Bears believe Tice is right for O-line

Before they hired an offensive coordinator, the Chicago Bears

turned to Mike Tice to help a struggling line.

Clearly, they believed in him.

Now, the players are buying in, too.

How an offensive line that was woeful at times a year ago

performs could determine if the Bears rebound from a 7-9 season and

get back to the playoffs for the first time since the team’s 2006

Super Bowl run.

With no major additions to that unit, they’re relying on

improvement from within and a jump start from a veteran coach whom

they believe can provide the spark they need.

”Mike’s a great coach,” six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz

said. ”I don’t want to take a shot at guys who I played for, but

he definitely will teach us a lot of stuff. That’s just from doing

everything. He’s been a player, a tight end coach, an O-line coach,

a head coach, assistant head coach. He’s just done a lot of

different things, so the knowledge he has is way different from a

lot of guys you play for.”

A longtime NFL tight end, Tice has served as an assistant and

head coach with the Minnesota Vikings and joined the Bears after a

four-year run on Jacksonville’s staff, the past three overseeing

the tight ends.

At each stop, Tice got big results. And the Bears are hoping for

the same.

”It just takes time to change footwork that guys are used to

for years and years,” Tice said. ”It just takes repetition and

repetition. And once they get the footwork down and in the heat of

battle when they get tired, is really how you know if they’re

grasping it. (Tuesday) was hot and there were some moments where

guys were a little (dragging) and then we revert back. It’s going

to take some time.”

This is a crucial season for coach Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo,

who are operating under a win-or-else mandate from above.

The Bears made some big moves in the offseason, most notably

adding Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. On offense, they

brought in Chester Taylor to boost the running game and revamped

the coaching staff, with Mike Martz replacing Ron Turner as

offensive coordinator.

While that move drew more attention, just as important could be

the hiring of Tice. After all, unless the line blocks, quarterback

Jay Cutler will be running for cover again and the ground game

won’t go anywhere.

And with no real additions other than blocking tight end Brandon

Manumaleuna, the Bears are hoping Tice can get something out of the

blockers that his predecessor Harry Hiestand could not last

season.

The Bears ranked 23rd on offense, 29th in rushing. Cutler got

sacked 35 times and threw a league-leading 26 interceptions – the

most by a Chicago quarterback since Sid Luckman’s club-record 31 in

1947 – after being acquired from Denver.

And while the line isn’t completely at fault, a unit that ranked

19th gets a good chunk of the blame.

Cutler often had little time and compounded matters with some

poor decisions. Matt Forte, meanwhile, ran his way into a

competition with Taylor, going from 1,238 yards rushing as a rookie

to 929 last season while averaging 3.6 per carry. He finally came

clean after the season, acknowledging hamstring and knee problems

slowed him. That might explain why he had only two 100-yard rushing

games – both against Detroit – but it didn’t help that the line was

struggling.

That’s where Tice comes in, the Bears hope.

Kreutz said he ”brings a lot more to the table” than other

coaches. But he also inherits a line that’s set only at center and

left tackle with Chris Williams.

The rest of the spots are up for grabs.

Martz said the rotation should start to come into focus within

the next two weeks and that it’s not unusual for a line to struggle

early in camp with a new system in place, something that has

happened to a degree. He has no concerns about Tice, however.

”I think we have the best guy coaching there is, I really do,”

Martz said. ”I can’t tell you what a comfortable feeling it is for

me. You just know things are going to get done right and you just

know their approach, so I’m not worried about it at all.”

Players mention Tice’s attention to detail, the footwork and

hand use. That’s been a major focus so far. And they mention his

track record, particularly as an assistant. As Minnesota’s

offensive line coach from 1997-2001, he helped five linemen – Matt

Birk, Jeff Christy, Randall McDaniel, Todd Steussie and the late

Korey Stringer – make a combined 10 Pro Bowls.

”He brings experience,” said Josh Beekman, who’s trying to

lock down the left guard spot. ”He brings a lot of knowledge. He

really coaches us to be the best players we can possibly be.”