Trestman Needs to Take More Control of the Defense in 2014

As I noted in my previous post today the Bears have emerged from 2 weeks of meetings with a plan for 2014. We don’t know all of the details but we do know that replacing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker isn’t one of them. In the process of pointing this out, I noted this passage from the report of Adam L Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“Another important factor is that Tucker, by some accounts, was able to reach some of [former head coach Lovie Smith’s] loyalists and defensive leaders, who are signed past this season. That includes linebacker Lance Briggs, whom [head coach Marc] Trestman and [general manager Phil] Emery intentionally commended earlier this month.”

Speculation is that Briggs never fully accepted the change in the coaching staff. So if Briggs got along with Tucker, what was the problem? Perhaps this cut from David Haugh’s column in the Chicago Tribune after the disastrous loss to the Philedelphia Eagles late last season provides a clue:

“Inside a stunned Bears locker room Sunday night after a disgraceful 54-11 loss to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, coach Marc Trestman approached Jay Cutler. Josh McCown joined them near the corner to form a quorum.

“You didn’t need to be lip reader to understand the agenda they privately set.

“Burn the tape, they said in so many words. By the time the last Bear boarded the team bus, that had become the mantra you will hear more this week than ‘Jingle Bells.’”

OK. Probably the right thing to do. But if there was a “quorum”, where was the representative from the defense? Where was Briggs or veterans James Anderson or Julius Peppers?

Trestman obviously spent most of his personal time in 2013 getting the offense on board with the plan and developing that side of the ball. And, to be honest, that’s perfectly fine. There are only 24 hours in the day and he probably chose to spend most of those working where his expertise lies in his first year as head coach. And he absolutely needed to cultivate Cutler and, to a lesser extent, McCown as the quarterbacks and de facto leaders on that side.

But the defense is now still sitting in the station and Trestman now needs to do more than leave it to Tucker to get them on board the train. The offense is up and running and more work on that side of the ball can be off-loaded to offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer , both for the good of the team and for his own development as a coordinator and, eventually, into head coaching material.

The tendency is for a head coach to want to spend time on “his” side of the ball, leaving his coordinator on the “other” side to effectively be the head coach for that half of the team. It’s fairly obvious that this is what former Bears head coach Love Smith did and it never gave good results. When Smith was fired, most of the despair emanated from personnel on the defensive side of the ball. You got the distinct impression that offensive players like Cutler were a bit more ambivalent. Trestman isn’t going to be fired any time soon. But reports about the attitude of defensive veterans towards his leadership may not be all that different from what players like Cutler were feeling just a couple years ago.

Hopefully Trestman learned something about how to fix a defense as a head coach in Canada. As noted by Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune last month, Trestman used three defensive coordinators in five years in Montreal. He likely knows by now that turning over coaching personnel isn’t the complete answer to your problems. Eventually you have to start looking closer at yourself and taking personal responsibility for the issues on both sides of the ball, not just one.

I expect to hear a lot more in the coming year about Trestman’s involvement in the defense. About conversations not just with Cutler but with veteran defensive personnel like Briggs. I expect to hear that he’s balancing his time, spending more time in defensive meetings. If not, no matter what other changes are made, Trestman will never be coaching a complete team.

How the Bears Will Fix the Defense

Last Month I constructed a post entitled “Everyone Sees the Problem. The Question Is How to Solve It.” We now know the answer to that question, at least as far as the 2014 Bears are concerned.

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times describes one major reason why Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was retained yesterday for at least one more season:

Another important factor is that Tucker, by some accounts, was able to reach some of [former head coach Lovie Smith’s] loyalists and defensive leaders, who are signed past this season. That includes linebacker Lance Briggs, whom [head coach Marc] Trestman and [general manager Phil] Emery intentionally commended earlier this month.”

It's been speculated by many (including myself) that Briggs didn't buy in to the change in coaching staffs. If he didn't, it appears that Tucker was able to get the best out of him early in the season regardless of the fact.

What I didn't like about both Jahn's account and that of Dan Weiderer of the Chicago Tribune is that they both used injuries as an excuse for Tucker's failure, something which no coach does and no fan should. Injuries happen on every team and good teams perform despite them. According to Dan Pompei at the Bleacher Report the Colts, who won a playoff game before being bounced in the second round on Saturday, had 17 players on injured reserve this year, the most in the NFL. Who beat them to make the AFC Conference Final this Sunday? The Patriots, who had 14 on injured reserve placing them behind only five teams.

So why did the Bears retain Tucker by using injuries as an excuse? The answer is that they didn't. Instead, they responded to the defensive lapse by identifying the reasons for it as being in other areas. Its no secret that the defensive performance in all three levels of the defense was subpar. Defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar paid the price for the lack of improvement in young players that needed to step up in the face of injuries, namely middle linebacker Jon Bostic, outside linebacker Khaseem Greene and defensive end Shea McClellin. Apparently the job of Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke was saved by his history of excellence with the team and the good play of the cornerbacks despite a drop off from veteran safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright. The Bears will, instead, try to improve this position by bring in more players and doing a better job of creating competition.

So after weeks of meetings and what was undoubtedly endless film watching, we now know what the plan is. There may be things like scheme change on the horizon but the real problem with the Bears defense was the individual performance of the players. A change in scheme would have made very little difference last year. This is, in essence, the guts of how the Bears plan to fix the defense: better coaching of yonger players at the level of the position coaches and more competition for jobs. It isn't rocket science. How the plan is executed over the course of the off-season and in to next year will tell us if the Bears went far enough in their evaluation.