While myriad pundits and critics nodded knowingly that they knew how bad the ultimately 6-10 Bears were (whether they were proclaiming that when the Bears were 5-6 and Robbie Gould lining up a potentially game-winning FG vs. San Francisco isn’t clear), John Fox wasn’t among them.
Fox’s expectations were not for a Lombardi trophy in 2015. But he saw the core of a team, particularly on offense, that could be good but didn’t quite know how to stay good. Notably, that involves something that lies within players' control.
That, more than any individual skill level, personnel situation or other specific, lies at the root of his Bears mission statement.
“We were good in spots,” Fox said this week at the NFL owners meetings. “We have to learn how to be good consistently. That’s individually, as a group, as a football team. We’d be pretty good one week but we didn’t have that much margin for error. Really none of us do because of how competitive everything is.”
It was his theme in thoughts about cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had streaks of both good and bad; about wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, nagged by injuries; even defensive lineman Ego Ferguson, lauded by Fox as perhaps the most consistent Bear this offseason and that was just in his rehab after knee surgery.
It was the first thing cited by GM Ryan Pace regarding linebacker Jerrell Freeman, signed by the Bears away from the Indianapolis Colts. Besides instincts and production, “He’s just a consistent producer wherever he’s been,” Pace said.
Said Fox: “It can’t be a three-week stretch, four-week stretch. It’s got to be consistent. Teams in this league that are consistent are generally the ones still playing at the end.”
Because consistency requires a commitment level beyond just selected moments or periods, some Bears roster moves involved exactly that issue.
Sometimes the route to that improvement involves addition by subtraction. A consistent theme from Fox and through the organization now is the premium not only on talent, but also on passion for football. The abilities of Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett were never in question; their priorities were, whether football was the passion or simply a stepping stone to post-football endeavors.
Foremost in Fox’s comments about linebacker Danny Trevathan, for example, was that “he loves football; that’s No. 1.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]
Fox is a proponent of many tenets for success espoused by former UCLA coaching legend John Wooden, beginning with two linchpins.
“Basically the cornerstones of success are hard work and enthusiasm,” Fox said. “And I think sometimes the enthusiasm part gets lost in the shuffle.
“We talk about guys being ‘above the line.’ And it’s every day. Just keep it simple, how to progress and get better every day, build a building that can produce that. I think that takes a lot of work and a lot of good people. And I’m not just about coaches. I’m talking about trainers, talking about equipment men, our strength and conditioning staff, because all their hands are on these players every day. And really creating that environment is important…"