This is the play voters and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright picked as the most memorable play in Chicago Bears history, narrowly beating out William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown run in Super Bowl XX and Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI.
Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977. Site: Soldier Field
Thank you, thank you, thank you, voters. We definitely agree on this one. But as time ticked away on voting for the Chicago’s most memorable play, there certainly was trepidation about how things would pan out as Walter Payton’s rather beastly run against the Chiefs in 1977 was basically neck-and-neck with William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown in Super Bowl XX as the voting deadline neared.
As is the case with fellow Chicago icon Michael Jordan, it’s difficult to pull a top play from the many Payton blessed fans with throughout his 13-year NFL career. But this one embodied Payton as a runner, fully displaying all the attributes that made “Sweetness” one of the best running backs.
With the Bears down 17-0 in the third quarter, Payton took a handoff right, spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier and Tim Gray, cut back left and made three Chiefs miss, in addition to plowing over two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke seven tackles on a run that sparked Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback win.
“If you look at the video, I’m within three or four feet of him four times,” Chiefs defensive tackle John Lohmeyer said in the book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton.” “I didn’t give up because it was well known that you couldn’t get him down with ease, and he was an escape artist. I tried tackling him. We all did.”
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch might hold the “Beast Mode” nickname, but Payton’s 1977 run against the Chiefs might be true definition of that moniker. Not only was Payton’s run the best play in franchise annals, it’s arguably the top run in NFL history.
"Are you serious?" McNabb asked on 87.7 The Game's "Jarrett, Harry and Spike" show.
"Jay might be the luckiest dude in Chicago, to be honest with you, with the contract he received for what we haven't seen thus far. I think the sky's the limit for him. But for what we've seen in Chicago, when you didn't finish the NFC Championship [Game], which was due to injury. Even with that, you haven't been able to get past that hump. One game to get into the playoffs, you couldn't get it done. Caleb Hanie comes in to play. Josh McCown comes in to play, and then the contract comes up and you get paid like a top-three, top-four quarterback. Are you serious? For what we've seen? If he doesn't do it this year, it's going to end up being a mistake."
That's precisely why Cutler's performance and continued development remain the most important key to success over the next three seasons for this team. Essentially, the Bears are handcuffed to Cutler at least until 2016, which more or less makes his new contract a three-year, $54 million deal. The contract contains rolling options from now until then, with no cap repercussions if the team releases Cutler after 2016 because he didn't receive a signing bonus, meaning there's no proration to account for.
Cutler showed tremendous growth in 2013 during coach Marc Trestman's first year in Chicago. In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 in 2013, his best since 2006.
Such positive trends need to continue with Cutler for the Bears to sustain any level of success over the next few seasons.
That is the impression McDonald took away from a visit with the team back in May, according to The (Syracuse, N.Y.) Post-Standard, which explained that one of the coach’s goals for the trip to Chicago was to glean a deeper understanding of why certain things take place on the football field.
“I’ve always been intrigued by him,” McDonald said. “I’ve heard a lot of great things. I think he sees the game from a different perspective. He’s really good with dealing with players and communicating his vision.”
McDonald said that during his visit with the Bears, Trestman helped him to gain a better understanding of how to deal with different players, and he also met with defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni, who served as head coach at Syracuse from 1991-2004.
Like general manager Phil Emery, McDonald was intrigued by Trestman’s coaching journey.
“Everybody can always get better on every level,” McDonald said. “I think coach Trestman has a unique story. I think his view of football and where it fits in people’s lives is unique compared to other coaches I’ve been around. You can’t put a value on it just because it doesn’t happen very often.”
We’re chronicling the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve looked at Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XX during a 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots.
Make sure to vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.
Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977 Site: Soldier Field
The play certainly put Hall of Famer Jim Brown on notice, and definitely should be included in the discussion of the single greatest plays in NFL history.
“I don’t know the game, but I can tell you what moment,” said Brown, who was watching Payton on television for the first time. “I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He must have twisted, knocked three or four guys over, spun around, accelerated. I said, ‘Oh my goodness [laughing], what kind of animal is this? What kind of guy is this?’ All those moves, and the strength and tenacity; that was it, I didn’t have to see anymore. I knew this was a great runner.”
Taking a handoff on a sweep right, Payton spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier, cut back left, made three Chiefs miss, in addition to trucking two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke six tackles. When he took the handoff, the Chiefs led 17-0. Surely the momentum from such an eye-popping run helped to spark Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback victory.
Payton rushed for three second-half TDs to lead the rally, and the victory marked the club’s first of six in a row to end the season as the Bears earned their first trip to the postseason since winning the NFL championship in 1963.
Nearly seven years later, Payton would break Brown’s record to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In classic Payton fashion, he downplayed the achievement, declaring Brown still the king of all NFL runners.
“I don’t believe I ever broke Jim Brown’s record,” he’d say later. “I think it’s still standing. I don’t think the record books need to be rewritten. I didn’t do it in the amount of time that Jim Brown did. If you can’t do it in nine years and eight games, then you didn’t break his record. I had more games and I played longer, so I didn’t break it.”
Morgan, 29, was arrested in April after allegedly punching a nightclub valet at a downtown Washington, D.C., nightclub. A judge told Morgan that if he completes the 32 hours of community service within four months, he will not have to return for his next court date Nov. 12.
Morgan, who caught 20 passes for a career-low 214 yards last season with the Washington Redskins, signed a one-year deal with the Bears on April 21. He led the Redskins with 48 receptions for 510 yards in 2012.
In Chicago, Morgan will face competition from Eric Weems and Chris Williams for roles on special teams and one of the reserve receiver spots if he doesn't beat out rising second-year man Marquess Wilson for the No. 3 position.
Domenik Hixon also was expected to be in the competition at receiver, but he tore his ACL at organized team activities last month.
Information from ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.
Today, we run down the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve chronicled Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and we’ll also break down how Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Chiefs. It was the run Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness.
Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.
Score: Bears 46, Patriots 10
Date: Jan. 26, 1986 Site: Louisiana Superdome
Call this play in Bears history a bittersweet one.
Keyed on all day by New England’s defense, Payton -- the game’s all-time leading rusher at the time -- finished without a touchdown despite the club having multiple opportunities near the goal line to get him into the end zone for a score on the game’s biggest stage.
“That was probably the most disturbing thing in my career,” Ditka later said in the book “Payton.” “That killed me. If I had one thing to do all over again, I would make sure Payton took the ball into the end zone. I loved him; I had great respect for him. The only thing that ever really hurt me was when he didn’t score in the Super Bowl.”
Perry’s TD came on a call from Ditka, but quarterback Jim McMahon had a reputation for changing plays when he wanted to. Besides, allowing a defensive lineman in Perry to score a TD instead of the game’s best player at the time seemed as if Ditka was taunting New England. After all, Perry’s run made the score 44-3. It’s a shame Perry scored a TD in the Super Bowl and Payton didn’t.
Ditka has explained that the call was an option play in which McMahon could have pitched the ball to Payton, who later said, “I knew I was going to be a decoy today.” On McMahon’s first touchdown, which came after a fake to Perry, the quarterback also could have pitched it to Payton.
“On the touchdown that I scored, it was a play designed for Walter,” McMahon later said. “But the truth is I don’t think anyone recognized it during the game. I know I didn’t.”
Here’s the second part of our interview with Brandon Marshall as part of ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue, which dropped on July 7 with a story about the Chicago Bears receiver.
Marshall spent time with us at his home in Chicago discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the magazine story or the video clip above. So I decided to pull it together in its entirety:
Michael C. Wright: You’ve called the trade from Miami to Chicago a “career-saving trade,” a “life-saving trade.” Did you really feel your life was in jeopardy?
Brandon Marshall: No, I think a lot of people took that out of context. What I meant by that was when you look at the career side, it’s like, to be honest, I think I played with five or six different quarterbacks. You see how my production dropped and people were looking at me like, "He used to be a top-five receiver. It’s him. He’s dropping all these balls. He’s the issue. He’s the problem." Those people in Miami, they wanted my head for a year or two. But then I come to Chicago and you see me continue to produce at a high level. I had Jay Cutler. I was in a system I was familiar with. So it was career-saving. Now, the life-saving thing we’re talking about, I don’t know if the cameras can see it [Marshall looks around], but look at this beautiful city. You know what I mean? I say that it wasn’t a life-or-death thing. But a lot of us go through life doing things that we don’t love. We’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and we die freaking chasing money or chasing something to pay bills or we’re not happy. But for me, every single day, I walk outside my door and I smell the city air. I look at these tall buildings. I see people wearing Bulls hats, Blackhawks hats, Bears shirts. It’s fulfilling. It’s stimulating. The love and joy that we receive on a daily basis, it sometimes is too much. So that’s what I mean when I say life-saving. It’s like a dream. It’s the perfect situation, not only doing what I love, but doing it in a place where I can say I love, that’s now home for me. I don’t think you could buy that.
Marshall: I wouldn’t say that’s a mentorship, that’s more of, I think in every man’s life they need ... the perfect illustration is you have yourself here, you have a mentor above you. Then you have men you can walk with, and then there’s a mentee. So Davone Bess is one of those guys that’s walking with me, a guy that when I fall, he can pick me up and vice versa. It’s an interesting story because when we were playing together in Miami, we used to sit on the plane and talk about the same stuff. Our situations aren’t unique. Every guy deals with it at this level. We would compare text messages from family and friends asking us for money, or cussing us out because we said no, or threats, legal issues. And what you saw is, you saw a break in me early, and then a couple of years later, you see a break in Davone Bess’ health and stability. So it’s like it was always there, but it presented itself at different times. So good thing that I’ve been through it, someone that he can trust and believes in, and now I can say, "Bro, this is what I did and it worked for me."
You said that 2013 was the first year in your career that you were not selfish. Can you explain what you meant?
Marshall: I’m a believer in Christ. That’s my Lord and savior, and when you read the Bible, one of the biggest things that jumps out to me is his ability to serve others. So I always tell guys, if you want to be Muslim, be Muslim. You know, I have my beliefs. I’m not forcing that on you. But if you say you’re a Christian, then it’s either you’re all-in or you’re all-out. One of the teachings is being a servant, and you can’t be a selfish servant. I don’t think those two relate. It’s a contradiction. Last year I grew spiritually, and that was the first time I was able to step outside myself on this spiritual journey and be able to say, "You know what, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But I’m gonna serve Alshon Jeffery. I’m gonna serve Martellus Bennett." Because I know there’s something bigger. I’m a part of something greater. I can’t wait to see what it is. But I know if I just continue to pour into those young men’s lives, we will be great together.
How confident are you that you can continue on this track? As we’ve discussed before, you’ve got a past. Can you honestly say that none of the things that have haunted your past will creep back into your life?
Marshall: That’s interesting because I never really read my Twitter mentions, because one day it’s gonna go from a ton of mentions and a ton of retweets to nothing when I’m not relevant anymore, when I’m not catching any more touchdowns. I’m preparing for that. I don’t really read too many stories. I will look at stats, but I won’t read stories. I did read your story the other day where you said, "Let’s see if he can keep it up," or something along those lines.
Marshall: I found that interesting. I found that interesting that there is a thought about me reverting back. But I always tell people that’s just part of the journey, especially for a young man given so much freedom, so much fame, so much fortune. That’s part of the journey, to make mistakes. But the problem is, you make your mistakes in the public’s eye. People look at me like, "Is this an act?" I know you believe in me, but some people will say, "Is it an act?" Or "It’s only going to last for so long." But I’m actually growing, every single day. This is the new me. This is who I am. So there isn’t any reverting back. But I do make mistakes. I’m pretty much still in the same exact situation. I just look at life differently and my approach is different. There’s some things out there I still need to work on.
Last thing. Can you finish this sentence for me? I would describe my comeback as...
Hopefully you all enjoyed the holiday weekend. With all that out of the way and training camp on the horizon, NFL news is difficult to come by.
Well, we’ve got some. ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue dropped Monday, and Bears receiver Brandon Marshall spent time with us at his home discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the video clip above or the magazine story. So I decided to pull together all of it to post here on our blog.
Here’s Part I of the interview. We'll post more Tuesday:
Michael Wright: This is all about comebacks, and you’ve made quite the comeback in terms of your growth on and off the football field as a player and as a man. Where are you now compared to when you first came into the NFL?
Marshall: When you look at where I’m at today, there’s no comparison. It’s night and day. It’s a 180-degree turn. But I truly believe I went through the things I went through to be able to understand the people that we’re working with now; to empathize. When you go into a community or you go into a place and you can’t relate, people won’t listen. So for me, the field that we’re working in -- trying to bridge that gap in the mental health community -- people understand that I went through it. Just last night, I was texting a young lady who is suicidal right now. That wasn’t a part of my case, but I could understand how one could get there. There’s a lot of people who may look down on someone who may be dealing with something mentally because they don’t understand it. They’ve never been around it. So the comeback for me is significant because I really believe we’re in position to save lives. I really believe that we’re in position to change our world. So I’m excited for this new opportunity and I just want to be responsible with it.
You were just talking about all you went through. You’ve talked about going from a patient to a provider. Can you enlighten us about that a little more?
You have a past. You've had quite a few things happen to you in the past and you've done a ton try to distances yourself from that past. But take me back to those times. How were you feeling in your heart, mentally and emotionally, when you were going through some of those things?
Marshall: You know what? I've got to be honest: A lot of people they'll read my rap sheet and be they'll be like, "Ah man, he's been through a lot. He must've been really sick." Well, a lot of it was just me being immature and just going through the growing pains of a teenager to a young man, from a young man to a man. Getting a DUI, that's just something that's just dumb. That's something that is like, I don't understand it. You just have to go through it and learn from it. I could've killed somebody. I could've been killed or hurt somebody really badly. But a lot of times we focus so much on the behavior, of what we see on ESPN, what we see at the bottom of the ticker. But the thing that's most scary is the things that you don't see, the suffering in silence, those times where I had to put a hoodie on to leave my house because I didn't want to connect with anybody. I didn't want anybody to recognize me. Sitting in my theater room day in, day out. It's the darkest room in my house. I can't hear anything, "I’m just gonna sit here. I'm comfortable." But it wasn't like there was something wrong. It was my norm. It felt like that was my reality. I was so deep in it that it didn't feel weird. It didn't feel like it was a problem. People used to look at me, family and friends and like, "Dude, what's going on?" I'm like, "What's going on? I have this amazing house, why do I have to leave? I have this amazing theater room. Why do I have to leave?" But I was so isolated and so hurt that I needed help.
When did you reach that "eureka" moment where you said, "You know what? I need help. I need to get it together?"
Marshall: If it wasn't for football, I wouldn't be sitting here. A lot of us professional athletes are defined by the sport we play. We grow up being put on this pedestal by the world, by our coaches and peers, our family members. We grow up thinking that's what we're here to do. That's our purpose. So for me, I was the same. I grew up being put on that pedestal. I grew up being the best on the field, and I've always been able to control football. That was my sanctuary. That was my place where I could go. That was my safe haven. But it wasn't until I couldn't control what was going on in football is what woke me up. All the relationships and all the drama, all that stuff, that was normal. I grew up in that environment. It was like, "Yo, that's the way of life. But I can control football." But when I wasn't able to do that is when I said, "Man, I need help."
We’re running down the three most memorable plays in Chicago Bears franchise history, and today marks the first of the plays nominated. Over the next two days we’ll feature: How Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the run which Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness. And William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Chicago’s drubbing of New England in Super Bowl XX that robbed Payton of the opportunity to score a touchdown on the game’s biggest stage.
Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.
Score: Colts 29, Bears 17
Date: Feb. 4, 2007 Site: Dolphin Stadium
Devin Hester’s nickname as the Windy City Flyer, his exploits to start off Super Bowl XLI against the Indianapolis Colts certainly did.
Seven players previously returned kickoffs for touchdowns, but Hester became the first in the game’s history to take the opening kickoff back for a score. Hester did it with a breathtaking 92-yard return that gave Chicago the start it needed. Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn’t maintain that momentum in what would become a 29-17 loss.
“We knew we were capable of returning one,” Hester said afterward. “Once we got a chance to get our hands on it, we knew we had a great chance to get into the end zone. It was a right return and it was set up the way [former Bears special-teams coordinator] Dave Toub planned it. It was just being patient, and trusting your teammates that they’re going to be there to set up the blocks. That’s what happened.”
Hester fielded Adam Vinatieri’s kickoff near the left sideline, and worked his way back toward the middle of the field. In the process, Hester faked left to make a few Colts defenders miss in the middle of the field, and then turned on the jets down the right hash mark as he headed toward the right sideline. Near the 35-yard line, Vinatieri dove at Hester’s feet. But the return man was too far away. It was off to the races.
Interestingly, near the end of the run Hester could be seen watching himself on the stadium’s video board as he crossed the goal line.
The play took 14 seconds off the clock, and given Indianapolis’ struggles covering kickoffs that season, the Colts never should have kicked to Hester in the first place.
Hester currently is tied with Deion Sanders for the most combined return touchdowns (19), but his return TD in Super Bowl XLI isn’t included because it occurred in the postseason. The Bears decided not to bring back Hester after the 2013 season, and in March he signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:
Wright bolted for Tampa Bay in free agency, but Conte remains on the roster; sidelined by an offseason shoulder surgery that could land him on the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp. Either way, the brass deemed it necessary to upgrade the talent at the position.
Did they do it? That’s unclear right now because offseason workouts don’t provide enough evidence about how the new additions might perform in game situations.
In addition to drafting Brock Vereen, the Bears signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and 14-year veteran Adrian Wilson. So between all the new faces combined with players such as Conte and Craig Steltz, the Bears should be able to find a couple of safeties in 2014 capable of getting the job done.
Battle to watch: Every spot on the safety depth chart registers as a battle to watch because right now every position -- including the starting jobs -- is up for grabs. Provided Conte regains his confidence in 2014, he certainly possesses the skill set to finish training camp as one of the starters. But how long will he be on the shelf? Conte was unable to practice throughout organized team activities and minicamps, which puts him somewhat behind in the competition for one of the starting spots.
“We’ll see,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’ll wait until camp rolls around and I’ll get a report, and they’ll let us know who’s available and how much they can do. Whenever he’s available, we’ll start working him in and get him up to speed, get him the reps. He’s been in the meetings. So he knows what we’re doing. We’re going to start over pretty much in training camp with our installation. So a lot of it will be review, and then we’ll add some things as we go that we didn’t cover in OTAs and the coaches’ sessions. He’s gotten the mental work in, in the class room. So it’ll just be getting the physical reps. When he’s ready, he’s ready. We’ll work him in.”
Mundy has taken reps with the starters, as have Vereen and Jennings. The Bears added a wrinkle to the competition at safety in late June with the signing of Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, who missed all of 2013 due to a torn Achilles.
Dark horse: Despite his decorated past and Pro Bowl pedigree, Wilson comes into the derby for one of the safety spots without the benefit of learning the system by participating in the team’s offseason program. Wilson is one of 13 players in NFL history to pick off at least 20 passes in addition to posting 20 sacks. But the truth is the coaching staff really doesn’t know what Wilson, who will be 35 this season, has left in the tank. Wilson is also still trying to work back from undergoing surgery last fall on his Achilles.
If Wilson manages to stick, he could be a valuable asset for the team’s young safeties in teaching them the intricacies of the game.
Who makes the cut: The Bears will have some tough decisions to make here because it appears the current group is talented, but the roster spots are limited. Conte (if he regains health), Mundy, Vereen and Steltz will likely make the roster, and if the Bears decide to go with five safeties, Jennings would likely make the cut over McCray. If Wilson shows he’s back to form during camp, Steltz could become a victim of the numbers game at the position.
During the team’s time of inactivity, we’ll take a position-by-position look at some of the expected training camp battles and dark horses to make the team:
All three of those players should see time on the field together, but the Bears still feel they need capable reinforcements.
“You need to have multiple corners,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “A lot of the defenses we have to play, that we’re required to play nowadays in the National Football League, are sub packages with three corners or corner types in the game. Typically, at least half of the snaps you’ll play in the season will be with five defensive backs in the game. And sometimes, you’ll go into game weeks or games and almost every single snap will be in sub personnel. So there are ample opportunities for guys to show what they can do and become a contributor to a productive rotation. A third corner is like a starter. A third corner plays as much if not more than your third linebacker in a 4-3."
That means Fuller and Jennings will spend plenty of time shuffling on and off the field, depending on the situation. During organized team activities and minicamps, Jennings played opposite Tillman in the starting lineup. But when the team went into sub packages on passing downs, Fuller moved out opposite Tillman and Jennings kicked inside to the nickel spot. More than likely, that look isn’t yet set in stone as OTAs and minicamps are the time to experiment. What is clear, though, is the Bears expect Fuller to contribute immediately as a rookie.
Battle to watch: The Bears finished last season with five corners, and it appears right now the top four spots could be locked up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, and Kelvin Hayden with the fifth spot up for grabs. Isaiah Frey would seem to be the most likely candidate to win that fifth spot considering he spent the entire 2013 season as the nickel, with six starts, and played out the year with a broken hand. Frey contributed 47 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. But the Bears wanted turnovers from the nickel spot, and Frey was unable to deliver.
Frey will have to hold off players such as Demontre Hurst, Al Louis-Jean, Derricus Purdy, C.J. Wilson and Sherrick McManis, a star on special teams, who shows plenty of potential at corner. Although Hayden appears to be a frontrunner for that fourth corner spot, it’s worth nothing he missed all of last season due to a severe hamstring injury. Hayden's health is a concern.
Dark horse: An undrafted rookie, Louis-Jean declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season at Boston College. Louis-Jean played 10 games as a freshman in 2011 and started two of them, contributing 15 tackles, three pass breakups a forced fumble and an interception. But Louis-Jean lost the entire 2012 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot. He came back last season to post 21 tackles, break up a pass and force a fumble in 11 games, but was suspended for the season opener against Villanova and the AdvoCare V100 Bowl for violating team rules.
Louis-Jean attended Chicago’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis and caught the staff’s eye enough for the team to take him to training camp.
If the former four-star recruit pans out, the Bears will have come away with somewhat of a steal. At the same time, Louis-Jean could find difficulty flashing his ability in such a crowded race at a well-stocked position.
Who makes the cut: If the Bears stick with five corners, they’ll likely wind up with Tillman, Jennings, Fuller, Hayden and Frey at the conclusion of camp. But they’ll probably wind up keeping McManis as a contributor on special teams.
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.