"I was somewhat taken by surprise when Ron [Turner] left," Babich said Tuesday in an informal session with the media at Halas Hall. "But to have this kind of an opportunity is more meaningful to me than I can really put into words. It's the chance I've been waiting for."
The Bears elevated Babich from linebackers coach to his new position shortly after the Super Bowl in place of Turner, the popular defensive coordinator. Although sorry to see Rivera leave, Babich immediately realized that dwelling on the past wouldn't yield a productive future.
"It was the kind of situation I had prepared for all of my coaching life," Babich said. "I knew that I had to get in there mentally as quickly as possible. Having worked closely with the linebackers for several years, I was quite familiar with the Bears' overall defensive system. It was more a matter of enlarging my scope of interest to include all defensive positions rather than needing to learn everything from scratch."
Babich's job is not without its immediate problems such as the legal entanglements of Tank Johnson and Lance Briggs' contract situation, but Babich feels that the team as a whole is well equipped to deal with any unforeseen problems.
"You go into any year anticipating that something you really didn't want to occur will happen," Babich said. "This could include anything from player injuries to contract disputes. That's why well-constructed teams have such great depth. In theory, any player at any designated position can step in at any time if needed. The Bears are built for such contingencies. You can go pretty deep into the lineup without much of a falloff in production."
"I can't say enough about those two," Babich said. "They did everything they were asked to do and then some. I used to kid them that they were around the field more than the guys who were able to play. They were soaking up just as much as they could in meetings and on the sidelines. In a way, I think observing for a season might end up to their advantage. They learned a lot, and they matured. And the desire that they each have to get out there and to prove themselves is impressive."
Another former rookie deserving special mention from Babich was Mark Anderson, who came out of nowhere to lead the team with 12 sacks.
"For the number of snaps he had, his production was amazing," Babich said. "It's interesting because just looking at him, you'd have thought that Mark's body type wouldn't really fit into the Bears' overall defensive system. When I first saw the guy, I thought 'OK, he's big and powerful, but just how fast can he be off of the ball?' I laugh to myself now that I ever had any doubts about Mark's speed. He's a killer out there."
Babich is hoping that another hidden gem like Anderson will slip through into the later rounds of the upcoming draft.
"It's funny sometimes how the really good guys can just end up sitting there pick after pick," he said. "In Mark's case, though, it is somewhat of a mystery. He came from a big-school program, and the other teams certainly had plenty of film on him. How did he last way into, what was it, the fifth round? I don't know, and I guess I don't care. I just hope the Bears can be that lucky again."
Although Babich wouldn't divulge exactly which players he has his eyes on this year, he made it clear that he has a wish list firmly in place.
"The ultimate decision, of course, goes much higher up than any influence I might have," Babich said. "Lovie [Smith] and Jerry [Angelo] have the final say in whomever we end up with. But I have been doing my homework [and] watching lots of film. I observed some fine prospects at the Combine. I've taken the initiative to see players we might be interested in. If the right guy is available on draft day, I'll definitely make my thoughts known."
Regardless of the outcome of the draft, Babich feels confident that most of the pieces are already in place.
"So many veterans are returning, and that's always a positive," Babich said. "Tommie Harris is healing beautifully. The same with Mike Brown. [Strength and conditioning coordinator] Rusty Jones has done a magnificent job with our injured players."
So where does Babich see the Bears at the end of the upcoming season?
"At the Super Bowl, of course, but this time bringing home the trophy," he said. "It was hard on the guys – hard on all of us – to get so close and then fall short. I'm glad the players took some time off in February. They needed to move on. The mental aspects of this game are as important as the physical. You have to accept what happened but then progress from that point in a positive way. We are beginning the season with something to prove."
|Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for the last six years and is the Author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.|