Coaches Ready for a Better 2008

All three coordinators for the Chicago Bears – Ron Turner, Bob Babich, and Dave Toub – had a chance to field questions from fans at this past weekend's Bears Expo at Soldier Field. For each of them, 2008 presents an opportunity to right the many wrongs of a disappointing 2007 season.

Winning is all about attitude according to defensive coordinator Bob Babich, who spoke to fans Sunday at the Coaches' Corner session of this past weekend's Bears Expo at Soldier Field.

"I had an uneasy feeling going into training camp last year," Babich said. "It was almost as if the players felt it would be an easy road to slide back into another Super Bowl. It wasn't that they weren't working hard, but there definitely wasn't the same hunger I'd seen previously. In my mind, that was one of the primary reasons our defense went from the top of the league to the bottom in one season."

And what does Babich see now?

"A complete turnaround," he said. "They've learned something about what it takes to succeed. It's a very positive group that is willing to do whatever it takes to get right back on top. I feel that this year the players intend to show up and show the rest of the league that they are once more the dominant defense."

Babich seemed excited to have all of his players back on the field, most importantly veteran Mike Brown.

Bob Babich
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"I really enjoy watching Mike play football again," said Babich. "He's going at full speed and seems to have no residual problems. There's joy in what he does on the field. Mike has been through unimaginable difficulties, but he's never given up. He's one of the best examples on our team as far as what it takes to be a professional football player."

And having the Lance Briggs situation resolved definitely ranked high with Babich, as well.

"Now we can move on to football instead of worrying about other things," he said.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub had the luxury of fielding the best unit in the NFL last season, but there are still a few improvements he'd like to see.

"We were 32nd in kick-return ratio," Toub said, even though almost nobody in the audience had any idea what kick-return ratio actually is. "That definitely can be better."

Toub believes the reason the Bears ranked so low in that category was due to opponents compensating for the return skills of Devin Hester.

"You have a player like that, he's invaluable," he said. "But we're going to have to field some other guys who can return just as well. That way, the kick won't go out of bounds at the other side of the field from Devin all the time."

Toub envisions using Garrett Wolfe or Rashied Davis in expanded roles as return specialists.

"These small, fast guys can put an extra threat for us on the field," said Toub. "I've been very impressed with the progress that both these players had last year. They are putting in tremendous effort, and it's definitely improving the overall return game."

Dave Toub
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Offensive coordinator Ron Turner avoided any mention of the legal problems currently revolving around his starting tailback, Cedric Benson, preferring instead to focus on the positives within his squad.

"What I've seen so far in our players has been really exciting," Turner said. "There's a new determination on the part of the players to prove themselves. The talk around the league was not positive on our group, and they definitely plan to change all of that this season."

Turner stressed the importance of having six returning starters on his unit.

"The rookies we were able to get this year were excellent choices, but you can't overestimate the value of having veterans, as well," he said. "John Tait, Roberto Garza, Olin Kreutz – their value can't be overestimated as far as helping the rookies with our system and doing their jobs on the field. And it's particularly important that we have these leaders now that we've lost Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian."

Turner feels that the rookies are making a quick transition into the pros and should be able to contribute sooner rather than later.

"Matt Forte is an excellent running back," said Turner. "I like our new receivers. The overall depth of our unit is strong, and there should be some very positive competition for position."

But Turner's best offensive weapon could be Hester, who led Bears special teams to the top of the league last year.

"Devin and I had a talk about his potential in our offensive scheme at wide receiver earlier this year," he said. "I told him he could be great if he was willing to put in the time and the effort to learn the position. And he took things from there. I've never seen a harder worker. Devin definitely wants to succeed. He could be integral to our schemes in the fall."

Ron Turner
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When each was asked who his biggest surprise was so far this year, all three were quick to respond.

To Turner, the progress that Davis has made during the offseason ranks high.

"Rashied has always been a skilled player, but now he's stepped his game up to another level," Turner said.

For Toub, Kevin Payne has been impressive.

"The guy is fast, strong and smart," said Toub. "I see him as a future 18-20 tackle player, a real positive to our unit."

Babich has been impressed with Brandon McGowan's progress, and another key veteran returning from injury should help tremendously.

"Excellent work by McGowan," Babich said. "He seems comfortable out there and is doing very well. I've also been happy with Nathan Vasher. His injury has healed completely, and he's back at 100 percent. Both of these players are going to add considerable strength to our defense this season.

But here's what fans wanted to know most: What's going to happen to the team in 2008? All three coaches smiled and agreed.

"This is going to be a very good year for the Bears."

Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for seven 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.

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