Surprising people or not, Bears don't feel they've arrived just yet


Surprising people or not, Bears don't feel they've arrived just yet

ST. LOUIS — The Bears have constantly talked about their need to play a “complete” football game. They have talked about “playoffs” in more than clichés, and they really didn’t care if people thought they were windbags or whistling past their own graveyard.

But if the 1-7 Detroit Lions can do unthinkable things to the Green Bay Packers, in Green Bay, and the Kansas City Chiefs, whom the Bears defeated in Kansas City, can hold Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to 40 yards and zero points, in Denver ...

But Denver and Green Bay are down the road. In the meantime, with Sunday’s 37-13 dismantling of the St. Louis Rams — the Bears' third road win this season — the Bears stepped up to 4-5, which includes a 4-2 mark since the season-opening stretch of Green Bay-Arizona-Seattle.

A 4-5 record doesn’t win anything. Neither does winning four of your last six. But as far as they’re concerned, if you want to dismiss the Bears as afterthoughts in John Fox’s first year:

“I’m telling you, man,” defensive end Jarvis Jenkins said. “We’re going to stay the course, and it’s going to happen for us.”

[MORE BEARS: 'Dirty' Rams an exaggeration? Guess again, say Bears]

It was without question the Bears’ most complete all-around game, the more remarkable because they were rocked backwards defensively on the first series of the game — an 80-yard drive for a St. Louis touchdown — and then slammed down hard on a team that was touted as one of the NFL’s elite defenses and possessed one of the NFL’s next great running backs.

Jay Cutler had arguably his finest game as an NFL quarterback. Rookie running back Jeremy Langford followed his 142-yard game at San Diego with 182 against the Rams, again following the Matt Forte template of all-around’ness: 73 rushing yards, 109 receiving, with 83 of the latter on a screen pass catch-and-run for a touchdown in the second quarter. Zach Miller followed his game-winning touchdown catch last week with a two more touchdown catches, one off a swing pass and covering 87 yards.

The “next Adrian Peterson” — Todd Gurley — finished with 45 rushing yards. After three quarters the Rams had exactly eight first downs.

After the St. Louis touchdown, the Bears trampled the Rams, 37-6. The Bears allowed no touchdowns and just two field goals the rest of the game and only 205 more yards over the final 57 minutes. Special teams got over some early problems, including a Marc Mariani lost fumble inside the Chicago 20, while allowing St. Louis return terror Tavon Austin a total of 16 yards on three punt returns, roughly half his 10.1-yard average.

[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]

“I think our football team’s growing,” was about as much as coach John Fox would allow, which is never very much in the NFL, certainly not after nine games.

But to pull the camera back for purposes of perspective: The Bears accomplished Sunday’s mauling without their best offensive player (Matt Forte) and best defensive player (Pernell McPhee), both back in Chicago with knee injuries.

As far as surprising people, which the Bears have done, again: “We don’t even really talk about it that much, to be honest with you,” Cutler said. “I think we do a good job of blocking the noise on the outside and concentrate on day in, day out.

“I don’t think this team believes it’s arrived, by any means.”

And that sort of attitude makes them dangerous.

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


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.” 

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

On a scale of 1-10, Tarik Cohen says his dangerous level is 12

Don't be fooled by Tarik Cohen's height. He has towering confidence and he's setting up to have a big role in coach Matt Nagy's offense in 2018.

“On a scale of 1-10, the dangerous level is probably 12,” Cohen said Wednesday at Halas Hall about the impact he can have in the Bears' new system. “Because in backyard football, it’s really anything goes, and it’s really whoever gets tired first, that’s who’s going to lose. I’m running around pretty good out here, so I feel like I’m doing a good job.”

Cohen proved last season he can thrive in space. He made an impact as a runner, receiver and return man and will have a chance at an even bigger workload this fall, assuming he can handle it.

With Jordan Howard established as the starting running back, Cohen knows his touches will come in a variety of ways.

“It might not necessarily be rushes,” he said. “But it’s going to be all over the field, and that’s what I like to do. Any way I can get the ball or make a play for my team, that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

Cohen averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry as a rookie and led all NFL running backs in the percentage of carries that went for at least 15 yards. He's a big play waiting to happen.