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Will Trestman have the ‘Harbaugh’ touch? Plus, 10 thoughts

Ravens coach John Harbaugh (above) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had visithis seasmake Big Decisions thled them Super Bowl. Will new

Ravens coach John Harbaugh (above) and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had the vision this season to make Big Decisions that led them to a Super Bowl. Will new Bears coach Marc Trestman have similar vision? | AP

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Updated: January 22, 2013 4:36PM



It was the year of Big Decisions in the NFL. Can Marc Trestman make them?

That’s one head coaching quality even Bears general manager Phil Emery probably doesn’t know if Trestman has at this point. Would he have the instinct, the gut feeling, the gumption or whatever it took for Jim Harbaugh to stick with Colin Kapernick over Alex Smith — who, by the way, had completed 25 of his last 27 passes for a near-perfect 153.2 passer rating before he was injured against the Rams on Nov. 11.

The word ‘‘genius’’ gets thrown around too casually in sports, but Harbaugh’s Big Decision and two others by NFL head coaches come closest to fitting that description: Pete Carroll’s decision to start Russell Wilson over Matt Flynn — whom the Seahawks had just signed to a $20 million contract — prior to the start of the regular season was a masterstroke of head coaching and player development.

And John Harbaugh’s decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in favor of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell on Dec. 10 — one day after the Ravens had rushed for 186 yards, thrown for 182 and scored 28 points in an overtime loss to the Redskins — looks like it has paid off.

It appeared to be a panic move at first — the Ravens had just lost two straight after a 9-2 start and ranked higher on offense (18th) than on defense (24th) at the time. But the Ravens have had their best three-game offensive stretch of the season in playoff victories over the Colts (439 yards, 24 points), Broncos (479 yards, 31 points) and Patriots (356 yards, 28 points).

And Joe Flacco, a model of inconsistency prior to the change — his average passer rating after a 100-plus game was 70.5 in the past two seasons — is having the best postseason of his career. In three games, he’s thrown eight touchdowns — at least two in each game — with passer ratings of 125.6, 116.2 and 106.2. It’s hard to tell if Jim Caldwell is responsible for that. Flacco already was maturing as a postseason quarterback. After crapping out in his first two playoffs (one TD, six INTs), Flacco had ratings of115.4, 97.1 and 95.4 (seven TDs, two INTs) in four postseason games in 2010 and 2011 with Cameron as his OC. But it sure didn’t hurt, as it appeared it might with such a big move that late in the season.

The influx of coaches like the Harbaughs and Pete Carroll has raised the bar for all coaches in the NFL. Marc Trestman is going to have to be much more than quarterback guru who can maximize Jay Cutler. Can he make the Big Decision?

Even the little ones are telling. When the 49ers were finalizing their roster after the preseason, Jim Harbaugh chose Scott Tolzien as his No. 3 quarterback over Josh Johnson, whom Harbaugh had nurtured into an NFL quarterback in three years together at the University of San Diego. When a coach doesn’t play favorites even at the bottom of the roster, it’s a pretty good sign you’ve got a winner.

And now, 10 other observations from an eventful week in the NFL and Chicago:

1. It always comes back to the offensive line. The four starting right tackles in the Super Bowl are all first-round draft picks — the 49ers’ Joe Staley (28th overall in 2007) and Anthony Davis (11th in 2010, with a pick the Bears traded to the Broncos for Jay Cutler); and the Ravens’ Bryant McKinnie (seventh in 2002) and Michael Oher (23rd in 2009).

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2. The Ravens’ offensive line is a relative patchwork job. Center Matt Birk and McKinnie (both developed under Mike Tice) are past their prime. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is a rookie (second round, 60th overall) who started all 16 regular-season games at right tackle and moved to left guard for the playoffs.

In fact, the Ravens’ current offensive line has played together for just three games. McKinnie’s first start of the season was at LT in the playoffs against the Colts, with Michael Oher moving to RT and Osemele from RT to LG. Obviously, with the right people, some teams don’t need much time to adjust.

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3. The Ravens’ Super Bowl appearance is a tribute to late owner Art Modell, who died on Sept. 6, 2012 — four days before the Ravens’ season opener. Though Modell is a pariah in Cleveland for moving the Browns to Baltimore after the 1995 season, he also is considered a visionary with a knack for football talent.

Modell hired Bill Belichick and Marty Schottenheimer, recommended Bill Cowher for the Steelers job in 1992 and actively promoted former Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome through the ranks, from a low-level scout to general manager.

And Modell also was a big Marc Trestman fan. When Modell hired Bud Carson as the Browns’ head coach in 1989, it was with the condition that he not only retain Trestman — then the team’s quarterbacks coach — but promote him to offensive coordinator. When Trestman was trying to get back into football in 1995 after three years in private business, Modell’s recommendation helped Trestman get hired to succeed Mike Shanahan as offensive coordinator of the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers.

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4. Marc Trestman’s coaching staff is not complete, but he’s made more than enough hires to see one big difference between him and Lovie Smith — a much higher level of NFL experience on his coaching staff.

When Smith was hired in 2004, the knock on his 16-man staff was that it lacked experience. Only four coaches had prior experience at their hired position (and two of them for only one year: linebackers coach Bob Babich and offensive line coach Pete Hoener). In all, Lovie’s first staff had 29 years of NFL coaching experience, nine at their position.

With five or six hires to make, Trestman’s staff already has 91 years of total NFL experience and 71 at their hired position. If experience counts, Trestman already has a leg up on the previous regime.

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5. Marc Trestman has two coaches on his staff with more NFL head coaching experience than he has. Aaron Kromer was the Saints’ interim coach for the first six games this season. After losing the first three under Kromer, the Saints nearly upset the Packers at Lambeau Field, losing 28-27, then beat the Chargers 31-24 and the Buccaneers 35-28.

(The last time the Bears hired a former Saints interim coach was offensive line coach Dick Stanfel, who guided the Saints to their only victory in 1980 as a replacement for Dick Nolan. Stanfel was hired by Neill Armstrong but retained by Mike Ditka and developed the Bears’ offensive line throughout the Ditka era).

Trestman’s defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker, was the Jaguars’ interim coach for the final four games of the 2011 season after Jack Del Rio was fired. The 3-9 Jaguars went 2-4 with Tucker in charge.

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6. Kudos to Corey Graham, a Pro Bowl special teams player for the Bears in 2011 who left in search of a chance to play cornerback and made it happen. Graham got an opportunity to start at cornerback because of an injury to former first-round pick Jimmy Smith and made the most of it. Graham had three pass breakups and two inteceptions against the Broncos in the divisional round, including a 39-yard return for a touchdown. He had had 11 tackles against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

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7. Bears fans probably are sick of hearing how great Jim Harbaugh is, but the numbers don’t lie. Both the 49ers and Ravens showed vulnerability throughout the playoffs, but were better in the second half than in the first. The 49ers (35-10) and Ravens (52-17) outscored their playoff opponents by a combined 87-27.

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8. The surprise resignation of Bears strength and conditioning coordinator Rusty Jones last week might lead to speculation that the move was in response to the numerous injuries the Bears incurred in the final six weeks of the season, including Brian Urlacher missing the final four games with a bum hamstring.

Jones, 59, came to the Bears in 2005. He replaced Russ Riederer, who ‘‘retired’’ at 48 after the Bears had a rash of hamstring injuries in Lovie Smith’s first season (Urlacher missed seven games with a hamstring and the 5-11 Bears lost all seven games). When asked if the late-season injuries this season indicated a conditioning issue, Bears general manager Phil Emery, a former strength and conditioning coordinator at the college level, gave Jones an even more enthusiastic endorsement of Jones than Jerry Angelo gave Riederer before Riederer retired in 2004.

‘‘I think it’s just a coincidence of the NFL. It’s a tough, physical game,’’ Emery said. ‘‘I have complete trust in Rusty. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. I’ve circled back on players, especially our practice-squad players [to see] how our players are progressing. I don’t have any lack of confidence in Rusty. He’s as good as you’re going to get. He’s at the top of his profession.’’

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9. Trestman has hired two coaches from his Montreal Alouettes staff. Pat Meyer, who Trestman hired last season as his offensive line coach, might be a candidate. Kromer has the dual role of offensive coordinator/offensive line coach (though Trestman installs the offense and calls the plays). Meyer also was a strength and conditioning coordinator at North Carolina State in 2005-06, when Trestman was the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator for Chuck Amato.

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10. With Bob Babich getting the defensive coordinator job under Gus Bradley at Jacksonville and Lovie Smith getting shut out, it’s clear Lovie wants his next NFL job to be as a head coach. For $5.5 million, he can sit out the 2013 season and wait for the right spot — like in Dallas, where Jason Garrett won’t last another playoff-less season and Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin already are in place.



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