Mike Tice Makes Nice and Other News


  • Packers nickel back Sam Shields insists he’ll play Sunday but he currently can run on a knee which has a mystery injury (via Tom Silverstein and Gary D’Amato of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).  Safety Atari Bigby has been ruled out for the game.
  • The Bears can probably expect a steady dose of full back John Kuhn this week.  Kuhn was the subject of this interesting feature from the AP.  Kuhn has been coming on since Ryan Grant went down for the Packers and, as Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune has pointed out, the Bears typically struggle with bigger, more physical backs.
  • It appears that the Bears are going to have to deal with more than the pass rush of outside linebacker Clay Mathews.  Mathews comments via Pete Dougherty at the Green Bay Press Gazette:

“[Packers nose tackle] B.J. [Raji] is really starting to come into his own now. Sacks are like a drug, you want more. B.J.’s starting to get a taste of it, so he’s turning into a pretty good pass rusher.”

Add the currently injured Cullen Jenkins to the mix when the playoffs start and the Packers are going to be even more of a hand full.  Jenkins is unlikely to start the Beas game but he hasn’t been ruled out.

  • Matt Bowen at the National Football Post gives his opinion on how much the Bears starters should play from the point of view of an ex-player.
  • Despite cries of “no respect” from players and fans, the Bears improvement on offense is starting to get some national attention.  Gregg Rosenthal at profootballtalk.com had some good things to say.
  • Biggs points out this interesting fact:

“Veterans Chris Harris and Danieal Manning are expected to start Sunday at Lambeau Field and mark the first time the Bears have had safeties paired for an entire season since Tony Parrish and Mike Brown in 2001.”


In fairness to the Packers fans, the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement adds uncertainty to pretty much all off-season activities this year.

  • Greg Bishop at the New York Times emphasizes a dilemma that the Jets face which Bear fans will certainly recognize.
  • Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams gave his always unique take on the movement of the Eagles game from Sunday to Tuesday to Tom Powers at the Pioneer Press:

“‘This was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life,’ Pat Williams said. ‘It was b.s. Play the damn game. We should have played on Sunday.’

“Pat was getting agitated. He’s spent the past four days eating Philly cheesesteaks and hanging around the team hotel.

“‘Fan safety. Fan safety!’ he said. ‘The fans all left. They ain’t no good, anyway.'”

“It starts with the head coach, as Andy Reid likes to say. That is more than boilerplate this time around. The Eagles came out being too cute by half — a shovel pass to DeSean Jackson, really? — against a team they should have been able to dispatch without resorting to such chicanery.”

Easy to see who former Vikings head coach Brad Childress learned to formulate his offensive game plans from.

“We’ve said for weeks that it’s dangerous to just throw away Kubiak’s effective offense when it has so much continuity.  Phillips may not be a great head coach, but he brings a lot to the table as a defensive play-caller.”

I couldn’t gee more.  Some guys just aren’t cut out to be head coaches.  In truth, Kubiac may be one of them, too.  But he’ll be giving himself a better chance with Phillips being in charge of the defense.

One Final Thought

For the first time I can remember, maybe the first time ever, Mike Tice has something nice to say publicly about pass-happy Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz.  From Neil Hayes at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“A lot of credit goes to Mike to be able to adjust on the go and call the game a little differently [since the bye week]. He’s done a great, great job. He’s really helped us get to where we are.”

Its snowing in hell.

Rookie Cap Proposal Needs Tweaking

Mike Florio writes an interesting commentary on the state of the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.  He focuses upon a proposed rookie wage scale.  He runs the numbers and comes to this conclusion:

“Thus, the truly big money will be paid out not in the first contract but in the second contract.  As a result, the goal will become to get to the second contract.  And to get to the second contract, a player will need to get into the league and start proving his worth.”

His point is that the new system will cause more rookies to leave college early:

“As one league source explained it to PFT on Thursday, more underclassmen will choose to leave, since improving their draft stock via an extra year of college football won’t translate into the big money that a big bump up the ladder would have triggered in the past.  The big money will now come once free agency approaches, and free agency won’t approach if the player opts for another year of play-for-no-pay.”

This is a legitimate issue and one which the league would be well advised to avoid.  How?

If the goal is to get to the second contract, then higher round picks should be signed to shorter rookie deals.  That gets them to free agency quicker and provides the player with the needed incentive to stay in school and improve his draft stock.  A player might “play-for-no-pay” for an extra year but, effectively, it could still count as progress towards free agency and, given the extra skill level acquired, could make sticking around at a university worthwhile.

Will the owners actually do this?  Very doubtful.  The current system allows teams that draft well to have sustained success and, in theory, allows better organizations to compete effectively under a cap.  Organizations that draft well are going to want to be able to continue to keep those players under their rookie contract.  Even with restricted free agency there’s a good chance that such a team could lose an impact player.

But the league can’t have its cake and eat it, too.  If its serious about making sure that its money only goes to players that have shown they can earn it, its going to have to give in on something.  This might be the only answer.

What’s Really Scary about the New England Patriots? They’re Actually “Rebuilding”.

As good as the NFC North is going to be next year, the Bears should be grateful they aren’t in a division with the New England Patriots, a team who won a tough AFC East division and are dominating the NFL while rebuildingKristian R. Dyer comments at The New York Times:

“In its two-deep, New England counts 6 starters and 21 players total with fewer than three years in the N.F.L. This makes them the youngest A.F.C. team in this year’s playoffs.”

This a result of an interesting apparent philosophy:

Dave Shonka, a former scout with the Eagles, Redskins and Chiefs, said: ‘Quality depth management is a Patriot technical term for throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. With misses like first- and second-rounders such as Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson, playing the numbers game is less expensive. Of course, all this roster management would not be possible without a sixth-round pick in the 2000 draft named Tom Brady –- he was a noodle that stuck on the wall.’”

But that’s not all:

“The future for the Patriots looks awfully bright. They hold six picks in the first three rounds of the draft; the Jets hold two in those rounds. With nine picks next April, New England is poised to add even more young talent.”

I’m really proud of what the Bears coaching staff has accomplished this year, especially Mike Tice who has apparently done an incredible job with a young offensive line.  If the staff stays together, it bodes well for the future.

But these guys have got nothing on Bill Belichick.  The current state of the New England Patriots is nothing short of amazing.  The Bears are eventually going to suffer.  Many of their impact players are aging and they simply haven’t drafted well enough to guarantee sustain success.  It’s hard to do.

In contrast, I’ve never seen a healthier franchise than the Patriots, who dominated the Bears three weeks ago and who have been generally dominating everyone this season.  We truly are witnessing one of the rarest things in sports – the beginnings of a true dynasty.  Thank goodness the Bears don’t have to play them twice a year.

Bears Players Talk Turf – Serenity Now!

The Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer contains a message that can apply to anyone as they deal with problems thought life.  It goes like this:

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Its a valuable message and one which the Bears players probably need to be able to apply when it comes to the turf at Soldier Field.  First quarterback Jay Cutler, now linebacker Brian Urlacher.  Urlacher cut loose on the Soldier Field footing yesterday (via Vaughn McClure at the Chicago Tribune):

“I don’t know about the beat-up part, but the footing at Soldier Field has been horrible,” Urlacher said. “We’ve all seen that. If you watch us on film, our D-line slipped.

“We’re a fast team and when you get us on a surface like that, it takes a little bit of our speed. Health-wise I think we’re OK if we’re playing fast. But the field has been so bad we haven’t been able to do what we normally do.”

I’m pretty tired of hearing about this.  As Urlacher points out, both teams play on the surface.  The Bears players just have to be quiet and deal with it.  I find it to be disturbing that they are letting the state of the their own stadium’s turf get into their heads to distract them from the task at hand.

More interesting to me is finding a solution to the problem.  In this respect, the varied statements we get from through the media don’t help.

As I blogged at the time, he Chicago Sun-Times said this just a few weeks ago:

“Nobody is expecting changes at Soldier Field any time soon. Team president Ted Phillips has said he’s awaiting ongoing studies on player safety before making any decisions. The park district maintains the stadium as a multipurpose venue, and other events require grass fields.”

“Hybrid surfaces such as the one at Lambeau Field aren’t practical at such a busy venue, which means the status quo may be the best — and only — alternative.”

But Brad Biggs, writing for the National Football Post, said something different yesterday:

“The park district would like to install an artificial surface because it would save money quickly and be able to do much more with the stadium. The Bears, for the time being at least, prefer a natural grass surface. Not all of the players are in favor of that, though.”

Dan Pompei, also at the Tribune, seemed to agree in May:

“The Park District is all for a change to an infill surface — it’s the Bears who are not on board. The Park District could get around the soccer issue by have a grass field rolled over the infill for special events. This is done in some stadiums. You are correct in that the Park District does make money on concerts at Soldier Field, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to make more money from soccer events.”

but then he also wrote this about the latest hybrid surfaces:

“The Eagles and Steelers tried (the hybrid surface used at Lambeau), had problems and had to go back to natural grass. The problem with this type of surface at Soldier Field is it might not hold up to the wear and tear–especially when you consider the stadium, unlike Lambeau Field, also stages events other than Bears games. And if you have problems with it, there is no way to re-sod. You’d have to replace the entire field. As for whether or not the surface is more safe than any other surface, the real answer is no one knows.”

So which is it?  Does the Park District want artificial turf or doesn’t it?  Does the Park District even know what it wants?

For that matter, though the Bears have been consistent in saying they are awaiting the results of studies being conducted, I’m not sure how useful those studies are going to be.  Turf is improving all the time and whatever the studies conclude, there almost certainly won’t be enough of it about hybrid surfaces like the one at Lambeau in Green Bay.  And even if there was could the park district even use it?  Pompei obviously doesn’t think so.

So when we look at the complaints of the players and at the reasons why this has been allowed to become a distraction, part of the problem might be that the players haven’t gotten a firm message from the organization or the city about what can be done, should be done or will be done.  As the Serenity Prayer above implies, people who have their heads on straight tend to turn their minds to the task at hand once they realize that a decision has been made and the situation is out of their hands.  Instead, the players think that by talking about it, they can influence the situation.  And in talking about it, they continue to think about it.

I understand that this is a multifaceted story.  Clearly player safety has to come first.  But in the absence of clear data on the subject and in the likelihood of its  continued absence, what’s best for the venue long term comes next on the list.  A logical, consistent message from the powers involved might really help the fans, not to mention the players, sort out where everyone stands on the issue.

Bears Defense Must Get Back to Fundamentals

Sean Jensen at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the Bears defensive problems the last few games:

“The defense was ranked third overall, third in first downs allowed and tied for the league lead in fewest points permitted. But in the five games since, the Bears have allowed 26 points per game, and the defense has dropped to 10th overall and 11th in first downs allowed.”

The Bears players seem to agree:

“When he reviewed film of the game against the Jets, Briggs was disappointed in what he saw from the defense. And if the Bears are going to make a Super Bowl push, he said, he and his defensive teammates need to step it up.

“’It was poor,’ he said. ‘You look at the film, and usually it’s better than you think it is. This definitely wasn’t. It wasn’t the type of football we need to play to win in the postseason.'”

I couldn’t agree more.  The Bears defense hasn’t played with much discipline lately.  Even without reviewing film the average fan can see that the Bears are giving up big plays.  Safeties are biting on short routes.  Linebackers are out of their gaps.  There’s a lot of over pursuit.

Fortunately the solution, or at least a big part of it isn’t tough to figure out:

“’We just have to get back to our fundamentals because we were playing fundamentally good football consistently [earlier] in the year,’ linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ‘So to get back to that would be the goal.

“'[Recent games have] definitely made us more aware — more conscious — of our deficiencies.’”

Better now than in the playoffs.  So in that respect it’s not a bad thing.  As long as they get a handle on it soon.

Packers Will Avoid Hester – If Possible

Rob Reischel, writing for the Chicago Tribune, addresses whether the Packers will kick to Devin Hester:

“Packers coach Mike McCarthy called it ‘top secret.’ Several other Packers refused to show their hands.

“Packers special teams standout Jarrett Bush was far more forthcoming. According to Bush, the Packers will do everything they can Sunday to make sure Bears return ace Devin Hester doesn’t touch the football.

“‘I don’t think so,’ Bush said when asked if the Packers would kick to Hester. ‘If he does, it’s going to be an accident.'”

I don’t think so either.

The Packers will, of course, try to punt away from Devin Hester.  But as Bush implies, that doesn’t mean Hester won’t see his chances.  Rob Demovsky writes about the difficulties for the Green Bay Press Gazette:

“Punting isn’t that exact of a science and in the Packers’ locker room on Monday, [Green Bay punter Tim] Masthay explained why. Using a pen and paper, he gave a geometry lesson on angles and explained why a 40-yard punt out of bounds is more than just a 40-yard punt.

“’If you want to hit a 40-yard punt out of bounds, it’s longer than hitting it straight up the field,’ Masthay said. ‘You have to hit like a 47-yard punt, and it’s very hard to hit it exactly where you want to hit it. It’s very easy to hit it (a lot shorter and out of bounds). And that’s why you don’t see guys do it or game plan that way very often.’”

This is the difficulty that the player who McCarthy called, “the best player on thier football team” and its probably one reason why he did.  Hester is an example of why directional punters have become the norm in the NFL.  Getting the ball where you want it is a skill without much room for error and in Hester’s case it like dancing on a razor’s edge.