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The Bears hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz hoping he could get Jay Cutler to cut back on his interceptions and Mike Tice to fix a struggling offensive line. Smith also promoted defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to coordinator, but the biggest moves came in free agency.

The Bears went on a major shopping spree, signing Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers to a six-year deal that guaranteed $42 million and could be worth $91.5 million.

That was the biggest purchase in a haul that also included running back Chester Taylor and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and ratcheted up the expectations in Chicago.

It also placed more focus on Smith. An 0-4 preseason only increased the heat on him and a 1-3 slide heading into the bye did nothing to cool it.

Yet inside the locker room, Smith has never lacked support.

“We believe in him,” Tinoisamoa said. “We believe in what he says. We believe in how he coaches. We believe it works. We’ve seen it work.”

Particularly the past few weeks.

“We’re making progress, but that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “No team has peaked that early in the season, so it takes awhile. We knew the reasons. … There were things that were going on. We stayed the course, but I think each week we have identified problems and tried to fix it, and it’s good to see the results turn out that way.”

The Bears came out of their bye with a more simplified, balanced offense and Cutler is taking less of a pounding. They’re also converting on third downs, something they rarely did in the first seven games, but the schedule is taking a tougher turn.

The recent wins have come against Buffalo, Minnesota and Miami. When they get through with Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Bears will still be looking at games against New England, the New York Jets and Green Bay, meaning a run to the playoffs is far from a sure thing.

Even so, the recent developments are promising.

They’ve run the ball 108 times with 90 passes over the past three games, and even though they’re not getting huge chunks on the ground, they’re at least keeping defenses off balance.

Cutler’s 33 sacks lead the league, but with six in the past three games, he’s at least spending less time on the ground.

On third downs, the Bears are 28 of 49 during this run and have moved up from last to 29th.

As for Smith, suddenly, the ground beneath him doesn’t seem as shaky.

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