shouldnt be taken as an automatic positive any more than Cutlers seeming early endorsement of Martz was.

Cutler went to the Pro Bowl off his 2008 season. But Pro Bowl selections are questionable indicators, voted-on awards with fan input counting for one-third, not anything won on the field.

Indeed, Cutler was selected to the Pro Bowl despite a passer rating of 86.0. That rating, which measures passing, not winning or quarterbacking, was second only to Brett Favres 81.0 for the New York Jets that same year as the lowest for a Pro Bowl quarterback over the last six seasons.

The only Bowl that matters

The term of last six seasons was used only because that extends back through the 2006 season -- when the Bears went to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, who was hardly a Pro Bowl quarterback with his 73.9 rating but at least owns an NFC Championship ring. Cutler does not.

(Best guess is that given the choice of Bowl to make, Cutler chooses Super over Pro. If not, the Bears have a bigger problem.)

Hes still the same quarterback, Bates said. Has a great arm. I think the experience of any profession, or anything you do, the more times you do it you grow with it, both good and bad.

Hes definitely matured as a player, because hes had good games and bad games, and you get better every game. So the more experience and the more snaps, youre always going to get better at your craft.

For the Bears purposes, that needs to apply to both quarterback and coach.

Hes a good football coach, Smith said. I knew that before and I believe it even more now from seeing him work with our players. I think our guys will talk to you the same way about what hes brought to the table. So, pretty excited about that. He should help us.

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.