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.

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