A veteran NFL scout who specializes in evaluating offensive linemen is not only impressed with the job Mike Tice has done patching together the Bears’ offensive line but believes Tice has identified building blocks for the future. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, here’s what he said about specific Bears linemen:
On Frank Omiyale: “Take some of the great players on the left side like Jake Long in Miami and Joe Thomas in Cleveland. They’re big, dominant guys who can move their feet. He’s not that but he’s in the top half or top third of left tackles in the game right now. He’s a guy who works at it, finesses it and gets it done. He’ll get better because Mike is working with him.”
On Chris Williams: “He doesn’t break down as much as I thought he would. I know they brought him in to be their left tackle, but he’s not good on an island. He’s more suited to that inside position.”
On veteran center Olin Kreutz: “He’s a good leader. He’s lost a little because of Father Time, but he’s still a vital part of what they do.”
On rookie J’Marcus Webb: “If that big right tackle can’t play he could stomp out forest fires somewhere. He’s really coming along. He has been a catalyst. That’s what Mike is best at, bringing along those young pups.”
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
The way the offensive line performed against the New York Jets on Sunday is enough to make you rethink how far these Bears can advance in the playoffs.
The offense is no longer succeeding despite its line but because of it. Improbably enough, the Bears’ most glaring weakness became a strength, if only for a week.
“We’ve got a great working staff,” offensive line coach Mike Tice said. “We’re all trying to do the same thing — win. We’ve got good players who have bought in. I’ve been doing this a long time. When you get that, you’ve got a chance.”
Tice left the Jacksonville Jaguars because he wanted to coach offensive linemen and spend more time with his family. He has spent more time with his son, Nate, a backup quarterback for the Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin Badgers, and his daughter, Adrienne, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., this season than he did the last four years combined.
Meanwhile, returning to his roots as an offensive line coach has provided the challenge of a lifetime.
“That’s why you want to do it,” Tice said. “You want to step into those challenges and attack them head-on. That’s why we teach. You teach because you want to see our students learn and improve and do well. When they do that, it’s the fruits of your labor.”
What Tice is doing for the Bears is not going unnoticed. The former Vikings head coach was already widely respected as one of the best line coaches in the league. After transforming a line that was the NFL’s worst for much of the season into a unit capable of doing what it did against an AFC playoff team on Sunday, his reputation is growing.
As much as he enjoys his current role, Tice wants another crack at being a head coach. If he keeps this up, he’ll get it.
“He coaches well not only at the point of attack but in coordinating how they get to the second level and complete the process,” said a veteran scout who specializes in evaluating offensive linemen. “Lots of coaches are satisfied to open holes and let their backs get nailed by three or four guys. Mike does a good job of prolonging the blocking down the field. That’s what has always impressed me about him.”
What Tice missed most while serving as Jack Del Rio’s assistant head coach in Jacksonville was those moments when he’s kneeling on the sideline, clipboard in hand and pencil behind his ear, teaching linemen how to combat a blitz. His role with the Jaguars was more administrative.
As an offensive line coach, he’s spending more time teaching and finding solutions to the strategic challenges.
“I’d love to get another opportunity [to be a head coach], but I don’t have an immediate goal like I did when I was younger,” Tice said. “But the reason I wanted to coach the line again is I did want to have my hands on more. I did want to be involved more in the offense, and you are when you coach the line.
“The biggest working relationship on the offensive side of the ball is between the coordinator and the offensive line coach.”
Much has been made of the relationship between Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz, especially when Tice’s line regularly was being overrun and Martz’s heave-ho offense was floundering. It hasn’t been an issue since the bye, when Martz and Tice redefined the offense.
The result is a balanced attack that has racked up 78 points in back-to-back games heading into the season finale Sunday in Green Bay.
“During the bye week, the first thing you do is look at yourself, look at what you’re trying to do,” Tice said. “We went through all of that, like all staffs do. We looked at the things we thought our guys could do, and we looked at the things we wanted to do and we might have to work toward or get to through another point.
“A lot of credit goes to Mike to be able to adjust on the go and call the game a little differently. He’s done a great, great job. He’s really helped us get to where we are.”
Tice set a simple goal for the season: Get better every week. He hopes his unit has another month to improve, which would put the Bears in the Super Bowl.
“[The Jets game] was the fastest they have played, meaning mentally sharp coming off a short week against a team that does a lot of stuff,” Tice said. “You’re always going to get unscouted looks against the Jets, and I thought it was the best job the guys did of handling the unscouted looks, which tells me they are starting to learn the rules we’ve tried to install.
“That means they’re getting it and they’re getting better.”