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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Ghost of Lovie Smith, Apparently

I apologize for our lack of content in recent weeks, but after the draft there just isn't much to talk about until actual football starts happening again. Fortunately for me, this doesn't stop the good folks of the Chicago sports media from trying.

Before I start this one, I want to say that I actually respect Dan Bernstein. His radio stuff is pretty good, despite his sometimes inflammatory opinions, and he always offers sources and numbers to back his shit up on air. Plus, his defense of Jason Collins and gay rights in general on the day Collins came out was truly inspiring. He seems like a standup guy and a solid radio host. Unfortunately, whenever he sits down at a keyboard, terrible things happen.

Today's drivel is titled "Briggs' Response Shows Bears' Identity Challenge." And let me tell you now, it is extremely difficult to follow. The essential thrust of the column, if it has one at all, is that Lance Briggs' refusal to answer questions about Brian Urlacher not being signed means half of the team doesn't respect Marc Trestman and will play poorly.

And so, with a heavy sigh, I turn on the italics.

There may be new coaches on the Bears, but Lovie Smith is still here.

I’m just gonna try to nip this one in the bud: No. No he isn’t. He’s sitting alone in a dark living room wondering why Andy Reid has a job and he doesn’t.

Hidden in the brush-off Lance Briggs gave the media yesterday is a much larger issue facing a team trying to push one side of the ball into modernity while keeping another rooted in the past. 

This is a recurring theme for this article; that somehow, by keeping the defensive scheme that has been consistently among the league’s best over the last several years, the Bears are refusing to move forward. That they have an obligation to run a different, worse defense in the name of “change.”

It may not be as easy as just keeping the playbook the same.

I’m pretty sure it will. The majority of this defense has at least two years’ experience in this scheme, and all of the best players on that side of the ball are intimately familiar with it. At this point, changing the playbook would just be wasting the years you’ve got left out of Peppers, Briggs, and Tillman.

It would be unfair to criticize the seven-time Pro Bowler for his answers to direct questions yesterday at Halas Hall… 

“But, as is always the case when one of us says something like that, I’m going to.”

… and he was asked about former teammates and coaches. “I miss everybody, you guys” he said. “I miss everybody.”

The guy misses his friends and coworkers? Jesus, what an asshole.

But the problem came when an innocent question about Brian Urlacher being unsigned caused an already snippy Briggs to end the media session with a flippant “You guys have a good one” before turning tail.

I don’t really get what the problem is, but let’s look at that for a second. I imagine that Lance Briggs, like everyone in Chicago and indeed the three of us here at SKO, is just sick to fucking death of talking about Brian Urlacher.

What’s the point of that? What is that bizarre response supposed to say to anybody – fans, fellow players, or Urlacher himself?

That Briggs, as someone who is friends with Urlacher and also has no bearing or power in terms of where Urlacher ended up or didn’t, was tired of being asked that question. That people came to his press conference to ask him about somebody who doesn’t even play football anymore. 

Unless I’ve just been watching blank TV screens and imagining that Lance Briggs is a grumpy, inarticulate troll on camera for the last five years, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The only solidarity that should matter now is that with current teammates and coaches…

You’re right Dan, the players shouldn’t be allowed to still like their retired friends.

If Briggs shouldn’t even care about Urlacher anymore, why are we not criticizing the reporter who asked him about it in the first place? Is it because you’re an incompetent prick just trying to stir up trouble in a pretty boring part of the offseason?

… as a new regime is in place. A public display of loyalty to a former teammate accomplishes nothing…

It doesn’t really hurt anything, either. Oh no, Lance Briggs was rude to reporters! I’m shocked. This is my shocked face.

… and him being aware of Urlacher’s impending retirement has no bearing on how he reacted. If anything it’s even more reason to feel free to sound diplomatic, yet Briggs still felt compelled to shield Urlacher from any negative insinuation.

I can’t find the exact wording of the question that was asked anywhere; but judging by how it’s written in stories that aren’t total bullshit, it was something along the lines of “How do you feel about the fact that Brian Urlacher sucks and doesn’t have a job?” 

So I don’t think he was shielding the Hall of Fame linebacker from any negative insinuation so much as he was telling the reporters “I’m not going to be part of your fucking circus. Go away.” 

In a year of both transition and expectations, we have the strange case of a franchise clinging to what it was as it tries to become something else.

No, we have the very understandable case of a franchise trying to keep its league-dominating defense intact while bringing their offense up to a respectable level. So I mean, sure, they’re “clinging to what they were” on defense I guess; but “what they were” on defense was very good at football. Should they not cling to that?

Marc Trestman is smart enough to be aware of this dynamic, and that’s the reason he’s bending over backwards to coddle the defense by hiring a scheme-friendly coordinator and keeping the play-calling terminology. 

You mean Marc Trestman is smart enough to know that his defense is really good, and doesn’t need a scheme update or terminology change for the sake of “doing it different.” If you put the Bears’ defense last season on nearly any team with a top-half offense in the league last year, you’re looking at a Super Bowl contender. 

Throwing that kind of performance away so you don’t look like you’re clinging to the old ways would be stupid not only as a gesture, but in a very real, football-related sense.

It’s in the Bears best interest both that position-specific skill sets remain useful and that important guys like Briggs are comfortable.

Oh yea that is an easier way to say what I just said. I’m not really even sure what we’re arguing about here anymore.

And Briggs knows it, saying “It’s a blessing that he chose to do that instead of having us change our language and the way we do things, so adopting our style and kind of our mantra, I think is going to help.”

Am I… is that supposed to be surprising? Should he not be happy that the new head coach is doing everything he can to keep a high level of performance and happiness on half of the team? That seems like something a coach should do, if you ask me.

“Our style” and “our mantra” mean Lovie Smith is still a powerful, ghostly presence with the Bears.

Trestman is almost entirely uninvolved with that side of the ball, and Mel Tucker seems to be here primarily to facilitate continuity of Smith’s defense, which while perhaps wise strategy, creates potential divisions in stressful times.

“It may be really smart, and indeed the optimal choice in this instance, but I get paid by the word.”

Briggs’ reflexive defense of Urlacher is evidence of this difficulty. He still defaults to thinking of the now-former player as a teammate… 

Or he still thinks of the now-former player as his close friend for more than a decade. I’m really confused as to what you wanted him to say, Bernstein. “Brian Urlacher is old and useless, and I will never speak to him again. He is dead to me, and his name will ne’er again be mentioned in these sacred halls.”

… which is somewhat understandable considering the message being sent by Trestman and Phil Emery, which is “keep doing what you’re doing,” while the real energy is poured into a complex offense.

Again, and I cannot stress this enough, “what you’re doing” was “being one of the most resilient defenses in the league and generating just a shitton of turnovers and gift-wrapped field positions.” I don’t think Trestman is putting up cardboard Urlachers everywhere to try and trick the defense into playing well.

Briggs is still so protective of Urlacher that he can’t even talk about him, even though he’s not on the Bears. 

Maybe. And if he is, that’s totally okay! Really, it’s not going to hurt anything if he still likes the guy.

But a veteran leader doesn’t throw a hissy fit over a fair question about a guy sitting on a couch somewhere. 

“Ending the media engagement with a terse but polite response” is not a hissy fit, Dan. They asked him a personal question about his friend at an offseason press conference, and he said, “Okay, bye.”

Instead, he says something like this: “I wish Brian all the best in his professional future, but my concern is this team, these guys in uniform, and working as hard as we can to win the Super Bowl.”

Yes, because in May, a football player cannot spare even a few seconds to think about anything that is not the Super Bowl. If he lets a guy blow coverage and allows a TD because he was talking to the sideline reporter about Brian Urlacher, then you can write an article about how it’s affecting the team. 

Is that so hard?

Maybe reporters shouldn’t toss out pointless, tangential questions they know are going to provoke a heated response in the interest of generating more pageviews. Is that so hard?

The words ultimately don’t matter much, nor does his relationship with the media. 

“And that’s why I wrote 1,000 words about it.”

After all, Urlacher himself spent years in that role alternating between boycotts and monosyllabic cave-grunting, all while playing at a high level. Perhaps Briggs is just affecting the behavior because that’s how it has been modeled for him.

Or he’s learned the value of Not Taking the Bait. We all know you were hoping that question was either going to get a rehearsed, meaningless answer or an angry tirade; because then you can either say he’s “hiding his true feelings behind Emery’s blah blah blah fuck you” or “Lance Briggs is a lunatic.” 

Instead, he just politely ended the session and left; and now your blue, swollen testicles are demanding the white-hot release of all your butthurt. 

What does matter is whether the new head coach has the undivided fidelity of an entire roster.

Well, Briggs was quoted in the exact same media session saying that Trestman’s approach was a blessing and is going to help a lot, so I feel like we’ve got that covered. I’m not entirely sure how refusing to trash or speak for his friend means Lance is still praying to an idol of Lovie in his locker, but either way it seems like he’s on board the Trestman Train.

As the wonky Trestman… 

I don’t even think I have to type anything hurtful here. You guys see that, right? 

… is busy installing his intricate “systems of football” on one side of the building, the other half the team is being told to listen mostly to echoes.

Well no, they’re being told to listen to Mel Tucker. 

As an aside, if somebody doesn’t adopt “the Wonky Trestman” as an endzone celebration this season, I’ll be sorely disappointed.

1 comment:

Lee said...

In a year of both transition and expectations, we have the strange case of a franchise clinging to what it was as it tries to become something else.

Why do I get the feeling this has something to do with the Bears being only team to stay in a 4-3? Switching to a 3-4 is not only superfluous, but it's also stupid. Why switch to a defense that adds another linebacker and puts even more pressure on your d-line to be the team's strength, especially after releasing Urlacher, and seeing Peppers decline in performance.