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It’s up to Mike Tice to get Bears’ offense back on track

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice no-nonsense guy has give quarterback Jay Cutler more protection. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Offensive coordinator Mike Tice, a no-nonsense guy, has to give quarterback Jay Cutler more protection. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:31AM

Mike Tice is a straight-talking New Yorker who will only take so much crap. When he was a freshman quarterback at Maryland in 1977, he got into a fight with a teammate — a senior all-conference defensive lineman who cheap-shotted him in practice one time too many.

‘‘Most quarterbacks won’t stand up for their rights,’’ Tice said at the time. ‘‘I just hauled off and hit him.’’

A prep All-American at Central Islip High School on Long Island, Tice never became the quarterback he and others expected him to be at Maryland, though he did lead the Terrapins to the Tangerine Bowl as a senior. But he was determined to make it in the NFL.

Tice was not selected in the 12-round draft of 1981 and signed a free-agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks. As Jim Zorn, then the Seahawks’ starting quarterback recalls, Tice didn’t look like an NFL quarterback.

But that’s not all he noticed.

‘‘He’s a real smart guy,’’ Zorn said. ‘‘As I remember it, the coaching staff was going to [cut him]. And he went in and said, ‘Coach, give me one more week. Let me play tight end. And if you don’t like what you see in one week at tight end, then cut me.’

‘‘And you know what? He blocked his rear end off. He did a great job blocking. He just fought to learn the passing game and fought to learn to catch the ball and made [the team]. And he played for a lot of years. He’s a tough, tough guy.’’

More than 30 years later, it’s up to Tice to summon all those qualities that made him what he is today to get the Bears’ offense back on track — the street-smart toughness; the ability to take a hit, get back on his feet, learn from his mistakes and learn quickly; and, most important, his ability to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal.

It’s evident now more than ever that Jay Cutler is Jay Cutler, and the Bears’ fortunes rest more with Tice’s ability to put him in a position to succeed than on Cutler’s ability to overcome the obstacles NFL quarterbacks face on a regular basis — the pass rush, a ‘‘two-man’’ zone, well-covered receivers, the loss of Matt Forte and fans making too much noise when the Bears are in the red zone.

“We talked about putting players in position to make plays,’’ said Tice, the Bears’ first-year offensive coordinator. ‘‘We’ve got to do a better job of that, and we will. At the same time, it’s very important that you win the individual battles, and we didn’t win enough of those.”

The Bears are selling the loss to the Packers as ‘‘just one game,’’ but it seemed like more than that because so many preseason promises rang hollow.

Whatever happened to the idea that Tice would use ‘‘schemes’’ to protect Cutler even if J’Marcus Webb or others weren’t good enough to do the job themselves? (‘‘We’re going to make sure we’re not embarrassing anybody or hurting our quarterback,’’ Tice said in August. ‘‘We’re going to have schemes where if we have a guy that we’re not matching up well against, we’re going to make sure that guy has two guys on him throughout the game.’’)

Whatever happened to the idea that Cutler could do everything Mike Martz’s offense wouldn’t allow him to do to combat furious pass rushes — like moving the pocket with rollouts and using audibles? We didn’t see too many rollouts against the Packers. And perhaps we ignored one important facet of the audible — the quarterback still has to make the right decision.

And whatever happened to the idea that if opponents take Brandon Marshall out of the game, it will open opportunities for other receivers? Early in the fourth quarter, Tramon Williams caught as many passes from Cutler as Marshall, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery combined.

Give Tice credit for acknowledging the Bears’ failure on most of those counts. ‘‘It starts with me,’’ he said.

Now, what can he do about it?

‘‘We need to block, block, block people,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We can’t do anything unless we block people. You go into a game, and you believe you have a good plan. You tweak the plan in the course of a game, and you try to put players in a position to succeed. Not always can a [lineman] have help. So when those occasions arise, when a player doesn’t get the help, he’s got to win.

“We don’t expect our players to grade out 100 percent. But we expect better results than we had.’’

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