NFL Nation: Mike Phair

The Chicago Bears announced on Sunday they won't be bringing back defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar for 2014. Given all the scrutiny surrounding a defense that suffered a historic collapse in surrendering the most points (478) in franchise history, total yards (6,313), and rushing yards, it was pretty much guaranteed someone would be held accountable.

Obviously, Phair and Tibesar were left holding the bag. But the move to dismiss them can't be categorized as entirely unfair.


In Phair's case, he was dealt a difficult hand having lost Henry Melton and Nate Collins to season-ending injuries. But Phair was never able to get the best out of former first-round pick Shea McClellin (29 tackles, four sacks), and defensive tackle Stephen Paea, although hobbled most of the year with a turf toe injury, posted 29 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in his third season, after producing at least two sacks in each of his first two years. Perennial Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, meanwhile, finished with 7 sacks after generating 11 sacks or more in each of the last two years. Of all the club's defensive linemen expected to play key roles in 2013, it's probably safe to say that Corey Wootton was the only player to show any improvement of that group.

No outside candidates to replace Phair have emerged, but it's likely the Bears will promote assistant defensive line coach Michael Sinclair to the post. In his first year with the Bears, Sinclair worked under head coach Marc Trestman as the defensive line coach of the Montreal Alouettes for all of the coach's years in the Canadian Football League.

Tibesar had also spent time with Trestman in the CFL, but worked all of 2012 as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Purdue before joining the Bears. The Bears started the season with a veteran group at linebacker in D.J. Williams, James Anderson and Lance Briggs, but the position group fell off dramatically when forced to play rookies Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene for extended periods due to injuries to the veterans.

While Bostic showed promise early on, he improved slightly, but not significantly enough as the season progressed, which was likely unacceptable for Trestman and general manager Phil Emery, given the rookie's tremendous upside, coupled with the fact he received plenty of snaps at one of the most important positions on Chicago's defense to gain enough experience to make a marked jump. Even after Briggs returned from a seven-game absence and was paired alongside Anderson and Bostic, the group still struggled.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker drew most of the criticism from the general public for the collapse of the franchise's once-vaunted defense in 2013, but several factors such as injuries conspired beyond his control as well as Phair and Tibesar. During the team's thorough self-evaluation over the past several days, the Bears looked closely at every aspect and likely determined they could coax more out of the linebackers and defensive line than Emery and Trestman thought Phair and Tibesar were capable of.

What does it mean for Tucker? That's unknown, but Trestman gave Tucker another vote of confidence when the team made the announcement Sunday about Phair and Tibesar. Tucker will join some of the team's other staff members on Monday in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the East-West Shrine Bowl.

“We believe Mel is the right person to lead our defensive unit,” Trestman said. “He fully understands where we need to improve, has the skill set and leadership to oversee the changes that need to be made, and to execute our plan to get the results we know are necessary.”

It's also likely that Tucker understands he's absolutely got to deliver results in 2014, regardless of the circumstances thrown his way or he'll wind up like Phair and Tibesar.

The ever-popular Brandon Mebane

July, 15, 2011
Those clamoring for news on the NFL free agency front will have to settle for projections until the lockout finally does end.

There's been no shortage of them on regarding Brandon Mebane.

The Seattle Seahawks' defensive tackle would make sense for the St. Louis Rams, in my view. Colleague Pat Yasinskas sees Mebane fitting well with the Carolina Panthers. But those teams could face competition from the Chicago Bears, Kevin Seifert posits.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mebane
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireBrandon Mebane has spent the first four seasons of his career with the Seahawks.
The Seahawks also remain in play, but Mebane has gone through this offseason feeling as though a departure from Seattle was likely.

"I feel like I wasn’t in their plans," Mebane told Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune two months ago. "And I feel like I have that right to think that because I got a third-round tender. If they really wanted me, they had plenty of time to do what they had to do. Me personally, from my experience, I don’t think I was in their plans. I would love to come back here, but I don’t know what their plans are."

Mebane, 26, has been a starter in each of his four NFL seasons. The next collective bargaining agreement is expected to make him an unrestricted free agent.

The Bears do make for an intriguing potential suitor given their strong connections to him. Former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell, who made Mebane a third-round draft pick in 2007, works for the Bears now. New Bears defensive line coach Mike Phair also worked for the Seahawks.

Other former Seattle assistants have also surfaced around the league. Jerry Gray became the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator. Several members of the Titans' front office, including longtime Ruskell associate Ruston Webster, were with Seattle when the Seahawks drafted Mebane. Such connections often come into play when teams identify which free agents to target, although there are no indications Tennessee, amid suggestions that it could incorporate some 3-4 principles, plans on targeting Mebane.

Mebane recently ranked seventh on Matt Williamson's list of top 15 players in the NFC West.

"Mebane isn’t a slouch against the run, but he is much better suited for a 4-3 where he can use his array of abilities, including a quick get-off," Williamson wrote. "Mebane doesn’t get the publicity that he deserves, but he does everything asked of him well. Carolina or Denver would love to have him."

Williamson has also mentioned Mebane as a player who would help the Indianapolis Colts.

In short, Mebane could make sense for any team running a 4-3 defense and needing help at defensive tackle.
Over on, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick recently posted a list of the top 10 presumed free-agent defensive linemen. It's worth noting that four of the top five played in the NFC North last season.

But I'm less interested in where Ray Edwards, Cullen Jenkins, Tommie Harris and Cliff Avril will play in 2011 than in who might be joining one of our teams. (All indications, by the way, are that Avril will be a restricted free agent and thus will return to the Lions.)

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mebane
Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesBrandon Mebane has spent the first four seasons of his career with the Seahawks.
Billick's ninth-ranked defensive lineman almost certainly is of some interest to the Chicago Bears, who are expected to be $37 million below the salary cap when free agency opens. I'm not in the business of indiscriminately throwing names against the wall just to foster free-agent discussion, but I think you'll agree that there are more than a few reasons to tie the Bears to defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who played the first four years of his career with the Seattle Seahawks.

First, the Bears should be in the market for experienced defensive tackles after releasing Harris. They've already made some moves, drafting Stephen Paea in the second round and indicating that Henry Melton could shift from end to tackle. But veteran Anthony Adams is a pending free agent, and Mebane's career track suggests he would be an upgrade.

Most recently, Mebane made two tackles behind the line of scrimmage in the Bears' 35-24 victory over the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs. Scouts Inc. offers this take on his strength as a player: "He has enough power to hunker down and clog things up on the inside and can be extremely quick off the ball to penetrate and create problems in the backfield."

Second, connections are always important when trying to predict free-agent movement. Mebane has two critical associations with the Bears. The man that drafted him in Seattle, Tim Ruskell, is now the Bears' vice president of player personnel. And the Bears' new defensive line coach, Mike Phair, spent the past six seasons with the Seahawks.

As we've discussed several times, offensive line should be the Bears' top priority in free agency. But on a secondary level, it makes sense to keep an eye on whether they'll take the seemingly obvious step of pursuing a player who makes sense for their team.