New offensive coordinator Mike Tice will not be making sweeping changes to the Bears' offense, but the team's former offensive line coach believes that differences will be noticeable.
"We're not going to overhaul things," Tice said Jan. 6 on ESPN Radio 1000 AM, just hours after being named to succeed Mike Martz, who resigned. "But I think you're going to see a different personality."
Take that to mean that Tice will stick with his run-first philosophy, which is similar to head coach Lovie Smith's mantra, "We get off the bus running."
"We were eighth in the league in rushing," Tice said, "and I think that went unnoticed. Our running game is moving in the right direction, but we do have other things we have to clean up."
That would be a passing game that was 26th in yards in 2011 and 23rd in average gain per play. Many of the problems in the air attack can be traced to an offensive line that permitted 49 sacks and ranked 31st in sack percentage allowed.
The Bears were a much more respectable 19th in sacks allowed until Jay Cutler suffered a season-ending thumb fracture. Backups Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown weren't nearly as adept at covering up the offensive line's weakness, and they were sacked a combined 36 times in the final six games. Martz continued to call for five- and seven-step drops despite the line's inability to protect on those types of plays.
Tice believes that the Bears must have the ability to throw and throw deep to improve.
"You have to be explosive in the passing game, you have to get those chunks, those big plays," he said. "But you can't throw the ball down the field in this league without protecting the quarterback."
As far as getting along with Cutler, something that some coaches, including Martz, have struggled with in the past, Tice laughed it off.
"I've met Jay once or twice," Tice said. "He seems like a pretty nice guy. I really admire Jay. I think he's a tough S.O.B. I like Jay a lot. We want him to be comfortable in the pocket. We're on the same page moving forward."
Tice has an intimate knowledge of the Bears' personnel and its strengths and weaknesses, an advantage over someone coming in from the outside.
"Lovie and I share a similar mind-set of what the Bears' offense should look and feel like," Tice said. "There will be a toughness about us. We are going to be a powerful run team, and we're going to be able to mix in explosive pass plays.
"It will be important for us to utilize the talents of our players and exploit matchups each Sunday. We have athletes we can build with. I feel fortunate Lovie has placed the trust in me to help move us forward to a championship."
Tice will call the Bears' offensive plays, even though he has limited experience as a play-caller. However, he will get input from a passing game coordinator, who has yet to be named.
Tice has had extensive experience in game-planning as the Vikings' head coach for five years (2001-05) and the assistant head coach/tight ends coach for four years after that (2006-09) with the Jaguars.
"I'm excited to have Mike move into our offensive coordinator role," Smith said. "He has been a valuable member of our staff over the past two years and has an excellent track record in the NFL. He was very impressive in his job interview ... and shares the same vision I have for our offense moving forward. We want to be a strong running team with a big-play pass attack."
The Bears will hire a new offensive line coach, although Tice will continue to work closely with that group, just as Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli continues to work with the defensive line.
The Bears will also hire a quarterbacks coach to replace Shane Day, who was not rehired.
"I'm going to be hands-on with the offensive line," Tice said. "I put a good plan together -- I think coach (Lovie) Smith felt like I did -- a management plan of how I foresee the staff being structured moving forward, including the quarterback-slash-passing game coordinator. I definitely want to make sure I maintain constant contact with that offensive line that we've been developing over the last two years. We're looking to bring in a guy that is going to buy in and is going to do it the way I want to do it.
"That could be a young guy, that could be an old guy, that could be a guy that hasn't coached O-line before. It could be a tight end coach that moves up. We have a list of guys that we've put together, and we're going to work through that list as the process proceeds."
As an offensive line coach with the Vikings from 1997-2001, Tice helped five players earn a total of 10 Pro Bowl selections. In 1998, the Vikings scored an NFL-record 556 points and sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl.
While Tice was head coach, the Vikings established an NFL record by producing more than 300 yards of offense for 36 consecutive games from 2002-04.
Minnesota led the NFL in rushing for the first time in franchise history in 2002 and topped the league in total offense for the first time in 2003. In 2004, the Vikings set club records with 6,339 total yards and 4,754 passing yards and scored 50 touchdowns, the fourth most in franchise history.
In Tice's first two seasons in Jacksonville, the Jaguars' rushing attack had the two most productive seasons in team history, gaining 2,541 yards in 2006 and 2,391 yards in 2007. Jacksonville set franchise records in 2007 for points (411), average yards per play (5.6) and touchdowns (50).
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