Trestman, Emery put reps on line by retaining Tucker
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org | @ricktelander January 12, 2014 10:54PM
Marc Trestman, Mel Tucker
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:25AM
As you think about the seeming decency and logic of the Bears’ brass keeping defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for at least another season, remember this: The defense was bad this season.
Not just bad, legendarily bad. Terrible.
Yes, there were the first three games — all Bears victories — when the defense was OK, generally among the top third of the NFL in most categories. Then there was the rest of the season, when the Bears went 5-8, lost twice to the Lions, finished with two victories in their last six games and were to other teams’ offenses what a Kleenex tissue is to an elephant sneeze.
Yes, Henry Melton went down, then D.J. Williams, then Lance Briggs, then Charles Tillman, then Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s men. But injuries are what the NFL is all about, and nothing excuses finishing as the worst Bears defense ever when it comes to surrendering yards, rushing yards and points. Important things, no?
And how about mental weaknesses? Letting a fumbled ball sit on the ground and walking away from it so a Packers rookie can pick it up and jog into the end zone for an uncontested touchdown at Soldier Field, whose fault is that? (After blasé James Anderson’s and Stephen Paea’s, of course.)
Well, the Bears decided it wasn’t Tucker’s fault, that’s for sure. They chose defensive line coach Mike Phair and linebackers coach Tim Tibesar as scapegoats for everything and fired the two, even as they brought back Tucker.
So don’t think there was courtesy, sentiment or good guy-ism involved in keeping Tucker. General manager Phil Emery has said he’ll do whatever it takes to make the Bears better, feelings be damned, so this must be counted as a signature move by him.
Combined with his first-round selection of clueless Shea McClellin and the re-signing of Jay Cutler for seven more years, this decision will go a long way in determining Emery’s own fate in Chicago. If this is how the Bears move forward, then there can be no latitude for backsliding. The offense finally seems set, and here is a ‘‘D’’ that gave up whatever any opposing running back wanted.
Coach Marc Trestman said he thought Tucker was the ‘‘right person’’ to lead the defense, that he has ‘‘the skill set and leadership’’ needed to get the job done. Funny that the two fired assistants, one of them a pal of Trestman’s from Canada, are suddenly the wrong people.
Funny, too, how much Chicagoans wanted to see Lovie Smith booted out of town after 2012. People were sick of his failures. Lovie’s last record: 10-6. Trestman’s first record: 8-8.
The leash Tucker is on likely is shorter than that on a lapdog. It’s trendy to dislike the vestiges of Lovie’s cover-2 defense and the holdover players from that defense and to believe something new and wondrous is in store for the Bears once young defensive players are drafted this spring. Really? More draftees such as McClellin?
I’ll tell you something that disturbed me this season: When Briggs, a team leader and multiple-time Pro Bowl linebacker, rejoined the Bears for their final two games, he looked — how shall I put this delicately? — fat. He had a roll around his belly that wasn’t a money belt.
Who on the defense had reached out to him while he was rehabbing? Nobody. Nor was Briggs reaching out.
That blubber was symbolic of something wrong with the desire and urgency of the whole unit. Yes, young Jon Bostic is built like Adonis, but he has a fraction of Briggs’ field smarts and talent, and nobody can afford for Briggs to be unengaged and lazy.
If the whole defense is being reinvented, then there is no reason to think Melton (remember that bar incident in Texas?), Tillman (soon to be 33), Briggs (33), Julius Peppers (34 in a few days) or any of the other former defensive stalwarts will be back and as useful as before.
Former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is the defensive line coach for the Cowboys, and Smith is the new coach of the Buccaneers. It can’t hurt to keep our eyes on those two as this Bears regime heads into the future.
Firing Tucker and hiring a new guy would have been easy. Unless, that is, Emery and Trestman thought there was nobody better out there. Which must be the case.
They’d better hope they’re right.