NFC North: Chicago Bears
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@mikecwright: I'm not sure about "fits" as you say, but the Bears are definitely interested in David Harris of the New York Jets, and Tampa Bay's Mason Foster as potential fits at inside linebacker. I think linebackers such as Jonathan Casillas and O'Brien Schofield are also players to keep an eye on as free agency approaches. I think San Francisco has some interesting things going on at linebacker as well. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman appear to be close to returning to full health, which means that last year's starters Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite could be relegated to backup roles. So perhaps new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, given his familiarity with all four players, could talk Ryan Pace into trying to trade for one of his former 49ers pupils.
@mikecwright: I could definitely see that happening. The names to look out for would be linebacker Nate Irving, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka "Pot Roast," as all three are free agents. Knighton is reportedly looking to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per year, which seems a tad steep. Knighton played in Jacksonville and Denver for new Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. So there's a good chance Del Rio could be looking to add Knighton as well. Irving is coming off a torn ACL, which means he probably won't have much leverage in terms of landing a big-money deal. But Irving became a full-time starter in 2014, and seems to be an ascending player. Moore, meanwhile, will be one of the better safeties on the market along with New England's Devin McCourty. So there's a good chance Moore could be looking for more than the Bears would be willing to pay. In the past, the Bears didn't value the safety position in terms of handing out big-money deals. Perhaps that's changed with Pace as the GM.
@mikecwright: I think you got it right. But I go back and forth between where to put Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. In fact, I'd say Marshall probably has a better chance of returning to Chicago than Cutler.
@mikecwright: I'm sure that 5.64 time in the 40-yard dash hurt him in the eyes of some scouts, but I don't believe that will affect his draft position. What you've got to realize is that Danny Shelton has rare power and strength, and he did put up a 30.5-inch vertical leap, which means he's got the explosion that personnel evaluators covet. He's also got the strength and power to command double-teams, which in turn would keep offensive linemen off the linebackers to allow them to run around and make plays. Shelton met with several teams at the combine, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Arizona, Green Bay, the New York Giants and New Orleans, and I don't think any of those teams' interest has waned after that time in the 40. Ultimately, what the player put on tape in games is what Shelton will be judged on; not a 40-yard dash time.
@mikecwright: I like him. Personal side note: Petty's coach at Baylor, Art Briles, was head coach of the Stephenville [Texas] Yellow Jackets back when they defeated us (Wichita Falls, Texas -- Hirschi High School) 49-40 in the first round of the playoffs my sophomore year. Anyway, as much as I like Petty, I don't think he's quite ready. I think he'll need a few years to learn the nuances of an NFL system before he's ready to be a starter. So if the Bears were to draft Petty, they'd have to let him sit and learn a few years before thrusting him into any real action.
Even Petty admitted that it's difficult at this point to project how he'll fare in an NFL system because of his background in a spread offense, but said he's more of a pocket passer than most spread quarterbacks.
"We were in the spread, but at the same time, I feel like I am a pocket passer," Petty said at the NFL combine. "I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket. That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that, and the fact that I want to play within the pocket, and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that."
Asked on ESPN "Mike & Mike" on Thursday what would go into the final decision regarding Cutler, Gruden said, “I think John Fox is going to look at the body of work. They’re going to see that he didn’t get it done really with Lovie Smith or Marc Trestman, and now I’m the next head coach. I think you need to give some other people an opportunity to play. I think some of these quarterbacks get too many chances. There are good enough players out there that deserve a chance to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.”
The new regime’s intense evaluation of Cutler stems from his seven-year, $126.7 million extension signed last January. Cutler’s $15.5 million base salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, but if the quarterback remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year (March 12), he’s guaranteed another $10 million of his 2016 salary.
“I know he has talent,” Gruden said. “But I don’t think he warrants that salary for sure. I think Chicago needs to look at getting a different leader under center.”
It’s clear the new regime has at least explored that possibility. The club met recently at the NFL combine in Indianapolis with former backup Josh McCown for breakfast in a restaurant inside the team’s hotel.
"[The] meeting went really well. [I] enjoyed spending time with them," McCown told ESPN.
McCown played for Fox in Carolina (2008-09) and spent three seasons with the Bears (2011-13) before signing a two-year deal to join former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers released McCown on Feb. 11.
McCown played a significant role in Chicago, helping the club to implement a new offense under Trestman and former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, and was often described by former Bears general manager Phil Emery as "a glue guy" in the locker room.
McCown played eight games during his last season in Chicago (2013), winning three games in five starts while filling in for an injured Cutler. McCown performed well enough to stir debate about whether he should be the full-time starter over Cutler.
“Two years ago, the Bears were on the brink of going to the playoffs because of Josh McCown’s play,” Gruden said. “Josh McCown played great for Marc Trestman. He fit that system. He understood it. He looked like he was in rhythm. He won a lot of games just two years ago for the Bears. He’s available. You can bring Josh McCown back. Jake Locker, possibly. There are some quarterbacks out there that need a new place to go. We were in Super Bowl XXXVII with Brad Johnson, I think he was on his third team. Rich Gannon was on his fifth team. Steve Young never started until he was 30 years old. We live in a day where everything has to happen right now, or let’s get him out of here. Some of these guys are going to prove to you that they can play. They just need a new setting.”
Perhaps that also includes Cutler.
Groh, the club's highly regarded wide receivers coach since 2013, worked with Cooper at Alabama when he served as the Crimson Tide's receivers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2011-2012, helping lead the program to back-to-back national championships.
"Coach Groh is a great coach," Cooper said at Lucas Oil Stadium. "He's really specific. He's really diligent in the way he wants to teach us. He'll go out and watch a lot of film on other guys, NFL wide receivers, and come back and try to teach it to us so we can be the best we can be."
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Oakland Raiders selecting Cooper with the No. 4 overall choice.
The Bears jettisoned the majority of the coaching staff upon the firing of Marc Trestmam, but the team reached an agreement to extend Groh's contract on Jan. 30, making him one of only two holdovers (along with outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt) from the old regime.
Under Groh, the Bears have had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons -- Alshon Jeffery (2013, 14) and Brandon Marshall (2013).
INDIANAPOLIS -- A deep draft class at defensive end features five players projected by ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to be taken in the top 15 picks.
Included in the group is charismatic University of Florida product Dante Fowler, whose positional versatility could intrigue the Chicago Bears as the team attempts to stockpile defensive ends/outside linebackers that better fit the new hybrid 3-4 defense.
Fowler recorded three sacks in the Gators’ 28-20 victory against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on January 3, giving him 14.5 sacks over his three years in Gainesville.
"I really can play anywhere," Fowler said Friday. "[Former Florida] head coach Will Muschamp’s defense was multiple; we played a 3-4 and a 4-3. My first year, my freshman year, I played a lot of defensive end. My sophomore year I did a lot. My junior year we played a lot of 3-4, so I was the Buck (linebacker). I stood up and just roamed up and things like that. I played all over the place."
Kiper Jr. predicts Fowler goes No. 13 overall to the New Orleans Saints in his latest mock draft.
The Bears, No. 7 overall, are expected to use different looks on defense in an effort to confuse opponents. Chicago’s defense became far too predictable the past two years, one of the many reasons the unit ranked near the bottom of the league.
Fowler thinks his scheme versatility is an attractive trait to interested teams during the pre-draft process.
"It can help me a lot just because I play anywhere, I can play some linebacker to D-end to edge rusher, and I can do a lot for a team. I create a lot of problems for the offense and really just stressing out coordinators," Fowler said.
"It’s an advantage. I was able to play both. I was a linebacker growing up. And I went to defensive end my sophomore year and I really liked it. I was versatile and fortunate enough to be able to play both."
Fowler, who scouts measured in Indianapolis at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 261 pounds, flashed arguably the most personality of any prospect ushered into the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium since access began on Wednesday. The versatile pass-rusher commanded the room, effortlessly answering each question with candor, charm, and sometimes humor.
"This is a dream come true," Fowler said. "I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was a little kid when I was four years old. It was like a path in front of me. I’m just happy to be here. I’m a loose person. I want teams to know that I’m a coachable guy, that I’m a team player and a fit for their team. I want to be that kind of guy that can play in this league. That I can turn a team and a defense around at the same time, just try to be that guy who can help out in the community and try be the face of that team one day."
Fowler added: "When it’s time for me to work out, I flip a switch. I just don’t like to be rude. You don’t want to be all kinds of grumpy and rude. You don’t want to be that.
"You get wrinkles from all that stuff. I’m not trying to get that."
INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after Chicago Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace danced around any commitment to Jay Cutler, the quarterback's potential replacement addressed the media assembled for the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota seems a long shot for the Bears, which own the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. But the club's brass left open that possibility Wednesday when asked about the quarterback position. The team also brought in former backup Josh McCown for a Wednesday morning breakfast in the restaurant of the team's hotel.
"We're gonna look at all avenues, whether it's free agency, whether it's evaluating and aligning our roster correctly," Fox said when asked about potentially drafting a quarterback. "Obviously [in] the draft because that's where you get young players you can build in your system that can be core guys. All those avenues are going to be things you look at to get better."
But are Fox and Pace being realistic, considering they've got an experienced and talented, yet inconsistent quarterback in Cutler already in the fold? If Mariota tumbled to No. 7 overall, would the Bears seriously ponder making him the team's selection?
That's unclear at this point, but the Bears appear to be leaving open all options.
"That's the hardest position to find, and I recognize that," Pace said. "But that's what we do. That's my challenge and we'll evaluate that.
Having spent considerable time working in New Orleans with Drew Brees, one of the NFL's elite signal callers, Pace admitted to being spoiled by strong quarterback play. Pace was asked whether he preferred to draft and develop a quarterback over bringing in an experienced veteran such as McCown.
"I think it can come either way; just getting the best guys at that position," Pace said. "I know [Hall of Fame former Packers GM] Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year. It's such a critical, critical position, that that's something we're always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team. So competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere. There's different ways. All these quarterbacks, if we went through them all, they all have different personalities; just like we do. I don't think you have to be just like [Brees], and I think it would be wrong for me to be that focused in on that that's the guy it has to be."
That potentially bodes well for Mariota, should he fall out of the top five and into Chicago's range at No. 7. But as the evaluation process intensifies at the combine for Fox and Pace, surely the club's personnel staff is focusing in on finding answers to many of the questions concerning Mariota's potential as a pro.
Mariota excelled in Oregon's high-octane no-huddle attack, and it's logical to ponder whether the quarterback's big numbers in college were manufactured mostly by the system. There are also concerns about Mariota's arm strength.
Mariota admitted to experiencing some awkwardness getting accustomed to huddling again, and he's also working on many of the minor details of a traditional pro-style offense such as three-, five-, and seven-step drops from under center.
Mariota confirmed Thursday he'll throw during Saturday's workouts, and also revealed he's been working closely through the pre-draft process with quarterback specialist Kevin O'Connell, a former third round pick by the New England Patriots, who was hired by the Cleveland Browns. Mariota has also been working with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who told the former Oregon star "to be myself and enjoy this process as much as you can."
"It's nice, but it's all about control," said Mariota when asked about all the speculation concerning where he might be drafted. "People will always talk, there will always be rumors. But for the most part right now in this process for me, I'm trying to be the best player I can be in order to make an impact on whatever team I go to."
One of the most feared 4-3 pass-rushers of his generation, Peppers' decision to sign with rival Green Bay last offseason forced the 13-year veteran to transition from his customary defensive spot to outside linebacker, where Peppers primarily operated out of a two-point stance.
The results speak for themselves.
Peppers started all 16 games for the Packers, registering 44 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two defensive touchdowns.
In two playoff games, Peppers tallied 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
That type of productivity convinced Green Bay to bring back the 35-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowl selection for another season, even though Peppers is scheduled to earn $9.5 million ($8.5 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus and $500,000 workout bonus) in 2015.
“I’m still the only one who doesn’t understand why this question comes up,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “Yes, he’ll be back. He looked very comfortable and had a great year. He made an impact both on the field and in the locker room. It was unique to get to know Julius throughout the process once he signed as a free agent.
I think he looks great in green and gold.”
Bears head coach John Fox, who coincidentally coached Peppers for eight years in Carolina, is hopeful Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young can enjoy similar success in the Bears’ new 3-4 hybrid look on defense.
However, there are no guarantees the Bears’ trio of pass-rushers will be able to accomplish the feat.
Young had a terrific first season in Chicago with a career-high 10 sacks in 15 games, but Allen and Houston both failed to live up to expectations. Although Allen held up OK versus the run with 64 tackles, he finished 2014 with a disappointing 5.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Houston’s lone sack of the season came against New England reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the Bears’ humiliating 51-23 loss to the Patriots in Week 8. Houston celebrated the sack (the game was over at that point) by tearing his ACL.
“We’ll line them up there, what they become is up to them,” Fox said. “In Willie’s case he’s coming off an Achilles surgery, you know same thing with Lamar Houston, he’s coming off an ACL. You know I had two guys a year ago, Chris Harris and Von Miller were coming off ACLs and they both had Pro Bowl seasons. So again, that’s all part of the process, you know, getting guys healthy, medically, and getting them ready to play. We’re working on that as we speak daily.
I haven’t seen Allen, so it’d be hard for me to evaluate until we get him out there. But he’s a good football player, he’s got good instincts. My experience has been that works in a two-point or a three-point stance.”
At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, McClellin possesses ideal dimensions for a 3-4 weak outside linebacker, and he was projected by draft pundits as a fit for such a scheme in 2012 coming out of Boise State as the 19th overall pick of that year’s class.
McClellin spent his first two years with the Bears playing defensive end in the club’s 4-3 scheme. But at Boise State, McClellin played defensive end, in addition to taking on roles as as a stand-up rush linebacker and as an inside linebacker.
McClellin switched to an outside linebacker spot in the team’s 4-3 scheme under former coach Marc Trestman in 2014, and although he was at times inconsistent, the three-year veteran racked up a career-high 36 tackles and contributed one sack.
As Fox and the staff continue to evaluate McClellin and the rest of the roster on defense for potential scheme fits, the coach said the traits for 3-4 outside linebackers and 4-3 defensive ends are similar.
“It’s about explosion, change of direction,” Fox said. “People look at arm length, length as a player. Really, those guys are your 4-3 ends and can stand up and drop some. So you’re looking for very similar traits, and then how much they love football and how competitive they are.”
McClellin enters the final year of his original rookie contract, a four-year deal worth $8.26 million. McClellin’s base salary for 2015 is $775,600.
In terms of pure offseason needs, the Bears must prioritize finding quality defensive linemen and inside and outside linebackers to fit coordinator Vic Fangio’s hybrid 3-4 scheme.
The Bears have selected a safety in 11 of the last 13 years, failing to ever fix the position long-term.
Pace tried to explain why talent-evaluators struggle to identify talent at safety.
“I think the reason why that position is difficult is because it’s such an instinctive position," Pace said Wednesday at the NFL combine. “I think if there’s an area where scouts, we make mistakes, is judging instincts.
When I think of a safety; No. 1 is instincts, ball skills and open-field tackling. Those are things that come to mind. You know, sometimes the ball is coming out quick in the college game now with the spread offense. But the No. 1 reason why that position gets misevaluated sometimes is because of the instincts.”
Veteran Ryan Mundy turned out to be a bargain free-agent acquisition for the Bears last season, finishing second on the team with 108 tackles and tied for first on the defense with four interceptions.
After Mundy, the depth chart at safety is fuzzy.
One of last year’s fourth-round picks, Brock Vereen, showed some promise (38 tackles, one interception) as a rookie, and definitely projects to be a solid NFL special-teams player. However, the jury is still out whether Vereen can hold up as a full-time safety. Meantime, much-maligned Chris Conte is an unrestricted free agent and is highly unlikely to return to Chicago after a variety of injuries. He sat out the final three games of the regular season. Conte finished second on the team with three interceptions.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Bears selecting Alabama safety Landon Collins at No. 7 overall in his first mock draft, but moved Collins all the way down to Pittsburgh at No. 22 in his latest projections.
But according to a source, Jennings underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. The source, who declined to say which knee Jennings had scoped, called the procedure a “simple clean out."
Jennings is coming off a subpar 2014 campaign in which he contributed 66 tackles in 16 starts with eight pass breakups and one forced fumble. The recent arthroscopic surgery indicates Jennings played through some knee pain throughout the season.
The team signed Jennings to a four-year, $22.4 million extension last January, when former general manager Phil Emery said the deal was "rewarding excellence" for a veteran who took on the responsibilities in 2013 as a No. 1 cornerback after Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending injury.
Jennings' deal was worth $11.8 million guaranteed and included a $3 million signing bonus.
Jennings earned trips to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2013, and picked off 13 passes since the start of the 2012 season, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL behind Seattle's Richard Sherman. Jennings is also tied for fourth in the NFL since the start of 2012 in interception returns for touchdown (three).
At the end of this past season, Jennings placed the blame on the players and not the coaches for the Bears' 5-11 record, and said he hoped the next head coach would help the defense to regain its identity.
A nine-year veteran, Jennings has started in 95 of 131 games played with the Indianapolis Colts (2006-09) and Bears.
That plan lasted all of 2 1/2 weeks until Cassel broke several bones in his left foot. Thrust into the starting job, Bridgewater thrived.
Playing with no Adrian Peterson, a depleted offensive line and a receiver group in flux, Bridgewater improved steadily throughout the season, finishing the year with the seventh-highest passer rating (85.2) and third-highest completion percentage (64.4) by a rookie in NFL history. After all that, Bridgewater was voted the NFC North Rookie of the Year by our merry band of NFL Nation writers covering the division.
Bridgewater's improvement at the end of the season, and his poise through both the good and bad moments during his rookie year, might be the biggest reasons why the Vikings have so much hope for their future. After his calamitous pro day caused him to drop to the end of the first round, he'd resolved many of the concerns about his accuracy and arm strength by the end of the season. Bridgewater showed a veteran's command of the Vikings' offense, checking into a screen pass that went for a game-winning 87-yard touchdown in overtime Dec. 7 after he used a hard count to get the New York Jets to show their blitz.
He already seems to have the confidence of the Vikings' veterans, in addition to their front office and coaching staff. The identity of the team, it seems, will be in his hands.
"I think it's no secret in the NFL that the quarterback is the big difference," safety Harrison Smith said Dec. 30. "It's what they talk about on TV all day. Having that position, having a guy like Teddy, who's got all the tools to do it, who's got the mindset, the way the guys feel about him -- he's a guy that's not doing things off the field -- it's huge."
Bridgewater has already talked about getting all of his receivers together to work out with him in South Florida this offseason, and the Vikings have plenty of confidence he'll take the next step in Year 2. The way he handled a chaotic rookie season made believers of many in the organization.
"Somebody asked me, 'Is he going to take charge?' and all of these things," Zimmer said on Dec. 28. "All I know is, the players on the football team, the coaches, the organization, hopefully the fans, believe in this kid. He gives them hope. The thing that I get impressed with, with him, is he makes other people better around him."
Here are the final results from the ballot (first-place votes in parentheses):
Teddy Bridgewater 14 (4)
Anthony Barr 7 (1)
Kyle Fuller 5
Corey Linsley 3
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix 1
Making the rounds at Super Bowl XLIX, Allen told the NFL Network he expects the Bears to be a more disciplined team under Fox.
It's unknown how Allen might fit in Chicago's new defensive scheme in 2015, but the new coaching staff shouldn't have trouble finding ways to best utilize the five-time Pro Bowler's pass-rushing skills. While most signs point to the Bears shifting to a 3-4 front, there's a chance the club could show some hybrid looks in 2015, as it's uncertain how quickly the personnel department can totally turn over the roster to fit the scheme.
In the past, Allen seemed reluctant to move from defensive end in a 4-3 front to outside linebacker in a 3-4.
"I want to end my career as a defensive end. And I'm not playing a 2-gap, let me just throw that out the window now," Allen said just before the 2012 season when there was talk of the Vikings changing schemes.
Allen, who will be 33 in April, seems more amenable now to a switch and said Fox will inherit a hard-working group on defense.
"One thing we do is we work. I'll be honest, I don't think we had a bad practice all year," Allen said. "Now it didn't always equate to wins and victories. We came up short. I think he's going to inherit guys that are eager, that want to win. That's one thing that was very prevalent in our locker room: guys wanting to win. I think coach Fox is going to give us that direction and give us that attitude, that sense of focus, purpose and discipline to get to where we want need to get."
Allen accepted the Salute to Service Award on Saturday during the "4th Annual NFL Honors" awards show in Arizona, and received the award in recognition of his efforts off the field. Through his Homes for Wounded Warriors Foundation, Allen helps to provide financial assistance to aid in making homes more accessible for veterans returning from war with debilitating injuries.
Allen created the foundation in 2009.
You can hear the entire interview here.
Would you like to return to the Chicago Bears for the 2015 season?
What happened last season?
Tillman: We were a not-so-good team. We fell apart on all levels. We just weren’t a good team. I think the talent was there. But we just didn’t show up on the field.
The organization brought in coaches to fix Cutler. Does that mean it’s impossible to keep any consistency on the defensive side when you go so far the other way?
Tillman: I don’t think it was impossible. I think one of the things with our defense was we didn’t make the plays that we were supposed to make. We missed a lot of layups. There were some things that we changed that just didn’t work out. All the blame doesn’t go on the coaches. It takes coaches and players to make things right when you have it good, and it takes both to make it wrong when it doesn’t go the right way. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders.
Why the change from Marc Trestman to Fox?
Tillman: Someone told me a stat the other day. I think since 1956, this was the first previous head coach that we had. I think the organization is headed in the right direction. I like the hire. I met Coach Fox and I’ve talked to other players that he’s coached. They said that he’s a player’s coach. He’s an unbelievable person, great head coach. He’s a guy that you want to play for. I’m excited.
Can Cutler be a success for the Chicago Bears?
Tillman: I think he can be a success for the Chicago Bears, but I think ultimately that’s up to him and what he wants to do.
Tillman: Can he take it to the next level? You want to make a name for yourself as a player, and I think he can do that. I think there are a lot of negative stereotypes when people talk about Jay Cutler. I think he can. I think that’s up to him though.
Cutler has underachieved his entire career.
Tillman: You’ve got your theory. Like I said, I think Jay Cutler can be that guy if he chooses to. That’s up to him, whether it’s mentally just taking it to that next level, mentally getting in the zone to where he’s hitting on all cylinders with receivers, players, coaches, leading. I think that’s a choice he has to make.
Do you think Fox will want to go with Cutler as the quarterback?
Tillman: I don’t know. We will see. I don’t know Coach Fox’s mindset. I don’t know what he’s thinking, if he wants to start over. I could not tell you.
“Not as a leader, no,” Feely said. “That’s not who he is. You’re going to have a vacuum there. So you have to know that as a general manager or a head coach, ‘Hey, we’re not going to have that leadership from this position, so we’ve really got to have other guys that are going to step up and are going to be our verbal leaders.”
Cutler didn’t serve in such a capacity during the 2014 season, according to Feely, who mentioned the quarterback and former head coach Marc Trestman lacked leadership. Cutler set the franchise’s single-season record for completions (370), and hit career highs in completion percentage (66) and passing touchdowns (28) last season. However, Cutler also tied Philip Rivers for throwing the most interceptions in the NFL with 18. Cutler also lost six fumbles to lead the league in turnovers.
Trestman benched Cutler for a Dec. 21 loss to the Detroit Lions in favor of Jimmy Clausen.
“I think with Marc Trestman, he was a little awkward when he spoke,” Feely said. “So, he really didn’t connect with guys. You can have that as a coach if you have a strong locker room. If you don’t have leaders in the locker room, [and] you don’t have a coach who really inspires, then you end up having a losing season.”
The same could be said for lacking leadership at the quarterback position, according to Feely. Cutler passed for 3,212 yards in 2014, which ranked as the most in his six years with the Bears and second best of his career. But the Bears need more than solid statistics at the position.
“Here’s my thing with quarterbacks in general,” Feely said. You are the person that every guy in that locker room looks to. When there’s a problem, they look to the quarterback. They want the quarterback to lead. When you have a quarterback who doesn’t like to lead, it leaves a hole in the team. When a quarterback is not a leader, there’s always going to be a vacuum there. Jay Cutler can win on the field, but he would be so much better and the team would be so much better if you’re a leader off the field as well. And I never saw him lead verbally. If he doesn’t want to do that, he doesn’t want to be that person, it’s not in his DNA, then you’re always going to have a vacuum there that somebody else needs to step into and fill.”
Hurtt served the 2014 season on former head coach Marc Trestman’s staff as the team’s defensive line coach.
The Bears also announced offensive quality control coaches Brendan Nugent and Carson Walch won’t be returning for the 2015 season.
Under Hurtt’s direction in 2014, the Bears increased their sacks from 31 in 2013 to 39 with 35 of the club’s sacks coming from the defensive line.
Chicago’s designation of Hurtt as outside linebackers coach signifies the Bears could be moving to a 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose background is rooted in the scheme.
With Hurtt leading the defensive line in 2014, defensive end Willie Young led the Bears with a career-high 10 sacks, after posting six over the previous four years with the Detroit Lions. Young became the second player in Bears history to post double-digit sacks in his first year with the team since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic. Hurtt also played a role in Jeremiah Ratliff ranking eighth among defensive tackles in sacks (6.5). Stephen Paea chipped in a career-high six sacks.
Before becoming Chicago’s defensive line coach in 2014, Hurtt worked 13 years coaching in college. Hurtt served from 2010-13 as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator. Hurtt joined Louisville from his second stint at Miami, where he worked as the defensive line coach from 2006-09. Hurtt started his coaching career at Miami as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach from 2001-02, before working as a graduate assistant with the team from 2003-04.
Hurtt worked the 2005 season at Florida International University as defensive line coach.
Rodgers, who is the older brother of recently hired special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, worked the last six seasons (2009-14) for the Denver Broncos, where he was defensive line coach (2012-14) and also spent time as a coaching assistant (2009) and defensive quality control coach (2011).
Denver’s defense finished the 2014 season ranked No. 2 against the run (79.8 yards per game), allowing the second-fewest runs for gains of 10 yards or more (29). The Broncos' defense also ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing average (3.66 yards per attempt) and tied for ninth in sacks (41).
Prior to working with the Broncos, Rodgers spent nine years coaching college football. A former quarterback at Indiana (1996-98) and Missouri State (1999), Rodgers started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Louisiana State working as an assistant on offense (2001) and defense (2002). Rodgers served as passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Dodge City Community College in 2003, and he’s also worked with quarterbacks at Missouri State (2004) and Stephen F. Austin (2005-06) prior to heading to Iowa State to work with receivers (2007-08).