NFL Nation: Marc Trestman

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.
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.

[+] EnlargeCutler
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.
Aaron KromerAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOffensive coordinator Aaron Kromer works with QB Adam Kennedy during the Bears' rookie camp.
Red-faced, his hair a sticky, wet mess, quarterback David Fales strolled off the field fresh off his first experience with a Marc Trestman football practice during a recent three-day rookie minicamp, describing it as “chaos, bring the rage, intense.”

In 2014, Year 2 of operating Trestman’s offense after a breakout 2013 campaign, that’s exactly what the Chicago Bears hope to deliver to opposing defenses. The plan to do that involves a mixture of comfort in Year 2 of the scheme and a focus in the playbook on what the players did well in 2013, while also finding ways to expand the system based on the latter.

So far, the process looks promising, according to coaches and players.

“I don’t want to say there’s a comfort level, but there’s not a complacent level with how we’re handling things,” Trestman said. “Our guys have worked extremely hard. They have a tremendous grasp of the offense. With that in mind, we started with 'this is a football,' and we worked our way into each and every phase in a normal progression. But there certainly is a sense of confidence, a sense that we’ve got a chance to be a very good offense; particularly because those are guys that have been together. But they’re not taking anything for granted.”

That becomes quite apparent if you’ve tracked any of the moves made this offseason by the club’s veteran offensive players on social media. There you’ll find group selfies such as the one left tackle Jermon Bushrod posted in March that included right tackle Jordan Mills, receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, tight end Fendi Onobun, center Roberto Garza, guard Kyle Long and quarterback Jay Cutler. So it’s apparent they’re spending copious amounts of time together training, running through repetitions on offense, and building chemistry through off-the-field fellowship, as a good portion of the club’s offensive players traveled to Florida to train at FitSpeed Athletic Performance, which is co-owned by Marshall.

In their first season operating Trestman’s scheme, the offense set multiple single-season franchise records. The unit racked up a franchise-best 6,109 net yards and the passing offense set single-season marks in net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9). The Bears also set franchise records with 344 first downs and scored the second-most points (445) in franchise history.

Yet nobody -- especially the players -- is basking in the accomplishments from last year because let’s not forget the Bears finished out of the playoffs with an 8-8 record last season. Cutler has won only one playoff game in eight NFL seasons, and he recently turned 31. Marshall, meanwhile, despite making the Pro Bowl five times in eight seasons, still hasn't played in a postseason contest.

So despite the breakout performance on offense last season, there's still a feverish sense of urgency for the group in 2014 to reach its full potential. Ask any of the skill-position players about 2013, and there's a good chance you get the standard we-left-a-lot-on-the–field line.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhQB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall will draw from their leadership skills and two seasons playing together to help elevate the Bears' offense in 2014.
“You know, it was a long journey last year from this first day when we started, just to get the cadence,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “It was like rookie camp with veterans, and it’s always hard when you have a new staff because you’re working so hard on just the plays, how we call things, what we should be looking at, the technique we want different from other teams, that you don’t get the nuance of the play. You have to get yourself past the whole, ‘This is who I block, this is what route I run, this is who I throw it to.’

"So it’s been refreshing being with Jay Cutler, the offensive line and the running backs. And when you install a play from last year, they look at you like, ‘I remember.’ I’m making a big point, and we as a staff are making a big point of, ‘listen closely to what we’re coaching because you probably missed a couple of things last year.’ So we’re doing everything we can to have them pay attention to the little things.

“What are the little things? The little things are things they didn’t get before.”

When the Bears hired Trestman in January 2013, the staff didn’t even know what type of offense it would run. The coaches had an idea of how the players might fit, but not how they’d actually operate within the system the staff was installing.

That’s why as the year progressed last season “we became more efficient as an offense,” Kromer said.

The club gradually narrowed the playbook to feature what the team did well and what the players -- especially Cutler -- liked to do most. That narrowing continues this offseason. But at the same time, the team wants to broaden the system, as Kromer explained, “from that spectrum” of what the players already do well.

“Any group that can play together for a few years is good,” Marshall told the “Carmen & Jurko” show on ESPN 1000 on Tuesday. “It’s going to be awesome to see us grow because of the experience and the time we’re able to put in during the offseason. Now we bring in Coach Trestman going in his second year, and he’s really putting science behind all of his madness. It’s bringing everybody together, and it’s really cool to see what’s going on in our locker room. I’ve never been with a bunch of selfless guys like this. Everyone is just all-in, whether it’s the running game, the passing game. Everyone believes [and is] pulling for each other. It’s cool, man. It’s awesome to be part of this crew.”

Trestman called the process of working with Kromer, the staff and Cutler this offseason to tweak the playbook for 2014 “excellent.”

“We’ve narrowed some of the things we did last year, and we’ve expanded to some of the things we want to take a look at,” Trestman said. “We still have a pretty long list of plays in our playbook, so to speak, to keep it simple. It’s just the daily process of working through the plays, getting better, evaluating what we did last year, working to improve, and then working into the new football that we’ve put in.”

Will it all work this season? That’s the big unknown. But the body of work the offense put on the field in 2013 provided plenty of reasons to be optimistic headed into the season. In addition to the new coaching staff bringing in an unfamiliar scheme, the Bears put together a brand new offensive line as Garza was the only returning starter from 2012. It’s also easy to forget Marshall spent all of last offseason rehabbing from arthroscopic hip surgery, and was hobbled throughout the early part of the season.

Now, everyone’s healthy, and familiar with the system. Most importantly, they're hungry.

“Team goals, I would say just enjoy the journey,” Marshall said. “But of course we definitely want to be in Arizona [for the Super Bowl]. That’s going to be really tough. We have to put it together. On paper, we look great, but we have to go out there and do it. We have the guys that can upstairs, [and] downstairs. So we’ll see how it goes.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith helped the club achieve sustained success over the years on defense with his Tampa-2 scheme, but it appears that system will undergo significant alterations in 2014.

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

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

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

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

Apparently, those principles now make their way to Chicago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"There was a significant amount of guys who were here that were good and productive players, who knew the system and what we do," Tucker said. "We knew moving forward we were going to have a lot of new faces. I think we can be better. We need to be better. We've done a lot of work in the out-of-season, in free agency and the draft. I feel good about the direction we're going. I'm very, very encouraged. It was really good to see the rookies out there today. Those guys flew around, they gave us great effort. It was a very productive day. I'm very encouraged about the direction of our defense with the personnel moves that we've made, the overall attitude of where we're headed."
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.
While Chicago's decision to part ways with Devin Hester underscores the sentiment of almost every player out there that the NFL is a tough business, don't feel sorry for him because he's still got plenty of gasp-inducing returns to dazzle you with.

It's just we no longer get the audio gold dug up when Chicago Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak calls Hester “ridiculous.”

We no longer have to listen to that ridiculous song “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)” when Hester lines up to field a punt or kickoff.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears tried to find a place for Devin Hester at wide receiver and defensive back, but it didn't work out.
In the lead-up to free agency, neither general manager Phil Emery nor head coach Marc Trestman ever gave any strong indication the Bears wanted to bring back Hester for a ninth year in Chicago. So the move Wednesday and the corresponding statement of appreciation from the organization on Thursday didn't come as a surprise.

Clearly, Hester isn't the return man he once was. But he's still better than at least 95 percent of his return-specialist peers around the league, which is why some team -- perhaps even Tampa Bay under former Bears coach Lovie Smith -- is sure to snatch up Hester as soon as free agency hits on March 11. In fact, his agent, Eugene Parker, should be waiting by the phone when the negotiation window opens March 8 because he should get plenty of calls looking to add some pop to their return games.

Hester averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns last season, and took a punt 81 yards to the house against Washington. In fact, Hester ripped off runs of 20 yards or more on four of his 18 punt returns last season. So clearly, he's still got it. The Bears just didn't want it because of the associated cost paired with the lack of versatility.

A Bears source said on Thursday that Hester is loved and respected within the organization and that “things would be different” for his chances in Chicago if he had a true position on offense or defense. The club tried on numerous occasions over the years to give Hester opportunities to find roles on offense and defense.

Hester was unable to capitalize and counted $2.94 million against the club's cap in 2013, which is too much for a return specialist, regardless of his Hall of Fame résumé.

That shouldn't diminish Hester's legacy, as he's almost a lock to add to it with his next team.

Chalk the situation up to it being one of the harsh realities permeating the business side of the NFL.

Interestingly, Hester's story in Chicago comes almost full circle in a weird way. When the team was in the draft room discussing whether to select Hester in the second round back in 2007, the club's personnel men, like the rest of the league, were hesitant to take a chance on the return man because he wasn't a proven commodity at any set position on offense and defense.

Throughout that process, Smith was open-minded and receptive, which is part of the reason Hester landed in Chicago in the first place.

Perhaps it'll be Smith that gives Hester his next job.
Mel TuckerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears and Mel Tucker might be looking for young, tough players to develop rather than spend in free agency.
Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker tried in 2013 to run the same defense as former head coach Lovie Smith, and even assimilated to teaching the same language from the scheme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We went through an evaluation process, which is never easy, of moving forward with our staff and bringing in a couple guys we felt not only had the experience to develop young players -- because we know we're going to have new players and we're going to be young -- but also work daily with the veteran element on our football team as well. We felt Mel was the guy to lead the way in that regard," Trestman said. "We hired Paul Pasqualoni and Reggie Herring. These guys have 3-4 backgrounds. We think we've put together a staff of guys who can really incorporate and be flexible with the players we're going to have going through this process. We're going start from the 4-3, but we've got to be flexible in our scheme to move people around and have the ability to get it done, and not just do it because we see other teams doing it; but doing it because we have the skill set and experience to be able to do it."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

Turnaround on defense is coming

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
12:00
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PeppersAP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Bears might make Julius Peppers a salary-cap casualty, part of an expected defensive overhaul.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman delivered a quick anecdote prior to taking questions at the NFL combine on Thursday to draw a parallel between the offense’s surprising turnaround in 2013 and the challenge Chicago faces in resurrecting its dud of a defense.

Days earlier as they wrapped up a staff meeting at Halas Hall, the coaches “put up our roster as it looked last year at this time,” Trestman explained. “There were 10 players on the offensive side of the ball that were not on the roster at this time last year, and who significantly impacted our football team in a season. I just note that because this is a process we’re going through, filtering through our team, filtering through the free agents and building our team through the draft.”

In essence, Chicago plans to take an approach with the defense over the coming months similar to what it employed last offseason in revamping an offense that woefully underperformed the year before. The Bears achieved success in turning around the offense through a series of additions in the draft (left guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills), free agency (left tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett, and guard Matt Slauson), and a scheme change brought about by an entire new coaching staff that pushed a rededication to fundamentals at every position.

Would a similar approach on defense work to turn around a unit coming off a 2013 season in which it allowed the most yards (6,313) and points (478) in franchise history? That is an unknown the Bears certainly exude confidence about answering in 2014.

It’s true, Chicago doesn’t fully know what it plans to be on defense in 2014 in terms of scheme and personnel, just as most of the details about the most recent incarnation of the offense were unknown at this time last offseason. The Bears gradually pieced together the personnel and matched the schematics on offense with the players trickling into the building from the draft and free agency as training camp approached.

So while it appears concerning that Chicago is strapped in terms of cap room, and expected to make defensive end Julius Peppers a cap casualty ($18.183 million cap hit in 2014), not to mention that there is a slight chance the club could lose as many as six defensive starters in free agency (defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Charles Tillman, safety Major Wright, defensive end Corey Wootton, and linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams), the Bears' brass continues to keep cool.

“I’m not stressed,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “I’m excited, very excited. It’s a great challenge, and it’s one that we all sign up for: an opportunity to put together a team and be consistently in the hunt to win championships. We’re in this to win it. So no, it’s not stressful. It’s a process just as we went through last year. Obviously, really from a cap perspective, we were tighter dollar-wise after we signed the UFAs [in 2013] than we’ve ever been. So it’s a process. You just keep working through it. We have a collective group of very talented people in the building to help in that process.”

They successfully navigated “the process” Emery often likes to refer to with the offense in 2013, which is why -- from this vantage point -- the team’s confidence is warranted.

In the days of former head coach Lovie Smith, 17 was the magic number. Hold a team to 17 points or fewer, and you win about 80 percent of the time. In fact, over the past 10 years, the Bears own a record of 50-13 when they hold an opponent to 17 points or fewer. But the problem under Smith was Chicago couldn’t score on offense.

The Bears fixed that problem in 2013, only to take a nosedive on the other side of the ball. In 2012 with a pedestrian offense and its usually strong defense, the Bears put up a 10-6 record, but the offense never scored more than 17 points in any of the losses. Then in 2013 with an offense that finished second in the NFL in scoring, the Bears finished 8-8 and scored 17 points in all but one of the losses as the defense gave up at least 20 points in every game.

How significant is that? Well, the Bears are 39-58 over the past 10 years when they allow 18 points or more.

It’s got to stop, and with Emery and Trestman there is a good chance it will. The Bears already hired a couple of demanding assistants in defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to coax the most out of the young talent expected to be infused into the roster in the coming months. The scheme will morph into something that features multiple fronts, which is part of the reason Emery and Trestman made sure to bring in experienced coaches with backgrounds in several defenses.

According to a league source, the defense worked fewer practice repetitions than a typical defensive unit would during workouts last season as the Bears focused more on the offensive side of the ball. So even some of the finer details, such as how the Bears practice on defense are expected to change, along with the scheme and all the expected roster additions.

“What we're doing is we're looking at the existing scheme and going through the process of putting a system of football together to accommodate the players that we have when we get going, and we're not going to know who those players are for quite some time,” Trestman said. “So to lock ourselves in and be so narrow-minded that ‘this is what we're going to be’ when we don't have the players to get it done would be, to me, not very good time on task.

"We said it last year, [when the question was asked of] what kind of offense [the Bears would be in 2013]. We didn't know what kind of offense we were going to be, we're going to put a system in place to accommodate the players that Phil [Emery] gives us and that we decide are going to be on our football team, and that's certainly the case defensively as well. To lock in and say ‘this is what we're going to be’ wouldn't be fair at this point in time. It's a process, just like the evaluation of bringing players in and letting players move on. I'll circle back to the point I made, last year there were 10 guys on offense we didn't know we were going to have. But we were putting in a system of offensive football together to accommodate who we had at that time, and that's exactly the same process we have to go through defensively.”

Chances are good it yields similar results, too.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In discussing the future of defensive end Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman used very few words Thursday at the NFL combine, leading to further speculation that in 2014, the veteran could be forced to play elsewhere.

Peppers
Asked how the club’s salary-cap limitations come into play when evaluating Peppers, Emery invoked his usual policy regarding questions concerning contracts.

“That would be a contract question, and I think I have had a very demonstrated history of not answering those questions,” Emery said. “I will say that Julius is part of our football team. He is under contract. We’re all coming off an 8-8 season. We have a lot to improve upon and that is where our heads are at.”

An 11-year veteran, Peppers signed a restructured deal with the Bears last Sept. 3, but is set in 2014 to count $18.183 million against the club’s cap. The restructured deal converted $3 million of Peppers’ base salary ($12.9 million) for 2013 into a signing bonus ($3 million) and reduced the base salary to $9.9 million. That move created $2 million in cap space for the Bears, and marked the second time the team restructured Peppers’ contract to gain some cap room.

The problem now is the team seems to be running out of options, and pushing money into future years to keep Peppers might no longer be worth the effort. At 34, Peppers comes off a season in which he posted his lowest sack total (7.5) since 2010, after back-to-back years of 11-plus sacks in 2011 and 2012. It would be premature to say Peppers is falling off, but the reality is a 7.5-sack season in 2013 isn’t worth an $18.183 million cap hit in 2014. So it’s likely the Bears at the very least would ask Peppers to take a salary reduction.

But if the Bears opted to cut Peppers and use the post-June 1 designation (which allows a team to spread out the cap hit over two years), it would result in dead money of $4.183 million in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015. Considering Peppers’ cap charges over those two years are $18.183 million and $20.683 million, the dead money would still result in savings in 2014 and 2015 of approximately $14 million and $16 million.

Besides that, it’s usually better to cut ties with a player a year early as opposed to a year late.

Teams planning to part ways with high-priced players such as Peppers typically make such moves as early as possible to give them a chance to catch on with another team. Would the same take place in this case? That’s unknown at this point. But it’s certainly beginning to appear the team is considering a 2014 without Peppers in the lineup.

“Veteran, non-veteran, rookie free agent that made your team, somebody you’ve drafted that you have to move on from, it’s all the same process,” Emery said. “To quote Marc [Trestman]: ‘Decisions are made when they have to be made.’”
As Chicago eyes free agency next month, we’ll take a look back at the top players from the 2013 class of free agents, how they performed in their first year with the Bears and their prospects for 2014. Here we look at offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod:

Bushrod
Money: Signed a five-year contract worth a little more than $35.965 million that included $17.715 million in guarantees.

Stats: None, but as one of four new starters on the offensive line, Bushrod helped the Bears set a franchise record in yards (6,109) as the club finished with a 4.9 sack percentage on 609 drop backs, which ranked as the club’s sixth-lowest sack percentage since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.

2013 role: Of all the free-agent offensive linemen available, Bushrod had allowed the most combined sacks, hits and hurries, but he still represented an upgrade over the inconsistent J’Marcus Webb. Bushrod became an immediate starter on the offensive line, and protected the blindside of quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to helping his position group adjust to the new blocking schemes brought to the club by coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who the tackle had previously worked with in New Orleans. A Pro Bowler in 2012, Bushrod started all 16 games at left tackle for the Bears.

The good: Chicago surrendered just 30 sacks, which ranks as the club’s fewest since 2008 and the second fewest for the Bears in seven seasons, and Bushrod played a major role in that. On the season, Bushrod was responsible for four sacks, and that number perhaps could have been greater when taking into account the Bears now utilize an offense designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. Perhaps one of Bushrod’s greatest accomplishments in 2013 came in helping the rest of the offensive line learn the team’s new blocking schemes because of his experience working with Kromer in New Orleans. Bushrod was slightly better than average in pass protection. But when Chicago ran the ball behind Bushrod over left tackle, it averaged 5.03 yards per attempt, which ranked as 12th in the NFL.

The bad: In addition to the four sacks Bushrod surrendered, he also allowed nine hits and 42 quarterback pressures. By comparison, in 2012 Webb gave up seven sacks, five hits and 30 hurries. But Webb’s salary wasn’t near what the Bears paid to land Bushrod. So he’s got to perform at a level commensurate to what the Bears are paying. In addition, Bushrod tied with tight end Martellus Bennett for the team lead in penalties (seven). Luckily for the Bears those penalties resulted in only one stalled drive. Five of the flags were called for holding (three) or false start (two). Bushrod’s 2013 season was an improvement over what he did in 2012, but not by much. In 2012, Bushrod gave up four sacks, eight hits and 45 hurries.

2014 outlook: Bushrod is set to count $7.3 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014. So while he didn’t play horribly in 2013, he needs to play at the level he’s being paid: as an elite pass-protector. Bushrod knows that, and should improve in Year 2 with the Bears as the offensive line continues to develop chemistry. Down the stretch of 2013, Bushrod displayed signs of improvement. Over the last five games of the season, he surrendered a sack, two hits and six pressures after giving up a sack, three hits and 20 pressures in the five games previous. So perhaps Bushrod can carry that momentum into 2014 because he’ll certainly need to for the Bears to improve upon a strong 2013 campaign in the first year of Trestman’s offense.
Despite his team not even advancing to the postseason, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman became at least a small part of the conversation Tuesday at Super Bowl media day.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson acknowledged being “good friends” with Trestman, who as offensive coordinator at North Carolina State in 2006, recruited the signal-caller to join the Wolfpack. Wilson said Trestman “believed in me” despite concerns about the quarterback’s height and ability to play the position on the major-college level.

Russell and Trestman have remained in contact.

“I knew that coach Marc Trestman had extreme passion for the game,” Wilson said. “So I have a lot of respect for coach Marc Trestman and all the things he’s done.”

Trestman just wrapped up his first season as a head coach in the NFL, leading the Bears to an 8-8 record, marking the third consecutive year the team missed the postseason. Despite the team’s mediocre record, Trestman's first year in Chicago evoked plenty of optimism about the prospects for the offense.

With Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer running the show, the Bears set multiple single-season franchise records in total net yardage (6,109), gross passing yards (4,450), net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9). The Bears also set franchise records in first downs (344), in addition to finishing second in team annals for scoring (445 points) as enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler produced the best passer rating (89.2) of his career.

The Bears also finished the season with two 1,000-yard receivers (Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall) for the first time since 1995.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll destroyed the competition in our NFL Nation survey of 320 players around the league, which posed the question of which head coach they’d most like to play for.

Of the 320 respondents, 71 chose Carroll, followed by Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin (44 votes), Denver’s John Fox (26), and New York’s Rex Ryan and New England’s Bill Belichick, who tied for fourth with 23 votes apiece. Interestingly, not one Chicago Bear surveyed voted for Carroll, but one voted for Tomlin, one picked Fox and two picked Indianapolis’ Chuck Pagano, who received just seven votes nationally.

Two of Chicago players surveyed chose Bears coach Marc Trestman. Those votes represented the only votes received nationally by the Bears coach.

“He did a great job bringing this team together,” Bears center Roberto Garza said of Trestman. “There were a lot of changes and bringing the locker room together, believing in each other and playing for each other, I think it was a great message and a great way to build this team.”

Bears general manager Phil Emery was also pleased with the progress the team made under Trestman in his first season as the club's head coach.

“Very happy with the transition with Marc and his staff,” Emery said. “I made out a number of parameters out of what I was expecting from a head football coach, and Marc has met all of those parameters. He’s an excellent teacher. He has excellence in his feel as a head football coach, as an offensive coordinator and someone directing the quarterbacks. He’s been involved in all aspects of the team. He’s an excellent administrator. He’s extremely detailed and organized. He’s very transparent when he talks to the media. He stands up and represents our team well. Like myself, you may not always agree with what I have to say or what Marc has to say, but we’re willing to say it.”

Bears safety Craig Steltz called the team's transition under Trestman “great,” adding that “we couldn’t ask for anything better.”
ESPN’s NFL Nation conducted a survey of 320 players with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson receiving the most votes among his peers as the active player they would most like to see play in the Super Bowl.

Interestingly, of the 10 Chicago Bears surveyed in the poll, only one picked Peterson. Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson was the top vote getter in Chicago. But that doesn’t mean Peterson isn’t respected by the Bears.

“I think more than his run ability is his will,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said in November. “His will and determination is so apparent on every single run. His passion for what he does, his job. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league who expresses that any better and that relentlessness and love of the game. Certainly there are guys who do just as much, but nobody more than Adrian Peterson. That’s what stands out to me.

"We’ve seen a lot of running backs come and go, and he’s certainly one of the greatest to ever play the game. Some of us have seen a lot of running backs over the last 50 years in the National Football League, and he has to be one of the best. But it’s his will, his determination, the things that go beyond his ability that really stand out to me.”

As do Peterson’s numbers against the Bears. In 12 games against Chicago, Peterson is 6-6, but he has rushed for 1,396 yards and 14 touchdowns for an average of 116.3 yards per game. Peterson has scored a total of 84 points against Chicago, which is the most he’s scored against any opponent.

In two games against the Bears in 2013, Peterson carried 61 times for 311 yards, which included a 211-yard performance during a 23-20 Vikings overtime victory Dec. 1.

Peterson admitted “it makes me feel pretty good” that he can still excel despite defenses consistently loading up to stop him.

“It feels good, but it feels like another play because I’ve been dealing with it for so long,” Peterson said.

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall received two votes from his peers, and defensive end Julius Peppers received one vote in the NFL Nation survey.

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