Coming off a disappointing end to a promising season, an unanticipated amount of high profiled moves, both managerial and player-wise, occurred to completely re-shaped the Bears' philosophies as well as roster. Once a team full of questions regarding the overall talent and capabilities, this team now seems prepped and primed for immediate contention for the Super Bowl. Take the plunge to see what's happened in this rather exciting offseason.
We all thought da Bears were set for a playoff run midway through the 2011 season, reaching the 7-3 mark led by a red hot QB, dynamic RB, and an opportunistic Defense which knew how to shut opponents down. Then, the injury to our red hot QB occurred, followed a week later by the demise of our dynamic RB, and thus our Defense took on a huge burden of carrying our team, with a weak WR corps and questionable OL as well as a hopeful "hero" at QB, to hope for a 3-3 mark. Well.... Caleb Hanie was anything but a hero playing in place of our star QB Jay Cutler, and even though the running game managed to produce, the non-existent passing game and break down of the OL resulted in a 4 game skid which killed any chance the Bears had in making the playoffs. Matt Forte would have helped, but even he wouldn't have been enough to compensate the extreme loss at QB. Some may say that if Josh McCown started earlier, we could have had a chance, looking manageable while going 1-1 in 2 starts against Green Bay and Minnesota. Alas, the team failed to live up to expectations, and there were far larger problems to deal with. Those problems were:
1) Lack of a respectable WR Corps
2) Lack of consistency along the OL
3) No apparent and sound plan for an emergency situation at QB
4) Low amount of depth on Defense
5) Questionable management and philosophies regarding player management and the building of the Bears' roster.
Enough was enough, where both the fans as well as the ownership, saw that it was time for not only change, but major change, which brings us to our first big move.
Jerry Angelo is Fired, and Team Moves Forward Without Mike Martz
After 11 seasons which consisted of just 3 playoff appearances (2005, 2006, 2010), 3 division championships (also 2005, 2006, 2010) and 1 Super Bowl appearance (2006), the time came for a break away from a management style which was rather questionable from the start. Injuries weren't going to save him, as there is no excuse for not setting your franchise QB for success. Even though he did make outstanding moves in trading for Jay Cutler as well as signing players like John Tait, Ruben Brown, and Julius Peppers, he failed to construct a respectable OL built for long term use or a respectable WR corps of any level. He just had to go. And, Mike Martz seemed to talk what fans wanted, but returned to his old ways in a heartbeat. His philosophies didn't match what the Bears had on offense, and he refused to change his ways long term. Both had to go, and one was sent packing while the other resigned. Now, we needed a new GM, as well as a new OC; however, they would also do this while making a prior commitment to keeping the current HC in place. Seemed easy right? Well, the OC search ended rather soon, as we look at our next big move.
Mike Tice is Promoted to Offensive Coordinator
Just when we all thought yet another long saga of waiting would happen for the eventual hire of an OC, Lovie Smith pretty much ended that before you could ask "Well...who's next?". Being a former college QB, NFL TE, and HC even, Mike Tice has always been involved on the offensive side of the ball. There was the serious question regarding his play-calling experiance, though. Those concerns aren't really concerning if you ask me, as first off thanks to other WCG members, comes evidence that he has called plays for the offense before, and always had a hand in some of the success the Bears' Offense had while they were balanced out. His OL will always be dogged on, but, that too may be remedied because of the disposal of the notorious 7-step drop. No more will we have to sit and watch a speeding DE crash full speed into Cutler after taking 5 of his 7 steps.No more will we have to watch the same play fail over and over again (see Earl Bennett reverse for reference). And no more will we have to pray that J'Marcus Webb can hold his own while Cutler is taking said 7 step drop. Now, we get to see true balance, a real commitment to create a dynamic and versatile offensive scheme that fits our personnel, and Jay Cutler being unleashed to do what he does best: Make Plays. But...we still needed a GM, as well as a QB coach, since the draft was fast approaching. Here comes perhaps the biggest move made this year.
Bears Hire Phil Emery as General Manager
We bit our nails. We sat down, turned the channels, waiting for any word on a new GM. We prayed to Ditka that Angelo 2.0 wouldn't be hired, or anyone else who would be considered a "Lovie Buddy". Numerous teams were filling their vacant GM spots rather quickly, where we sat in the middle of the creek in a canoe without a paddle. Nothing was happening, until January 28, 2012 when the Chicago Bears hired then Chief's top scouter in Phil Emery. Having prior connections with Lovie Smith and the Bears' organization, some seemed ready to say "Here we go again..." and all but assume yet another Lovie Buddy, this time as GM, was here for the long run. Yet as we would soon find out (and while I was in bootcamp) the changes we wanted to see happen, indeed happened. Starting off in the search for a new QB coach.
Bears Hire Jeremy Bates as QB Coach.
There's no reason why the hiring of an assistant coach should be big, right? Wrong, as this QB coach is the QB coach that helped to make Jay Cutler into the Pro Bowler he was while with the Denver Broncos. He's pretty much the NFL's biggest expert on Jay Cutler, where he knows what Jay Cutler both wants and can do, and what he shouldn't do. Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates will work together in unison along with their franchise QB to draw up passing plays that helped to highlight all of Cutler's strengths (mobile, smart, and very strong arm) as well as masking the weaknesses in pass protection. Roll-outs will be called frequently, creative passing routes will be devised, and best of all the scheme is being tailored to fit the scheme, and Jeremy Bates is a big reason why. Now this is all dandy, but well...we still don't have answers to the receiving corps, QB depth behind Cutler, a back-up plan in case Forte got hurt or didn't play, and this doesn't even begin to answer depth concerns on Defense. On the first day of FA, our GM gave to us...
Bears Trade for Brandon Marshall; Go on Shopping Spree in Free Agency and Re-shape Roster
A big reason for failure during last season, was the terribly shallow receiving corps. It didn't help that little competition was offered at DB, nor did it help that key vets such as Tim Jennings and Israel Idonije were both FAs, and our LB corps seriously needed depth behind both Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. It wouldn't hurt to bring in an OL as well. And, we definitely needed another option in the QB reserves in case Jay Cutler went down again. Oh, this is all without mentioning the possible drama at the RB position, so a Plan B over Marion Barber would most certainly be beneficial. Plus, there were players that weren't exactly popular themselves, and were seen as speedbumps in 2 key positions. Done, done, and done; Phil Emery lands an All-Pro WR in Brandon Marshall while signing vets such as Eric Weems and Devin Thomas to bolster the receiving corps. Also, he goes out and grabs a rather respectable player in Jason Campbell as well as bringing back Josh McCown to play behind Jay Cutler if the nightmare that was either the 2011 NFCCG or 2011 season ever rears its ugly head again. Plus, he brought back our vets on Defense (Idonije and Jennings) while introducing the team to signings at LB in the forms of Geno Hayes and Blake Constanzo, and bringing in more competition at CB with Kelvin Hayden as well as Johnathan Wilhite. Btw, he did also sign an OL in Chilo Rachal to add some competition and depth in the interior, and signed a beast of a RB to pair with Matt Forte in the form of Michael Bush. This was all without saying that the Bears moved on without either Roy E. Williams or one Frank Omiyale. In such an aggressive way, Phil Emery attacked a majority of the major concerns present on the Bears' roster. The supposed "Talent Gap" was undoubtably reduced significantly after just 1 FA period. Phil Emery knew 2 potential distractions on his roster existed, and decided to eliminate one right away.
Bears Re-sign Lance Briggs
Earlier in the year, All-Pro LB Lance Briggs expressed his thoughts as to where he felt he deserved a new contract, even though he still had at few years left on his previous blockbuster deal. In an interesting move, Emery and company decided to eliminate a(nother) potential distraction where Brigg's deal was reconstructed so he would earn more money through 2014. There was another player looking to get paid, but he would come later, much later to be exact. There were other concerns that had to be addressed, and so the Bears moved onward to continue this unanticipated offseason. Of course, problems still existed, and thus concerns such as pass rush and an overall amount of young depth would be addressed during the draft, which would be executed rather brilliantly.
Bears select DE Shea McClellin, Snatch Alshon Jeffery in 2012 NFL Draft.
For all the press received in FA, we still had to find a young player to step up on the DL and add a pass rush to aid Julius Peppers. In what first seemed like an odd move, Phil Emery selected Boise State OLB Shea McClellin with his first pick as Bears' GM. When reviewed, Shea McClellin's attributes fit beautifully what both DC Rod Marinelli and HC Lovie smith seek in a pass rushing specialist at DE. He's a little undersized at 6'3", 260 lbs, yet he not only is both fast and explosive, but will only get bigger as time comes. Plus, it's been said he has a real nose for the ball, and a high football IQ. Perhaps the bigger move, though, was the trade to move up in the 2nd round for Alshon Jeffery. Coming off concerns regarding both conditioning and motivation, former Gamecock WR Alshon Jeffery saw his 1st round stock diminish, therefor slipping into the early second round. Well, Phil Emery liked what he saw in Jeffery in regards with his hands and play-making ability, as well as being a beast in the red-zone. So, Phil Emery again pulled the trigger, and traded up for Alshon Jeffery. What we've seen thus far, a trimmed and extremely hard working young WR looking to prove the other 31 teams wrong. As of now, all those pre-draft concerns seem to be proven false, and the Bears may have potentially picked up a lethal weapon to group with Brandon Marshall as 2 large, explosive targets. Phil Emery also drafted Safety Brandon Hardin, TE Evan Hernandez, and a pair of CBs with his final picks, but all and all he landed 2 first round talents to fill critical needs with his first 2 picks. Would this be the last of the big moves? Nope, as now the focus was re-directed back to our own roster, where one certain Pro Bowl RB was looking to be rewarded, and would receive such reward (eventually)
Bears Re-Sign Matt Forte
Finally, as of today, the final necessary big move was made. The man that needed to be paid, finally got paid. After nearly 2 year of constant battling back and forth, both sides reach an agreement which results in Pro Bowl RB Matt Forte staying with the Bears for another 4 years. Now, we have all 3 Pro Bowlers in Matt Forte, Jay Cutler, and Brandon Marshall set for training camp, and to create one of the rare 3 headed monsters on offense. Both the Packers and the Lions are going to have a much tougher time going against a team that features at least 1 Pro Bowler at QB, RB, and WR. We've finally solved our biggest remaining problem, and now it's time to see everyone at work.
So, in conclusion, this off-season was without a doubt one of the most epic off-seasons Bears fans have experienced in a long time. Numerous problems existed, and many solutions arrived. Now, we have a strong receiving corps, a happy and healthy Pro Bowler at RB, several back up plans in case a key player goes down at multiple positions (God forbid), and a young QB who finally is surrounded by enough talent to help him demolish both records and opposing Defenses. Are there still questions/concerns with this team? But of course, as the OL is still....the OL, and now talks are expected to begin in efforts or bringing back Brian Urlacher as well as securing Jay Cutler, amongst others. I expect those to be solved in the future, as in such a short amount of time, our current management pretty much solved every key problem in just one off-season, thanks largely in part from both GM Phil Emery, and George McCaskey, the Head Chairman of the Board for the Bears' franchise. Thank you gentlemen on a Job Exceptionally Well Done. After all these moves, I will give a final grade of an A for this offseason. What are your thoughts WCG? Been a while since I've done a long one, so please give your comments, grades, and thoughts as well as pointers in the comments below. Bear Down!