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SportsMonday: Bears Number Is Up

The number is 6.5.

Pick the Bears to pull out more victories than that and you're an optimist. Pick them to finish with less and you're a realist . . . I mean pessimist . . . oh, no I don't. If you've got them winning seven or more, God love ya' and I hope you're right. But it isn't going to happen.

There is a bright side. Surely, surely, surely even the McCaskeys and Ted Phillips won't be able to justify bringing Lovie and Jerry Angelo back after yet another miserable campaign this fall.

On the other hand, let's hope the offense in general and Jay Cutler in particular makes some progress this time around because it will be important for the Bears to at least keep Mike Martz beyond this year.

If Martz bows out with Lovie, Cutler will be faced with learning a fourth offensive system in four years. And if you think Cutler was grumpy in the third preseason game (when he threw two picks and failed to lead the Bears to any points), just wait until that scenario plays out.

What's that you say? No new general manager and head coach with any self-respect are going to take the job with the Bears if they can't hire all the members of their own staff? Perhaps some history lessons will be in order.

A few years before the Bears broke through and won it all for the one and only time 25 years ago this season, Mike Ditka was offered the head coaching job. And he took it despite the fact that owner George Halas insisted he keep holdover defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan on his staff. The two most definitely didn't get along but they did manage to hold it together long enough to win the Lombardi trophy.

A couple decades later, when Lovie took over, he was encouraged to hire as his initial defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who was not one of his favorite candidates. The head coach never got over it and when he had the clout to make a change (after the Bears went to the 2006 Super Bowl), he dumped Rivera. It has been downhill for the defense ever since.

So while it might take a little extra effort to find a general manager and a head coach who are flexible about hiring at least one member of their staffs, we have plenty of reason to believe it will pay off.

Slot Shot
Earlier this preseason, I've assessed this team's shortcomings on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. This week's underperforming unit in the spotlight is the wideouts.

At best this receiving corps is a big question mark. I loved it when Mike Martz came in and honestly pointed out that Devin Hester would be a perfect fit for the slot receiver position in his offense. The comparison to talented former Ram slot receiver Az-Zahir Hakim was obvious and if Hakim was able to haul in eight touchdowns playing the slot for Martz in 1999 and make a career high 53 catches there the next year, surely Hester would have a shot at double-digit scores and at least double-nickel receptions

But the only way the way the Bears have handled the receivers the past few years (not aggressively pursuing a possible No. 1 receiver in a trade or free agency) makes any sense at all is if Hester is still the team's No. 1 receiver. And he can't be that from the slot. So it wasn't long at all before Martz was back-tracking and saying of course Hester wouldn't move to the slot.

If Hester can't make it out there - and this has to be his last chance doesn't it? - the Bear braintrust can point to his still-impressive athleticism and say they still felt as though they needed to give it one more shot, especially with Martz at the helm and having endorsed the idea of keeping Hester outside. But that will have to ring hollow at this late date.

The problem is Hester doesn't run great routes and he simply doesn't get open that often. Even when he does break free on a deep pattern, he is just as likely to drop a perfectly thrown bomb than he is to catch it. Other than that he's a great No. 1.

Martz also came into this job believing that good receiving tight ends weren't worth much, that it didn't make a ton of sense to draw up plays for passes to guys who were too slow and lumbering to play wide receiver and not slick enough to break away from quick defensive backs.

Those are the defensive backs who increasingly fill the field as teams employ more and more nickel and dime packages. Once again Martz had to be re-educated by a general manager who spent a first-round pick on a receiving tight end the off-season before the season before last and wasn't ready to be embarrassed by having to trade him for a lower round draft choice or to simply release him. And so Martz will have to try to incorporate passes to Greg Olsen into his offense even though those sorts of plays are obviously a bad fit.

It is enough to make even an optimist cry.


Jim Coffman brings you SportsMonday every week and then sits back and awaits your comments.

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