Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show
The 2017 Chicago Bears season ended similarly to that of the past 3 seasons that preceded it, seasons that saw the franchise lose at least 10 games each year and the end of one unsuccessful coaching era (Marc Trestman) and the beginning of another (John Fox).
Basically, 2017, another double-digit loss season (5-11) was a year of disappointment, the type of year that’s becoming way too familiar for this once proud franchise and its fans.
A new off-season brings new hopes and this off-season feels that way especially in the wake of Fox’s release as head coach earlier this week. General Manager Ryan Pace is looking for the next head coach of the Bears, his first proper head coaching hire, which is among the many reasons why this next head coach has to work for the Bears, work better than Fox did at least.
A new head coach can not be seen as the answer to all the problems that need to be worked out in Halas Hall. Multiple issues seem to plague the Bears as a modern NFL franchise outside of the middle managing position of head coach. Whether or not these issues are being addressed is still an issue for many who follow the team, the extension of Pace’s contract this week provided an entry point into that discussion.
Still, the appointing of this new coach is the major storyline going forward and it will exist as the first sign towards whether or not the Bears are getting back on track towards success. Here’s more on that goal, along with three others the Bears would want to accomplish before the start of the 2018 NFL season.
Get the right guy for the job – Many have speculated who may be the Bears next head coach. We do not know too much about who Pace may target other than Pete Carmichael Jr., though Pace hasn’t reportedly asked for permission to speak to the offensive coordinator who is still in action with the playoff-birthed New Orleans Saints. One main argument is whether to focus solely on an offensive coach as opposed to a defensive coach who could maybe have just as much of an effect on that burgeoning unit.
Ultimately it matters that the Bears get the right guy. The right guy will have a plan for the players on the roster and have the ability to lead the locker room. The right guy will also have the ability to hire a tremendous staff across the board and put in place the right systems for both the defense and offense. One thing that is worth keeping in mind, if the Bears get a defensive coach then the first question will be “who will be on your offensive staff and how likely are those guys going to come here?”
Even if a defensive guy has a great plan for who his staff will be it is important for the Bears to judge how realistic that staff will be. The other problem is if the Bears get a defensive coach and he brings in a great offensive coordinator then that OC will most likely leave sooner than the Bears would like i.e. Adam Gase after the 2015 season.
The Bears need an offensive coach that is going to stay so that quarterback Mitch Trubisky will have a consistency to the offensive system he runs, unlike former franchise QB Jay Cutler who dealt with new coordinators almost every season in Chicago. This type of continuity is going to be essential for whomever is the Bears QB when the Bears are ready to contend. So far the names on the “list” of candidates looks promising, hopefully it is an accurate list.
Figure Out The Injury Issue — At seasons end the Bears had 18 players on injured reserve, a slightly better number than the previous season, where they had 21 players on injured reserve at season’s end.
Injuries are going to happen in the NFL but the Bears have to figure out something. They simply cannot go into next year expecting anywhere from 15-plus guys ending up on IR. The injuries have been tough on the team in multiple ways, one way is that players aren’t developing. Many young players from the Bears have had their development stalled because of watching on the sideline rather than playing.
Another way is all the games the Bears have lost because key starters weren’t available to play. The Bears tried to address this problem last season by using GPS type trackers on the players during practice and the offseason activities to gather data to then create specific training regimens. John Fox also had a plan A, B and C for the practice schedule based on the health of his overall team.
None of the methods have worked and if necessary drastic steps need to be taken. Perhaps the Bears next head coach will be instrumental in solving the injury issue but the results are fireable based on what the Bears training staff has done. It is going to be very hard to be successful or start growing as a team if players aren’t playing consistently.
Need Hits In Free Agency — It may be unintentional, but the Bears are building themselves in a way similar to that of Green Bay. The Bears want to build their team through the draft for sustained success. Green Bay doesn’t over pay free agents for past performance or look to free agency to solve their issues.
If anything, as an avenue to make the team better, Green Bay looks at free agency almost like a last resort. The backbone and core of the Packers comes from the draft. However, the Bears are not the Packers and not even close to the Packers and it will be some time before they can say their team is built mainly through the draft. Chicago would need a lot of young pieces to hit before becoming a good team, let alone a contender. Therefore, expecting just seven draft picks to be the difference is not very realistic and it would force the Bears to draft out of need rather than best player available.
We all know that best player available mentality is important in the draft, good teams draft players that fit in the area they are selected combined with the need of the team, not always the technical best player available. The Bears will need to fill some of their roster holes with free agents to free up their ability to draft, they’ve also been bad in free agency under Ryan Pace.
Perhaps with a new coach collaborating with Pace, the Bears can find good value free agents that can help the team move forward. Free agency is going to be very important this off-season if the Bears are going to move forward in the right direction.
Two Top 40 Picks — It seems like every year it comes down to the draft for the Bears and under Ryan Pace the Bears have drafted in the top 10 every year (trading into the top 10 to draft Leonard Floyd in 2016).
This year will be no different and even though the QB position is solved for now, the issue of playmakers has not been. The Bears are still in need of difference makers on offense and need more skillful executors on defense. Playmakers are realistically found in one place — the draft. Great players can be found throughout the draft but good teams make good selections in the first three rounds consistently to stack their roster. The Bears will have two picks in the top 40 in this coming draft and they need to make them count. Essentially every position is open and available for a difference-maker.
The Bears may be closer to success than their record appears and if things go well then they won’t be in the top 10 next year. Therefore, the Bears need to make it count and get players that become pillars or core pieces. All the steps before the draft are critical but if the Bears end up with another Kevin White-type bust in the first round then any other gains this off-season will be for nothing.
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