Chicago Bears: NFL

Cornerback Charles Tillman spent time Thursday talking with the “SVP & Russillo” show on ESPN radio, and discussed his desire to return for a 13th season with the Chicago Bears, whether he thinks quarterback Jay Cutler can finally shed his enigmatic persona, and more.

You can hear the entire interview here.

Would you like to return to the Chicago Bears for the 2015 season?

Tillman: Oh yeah, most definitely. I would love to be back in Chicago. But that’s not up to me. That’s up to the new GM. His name is Ryan Pace. So that’s up to him and coach [John] Fox.

What happened last season?

Tillman: We were a not-so-good team. We fell apart on all levels. We just weren’t a good team. I think the talent was there. But we just didn’t show up on the field.

The organization brought in coaches to fix Cutler. Does that mean it’s impossible to keep any consistency on the defensive side when you go so far the other way?

Tillman: I don’t think it was impossible. I think one of the things with our defense was we didn’t make the plays that we were supposed to make. We missed a lot of layups. There were some things that we changed that just didn’t work out. All the blame doesn’t go on the coaches. It takes coaches and players to make things right when you have it good, and it takes both to make it wrong when it doesn’t go the right way. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders.

Why the change from Marc Trestman to Fox?

Tillman: Someone told me a stat the other day. I think since 1956, this was the first previous head coach that we had. I think the organization is headed in the right direction. I like the hire. I met Coach Fox and I’ve talked to other players that he’s coached. They said that he’s a player’s coach. He’s an unbelievable person, great head coach. He’s a guy that you want to play for. I’m excited.

Can Cutler be a success for the Chicago Bears?

Tillman: I think he can be a success for the Chicago Bears, but I think ultimately that’s up to him and what he wants to do.

Meaning what?

Tillman: Can he take it to the next level? You want to make a name for yourself as a player, and I think he can do that. I think there are a lot of negative stereotypes when people talk about Jay Cutler. I think he can. I think that’s up to him though.

Cutler has underachieved his entire career.

Tillman: You’ve got your theory. Like I said, I think Jay Cutler can be that guy if he chooses to. That’s up to him, whether it’s mentally just taking it to that next level, mentally getting in the zone to where he’s hitting on all cylinders with receivers, players, coaches, leading. I think that’s a choice he has to make.

Do you think Fox will want to go with Cutler as the quarterback?

Tillman: I don’t know. We will see. I don’t know Coach Fox’s mindset. I don’t know what he’s thinking, if he wants to start over. I could not tell you.
Thanks, everyone, for participating in this week's edition of our Chicago Bears Twitter mailbag. Let's get started:

@mikecwright: I wouldn't count out the Bears because they can add on to their nucleus of talent to take the next step in 2015. But I'd be remiss if I didn't break down the reality of the situation. Of all the teams finishing last in their respective divisions in 2013, none advanced to the postseason in 2014, and five of those clubs finished in last place again. That's not to say the Bears can't bounce back in 2015. As much criticism as quarterback Jay Cutler receives, you can't take away the fact that he's still tremendously talented, and really all he needs is a coach who will force him to rein in his game. I believe John Fox is that coach, and he'll help Cutler to improve by making the Bears a run-oriented team so the pressure isn't on the quarterback to do all the heavy lifting. To me, the biggest question mark for this team headed into 2015 is the defense, which doesn't appear to be stocked well enough in terms of personnel to be able to successfully switch over to a 3-4 scheme. We don't know whether the Bears plan on going that route, but it certainly looks that way based on the hiring of Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator. If the Bears can field just a mediocre defense that can keep them in games, the offense is talented enough to take the team over the top more times than not.

@mikecwright: That's a tough one because Fox and the new regime probably won't tolerate the ancillary drama that Brandon Marshall might bring to the table. At the same time, I think Fox is just the right coach for Marshall, whose displays of emotion can often be misconstrued and labeled as drama. I think you'd agree with me that the Bears are a better team with Marshall than without him. But I also think Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are too similar in their respective playing styles, and the Bears need a little more diversity at the receiver position. That said, I believe Marshall is a Chicago Bear in 2015, and I see him approaching next season with a hunger we haven't seen from him in a few years because he'll want to bounce back from his rough 2014 season. So the gut says Marshall stays. But at this point, nobody really knows, including yours truly.

@mikecwright: I really do. I won't even sugarcoat it: Dowell Loggains and Cutler are pretty close and have wanted to work together for quite some time. The thing about Loggains is he has an easygoing personality, which is why he's been able to get along so well with players at every stop he's been in the NFL. When Cutler was coming out of Vanderbilt just before the draft, Loggains was an administrative assistant on the Tennessee Titans staff and tried hard to persuade the brass there to take the quarterback over Vince Young. Let's give Cutler credit here: He got along well with former quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh. I envision the same with Loggains. Let me also add that even though I do think Cutler will be Chicago's quarterback in 2015, this new regime won't hesitate to pull him if he's not performing or executing the offense the way he's been instructed.

@mikecwright: This one's easy. All Fox has to do is be himself. There's a reason Fox has won everywhere he's been: His players love playing for him. Fox automatically joins the Bears with credibility, given his decorated past. Players want to win. Fox has done it consistently. So they'll listen to him, and by doing that, the culture in the locker room will change. Former coach Marc Trestman erred in not consistently holding players accountable. I don't see that happening under Fox's watch.

@mikecwright: Not at all. It's embarrassing to admit, but there have been times I've arrived at an interview or news conference a little late and asked a question someone else had already asked. Nobody has ever been rude to me when I've done that. So I won't be rude, either. 
In case you missed it, Larry Mayer over at the Chicago Bears' official website wrote a nice piece on center Roberto Garza working Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday as a color analyst on Telemundo's telecast of the game.

Garza worked last year's Super Bowl for Fox Deportes as a sideline reporter and appears to be eyeing a broadcasting career once he finishes playing football. Garza, 35, returns next season for his 15th in the NFL.

"Being able to talk about football and being involved in one way or another would be something I'd look forward to doing," Garza told the team's website. "I don't see myself doing a 9-to-5 job. So I think [broadcasting] might be something I'll be looking to do."

He should, considering Garza is articulate with a thorough knowledge of the game from an NFL career spanning more than 200 contests.

Throughout Garza's career, he's been one of the league's most popular players in the Hispanic community and regularly participates in the league's Hispanic Heritage month activities.
Given all the talk recently about Chicago returning to its identity on defense, it was only fitting the team’s official website recently sat down at Halas Hall with Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, who dished on a variety of subjects ranging from his experience with the NFL draft to former running back Walter Payton.

We won’t steal all the goodies, because if you’re looking for a trip down memory lane with Singletary, you should check out his segment on “Inside the Bears” right here.

Singletary has probably told the story of his frustrating draft experience hundreds of times before, but it never gets old.

“My future wife and I were in Houston watching it and there were a number of people there, a lot of television and things like that. I got called maybe four different times, I think, by Kansas City, the Bears, I think San Diego. [They’d say], ‘Mike, our pick is coming up and it could be between you and the next guy.’ And it was always the next guy,” Singletary said. “So needless to say, after the first round, I was very frustrated. I went outside and kicked a few tires and just was really frustrated. Finally, I just said, ‘Lord, if you really want me to play in the NFL, let me go to the Chicago Bears.’ Five seconds later, my wife came out of the door and said, ‘Hey, the Bears just drafted you.’”

The 38th pick of the 1981 draft class, which included offensive tackle Keith Van Horne and current St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, Singletary went on to play 12 seasons for the Bears, earning Pro Bowl recognition for 10 consecutive years (1983-92). During Singletary’s last 11 seasons in the NFL, he finished ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on the team in tackles and missed just two games in 12 seasons as a pro.

Singletary finished his career with 1,488 tackles, 19 sacks and seven interceptions.
Veteran NFL kicker Jay Feely thinks “Jay Cutler can win on the field,” but questioned the quarterback’s ability to assume a true leadership role for the Chicago Bears.

Feely signed with the Bears back in December as a replacement for starter Robbie Gould, who suffered a season-ending right quadriceps injury. Feely was asked during Mad Dog Sports Radio on Wednesday whether he believes Cutler is capable of developing into the club’s answer at the position.

“Not as a leader, no,” Feely said. “That’s not who he is. You’re going to have a vacuum there. So you have to know that as a general manager or a head coach, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have that leadership from this position, so we’ve really got to have other guys that are going to step up and are going to be our verbal leaders.”

Cutler didn’t serve in such a capacity during the 2014 season, according to Feely, who mentioned the quarterback and former head coach Marc Trestman lacked leadership. Cutler set the franchise’s single-season record for completions (370), and hit career highs in completion percentage (66) and passing touchdowns (28) last season. However, Cutler also tied Philip Rivers for throwing the most interceptions in the NFL with 18. Cutler also lost six fumbles to lead the league in turnovers.

Trestman benched Cutler for a Dec. 21 loss to the Detroit Lions in favor of Jimmy Clausen.

“I think with Marc Trestman, he was a little awkward when he spoke,” Feely said. “So, he really didn’t connect with guys. You can have that as a coach if you have a strong locker room. If you don’t have leaders in the locker room, [and] you don’t have a coach who really inspires, then you end up having a losing season.”

The same could be said for lacking leadership at the quarterback position, according to Feely. Cutler passed for 3,212 yards in 2014, which ranked as the most in his six years with the Bears and second best of his career. But the Bears need more than solid statistics at the position.

“Here’s my thing with quarterbacks in general,” Feely said. You are the person that every guy in that locker room looks to. When there’s a problem, they look to the quarterback. They want the quarterback to lead. When you have a quarterback who doesn’t like to lead, it leaves a hole in the team. When a quarterback is not a leader, there’s always going to be a vacuum there. Jay Cutler can win on the field, but he would be so much better and the team would be so much better if you’re a leader off the field as well. And I never saw him lead verbally. If he doesn’t want to do that, he doesn’t want to be that person, it’s not in his DNA, then you’re always going to have a vacuum there that somebody else needs to step into and fill.”
In the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, some current and former Chicago Bears made the rounds for interviews, discussing subjects ranging from the actual game to junior-high crushes.

“Mike & Mike” caught up with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to discuss Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, among other subjects, while tight end Martellus Bennett appeared on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” where he reminisced about playing the clarinet in junior high.

Urlacher, who faced Lynch four times -- including the postseason -- from 2010-12 compared the Seahawks running back to Ricky Williams. Lynch averaged 3.4 yards per attempt in those four matchups against Urlacher, and he never rushed for more than 87 yards in a game.

“Ricky Williams, in my opinion, was one of the better guys in the league,” Urlacher said. “He didn’t have the balance that Marshawn has. Marshawn, he’s hard to tackle. I only played against him a couple of times. We did OK against him in Chicago when I was there. But he’s a different guy now. He’s not the same player he was back then. He’s clicking on all cylinders.”

What makes Lynch such a dominant player?

“Obviously, you look at how strong he is. He doesn’t put the ball on the ground, No. 1. He takes care of the football; catches it well,” Urlacher said. “He does everything you want a guy to do. That offense, they want to run the football, which is good because he’s a powerful guy. With that little zone-read, man, it’s hard because if you get him one-on-one, he’s gonna make a guy miss.”

Shifting to the New England Patriots, Urlacher called Gronkowski “a terrible matchup problem.”

“He’s physical. The one game I played against him I think he pushed off on me for a touchdown. Offensive guys can get away with that. But he’s so good at using his body. He’s got great hands,” Urlacher said. “That catch he made against the Colts with a deflated football. ... I think it was in the second half. It was a full football. But the guy’s got great hands; big, physical guy, fast. You watch him catch the ball and guys can’t tackle him. The run he had against, I want to say Indy the first time they played, when he jumped over the guy in the end zone, he has no regard for his body. He’s a matchup problem for any defensive coordinator. Who do you put on him? Do you put a linebacker [on him]? No, he’s not gonna run on him. Do you put a safety [on him]? Probably undersized, unless it’s Kam Chancellor, then you have a little bit better chance.”

Urlacher also dished on Seattle’s defense and where it stands among some of the other great defensive units in NFL history.

“I think they’re already in that breath,” Urlacher said. “When you look at what they’ve done statistically over the last couple of years, and it’s rarely been done in the NFL. So I think they’re already in that category. If they beat [Tom] Brady, they solidify it, in my opinion.”

Bennett, meanwhile, discussed more lighthearted topics during his time on the interview circuit. Bennett divulged that as an eighth-grader growing up in Texas, he was a member of his school’s band.

“So I learned to play the clarinet because they had this one pretty girl named Amanda,” Bennett said. “She was pretty good. But she ended up being second chair to me because I was first chair, which is big-time in band. If you’re first chair, that means like being first team. Second chair is like being almost as good as the first chair.”

So what happened with Amanda?

“We didn’t have a relationship. It was one of those things,” Bennett said. “She was Korean, and I was a 6-7 black guy in eighth grade. I don’t think her parents liked me as much.”
Former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi served as a consultant with the Chicago Bears as they worked through the process of bringing aboard GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox.

Accorsi spoke recently about the process during ESPN 10002s “Waddle & Silvy” show, and he dropped several interesting tidbits. Here’s the final portion of a three-part interview:

Q: As a longtime personnel evaluator, do you have an opinion on quarterback Jay Cutler?

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler's future probably will be determined by how he adapts to the Bears' new coaching staff.
Accorsi: I don’t. In New York City, where I live, we can’t get the package. There’s no agreement between Time Warner and the NFL. So I can watch Red Zone, but I didn’t see the Bears much. So I don’t really have [an opinion]; didn’t see him much in Denver either. So I don’t have it. Quarterbacks have been my specialty. But I really believe you can’t evaluate from your couch. You’ve got to put your hands on them, and you have to watch them; watch everything about them, from practice to everything else. I wouldn’t begin to try to evaluate Jay Cutler.

Q: Knowing John Fox the way you do, how do you think the relationship will work out with Cutler?

Accorsi: No, I think that Jay will love John. John has a way with players. We had some strong personalities on that defense in New York with [Michael] Strahan and [Jessie] Armstead. I remember when he left, our players were in a depression. Strahan came in to me and said, ‘We’re not going to be the same.’ This was no reflection on his success or anything. He said the relationship John Fox had with our defense … he’s always gotten along with players and known how to motivate players, and how to keep relationships with players. I don’t have any doubt about that. I think the players are going to love playing for him because I’ve never seen anybody that has not loved playing for him. You’re going to love him in Chicago. There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s going to be just what the doctor ordered.

Q: The Bears now have John Fox, Vic Fangio and Adam Gase. How would you evaluate or project that as a group?

Accorsi: That’s an awful good start. Gase, we interviewed Gase for a head coaching job and he was impressive. Fangio has been mentioned as a head coach. Fangio is the one guy who drove us crazy with the Giants. The last seven or eight years, we’d had pretty good success with Eli [Manning] winning two championships. But even in the championship game we won in San Francisco, he threw us off our rhythm. He put Eli on the ground more than any defensive coordinator has ever put Eli on the ground. And Eli has a way of staying healthy. But he got beat up so bad in that championship game, the worst he’s ever gotten beaten up. I have great respect for him. Everywhere he’s done, his defenses are good. And as far as Gase is concerned, first of all, the added bonus that he worked for Fox. He’s an impressive young man. I’m very excited. That’s a pretty good start. I don’t know who else he’s hired exactly, but I’m a Bears fan now. So I’m really happy about it.

Q: What stood about Gase when you interviewed him for the head coaching position?

Accorsi: I don’t know what I expected, I guess because of his youth. He’s got a presence about him. He’s a big guy. He’s not a little guy. Not that that makes any difference. Paul Brown was small. Lombardi wasn’t tall. But he can command a room. He’s very, very self-confident. I will tell you that Peyton Manning is really high on him. Peyton Manning said he’s as good a coach as I’ve ever played for. That was unsolicited. He called me. He’s gonna be a head coach. I think with Denver, I think it was the fact it was almost like Fox with us when [Gary] Kubiak interviewed. They were really close, [Gary] Kubiak and [John] Elway. I think that was a perfect fit. I don’t know what happened in the other places. I, too, thought he was going to be a head coach. I can’t tell you how surprised and pleased I am that he joined us because that’s a bonus to get him.
The Chicago Bears announced Tuesday they have reached an agreement with Clint Hurtt to become the club’s outside linebackers coach.

Hurtt served the 2014 season on former head coach Marc Trestman’s staff as the team’s defensive line coach.

The Bears also announced offensive quality control coaches Brendan Nugent and Carson Walch won’t be returning for the 2015 season.

Under Hurtt’s direction in 2014, the Bears increased their sacks from 31 in 2013 to 39 with 35 of the club’s sacks coming from the defensive line.

Chicago’s designation of Hurtt as outside linebackers coach signifies the Bears could be moving to a 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose background is rooted in the scheme.

With Hurtt leading the defensive line in 2014, defensive end Willie Young led the Bears with a career-high 10 sacks, after posting six over the previous four years with the Detroit Lions. Young became the second player in Bears history to post double-digit sacks in his first year with the team since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic. Hurtt also played a role in Jeremiah Ratliff ranking eighth among defensive tackles in sacks (6.5). Stephen Paea chipped in a career-high six sacks.

Before becoming Chicago’s defensive line coach in 2014, Hurtt worked 13 years coaching in college. Hurtt served from 2010-13 as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator. Hurtt joined Louisville from his second stint at Miami, where he worked as the defensive line coach from 2006-09. Hurtt started his coaching career at Miami as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach from 2001-02, before working as a graduate assistant with the team from 2003-04.

Hurtt worked the 2005 season at Florida International University as defensive line coach.
Former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi served as a consultant with the Chicago Bears as they worked through the process of bringing aboard GM Ryan Pace and new head coach John Fox.

Accorsi spoke recently about the process during ESPN 10002s "Waddle & Silvy" show, and he dropped several interesting tidbits. Here’s Part II of an interview that we will break down into three parts:

You mentioned that Ryan Pace is an old soul and he’s experienced. But was it desired to pair Pace with an experienced coach such as John Fox?

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY SportsErnie Accorsi on Bears coach John Fox: "... the fact that he's been around, that helps, no question. You can't substitute for having gone through the wars."
Accorsi: I didn’t make the final decision, but I don’t think the final decision was based on, 'We better have an older coach.' If you do that, you’re going to limit yourself. You have to pick the best person. But I will say this about youth. Pete Rozelle was 33 ... this was when they got the job. [Don] Shula was 33. John Madden was 32. [Chuck] Noll was 35. They’re all in the Hall of Fame. So I don’t think it matters when you get started. My first shot I was 41. I made mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes, because it’s your first time around the circuit. That’s just gonna happen. Hiring John Fox was the best qualified person for the job. But the fact that he’s been around, that helps, no question. You can’t substitute for having gone through the wars. When something hits you in the face for the first time, it’s tough to handle it. [Bill] Parcells had a great line when he became a general manager. He said five things happen every day that you don’t want to happen. It’s not like you’re coaching. Coaching, you’re trained to rectify things on the field. But when you have a guy around who can say, 'Look, I’ve been through this. Don’t worry about it. We can get through this in this way or that way.' It does help. It’s a plus, there’s no question.

You’ve got a relationship with Fox, dating to your time with the Giants. Did you have to sell Fox much to Pace?

Accorsi: I wasn’t going to sell him, because I was the one guy who knew him, had worked with him. I think that’s where, as a consultant, you can make a big mistake. I’m not a salesman. I’m an advisor. It was unanimous that George [McCaskey], Ted {Phillips] and Ryan wanted to interview him. All you had to do was look at his record. So I, of course, was for it. But I didn’t say anything until afterward, because I wanted them to get whatever impression. When he walked in that room, he was just fresh to them. I didn’t treat it like this is an old [friend]. I was tough on him. I asked some tough questions. We have a great relationship, but I’ll just give you an example. We lost Super Bowl XXXV together, and we didn’t play very well. I always complained about we did nothing on offense. I’m sure it was great defense. But this was sort of the bust-your-chops shot for him. I said to him, 'I wasn’t crazy about [Jim] Fassel’s offensive game plan. And as a matter of fact, I wasn’t that happy with yours either.' I didn’t pull any punches with him. I wouldn’t have done that. He impressed them, there was no question. And it was a game-changer. Look, I think the single toughest thing to do in football is to project an assistant coach to the head coaching job. They’re two different jobs. The things you have to deal with as a head coach. You can immerse yourself in strategy and X’s and O’s as an assistant, and player relations because you’re dealing with these guys. But the head coach, he has to control that. Now you’re a head coach, you’re the commander of the army. It’s a whole different thing. And you never, never know. You just don’t know. With Fox, you knew: 30 games over .500, seven playoffs, two Super Bowls. The fact that he lost two Super Bowls to me was even more important, because the hunger and drive you have to never let that happen again, to right that wrong, is as powerful a force as you can have in this business.

During the process, how much was Jay Cutler discussed?

Accorsi: First of all, I wasn’t going to get involved in personnel. I haven’t seen the Bears that much. But anytime in an interview, you basically ... because you want to see how prepared a person is for the interview. You basically ask a coach to go through your team. Most of them, the minute they know they’re going to get the interview, unless it’s the day before, they prepare. Both general manager candidates and head coaches evaluate your team for you. Within that framework, obviously they talked about the quarterback. They talked about the backup quarterback. They talked about every position. Most of those guys really have a chance to prepare. In all fairness to Fox, he had just lost a championship game on Sunday. He was still in the post-championship game period, which wasn’t exactly fair for him to be completely prepared for an interview, because there was a chance when he was coaching that game that he was going to be coaching a Super Bowl. So, not as much with him as the others, but you ask them to go through your whole team and have them evaluate your team for you.
Former New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi served as a consultant with the Chicago Bears as they worked through the process of bringing aboard GM Ryan Pace and new head coach John Fox.

Accorsi spoke recently about the process during ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy" show, and he dropped several interesting tidbits. Here’s Part I of an interview that we’ll break down into three parts:

How was your experience working with the Bears throughout this process?

[+] EnlargeRyan Pace
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhErnie Accorsi on new Bears GM Ryan Pace: "He had an old-world, a throwback soul."
Accorsi: I really feel good about it. And I loved the experience. I’ve done this a couple of times. I’m getting old. I don’t want to do really any more of these. As you can see who I worked for in the past, I’m an incurable traditionalist when it comes to the old franchises. So I knew [team president] Ted [Phillips] for years, and I knew Ed McCaskey very well. When it was the Bears, I thought, 'You know what, this would be a great thing to do for my last one.' I grew up as a Baltimore Colts fan. We were in the Western division in those days, and played the Bears twice a year. It was such a great rivalry. I’ve always had great regard for the history of the Bears. So I was really anxious to do it. I had a great time. There was another connection with the Bears. I went to college with Brian Piccolo. In fact, we were in the same dorm. There was always a connection there for me because of Brian. All in all, it was a great experience that I felt really good about the whole process and the way it came out.

It was wise for the Bears to go with a football guy to help during this process. Throughout the process, was your voice the loudest in the room?

Accorsi: No, one thing about it is, I’ve been around long enough to know [that] when you’re an advisor, you’re an advisor. My job was to just outline candidates and talk about them, and talk about structure. But they were the primary. It was George McCaskey and Ted Phillips. I was just there to complement them. I had a little bit of an advantage. The commissioner put together this Career [Development] Advisory panel two years ago. There are eight people on it: three former head coaches, five former GMs. And our job is to identify young general manager candidates and coaches who are coming up through the ranks, and track them. So we had a pretty good book on these up-and-coming people -- executives and coaches -- going into that, and former coaches who are still what we call Tier 1 candidates. I had that as a foundation. I knew what an advisor was. You give your opinion and shut up. It really worked well. I got along with them. There was an instant rapport with them. I had such a foundation with George’s father. It was really a positive experience for me.

What was it about Pace that drew the decision makers to him, and why did you feel he would be a guy you would recommend to the Bears?

Accorsi: Well, I did not know him. The first thing I do when I try to research up-and-coming general managers, I look at the team. If they’re player personnel directors, I look and try to figure out how strong a voice they had in the acquisition of players, draft, free agency, and undrafted free agents. With only seven draft picks and so many teams, are you winning and are you winning with draft choices that you picked in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth round? The Steelers are a great example. They lose players. They don’t sign everybody that becomes a free agent. You keep looking at their lineups. They’re not only playing with mid-, sometimes late-round draft choices. They’re winning with them, and the Saints were. I know Sean Payton. He’s a good player evaluator. But he’s a coach. And they can’t spend their full-time job [evaluating players]. With research, I knew this young man was really running the personnel department. And I tried to get him to interview for the Carolina job when I did the Carolina consultation two years ago. He declined the interview. I don’t think they wanted to lose him. He decided to stay. So this time around, I was determined to try to get an interview out of him. I told his agent. I said, 'If this guy wants to be a general manager, he’s going to have to interview at some point.' I had done my research on him, but I had never met him. His interview was very, very impressive. I describe him as a cutting-edge young executive. Those guys today, the way they use the computer, I don’t mean in evaluating, but [they can] call up every play they want. I couldn’t do it. I don’t have any idea what’s going on with electronics. But he had an old-world, a throwback soul. He had a great sense of history. A lot of these young guys don’t. He knew the history of the game. He knew the history of the Bears. The Bears meant something to him. So all in all, he was just a clear-cut package for us. The more I was around him, the more I was really pleased that he was gonna join us.

So he came in. We had interviewed two coaches, and we had set up Todd Bowles for the third the day we hired [Pace]. So he stepped right in and was in on that interview. From that point on, he was the lead interviewer, because he was the person that was going to have to work with the coach.

Five questions with Kyle Long

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
NFL Nation Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss caught up with Bears guard Kyle Long at the Pro Bowl, and did us here in Chicago a solid by sending over the audio.

Here are some of Long’s thoughts regarding all the team’s new hires, and what he thinks new offensive coordinator Adam Gase can do to help out quarterback Jay Cutler:

What’s it been like to see so much change going on with the Chicago Bears?

Long: I think it’s been a really good couple weeks for the Bears, having a fresh start here, being able to bring Ryan Pace in, general manager. He has a lot of football experience. He’s been around the game for a while, bringing John Fox in, the ultimate players’ coach and a guy who has won in the league, has a track record of winning. His football teams are synonymous with toughness, and I think that’s something we really need in Chicago, and that’s what the people want to see.

What do you think of the hiring of Gase?

Long: Very excited. He’s been with Fox. So I know that they work hand in hand. Fox is more of a defensive guy. So Gase is his guy offensively. I have a lot of confidence in Gase, just really excited about the hire.

What do the Bears have to do to turn things around?

Long: Listen to what the coaches have to say, buy into it, and be able to bring that on the field. That’s the thing. You have to be able to have a message conveyed to you by your higher ups. You have to be able to internalize it and be able to put it on the field.

What can Gase do to help out Cutler and that offense?

Long: I think being able to balance the offense out will help Jay out immensely. If we have the ability to run the ball, then it will force defenses to be honest. They won’t just drop back in coverage. When Jay is throwing the ball 50 times a game, you’re going to throw picks sometimes. You’re going to give up sacks, you’re going to throw picks; bad things happen when you have to throw the ball 50 times a game. We’d like to have a more balanced offense. We’d like to run the ball more.

What went wrong with the Bears in 2014 after such a promising first year under Marc Trestman?

Long: I just think that we got away from our game plan. I don’t know what it was. It’s little things. It’s the assignment errors. It’s the mental mistakes, and they add up. They really do add up.

Jay Rodgers joins Bears' staff

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
The Chicago Bears announced Sunday they reached agreement with Jay Rodgers to become the club’s defensive line coach.

Rodgers, who is the older brother of recently hired special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, worked the last six seasons (2009-14) for the Denver Broncos, where he was defensive line coach (2012-14) and also spent time as a coaching assistant (2009) and defensive quality control coach (2011).

Denver’s defense finished the 2014 season ranked No. 2 against the run (79.8 yards per game), allowing the second-fewest runs for gains of 10 yards or more (29). The Broncos' defense also ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing average (3.66 yards per attempt) and tied for ninth in sacks (41).

Prior to working with the Broncos, Rodgers spent nine years coaching college football. A former quarterback at Indiana (1996-98) and Missouri State (1999), Rodgers started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Louisiana State working as an assistant on offense (2001) and defense (2002). Rodgers served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Dodge City Community College in 2003, and he’s also worked with quarterbacks at Missouri State (2004) and Stephen F. Austin (2005-06) prior to heading to Iowa State to work with receivers (2007-08).
The Chicago Bears announced Saturday they reached an agreement with Bo Hardegree to join the club’s staff as an offensive assistant.

The club added quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to the staff on Friday along with linebackers coach Glenn Pires.

Hardegree spent the 2014 season as an offensive quality control coach with the Denver Broncos, which finished second in the NFL in scoring offense (30.1 points per game) and fourth in total offense (402.9 yards per game).

Hardegree worked for three years at Louisiana State prior to joining the Broncos, serving as an intern on the offensive (2012-13) and defensive (2011) staffs. In Hardegree’s three seasons at LSU, the Tigers compiled a 33-7 record, and won the 2011 SEC championship, in addition to advancing to the BCS National Championship Game.

Hardegree started his coaching career at Duke, working as a graduate assistant from 2008-10.

Hardegree played quarterback at Tennessee, and also participated in tennis, graduating in 2007 with a degree in exercise science.
Finally, the Bears made huge progress in assembling the coaching staff with the additions of offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as well as several assistants on both sides of the ball.

Now it’s time for general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox to turn their attention to evaluating the players currently on Chicago’s roster, which should make for some interesting developments over the next couple of months.

All the change naturally leads to questions about what might transpire in the future. So thanks to everyone for participating and sending all your questions for today’s Twitter mailbag.

Let’s get started:
@mikecwright: If it were me, I'd address the safety position. But that's not Pace's style, as he firmly believes in taking the best available player, regardless of need. So the direction the Bears go will depend quite a bit on what happens over the first six picks.

Pace told a story recently about an experience with the Saints that played a role in shaping his draft philosophy.

"When I first started with the Saints, I might have just become a pro scout or a scouting assistant. We were in the draft. I want to be honest with you guys, honest assessment. When I talk about taking best player available, you have to be careful in the draft ... that's what I believe in. In the draft, it can be human nature to want to push up a position that you need. And that doesn't happen on draft day. That happens in the process leading into the draft, right? So we're talking about defensive linemen. We really need a D-lineman. Hey I know we don't have great grades on this player, but we're pushing him up because we need it. So we drafted a defensive tackle in 2003 that didn't end up being a good player for us, and I think that was partly because we pushed him up because of need. We should've just taken best player available. Honest answer." @mikecwright: That's a great question and one I've spent some time thinking about. It's incredibly difficult to accurately project how many of the current Bears would fit into a 3-4 scheme because there are so many variables. For instance, there are "ideal" dimensions for players at certain positions in a 3-4 scheme, but those don't necessarily hold true in every case. Jeremiah Ratliff, based on his size, wouldn't be an ideal fit in a 3-4 at nose. But Ratliff at one time was one of the very best in the NFL as a 3-4 nose playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Also, you've got to consider the style of 3-4 defense the Bears would play. Would it be a one-gapping system or a traditional two-gap scheme?

Anyway, I did try my best to project how some of the current Bears would fit into a 3-4 scheme provided the club decided to go that route. You can check that out right here. @mikecwright: I can tell you this much: not many. I go back to Ryan Pace's first press conference when the Bears introduced him as the general manager.

He said: "There are certain traits and qualities you look for at each position. But overall, the discipline, toughness, instincts, intelligence. We want reliable players that you know what you're getting from them on game day."

We obviously didn't see those qualities on a consistent basis with the Bears in 2014, and I agree with your assessment that some of the guys simply quit. That will definitely show up on film, and I doubt many of the guys displaying that on the tape will be showing up for 2015 Bears training camp in Bourbonnais, Illinois. @mikecwright: Absolutely it would make sense, but the problem is Urlacher -- at this point in his life -- isn't interested in putting himself through the grind associated with coaching. Urlacher also said he's clueless regarding the 3-4 scheme the Bears are expected to run.

Here's what Urlacher said during ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy" show on Jan. 21 regarding the possibility of him rejoining the Bears as a coach.

"I knew a lot about the defense they used to play in. Vic Fangio runs a 3-4. That's a whole different animal. I wasn't the greatest technician when I played. Technique wasn't my favorite thing to learn, and I doubt I would be great teaching it. [Coaches] work so much. Maybe when I'm older and my kids are older, but right now my kids are still young. So it's hard to imagine coaching now with my kids so young and all the things I do with them. ... To go along with my golf game and fishing. It's tough to imagine working 90 hours a week during the football season and wanting to do that." @mikecwright: I'd say the chances would be very slim as Tebow appears to be done as an NFL player. Sure, Fox won a playoff game with Tebow at quarterback. But let's not forget that, by and large, Tebow struggled tremendously to adjust to the NFL game after one of the most storied careers in college football history at Florida. I believe Tebow has quite a bit of other things going on. He's become somewhat of a rock star as a television personality, and I know he's very busy with work on his Tim Tebow Foundation. So I don't anticipate a Tebow-Fox reunion in Chicago. But you never know. Stranger things have happened.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 drafts of all 32 teams, and Chicago’s new grade is worse than the B-minus originally handed out in the aftermath of the club’s draft.

Obviously, we all know it takes a few years to truly measure a draft class. But Kiper did put together some parameters in explaining the process. He wrote:
I look at first-year impact from the rookie class based on relative value -- contributing to a winner is worth more than piling up reps for a bad team. I included rookie undrafted free agents added after the draft. (That's part of the process, really. Like the rookie rankings, I try to ask whether players who contributed could do so for most teams. Again, relative value matters.

So Kiper’s draft grades aren’t necessarily based on performance as much as they are based on the total value added based on where he had originally ranked the players.

Kiper liked what the Bears did in aggressively addressing the defensive side of the ball, but pointed out that the club suffered a bit of bad luck in being forced to throw some rookies into the fire, namely cornerback Kyle Fuller, who struggled partly due to experience, but mostly because of nagging injuries.

While defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton flashed at times as rookies, the former appears to possess more long-term upside than the latter. Ferguson and undrafted free agent pickup linebacker Christian Jones each finished 2014 tied for 14th among NFL rookies with two sacks apiece. Ferguson also broke up two passes and Jones notched both of his sacks in the last two games, as he showed growth throughout the season and appears to be set to take on a role at some point as a starter.

A third-round pick, Sutton (25 tackles, no sacks) appeared to be overmatched as a rookie, as did safety Brock Vereen, a fourth-round selection.

The verdict remains out on fourth-round running back Ka’Deem Carey because he didn’t get much action playing behind Matt Forte. Carey averaged 4.4 yards per attempt as a rookie, but didn’t play in the last two games. The expectation moving forward is for Carey to receive more playing time with the Bears moving to more of a run-first philosophy under new coach John Fox.

Sixth-round pick David Fales was active for only one game all season and didn’t play a down. Punter Pat O’Donnell, another sixth-round selection, finished with a 43.8-yard gross punting average, which actually ranked as seventh-best in franchise annals.

Seventh-round pick Charles Leno Jr., meanwhile, played in six games with one start. Still, Leno didn’t see enough action to glean a true evaluation.

Given Chicago’s need at safety headed into the draft, the Bears missed the mark somewhat with the first-round pick. No doubt about it, Fuller will be a long-term fixture at cornerback for the Bears. But current Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was available with the Bears picked at No. 14 and he’s coming off a rookie season in which he contributed 94 tackles and an interception. In the postseason, Clinton-Dix’s two interceptions in the NFC Championship Game nearly helped the Packers advance to the Super Bowl.