Bears

Moon: Garza staying put at center

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Moon: Garza staying put at center

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011
Posted: 10:52 a.m. Updated: 5:02 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin READ: Urlacher leaves team following mother's death
READ: NFC North makes a statement in Week 1

The play of Roberto Garza at center has helped with at least one new decision on the offensive line

Right guard Lance Louis injured right ankle, hurt during the Atlanta game, has him decidedly questionable for next Sunday. Chris Spencer, who replaced Louis during the game, split reps with Edwin Williams in Louis spot as the Bears will leave Garza in place after a near-flawless game of directing the line. Stability and experience at that position also become crucial in a game where noise makes offensive line play dicey at best.

The most pleasing thing and really something that came into my decision, am I going to make one move or two moves? was the fact that Roberto had no mental errors against Atlanta, said line coach Mike Tice.

Garza has played primarily at right game through his career. But he has developed a strong chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to taking charge of a group of offensive linemen with fewer than half combined career starts (53) than he has (125).

Pancake chef?

Lance Louis was having perhaps his best game as a Bear when he suffered his ankle injury. In the span of 20 plays, Louis had five different Falcons on the ground with his blocks. He played physical and with great confidence, Mike Tice said.

Planning ahead

Strong-side linebacker Nick Roach typically takes a few reps each week at the middle-linebacker spot, where he is Brian Urlachers backup in addition to rookie Dom DeCicco. If Urlacher is unavailable because of the death of his mother this week, expect Roach to move to the middle and Brian Iwuh to start in Roachs spot.

We have a backup plan, coach Lovie Smith said, then deadpanned. Id like to be able to talk about that, but you can understand why Im not going to. Hopefully well have Brian ready to go this week. But if he cant, we feel good with our next plan.

What'd you say?

The Seattle Seahawks Qwest Field is generally considered the NFLs noisiest. But the Superdome is in the team photo for din level and the Bears are preparing for a noise situation.

Common remedies are silent snap counts started by a pre-arranged signal, hand-holding to assure simultaneous get-offs by the offensive line and others. That will include practicing inside the Walter Payton Center on Thursday with speakers maxd out with crowd noise when the offense is working on its game plan.

We got to be able to hear something, so well work on different types of counts and stuff, said center Roberto Garza. Obviously the tomorrow will get us ready for that. But obviously, were going to have to communicate and make up some calls or by hand signals or whatever we have to do, to get the job done.

Of course, there is one very successful big-picture way of curing the New Orleans noise problem.

It depends on how the game is going, said tackle Frank Omiyale, a member of the Atlanta Falcons playing the first game in the rebuilt Superdome after the damage done by Katrina. You can even be outside the stadium and if the crowds rocking, it can be rough. The best thing is to score and take the crowd out of the game.

Eye on the new guy

The football hope for the Bears is that Brian Urlacher is in a place to play Sunday in New Orleans after the passing away of his mother at her home in Texas this week. Because if Urlacher is somehow forced by family business to miss the game against the New Orleans Saints, the Bears are beyond thin behind him.

The Bears are a combined 7-16 in games without Urlacher, including the2009 opening-day loss at Green Bay when he broke his wrist andmissed the second half when the Bears could not come up with a latedefensive stop to hold a lead on the Packers. They were 0-7 in 2004when Urlacher was inactive at three different times with various legissues.

Urlacher is expected back but rookie undrafted free agent Dom DeCicco right now is listed as the No. 2 and only other middle linebacker on the roster. And DeCicco played almost exclusively at safety for Dave Wannstedt at Pitt, with a handful of starts at weakside linebacker his only linebacker experience.

Ive never played linebacker so this is really the only scheme I know as a linebacker, said DeCicco, who is a key figure in coverage units of special teams. So this is all I know so I cant really compare.

On the plus side, he certainly wont have to un-learn a whole lot of bad habits or tendencies.

Id say the thing thats benefited me the most is knowing the formation and knowing your keys on every play, DeCicco said. As long as you know your key, it seems like you can play that position pretty well.

Saintly behavior

If it seemed to the New Orleans Saints that their new center, Olin Kreutz, was up and running awfully fast, it wasnt just their imagination.

After contracts between Kreutz and the Bears broke off the first Saturday of training camp, Kreutz went to visit the Saints. He clearly liked what he heard and, unbeknownst to the Saints, was planning on sticking around.

Hed watched practice, met with folks and went back to his hotel before a flight scheduled that night for 7 p.m. The next day, a deal was worked out with the Saints and agent Mark Bartlestein, and the question was, when can Kreutz be back to begin work?

The answer was that he had never left the airport hotel, said Saints coach Sean Payton. He had purposely not gotten on the flight and two hours later he was at practice at center.

Sick bay

The No. 1 units on both sides of the ball were without key figures Wednesday as guard Lance Louis (ankle) and receiver Roy Williams (groin) were held out of practice, and safety Chris Harris (hamstring) was out along with Urlacher.

Running back Marion Barber (calf) practiced on a limited basis, as did cornerback Zackary Bowman (hamstring) and linebacker Lance Briggs (knee).

The Saints will be without receiver Marques Colston (shoulder), and safety Roman Harper (ankle) was out of practice along with kicker Garrett Hartley.

Urlacher wins award

As he was after the first time he played the Atlanta Falcons, Urlacher has been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the havoc he visited on various Falcons.

Urlacher recorded 10 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception and returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown in the 30-12 victory last Sunday.

About the only worry was whether or not a couple of Bears teammates would cost him the award by virtue of their own performances. Defensive end Julius Peppers posted 2 sacks, one to force the fumble that Urlacher toted into the end zone, broke up a pass, had 4 pressures of quarterback Matt Ryan and recovered another fumble.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton had 2 sacks, 6 pressures of Ryan and 3 solo tackles in a disruptive debut as a starter.

Urlachers fumble return touchdown marked the fourth score in his career and the first since an 85-yard interception return on Dec. 23, 2007 versus Green Bay. It was the first fumble return touchdown for Urlacher since a 90-yarder at Atlanta on October 7, 2001, a game after which he also was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

His other touchdown came on a 27-yard reception at Washington on December 23, 2001. Urlachers interception was the 19th of his career, third most in franchise history among linebackers. He has recorded an interception in nine of his 12 NFL seasons. Since joining the NFL in 2000, Urlachers 19 interceptions are fourth most among NFL linebackers.

This is Urlachers sixth Defensive Player of the Week Award, tied for the most in franchise history with Pro Football Hall of Famer DE Richard Dent.

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.

Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

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Why Mitch Trubisky's biggest weakness won't preclude him from success in 2018

As the Bears set their foundation for training camp during OTAs this month, one part of that is beginning to identify each player’s strengths and weaknesses on which to build in Bourbonnais. 

Designing an offense to Mitch Trubisky’s strengths was one of the reasons why Ryan Pace hired Matt Nagy, who then hired Mark Helfrich to be his offensive coordinator. Easy is the wrong word — but it wouldn’t have made sense for the Bears to not build an offense around their second-picked quarterback. 

But as Nagy and Helfrich are installing that offense during OTAs and, next month, veteran minicamp, they’re also learning what Trubisky’s weaknesses are. And the one Helfrich pointed to, in a way, is a positive. 

“Experience,” Helfrich said. “I think it’s 100 percent experience and just reps, and that’s kind of what I was talking about was knowing why something happened. As a quarterback, he might take the perfect drop and be looking at the right guy in your progression, and that guy runs the wrong route or the left guard busts or something. The defense does something different or wrong, even. And trusting that is just a matter of putting rep on top of rep on top of rep and being confident.”

It'd be a concern if the Bears thought Trubisky lacked the necessary talent to be great, or had a lacking work ethic or bad attitude. Experience isn't something he can control, in a way. 

This isn’t anything new for Trubisky. His lack of experience at North Carolina — he only started 13 games there — was the biggest ding to his draft stock a year ago; while he started a dozen games for the Bears in 2017, the offense was simple and conservative, designed to minimize risk for Trubisky (and, to be fair, a sub-optimal group of weapons around him). 

But even if Trubisky started all 16 games in an innovative, aggressive offense last year, he’d still be experiencing plenty of things for the first time. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made this point back in September that still resonates now with regard to Trubisky:

“I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks,” Roethlisberger said. “In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

So the challenge for Nagy and Helfrich is to build an offense that accentuates Trubisky’s strengths while managing his lack of experience. For what it’s worth, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles succeeded in those efforts last year with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, respectively. 

For Helfrich, though, one of Trubisky’s strengths — his leadership qualities — are already helping mitigate his need for more experience. 

“He’s still in the mode of learning and doing things out here,” Helfrich said. “We might have run one play 10 times against 10 different defenses, you know? And so his response to every one of those 10 things is brand new. And so, you see his reaction to some of those is good. Some of those things you want to improve upon and then keep your chest up and lead because we need that.”
 

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

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AP

Why coming to the Bears was the right opportunity for Harry Hiestand to leave Notre Dame

There wasn’t a single game Harry Hiestand coached while at Notre Dame — 77 in total — in which he didn’t have a future top-20 pick starting at left tackle. 

Zack Martin (16th overall, 2014) was followed by Ronnie Stanley (6th overall, 2016), who gave way to Mike McGlinchey (9th overall, 2018). Hiestand also developed Quenton Nelson, who went on to be the highest interior offensive lineman drafted (6th overall, 2018) since 1986. Nelson and McGlinchey became the first pair of college offensive line teammates to be drafted in the first 10 picks since 1991, when Tennessee had tackles Charles McRae and Antone Davis go seventh and eighth. 

“It wasn’t surprising because the kind of guys they are, they absolutely did everything the right way, the way they took care of themselves, the way they trained, the teammates that they are and were,” Hiestand said. “They just did it all the way you wanted them to do it. So it was. It was a good moment.”

Hiestand said he had a sense of pride after seeing his two former players be drafted so high, even if he wasn't able to re-unite with either of them. The Bears, of course, didn’t have a chance to draft Nelson, and had conviction on using the eighth overall pick on linebacker Roquan Smith (as well as having tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie in place for the 2018 season). 

Anecdotally, one former Notre Dame player said (maybe half-jokingly) that Nelson and McGlinchey were fighting each other to see who could get drafted by the Bears to play with Hiestand again.

“There’s nobody that I’ve been around in this game that’s more passionate about what he does,” McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, said of Hiestand at Notre Dame’s pro day in March. “There’s really only two things that are important to him, and that’s his family and then his offensive linemen. There’s a lot to be said for that. 

“In this game, everybody’s always trying to work an angle to up their own career — he doesn’t want to do anything but coach O-line, and that’s what really sticks out to us as players. He cares for us like we’re his own. Obviously he coaches extremely hard and is very demanding of his players, which I loved — he pushed me to be the player that I am.

“I’m standing in front of all you guys because of Harry Hiestand. But the amount of passion and care that he has not only for his job but his teaching abilities and his players is what sets him apart.”

Hiestand could’ve stayed as long as he wanted at Notre Dame, presumably, given how much success he had recruiting and developing players there. But six years at one spot is a long time for a position coach, especially at the college level, where the grind of recruiting is so vital to the success of a program. It’s also not like every one of the blue-chip prospects Hiestand recruited to South Bend panned out, either. 

So Hiestand knew he wanted to get back to the NFL after coaching with the Bears under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. It’s a new challenge for him now, not only to develop second-round pick James Daniels but to continue the growth of Cody Whitehair and Leno while getting the most out of Kyle Long, Massie and the rest of the group (back during his first stint with the Bears, Hiestand had the luxury of coaching experienced, more ready-made offensive lines). 

As one of the more highly-regarded offensive line coaches in the country, though, Hiestand could’ve jumped back into the NFL whenever, and nearly wherever, he wanted. And for him, coming back to the Bears was the perfect fit. 

“That’s an awesome, awesome place, a great franchise,” Hiestand said. “It was something, I always wanted to go back, I didn’t know where I would get the opportunity. So I’m just very fortunate it just happened to be back at the same place that I was before. There are a lot of things that are different but there’s also a lot that’s the same. 

“But it’s one of the — it is the greatest organization. Historically, this is where it all began, and being part of it — and the other thing, and I told those guys when I got here, when we get it done here, you guys are going to see this city like you’ve never seen it. And I remember that. That’s what we’re after.”