Chicago Bears: Mel Tucker

Training camp is coming, and you've got questions. So we figured it would be absolutely worth it to try to knock out a Bears mailbag before the start of training camp Thursday at Olivet Nazarene University. Thanks everyone for participating. @mikecwright: I have. He's a very engaging fellow whom I think has a chance to contribute significantly as a rookie. Back in May during the rookie minicamp, we had the opportunity to speak with him and ask him about what it was like to finally put on a Bears uniform. Here's what he said: "A dream come true. It's like when you come from the first year in high school, you're a little puppy, you're trying to learn; first year of college, it's the same thing. So I'm just trying to soak everything in and learn from the vets. It's definitely unreal right now. I still wake up every morning thinking this is a dream. But at the end of the day, I'm here man. And I'm happy to be here." What I liked about Ferguson is the fact he wasn't quick to pat himself on the back in terms of his physical skill set. He prefers to prove his worth on the field, which is refreshing. "I can't tell you what I can bring until I get on the field," Ferguson said. @mikecwright: It would be easy for me to tell you right here, but I prefer you take a minute to look at my projected 53-man roster, which ran Friday. You can find the answer you seek here. @mikecwright: It's too early to say whether he'll make the team, but in my mind that player is linebacker Christian Jones, who was a big-time standout at Florida State but wasn't drafted. At FSU, Jones played all over the place and started games at every linebacker spot for the Seminoles, in addition to defensive end. He was expected to be picked as high as the second round, yet his name went uncalled during the draft. At rookie minicamp back in May, Jones admitted that a diluted drug test at the NFL combine in February likely resulted in teams shying away from him. Here's an interesting note about Jones: His father, Willie Jones Sr., played at Florida State with Bears linebackers coach Reggie Herring, which is part of the reason the rookie chose to sign with Chicago. "I knew I'd get some good coaching from [Herring] and I know about the Bears history, winning nine championships," Jones said. "It's a great organization and I just wanted to be a part of it. It's a lot of motivation [to go undrafted]. It's the competitive side. You see guys getting drafted above you. Everybody thinks they're better than somebody. But that's how it is. It's going to help fuel me, and I believe things happen for a reason. I really feel like I belong here, and I'm just making the best of the opportunity." I'd say keep an eye out for Jones because he's a player. @mikecwright: Absolutely he does. Remember, when Jeremiah Ratliff joined the Bears he was coming off an injury, and the Bears more or less just let him take his time going through the healing process. That was a huge positive for Ratliff and the Bears because he's 100 percent ready to go. Your question reminds me of a text I received from a member of the Bears organization shortly after the club re-signed Ratliff. So I dug through my phone to find it. It said: "It helps that we signed Rat. He's a soldier if healthy!" Well, now Ratliff is fully healthy, and the Bears are expecting him to be a steady and disruptive force up front this season. Ratliff will be 33 once the season starts, but I don't see his age being a major concern. @mikecwright: I do, but not necessarily for the reasons you'd think. First off, what the Bears did in terms of reloading up front will be huge in helping the secondary. If the front four can consistently put pressure on the opposing quarterback, obviously the secondary doesn't have to stay in coverage as long, and that's huge. So that's the No. 1 reason the secondary will be improved. Here's No. 2. When the Bears revamped the coaching staff last season, it took away a ton of the continuity the club had established with the former coaching staff under Lovie Smith. Under Smith, Jon Hoke worked with the cornerbacks. Smith's son, Mikal, worked with the nickel corners, and Gill Byrd spent his time with Chicago's safeties. When the new staff came aboard last season the players weren't able to get as much individualized coaching because Byrd and Smith obviously left, leaving Hoke to try to work with both the cornerbacks and the safeties. Ultimately, defensive quality control assistant Chris Harris ended up working with the safeties, and although he's got tons of knowledge as a former player, you have to keep in mind that 2013 was his first season as a coach. I think this season there will be more continuity with the coaching staff, and Hoke will return to working with the cornerbacks, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will start spending more time working with the safeties. I didn't even get into the new additions, which obviously should help. But I think the moves with the front four and the coaching staff changing the way it does things will be the two biggest contributors to improved play in the secondary. 
Jared AllenAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJared Allen was acquired to bring additional toughness to the Chicago defense.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- At the newly renovated Halas Hall, which now teems with security, coach Marc Trestman often invites visitors to speak to his players about what they should already know.

Mike Singletary told them. Mike Ditka did, too. Otis Wilson and Gale Sayers also spoke to Trestman’s club about what it means to be a Chicago Bear.

“The one thing we’ve done this year, we’ve tried to bring, tried to do a little bit more -- because we’ve got so many new faces -- [is to bring in former players to explain] what being a Bear is all about, you know?” Trestman said. “Being a Bear starts on the defensive side of the ball, and with the mentality of what a Bears defense plays like. We just want to reinforce that. We’ve got a lot of new guys and understanding what it is to play for the Bears means play[ing] tough defense.”

For a variety reasons during Trestman’s first year with the club, the Bears drifted away from that. During former coach Lovie Smith’s tenure (2004-2012), the Bears ranked in the top three in 10 -- yes, 10 -- statistical categories. First in takeaways (310), second in interceptions (181), first in fumble recoveries (129), three-and-outs forced (485), third-down conversion percentage (34.1) and opponent red zone scoring efficiency (79.3 percent).

It all vanished when the organization ushered Smith out the door and hired Trestman.

In Trestman’s first season, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards. But injuries did cost the defense a total of 55 games last season, and that’s not taking into account losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who retired on the eve of training camp.

No Bears opponent scored less than 20 points last season. But injuries, inexperienced backups and ineffective coaching at some positions played a role, as did other factors such as limited practice repetitions for the defense. According to multiple sources, Chicago’s defensive players over the course of a week of preparation for an opponent typically received approximately half the practice repetitions they had normally taken under Smith’s staff as offensive preparation had become a premium with the new regime.

After last year’s 8-8 season, general manager Phil Emery, Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker huddled to look at possible solutions. By March at the NFL combine, Trestman and Emery -- in discussing the team’s plans for free agency and the draft -- were already starting to use the word “tough” to describe the types of players they wanted to add on defense. In fact, for some in the organization, toughness trumped star power.

“We weren’t the tough team we wanted to be for a lot of different reasons,” Trestman said. “We want to accentuate it this year.”

To do that, the Bears brought in reputed tough guys such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to add to the defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff. They fired three defensive coaches and brought in another trio with reputations for being hard-nosed personalities with the ability to teach.

“We’re a team that wants to play -- even offensively -- with a defensive mentality,” Trestman said. “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. 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.”

Trestman pointed out that the whole “toughness” storyline can be overblown, correctly stating that the attribute is a prerequisite for any player or team in the NFL. “So to start writing stories, I think is just over-exaggerating,” Trestman said.

It is. But breaking down the importance of knowing what it takes to play Chicago’s brand of football is not. Of Chicago’s league-high 27 Hall of Famers, nine of them played defense. Since the first Bears players started earning Pro Bowl recognition in 1951, 119 of the club’s 226 selections have been defenders.

The Monsters of the Midway nickname came about due to dominant teams from the ’40s, which featured rough and tumble defenses. In Chicago, its defenses have always maintained a certain identity.

So while it’s certainly refreshing to see Chicago’s offense finally blossom under Trestman, the coach is correct in his attempt to make sure the club doesn’t stray from its roots.

“We need to be tough in our front, in our front seven and throughout our football team, throughout our defense,” Tucker said. “We preach that every day and they seem to want to be like that.”

Whether they will be, we’ll soon know.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and players on the offensive side of the ball recognized a degree of saltiness this offseason from the defense throughout organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.

That's a positive sign, sure. It's also meaningless.

During a workout in training camp last August, tight end Martellus Bennett and cornerback Kelvin Hayden tangled in a skirmish eventually joined by several members of the defense. The defense was salty back then, yet finished with a sour, punch-drunk taste on its tongues at the conclusion of 2013 as it tumbled to the bottom of the NFL rankings in part, due to injuries, becoming the team's weakness after so many years of being its strength.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP PhotoThe Bears, armed with Jared Allen, Willie Young and Jeremiah Ratliff, are working to prevent a repeat of 2013's poor defensive performance.
"We're practicing with an edge," Trestman said of the defense after Wednesday's workout inside the Walter Payton Center. "You can't play in the National Football League without being tough and having an edge and having a saltiness to your demeanor. We want to get to that point where we're consistently doing that. We're certainly seeing it from the offensive side. Our practices without pads are highly competitive. We're getting better. When Jermon Bushrod has to play against Jared Allen every day, and Jordan Mills has to play against Lamarr Houston every day, or Willie Young, that's pretty competitive. Then you've got [Jeremiah] Ratliff inside and the guys that are working inside. I think the mentality starts with how we sell it."

But no matter how that's peddled or packaged, it's for naught without results.

The Bears allowed the most points (478) last season in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards as injuries cost the defense a combined 55 games last season, and that's not accounting for the unit losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who made an impulse decision to retire before the start of training camp.

On the way to failing to prevent opponents from scoring fewer than 20 points all last season, the Bears relied on young and unheralded players such as David Bass, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Isaiah Frey and Landon Cohen to play significant roles as injuries took a toll.

At the conclusion of that disaster, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker met with Trestman and general manager Phil Emery to determine how they could prevent a repeat of 2013.

"I laid out my vision for the group and what I thought needed to be done, and it was in line with what they thought as well," Tucker explained. "So it was just a matter at that point of putting the pieces together from a staff standpoint and from a player standpoint, and then going to work. They have confidence in me to get that done, so that's what we're doing."

It's also why Emery and Trestman made it a priority to provide Tucker what he needed to succeed. The Bears added Houston, Allen and Young in free agency to shore up the depleted defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff and drafting Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. On the back end, the Bears used a first-round pick on cornerback Kyle Fuller, re-signed Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, drafted safety Brock Vereen and signed three more safeties in Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray.

Understanding that the roster turnover would add several newer veterans and younger players, the Bears replaced linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coaches Mike Phair and Michael Sinclair with Reggie Herring, Paul Pasqualoni and Clint Hurtt, all noted for their abilities as teachers.

"I've known coach Pasqualoni for a while and we've [done clinics] together and spent some time together talking football, so I really knew what he was all about. In terms of the front we want to play a certain way, we want to align a certain way, we want to use our hands a certain way, there's a certain way we want to play blocks to make sure we can control the line of scrimmage, and make the plays we need to make," Tucker explained.

"So that's important and we're on the same page there. Coach P[asqualoni], first and foremost is a great person, but he's a hard-nosed, tough guy, no-nonsense guy. Coach Herring is a guy I've seen coach over the years, and I know what he's all about. He has a tremendous amount of experience, and knows from being in a 4-3 and a 3-4, he knows how we want our backers to play, the technique and fundamentals and how we fit in the run game; how you have to play these zone schemes that we're seeing. You know the run game in the NFL right now is zone plays: inside and outside zones; hard zone, flat zone, and it's not just isos and powers. We have to understand, and we do understand that from a front seven standpoint, we've got to get our hands on guys, we've got to play blocks on the linebackers, we've got to be square, we've got to shuffle, mirror, fill and fall back, period; regardless of whether we're in Cover 2 or Cover 3 or whatever we're in. That's how we're going to play. So we understand that as a group and we coach them that way, and I think the players are responding to that."

That's apparent at recent practices, but we're also talking about workouts in shorts and helmets where contact is limited due to rules of the collective bargaining agreement. Still, Allen believes the defense will start to take shape quickly, and pointed out that offseason work such as minicamps provide an indication of what the fully-developed picture might be at the end of training camp.

"We don't have that much time. Once we get in training camp, when you get pads on within a week you're gonna understand if a guy's gonna fit into what we're trying to do. And then that's on the coach to put the right pieces together," Allen said. "I'm excited. It's just getting that energy. We have a good offense. I know what I expect from that offense because I've played against it. I expect them to put points up. So for me, it's getting the defense to match that. It's making guys understand that the time is now. We have an opportunity. When you play defense with a good offense, it makes it fun."

Saltiness, apparently, plays into that too if utilized correctly.

"These guys, they care about football. They want to be great," Trestman said. "They know to win in this league you've got to play with an edge. Salty helps as long as your fundamentals and techniques are right. Tough guys without system doesn't work very good. It all goes together. That's what makes great defenses. We think we've got the ability to do that and the right guys to do it. We'll see. We've got a lot of work to do."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith helped the club achieve sustained success over the years on defense with his Tampa-2 scheme, but it appears that system will undergo significant alterations in 2014.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker admitted as much Friday at the conclusion of Day 1 of the team's three-day rookie minicamp at Halas Hall.

[+] EnlargeEgo Ferguson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBears second-round pick Ego Ferguson, an LSU product, is adjusting to the NFL's pace at this weekend's minicamp.
"There are some significant changes in terms of techniques that we're going to play; how we're going to fit the run, some of our alignments," Tucker said. "We'll have some alternative fronts that we'll play. I'm not sure how much of a difference you'll see during the OTAs and things like that because we're going to work to lay the foundation on our base principles and techniques, which will allow us to do pretty much anything we want down the road."

While that doesn't necessarily mean the Bears plan to play multiple fronts or an exotic defense, the changes in scheme, not to mention the defensive coaching staff with the additions of defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, certainly give Chicago the flexibility to do so.

Tucker, Pasqualoni and Herring possess backgrounds in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. During Tucker's time in Jacksonville, the Jaguars played a 4-3 front. But many of the techniques used in Jacksonville's system during Tucker's time there employed principles of 3-4 defense, especially with regard to how the Jaguars were coached to fit the run.

Apparently, those principles now make their way to Chicago.

"There are some changes. Some of the stuff that we have is going to be based upon personnel," Tucker explained. "A lot of the packages you have, you want to build them around the guys that you have and what they do well. We have it all on paper and we just have to wait and see which ones we're going to use based on what we see guys do on the field."

The rookie minicamp, which kicked off Friday with two new defensive tackles in second-round pick Ego Ferguson and third rounder Will Sutton, provide the opportunity for the coaching staff to do that.

"It was new to me. Just like I told people, it's like the first day of high school," Ferguson said. "First day is rough but you learn. Just like in college. So it's a new beginning for me. Can't wait for tomorrow. It's definitely unreal right now. I still wake up every morning thinking this is a dream, but at the end of the day, I'm here man. And I'm happy to be here."

According to Pasqualoni, Ferguson and Sutton are learning multiple positions for a variety of reasons. The plan is to cross train all of the defensive linemen for flexibility within the scheme based on several factors ranging from opponent, to how the opposition has schemed to handle the Bears in any given week.

"The benefit of that is that if you get into the season and there is a reason why they have to play another technique, if the offense shifts the formation, or if they scheme you and they catch you on a player where now, they've got you left-handed, there won't be a such thing as left-handed," Pasqualoni explained. "We're going to be able to handle both and handle both efficiently. And we did that today. There were situations that came up today, and they had to adjust and they had to play. I'm going to go up and watch the film, and I'm going to grade the film. But from what I saw on the field, it was encouraging."

Bears coach Marc Trestman said the main objective for Day 1 at minicamp was to get the rookies accustomed to practicing at a high tempo, as opposed to learning the intricacies of the schemes on offense and defense.

"All they asked was for us to go out there and give it our best," Sutton said, "and that's what we did today. Now we've got to do better tomorrow."

Defensively, the Bears need to be better in 2014 than they did last season. With injuries playing a significant role in the club's downfall, the Bears allowed the most points (478) in franchise history as well as total yards (6,313), and rushing yards (2,583).

Injuries cost the Bears a combined 55 games from key players last season, as they failed to hold an opponent to fewer than 20 points in all of 2013.

One component of the Bears deciding to switch gears on the defensive scheme was the departure of several veteran players.

"There was a significant amount of guys who were here that were good and productive players, who knew the system and what we do," Tucker said. "We knew moving forward we were going to have a lot of new faces. I think we can be better. We need to be better. We've done a lot of work in the out-of-season, in free agency and the draft. I feel good about the direction we're going. I'm very, very encouraged. It was really good to see the rookies out there today. Those guys flew around, they gave us great effort. It was a very productive day. I'm very encouraged about the direction of our defense with the personnel moves that we've made, the overall attitude of where we're headed."
Mel TuckerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears and Mel Tucker might be looking for young, tough players to develop rather than spend in free agency.
Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker tried in 2013 to run the same defense as former head coach Lovie Smith, and even assimilated to teaching the same language from the scheme.

But it didn't work for several reasons, with injuries to key players and a general lack of depth chief among them. Tucker appears to now have autonomy to shape the defense how he sees fit.

"I think he's always had the autonomy to do things within parameters," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

With most of the parameters seemingly off now, it begs the question of what Tucker actually plans to do with the defense in 2014. Trestman said, "It's wide open." But it'll be interesting to see how much Tucker and the rest of the defensive coaching staff take full advantage of what would likely turn into carte blanche, provided they're successful.

"Everything's on the table this year in terms of where we're going defensively," Trestman said. "Right now these coaches are getting in position to learn more about each other. They're meeting to learn more about their styles and the pre-existing defense and where we can go with our existing players, knowing that there's going to be a lot of change. The most important thing right now is our system of football. The language is wide open."

No knock on former Bears defensive coaches Tim Tibesar, Mike Phair and Michael Sinclair. But the reality is none of them had ever worked in the past with Tucker, who basically inherited two coaches (Tibesar and Sinclair) that worked with Trestman in Montreal, and one of two holdovers from Smith's staff in Phair.

When the Bears brought in new defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring, the brass made sure to add what one NFL source called "two damned good ones" before adding "Mel loves them both." General manager Phil Emery played a major role in that because he wanted to help Tucker find a way to do his job better.

Will that translate to success on the field? It's certainly not guaranteed.

Pasqualoni and Herring come to the staff with reputations for being two of the league's better teachers, but more importantly, they're considered "tough guys," according to the source.

So it wasn't a surprise to hear general manager Phil Emery discuss that attribute last week a couple of times at the NFL combine. When the team starts acquiring players in free agency and the draft, look for toughness to be among the chief attributes of the new additions.

"We need tough, physical players," Emery said. "Mel has said it several times to me and I believe it. I know our players believe it that generally the toughness of the team shows up at corner. That's what we want: tough, physical athletes."

They don't have to be big-name players, either. Tucker generally prefers those "tough, physical athletes" that Emery mentioned, who are coachable, up-and-comers over the name players.

So if the Bears hit free agency in the coming days, and don't sign a bunch of household names on defense, it wouldn't be a surprise. In fact, I'd think in some ways it would be by design.

"We went through an evaluation process, which is never easy, of moving forward with our staff and bringing in a couple guys we felt not only had the experience to develop young players -- because we know we're going to have new players and we're going to be young -- but also work daily with the veteran element on our football team as well. We felt Mel was the guy to lead the way in that regard," Trestman said. "We hired Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring. These guys have 3-4 backgrounds. We think we've put together a staff of guys who can really incorporate and be flexible with the players we're going to have going through this process. We're going start from the 4-3, but we've got to be flexible in our scheme to move people around and have the ability to get it done, and not just do it because we see other teams doing it; but doing it because we have the skill set and experience to be able to do it."
Chicago plans to stick to its base 4-3 defense, according to a story posted on the team’s official website, and that falls in line with what league sources have said all along about the team’s future, despite recent additions of coaches with 3-4 backgrounds.

At the conclusion of the regular season, rampant speculation circulated about the possibility of the team moving to a 3-4 front after the Bears put up historically horrid numbers during a 2013 season in which they surrendered the most yards (6,313), points (478), and rushing yards in franchise history and rushing yards (2,583). But the club refused to tip its hand as to plans for the 2014 season.

“I can say this: We know we have the coaching ability to move scheme,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said when asked specifically about a potential switch to a 3-4. “We have that kind of intellect in this building. I've said this early on: We're not looking to put a square peg in a round hole. [General manager] Phil [Emery] is going to do everything he can to give us the best possible players. I don’t know. Everything is on the table in terms of a discussion. Once we get an evaluation from inside-out of what our players can do, then we’ll move forward with what we can do with them schematically. Part of our decisions and how we move forward schematically will be based on the players that are in our locker room.”

Trestman’s last remark explains why the Bears plan to stick to a 4-3 front: those types of players are what the team has in terms of personnel. Switching over to a 3-4 front would require the Bears to spend at least one entire offseason bringing aboard players that fit that scheme.

The club’s acquisition of former Jaguar Austen Lane on Tuesday provided further evidence of the team’s plans to stick to a 4-3. That’s not to say the Bears won’t experiment. The addition of defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring gives the Bears flexibility if they decide to try different looks based on their backgrounds in 3-4 defenses.

“It’s a matter of being to utilize the people that we have and be ready to do whatever it’s going to take with a system that’s flexible enough to do it,” Trestman told the team’s official website. “It’s making sure we have a scheme that can utilize our players and bring the best out of them.”

Obviously one component of that might involve the Bears veering away some from the defense brought to the team by former coach Lovie Smith. So while it’s likely Chicago will continue to run some elements of Smith’s system, it’s also expected that the Bears will become more multiple to prevent opponents from catching on to what they’re doing on a game-by-game basis.

“We want to be very stout and physical in the run game and then in the passing game be able to pressure with four guys,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker told “Our pressure packages will fit our personnel and be dynamic enough where we can play to guys’ strengths and be unpredictable.”

Four Downs: Keeping Tucker good call?

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
Mel Tucker Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMel Tucker will get another chance to lead the Bears defense next season.
A rough season by the Chicago Bears defense led to some staff changes. Did the right coaches go?

Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears made the correct decision retaining Mel Tucker.


Did the Bears make the correct decision retaining Mel Tucker?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,553)

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Tucker deserved at least one more season to turn around the defense after a disastrous 2013. This is not about giving Tucker a free pass for the defense ranking near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. This is about looking at the facts. Tucker walked into a situation with a defensive system already in place from the Lovie Smith era. That system worked beautifully under Smith the majority of the time because, in large part, Smith had superstars such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Julius Peppers all playing at an extremely high level.

But the Bears decided to let Urlacher and veteran strong side linebacker Nick Roach leave in the 2013 offseason, actions that Tucker had nothing to do with. The loss of Urlacher and Roach hurt the Bears’ defense more than the organization would like you to believe. Peppers’ inconsistent play on the defensive line also hurt the team, as did the lack of development of former first-round pick Shea McClellin, who became a liability versus the run.

Finally, factor in all the injuries: Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Turk McBride, Kelvin Hayden, Tillman, Briggs and the training camp retirement of Sedrick Ellis. NFL teams are skewered by the media and public whenever they blame injuries for substandard results, but you cannot ignore what injuries to key players does to a roster. No, the Bears are not the New England Patriots. New England is a well-oiled winning machine that has three Super Bowl championships and 11 postseason appearances under head coach Bill Belichick. New England can lose Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to injuries, Wes Welker to free agency and Aaron Hernandez to a murder allegation and not skip a beat. The Bears, who have missed the playoffs six out of the last seven years, are not on that level. So please, don’t compare the Bears’ predicament last year to the Patriots'. Let’s see how Tucker fares with some tweaks to the system and some changes to the personnel on defense before deciding whether he is the right man for the job.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. What does it say if you fire a defensive coordinator after one season, and a season decimated by injuries, at that? It would say that Marc Trestman and Phil Emery are reactionary and needed a scapegoat after the worst defensive season in Bears history. It would be a different story if Tucker was a personal disaster, a clueless, combustible coach who has turned off players. But all signs point to him being a well-intentioned, organized coordinator who was dealt a lousy hand. He never blamed, he never panicked. On the other hand, if a remodeled Bears defense is bad this year and the young players continue to fail at improving, would it have been better to fire Tucker early rather than fire late? That’s a question to consider next season. But the Bears just hope that Tucker has better players to work with next season.

Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Fired assistants Tim Tibesar and Mike Phair were scapegoats to cover up a much deeper coaching problem.

[+] EnlargeMike Phair
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesMike Phair, shown coaching Shea McClellin, won't return as Bears defensive line coach next year.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I realize that I just defended the Bears' decision to bring back Tucker for at least one more season, but almost every NFL coaching staff undergoes some turnover when either a team fails to qualify for the postseason or one side of the ball simply falls apart, as the Bears defense did in 2013. That is part of the business. The Bears’ front seven on defense was nothing short of a disaster last year. Subsequently, Phair and Tibesar paid the price. However, I do feel bad for Phair. He was genuinely well-liked and respected by most of the players in the locker room, but he was a holdover from Smith’s coaching staff, which probably made the decision to let him go a little easier, although secondary coach Jon Hoke (another former Smith hire) is expected to remain on the staff.

I bet Phair finds another job in the NFL. Perhaps the Bears felt Phair just didn’t have enough juice in the defensive line meeting room to reach the players. But in Phair’s defense, there is only one Rod Marinelli. Seems kind of unfair to expect Phair to coach at Marinelli’s level at this stage of his career. Tibesar was a bad hire. I’m sure Tibesar is a fine collegiate and CFL coach, but he never connected with the Bears’ veteran linebackers. His lack of NFL experience/credibility hurt him almost from Day 1.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Certainly, when two assistants are fired and the coordinator stays after a wildly disappointing season, it looks like scapegoating. Injuries to the defensive line and linebacking corps led to the season-long failures on defense, not coaching. But I’d surmise that Trestman saw coaching missteps as well. Playing for D.J. Williams and Briggs, rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene didn’t improve enough by the end of the season. The defensive line was shredded early in the season, but even at full strength, the pass rush wasn’t there. It probably didn’t help that Phair was a holdover from the previous regime. I don’t think there’s a deeper coaching problem and it’s fair to say these firings were at least partially deserved.

Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Corey Wootton's hip surgery diminishes the chances he re-signs with the Bears.

[+] EnlargeCorey Wootton
AP Photo/Jim PrischingDespite his recent surgery, Corey Wootton's team play makes him a good risk for the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Wootton is a selfless player. He sucked it up and moved inside to defensive tackle for much of the year because of all the Bears’ injuries on their defensive line. We have now found out that Wootton played with a nagging hip injury for the whole season, but in general, he seemed to perform at a reasonably high level despite the fact his sack totals fell from 7.0 to 3.5. Wootton’s ability to play both end and tackle should make him more valuable to most teams in free agency, especially the Bears, who need all the good defensive linemen they can find. My assumption is that Wootton, while still recovering from last week’s hip surgery, will test the open market and see what kind of offers are out there. But in the end, I can definitely envision a scenario where Wootton returns to the Bears. He probably doesn’t break the bank, but it’s not a stretch to think Wootton will receive a slight raise over the $1.323 million base salary he collected in 2013, even if he won’t be completely recovered from the hip procedure until later in the offseason. The 6-foot-6, 270 pound defensive lineman does seem to be entering the prime of his career.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. For one thing, it likely lowers his asking price and interest from other teams in prying him away in free agency. The Bears know his medical history already and unless they’re uncomfortable with it, it seems like they could afford to wait out his recovery time. A locker room mainstay, Wootton sacrificed contract-friendly statistics to move inside and play tackle this season. He’s one of the few members of the defense who should be back. I could see the Bears passing on re-signing him because they need healthy bodies, but since when is health guaranteed in the NFL?

Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Lovie Smith will lure several Bears free agents to Tampa.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsNew Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith could try to reunite with some of his former Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Smith’s coaching staff in Tampa is full of ex-Bears coaches. It’s only logical to assume that Smith, who has final say over the Bucs' 53-man roster, will target several of his former Chicago players in free agency. Maybe Smith wants to try and pair Tillman with Darrelle Revis, giving Tampa one of the most seasoned and accomplished cornerback duos in the NFL. Granted, the Bucs started rookie Johnthan Banks opposite Revis last year, but the idea of Tillman and Revis in the same secondary, coached by former Bears assistant Gill Byrd, is an intriguing one.

Devin Hester to the Buccaneers also makes sense. It’s hard to envision the Bears paying Hester, a Florida native and Smith loyalist, $2.107 million to strictly return punts and kickoffs in 2014. Smith probably feels Hester can still contribute at wide receiver for all we know. That appears to be a fit. Perhaps Smith is interested in free-agent defensive tackle Melton joining star pass-rusher Gerald McCoy on the inside of the Bucs defensive line. There are plenty of possibilities and scenarios to mull over. Smith is probably in the process of doing that as we speak.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. I’d guess he’ll make a run at Peanut Tillman, maybe Major Wright or Peppers, if he sees a fit. While Smith is known for building close relationships with players and treating them like adults, the truth is Lovie was really very loyal to a chosen few players -- standouts like Tillman, draft projects like Wright -- and a typical coach to the rest, in terms of their usability at least. If they couldn’t do the job, they were gone. Smith isn’t out to create Halas Hall South in Tampa Bay, he’s there to win and to burnish his reputation. How many Bears free agents would you sign if you want to win immediately? I guess we’ll find out.
The Chicago Bears' coaching staff gets back to business on Monday, with some reporting to Halas Hall and others heading to the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Obviously, with Jay Cutler signed to a new deal, the focus shifts to the embattled defense and coordinator Mel Tucker, who is scheduled to be a part of the team’s contingent at the East-West Shrine Game.

[+] EnlargeMel Tucker
AP Photo/Scott BoehmBears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is under intense scrutiny following Chicago's anemic defensive output in 2013.
Given the historic downfall of the defense, which allowed the most points (478) in franchise history as well as total yards (6,313) and rushing yards (2,583), not to mention the way the team’s season came to a disappointing end on a mental bust in the secondary, the emotional reaction might be to fire Tucker. But that would be a mistake that could potentially set back the defense even further, which is probably why the team hasn't yet made a firm decision (although his trip to the East-West Shrine Game leads me to believe he's staying).

I’ve said it before: Tucker isn’t to blame for Chicago’s demise on defense. He wasn’t the one missing tackles, busting assignments, failing to leverage blocks correctly or being manhandled physically by opponents in 2013. Some of Tucker’s coaching colleagues on the team and around the league agree, as do many of his players.

Is the criticism of Tucker fair?

"Not at all," linebacker D.J. Williams said a day after the team’s season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers. "He didn’t really get to put out the defense on the field that he thought he was going to have. But I felt he did a great job. It’s hard to go out there and compete with teams when you don’t have your guys out there. But I think he got the guys to rally around each other and give great effort. You lose two Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame guys like [cornerback Charles Tillman] and Lance [Briggs] and lost two starting D-tackles. We lost [starting nickel corner] Kelvin [Hayden]. We lost me. It’s tough."

Injuries cost the Bears a combined 55 games from key players in 2013, and that's not even taking into account that defensive lineman Turk McBride suffered a ruptured Achilles or that defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis decided to retire on the eve of training camp.

Chicago failed to limit an opponent to fewer than 20 points all season, but last year's vaunted unit -- which was healthy for the most part -- also failed to hold opponents to fewer than 20 in seven of the last 10 games and gave up four 100-yard rushing performances.

The group in 2013 relied on significant snaps from players like rookie David Bass, who was claimed Sept. 1 off waivers from the Oakland Raiders, and rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene, who spent time in the starting lineup. Chicago was also forced to lean on players like defensive tackle Landon Cohen, who played in 13 games and had three starts in 2013, despite having played in only seven games over the previous four seasons before signing with the Bears, not to mention nickel corner Isaiah Frey, who spent all of 2012 on the practice squad.

So say what you want about what Tucker should have done. The circumstances he faced were almost insurmountable, yet Tucker still put a respectable defense on the field on a couple of occasions.

"He has full support of the defense, in our room, linebackers, it’s all over, man," said cornerback Tim Jennings. "We all support him. We all know what we’re capable of doing. He makes the play call. We line up and play. I think it’s unfortunate he got the raw end of the stick with the injuries, and what he had to deal with and make work, and I think we still did a fairly good job."

Defensive end Shea McClellin, a first-round pick in 2012 who underperformed when thrust into the bright lights in 2013, even said "I don't think so," when asked whether the criticism of Tucker was fair.

"It's going to happen, that’s your guys’ job; that’s everyone’s job," McClellin said. "I don’t think it’s fair. I think he’s a great coach. I think he did an excellent job. Just a few things fell out of place. It was unfortunate. But overall, I think he’s a great coach. I learned a lot from him."

Arguments aplenty exist with regards to dismissing Tucker, but the truth is the majority, if not all of them, can be countered. For instance, there’s the argument that Tucker should be teaching the Bears how to tackle and get off blocks. Yes and no. Tucker should be making sure the players’ skills in those areas remain sharp, but no team in the NFL should ever draft defensive players who can’t tackle or leverage blocks; and the Bears didn’t all of a sudden forget how to do either of those under a new defensive coordinator.

There’s the argument that not one player improved under Tucker’s watch in 2013. That's a subjective viewpoint. Corey Wootton showed tremendous improvement in 2013, and even widely criticized players like McClellin improved at least some aspect of their games. But it’s also incredibly difficult for inexperienced players thrown into the fire to improve when nearly every on-field situation is chaotic because of all the holes in the defense brought on by injuries.

There’s the argument that Tucker was outcoached, or that his defense wasn’t adequately prepared most games. But the truth is all the prep time in the world will never trump horrid execution.

Tucker has performed well at his main job, which is to put the players in the best position to succeed through schemes, motivation and making the right calls during games. That’s part of why safety Major Wright said it’s unfair to criticize Tucker.

It would be even more unfair to fire Tucker after one season in which the coach was basically forced to fight with one hand tied behind his back. Besides that, wouldn’t dismissing Tucker after one season under such circumstances diminish the attractiveness of the job to any potential replacement?

"At the end of the day, people have to do their jobs and [live] up to being the player they’re supposed to be," Wright said. "He’s going to take the majority of the criticism. But I think it’s within the defense. It’s all of us."
CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers took a 10-7 lead over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field under a freakish set of circumstances. But ultimately, the play came as the result of failure by the home team to play heads-up football.

With 3:28 left in the opening half, Julius Peppers sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind as Rodgers attempted to throw the ball. The ball came loose and hit the cold, damp turf at Soldier Field. Players from both teams froze, but officials never blew the play dead.

As the players watched, Rodgers appeared to scream out to Jarrett Boykin to scoop up the ball, which he alertly did, before romping 15 yards for a touchdown.

Officials immediately reviewed the play and determined that Rodgers fumbled as opposed to throwing incomplete, and confirmed the original call of a Boykin touchdown.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take some heat for the club’s defense not being more alert and not following the tenet of playing until the whistle is blown, something that is taught to players at every level, all the way down to the youth leagues. Surely, some will question whether a defense coached by Lovie Smith would have let such a play occur.

Given what’s on the line -- the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs -- all those criticisms would be legitimate, even though I tend toward placing the blame on the players in this instance.

Either way, the Bears need to find a way to bounce back.

At intermission, the Bears trail 13-7, and the Packers get the ball to start the second half.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker faced a bevy of difficult questions Monday after his group gave up 514 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 54-11 thumping, but displayed confidence when asked if he worried about job security.

“No, I don’t,” Tucker said. “I just stay focused on the task at hand and working to teach, motivate and develop, and work with these guys and get them ready for the next outing. That’s really my main focus.”

In addition to giving up 21 points in both the first and fourth quarters, the Bears allowed LeSean McCoy to run for 133 of Philadelphia’s 291 rushing yards. Chicago allowed two 100-yard rushers in that outing, and on the season they’ve surrendered at least one 100-yard rusher in 10 games.

[+] EnlargeMel Tucker
AP Photo/Scott BoehmChicago's defense, led by coordinator Mel Tucker, hasn't held an opponent to under 20 points this season.
In the latest setback, Philadelphia reeled off 10 plays for gains of 16 yards or more, with three coming on Nick Foles completions. The Eagles also converted 56 percent of their third-down attempts, and scored touchdowns on five trips into the red zone.

The seven touchdowns scored by the Eagles were the most the Bears have allowed in franchise history (although one of the TDs was on an interception return). The 54 points rank as the second most allowed by the Bears in franchise history.

Earlier in the season, however, Bears head coach Marc Trestman expressed confidence in Tucker’s ability to lead a defense that has been ravaged by a plethora of injuries. Trestman was asked again on Monday about that assessment.

“At the end of the day, and I said this throughout the last two weeks, we did see some work moving forward, and the guys took a step backward [at Philadelphia],” Trestman said. “The only way I can evaluate it is presently. Two weeks of getting a little better at what we were doing, not where we want to be, and a week where we took a step back.”

Is Tucker to blame? Absolutely not. Tucker isn’t missing tackles, busting assignments, not leveraging blocks correctly or just flat out being handled physically by the opponent. And for those who argue that Tucker should be teaching the Bears how to perform fundamentals such as tackling and getting off blocks, you have to realize these guys are NFL players, which means they’ve learned and worked exhaustively on these elements of the game their whole lives.

After all, what team drafts a guy into the NFL that doesn’t know how to tackle?

Tucker’s job is to put the players in the best position to succeed through schemes and game planning. He's done that. But once they’re in position, it’s up to them to make the plays. If the Bears did decide to part ways with Tucker, it would be a major mistake. He's a head coach basically in waiting, and several folks around the league would agree with that assessment.

The Bears won’t use excuses. But injuries are a major part of the defense’s decline, as is the fact the club likely overestimated the type of production they’d get in 2013 from some of their aging veterans, while several of the team's younger players didn't build on what they had done in 2012. The defense has definitely fallen off in 2013, but the truth is the unit started showing signs of decline last season.

Chicago hasn’t held an opponent to fewer than 20 points all season, but in 2012 a mostly healthy Bears defense failed to accomplish that feat in seven of the last 10 games, while also allowing four 100-yard rushing performances.

“Sometimes we’re in the right place, but we’re just not winning the one-on-ones or you missed a tackle. That’s a big part of it,” Tucker said. “Like I said the past couple weeks, it’s not so much now knowing where to fit, it’s when you get there, are you able to shed the block? Are you able to finish on the ball, are you able to make the tackle, are you able to get there quickly enough? That’s part of it, too. We have to eliminate the hesitation, and continue to coach through and work through that as players. That’s pretty much what it is.”

Stock Watch: Sorting through the mess

December, 24, 2013
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Matt RourkeJay Cutler probably had the right idea when he said after the game that he had already put the Bears' 54-11 loss to the Eagles out of his mind.


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1. Robbie Gould, K: Gould kicked a 50-yard field goal. That's all I got.


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Jay Cutler
1. Entire offense: The Bears had no excuse for their lackluster performance on offense. The Eagles' defense ranked No. 30 overall and No. 31 against the pass through 14 games, but they looked like the 1985 Bears on Sunday night. To recap, the Bears abandoned the run game (61 rushing yards), completed just 22-of-39 pass attempts, and failed to protect the quarterback in the pocket (five sacks). That is about as lousy of an all-around effort as we've seen from the Bears' offense under coach Marc Trestman. Burn the tape, please.

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Mel Tucker
2. Entire defense: Same old story. The Bears have a tough time keeping average offenses in-check, much less the high-powered Eagles. The Bears actually allowed two Philadelphia running backs to rush for nore than 100 yards. For the game, the Eagles had 289 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, while Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles picked the Bears apart, completing 21-of-25 passes. The Bears have no answers on defense and will continue to struggle until the entire group is overhauled in the offseason. This will be the most anticipated construction project since the Wrigley Field renovations. Hopefully without the delays.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester's first-quarter fumble on a kickoff return forever swung the momentum in Philadelphia's favor. To call the miscue ill-timed would be an understatement. Hester began the season on a positive note with impactful games against the Minnesota Vikings (249 kickoff return yards) and the Washington Redskins (81-yard punt return touchdown), but he's been kind of quiet down the home stretch of the season. Statistically speaking, Hester is enjoying a relatively productive 2013 season. Going into Week 16, Hester averaged 28.6 yards per kickoff return and 12.2 yards on punt return, a significant jump from last season. But Hester, making $2.1 million in the final year of his contract, is a home-run hitter on special teams. The Bears need him to knock a couple out of the park before the season ends.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon makes a run at the NFL record books, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker expects his group to face a tall order containing him Sunday on the road.

Chicago held down Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant (two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown) on Monday night with Tim Jennings as the primary man in coverage, but Gordon presents perhaps a more formidable challenge.

Tucker sees big-play ability as Gordon’s most significant attribute.

“He has a large catch radius. He’s fast. He can take a 5-yard slant and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown,” Tucker said. “Really, he’s playing with a lot of confidence. The quarterbacks have confidence in him to go up and make plays. He can catch the ball in a crowd and win the contested one-on-one battle.”

Gordon’s eye-popping statistics over the past four games certainly support that. Suspended for the first two games, Gordon leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,400) and has racked up 774 yards over the past four games.

He currently averages 127.3 yards per game, and the NFL record for single-season average per game is 129 yards.

Browns quarterback Jason Campbell believes Gordon has hit his comfort zone.

“Coming into the season, I know there was a lot of trade talk and a lot of trade rumors. And with him missing the first two games of the season, I think he had a chance to really sit back and just look at things on the outside of what a great opportunity he has and what a great opportunity he’s missing out on when he wasn’t playing,” Campbell said. “When he came back, he had a totally different mindset about playing in the NFL, a totally different mindset about his ability to make plays, and I think a lot of it is, once the trade rumor was also over with, I think he was able to relax and just start to play the game.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson declined to make predictions about what he might do to Chicago’s 32nd-ranked run defense Sunday at the Metrodome.

But if someone as innocuous as St. Louis’ Benny Cunningham could rip the Bears for 109 yards last week, Peterson could be in for a field day against a Bears defense allowing an average of 145.2 yards per game.

“I don’t know,” Peterson said, laughing. “I don’t really want to sit here and make any predictions. I just want to contribute and do whatever it takes to help my team win. So if that’s 300 yards, perfect. If that’s 150, perfect; 50, with 100-something receiving, any way I can help my team get this “W” this weekend, that’s pretty much all I’m worried about. I’m just going to go out there and play ball and let the chips fall where they may.”

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson has averaged 107.7 yards per game in his career against the Bears.
Peterson produced his first 100-yard game since Nov. 3 last week against the Green Bay Packers, and even Bears players such as cornerback Zack Bowman admitted that once the running back sees tape of Chicago’s performance against the Rams, he’ll see “that he can have a big day against us.”

“They’re going to go back and watch the Rams game,” Bowman said.

Why wouldn’t they? After all, the Bears surrendered 258 yards on the ground against the Rams, which averaged 8.9 yards per attempt. Cunningham, Zac Stacy, and Tavon Austin averaged 8.4, 7.3 and 65 yards, respectively, on 26 attempts, with each breaking loose for gains of 27 yards or more.

Against the Rams, the Bears allowed eight runs for gains of 10 yards or more. On the season, the Bears have given up 48 such runs, including 10 for gains of 25 yards or more.

“[We’re] looking to rebound from a very disappointing outing, especially in the run game on Sunday,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “In order to play great defense, especially run defense, everyone needs to be exactly where they need to be on every play. It only takes one breakdown to cause a big play. We really don’t have margin for error, especially when you’re playing good teams with good talent. Everyone has to be on point.”

That especially holds true for Sunday’s matchup against Peterson, who gained 100 yards against a healthy Chicago defense in the first meeting between the teams before injuries decimated the unit.

Peterson has hit the century mark in four games this season, and his 98.5 yards per game over his seven seasons rank as No. 3 in league history for players participating in a minimum of 100 games. Peterson admits to taking some pride in maintaining such productivity against defenses loading the box seemingly every week to stop him.

“It feels good, but then it feels like just another play because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” Peterson said. “For seven years, every time we play, guys are in there to stop the run. So it’s become a norm.”

It’s also becoming fairly common for Chicago’s defense to surrender yardage in chunks on the ground. But Peterson refuses to underestimate the Bears. Peterson said the Bears are “not the defense we played earlier this season,” with the unit “going through a little funk right now.”

But the running back isn’t quite on the same tear as he was in 2012 when he finished the season with 2,097 yards. With 997 yards so far, Peterson needs 154 yards against the Bears on Sunday to become just the fifth player in league history to hit 10,000 yards or more rushing in their first seven seasons.

Given Chicago’s epic struggles against the run, Peterson was asked if he predicted a 300-yard outing against the Bears.

“Don’t make that the headline,” he said, laughing.

Peterson may be able to do that himself.

“Well, we take a lot of pride in being able to run the ball,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “We go into every ballgame with the intent of being able to run the ball. We feel like we’ve got the best running back in the NFL on our team. So we’re going to try to play to our strength.”

In 11 career games against Chicago, Peterson has averaged 107.7 yards, which ranks as the most by any player all-time against the Bears. Peterson gained more than 120 yards in four of those contests, including a 224-yard explosion during the running back’s rookie year.

“His will and determination is so apparent on every single run,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s his will, his determination, the things that go beyond his ability that really stand out to me. Certainly, there are guys who do just as much, but nobody more than Adrian Peterson. We’ve seen a lot of running backs come and go. He’s certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Some of us have seen a lot of running backs over the last 50 years in the National Football League, and he has to be one of the best.”
Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker refrained from his usual perch in a room up in the press box at Lambeau Field on Monday night, and opted instead to work from the field during the club’s upset win over the Green Bay Packers.

Tucker plans work from the sidelines again Sunday at Soldier Field when the Bears host the Detroit Lions, and superstition has nothing to do with it.

“I’m not sure how much it helped,” Tucker said of his decision to work from the field. “You would have to ask the guys. I decided to go down because I thought I could help with communication, get the call in quicker. It was actually a different group of guys out there than when we first started. So I just wanted to be down there to help some of the younger guys and facilitate some of the things on the sideline, and just speed up communication and some of the adjustments. That’s why I decided to go down.”

With nothing changing on Chicago’s banged-up defense, which is teeming with youth at linebacker with rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene, Tucker can better serve the team by continuing to work from the sidelines. Veteran James Anderson is making the defensive calls, but Bostic also plays a role in lining up the defense.

It’s important, however, to remember that Anderson hasn’t made the calls in the past for the Bears. With a better understanding of what’s going on throughout the course of the game by being on the sidelines, as opposed to working from the box, Tucker can help the defense make quicker adjustments.

“Direct communication, and that type of thing” is one of the advantages of working from the field," Tucker said.

“You get the call in a little quicker,” Tucker said. “It [comes] directly from me. There’s advantages to both, being up and being down, and I’ve done both before in the past. With this particular group of guys at this particular time, I thought it would be better for me to be with them on the sideline. It was just as simple as that.”
Here are a few things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

How the game is called offensively: Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer maintain the club won’t change the way they’ll call a game with Josh McCown as the quarterback. But Kromer admitted there could be a few subtle changes because of McCown’s involvement in putting together the game plan for Green Bay.

Kromer also said that a strong running game is every quarterback’s best friend, which means the Packers can expect to see a heavy dose of Matt Forte.

"Last week, we continued on the game plan that we had (with Jay Cutler at quarterback), and Josh handled it very well,” Kromer said. "When you have a week to plan, you’re going to have a few things that Josh might like better than Jay, and usually they like it because they feel like they’ll have success, they’re confident before the ball is snapped that something good is going to happen, and that’s important in a quarterback’s mind, and in an offensive line. So we let Josh help us in ways like we let Jay help us in ways (by asking) ‘What do you like best? What are you going to take the snap from center and feel like you’re going to have success with?'"

How Josh McCown handles adversity: Surely, the Packers will find a way to get to McCown and pressure him, and the veteran will sometimes wind up taking sacks or throwing the ball incomplete. What’s important for him is to settle in and get into the flow of the game without making costly mistakes before that happens. So McCown needs to weather Green Bay’s initial storm so to speak, and he’s proven perfectly capable of doing that.

But McCown should know going into this game that he's going to get hit quite a bit.

“I feel like we’ve shown this year with our offensive game plans and our ability to move the ball that hopefully I feel like we’ll be prepared,” McCown said. “I feel like we’ll be ready to put our best foot forward as good as we ever have here in the past. That obviously gives you a comfort level as a quarterback going into this game.”

Special teams: With the defense continuing to struggle, it’s important for the Bears to win the field-position game with big returns and strong coverage on the punt and kickoff teams. The Packers gave up a 109-yard kickoff return against the Vikings last week, and have surrendered kickoff returns of 86, 56 and 51 yards so far this season. Chicago, meanwhile, is coming off a performance against Washington in which Devin Hester busted an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“I think things started to get more consistent towards the Washington game. We still have a lot work left to do,” Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. “But I thought overall both the coverage game and the return game were more consistent as we went. Really when you look at it, there are three plays that you’d like to have back, and there were several plays that they made. We just need to make sure we’ve got a lot more positives than negatives in the second half (of the season). These guys have worked, and I think we’ll do that.”

The rookie linebackers: The coaching staff gave the responsibility of play calling to veteran James Anderson, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said rookie Jonathan Bostic will also play a role in getting the defense set. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Packers look for ways to keep Chicago in its base defense in an attempt to match up against Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene as much as possible.

“We’re really not worried about inexperience. It’s next man up,” Tucker said. “Guys have a role to play. Guys know what’s expected. It’s our job to get them ready to play. I feel good about what we’ve done so far in preparation. We’re not worried about experience or inexperience.”

Although there’s no trepidation on the coaching staff’s part, the reality is Bostic and Greene are rookies, and prone to the mistakes that come with inexperience.

The safeties: Trestman and Tucker gave safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte votes of confidence last week, but how the duo plays Monday night should go a long way toward determining Chicago’s success against the Packers.

Quarterbacks have completed 68.8 percent of their throws directed at Conte in coverage, and 77.8 attempts against Wright for a passer rating of 135.2. Obviously, the duo faces one of the league’s best in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, but the duo must also do its part in run support against Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Lacy currently ranks No. 1 among all rookies this season in rushing yards (446).

“Major and Chris Conte are playing well,” McCarthy said. “I think they’re going through what we’re going through a little bit with some injuries to their front seven, but they still do a great job of taking that football away, and once they do, they know what to do with it; dangerous defense.”