Bears

Hard feelings for Olsen? Maybe a little

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Hard feelings for Olsen? Maybe a little

Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011Posted: 4:00 p.m. Updated: 4:20 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Training camp this year was still some hours away from opening for the Bears when tight end Greg Olsen was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a third-round draft choice.

Olsen wasnt happy in the Mike Martz offense and was even less happy when he approached the Bears before the 2010 season about a contract extension and was told basically that he didnt have a future in Chicago.

He came at me hard last year, GM Jerry Angelo said not long after the deal. I understood it. I told him Id think about it. Eventually I said, I dont see that being in our best interests.

Olsen was Angelos first-round pick in the 2007 draft but wasnt a fit in where the Bears offense was going under Martz. Angelo said he told Olsen that extending him would hurt our football team.

I said, Greg, the intent was not to extend you, Angelo said. He didnt like to hear that, no more than I liked to say it.

Now, thats all in the past.

Or is it?

They wanted to go in a different direction and they made that decision, Olsen told Panthers.com. Some situations are out of your hands. It worked out well that I landed with a team that wanted me and wanted to use me.

Olsen is trying not to put too much extra emotion into a game a team that ultimately rejected him. But

Of course I want to go up there and play well. I would be lying if I said I didnt. We still have our egos.

Sick bay

Just when the Bears thought their No. 1 secondary was forming, safety Chris Harris went back on the did-not-practice list with a hamstring, an injury that kept him out of last Sundays game...A day after running back Marion Barber was able to practice in full for the first time in the month since his preseason calf injury, Kahlil Bell missed practice with back tightness...Tight end Matt Spaeth (calf) again was forced to sit out practice...

Cornerback Chris Gamble (head injury) was the only Panther out of practice or limited.

Let it be

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello emailed CSNChicago.com that the league is not considering any name change to its Walter Payton "Man of the Year" award in the wake of Jeff Pearlman's upcoming biography of the legendary running back, a book with a number of unflattering revelations about his life off the field.

Winning offense

Based on what members of the Bears defense are seeing, the Chicago offense can most assuredly be successful, probably on every snap. Then again, it should be, considering its not facing the Falcons, Saints or Packers.

"They're going against the scout team, said linebacker Lance Briggs, laughing, so when I see them, they're always successful."
Hard feelings II?
Olsen wont be the only ousted former player the Bears will see this year. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris signed with the San Diego Chargers, who visit Chicago Nov. 20. Harris was released by the Bears last offseason after a few seasons of declining performance, failed to stick with the Indianapolis Colts, but is getting one more NFL chance.

Talking Martz, Angelo and Payton

On for the weekly visit with The McNeil and Spiegel Show, albeit without Spiegs whos off for the Jewish holiday, so Jay Zawaski and Ben Finfer were alongside Danny Mac for the day...

The focus is still seriously on Mike Martz and what exactly is going on after two games (New Orleans, Green Bay) that featured dismal performances from top to bottom, from game plan to execution. The question is, after replaying some of Martzs comments from Wednesday, what is the offensive coordinator looking at when he talks in positive terms about his offense, with the line playing well, the receivers playing faster and better, and so on.

No clear answers here. The line gave up zero sacks in the first half of the Saints game and zero in the first half of the Packers game, so the line is clearly doing some things pretty well, particularly with starters on the right side missing.

The only conclusions you come up with is that Martz is traditionally very supportive of his players, certainly in public, so the positive spin shouldnt be a complete surprise. And you get that Martz believes, perhaps to a fault, in his scheme and philosophy and is going to play it his way.

He and Jay Cutler were surprisingly defensive about scaling anything back, even though that appeared to work in 2010 when the Bears turned their season around. Maybe thats again a case of saying one thing publicly to send a message and then doing another when it matters. Thats to be seen.

Mac and the guys raised the issue of some fans hoping for a freefall situation unfolding so that at least GM Jerry Angelo gets fired. Personally, I dont get that, for lots of reasons. Someone hoping their team is abysmal is beyond me in the first place, and second, a bad season is no assurance that anything happens to Angelo anyway. Remember, the McCaskeys are not meddling owners and this is not a dire situation like the late 1990s when something had to be done with Dave Wannstedt.

The Walter Payton book had to come up, and Mac wondered how I felt about it or if I would want to write a book of that type. The second part is easy; not interested. Ive done four books, am working on another, and bringing someone down frankly seems like something that would get me down as well. I dont have any issue whatsoever with Jeff Pearlman writing the book, and Ill be reading it because its part of the job to check out things Bears. This is no commentary on Jeff, just my thoughts about me.

On another level, I dont really like rolling out all of the Walter stuff 12 years after his death. This isnt a protect-Walter thing at all; indeed, as I mentioned to the guys, a colleague once said that we in the media shouldnt write about the wife unless we were going to write about the girlfriend. Meaning: Dont chronicle a glowing picture unless you also were going to depict the other side, if there was one.

Walters status in Chicago and beyond has bordered on sports deification, so maybe this is some sort of cosmic balancing. Not for me to say. My assumption is that Jeff has done a very solid reporting job (I know the people he talked to and he was thorough), but its just not a story Im personally eager to dive into.

Will visit again with the guys next Thursday at 10 a.m.

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.

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

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USA Today

How can the Bears make Khalil Mack even better in 2019?

In the midst of Khalil Mack’s All-Pro debut season with the Bears, then-outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley offered a thought of how his star pupil could be even better in 2019. With the benefit of a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the Bears would be able to move Mack around more within their defense, which would present tougher challenges for opposing coaching staffs trying to gameplan for him. 

Staley left for the Denver Broncos along with Vic Fangio back in January. But a new coaching staff has the same thought: There’s more to what Mack can do than we saw in 2018. And 2018 was pretty impressive. 

“There will be opportunities for him to do a variety of things from a variety of different alignments,” senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Freedom, he has a little bit. But variety he has plenty. There’s plenty of things that we’re going to try to use him for and to do with him that allow him to showcase the things he does well.”

The No. 1 thing Mack does well, to boil it down, is wreck a game. Every head coach and offensive coordinator around the league has to develop a plan for limiting those game-wrecking abilities. It meant quick throws, the kind that leave the quarterback’s hand before Mack can even set up a pass-rushing move, for some teams. For others, it meant offering extra pass protection support through committing a tight end, running back or both to slowing him down. Mack still found a way to total 12 1/2 sacks and 73 total pressures, all while an ankle injury effectively wiped out four games in the middle of the season. 

“You’ve got a phenomenal, phenomenal athlete, all that stuff” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great football player, but he’s a better teammate. And he’s a better person. He doesn’t say much, but actions speak louder than words. Again, he’s a great worker. He’s a smart guy. He picks things up. Not gonna say much, but out here on the football field he’s going to lead by example.” 

As the 2018 season progressed, the Bears felt more comfortable with having Mack play on the left and right during games, not one spot exclusively (in the season’s first four weeks, 166 of Mack’s snaps came on the left and 25 came on the right, per Pro Football Focus). By the playoffs, the Bears were able to strategically use Mack on either side of their defense to try to counter-act the scheming done by Eagles coach Doug Pederson (Mack played 26 snaps on the left and 26 on the right in that game, per Pro Football Focus). 

But both the previous and current coaching staffs envision Mack being able to do more than just line up on either side of the formation. And Monachino has experience in figuring out the best way to create that variety he talked about, too: He was Terrell Suggs’ position coach in 2011 when the Baltimore Ravens edge rusher won defensive player of the year honors (also: That was the lone year in which Pagano was the Ravens’ defensive coordinator). 

Suggs primarily rushed from various defensive line positions (end/outside linebacker, as designated by Pro Football Focus), but lined up off the ball on a little under 20 percent of his snaps in 2011. An NFL.com article described him as playing a “hybrid-linebacker” position, which sounds about right. 

Suggs finished 2011 with 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions. 

It’s only May, which means it’s far too early to predict how the Bears will use Mack. Coaches don’t even know the specifics yet. But it’s fair to expect a few different wrinkles for how Mack’s game-wrecking ability is deployed in the Bears’ defense with a full complement of offseason practices — and, too, the coaching minds of Monachino and Pagano. 

“With a player like this, you don’t even have to sit in the offense’s meeting rooms on the other side to know that they have to tend to him on every snap,” Monachino said, referencing Suggs. “They have to know where (former Pittsburgh Steelers safety) Troy Polamalu is on every snap. You gotta know where (Houston Texans edge rusher) JJ Watt is on every snap. This is a guy that you have to do that with. So with Khalil, being able to predict that they’re going to talk about, how do we tend to Khalil Mack on every snap, and then being able to move him into different spots and then to show him in different ways and to do different things with him, it’s going to be really valuable for the defense.”

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”