Here we sit in the ongoing tumultuous second year of the Ryan Pace-John Fox era. The sky is falling and there’s no one’s to pick it up.
An injury report featuring Jay Cutler, Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee, etc. seemingly multiplies weekly. At this point, your defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, is merely trying to clean up the debris. Depth can make up for lost talent, but the depleted Bears possess no such luxury. Chicago can’t rush the passer and to top if off, can’t stop the run. Basically an entire defensive philosophy in ruins. A unit once with high hopes and expectations is now merely held together by Scotch tape.
Meanwhile, confusion and doubt looms over his offensive counterpart whose possibly in over his head in Dowell Loggains. Inexperience looms in the passing game in rookie Kevin White who is very slowly but surely coming into his own. Alshon Jeffery, on a bum knee or not, can’t do it alone on jump balls to carry Loggains. That factor travels to a once crowded but now decimated backfield that will feature fellow rookie Jordan Howard instead of his less than inspiring counterparts, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the veteran coach when his offensive line that has admittedly progressed, is still trying to put the puzzle together.
Yes, obviously this is not discussing an undefeated team with all cylinders firing.
This is about a winless squad currently mired in purgatory at 0-3. In regards to purgatory, that’s according to many fans and pundits alike. And depending on who you will speak to, there’s no end in sight. Make whatever argument possible, but almost a month in, the consensus was that the Bears would at least seem better than last year. 2015 was a season built off of plucky fight that created good will with the new direction in charge. 2016 was supposed to be a year of progress, another step towards eventually bringing back the Lombardi trophy and ending a three decade-plus drought.
But many need to be reminded, that the best laid plans of mice and men-or, in this case Bears- often go awry.
Football in it’s very fundamental nature cares not for what you foresee for your favorite team. You could be absolutely stockpiled, but injuries will derail your dream that soon instead becomes imagination. If it could happen to a Super Bowl contender, it could extend to the bottom feeders as well, as it has with these hapless Bears. This is a sport and league in the NFL that has it’s own injury paper shredder of those previous expectations. It’s all based off of a roll of the dice that no one in their right mind wants to get in the way of.
When you’ve had as objectively pathetic a drafting record as the Bears had in the approximate decade before Pace, these are the results when the shredder decides to turn it’s blades towards your hope. There is not one player left over from the rosy Jerry Angelo era still with the Bears. Of the men selected by Angelo, you only have a handful such as Matt Forte, Corey Graham, or Kellen Davis still in the NFL. What a long murderer’s row. In Phil Emery’s celebrated three-year tenure, only three contributors have effectively stuck. You may know them as the familiar Kyle Long, Alshon Jeffery, and the to-be-determined Charles Leno Jr.
Almost everyone else is either not with the organization anymore, currently working through injury issues while trying to prove their standing as worthy (Kyle Fuller), or to the greatest extreme-out of the league. This creates a spiraling whirlpool where there aren’t any available homegrown players to step in that are familiar with your systems that will help you progress along your diagrammed plan. A general manager that has to clean up after the fact like Pace does, needs afforded time, and above all, patience.
Ah yes, patience.
A novel concept. An ideal all sports fans are obsessed and familiar with. “There’s always next year” ringing as a familiar ideal post-failure, especially in areas like Chicago. Frustration always growing as championship droughts and consistent mediocrity reigns in. But faith somehow never subsides. In a great turn of events, it lingers. It’s a fascinating phenomenon how a person can continually stick to their guns and understand the process for all of the continual lumps they experience. No one ever quite gives up. I can assure you that if that process is executed well, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s no way to tell if Pace, Fox, and the current brain trust at Halas Hall sees the same end point that the most unrealistic fan does. But that doesn’t mean they won’t stop trying. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to work through the drudge of the terrible hand they’ve been dealt so far.
Of course, they aren’t above criticism or reproach by any means. In fact, not every move they’ve made has been perfect. For example, maybe they could’ve taken a developmental quarterback in the past two years. Maybe they shouldn’t have invested on projects in the first round. These are debates that won’t be settled for a little while. So save your disapproval until then, if you’ll need it at all.
However, be sure that they are the group that has to fill the organizational cupboard almost completely by themselves.
The Bears have no true core yet. They may not be playing with the quarterback they’ll next win a championship with-let’s be honest-and that’s okay. Building a roster around a passer should be priority number one first and foremost. But ideally that will come with time. It’s an inheritance of disaster but no doubt, a worthwhile challenge for ambition. Blaming them for their predecessors’ mistakes and injuries is misguided.
All you can do is judge them based off of their current results. But don’t judge it exclusively off of these early season results. Don’t glare at the depressing 1-8 home record. Consider that light at the end of the tunnel i.e. what players needs to be added and developed, etc. When you decide to make a judicious decision on your feeling of a team you’ve been invested for quite awhile that’s disappointing, make sure you understand every possible predicament.
My colleague Josh Sunderbruch nailed down that a concrete rebuild can typically take approximately three years. The average NFL career isn’t very long so you have to take advantage of your contending options when possible. And that’s assuming that a respective overall major leap is made towards the end of the rebuild cycle.
But not every rebuild is the same. There will be adversity, lack of talent, and unfortunate turns of fortune. That’s just how it goes.
Many recent successful rebuilds already had a semblance of a core in place like in Arizona with Bruce Arians. A few more pieces like Tyrann Mathieu and a stabilizing coaching presence like Arians allowed for a jump to contention.
Others take an incremental period of time with an overhaul much like Chicago needs, such as Seattle with general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks are an even better example seeing as how they’ve actually won a championship recently. But even then, they skipped around the steps you’re “supposed” to take. Making the playoffs as a 7-9 team in your first year in 2010 due to an abhorrent division allows for that to happen. They didn’t “contend” until 2012 when losing to the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs. The overhaul was gradual.
Before completely throwing all of the Bears coaching staff, front office, and ownership group overboard, remember that a measure of trust is always needed. Remember that there are things out of their hands. They can fill in the blanks though. This season isn’t even over yet by any means either. Even if the Bears don’t make the playoffs, there are players to watch develop that will be contributors for potential quality seasons to come. If Chicago does actually finish the year along the same trajectory, then they’ll be in line to add a bona fide core piece next April. There are silver linings.
William Shakespeare once wrote in the iconic ‘Hamlet’; “Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper sprinkle cool patience.” Take that advice from the legendary playwright. It’s difficult now, but stay cool and collected. Trust me, you can wait a little longer for a proper contender.
It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.