Personnel changes alone will give the Chicago Bears' offense a different look this season.
The addition of two veterans, No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush; and two rookies, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Evan Rodriguez add multiple new weapons to the attack.
But there will be other differences between Mike Tice's 2012 offense and Mike Martz's 2011 offense.
"We're going to play fast, and we're going to make sure the players are able to show us their speed, explosiveness, quickness; and their toughness, if you will, up front," Tice said. "We're going to make sure they know what we're asking them to do, so they can go out and play fast. Not going on the field thinking, but going on the field and being athletes.
"We have some great athletes on offense," Tice added. "As coaches, we have to put them in a position to show us and the fans their athleticism and their explosiveness. We want to be explosive. We want to be able to get the ball down the field. We want to be able to run the ball explosively, and we're going to do those things."
The change in Tice's job description, from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, won't be a big deal according to the former Vikings head coach (2001-05).
"You're talking about managing people and putting people in position to do their jobs as best they can," he said. "I've been blessed to be a head coach in the league before, so I've had to manage people. You're talking about taking a bunch of ideas from a bunch of guys (assistant coaches) who have a chance to have some input. (Then) filtering through that information and putting it together on paper and deciding what the Bears are going to look like based on the talent pool that we have. That's what we're trying to do right now."
The Bears are in the process of going through the installation of the offense for the second time. It will be done for a third time during organized team activities, which start later this month and run through early June. A fourth installation will occur during training camp.
Coach Lovie Smith says the transition to Tice has been smooth.
"It's just like he's always been there, as far as I'm concerned," Smith said. "Mike's been in the league a while. He's been doing a super job just rallying and organizing our offensive staff, getting them all on the same page. I think you'll like the look of our offense this year. Again, it helps a lot when you get more weapons, which we've done. But I'm really pleased with what the staff has done."
None of that will matter if the play of the frequently disparaged offensive line doesn't improve in pass protection. Veteran guard Chilo Rachal, a starter for the 49ers in 2009 and '10 but a backup last season could help, but the draft brought no additional reinforcements. Tice, who will continue to work closely with the line despite his promotion, is OK with that, although questions remain, especially at left tackle.
"If (general manager) Phil (Emery) and Lovie, with the help of the scouts and the staff, felt that tackle was a dire need for us," Tice said, "I'm sure they would have answered the bell on draft day."
Tice said getting Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams back would help. Carimi played just two games at right tackle before a knee injury ended his rookie season. Williams started nine games at left guard before a dislocated wrist halted his season.
"With the change in scheme, the change in personality, an offseason (unlike last year) and getting some guys healthy, I think we'll make a big jump in the offensive line," Tice said. "We have a couple young guys who have played good football in half the scheme, if you will. They need to step it up in the other half of the scheme."
--Just 19 days after the draft concluded, the Bears have all six of their 2012 draft picks under contract. Only the Chargers, Seahawks, Giants and Packers had all their draft picks signed before the Bears.
Third-round safety Brandon Hardin, the Bears' last remaining unsigned draft pick, signed a four-year contract Tuesday morning. The 6-2, 222-pound Hardin, out of Oregon State, was the 79th overall pick. He started 15 games but missed his entire senior season with a fractured shoulder.
Hardin was a cornerback for the Beavers but will transition to safety as a pro, which will require a bit more studying, but the Bears are encouraged by his combination of size and the agility that allowed him to play cornerback in the Pac-10, where he twice made the all-academic team.
"I think it's always tough when you make any transition," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at last weekend's rookie minicamp, where Hardin began his transformation. "But you just look at some of the skills he has: great size for a safety, (and) he's a physical player. That's what we're looking for there. It's a lot harder playing corner than it is safety, so we feel pretty good about him being able to make that transition."
Hardin was beaten deep a couple times over the weekend, but he also had an interception during Saturday's seven-on-seven drills. He had just one interception in three years at Oregon State.
"I've talked to him a lot about he's got to get a lot more interceptions," Smith said. "That's why it was good to see him get one in practice. He's a quick learner, and we're pretty encouraged."
Special teams coach Dave Toub is also encouraged by the prospect of Hardin contributing immediately on coverage teams.
"He really loves special teams," Toub said. "He was a gunner on their special teams, starting gunner and the first guy down the field on kickoffs, the first guy down on punts, (and he) made a lot of tackles. He jumped out at you on special teams, so we're not going to have to do a lot as far as changing his mindset to play special teams. He's already there.
"We're really happy to have him, great speed, good size, and he's got a great attitude."
Hardin knows he's got a lot to learn, but if history is any indication, he's got a good chance to be starting for the Bears sooner rather than later. The Bears used eight different safety combinations last season and five different players started at least three games at free safety or strong safety.
"There's going to be a learning curve," Hardin admitted. "But I have to learn as fast as I can if I want to play. It's going well so far."
He's already learned one of the most important lessons.
"In this system, the No. 1 thing the Bears pride themselves on is the toughness," Hardin said. "Being a physical safety, whether it be coming down and being in the box making secure tackles or takeaways. We want to score every play."
--Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake has a real zoo on his hands this year, but that's a good thing.
"We've got two giraffes outside, and we've got some cheetahs inside," Drake said. "So I'm looking forward to it."
The giraffes are 6-4 veteran Brandon Marshall, a three-time Pro Bowl pick; and 6-3 rookie Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina, who caught 88 passes for 1,517 yards as a true sophomore playing in the SEC.
"I'm looking forward to those guys doing things they're capable of doing," Drake said. "When you have guys with that kind of ability and that kind of size, the ball doesn't always have to be perfect. Jay (Cutler) doesn't always have to put it right there. He can throw the ball up in the air, and the guys have the ability to go up and get it. It makes a difference."
--New quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates spent three years (2006-08) working with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall as an offensive assistant, and coaching wide receivers and quarterbacks, and he's excited to be reunited with them.
Cutler was voted to his only Pro Bowl in 2008, and Bates sees only positive changes since then.
"He's still the same quarterback," Bates said. "He has a great arm. He's definitely more mature as a player because he's had good games and bad games, and you get better every game. The more experiences, the more snaps, you're always going to get better at your craft. He (still) loves football. He's super intelligent. He can make all the throws. He's athletic and he comes to work every day."
Marshall gives the Bears a better big, physical, go-to receiver than they've ever had.
"He's a great player," Bates said. "He caught over 100 balls two years in a row with us (in Denver), so I'm excited."
In 2007 and '08, Marshall had a total of 206 receptions for 2,590 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The offensive line is definitely going to be a concern, and seeing where those five guys fit in, and seeing what five we go with. There are some question marks there. Until we really get that resolved ... we have some work to do on the offense." --Jay Cutler.
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