The rush of free agency has come and gone, and the NFL Draft has come to pass with mixed reactions about how the Bears decided to approach their first round pick. Way before all of that happened, the coaching staff was completely gutted and replaced.
There’s no doubting the Bears improved this offseason. The question now is “by how much?”
In this recap, I’ll be assessing the coaching changes, free agency, and the draft separately, and then wrap up with a review of the entire offseason as a whole and how it will affect the 2013-14 season.
Sound good? Good.
.333. No, that’s not someone’s batting average mistakenly put in this article. That’s the percentage of times the Bears made the playoffs under former head coach Lovie Smith.
He was only able to lead the Bears to the postseason three times in nine years, and those three appearances netted a three and three record with zero Lombardi Trophies.
Add in the fact that the Bears offense was only able to finish in the top half of the NFL in yards per game just once in his tenure (15th in 2006), it’s easy to see why the “Lovie Affair” had to come to an end.
The Bears have had a dominant defense for as long as anyone can remember, and Lovie did a great job in continuing that defensive excellence. He was also a true leader of men and everyone who had played for him had the utmost respect for him because he was always behind his players.
But years of offensive… um… “inconsistency”, lets call it that… and lack of success in the playoffs were the straws that broke them camel’s back. It seems like Lovie’s status as coach was an annual topic of discussion, but Phil Emery finally decided enough was enough.
About three weeks after Smith was out, Marc Trestman was named the 14th head coach in Chicago Bears history. Phil Emery made no bones about wanting to improve on the offensive side of the ball, and naming the offensive guru Trestman as his coach perfectly aligned with those plans.
Trestman paid his dues at every level before finally being named an NFL head coach. As an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for multiple colleges and NFL teams from 1981 to 2006, he made the move to the Canadian Football League in 2008 as a head coach. He led the Montreal Alouettes to back-to-back Grey Cup victories in 2009 and 2010, and he was also named the CFL’s Coach of the Year in 2009.
Trestman will impose a dynamic offense in Chicago, one that Bears fans are not used to seeing. The passing game will become the focal point, and there will be a lot of designed quick release plays for Jay Cutler in order to keep him out of harms way.
Some fans are wary of how Trestman’s experience will carry over from the CFL to the NFL, but I believe those worries are unfounded. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2002, meaning he had a huge hand in coaching Rich Gannon to an NFL MVP Award that season. He also tutored quarterback Anthony Calvillo to back-to-back CFL MVP Awards in 2008 and 2009.
Trestman has a track record more than three decades long, and at nearly every stop he has drastically improved the play at quarterback. This is exactly what Jay Cutler needs here in Chicago. If he can’t find a way to succeed with Trestman coaching him along, it will be a true sign that Cutler isn’t the franchise guy we thought he was.
But I have the utmost faith that Trestman can get the most out of Cutler and the newly retooled offense that surrounds him. Even though Cutler will be learning what seems like his hundredth different offensive scheme since he’s been here, all reports claim he’s adapting to it quickly. If he gets enough protection from the line, we may see Cutler approach elite status with the numbers may put up this season (I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before…).
Trestman’s arrival will help bring the offense into the 21st century, but its new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s unit up front that will be the key to that transition. Luckily for the Bears, he was accompanied to Chicago by his stud left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
With Bushrod protecting Drew Brees’ blindside from 2009 to 2012, Kromer helped orchestrate a record-breaking offensive attack in New Orleans. In their Super Bowl Championship year of 2009, the Saints lead the NFL in total offense. In 2011, the Saints set NFL records in net yardage (7,474), passing yardage (5,347), and first downs (416).
During his four-year tenure, Kromer saw five of his players total nine Pro Bowl appearances. His line also tied for fewest sacks in that four year span with 96. Compare that with the 148 sacks Cutler endured over the past four seasons. Somewhere, a slight smile is spreading across Cutler’s patented “Jerk Face”.
Aside from the drastic improvements to the offensive personnel, the Bears also brought in Mel Tucker and Joe DeCamillis to fill the voids at defensive and special teams coordinators, respectively.
Tucker was named the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator in 2009 after spending time in the college ranks and as the defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns. In 2011, he was given full control of the defensive playcalling duties. As a result, Jacksonville’s defense finished that season ranked 6th in total yards allowed.
As a former defensive back from his playing days at University of Wisonsin-Madison, and having been a defensive backs coach from 1999-2007, Tucker can help prolong the recent success the Bears secondary experienced last season. It is also evident that his first-hand experience makes him an effective play caller, which is a duty he will assume in Chicago.
Rounding out the main parts of the new staff is Joe DeCamillis, who has been a special teams coordinator for five teams over the past 24 seasons. DeCamillis has presided over special teams units that have at least one punt or kick return touchdown in 15 of the last 17 seasons, and his units have 25 total return touchdowns to their credit.
According to sources close to the Cowboys, DeCamillis is a very passionate, vocal leader. He’ll have a lot to work with here in Chicago with Devin Hester returning his primary focus to the return game and with Robbie Gould coming back from injury. He’ll have big shoes to fill after former special teams coach Dave Toub skipped town for the Kansas City Chiefs, but I believe DeCamillis can continue the tradition of excellence in the third phase.
I’m ecstatic about all four of the new main coaches, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Right now, this revamped coaching staff deserves an A, even though time will be the deciding factor (like it always is).
As it stands right now, Jay Cutler is in a near perfect situation. With new tools around him on offense, and capable hands guiding him on the sidelines, he is in the perfect position to flourish. On defense and special teams, Tucker and DeCamillis seem more than able to continue the trend of strong play the Bears have been getting from those units for years.