Bears GM Jerry Angelo speaks with coach Lovie Smith at Bears camp. (Getty Photo)
By Brad Biggs Tribune reporter 9:16 a.m. CDT, August 18, 2011
BOURBONNAIS -- It doesn’t just look like the Chicago Bears have made personnel moves on offense to become more run-oriented. They have.
The Tribune detailed Wednesday how the shift in the team’s thinking has led to changes on offense, and general manager Jerry Angelo said that’s exactly what has happened as the Bears prepare to play to their strengths in 2011, the strengths they discovered after the bye week last season when offensive coordinator Mike Martz shifted his approach and relied heavily on running back Matt Forte.
“We did want to bring in a bigger back (Marion Barber) in those short-yardage, red-zone situations. Hopefully, Marion delivers in that area and then you could create some better play action, obviously better in protection. It’s another way to get the ball downfield with helping protection. So it just gives us more flexibility to do more things on offense to create that balance that all great offenses have.”
At the same time, Angelo admitted the Bears, who ranked 30th offensively last year, need to be more potent. They’ve had a history of winning with defense and special teams and not losing on offense, but most championship teams in this age win with offense.
“It used to be the old adage: offense sells tickets, defense wins games. Defense keeps you in the games, offense has to win you games,” Angelo said. “You have to score points. You’ve got to move the football. We’ve won in a lot of different ways, mostly we’ve won with our defense. Our offense not getting us beat is what you’re touching on with a good special teams unit. You can win that way. It’s tougher to do, but you can win that way. Good defense, good special teams will always be our mantra, but we need to play better offense.
“We’ve done a lot to our offense. We’ve brought in a lot of players. We’ve made coaching changes and we feel real good about our offense having the potency to go out and put points on the board. You’ve got to put points on the board. It’s historic, when you look at the Super Bowl teams, it’s got to be driven by that quarterback and you’ve got to be able to score. We feel real good about going into this year with our offense. Obviously, our offensive line is still a work in progress but that is what the preseason is about and we have good expectations for that to happen this year.”
That puts pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler to deliver and while personnel moves have been made to beef up the running game, the Bears also signed wide receiver Roy Williams, a player Angelo believes can make a difference in the passing game. He also remains high on Johnny Knox, despite the public demotion he got from starter to a situation now where he runs with the second team. He’s basically the fourth option at this point. The Bears still have a plan for Knox and Angelo is adamant that recent criticism from Martz was rooted in his goal to motivate.
“Each coach has his own style of motivating and I think a lot of what Mike does is to motivate players,” Angelo said. “Mike believes in Caleb Hanie, he certainly believes in Johnny Knox. He has certain expectations for all players, he has expectations for the offense, he knows what the players have to do to play to his standard. And obviously that is a high standard. I take that more as motivation than evaluation.
“They’re our players and we have to make them work. We don’t have a vineyard out here … we’re just going to grow another quarterback, grow another 4.3 wide receiver. These players have played well for us, particularly Johnny and Caleb when he’s been called into action. I see that more as a motivation for the players and knowing these players, they’ll respond to that.”
The front office continues to work to try to sign Forte to a long-term extension. All parties have been pretty silent about the negotiations and Angelo said he’s optimistic but he didn’t say anything was imminent.
“We do try to reward our players and we’ve had a pretty good track record for doing that and we want to do that with Matt for one reason, he’s earned that,” Angelo said. “Matt’s shown to be a core player on our football team and we want to extend Matt. We want to make Matt a Bear for a long time. We’re motivated to do that. Hopefully, we’ll get that done here sooner rather than later but again this is a different time. The cap is different. People are adjusting to a new landscape because of the new CBA that was bargained so it will be a little bit more of a challenge. I don’t think when you look collectively around the league you see a lot of activity going on with extensions at this time.
“We’re optimistic through this whole process but we want to stay focused on the season and we also want to do the right thing by Matt. But again, we’ll just see how things play out.”
Many have wondered if the Bears will venture into free agency to add offensive line help. It’s not going to happen right now. There aren’t players on the street who would be starters for the Bears and while Angelo didn’t specifically address former Minnesota Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie, he is not a player who will be on the team’s radar.
“If we really feel we need to go out and do something, we will providing there is somebody is out there. Everybody, when things aren’t going well, ‘We’ll go out and get somebody,’” Angelo said. “There are 32 teams. At this point, really all the players that are in their prime, all the players that people feel you can win with, they’re pretty much gone. The players that are out there now, obviously I would look at more as Band-Aids. That’s just a fact. They’re probably well into their career and/or there are some issues with one thing or another.
“So for us to go in and think that we’re going to find that player that is going to save us so to speak, I don’t see that happening. That’s why we really have to put teeth in right now the players that we have, hey we bought ’em, we drafted ’em, we believed in ’em. It’s incumbent upon them, it’s incumbent upon the coaches to make it happen and I have a lot of confidence that that is going to happen for us.”
A couple of notable statements here. I love the fact he admits that, "all the players you feel you can win with, they're pretty much gone". Yep Jerry, so why wasn't your plan for getting Oline help better when it needed to be? I can see missing out on a guy like Bushrod. It's hard to pry a good young LT away from his team but you had no excuse for not getting Willie Colon. Your offer would have been good enough if you'd prioritized getting him instead of Bushrod.
I guess his point is that we're gonna have to suffer with who we have because he's not in the mood for shopping for Olineman.
The Forte thing is becoming clearer to me too. The landscape is changing dramatically as far as player contracts are concerned. Team are trending away from those huge upfront signing bonuses that can really come back to haunt you capwise if a player underperforms or ends up injured. RB's are at a huge risk for career ending knee injuries so teams don't want $20 mil in upfront guarantees tied up in a guy who may be done after the first year of his contract and leave the team with $15 mil of unamortized bonus to deal with so they can't cut him. The thread I posted that has the article by Leigh Steinberg does a great job of explaining what teams are now looking at doing to avoid that problem.
I don't think the dollar amount of Forte's new deal will present as much of a challenge as to how to structure it to everyone's satisfaction. Both sides are gonna want protection against certain things happening and that's the part that will be tougher to satisfy in my opinion.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.