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6.) The Bears need to figure out who their three best LBs are and stick with them.
The Bears have used 5 different starting LB groups in 8 games and a different group in each of the last four weeks. Injuries to week 1 starters Lance Briggs, Shea McClellin, and DJ Williams forced some changes, but now everyone is healthy and the Bears need to figure out what the best LB grouping is and stick with it so they can get some continuity playing together. I am all for playing rookies if they deserve it, but the Bears need to put their inexperienced young players in the best position to succeed. The Bears coaching staff can’t even decide where to play their youngsters. Christian Jones started at strong-side in week 6 and then weak-side in week 8. Khaseem Greene played MLB in week 4 and then weak-side in week 6. Jon Bostic has played two games at MLB and two games on the strong-side. I’m all for having versatile players, but it is hard enough for rookies and 2nd year players to adjust to playing in the league and moving them around every week isn’t helping.
A player’s best position is something that should have been determined in the off-season. It’s just another example of the Bears coaching staff being unprepared. Moving forward, the Bears need to figure out which LBs give the Bears the best chance to win and give them the job the rest of the season. In my opinion Lance Briggs (WLB), Daryl Sharpton (MLB), and Jon Bostic (SLB) with Christian Jones subbing in at WLB to keep Briggs fresh is the best alignment for both this year and the future. I don’t want to see Shea McClellin on the field at all unless he is rushing the passer which is the only semblance of skill he has shown.
7.) One or two of the Bears young CBs will need to step up
The injury to Charles Tillman forced an already thin Bears secondary to adapt quickly and rookie Kyle Fuller has proven that he has the talent to be a starting NFL corner. Unfortunately it left a big hole at the slot corner position. Last year’s slot corner, Isaiah Frey, has already been released (because he blows) and one or two of the young corners on the Bears roster are going to need to step up and earn an NFL job if the Bears secondary is going to be decent this season. As of right now, the Bears needs a reliable slot corner and a 4th corner (or 3rd safety) for dime packages. Here is a breakdown of the Bears options:
Sherrick McManis – The former Northwestern grad was a 5th round pick by the Texans in 2010, but has been almost exclusively a special teams player during his 4 year NFL career. McManis has been an excellent special teams gunner, but flashed some potential as a corner last preseason and then again this year. He has good size (5’11, 195) and ran a 4.48 40 after his senior year at Northwestern where he intercepted 5 passes his senior year. McManis has the physical tools, but just hasn’t been given a chance to play at corner. He reminds me a bit of Corey Graham who the Bears stubbornly kept on special teams before he left in free agency and became a solid #2 CB on a Super Bowl winning Ravens squad. If McManis had been healthy earlier in the year he would have already had a shot at the slot job, so he should get the first crack at it this week vs the Packers.
Demontre Hurst – Hurst was my favorite young CB during the preseason. He was ultra aggressive vs both the run and pass, taking chances that all seemed to pay off during the preseason. Blowing up plays against the Jags 3rd string offense is a little different than competing against Aaron Rodgers, but what stood out the most about Hurst were his solid instincts. On a team that seems content to sit back and let 10 yard hooks be completed all day, a corner who has some fire and is willing to jump short routes seems to me like just what the Bears need. Hurst will need his instincts to be correct, because he lacks both size (5’10, 183) and speed (4.55) to make up for mistakes. Some positives that Hurst has in his favor is that he is a willing run defender, he’s the most physical of the backup CBs and consistently looks to lay people out.
Al Louis-Jean – He’s one of the youngest (turned 21 three weeks ago) and least experienced (5 college starts, left after soph year) defensive backs in the NFL and is probably still recovering from being roasted by Tom Brady (7 catches allowed, 87 yards, 1 TD), but ALJ is probably the most naturally talented CB of the Bears backups. ALJ has ideal size (6’1, 195) enough speed (4.5) and natural fluidity in coverage. His lack of experience and red flags over coachability issues kept him from being drafted or even signed as a priority UDFA, but the Bears invited ALJ to a mini-camp and he made the team from there which is pretty unusual. ALJ showed good ball skills in the preseason with 2 INTs and a 3rd overturned by replay and has the highest ceiling of any backup corner on the roster.
Brock Vereen – (see below)
8.) Brock Vereen should be the starting free safety the rest of the season
As I said when the Bears drafted Vereen , he’s a little small for an NFL safety (5’11, 199) and his best NFL position may ultimately be as a slot corner. If the Bears didn’t have such a drastic need at safety, Vereen may already be manning the slot. If somehow Chris Conte stays healthy and keeps playing at an average level (both doubtful), Vereen could end up in the slot and excel there with his solid instincts, good speed (4.45), aggressiveness vs the run and solid overall football awareness.
9.) Mel Tucker and The Tampa 2 both need to go.
When Mel Tucker took over as the Bears defensive coordinator before the 2013 season, the Bears defense was coming off a season that they finished 3rd in the NFL in points allowed. There were definitely signs that they were starting to break down and their key players (Urlacher, Briggs, Peppers, Tillman) were all on the wrong side of 30, but it is understandable that Tucker didn’t want to make any drastic scheme changes. Why mess with a good thing right? Then 2013 happened and the Bears defense had it’s worse season in the long history of the franchise (95 years!). As bad and embarrassing as that season was, it gave Tucker the green light to implement whatever scheme he wanted to. After the 2013 debacle, no one was going to complain about ditching the Tampa 2. Bears GM Phil Emery also dedicated most of the free agent budget and 4 of his first 5 draft picks to give Tucker the players he needed for his new scheme. So what did Tucker do? Nothing.
If anything the Bears new scheme is even more conservative and boring than Lovie Smith’s version. The Bears rarely blitz, they never change their base alignment, and most importantly don’t even attempt to disguise their scheme. Tucker has switched between cover-1, cover-2, and cover-3 more often this year, but it has been out of desperation when the Bears are already getting smoked. Even with some more scheme variety, not even attempting to disguise their scheme gives the offense a significant advantage. Mel Tucker is letting the offense know what is coming and counting on his players to win 1-1 battles and shed blocks. The Bears defense doesn’t have the talent to win those battles consistently at more than a couple positions. In the Bears loss to the Patriots last week LBs Christian Jones, Daryl Sharpton and Shea McClellin were in the right place most of the time, but just couldn’t shed blocks quickly enough to make plays.
Going back to Mel Tucker’s Jacksonville days, it is almost the same exact scheme Tucker had the Jags run. It worked better with All-Pro caliber LBs like Paul Posluszny and Daryl Smith, but the Jags defense still only had 1 good year under Tucker. They were a top 5 defense in 2011, but a bottom 10 defense in Tucker’s 3 other years as DC. The fact that Tucker is running basically the same conservative, blitz averse, transparent defensive scheme with the Bears that he ran with the Jags shows me either a stubborn resistance to change or the inability to design a scheme around his talent.
This is Tucker’s 6th year as a DC. He has ran basically the same vanilla scheme all 6 years and has had 1 good defensive year. Why is this guy still employed? The Bears have some talent on defense, but they are probably in the middle of the pack talent-wise. They need a DC that can evaluate the talent on the roster and find a defensive scheme that maximizes their strengths and puts them in position to succeed.
10.) Marc Trestman is coaching for his job in the 2nd half
It’s painful to hear all of the talk about Cardinals coach Bruce Arians for coach of the year, when he was in the running for the Bears head coaching job back in 2013. According to Arians the Bears made him perform a mock press conference and also required him to keep certain assistant coaches on his staff. Understandably, Arians turned down the Bears job and went to Arizona where he has turned a 5-11 team in 2012 into a legit Super Bowl contender with a 7-1 record this season. After Arians turned down the Bears job, the Bears hired Marc Trestman to take over a Bears team that was 10-6 in 2012. While Arians’ Cardinals have gotten significantly better since 2012, the Bears went 9-7 in 2013 and will be lucky to finish 8-8 in 2014. Trestman hasn’t quite had the impact the Bears were hoping for when they hired him.
The offense is better and so is Jay Cutler (see takeaway #1), but neither are elite and both have regressed the last few weeks. The defense is better than it was in 2013 at least, but still no better than middle of the pack. The special teams unit, a strength under Lovie Smith, has been one of the worst units in the league. They are ranked in the bottom 5 in every relevant category except gross punting yards (O’Donnell rules!). If the defense and special teams failures weren’t damning enough, the rumors that Trestman has lost the locker room and that players are tuning him out are the biggest problems. If the players have given up on Trestman’s schemes and philosophy already, then he should start working on his resume.
The Bears were expected to compete for a playoff spot this year and at this point of the season it doesn’t look like they are going to. If the Bears finish under .500 and rumors persist about players turning on Trestman, then he is probably going to be fired in the offseason. but the season is far from over. Trestman has 8 games to turn this around and save his job.
Cutler has improved as a QB under Trestman but his turnovers have come at the worst possible times. Cutler is going to throw INTs, all QBs do, but he has to play smarter in crucial game moments. Trestman needs to use Matt Forte more consistently, a 3rd WR and 3rd CB need to step up, the Bears need to figure out their 3 best LBs and stick with them, and they need some improvement from their young defensive players. None of those things are far-fetched and if the majority of them happen the Bears could still turn this around, snatch a wild-card spot, and save Marc Trestman’s job.