Great Expectations Unfulfilled in 2009

Jay Cutler led the NFL in interceptions. The running game all but disappeared. A once-dominant defense couldn't stop anybody anymore. Will changing both coordinators cure what ails the Chicago Bears?

Great expectations went unfulfilled for the 2009 Bears, resulting in a purge of the coaching staff.

The acquisition of Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler on April 2 inflated hopes for a team coming off a 9-7 season, and when the Bears took a 3-1 record into the bye week, comparisons were being made to the 2006 Super Bowl team. But six losses in the next seven weeks left the Bears out of the postseason for the third straight year.

General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith were given a reprieve not accorded offensive coordinator Ron Turner, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Rob Boras and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, who served as the scapegoats for a 7-9 team. Smith also will relinquish his duties as defensive coordinator, which he assumed last season with no discernible improvement in the final product.

Smith's teams have now gone 23-25 since the Super Bowl XLI loss to the Colts.

Of Angelo's 43 draft picks over the previous five years, only seven are starters for the Bears, while twice as many (14) are out of the league.

The trade for Cutler, which cost the Bears their first-round draft picks in 2009 and '10 plus a third-rounder in '09 and incumbent quarterback Kyle Orton, looked ingenious before the bye. Cutler posted passer ratings of over 100 in each of the three victories, but that early buzz only masked the many shortcomings that were later exposed.

The more games the Bears played, the more the offensive line was exposed as inadequate and the more the inexperience of the wide receivers was highlighted. While the Bears were losing eight of 10 games after their Oct. 11 bye, Cutler and his youthful targets were frequently not on the same page, resulting in a flurry of interceptions. No one in the NFL had more picks than Cutler's 26, and it wasn't just receivers running the wrong routes. Cutler's own bad decision-making was responsible for more than a few.

The good news is that all of the Bears' young pass catchers showed improvement by the end of the season, which allowed wide receivers coach Darryl Drake to keep his job. And Cutler finished with a career-best 27 TD passes, although his 76.8 passer rating was the lowest of his four NFL seasons.

Starting soon, Cutler will have a new quarterbacks coach and coordinator to work with. That will make three of each in three years for Cutler, and it remains to be seen if his development will be stalled or accelerated.

If the Bears don't make it back to the postseason in 2010, the entire staff, Smith included, is probably history, and Angelo might join the exodus.

Cutler, along with Turner, bore the brunt of criticism during the midseason swoon, but an offensive line that wasn't nearly as talented as advertised was just as culpable, if not more. Orlando Pace showed little of the talent that got him to seven Pro Bowls. Free-agent pickup Frank Omiyale, a backup tackle in the past, was a major disappointment early before becoming more comfortable at guard late in the season. Chris Williams, 2008's first-round pick, failed to impress at right tackle but provided some optimism for the future when he performed better at left tackle late in the season.

The offensive line failed to protect Cutler long enough so he could utilize his cannon arm to stretch the field, but it did allow him to demonstrate an ability to move in the pocket and make plays outside the protection. The line also did little to help running back Matt Forte avoid a sophomore slump, as his lack of quickness and speed were exposed.

The O-line was better at the end of the season, but it still needs at least one quality starter to rise above mediocre.


DT Tommie Harris
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

The defensive line was just as disappointing, considering the money invested in it. Three-technique tackle Tommie Harris looked like his old, Pro Bowl self in maybe three games out of 16. The ends were average, and young nose tackle Marcus Harrison is approaching bust status. The greatest need here is for an elite pass rusher, which the Bears have lacked recently.

The linebacker corps was hit hard by season-ending losses of six-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa, who played a combined total of about one full game between them. Fortunately, the Bears possessed outstanding depth here, and Hunter Hillenmeyer, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams picked up a lot of slack.

If Urlacher and Tinoisamoa, an unrestricted free agent, are back and healthy, this unit will be outstanding.

The secondary was a mixed bag with decent play on the corners, but there are no stars at safety, where a center-fielder type with ball skills is desperately needed.

NOTES AND QUOTES
Perry Fewell remains the favorite for the Bears' vacant defensive coordinator position, which he interviewed for on Monday. According to one Internet report, Fewell has already decided to accept the job.

But the 47-year-old Fewell, who was the Bills' interim head coach for the final seven games this season, has also interviewed for the permanent top job in Buffalo, and that situation remains undecided. Under Fewell, the Bills went 3-4 to finish 6-10, but he is considered a long shot for that full-time position.

Fewell was the Bears' defensive backs coach in 2005 under Smith before leaving to become the Bills' defensive coordinator. He was also the defensive backs coach for the St. Louis Rams in 2003, when Smith was their defensive coordinator. ...

Although former USC quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates canceled his scheduled interview at Halas Hall on Tuesday after deciding to follow Pete Carroll to the Seattle Seahawks, Smith took the opportunity to interview Bengals quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese for the offensive coordinator position, according to Internet reports.

The 42-year-old Zampese has spent the past 11 years as an NFL assistant, including the previous seven as the Bengals' quarterbacks coach, where he has mentored Carson Palmer. Palmer threw for 12,002 yards in the three seasons from 2005-07 under Zampese, including 86 touchdown passes, 45 interceptions and a 93.6 passer rating.

Zampese interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator position a year ago. That job went to Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired just before the start of the season and replaced by former Bears quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. ...

The Bears have been in contact with Mike Martz regarding their vacant offensive coordinator position but no formal talks have been held, and Martz has not been to Halas Hall to interview.

Smith was the Rams' defensive coordinator for three years under Martz, who has expressed interest in the job. ...

The Bears formally requested permission on Monday to interview Tom Clements, the Packers' quarterbacks coach, for their offensive coordinator opening. Not surprisingly, the Packers said, "No."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"To bring in two new coordinators is quite a massive change. We'll get the right people in here that can embrace the systems that Lovie wants to put together on both sides of the ball." – Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips on Jan. 5. The Bears have yet to fill either position.


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