Chicago Bears: Joe DeCamillis

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker hears criticism from the fans regarding the Bears' struggling defense, but it's not anything worse than what he hears at home, considering his wife Jo-Ellyn and her family all hail from Chicago.

"You know, they want to win, too," Tucker said. "My wife is from Chicago. She's from the South side and so her mom, her whole family is here. They're all Bears fans. There's a little bit of, ‘You spend all that time over there and that's the best you can do?' type of thing."

With Chicago mired in a four-game losing streak, the club's defense in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, held an opponent to fewer than 31 points for the first time since Nov. 23, when the Bears limited Tampa Bay to 13 points during a 21-13 win. The season-finale at Minnesota could be the coaching staff's last game together, as it's expected Bears coach Marc Trestman and the staff will be let go at the conclusion of the season. Still, nobody is concerned about what might take place next week, as the staff is focused on prepping for the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeTrestman
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast"When you're sitting here with the record that we have, everybody's got something to say about it," Marc Trestman said.
"No one is happy at this time about where we are," Tucker said. "You can't sugarcoat it and think everyone is just on Cloud 9 right now. But we have to be mature about it. You have to handle it. You're going to have some moments, and we'll just work through it. We still have one more game to play, and so that's where our focus is. That's why it's difficult for me to reflect right now because we're not in reflect mode. We're in preparation mode for our last game. There will be plenty of time to reflect and look back. Right now, we've got a really big game ahead of us."

Trestman empathized with Tucker. After all, the team's high-priced offense underachieved in 2014 perhaps more than the embattled defense with Trestman presiding over it all. The team has endured plenty of off-the-field drama, too, with issues regarding trust between players and coaches in the locker room, and the benching of Jay Cutler just to name a couple.

"We're all getting earfuls, believe me, and certainly Mel's getting his share," Trestman said. "We all are, as we said. When you're sitting here with the record that we have, everybody's got something to say about it. That's part of the job we have right now, and we've had, is to deal with it and move forward and get our guys ready to play. That's where our responsibility lies, is the day-to-day process of doing our best as coaches to get our guys ready to play. That's our job."

That doesn't make it any easier for the staff to deal with, especially considering the high expectations entering the 2014 season. The Bears were coming off a promising 8-8 campaign in Trestman's first season at the helm. Like other teams around the league, the Bears have dealt with their fair share of injuries. But Trestman, Tucker and special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis all refused Tuesday to make excuses.

On offense, seven players with three years or fewer of experience have started at least one game. In fact, the Bears lined up on offense against the Lions with their eighth combination of starters along the offensive line. Defensively, the Bears have lined up with 11 combinations of starters in addition to losing five players, including four starters, to season-ending injuries.

Asked if he dreaded what's known around the NFL as Black Monday -- the day many coaching staffs are fired -- DeCamillis said, "No," as he's dealt with similar situations during nearly 30 years as a coach in the league.

"You're going to say, ‘He's not telling the truth,' but you deal with this," DeCamillis said. "I've been on staffs that it's an issue. I'm just trying to roll through this thing and try to get ready for Minnesota. You have quiet times where you think about that stuff. But this isn't a quiet time right now. I've got to go back upstairs and figure out a way to cover these guys this week because they're definitely explosive. I'll worry about that stuff whenever it happens I guess. What did you say, Monday?"
DeMarco MurrayDennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears did not seem at all prepared for DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher.

CHICAGO – Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears' 41-28 loss Thursday night to the Dallas Cowboys:

1. Don’t discount 5-11: It can happen. Do the Bears appear capable of winning another game, particularly against teams still alive in the playoff chase (the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions)? Don’t let Thursday's final score fool you. The Bears were down 35-7 in the third quarter, at home, in front of a national TV audience. The whole country watched Detroit smoke the Bears 34-17 on Thanksgiving. The Green Bay Packers humiliated Marc Trestman’s team 55-14 on Nov. 9, a Sunday-night game. NFL fans from coast to coast are piling on this underachieving Chicago club. If the Bears completely bottom out in the final three weeks, can ownership go into next season without making complete, wholesale changes? Trestman had better win a couple games in December -- for his own sake, and for the sake of others tied to his head-coaching tenure in Chicago.

2. Dallas dominance: Cowboys tailback DeMarco Murray entered Week 14 as the NFL’s leading rusher. The entire stadium knew Dallas planned the run the ball. And yet the Bears offered almost zero resistance. Murray throttled Chicago for 179 rushing yards on 32 carries (5.6-yard average). Even reserve Joseph Randle got in on the fun with a 17-yard touchdown run that featured numerous Bears missed tackles. Predictably, Chicago abandoned its own ground game when Dallas jumped in front, running the ball just 15 times for 35 yards. Matt Forte had a particularly brutal evening, carrying the ball only 13 times for 26 yards. The Cowboys are 9-4, in large part, because they have forged an identity on offense. The Bears are 5-8, in large part, because they have no identity to speak of.

3. Nothing special about special teams: Remember when Chicago used to be a destination for special-teams players? The Bears, under Dave Toub, churned out Pro Bowl special-teamers on almost an annual basis (Brendon Ayanbadejo, Devin Hester and Corey Graham). Core guys such as Craig Steltz, Zack Bowman, Eric Weems, Patrick Mannelly, Robbie Gould and Hester kept the Bears’ special-teams units consistently among the league’s best. There is almost nothing left, outside of Gould, who missed the Dallas game with a right quadriceps injury. Blocked punts, blocked PATS, illegal touches, holding penalties, offsides, illegal blocks in the back ... we’ve seen them all in 2014, repeatedly. Joe DeCamillis is the easy target, but he’s coaching inadequate personnel. The whole experiment is an unmitigated disaster.

4. Chris Conte needs a break: Enough is enough. Place Conte on injured reserve before he ruins the rest of his NFL career. The safety has suffered almost every injury known to man this season. He’s been knocked out of more games than I can count. Whatever you might think of Conte, he’s played through a dizzying array of ailments after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. He did not perform well versus Dallas. Let the guy heal up and test his luck in free agency.

5. Need a bright spot? Martellus Bennett caught 12 passes and one touchdown. This is the third consecutive season the tight end has posted a new career high in receptions (he stands at 77 after Thursday, eclipsing his 65 in 2013 and 55 in 2012). His six touchdown grabs are also a career best. There you go. A bright spot. We had to find at least one.
We don't hear much from special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis.

So here are five questions with DeCamillis, ranging from new addition Marc Mariani to his experience with Cowboys return man Dwayne Harris:

What’s your immediate assessment of Marc Mariani in the return game?

DeCamillis:I would say positive, first of all. He’s been very good with his return mechanics, which is what we talked about when we signed him. I think he’s been very decisive in his decisions, and he’s shown a little bit of juice. He’s got probably a little bit more juice than probably he had at the end of preseason. His legs are a little fresher. We’ll see. Hopefully it keeps going the way it is right now. Hopefully we can get some open space for him.

Does Mariani’s decisiveness impact the entire return unit?

DeCamillis: Maybe. I don’t think there was a lot of decision-making the other day as far as when the ball was going to come out. It was about at least 9-[yards] deep, maybe 11-deep a lot of times. So there weren’t a lot of decisions. I think he’s done a good job of making the decisions and hopefully we can continue to build on it and get some positive things going these next four games.

Mariani came here on a Wednesday, then played on Sunday. What did you want to see from him in such a short window of time?

DeCamillis: Catching. I wanted to see him catch punts. That was the main thing. And his judgment. He did a great job. It was really cold that day, if you remember. We practiced inside and had to take him outside, it was good to see him do that.

What did you think of Pat O’Donnell’s day after his struggles against Tampa Bay?

DeCamillis: I haven’t really talked since the Tampa game. I keep hearing about these tough punts, but he had one bad punt, the second-to-last one. The next one, you’re crazy if you think that’s bad. You get it off, and you get it out-of-bounds. That’s just my opinion. He did exactly what I told him to do. I’ve seen that ball come back. When they used the timeout and they didn’t have any more, that allowed us to do that because we drained it all the way to 20 seconds, I believe. So they get the ball at the 30-yard line, they’ve got to go whatever it is to try to win the game. It would’ve been hard to do. When the timeout was not used or the timeout was used, we were able to punt the ball that way. If it wasn’t and then we end up having a minute, he’s got to try to flip the field and go from there.

You were in Dallas for a while. What do you think of Dwayne Harris?

DeCamillis: Love him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He was really starting to ascend when I was there. I think he averaged 16 yards that year when I left. Last year, he goes off. He had a great year. This year, he’s continued to do the same thing. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s a very, very tough kid. He’s not only made himself into a great returner, but he’s made himself into a tough special-teams player, too. He makes coverage plays. He’s a guy that is what I call a game-wrecker. You’ve got to take care of him. The other two specialists that were there when I was there, also, the punter, Chris Jones, and then [Dan] Bailey. Both those guys, I have a lot of respect for. I’ve got a lot of respect for a lot of people in that organization. There’s a lot of good people in that organization. They want to win football games and they’re doing a good job. It’s going to be a challenge for us.

Bears Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. That’s what you hear every day after practice. The players resemble Kung-Fu fighters in football pads as they work hand-fighting drills with martial arts expert Joe Kim, who was brought on by the Bears as a consultant to work on skill development. Cornerback Charles Tillman took part in the drills one-on-one with Kim on Sunday and said afterward he’s expecting the hand-fighting drills to help him improve at jamming receivers and getting off blocks better.
  • While we’re on the subject of hand-fighting drills, Kim joined the team mostly to work with the defensive line, because under defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the scheme is changing drastically this season. Last year, the Bears employed Lovie Smith’s system, which emphasized penetration along the defensive line. The players were used to simply shooting the gaps to stop the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s all changing in 2014. The coaching staff wants Chicago’s defensive linemen to be technicians with their hands so they can engage opposing offensive linemen, stack them at the line, shed, and run to the ball. In the previous scheme, Chicago’s defensive linemen simply didn’t know how to use their hands effectively. Many times when they penetrated, they overran the ball because more and more now, teams are employing zone schemes that allow backs to pick their holes instead of the old-school leads, counters, and powers. By becoming better at using their hands, the D-line can also keep opposing offensive linemen off the club’s rangy linebackers, which in turn allows them to run around and make plays. In fact, Tucker recently turned on film of Chicago’s defensive line during a meeting, and many of the players on the roster that were a part of last year’s team were shocked at how badly the group played. What Tucker pointed out, according to one player in that meeting, was that last year, the group didn’t know how to use its hands. The joke among defenders now is that if one of the team’s linebackers has scratches or paint from the opponent’s helmets on their own, the defensive line isn’t sufficiently doing its job to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. The Bears are expecting higher tackle totals this year among the linebackers, and the defensive line will be largely responsible for that.
  • It’s no real secret, but a couple of players to watch on special teams are linebacker Jordan Senn and safety Danny McCray. The staff believes Senn is a better special teams player than former Bear Blake Costanzo. McCray, meanwhile, was the best player on special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis’ units with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The workout Sunday marked the team’s first in full pads. Coming off a torn ACL in 2013, fifth-year veteran Nate Collins produced the best performance among the defensive linemen in one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen. “You watch the practice tape, he's running full speed all over the field and finishing,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller continues to impress, and appeared to get the best of Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery during one-on-one drills. Jeffery caught an extremely limited number of passes in the drill against Fuller, and one of those completions likely would’ve resulted in offensive pass interference as the receiver slapped the defender in the head and pushed off to get open.
  • Cornerback Tim Jennings (quadriceps) returned to practice, but pulled himself out of action after the first play in one-on-one drills because the leg “didn’t feel right,” according to Trestman. He’s still day to day. Defensive end Willie Young (quadriceps) returned to practice, but receiver Terrence Toliver (toe) was held out of the workout along with safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder). It’s believed the bulked-up Conte will return to practice in the next week or two after missing the entire offseason conditioning program and the early part of camp because of shoulder surgery. Even if Conte returns soon, he's not expected to play in the first preseason game.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A conclusion was reached after the Chicago Bears' front office and coaching staff sifted through the wreckage of last year’s defense.

The unit, which ranked No. 30 overall and allowed a league worst 161.4 rushing yards per game, needed to toughen up.

First, the club went through the process of refortifying its defensive line with the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and re-signing defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff for two years.

And to further accentuate the need to play with a greater edge in 2014, the Bears invited Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Gayle Sayers and Mike Singletary, plus former linebacker and Super Bowl champion Otis Wilson, to speak to the team at various points in the offseason.

“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Wednesday. “We want to accentuate it this year. Playing football and being a Chicago Bear, we brought a lot of former alumni in here, and the universal language hasn’t just come from me. It has come from those people. We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality. And there’s a way to play football in Chicago and that’s to be tough and physical, set a vertical edge, violent shed and run to the football. We’ve got to practice that way every day to be that team we want to be.

"We’re not there yet. We know that. We’re trying to get there because that’s the way every team plays in the National Football League. The best defenses play tough and physical. And games are won -- we talk about it every week -- there’s a lot of different ways to win, but you seldom win a game (in which) you don’t win the line of scrimmage. There’s seldom a game you win where you can’t at least somewhat run the ball effectively and stop the run. It all starts with the line of scrimmage. That has been a big point of emphasis."
    • One of the new faces on the defensive line, Allen, sounds thrilled to have chosen the Bears over the Seattle Seahawksin free agency. Eleven-year NFL veterans aren’t normally excited about organized team activities and minicamp, but Allen seemed to be the exception to the rule when he raved about his Chicago defensive teammates following Wednesday’s session.
      "You get to know guys throughout the league and gain respect through playing with each other," Allen said. "Lance Briggs is an Arizona guy. I live in Arizona in the offseason. I’ve been to Pro Bowls with him and hung out with him. He’s just a guy I respect. He wants to win. Same thing with Peanut (Charles Tillman).

      "I can’t remember the last time I played with two Pro Bowl cornerbacks. I had Antoine (Winfield) in Minnesota, but the last time I had two Pro Bowl corners was Patrick Surtain and Ty Law way back in Kansas City. It’s just getting that energy of that, we have a good offense, now imagine if we had a good defense. Playing defense with a lead is a blast. So this is about learning how to communicate with one another and learning how Lance is going to make the call in the huddle; it’s those little minute things that these OTAs are good at getting comfortable with."

Here are some other observations from Wednesday:
  • Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis was unable to provide an update on the status of free agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who is still deciding whether or not to return for a franchise record 17th season following offseason hip surgery back in January.The Bears have two long snappers currently under contract: Brandon Hartson and Chad Rempel.

    "We're going to have to keep massaging that and seeing how that's going to work out," DeCamillis said. "I’ve got all the respect in the world for him. Like I said the last time, whatever decision he makes is going to be the best for him and his family, and we have to make the same type of decision for the Bears. And the two guys that have been working here have done a great job in the offseason. We still have to see how it's all going to work out and how it's going to pan out.

    "It’s really going to be a situation where Pat's comfortable and we're comfortable. People say deadlines, I don't know if there's a deadline to be honest with you. I just know we want to do what's best for Pat, and we want to do what's also best for the Bears."
  • DeCamillis envisions a fierce battle at punter between sixth-round pick Pat O'Donnell and Tress Way. Both have routinely hit the roof of the Walter Payton Center when the team has conducted offseason workouts indoors."Obviously that’s something that’s good, by the way," DeCamillis said. "If it hits the roof in there, that means they are hanging the ball. If they don’t hit the roof that’s usually not a good thing, because that means it’s coming right back at you in the return form. I’m glad that it’s hitting the roof, let’s just say that. But you can evaluate also there, because you can film it and see a tight-line shot of them and see exactly what their strengths and their weakness are as far as their drop, as far as their catch of the ball, everything that comes into play. So we can get a lot of work done in there, but obviously outside is better than inside for us right now.

    "I think it's going to be a heck of a competition. I think when we drafted Pat, for whatever reason Tress really picked his business up. He's really punted well and it's going to be a heck of a competition."
  • Safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Will Sutton were excused for a second straight day for personal reasons. Linebacker Khaseem Greene returned to the field after missing Tuesday’s practice. Right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, left guard Matt Slauson and cornerback Sherrick McMannis were all present but did not participate. Safety Craig Stetlz did some individual drills but no team work.
  • With three members of the offensive line sidelined, Michael Ola (LG), Brian de la Puente (RG) and Eben Britton (RT) all took reps with the first team.
  • The following players are participating at Bears minicamp on a tryout basis: Greg Heban, S, Indiana; Ciante Evans, CB, Nebraska; Jamil Merrell, DE, Rutgers; Anthony Wells, DE, Northern Illinois.

Devin Hester agreed to a three-year contract Thursday with the Atlanta Falcons, finally ending an exhilarating run as the man who re-wrote the record book as a return man in Chicago.

Known locally as The Windy City Flyer, Hester deserved more time with the Bears. But the direction the club is headed, coupled with the fact it could not afford to pay top dollar for a return specialist without a true position forced Hester and the Bears to part ways.

When Chicago finally sees Hester again in Atlanta this season, it will finally truly experience and come to know the fear it had put in opponents for so many seasons with No. 23 lined up deep. While it's obvious the Bears felt Hester is no longer the player he once was, it's a safe bet special teams coach Joe DeCamillis plans to place the his unit on high alert for what might take place if the group allows for even the slightest sliver of daylight.

Maybe Hester truly isn't the same returner he once was. But even with him supposedly experiencing a down season, my guess is at least once throughout the season, somebody in the stands at a game in 2013 held their breath for a second or two when Hester fielded a punt or a kickoff. That's the type of anticipation and excitement Hester brought to the return game in Chicago.

For those thinking he's lost it, look no further than the Oct. 20 game against Washington as evidence he hasn't. In that game, Hester broke a punt return for an 81-yard touchdown. A little more than a month prior to that contest, Hester ripped the Minnesota Vikings for a franchise-record 249 kickoff return yards; a feat that will likely be tougher to accomplish in the future with the NFL considering moving kickoffs to the 40, which will result in more touchbacks. It's also important to note all the big returns Hester broke in 2013 that were called back as the result of penalties.

Hester averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns last season, and reeled off gains of 20 yards or more on four of his 18 punt returns.

So clearly, Hester still possesses electricity in his game.

"For the past eight seasons, we have been honored to have Devin Hester as a part of our organization," general manager Phil Emery said back when the Bears announced they would not be re-signing Hester. "While Devin has redefined the pinnacle standard of the return position in the NFL, the memories and contributions he has given us cannot be measured by stats or numbers."

Instead, Hester will now provide all that for the Atlanta Falcons fan base.

In 123 games (46 starts) over eight seasons, Hester's 3,241 punt return yards rank No. 8 in NFL history and his 12.3 punt return average is good for fifth. Hester is Chicago's all-time leader in total return touchdowns, punt return touchdowns, punt return yards, kickoff return yards (5,504) and total kick return yards (8,745) and is second in all-purpose yards (11,632).

The numbers will only continue to grow in Atlanta, and you can count on an innovative mind such as Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter deploying Hester on offense in creative ways; an experiment Chicago failed to execute successfully despite numerous attempts.

5 things to watch: Lions at Bears

November, 10, 2013
Here's a look at five things to watch for Sunday when the Bears host the Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North:

Jay Cutler's mobility: When the Bears host the Detroit Lions, 21 days will have passed since Jay Cutler tore a groin muscle in the team's loss to the Washington Redskins. So Cutler's potential mobility against Detroit's formidable pass rush has to be a concern, even though the quarterback and the club say otherwise.

"[The Lions] do a good job," Cutler said. "We've done enough to test where I'm at. I feel good, got a lot of trust in the offensive line and the way they're playing right now. Can't worry about that. Once you get in the game, it's just reactionary stuff. Your brain's not gonna be able to say, 'Hey, alright, I want you to step right.' It just happens. We tried to mimic that as much as possible [in practice]. I thought we did a good job of that. I feel ready."

Look for the Bears to try to help out Cutler by putting him in plenty of shotgun formations so he won't put strain on that groin muscle with constant dropbacks from under center.

Front seven's run fits: Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker attributed the team's inability to hold down Reggie Bush (139 yards and a touchdown) in the last meeting to poor tackling and improper run fits. So Tucker is stressing better tackling out in open space, which is where Bush thrives, not to mention a swarm-the-ball mentality.

"We didn't tackle him. No. 1, we didn't fit the run well, and No. 2, he played exceptionally well," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "He made people miss. We've got to do a better job this time of working this week to try to neutralize him."

The defensive line needs to stay in their gaps, and the linebackers need to make sure to fill accordingly. Rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have struggled recently with leveraging blocks, which won't help the Bears in their attempt to stop Bush. So they've spent time this week working to improve in that area. But it all starts with the club's injury-depleted front four.

"We have guys who are injured, just like everybody in the league has guys who are injured," Trestman said. "We have no excuses. We have to go out there and try to stop him. It's never easy when you're at full strength, so we have to make it a point of interest this week, and No. 1 is to neutralize Reggie and minimize his ability to get big plays in the run game."

Pass rush: Chicago's front four took a major step in the right direction with its five-sack outing Monday night at Green Bay, but there's a good chance the club's sack leader from that game won't play Sunday against the Lions. Coming off a three-sack game against the Packers, second-year defensive end Shea McClellin suffered a hamstring injury during Thursday's practice and is doubtful for the matchup with the Lions. That means the Bears need potential replacements such as David Bass and Cheta Ozougwu to step in and pick up the slack.

Julius Peppers needs to do the same.

"We have guys that have talent and [have] put a lot of hard work and effort with that, and eventually guys are going to break through. So I think that's what you saw [against the Packers]," Tucker said.

But can the Bears produce that type of performance again this week with sole possession of the division lead on the line?

Rushing attack: The last time these teams met, the Lions jumped out to a 30-10 second-quarter lead and immediately forced the Bears into passing mode, thus eliminating the prospects for Matt Forte getting into a flow. Forte rushed 14 times for 95 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown in the second quarter before the Lions erupted for three TDs in the final 3:26 of the first half. So the Bears could help themselves tremendously by using Forte to dictate the flow of the game early, which will also enable the passing attack to have success with play action.

Surely, the Bears learned the importance of ball security from their first matchup against the Lions, when Cutler contributed to the loss with four turnovers, including a fumble returned for a TD.

"Anytime you see a team for the second time, you have a better feel for how much strength you have against a guy, how much technique you're going to need against someone," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "Just as you go from the first drive of a game to the second; 'I can do this more than I thought on tape watching him against someone else.' But they're also familiar with us."

Special teams: Punter Adam Podlesh finished with a season-low 28.8-yard net average in the first matchup between these teams, and he hit a line-drive punt in that contest that Micheal Spurlock returned 57 yards to set up a Matthew Stafford touchdown run. The game nearly cost Podlesh his job.

"I think Adam's been consistent really since that time," special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "He's really picked his game up. He made some slight changes, and it's helped him. I'm glad he's going in the right direction."

That needs to continue against the Lions.

DeCamillis said the Bears played the kind of game Monday night where "we had 11 out there, but 10 guys played a lot of plays," which is unacceptable. The team's punt protection also allowed a blocked punt against the Packers.

"When you look back at the film, it wasn't just that punt," DeCamillis said. "There was kickoff return yardage that was left out there where there is one guy sitting in the hole because somebody gets beat. We've got to get all 11 going at the same time, and that was obviously critical during this past week."

It'll be the same Sunday unless the Bears resolve those issues.
Here's a look at things to watch when the Chicago Bears face the Washington Redskins on Sunday at FedExField:

Jay Cutler’s poise: He’ll certainly need to maintain it in what should be a raucous atmosphere rife with extensive crowd noise in front of 80,000-plus at FedExField. In addition to his job of recognizing Washington’s fronts and helping the offensive line adjust accordingly, Cutler will need to maintain his cool if he experiences difficulty early. The crowd noise will make it difficult to relay calls, and the offensive line could go through an adjustment period where it might suffer a lapse in protection.

Cutler needs to weather that initial Washington punch and maintain his composure while doing so. If he can get the offense settled in quickly, Cutler might be able to hurt Washington’s secondary. Interestingly, Cutler has a .926 winning percentage against teams with records below .500 at the time of the matchup.

“They show a lot of different looks, 3-4. So it’s hard to go against. You’ve got to prepare for a lot of different stuff,” Cutler said. “When they go nickel package, their front four, front seven is getting some pressure. They’re showing some different blitzes from the edge. They’ve got a veteran secondary that does a good job of keeping it in front of them. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. They get some turnovers with whatever you throw at them. Just like any week, we’ve just got to be ready and take care of ourselves.”

Matt Forte: Fortuitous circumstances kept the Redskins from facing some dangerous running backs this season. But they likely won’t be able to avoid Forte.

Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, and Eddie Lacy missed large chunks against the Redskins and Reggie Bush sat out Washington’s entire Sept. 22 matchup against the Lions.

Washington surrendered a 184-yard performance to LeSean McCoy on Sept. 9, and 132 yards to James Starks a week later, but have limited opponents to a 52 yards in its last three outings.

Forte presents the most significant test for the Redskins since McCoy. Forte ranks seventh in rushing yardage (442), and No. 4 in yards from scrimmage (686). If the Bears can establish Forte early, they’ll knock the Redskins off balance enough to work the playaction passing game effectively enough to feature the running back there, too.

The rush defense: The Bears deny they’re vulnerable against the run.

“Our struggles?” asked linebacker Lance Briggs when the team’s problems stopping the run were mentioned. “I mean, I’m pretty sure we had two games where we struggled stopping the run. In a lot of the games this year, we have stopped the run. It’s one of the things we have done recently.”

Not entirely. The Bears limited BenJarvus Green-Ellis to 25 yards in the opener, but gave up 100 the next week to Adrian Peterson. In six games, three running backs gashed the Bears for 100 yards or more, and Washington’s Alfred Morris is certainly capable of becoming No. 4.

“We’ve got all we can handle; we’ve got to tackle him,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s not an easy guy to tackle. He’s low to the ground, his pads are down, he runs hard and he’s got enough speed to generate explosive running skills. We’ve got our work cut out for us there.”

Chicago’s front four: In addition to playing a significant role in stopping the run, Chicago’s defensive line composed of defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin, and defensive tackles Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton will be tasked with minimizing the impact of Washington dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Griffin rushed for 77 yards last week against the Dallas Cowboys, and signs indicate his surgically-repaired knee is improving tremendously.

So Chicago’s injury-depleted front needs to find a way to pressure Griffin on passing downs, while keeping him in the pocket to force errant passes, but also neutralize his impact as a runner.

The Bears will get plenty of opportunities. Griffin ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts per game (41.8). Griffin suffered three sacks last week, and the Bears haven’t generated that many sacks in a game since Week 3, with those coming off linebacker blitzes.

Devin Hester: The breakout game the team anticipates from Hester hasn’t yet come, although he did set a franchise single-game record in Week 2 with 249 kickoff return yards against the Minnesota Vikings. Perhaps now’s the time for Hester to put one in the end zone.

Washington gave up a touchdown on an 86-yard punt return last week, in addition to a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another Dallas Cowboys touchdown.

“It was a rough night for them, obviously,” Bears special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “I’m sure that they’re going to be emphasizing that area, and I’m sure we’ll see a completely different team this week. Because I know once you have a game like that, it’s tough on your whole team. I imagine there will be a lot of veterans that are trying to get them going in the right direction.”

Focus on returns paying off for Hester

September, 18, 2013
Devin Hester Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Hester had a career day against the Vikings on Sunday.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Those personal-best 249 return yards Devin Hester racked up for the Chicago Bears on Sunday appear to have been born from a conversation early in the summer.

New coach Marc Trestman revealed Monday that it was Hester who suggested that a reduction in responsibilities could help him to once again be the kind of return man who used to pile up weekly honors while heading off to Pro Bowls.

“The conversation, to my recollection, was, ‘It sounds to me like you just want to be a returner, and that’s OK with me. I would like you to be the returner and focus solely on that,’” Trestman said.

The revelation debunks a common belief that Hester was demoted to a return-only role after years of mostly choppy results as a wide receiver.

“I don’t ever remember me telling him that that was the way it’s going to be,” Trestman said. “I remember our conversation being more like, ‘I know that’s what you want to do, and I’m all-in.’ That’s sort of the way I remember it.

“Now, this was six and a half months ago. It was literally the second week I was here, I think. And it just stopped right there. [Special-teams coach] Joe [DeCamillis] started meeting with him, and we started developing a dialogue when we saw each other. It wasn’t complicated at all. It just seemed to happen that way.”

(Read full post)

Bears bracing for battle on special teams

September, 5, 2013
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Offense and defense dominate most of the conversation about the matchup between the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, but special teams could ultimately decide the winner in this one.

Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and head coach Marc Trestman understand the challenge the Bears face Sunday when they host the Bengals at Soldier Field.

“Special teams is going to be huge,” Trestman said. “They’re sitting there with (Brandon) Tate and (Adam) Pacman Jones as their returners. They’re both exceptional. They’ve been as aggressive as any team in the National Football League in the last few years in faking field goals and making big plays. They’ve got speed on their team just like we do. They’ve got a punter (Kevin Huber) who can direct kicks and kicks it high. It’s the first of three left-footed punters we’re going to see over the next three weeks. That’ll be an issue just covering kicks and doing those types of things.”

Huber set Cincinnati’s record for gross punting average (46.6 yards) last season, as well as net average (42). In addition, Huber led the NFL last season in punts downed inside the 5 (11). During the preseason, Huber averaged 44.9 yards on punts (39.3-yard net), and hit three inside the 20 with no touchbacks.

Kicker Mike Nugent, who missed the last four games of 2012 with a calf injury, hit 19-of-23 attempts, including a 55-yarder against Oakland. The year before, Nugent set team records for field goals (33) and points (132).

“The field goal kicker is a real solid guy and the punter is a real solid guy,” DeCamillis said. “Darrin Simmons is the coach and does a great job. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us coming right out the gate.”

Tate is already Cincinnati’s career leader in punt return average (10.1 yards), and Jones, who didn’t return a punt in the preseason, has returned five punts for touchdowns during his career, including one last season. Only Chicago’s Devin Hester has returned more punts for TDs (12) than Jones among active players.

“They’ve got excellent returns,” DeCamillis said.

Jones ranked seventh in 2012 in punt return average (11.6 yards). Meanwhile, Tate averaged 24.8 yards on kickoff returns, and finished the preseason with a 30.5-yard average on four returns. Tate also returned a punt for a TD in the preseason.

“There’s a lot of issues on special teams,” Trestman said. “It’s going to be huge. We feel we’ve got good matchups. We feel it’s going to be a heck of a game from that standpoint.”

On the extent of Devin Hester's focused role

March, 20, 2013
PHOENIX -- The Chicago Bears' new regime has been signaling for a while that it considers Devin Hester to be primarily a returner at this stage in his career. On Wednesday, coach Marc Trestman revealed how serious the team is about narrowing Hester's duties.

Speaking at the NFL owners meeting, Trestman said that Hester will spend most of his time during the Bears' offseason program with special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. Asked if Hester will even practice with receivers during organized team activities (OTAs), Trestman said: "I don't know yet. We're going to talk about that next week. Most of the time he will be with Joe, meeting with Joe and spending time with Joe."

Trestman also reiterated general manager Phil Emery's expectation that Hester will "compete" for the returner's job, although I think we all know that Hester's skills would have to decline significantly for him not to be the best returner on the Bears' roster.

I tossed Trestman's sentiments onto Twitter a few minutes ago and your collective and overwhelming response was this: "It's about time." Real or imagined, many of us have wondered if the Bears got too greedy after Hester revealed his elite open-field running skills as a returner.

It was worth finding out if he could extend it into a full-time receiving role, but his 49 receptions and two touchdowns since the start of the 2011 season isn't enough production to merit a splitting of duties -- and presumably a watered-down impact. That has been especially clear since the team traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Alshon Jeffery last year; Trestman spoke Wednesday as if he expected that pair to be his primary starters in 2013.

Hester didn't have a touchdown return last season but had three as recently as 2011. He will turn 31 in November, which is middle age for a receiver but probably not a multi-purpose threat. The Bears had reached the point in his career when it was time to make a choice, and it makes perfect sense to pick the part of his skill set that is Hall of Fame worthy.

Although he hasn't made a direct public comment about the situation that I'm aware of, it's fair to assume Hester is on board. As we noted earlier month, a post on Hester's Instagram account said he was "a bear 4 life."

More to come from the meetings in a bit.
When we last heard from Chicago Bears returner/receiver Devin Hester, he had backed off his threat to retire but was still suggesting he might benefit from a fresh start with another franchise. Tuesday, Hester used a post on his Instagram account to imply he has had a change of heart.

The post read: "For all my Bears fan #yes. I'm a bear 4 life.# Beardown!!!!!

(For those wondering, Hester verified this Instagram via Twitter in January.)

So what exactly does it mean that Hester is a "bear 4 life?" At this point, all we can say is that Hester expects to play for the Bears in 2013. Update: Many of you are wondering if Hester is saying he will be a "bear 4 life" even though he plans to move on to another team. I don't think that's the case, but I guess I should acknowledge that possibility. My understanding is that the Bears have plans for him in 2013 and don't want him to move on.

Entering this week, Hester had one year remaining on the contract extension he signed in 2008. It called for a $1.857 million base salary, a $250,000 workout bonus and a cap figure of $2.940 million. The Bears could lower that cap number a bit through either a reduction of that base salary or a contract extension, but as of Tuesday evening I've not confirmed that Hester has a new deal.

In the end, of course, it's difficult to predict the futures of most NFL players beyond the upcoming season, regardless of their contract status. What we can reasonably say is that, after a predictable emotional reaction to the Bears' coaching staff and his own stalled career as a receiver, cooler heads have prevailed. (At least, that's my take on it.)

It's not hard to imagine that new Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis would prefer Hester, the greatest returner in NFL history, on his team rather than elsewhere. It's not clear if the Bears have any plans for Hester on offense -- Bears general manager Phil Emery said last month at the NFL scouting combine that Hester will "compete to be our returner" -- but Hester might well be satisfied with that role.

The Bears have an established three-receiver set of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett and could add to it through the draft. I would back a decision to de-emphasize Hester from the Bears' offense to focus him as a returner. Using him in both roles always felt like burning the proverbial candle at both ends. As he approaches his 31st birthday, it's best for Hester and the Bears to understand what he is -- and isn't.

Bears: First glance at Mel Tucker

January, 21, 2013
New Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman largely completed his coaching staff during the extended weekend I took away from the blog. Based on this roster on the Bears' website, it appears he still needs position coaches for receivers and linebackers but has most of the major hires in place.

[+] EnlargeMel Tucker
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesMarc Trestman hired Mel Tucker (above) to run the Bears' defense.
That includes all three coordinators: Aaron Kromer on offense, Mel Tucker on defense and Joe DeCamillis for special teams. Given how much we've already discussed Trestman's role in revitalizing the Bears' offense, I thought it was worth taking a first glance at Tucker's history as an NFL coordinator.

A few graybeards might join me in recalling Tucker as a defensive back at Wisconsin from 1992-95. His first job as an NFL coordinator came with the Cleveland Browns in 2008, when he was 36, and if he has a connection with Trestman, I'm not aware of it.

More simply, Trestman just moved quickly to hire one of the league's most respected young coordinators after Rod Marinelli turned down his offer to remain with the team. Tucker has been sought after for years, including last season when the Minnesota Vikings tried to hire him as their defensive coordinator, and with some quick success in Chicago he could be a strong head-coaching candidate.

The Bears offered Tucker a pretty decent platform to succeed, given Trestman's focus on offense and their returning nucleus of three All-Pro players. Trestman seems open to the most basic decisions, including whether Tucker runs a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. (His patience in that regard could be a different story. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune noted, Trestman went through four defensive coordinators in the past four years as the Montréal Alouettes' head coach.)

It's difficult to compose a comprehensive statistical profile of a defensive coach. In many ways, you would hope that his tendencies change with the ebb and flow of personnel. But to start off the Tucker conversation, at least, I pulled the blitz percentages of all five defenses he has coordinated -- one year with the Browns and four with the Jaguars.

As the chart shows, Tucker has never had among the top 10 heaviest-blitzing defenses. And in his past two years, he has been one of the lightest blitzers in the NFL. Even Marinelli, a devotee to the four-man standard rush that distinguishes the "Tampa 2," sent extra rushers more than Tucker in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

We should be careful about drawing too many conclusions from that information. It doesn't necessarily mean Tucker is passive and/or somehow doesn't believe in pressuring the quarterback. Most coordinators will tell you that they want to apply pressure with the fewest amount of defenders as possible.

It's true that the Jaguars had the second-lowest rate of sacks per drop backs (4.5 percent) in the NFL over that stretch. But sacks alone aren't always the best measure of a pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 2.63 seconds in the pocket against the Jaguars over that time period, the eighth-lowest in the league. That's a statistical way of suggesting quarterbacks threw the ball before the rush could get there.

Again, this post offers just a glimpse of the coach who will lead the Bears' transition from a scheme they have run for most of the past decade. I'm sure we'll add to the conversation as we move forward.

DeCamillis excited to join Bears

January, 16, 2013
The Chicago Bears replaced departed special-teams coach Dave Toub on Wednesday with Joe DeCamillis of the Dallas Cowboys.

After speaking with new Bears coach Marc Trestman on Wednesday, DeCamillis and the team came to an agreement to be special teams coach and assistant head coach.

Read the entire story.

Source: Bears' ST job may interest DeCamillis

January, 15, 2013
[+] EnlargeJoe DeCamillis
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJoe DeCamillis is highly regarded for his work with the Cowboys' special teams.
CHICAGO -- There are expected to be no shortage of candidates eying the Chicago Bears' special teams coordinator position in the wake of Dave Toub departing the organization after nine seasons.

One veteran assistant believed to be interested in the job is Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, according to a source familiar with the situation.

DeCamillis was one of the 13 known candidates to meet with Bears general manager Phil Emery about the club's vacant head coaching position, but DeCamillis was not among the finalists invited to Halas Hall for a second interview.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing DeCamillis in any potential move to Chicago is the fact he is under contract with the Cowboys through the 2013 season. Unless the Bears offer the 47-year old the title of assistant head coach, Dallas would need to release DeCamillis from his contract in order for him to accept the same position with another organization.

Highly regarded for his work in NFL circles, DeCamillis has been a special teams coach since 1988 when he broke into the league with the Denver Broncos. DeCamillis followed a five-season run in Denver with stints with the New York Giants (1993-96), Atlanta Falcons (1997-06) and Jacksonville Jaguars (07-08) before arriving in Dallas in 2009.

One reason the Bears' job is so attractive is because Toub left behind a solid nucleus of special teams contributors, including: place kicker Robbie Gould, punter Adam Podlesh, long snapper Patrick Mannelly, Eric Weems, Blake Costanzo, Sherrick McManis and Craig Steltz. Former Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester is signed through next season but it's unclear what the Bears plan to do with Hester after a disappointing season.

When it became apparent Toub would be allowed to pursue other opportunities, the Bears attempted to interview Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, but were denied permission. Tabor spent three years in Chicago with Toub as the Bears assistant special teams coach until he landed the job in Cleveland under recently fired head coach Pat Shurmur. New Browns' head coach Rob Chudzinski might be inclined to keep Tabor on his staff given the success Cleveland had on special teams last season.

Current Bears' assistant special teams coach Kevin O'Dea remains under contract and would be a qualified choice if the Bears chose stay in-house to fill the position. O'Dea was the former special teams coach of the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals and is well-liked and respected by the veteran special teamers on the Bears' roster.