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SportsMonday: It's A Bear Market

The Sixers played poorly on Sunday and still defeated the Bulls 89-82 for a 3-1 lead in the teams' first-round playoff series. In case Derrick Rose's injury wasn't enough, Joakim Noah suffered a brutal sprained ankle in the previous game and was forced to sit out. I would say the local basketball season is on its last legs except the Bulls at this point don't even have a leading leg to stand on.

And while the Cubs have played better these past two weeks, all it has amounted to is that they are now only a game behind Pittsburgh for second-to-last in the NL Central. Their season was over before it began. As for the other team in town, well, I don't wish the White Sox ill but I ain't a fan.

So what's a local sports supporter in my position to do? I'll do what all Chicago fans do when there is a lull in spring and summer seasons. I'll obsess about the Bears.

The draft the weekend before last was promising but the latest bit of aftermath? Not so much. In particular, coach Lovie Smith made it known over the weekend that he couldn't care less about No. 1 pick Shea McClellin's versatility.

I understand that pass rush off the edge is critical and the Bears want McClellin to focus on that for now. Clearly he will be rushing the passer at least 90 percent of the time (when the opposing team isn't rushing the football that is). But there is no reason not to use McClellin to introduce a few wrinkles, i.e., to help diversify the Bear defense.

For one thing, how about a lineup where he stands up and moves just a little further out on the edge to make room for defensive end Israel Idonije (with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher manning the other linebacking spots of course). He could drop back in coverage (very, very rarely) or how about this, how about Idonije drops back in coverage and McClellin essentially blitzes. Or they both come charging in from the outside.

Imagine a Bear lining up at linebacker who is actually an effective blitzer (Urlacher and Briggs have numerous exceptional skills - blitzing has never been among them).

Of course an observer has to factor in the possibility of misinformation. Hopefully Lovie is putting a simple spin out there and the Bears will have far more in store for opponents than simply lining McClellin up in the same place and having him do the same thing time after time. Hopefully.

The problem is one of Lovie's primary defensive tenets has forever been KISS (the first 'S' stands for simple and I just know you'll remember or figure out the rest). He runs the good old Tampa 2 about 99 percent of the time and if the team has good enough players in key spots, it prospers.

Chris Conte was a critical component of that philosophy last year and the defense was making significant strides with him in the classic deep zone safety role - effectively patrolling a sizable chunk of downfield and limiting opposing passing game options. Then he got hurt and the D suffered. With Conte back and with Major Wright either proving he can get the job done at the other safety spot or perhaps third-round pick Brandon Hardin of Oregon State stepping in, perhaps the Bears have finally taken care of that position for at least a few seasons going forward.

Another element of the Bears' draft that became clear with their final few picks in particular was that the team was following a smart new trend seen across the NFL. With so many teams committing themselves first and foremost and seemingly forever to the passing game, teams cannot have enough good, speedy defensive backs.

So the Bears skipped drafting linemen (they picked up a couple promising O linemen by signing them as rookie free agents and they may be looking to fortify their D line with a veteran free agent later this week) and focused on speedsters in the sixth and seventh rounds. If Isaiah Frey (Nevada) and Greg McCoy (Texas Christian) can actually use their impressive speed numbers to eventually cover NFL receivers, the Bears might have something.

Finally, the drafting of a receiving tight end/fullback was also a good sign. Everyone loves to bash former offensive coordinator Mike Martz despite his leading his offense to the conference final two years ago and a 7-3 record last year before Jay Cutler got hurt. But while Martz has a system that works for him, he absolutely refuses to do certain things that work way too well for way too many other teams in the NFL. Two of those things are lining up the quarterback in the shotgun formation and employing a receiver-first tight end to primarily work slot seams down the field.

If there was one thing an observer could point to as a factor for all successful NFL offenses last year, it was spectacular receiving tight ends. Heck, the Patriots had two of them in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and they were a huge factor in New England winning the AFC. Now the Bears perhaps have one of their own in fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez.

What's that, you say? Perhaps my analysis is skewing slightly more positive than warranted? That's the way I roll in the offseason, people. Reality comes later.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man for all seasons. He welcomes your comments.

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