Smith aims higher with d-line
By: Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 2/26/2012 10:49 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – Bears coach Lovie Smith was pleased with some aspects of the defensive line’s play in 2011, but he believes the unit has the potential to perform at a higher level.
The Bears defense finished fourth in the Aikman Efficiency Ratings, which was created by Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and consists of seven key statistical categories.
Asked at the NFL Combine whether he felt the pass rush needed to be ramped up, Smith said: “Everything needs to be ramped up. But I like some of the things we were able to do on our defensive line.”
Veteran end Julius Peppers was selected to his seventh Pro Bowl in 10 NFL seasons after recording a team-high 11 sacks, including nine over the final 11 games. Henry Melton added a career-high seven sacks, tied for third most among NFL defensive tackles.
“Julius Peppers is arguably the best player in the NFL; that is what I think,” Smith said. “I get a chance to watch him. The things he does, he will very seldom lead the league in sacks because he gets respect always—double team, triple team. But he had a heck of a year. We think he played last year better than he did the previous year.
“And Henry Melton, I’ve been talking a lot about Henry Melton and what I think he can be in this league. He didn’t disappoint. Again, that was without an offseason last year. His future is bright. Stephen Paea, Amobi Okoye. Amobi had a heck of a year also. Israel Idonije too.
“Do we need to do a better job with it? Yes. And I think those guys will say that and we’re saying it because we are capable of doing more.”
Same approach: With Phil Emery replacing Jerry Angelo as general manager, some NFL observers believe that Smith must lead the Bears to the playoffs in 2012 to retain his job. But the coach’s expectations will be no different than they’ve been in the past.
“Every year I’ve been a head football coach and pretty much as a position coach, I felt like we had to win the next year or else,” Smith said. “There’s a standard that we’re going to try to get accomplished. That hasn’t changed at all.”
Emery was hired with the stipulation that Smith would remain coach at least for the 2012 season.
“As far as more pressure, [the] new GM having to keep me, I don’t think any of the [candidates] looked at it that way,” Smith said. “Hopefully they looked at it as a great situation they were coming into, a team that two years ago was in the NFC Championship Game, a team that was 7-3 this past year before injuries happened.”
Still involved: Smith’s role in the acquisition of players will be the same under Emery as it was with Angelo.
“I was involved in the past,” said the Bears coach. “Phil is my boss. I worked together well with Jerry in the past and will do the same thing with Phil. There are a lot of things we have going on right now, but we’re excited about getting the perfect mix on that 53-man roster, I should say at that 61-man roster [including the practice squad].
“Phil has jumped in right now and again he knows quite a bit about our organization to start off with. I’m just pleased with how it’s initially gone.”
Building a roster: It appears that the Bears will remain a draft-driven team that fills needs in free agency.
“What we’ve tried to do in the past is just to get the best possible players whether it’s through free agency or the draft,” Smith said. “Phil’s background has probably been more through the draft, and as a general rule, I think every team feels it likes to build through the draft. That’s what we’ll try to do. [But] you can’t get everything you want or need through it.”
Smith thinks d-line can perform better