Despite upgraded passing attack, Bears still committed to run
August 23, 2012 9:06PM
Chicago Bears Vs Washington Redskins Pre-Season Football. 1St-Half Action. Chicago Bears No.29 Michael Bush scores. August 18, 2012. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:55AM
When he weighed his options — begrudgingly accepting that he wouldn’t land a massive contract befitting a starting tailback — Michael Bush wanted an NFL home where he could work and win.
So when he arrived at Halas Hall for a free-agent visit, Bush was fascinated when new offensive coordinator Mike Tice informed him that he wanted two 1,000-yard running backs.
Despite his background as a college quarterback, Tice developed under respected coaches who appreciated the ground game — most notably Joe Gibbs — and he built his reputation as an offensive line coach. Before joining the Bears, Tice worked in various capacities with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew nearly became one of the rare duos to run for 1,000 yards apiece in the same season (2006).
Jones-Drew finished 59 yards short.
“He said he wanted to do it,’’ Bush recalled Tice saying, “and I said, ‘Well, you got the right two people.’ ”
That’s an ambitious goal, one that fits coach Lovie Smith’s mantra of “Get off the bus running,” but its attainability, considering the team’s heavy offseason investment in the passing attack, is questionable.
Pinning down the personality of the Bears’ offense is difficult. Tice has never been an offensive coordinator, and he was intentionally vanilla with his schemes in the two preseason games and throughout open training-camp practices.
But the Bears’ practices are closed now that they’ve returned to Halas Hall, and Jones-Drew insisted Tice’s offense will surprise some.
“With Mike Tice running that [offense], they’re going to run the ball a lot more than what people think,” Jones-Drew said during a video conference call hosted by DirecTV on Wednesday night.
That, of course, begs the question: Is that possible?
Last season, the Bears were 24th in the NFL with 5,026 offensive yards, 2,448 yards behind the top-rated New Orleans Saints. If — as many project — the Bears’ offense moves up in the rankings, it’ll be because of an improved passing attack, one that’ll be spearheaded by Brandon Marshall, who has averaged 1,187 yards the last five seasons.
Proud of their depth, the Bears also expect sizable contributions from Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Kellen Davis, rookie Alshon Jeffery, not to mention Bush and Matt Forte out of the backfield.
But some of the league’s top rushing teams last season also were among the best at passing the ball. The Saints were first in the air and sixth on the ground, and the Philadelphia Eagles, featuring running back LeSean McCoy, were fifth on the ground and ninth in the air.
The Eagles had 450 rushes last season; Forte and Bush combined for 459.
So balance is possible.
In addition, Arian Foster and Ben Tate of the Houston Texans just missed becoming the seventh duo to each reach 1,000 rushing yards, with the latter falling 58 yards short.
Forte and Bush, so far, are connecting well.
“[Bush is] very easy to get along with,” Forte said. “We’re kind of the same. We never get too high or way too low. In the end, it’s going to work out pretty good.”
Added Bush, “As long as we’re winning, it don’t matter who does it as long as the job gets done.”
Smith has spoken glowingly of the team’s new receivers and quarterback Jay Cutler’s potential this season. But in an interview with the Sun-Times, Smith noted that one of the appeals of Tice as his offensive coordinator was his background and philosophy.
“I had something in mind,’’ Smith said. ‘‘First of all, we’re the Chicago Bears, you have to have a run-based offense. You start with that, and we’re set up for that. Not only are we excited about Matt, we’re bringing in Bush, too.
“That’s telling you our commitment to the run. But then to stop the run, you have to do certain things. That opens it up on the outside if you have the right guys.”
With an aging defense, the Bears are counting on striking the right balance on offense — not to mention scoring more points — if they’re to fulfill their high expectations.