This is Part 10 of the 10-part position analysis leading up to the start of the Bears’ 2010 training camp in Bourbonnais.
Lovie Smith claims he feels no additional pressure this season, no more than the pressure of fielding a winning team each week and trying to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. But surely he must feel the searing heat from his seat as he enters what appears to be a playoffs-or-bust season. The Bears’ front office delivered no such mandate publicly, but going four straight seasons without a playoff appearance after making it to the Super Bowl is certainly unacceptable.
Sensing just how dire a situation he’s in, Smith surrounded himself with perhaps the best coaching staff the Bears have had in recent memory, at least according to experience. Smith began the off-season with a purge of most of the offensive coaching staff. He kept Darryl Drake, who did an admirable job last season with a young and inexperienced group of wide receivers that was thought to be the weakest part of last year’s team heading into training camp. Smith also retained Tim Spencer as running backs coach and he’ll have a talented duo of backs in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor with which to work this year.
After a long search that produced few interviews with experienced coaches, the Bears elected to go with Mike Martz at offensive coordinator. Martz is known for his passing offense and he presided over what was dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” in St. Louis from 1999 into early last decade. It was a leap of faith by Smith to hire a man who is considered to have a large ego and also a guy who doesn’t utilize the run game much. Smith prided himself and the Bears on running the football but ultimately found it necessary to be more aggressive on that side of the ball with a quarterback as talented as Jay Cutler on the roster. The offensive philosophy of the Bears now is to score quickly and often and rely on their defense to preserve the lead. If the offense scores early, it should allow the defense to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback.
One of the surprise coaching changes of the off-season was the switch from Rob Boras to Mike DeBord as tight ends coach. Tight end seemingly was the one position that has been consistent throughout Smith’s tenure as head coach, but that may have been a result of having an unsettled quarterback position and a mediocre crop of receivers during that span.
Shane Day replaces Pep Hamilton as quarterbacks coach and the Bears brought in former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice to coach the offensive line. Tice is widely considered one of the top offensive line coaches in the league and has been given credit for getting the best out of his players and turning some into Pro Bowlers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Smith relinquished control of the defense and promoted Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator. After examining options outside the organization, Smith felt last year’s defensive line coach was the best option to replace him as defensive play caller. Marinelli also has head coaching experience but was in charge of the 2008 Detroit Lions team that went 0-16, an NFL record. Marinelli does not have any experience as defensive coordinator, but the Bears are hoping his deep knowledge of the game will translate into good game plans. Eric Washington has taken over Marinelli’s former role as defensive line coach, although Marinelli likely will remain close to that position group.
Bob Babich returns as linebackers coach, a position he’s more suited for than when he was defensive coordinator in 2007. Jon Hoke will remain the secondary coach.
With Tice, Marinelli, Martz, and Smith, the Bears have four men with NFL head coaching experience. Critics will claim that there are “too many chefs in the kitchen” and that having so many men with big egos will make it harder for them to accept not being the one in charge. But I feel the amount of experience on this coaching staff can only help the team in terms of developing players and preparing them for game day. With potential holes on the offensive line and in the secondary specifically, it’ll help to have coaches who will squeeze every bit of production out of these players as possible.
If they don’t succeed, though, they all could be gone in January.