Chicago Bears Off-Season News and Notes

Lovie SmithWhile it may be the off-season the 2010 Chicago Bears have been very busy working on improving the team heading into what is likely a make or break year for head coach Lovie Smith.  Among the notable free agency signings there has been the Greg Olsen trade rumors, Devin Hester reduced role rumors and the talk about improving the free safety spot, things are gearing up for the start of the voluntary off-season workouts the Bears start next week.

The Bears made some small tweaks and changes to the roster recently and Mike Martz has been hard at work analyzing the personnel and crafting an offense to fit well with his new team.  Sure there may be a lot of talk and hype surrounding the 2010 NFL draft which is less than 30 days away, but that shouldn’t take away from the focus of the current crop of players here in Chicago.  Midway Illustrated has your full report on what things may look like when the team goes through workouts starting on Monday

On Monday the Bears start their voluntary off-season workout, however if you want to make a positive impression it’s a good idea as a player to consider these mandatory rather than voluntary. 

Among the players who have already been spotted down at Halas Hall working over the last few weeks:

Center Olin Kreutz, WR Earl Bennett, RG Roberto Garza, WR Rashied Davis, LB Nick Roach, CB Zach Bowman, Punter Brad Maynard, DL Jarron Gilbert, LB Kevin Malast, WR Eric Peterman, H-Back/TE Eddie Williams, and free safety Craig Steltz. 

Jay Cutler has been spending his off-season down in Nashville, but this week made his return trip to Chicago to start prepping for the off-season workout program. 

Not be out done TE Greg Olsen has reportedly been down at Halas Hall working out and spending extra time in the film room going over tape and digesting the intricacies of Mike Martz’s play book. 

Greg OlsenLovie Smith reported this week from down in Orlando, Florida where he is taking in the NFL off-season meetings that both Olsen and Devin Hester would not have reduced roles in this offense.  Smith gave a bit of a teaser regarding the new offense Mike Martz is implementing stating that he’s implementing a completely new offense.  Martz has reportedly earned the nickname “Mad Mike” because he’s been like a scientist hard at work developing a playbook and digesting film on the Bears’ current personnel. 

The Bears are likely to run a wide open very aggressive and attacking style of offense that they have never before run at Soldier Field.  The days of ground and pound your way to the end zone with a sprinkling in of play-action pass appear to be over.  Martz is known for being an offensive genius and after having a year off to do nothing but think about football and tinker with his offense, Martz may very well set a new standard for himself with the offense he unveils this season.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the new offensive staff is the influence of offensive line coach Mike Tice.  Tice is no slouch when it comes to designing and influencing an offense.  Smith made it clear upon Tice’s hiring that he would have influence and input with the new offensive coordinator (this before Martz was hired).  I’d like to think that there may be a lot of work going on together between these two behind the scenes that hasn’t been picked up yet since Martz has such a big name and reputation.  Tice could easily be the guy that could help to balance out the passing attack of Martz with some of his own run game acumen. 

Smith spoke with the media for about an hour down in Orlando covering a wide range of topics from Olsen to Manning to Jay Cutler.  Smith spoke at length regarding the toughness of Cutler and how it stood out on film.  Smith professed that it’s okay for your starting QB to slide, but that that didn’t seem to be in Cutler’s nature.  He would prefer to fight for extra yardage, and play hard for the team.  That type of mentality did a lot to inspire Cutler’s teammates and respect more as a leader, although that isn’t a habit Cutler should keep moving forward. 

He also spoke of his defense and how the two most prominent players on the defense remain Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris.  Urlacher is still considered the face of the franchise and the leader of the team, even with the Bears entering year two of the Jay Cutler era.  Smith also went on to speak about some of the positive benefits of Urlacher missing a full year with an injury.  The injury may have inadvertently extended Urlacher’s career because he has had a full year to workout and rest with no additional wear and tear on his soon to be 32-year-old body. 

For Urlacher getting in shape and staying in shape has never been a problem when he’s  healthy.  Urlacher has always had a notoriously strong work out regimen and he should be in the best shape he’s been in since he made his last Pro Bowl in 2006.  He’s still a great player and while he may not be where he once was athletically, he is a smarter player that can rely on his intelligence to continue to make plays. 

Smith still considers Smith the most important cog in his defense and is very excited to have him fully healthy and ready to go. 

Elsewhere there is the strong feedback regarding Tommie Harris and the hopes that he can still have a major impact on the defense as well.  The best thing Harris has going for him is that he seems to be serious about coming back strong and he also will be sending  his first off-season in three years without going through a surgery on his knee.  You’ll recall that Harris injured both his hamstring and knee in 2006, then injured his knee and played through the knee problems in 2007 before having surgery during the off-season.  Dealt with further knee problems in 2008 and underwent arthroscopic surgery in March of 2009. 

Smith conceded that Harris hasn’t been as productive as they would have liked, they still see the flashes of greatness in him that made him one of highest paid DTs in the NFL.  That injuries have been a major factor into Harris’ problems and that we should see better things out of him in the future given how healthy he has been. 

Brian UrlacherProbably the most important aspect of the Tommie Harris conversation to note was that Harris has been working out at Halas Hall for nearly every day since the end of the season.  This is the best off-season workout program that he has perhaps had since arriving in Chicago. 

Free safety Danieal Manning has stated to various media members that he does not intend to show up for voluntary workouts until he has a new contract in place.  At this point it would be pure speculation to try to guess on what Manning’s feelings or motivations for this contract “demand”.  On the one hand Manning may simply not want to risk being injured without a contract to fall back on, or he could be genuinely unhappy and want a new long term extension for fair market value for a player of his abilities. 

Manning has also been the subject of reports that he is being moved to strong safety and that he currently sits atop the depth chart as the starter.  Craig Steltz it has been reported is currently listed as the starter at the free safety spot.  None of these reports make any sense to me given that Steltz is a horrible option as a free safety and Manning is a disastrous option as a strong safety. 

Additionally I don’t think Al Afalava has done anything to lose his starting strong safety spot.  My guess is Steltz is getting credit for being around at Halas Hall and working out there and the staff just wants to put a little more pressure on Afalava to get better.  Afalava started out strong as a rookie but hit the infamous rookie wall and his play didn’t seem to progress as the season wore on.  Afalava has a high ceiling and so long as he continues to work hard, he should only get better and be yet another late round gem that Angelo hauled in during his tenure in Chicago. 

Out of the other restricted free agents the Bears have yet to sign this off-season Nick Roach, Jamar Williams, Mark Anderson among others are fully expected to participate at the beginning of voluntary workouts on Monday. 

Continuing on some of the slight personnel changes Bears fans may see in 2010, DT Israel Idonijae is slated to be moved back out to defensive end.  Even though footballoutsiders reported that Idonijae was one of the most effective pass rushing DTs in 2009 the Bears feel more comfortable moving him back outside.

The further speculation is what if anything does this mean for the two rookie defensive linemen from 2009.  Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton have both been rumored to potentially be moved inside to DT.  Gilbert may be more comfortable playing at DT while Melton is a player that can play either inside or out, like Idonijae has for the Bears over the years. 

Finally Smith hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the Bears may add a veteran QB to the mix this off-season.  He emphasized that this isn’t an indictment  of Caleb Hanie and his development, talent or abilities but rather the thought is to add a veteran that has been there done that to help Hanie and Cutler along with his experience and to be a guy that may be more comfortable stepping in, in the worst case scenario that Cutler is injured.