Bears

Age before beauty when it comes to Bears, elite NFL defensive coaching

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USA Today

Age before beauty when it comes to Bears, elite NFL defensive coaching

It doesn’t necessarily qualify as age discrimination, maybe just more of a sorta “age-typing” around the NFL. Because the image of what makes a top offensive mind in the NFL is radically different from what’s become almost a standard for defensive-coaching pedigree.

Looking for a hot offensive coach? The cliche’d expectation has become that it’ll be someone young.

Putting together a ring of honor for the elite defensive minds in the NFL? Think “veteran"... VERY veteran.

Consider:

Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer this week remarked during preparations for his Vikings hosting the Denver Broncos that he was pleased that Denver coach and former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio finally got a head-coaching berth at a time when so many top jobs have been going to the presumed hot, young offensive minds that vaulted to the top after “one-year sabbaticals.”

The one-year thing refers to the fast-tracking that has happened with increased frequency in recent years — the ascensions to head coach of Adam Gase (41) with the Jets, Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury (40), Matt LaFleur (40) in Green Bay, the Bears’ Matt Nagy (41), or Zac Taylor (36) in Cincinnati — after a year or two, sometimes less, as offensive coordinators. Sean McVay was 31 when the Rams hired him. Kyle Shanahan took over in San Francisco at 38.

Andy Reid at 61 looks perhaps like an outlier out there in Kansas City. But Reid was 41 when he became Donovan McNabb’s head coach in Philadelphia back in 1999.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason, the image bar on defense, between head coaches or defensive coordinators, lies in the other direction — the savvy, cagy, crusty old lion: Bill Belichick (67) in New England with the NFL’s No. 1 defense; Dallas ranked No. 6 on defense with coordinator Rod Marinelli (70); the Bears fourth in scoring defense under Chuck Pagano (59), who succeeded Fangio. Denver No. 7 with Fangio as head coach and Ed Donatell (62) as his defensive coordinator.

Preparing for the Los Angeles Rams’ 11th-ranked defense on Sunday, Nagy this week brought up Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (72) for recognition: “How do you not appreciate what he’s done over his career? He’s done some amazing things. He’s been in the league forever. When he was in Denver and I was in Kansas City we’ve seen him. When he was in Houston and I was in Kansas City we’ve seen him.”

Defensive legend Dick LeBeau finished his NFL coaching career with Tennessee at age 80.

So how is it that youth has come to be served on offense, while on defense, the prevailing philosophy has been age before beauty?

"I don't know,” Nagy reflected. “Maybe it's just a phase that we're in right now?

“It's probably a little bit of a trend involved there. the other part of it, too, is that you get some of these older coaches that are in it, they've seen it all, right? You go back to Tom Brady when he talked about that he's seen every defense; these [defensive seniors] have seen every offense and so they have ways to adjust and experiences.”

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It might be Bear Weather, but Sunday's forecast complicates things for Nagy and Co.

It might be Bear Weather, but Sunday's forecast complicates things for Nagy and Co.

The high temperature in Green Bay on Sunday is going to be 18 degrees. That won’t come until 2-3 p.m., though – when the Bears and Packers kick off two hours earlier, temperatures will be floating in the low teens. Of course, considering windchill, that feels more like five or six. It took 15 weeks and a 200 mile drive north, but the 2019 season is finally getting some Bear Weather.

“You’re talking about two teams here in Chicago and Green Bay that are kind of used to it,” Matt Nagy said on Wednesday. “I would say [the weather is an issue] probably more so if you’re dealing with teams from the West Coast, or more from the warmer weather coming into this.” 

It’s shaping up to be the type of game where 1000 photos of the linemen’s breath scatter the internet, and someone will *absolutely* use the phrase black-and-blue, or bare-knuckle-brawl to describe the matchup. It wouldn’t be Bears-Packers canon without a frostbite warning, but as fun as it is to show up to the frozen tundras dangerously underdressed and maybe overserved, the cold may end up being the Bears’ biggest adversary not wearing #12. 

“What I’ll say is this – I’ve heard from older family members that when it’s cold outside, you feel a little something when you’ve had an injury in the past,” Akiem Hicks said. “But hopefully I don’t have to feel anything like that. Pray for me”

Hicks is one of two defensive starters that should return to action on Sunday, frost forgiving. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, who missed last Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury, was a full participant in practice all week, and will be out there with the starting 11 again this weekend. 

“It’s big because with some of the things they do schematically, the wide receivers they have, Prince brings a lot of experience,” Nagy said. “So having that experience out there against such a quality quarterback in Aaron, that’s huge.” 

Another issue? The kicking game. While he’s quietly kicked well over the Bears’ three-game win streak, Eddy Pineiro has been open about how he’s still learning how to adjust to kicking in cold weather. He’s struggled at times with how the ball comes off his foot differently when the temperatures dip, and he’s worked – primarily outside – with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to get a better feel for the environment. 

“We really don't talk about it to be honest with you,” Tabor said. “To be honest, the weather is the weather. We have zero control over it. Obviously, it won't travel as far but he just has to go up and hit his football. I mean we went outside and kicked yesterday, that was an awful cold day and he did just fine. So that was good."

A third issue? (Don’t you feel great at this point?) There have apparently been concerns this season about Lambeau’s turf, which historically has been considered one of the best. Add a bad field to frigid conditions, and all of a sudden that 10-3 result from Week 1 doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. 

“It affects every position. I mean, we’ve looked at the tape, there’s guys in previous games on that field where there’s long snappers that are slipping,” said Nagy, who then credited Bears’ equipment manager Tony Medlin for having a full plan in place for if players start slipping and sliding. 

“... our guys will be prepared, but obviously the skill positions – the guys that are breaking and cutting, running deep--DBs, wide receivers – is probably where you see it the most. Sometimes, you can see it with edge rushers as they go to cut the corner, you can see some slipping and falling. So we want to be smart.”

Bears injury report: Amukamara set to return Sunday, four Bears ruled out

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USA TODAY

Bears injury report: Amukamara set to return Sunday, four Bears ruled out

The Bears released their final injury report Friday leading up to Sunday’s matchup against the Packers.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara looks set to return from a hamstring injury that kept him out Week 14 against the Cowboys. The 30-year-old suffered the injury on Thanksgiving against the Lions. Cordarrelle Patterson practiced in full after being limited Thursday with a head injury.

Players on injured reserve aren't listed on the report, but things are looking up for defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Bears head coach Matt Nagy said "We like what we're seeing from him" Friday.

Hicks must be activated off IR by 3 p.m. Saturday to play against the Packers.

Offensive lineman Bobby Massie (ankle), linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow), tight end Ben Braunecker and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussions) are all out Sunday. Defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris (foot) and Javon Wims (knee) are questionable.