NFC North: NFL

Thanks to everyone participating in this week's Twitter mailbag.

Let's get started.

@mikecwright: I'm not sure about "fits" as you say, but the Bears are definitely interested in David Harris of the New York Jets, and Tampa Bay's Mason Foster as potential fits at inside linebacker. I think linebackers such as Jonathan Casillas and O'Brien Schofield are also players to keep an eye on as free agency approaches. I think San Francisco has some interesting things going on at linebacker as well. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman appear to be close to returning to full health, which means that last year's starters Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite could be relegated to backup roles. So perhaps new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, given his familiarity with all four players, could talk Ryan Pace into trying to trade for one of his former 49ers pupils.

@mikecwright: I could definitely see that happening. The names to look out for would be linebacker Nate Irving, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka "Pot Roast," as all three are free agents. Knighton is reportedly looking to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per year, which seems a tad steep. Knighton played in Jacksonville and Denver for new Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. So there's a good chance Del Rio could be looking to add Knighton as well. Irving is coming off a torn ACL, which means he probably won't have much leverage in terms of landing a big-money deal. But Irving became a full-time starter in 2014, and seems to be an ascending player. Moore, meanwhile, will be one of the better safeties on the market along with New England's Devin McCourty. So there's a good chance Moore could be looking for more than the Bears would be willing to pay. In the past, the Bears didn't value the safety position in terms of handing out big-money deals. Perhaps that's changed with Pace as the GM.

@mikecwright: I think you got it right. But I go back and forth between where to put Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. In fact, I'd say Marshall probably has a better chance of returning to Chicago than Cutler.

@mikecwright: I'm sure that 5.64 time in the 40-yard dash hurt him in the eyes of some scouts, but I don't believe that will affect his draft position. What you've got to realize is that Danny Shelton has rare power and strength, and he did put up a 30.5-inch vertical leap, which means he's got the explosion that personnel evaluators covet. He's also got the strength and power to command double-teams, which in turn would keep offensive linemen off the linebackers to allow them to run around and make plays. Shelton met with several teams at the combine, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Arizona, Green Bay, the New York Giants and New Orleans, and I don't think any of those teams' interest has waned after that time in the 40. Ultimately, what the player put on tape in games is what Shelton will be judged on; not a 40-yard dash time.

@mikecwright: I like him. Personal side note: Petty's coach at Baylor, Art Briles, was head coach of the Stephenville [Texas] Yellow Jackets back when they defeated us (Wichita Falls, Texas -- Hirschi High School) 49-40 in the first round of the playoffs my sophomore year. Anyway, as much as I like Petty, I don't think he's quite ready. I think he'll need a few years to learn the nuances of an NFL system before he's ready to be a starter. So if the Bears were to draft Petty, they'd have to let him sit and learn a few years before thrusting him into any real action.

Even Petty admitted that it's difficult at this point to project how he'll fare in an NFL system because of his background in a spread offense, but said he's more of a pocket passer than most spread quarterbacks.

"We were in the spread, but at the same time, I feel like I am a pocket passer," Petty said at the NFL combine. "I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket. That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that, and the fact that I want to play within the pocket, and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that."

As Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox evaluate Jay Cutler to determine whether to bring him back for the 2015 season, ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden thinks it’s time the club gives another signal-caller an opportunity.

Asked on ESPN "Mike & Mike" on Thursday what would go into the final decision regarding Cutler, Gruden said, “I think John Fox is going to look at the body of work. They’re going to see that he didn’t get it done really with Lovie Smith or Marc Trestman, and now I’m the next head coach. I think you need to give some other people an opportunity to play. I think some of these quarterbacks get too many chances. There are good enough players out there that deserve a chance to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler got a $126.7 million extension from the Bears in January 2014, but the team is still exploring its options at quarterback.
In six seasons with the Bears, Cutler produced a regular-season record of 44-38 and has thrown 129 touchdown passes to go with 93 interceptions for a passer rating of 84.3.

The new regime’s intense evaluation of Cutler stems from his seven-year, $126.7 million extension signed last January. Cutler’s $15.5 million base salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, but if the quarterback remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year (March 12), he’s guaranteed another $10 million of his 2016 salary.

“I know he has talent,” Gruden said. “But I don’t think he warrants that salary for sure. I think Chicago needs to look at getting a different leader under center.”

It’s clear the new regime has at least explored that possibility. The club met recently at the NFL combine in Indianapolis with former backup Josh McCown for breakfast in a restaurant inside the team’s hotel.

"[The] meeting went really well. [I] enjoyed spending time with them," McCown told ESPN.

McCown played for Fox in Carolina (2008-09) and spent three seasons with the Bears (2011-13) before signing a two-year deal to join former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers released McCown on Feb. 11.

McCown played a significant role in Chicago, helping the club to implement a new offense under Trestman and former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, and was often described by former Bears general manager Phil Emery as "a glue guy" in the locker room.

McCown played eight games during his last season in Chicago (2013), winning three games in five starts while filling in for an injured Cutler. McCown performed well enough to stir debate about whether he should be the full-time starter over Cutler.

“Two years ago, the Bears were on the brink of going to the playoffs because of Josh McCown’s play,” Gruden said. “Josh McCown played great for Marc Trestman. He fit that system. He understood it. He looked like he was in rhythm. He won a lot of games just two years ago for the Bears. He’s available. You can bring Josh McCown back. Jake Locker, possibly. There are some quarterbacks out there that need a new place to go. We were in Super Bowl XXXVII with Brad Johnson, I think he was on his third team. Rich Gannon was on his fifth team. Steve Young never started until he was 30 years old. We live in a day where everything has to happen right now, or let’s get him out of here. Some of these guys are going to prove to you that they can play. They just need a new setting.”

Perhaps that also includes Cutler.
Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings posted a status and picture on Twitter of himself sitting in a wheelchair on Friday alluding to him undergoing some type of surgical procedure, before later deleting the status and picture.

But according to a source, Jennings underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. The source, who declined to say which knee Jennings had scoped, called the procedure a “simple clean out."

Jennings
Jennings isn’t expected to miss time in the club’s offseason conditioning program as most arthroscopic knee surgeries require just a two- to three-week recovery period.

Jennings is coming off a subpar 2014 campaign in which he contributed 66 tackles in 16 starts with eight pass breakups and one forced fumble. The recent arthroscopic surgery indicates Jennings played through some knee pain throughout the season.

The team signed Jennings to a four-year, $22.4 million extension last January, when former general manager Phil Emery said the deal was "rewarding excellence" for a veteran who took on the responsibilities in 2013 as a No. 1 cornerback after Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury.

Jennings' deal was worth $11.8 million guaranteed and included a $3 million signing bonus.

Jennings earned trips to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2013, and picked off 13 passes since the start of the 2012 season, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind Seattle's Richard Sherman. Jennings is also tied for fourth in the NFL since the start of 2012 in interception returns for touchdown (three).

At the end of this past season, Jennings placed the blame on the players and not the coaches for the Bears' 5-11 record, and said he hoped the next head coach would help the defense to regain its identity.

A nine-year veteran, Jennings has started in 95 of 131 games played with the Indianapolis Colts (2006-09) and Bears.
The potential shift to a 3-4 front hasn't tempered Jared Allen's enthusiasm about the Chicago Bears' hiring of new head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Making the rounds at Super Bowl XLIX, Allen told the NFL Network he expects the Bears to be a more disciplined team under Fox.

Allen
"You look at what coach Fox has done over the history of his career," Allen said. "I think we'll be very disciplined. We'll be very cohesive. With Fangio coming in, you've got a big 3-4 background. Fox ran a 4-3 his whole life. So I think we're very versatile in how we can use our players. I'm excited to see what the plan going forward is."

It's unknown how Allen might fit in Chicago's new defensive scheme in 2015, but the new coaching staff shouldn't have trouble finding ways to best utilize the five-time Pro Bowler's pass-rushing skills. While most signs point to the Bears shifting to a 3-4 front, there's a chance the club could show some hybrid looks in 2015, as it's uncertain how quickly the personnel department can totally turn over the roster to fit the scheme.

In the past, Allen seemed reluctant to move from defensive end in a 4-3 front to outside linebacker in a 3-4.

"I want to end my career as a defensive end. And I'm not playing a 2-gap, let me just throw that out the window now," Allen said just before the 2012 season when there was talk of the Vikings changing schemes.

Allen, who will be 33 in April, seems more amenable now to a switch and said Fox will inherit a hard-working group on defense.

"One thing we do is we work. I'll be honest, I don't think we had a bad practice all year," Allen said. "Now it didn't always equate to wins and victories. We came up short. I think he's going to inherit guys that are eager, that want to win. That's one thing that was very prevalent in our locker room: guys wanting to win. I think coach Fox is going to give us that direction and give us that attitude, that sense of focus, purpose and discipline to get to where we want need to get."

Allen accepted the Salute to Service Award on Saturday during the "4th Annual NFL Honors" awards show in Arizona, and received the award in recognition of his efforts off the field. Through his Homes for Wounded Warriors Foundation, Allen helps to provide financial assistance to aid in making homes more accessible for veterans returning from war with debilitating injuries.

Allen created the foundation in 2009.
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
Cutler
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.
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
Cutler
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.”
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.

Jay Rodgers joins Bears' staff

January, 26, 2015
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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.
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.

Fuller
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.
NFL free agency doesn’t start until March 10, but Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace considers the team’s efforts to fill out the coaching staff just as important.

"I look at these coordinators as free agent moves," Pace said. "Sometimes your best free agent acquisition is a coach. If we get the right coordinators and the right coaches, that’s going to set us up. I’m excited about it. Right now, the clock is ticking on these coordinators. So a part of me is like, 'Let’s go, let’s go.'"

Shortly after introducing new head coach John Fox on Monday, Pace caught a flight to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, to meet with the club’s area scouts. From there, Pace planned to head back to Halas Hall to continue assisting Fox in assembling Chicago’s staff.

The Bears announced they reached agreement Monday with former Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, who worked with Fox in Denver and in Carolina. As Pace and Fox met with the media at Halas Hall, Rodgers had already started work upstairs in his new office.

The club now needs to nail down the offensive and defensive coordinator posts. Fox said he met with all but two (special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker were out of town) of the remaining members of former coach Marc Trestman’s staff, and hasn’t determined whether he will retain any of them. Fox could also be interested in bringing in some of his assistants from Denver. According to a source, the Broncos have blocked receivers coach Tyke Tolbert from talking to the Bears. Tolbert worked with Fox in Denver and in Carolina.

"There's obviously some good coaches on this staff. I had a team full of coaches back at Denver. So it's a fluid process and we're going to try to locate the best human talent there is, and then move forward to try to motivate them to be the best they can be every day, and that's really coaches and players," Fox said.

Both Fox and Pace acknowledged the Bears could experience difficulty landing an offensive coordinator because of the competitiveness of the current process, with nearly 10 teams around the league looking to fill openings at that position. Kyle Shanahan, a potential Bears target, signed on Sunday with the Atlanta Falcons. Adam Gase, Fox’s offensive coordinator in Denver who also interviewed for Chicago’s head coaching position, is expected to land in Baltimore or Jacksonville.

That could lead to Pace crossing off a couple of names on the dry-erase board inside his office filled with names of potential assistants.

"You should see my office right now," Pace joked. "We’ve got this big dry erase board with all these names. [Fox is] choosing his staff, but he’s taking a lot of input from me. We’re working on that together."

The search for a defensive coordinator continues, too. Though it’s likely the Bears will play a 4-3 front under Fox, the coach said he doesn’t have a preference between 4-3 or 3-4 fronts. Pace said the team hasn’t offered a contract to former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who interviewed on Saturday, and is also a candidate with the Washington Redskins for the same position.

Team president Ted Phillips marveled at the cohesion already displayed between Fox and Pace, saying "they’ve got a whole staff to put together, and they were working tirelessly over the weekend, and they already seem to have that rapport where they trust each other."

That should help considerably as Pace and Fox work to finish assembling the staff.

"We were joking last night [that] we're the first boots on the ground. So it's good to have somebody with me," Pace said. "But there's still a lot of heavy lifting in regards to the coordinators and the coaches. We're working on that right now. We're kind of excited to get back upstairs and keep on going, because it's competitive in that market. So we have to get on it. We are on it."
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Game balls awarded by NFL Nation reporters from the conference championship games.

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A few takeaways on the Chicago Bears' decision to hire former Denver Broncos coach John Fox as their head coach:

1. Return to identity: That’s what Fox’s hiring represents, given his track record for winning football games with a physical ground attack backed by stout defense. That’s the identity the Bears want to bring back, according to new general manager Ryan Pace, and the team should regain it quickly with Fox running the show. What's refreshing about the Bears' going back to a coach specializing in defense is the fact those coaches tend to work in the "now" dealing with the circumstances at hand. According to one personnel executive, offense-minded head coaches typically spend more time planning and devising schemes "showing everybody how smart they are."

Fox’s defensive background won’t stop him from being a presence in the offensive meeting rooms, either, according to former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played for the coach in Carolina.

"John would always come in and we’d watch the other team [on film]," Delhomme said Wednesday during the "Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN 1000. "We would talk and his whole mantra would always be, 'Hey, remember as a defensive coach, we're trying to make you too anxious.' He said, 'We don't believe that you can sit and just dink and dunk and make something down the field.' That was more the mentality with John, just, 'use our running game, take what they give you, and when we have a shot, make sure we take it down the field.'"

The Bears ranked 30th in rushing attempts in 2014. With Fox at the helm and one of the league’s best-all around backs in Matt Forte on the roster, that will surely change in 2015.

2. Commands a room: When the Bears hired Marc Trestman prior to the 2013 season, one concern was whether he could command the locker room. Obviously, we all know now he couldn’t, given everything that transpired under his watch.

Fox’s track record of success, toughness and "brutal honesty" as Delhomme put it, sets him up to command the type of respect among his assistants and players that Trestman simply couldn’t.

Prior to Fox’s hiring, one staffer said this regarding any potential new Bears coach: "When he stands up in front of the room, people won’t laugh."

3. High expectations, no excuses: That’s what you can expect from Fox, who led the Broncos to a postseason victory with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Injuries derailed Chicago’s playoff hopes in 2011, and in 2013 the defense was rife with inconsistency because of key players missing time. Fox won’t use such challenges as an excuse.

Coming off a Super Bowl season (2003) in Carolina, the Panthers started off 2004 with a 1-7 record, but finished 7-9, winning six of eight down the stretch.

The Bears finished the 2014 season with 10 players on the injured reserve, including seven starters.

"We lost everybody known to man," Delhomme explained about the 2004 season. "We lost [receiver] Steven [Smith] the first game of the year, [running back] Stephen Davis. We lost like every offensive lineman. We were a beat up football team. Well, we had to change our philosophy. We had to start shuffling around the last half of the season. John was like, 'We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.' We had to change it around. We had to take [receiver] Muhsin [Muhammad] and move him from the 'Z' receiver basically to the split end and things like that. It worked. It was by any means necessary. I think that was kind of the approach and the mentality. You’ve got to win on Sunday. That’s kind of the mentality."

4. Quick turnaround: Chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips discussed their expectations about the Bears remaining competitive while in the midst of a rebuilding project. Luckily for the Bears, Fox knows how to do that.

Fox took over a dysfunctional 4-12 Broncos team in 2011 and led it to an 8-8 record, AFC West crown and a playoff victory with Tebow under center. In Fox’s four seasons, the Broncos won four division titles, and lost only once against an AFC West foe.

In Carolina, Fox presided over another rebuilding project, inheriting a team in 2002 that finished 1-15 the previous season. Fox led the Panthers to a six-win improvement in 2002. Then in 2003, the Panthers finished 11-5 and earned a berth in Super Bowl XXXVIII, only to lose 32-29 against New England in the big game on Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard field goal with four seconds left to play.

"I think you bring an instant winner as soon as you walk in," Delhomme said about Fox.

5. Working with Jay Cutler: If the Bears decide to stick with Cutler as the quarterback, Fox might be the perfect coach to administer the tough love he needs. Cutler was coddled under Trestman and former coach Lovie Smith. A former Fox player told ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson that Cutler and the coach would be able to work together.

"If he stays, Coach Fox won’t have a problem with him," the player said. "Jay will respect John. How can he not? Coach Fox is a tough guy. He won’t tolerate anything less from Jay."

That would represent a major change. Trestman enjoyed a solid working relationship with Cutler, but ultimately was forced to bench him in 2014 in favor of Jimmy Clausen, because the coach couldn’t get the quarterback to play within the confines of the offense. According to multiple sources, Cutler in 2012 wouldn’t even speak to the offensive coaches under Smith. The sources said former backup Josh McCown had to serve as a liaison between the offensive staff and Cutler.

Under Fox, the expectation is such dysfunction won’t exist.
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Chicago’s hiring of new head coach John Fox on Friday naturally leads to speculation about what is to become of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Signed to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million last offseason, Cutler figures to become a hot topic of conversation among Fox and the brass at Halas Hall in the coming days. But new general manager Ryan Pace, who had been director of player personnel for the Saints, recently said the team won’t make any decisions until he gets a chance to get to know Cutler.

Pace can do that now that he’s hired a head coach.

“The quarterback obviously is a critical, critical position to achieve sustained success. But it’s not the only position. For us to have a lot of success, all 53 guys are going to be accounted for,” Pace said. “So, yeah, I witnessed things with Drew Brees that I have in my mind that I know why he was successful and those are ingrained in me. But I want to get to know Jay. I want to get to know him further before I come to these conclusions.”

Team chairman George McCaskey will leave Cutler’s fate solely up to Pace and Fox. But regardless of the conclusion Pace and Fox reach, options regarding Cutler seem limited.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhNew GM Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox will decide about Jay Cutler's future in Chicago.
Whether or not Cutler remains on the roster in 2015, the Bears are still responsible for $15.5 million in fully guaranteed salary and would owe the quarterback another $10 million in fully guaranteed money for 2016 if he’s still on the roster on March 12, three days into the new league year.

Cutler’s contract does include offset language for guaranteed money. So if Chicago were to release Cutler, whatever salary he receives from his next team would be subtracted from the $15.5 million owed by the Bears, with cap savings deferred.

With multiple teams around the NFL appearing to need quarterbacks -- such as Buffalo, the New York Jets, Houston, Tennessee and possibly Cleveland -- trading Cutler would seem a logical move, too. But the Bears would need a contingency plan in place before trying to make such a deal.

It’s worth noting that the upcoming free-agent class of quarterbacks doesn’t present many viable options for Chicago, and we all know no sure things exist in the NFL draft.

The problem with trading Cutler is receiving fair compensation, as teams interested in acquiring the quarterback know the Bears would be desperate to dump his large contract. So if the Bears decide to move Cutler, they’d have to do so knowing they’re not likely to receive fair value. But the money freed up could allow Chicago to build in other areas, namely the defense.

This might irritate some Bears fans, but perhaps the best course of action for the club is to keep Cutler. The Dallas Cowboys proved in 2014 it’s possible to mitigate the effects of a mistake-prone quarterback by building around him and changing the offensive philosophy, which is something Fox demonstrated an ability to do during his tenure in Carolina.

If Pace and Fox rebuild the defense and the coach shifts to more of a run-first philosophy that would allow Cutler to operate more efficiently off play-action, Chicago could win games similarly to the way the Seattle Seahawks get it done.

Statistically, Cutler produced one of his best seasons in 2014, completing a career-best 66 percent of his throws for a career-high 28 touchdowns. Cutler’s 3,812 passing yards ranked as second best of his career, and he finished the season with a passer rating of 88.6, which registers as his second-best rating in nine NFL seasons.

Obviously, turnovers (24) and questionable decision-making significantly diminished Cutler’s 2014 campaign, as opponents scored a total of 95 points off the team’s 29 giveaways.

But that’s not to say Fox can’t win with Cutler, because he can.

“I’m a big fan of Jay personally, and I’m a fan of Jay professionally,” McCaskey said. “But all of the personnel decisions are going to be up to the new general manager and the new head coach.”

For Pace and Fox, the Cutler clock is now ticking.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace made his first major move on the personnel side Monday, firing director of pro personnel Kevin Turks.

Zach Zaidman of WSCR and WBBM first reported the news Tuesday morning.

Turks worked 13 seasons in Chicago’s personnel department, spending the last two years as director of pro personnel after being promoted in 2013 by former general manager Phil Emery. Before that, Turks worked for five years as the club’s assistant director of pro personnel.

Turks originally joined the Bears in 2001 as an intern helping in pro and college scouting before receiving a promotion in 2002 to pro scout. Turks worked in that capacity from 2002-08 before former GM Jerry Angelo promoted him in 2008 to assistant director of pro personnel.

The Bears advanced to the postseason four times during Turks’ tenure, winning four NFC North titles in addition to playing in two NFC Championship Games.

When Pace took the job last week, he said he was “evaluating” whether to make changes in the personnel department.

“To be fair, I have to get to know the people in this building. There are good people in this building,” Pace said. "The first step for me is evaluating the roster, evaluating the staff here before I make those decisions.”

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