Chicago Bears: Marc Trestman

In describing Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, his coaching peers often discuss an unconventional approach. But Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald took it a step further in calling Trestman “kind of the Phil Jackson of the NFL in terms of how he sees the game from a different picture other than just football and Xs and Os.”

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.

Enter Trestman.

“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.”
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. -- Jay Cutler senses he has changed since joining the Chicago Bears in 2009. And the new coaching staff, having worked with him for just a year, sees it too.

Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer likened it from moving from a freshman-level college course to a more advanced curriculum, which means the realistic expectation for Cutler in Year 2 in the team's system is for the quarterback to take a major step in his progression.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP PhotoCan Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler progress, as well as succeed, in Year 2 of coach Marc Trestman's system?
"As we move on, [Cutler] might take it to 201 and be able to ready the play a little bit more in-depth," Kromer said. "That's where we're getting to with a lot of our football right now."

Having recently signed a seven-year extension with the Bears, Cutler attributed his change to "a lot of factors," admitting that in "my younger days in Denver, and even when I first got here, you do some things that are foolish and you regret." He said the organization's hiring of general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman "kind of forces you to grow up."

"If you don't want to grow up, you're probably not going to last," Cutler said. "They're going to find somebody else."

Before letting that happen, Cutler buckled down in 2013, working in "just a conducive environment to be a football player as a quarterback" put together by Emery, and it led to one of his best seasons as a pro in the first year of a new system under a new coaching staff led by Trestman. Cutler completed 63.1 percent of his passes in 2013 for a career-best passer rating of 89.2. But he missed five games due to groin and ankle injuries.

Cutler called the injuries "freak" occurrences, and doesn't anticipate durability being an issue moving forward. Still, it's noteworthy that Cutler hasn't played an entire 16-game season since his first year in Chicago. A major contributor to that were offensive lines featuring forgettable players such as Frank Omiyale and J'Marcus Webb.

When the Bears finally committed to dramatically strengthening protection in 2013, Cutler produced. He'll play behind that same offensive line this season with the same group of weapons at the skill positions, which is a reason for optimism from the quarterback and the staff.

"I was straight [in terms of durability] until I really got here," Cutler said. "For a while, it was a hit parade back there. It takes its toll from time to time. I think with the offensive line we've got here, the guys are doing everything possible." The staff also incorporated a system that calls for Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly, which in turn, diminishes the punishment he absorbs.

"Once you start getting hit a lot, you start taking your eyes off the secondary," Cutler explained. "You lose a lot of trust up front and it gets difficult to play quarterback that way. You can look across the league and you see guys that are getting hit a lot. They're probably not going to be doing very well. The guys who stay pretty clean are in offenses year in and year out and get a feel for the guys, those guys are going to be the ones who are in the top of the league every year. So we'll see how it goes. I think Trest does a great job of emphasizing getting rid of the ball. Protection first, and that's how everything is designed here."

Chicago quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh says he has "seen incredible progress" in the year he's worked with Cutler.

"When we got in here last year and evaluated him, we had a real good conversation with him about certain things we think every quarterback should do," Cavanaugh said. "'And Jay, it might not be natural to you, but we want you to try it.' And he did. To his credit, he's taken every bit of suggestion we've given, and he's embraced it. Everything from how he holds the ball, to how he lines up in the gun pre-snap, to how he drops back, to his throwing base, to his follow-through. Every fundamental we have considered talking to him about, he's embraced. He's worked real hard at it, so I think it is night and day."

Trestman believes Cutler possesses the "it" factor needed for a quarterback to play at a high level on a consistent basis. Add that to Cutler's growth within the system, not to mention the fact he has finally got stability in terms of the staff, the system and teammates, and it's easy to see why the quarterback and the organization carry such high hopes for the season.

The stability, according to Trestman "can allow him to enjoy more flexibility at the line of scrimmage, and understand what we're trying to get to. Each of these plays we have, there's a lot of different answers against a lot of different types of looks and coverages. I think he's at a place now, because he's had so much experience on these plays, he can utilize the entire play to find the right answers. Obviously, 'it' factor combined with understanding the offense, people around you, good protection … I don't think there's any quarterback in the National Football League that without their intangibles they would have a chance to play at a high level. I think Jay's one of those guys who can do that and has that 'it' factor."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Jordan Palmer finally revealed the reasoning behind his lack of participation in team drills during Bears organized team activities Wednesday, saying he suffered a right shoulder strain that isn’t considered serious.

The Bears wrapped up the ninth of 10 OTA workouts inside the Walter Payton Center, and although Palmer participated during individual drills, he’s been held out of team work during recent practice sessions open to the media this offseason. Palmer expects to participate from June 17-19 during the club’s mandatory minicamp.

“It’s frustrating having to sit out a week or two, but it’ll be ready to go for the minicamp; just rehabbing, getting back into it,” Palmer said. “It’s a nothing deal, just frustrating. I’ve kind of had to back off for a week or two and rest my shoulder, getting it ready for minicamp.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Palmer
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJordan Palmer said his strained throwing shoulder should be ready for the Bears' minicamp next week.
During Palmer’s inactivity, Chicago brought aboard former Carolina Panther and Notre Dame standout Jimmy Clausen last week, signing him to a one-year contract worth $645,000 to compete for the role of Jay Cutler’s primary backup. Prior to the club making the signing, Bears coach Marc Trestman pulled Palmer aside for a talk.

The coach told Palmer “really just to worry about my shoulder, getting myself back and to not get caught in anything else that’s going on,” he said. “That’s 100 percent of my focus right now, and everything else is stuff I can’t control. So I’m not focused on that.”

It’s not as if Palmer automatically fell behind in the competition for the No. 2 job.

Clausen visited the Bears at Halas Hall last Thursday and put together an impressive workout, personal interview and X’s and O’s session on the board for the coaches, which prompted the club to sign him. Still, as Palmer mentioned “he’s been in the system for 72 hours,” a fact Clausen admits is a little different than what he’s accustomed to.

“Competition brings out the best in people, and I’m looking forward to competing,” Clausen said. “The only way I can compete is if I learn the offense. So I’ve just got to keep speeding that up. It’s definitely exciting. It’s a great opportunity.”

As it stands now, Chicago’s roster at the quarterback position includes Cutler, Clausen, Palmer, Jerrod Johnson and David Fales, a rookie. Despite missing time recently, Palmer remains the front-runner for the No. 2 job. But the addition of Clausen raises the stakes for everyone involved in the derby; provided the quarterback gets up to speed quickly enough to make a mark.

The Bears plan to keep at least five quarterbacks on the roster through the end of minicamp, but afterward there’s a good chance the club starts to whittle down the position.

The team believes Clausen is fully healthy after undergoing surgery last September to repair a torn right labrum suffered during the 2013 preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition, the Bears are impressed with Clausen’s football smarts, mechanics and mental toughness; not to mention the fact he’s experienced despite being just 26.

A second-round pick by the Panthers, Clausen started 10 games as a rookie, but tossed just three touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 13 total contests. The next year, the Panthers used the No. 1 pick in the draft to select Cam Newton, and Clausen never took another regular-season snap in Carolina.

The Bears believe the way Clausen dealt with such adversity as a rookie, the shoulder injury, and Carolina’s selection of Newton improved the quarterback’s mental toughness.

“I think that’s how everything works in life: right place at the right time,” Clausen said. “Everything is about timing and opportunities, and when you get that opportunity you’ve got to flourish. So I’ve been working hard, trying to get my shoulder 100 percent and wait for my opportunity. I have it now.”

Clausen said he brings some lessons from his time in Carolina to the current situation in Chicago.

“The biggest thing is knowledge. Obviously, I had a rough rookie year,” Clausen said. “Just coming back my second and third year just to learn and watch the game from the sidelines, I did that at Notre Dame as well, and it just helped me grow and learn different things. They helped me out a lot, whether it was Cam, whether it was Derek Anderson or Coach [Mike] Shula, there was a lot of knowledge in that room. It helped me a lot because we would bounce things off each other. I learned a lot of knowledge, especially defensively [in the way teams defend offenses].”

Palmer, meanwhile, refuses to put much thought into the recent setback with his shoulder and how the addition of Clausen might affect his chances at winning the job as Cutler’s backup. In fact, Palmer says he’s been a Clausen fan “for a long time” because “we grew up in the same area.”

“In my position, I’ve had to compete every single year since I was in high school. I’ve had to compete for a job,” Palmer said. “I’ve had to beat somebody out or had to compete to keep my job. So whatever the situation is and how everybody looks at it, I’m just focused on each day. Regardless of how many guys [are] in the room, I’m in the same position. I need to go out here, and move the team when I’m in there, make good decisions, and everything will shake out here at the end of camp.”
Colleague Rich Campbell over at the Chicago Tribune pointed out a recent interview with Marc Trestman in which the Bears coach indicates quarterback Jay Cutler is beefing up in an attempt to play through an entire 16-game season for just the second time during his Chicago tenure.

Trestman made the remarks last week in an interview with Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesBears QB Jay Cutler missed five games last season due to injuries.
“Jay has really worked hard in the offseason, and he has always been a hard worker in his condition and his training,” Trestman said. “But he has really amped it up. He's bigger, he's stronger than a year ago, and he has really focused on staying physically well for the entire season. That's No. 1: We've got to keep him standing, keep him safe. We see the improvements he's made in working on different issues in his mechanics, and I think he's feeling very comfortable back there in Year 2.”

Based on the sessions of organized team activities (OTAs) open to the media, Cutler doesn't appear to have bulked up. During workouts, however, Cutler typically wears long sleeves under his shoulder pads, which would make it difficult to see whether he's actually added weight in his effort to last an entire season for the first time since 2009.

Cutler missed five games in 2013 and came out of two other contests because of injuries, but he suffered the fewest sacks of his entire tenure with the Bears. Trestman, per Campbell, still wants the team to improve in the protection department, and should have a better chance of accomplishing that goal by bringing back the club's entire revamped offensive line for the second year in a row.

The only concern regarding the offensive line headed into the season is Jordan Mills' recovery from surgery to repair a fractured metatarsal in his left foot. But Mills is expected to be fully healthy by the start of training camp.

Cutler suffered a torn muscle in his groin taking a sack last Oct. at Washington, which forced him out of one game. A sprained ankle less than a month later against Detroit led to Cutler missing four more games.

“I thought we took pretty darn good care of [Cutler],” Trestman told Sirius XM NFL Radio. “I think he would agree. We're going to try to do better this time around, but we're trying to get rid of those things. I can't speak for the past. I can only speak for the past as recent as last year. It was a really unique, awkward [groin] injury that he had. Hopefully we can get him through safe and get him to play a 16-game season. I know that's predominant on his mind. If we can keep him safe and healthy, we feel like we can be in every game.”
Marc TrestmanAP Photo/Matt RourkeUpon becoming coach of the Bears, Marc Trestman worked toward ending hazing in the locker room.
Marc Trestman's ability to think organically no doubt raised him above some of the other candidates during general manager Phil Emery's search prior to last season for a new coach to lead the Chicago Bears.

Trestman now seems to be taking things a step further, based on this article written by Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback, and might be on track to show that a proper culture in the locker room could translate into victories on the football field.

According to King, Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler hopped a flight to New York to meet with Dov Seidman, an author who writes and speaks about values-based leadership, to toss around ideas about how to foster a more ethical culture in the locker room. What's interesting is Trestman made the eradication of hazing one of his first directives after taking the job as head coach of the Bears, and some of the players believed that move last season fostered a better work environment.

Obviously, locker room culture became a hot issue around the league last season when the Miami Dolphins suspended Richie Incognito, stemming from allegations of harassment from offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team and checked himself into a hospital to treat emotional distress. According to King, Seidman addressed team officials at the NFL's annual meeting in March, and is currently in the midst of conducting one-hour meetings with all 32 teams this month to talk about culture change in locker rooms.

“I've been in places where there's been hazing, and I've been in places where there has not been hazing,” Trestman said last November. “I told the team the first night: ‘When you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody's here to help you win.' We're not talking about taking a helmet and walking off the field with a helmet. We're talking about other things. The words you use, the way you act, the things you say affect people from all different backgrounds and places. We've got to understand that the beauty of this game is it draws people from everywhere, from different realities and different perceptions. But that can all be neutralized through respect and using the proper language and proper words in the right place and the right time, in this building, on the field, and when we're out in the community because we represent the entire city.”

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
David Banks/Getty Images"You have to earn your stripes ... but as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn't happen here," Brandon Marshall said.
It's clear Trestman wants to further improve upon some of the cultural changes he made upon becoming the team's head coach, and bringing along Cutler, who has never been perceived from the outside as a leader in the locker room, could go a long way toward that.

Trestman told King: “I got a tremendous start in the way a locker room was run when I coached for five years in Canada. In our locker room, everyone should feel safe. For some of the guys in Chicago, it was kind of new to them. There'd be no hazing. Lovie Smith had a great group of players, a great group, and he did a great job with them. There were some subtle things I wanted to add. I wanted to keep growing.”

Trestman declined to get into specifics about his conversation, telling King he simply “wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing.”

Receiver Brandon Marshall and guard Kyle Long, who was a rookie in 2013, have both said they've appreciated Trestman's approach.

“Here, it's different. We look at rookies differently,” Marshall said. “You have to earn your stripes, earn your place on the team, earn your place in the NFL. But as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn't happen here. Actually, Coach Trestman did a great job of really going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable from day one. There were some things where we were like, ‘Man, this stuff goes on in every locker room. We would love to continue to do it.' But Coach just said, ‘Hey, we're going to nip that in the bud. I want guys to focus on football, and everyone just focus on their jobs and not Rookie Night or what guys might do to me the next day [in terms of hazing].'”

Long said that Trestman made it “very clear from the beginning” that there would be no hazing in the locker room.

“I feel that's very conducive to a healthy workplace,” Long said. “We really appreciate that about Coach, where nobody is put ahead of anybody else. But at the same time, for you to think that we don't understand that we are rookies, you'd be mistaken.”

Through a coaching career spanning nearly three decades -- ranging from stints at colleges, a head-coaching job in the Canadian Football League and several other stints around the NFL -- Trestman said he's “seen the incidents” of hazing, and in Chicago he wanted to “build on the concept of respect and the growth of respect.”

“We're not going to spend time having players worry about things that can't help us win and are going to be disrespectful,” Trestman said last November. “I can't speak for anyone in the National Football League on that. I'm not going to stand up here after seven weeks on the job and start speaking for the league. Our whole foundation's built on respect for everyone in the organization, respect for the players, respect for the game, honoring the game. We've talked about it a lot.”

Apparently, Trestman's way isn't the norm around the NFL, which is part of the reason the league enlisted Seidman as a consultant. Seidman is the CEO of the LRN Corporation, which works with businesses to stress principled performance. Seidman believes culture change in NFL locker rooms won't take place overnight.

Trestman seems to be way ahead of the curve in that area.
Chicago's latest draft class created the instant trivia question of which NFL team features both the 2013 Pac-10 offensive and defensive players of the year, but in the end nothing trivial transpired with regard to the quality of prospects selected.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastPhil Emery may have conducted his best draft yet with the Bears.
Bears general manager Phil Emery set upon the task of filling the team's needs and accomplished that for the most part with the team's eight-man draft class. In doing so, the club stuck to its original plan, and when it veered, it was only done in an effort to move toward the goal of filling the team's needs.

Day 3 of the draft served as a prime example.

When Emery and the personnel staff looked up at the draft board going into Saturday, they felt the only way to land two quality players on the final day was to trade back into the fourth, which is precisely what the Bears did. After selecting 2013 Pac 10 offensive player of the year Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth, the club received another pick in the round via a trade with the Denver Broncos. The trade, in which Chicago gave up its fifth-round pick Saturday and an additional fifth rounder in in 2015, allowed the Bears to address a huge need at safety, as they selected Minnesota's Brock Vereen with the 131st pick. The trade also netted a seventh-round pick, which Chicago used to pick up Boise State offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr.

"So from the start of the day we were trying to line up opportunities to take our fifth-round [pick] and move into the back end of the fourth so we could come away with two quality players," Emery explained. "I just really felt if we waited until the fifth round for the second player, it wouldn't be there."

The synergy developed from familiarity between the coaching staff and scouting department allowed the club to pull off that move almost seamlessly, as part of Emery concluding arguably his best draft as the team's GM. When Emery joined the Bears in 2012, not only was he new to the job, but the scouting department was already in the process of preparing for the draft. Then in 2013, Emery found himself working with a new coaching staff trying to find players who fit schemes he didn't yet truly know, or at least hadn't seen used by the Bears.

Now with Emery's personnel department, which he's expanded, and a year of experience working with Marc Trestman and the coaching staff, perhaps things finally are coming together.

"Very satisfied the way people came together in this building," Emery said "It was awesome. If you're willing to sit down and have a good conversation [about players] instead of just reading reports, state your opinions and really listen, you're going to find a way toward your goals. That's what I've seen happen this past year in terms of everybody being comfortable with each other."
CLEVELAND -- Greetings from Cleveland, where I’m part of a contingent of ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters here at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest.

From here, we’ll get the takes of several Hall of Famers on a variety of current subjects concerning the NFL.

But for right now, let’s get to this week’s Twitter mailbag. Thanks, everyone, for participating.

 
Thanks everyone for participating in our weekly Twitter mailbag. This week, we’ll start off with an interesting question regarding whether the Chicago Bears should try to trade for Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Enjoy the weekend.

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Unstable became more even more wobbly with regards to the safety position headed into 2014 on Thursday, when the Chicago Bears announced Chris Conte would miss four to five months after having shoulder surgery.

The setback comes at a difficult time for Conte, who after a subpar 2013 campaign, finds himself in the position where he’ll have to compete to keep his starting job next season. Though it’s easy to point to Conte’s struggles last season and say the Bears might be better off going a different direction, as of right now, he’s the only truly proven commodity at the safety position.

Yes, he played badly in 2013.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsChris Conte, left, had 90 tackles and three interceptions last season.
But going into the season, Conte was expected to put together a breakout year after a 2012 season in which he posted 68 tackles, picked off two passes and contributed another nine pass breakups. In 2013, Conte posted 90 tackles, intercepted three passes, and broke up seven others.

Even after the shoulder surgery, I expect Conte to wind up as one of Chicago’s starting safeties. Why? He’s arguably the secondary’s most gifted player in terms of raw physical talent coming off a bad 2013 season and going into a contract year.

“He knows he’s got to get better,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said back in Feb. at the NFL combine. “He’s working in any way he can at this point in time, working out, and training to get himself started. I think he knows he didn’t play as well as he could play. He’s moving forward, which is a good thing.”

Obviously, the shoulder should set Conte back significantly enough to land him on the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp. That, in turn, would make it more difficult for Conte to crack the starting lineup this season, which is disappointing because he’s the type of player that cares deeply about his craft and how he’s perceived by fans, the media, and most importantly, coaches and teammates.

Besides that, nobody wants to be a liability; especially Conte.

Making the situation more difficult for the Bears is the current roster. The Bears signed four safeties since free agency started in Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray in addition to re-signing veteran Craig Steltz. Mundy and Jennings have extensive experience as starters. But in five years with 14 career starts, including nine in 2013 with the New York Giants, Mundy has intercepted just two passes. Jennings, meanwhile, started the past 26 games for the Green Bay Packers over the past two seasons. Yet in three NFL seasons, Jennings has picked off only one pass.

Remember, in what was a bad 2013 season for Conte, he picked off as many passes as Mundy and Jennings combined over their careers. Conte finished last season with seven pass breakups. Combined, Jennings and Mundy have broken up 13 passes.

So it's almost a lock the Bears will draft a safety in May.

As we’ve said before, Conte appeared to be an ascending player headed into last season, and what transpired with him was somewhat puzzling because the expectation was he’d take the next step, which might have put him into the conversation about some of the better players in the league at his position.

“Chris knows he has to come in and compete to start,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said at the combine. “My vision for him is that he does compete and win it. I’d love to be talking to him about an extension. So let’s see what he does.”

The first step now for Conte, however, is rehabilitation.
Despite general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman expressing a desire to bring back Henry Melton for 2014, the defensive tackle obviously didn’t feel such a vibe.

Melton
Having signed a deal with the Dallas Cowboys in which he can earn up to $5 million in 2014, Melton was asked Wednesday whether it was difficult to leave the Chicago Bears, where he spent the first five years of his career after the club drafted him in 2009 with a fourth-round pick. Melton didn't seem especially pleased about how the Bears dealt with him in free agency.

“We gave them a chance to make an offer, and they said they would wait to see what the market was and we don’t do business like that,” Melton said. “They dropped out early.”

According to a source familiar with the situation, the Bears never really ever entered the derby because they didn’t make an offer.

Asked about Melton at the start of free agency, Emery said he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”

Upon learning of those remarks, the source said, “If you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don’t wait.”

So that’s where we stand regarding Melton, who will attempt to regain his Pro Bowl form after undergoing left ACL surgery in 2013. The Bears paid Melton $8.45 million last season as the franchise player, and received just three games as a return on the investment.

So Chicago probably made the right move in not overpaying for Melton.

The club will certainly find out in 2014 when it hosts Melton and Dallas at Soldier Field.

Sign a guy coming off a career-high six sacks in 2013 in Lamarr Houston, only to cut a player in Julius Peppers coming off a down year in which he contributed 7.5 sacks after back-to-back seasons of 11-plus sacks.

On the surface, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.

But this move wasn’t about production as much as it was about the money. Carrying Peppers into the 2014 season would have cost the Chicago Bears a base salary of $13.9 million, and a salary-cap hit of $18.183 million. The decision to terminate Peppers’ contract clears $9.8 million in cap space for 2014.

What that means is the Bears plan to spend some more in a free-agent market that could pay off big in terms of bargains for teams that exercise some patience.

Peppers
As it stands now, the Bears would like to bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Charles Tillman and backup quarterback Josh McCown. The Bears spent $5.775 million during free agency for 2013 last offseason in bringing in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett. So the cap space cleared by parting ways with Peppers should be more than sufficient to bring back Tillman, McCown and Melton if the club so chooses.

If that trio opts to play elsewhere in 2014, the Bears now have enough cap space to fill those holes with legitimate players capable of contributing just as quickly as the club’s free-agent haul from a year ago did.

Chicago parting ways with Peppers certainly didn’t come as a surprise given his age (34), salary and the perception that his production is declining (that typically happens when you’re surrounded by below-average players because of injuries to starters), and he’s falling off athletically. Throughout the offseason, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery didn’t even try to hint at possibly bringing back Peppers.

Asked at the NFL combine in February whether Peppers had played his last game for the Bears, Trestman said, “Julius Peppers is under contract. He’s been very important to our football team, and I don’t think anything more needs to be said in that regard at this point in time.”

Translation: You’re outta here.

That same day at the combine, knowing the question ultimately referred to Peppers, Emery used a Trestman remark to explain the process of trying to free a player from his contractual obligations with enough time for him to find work with another team.

“To quote Marc,” Emery said, “decisions are made when they have to be made.”

In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), racked up 37.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in every season with the team except for 2013. In all, Peppers has posted 119 sacks, which ranks as the 17th-most in NFL history since 1982, when the league first started recording sacks as an official statistic.

Since coming into the league in 2002, Peppers ranks only second to Jared Allen (128.5 sacks), who coincidentally is currently without a team, too.

So Peppers shouldn’t have trouble finding work in 2014.

But the Bears better find a way to replace his production on defense, or they could be in for a season similar to what they experienced in 2013. Based on what Chicago has acquired through free agency thus far, there is still plenty of work to do on that front.
The Chicago Bears announced Sunday they have agreed to terms on one-year contracts for defensive tackle Nate Collins and quarterback Jordan Palmer.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed, but it’s believed both signed contracts for the veteran minimum. The club moved to sign Collins and Palmer two days before they were set to hit the open market Tuesday with the start of free agency.

It’s unknown at this point whether the Palmer signing will affect the club’s effort to re-sign veteran backup Josh McCown. The Bears had been trying to reach a deal to bring back McCown, who served as the starter for five games last season in place of Jay Cutler. But negotiations had not gone smoothly, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

In Palmer, the Bears gained some comfort in his grasp of the offensive system, despite the five-year veteran spending just nine games in 2013 with the club. At the end of training camp, Bears coach Marc Trestman came away impressed with Palmer’s ability to absorb information quickly when they brought aboard the quarterback as an emergency fill-in for the injured Matthew Blanchard. The Bears signed Palmer on Aug. 17, and 12 days later in the preseason finale against Cleveland, the quarterback completed 11 of 17 for 111` yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 102.8 in only one half of action.

Still, the Bears cut Palmer at the end of the exhibition season, only to bring him back on Oct. 28.

The younger brother of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, Jordan Palmer has played five seasons in the NFL with the Bengals, Jaguars and Bears, but has participated in just four games.

Collins, meanwhile, became a starter when the team lost franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton for the season with a torn ACL. But in his first game in the starting lineup, Collins tore the ACL in his left knee during a third quarter loss to the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 6.

Collins’ injury marked the second time in 15 days the Bears lost a starting defensive tackle to a torn ACL. Prior to suffering the knee injury, Collins had produced 13 tackles a sack and three quarterback pressures.
The Chicago Bears' exclusive right to negotiate a contract with free agent defensive tackle Henry Melton expired Saturday once the league’s legal tampering period opened up in advance of Tuesday’s start of free agency, and as expected, several teams have expressed interest, according to an NFL source.

Melton
Melton, 27, is coming off surgery to repair his left ACL, and it’s likely the Bears were optimistically expecting somewhat of a soft market for the defensive tackle, who received $8.45 million in 2013 as the club’s franchise player. But early indications are that Melton will generate plenty of interest from several teams. It's worth noting that Melton has familiarity with Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith and Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (even though the Cowboys likely aren't an option considering they are barely under the salary cap at this point). It's also important to mention that calls made by clubs once the negotiation window opens up typically result only in preliminary talks, as the action isn’t expected to seriously heat up until Sunday and Monday.

Since the end of the regular season, Melton and the Bears have engaged in some positive talks. But after the week of the NFL combine, the defensive tackle’s representatives fully expected their client to test the market based on further discussions with the club.

The Bears signed veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff on Wednesday night, but that move doesn’t diminish the team’s interest in bringing back Melton, who put together a Pro Bowl season in 2012, only to follow with a three-game 2013 campaign that ended with a torn left ACL against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Prior to Melton’s injury, Chicago ranked No. 8 against the run. After, the run defense nosedived to last.

But Melton’s knee isn’t expected to be a major concern for him going into next season, based on comments made by general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman.

“He’s in every day early,” Trestman said last month at the combine. “He’s got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you’ll see that he has been training and he has been working. He’s very focused. You’ll see that he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously, he’s in there working the knee. But he’s been on time. He’s working hard. I spoke to him yesterday for 30-45 minutes, and he’s committed to getting himself back, and he’s got work to do to get there. But he’s in a very good place right now, and we all understand the situation. We’ll see where it goes.”

The destination, whether it’s Chicago or elsewhere, will likely be known by the start of the new league year.

But surely, the Bears have contingency plans in place as they could seek out other options through free agency or use their first-round draft pick to bolster the position. A source with knowledge of the team’s thinking mentioned it would be wise to find out the market value for the players the club would like to re-sign once free agency actually opens, before moving too quickly and possibly overspending.

By doing that, the Bears run the risk of losing some of those free agents. Such a scenario could be playing out right now with Melton.

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