BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--It's always interesting to get the take of outsiders when they swing into town for a visit to training camp.
Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports was in last week, and he's been covering the league for a long time, enjoying an extended run at Sports Illustrated before jumping into the Internet world.
Silver previews the Bears' season and draws the conclusion that while Jay Cutler mania ia gripping the campus of Olivet Nazarene University--we didn't need Silver to show up and tell us that--the defense will be the key to a playoff run for this outfit. Silver focuses on the shakeup on the coaching staff where Lovie Smith replaced his position coaches at all three levels of the defense, and ultimately put himself in charge of the whole thing by adding another hat as de facto defensive coordinator.
"Bears coach Lovie Smith obviously agreed, initiating a staff shakeup that resulted in his seizing control of the defense. It was a bold move, and it may turn out to be a career-defining one for a man who is far less secure than he was 30 months ago."
"At the start of the offseason Lovie told us, 'This is my defense. I'm gonna run it. If you want to point a finger, point it at me,' " recalls middle linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes), a six-time Pro Bowl selection. "I think it's great. Lovie's calling the plays, and that means we're gonna play fast, take the ball away, get to the quarterback and be physical."
Silver asked Smith point blank if he regretted running off former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera following the Super Bowl run in 2006. Rivera went to San Diego where he was the inside linebackers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator there during the middle of last season. He received some credit as the Chargers made a miraculous turn around to overpass Cutler and Denver and win the AFC West.
"That's not what this is about," Smith said. "We went in a different direction. It's been good for Ron and good for us."
The latter part of that statement isn't convincing - the Bears had the league's third-worst pass defense last season - but Smith, who became a hot coaching candidate after a successful stint as the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator from 2001-03, insists he has no regrets.
"Just because I'm calling defenses now doesn't mean we had a problem [at coordinator]," he says. "I'm disappointed with what we've done, position-wise, the last couple of years, and it hurt taking Bob away from the linebackers. When Ron was here, believe me, a lot of it was by committee. So when we play great defense this year, don't give me any credit - give it to the group."
Smith will likely play it pretty close to the vest during the preseason as the play caller. The Bears will mostly use their vanilla base defense, not wanting to show Green Bay any wrinkles in advance of the Sept. 13 opener at Lambeau Field. Stay tuned.