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.
“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.