LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The film sessions on Tuesdays typically become animated affairs for offensive line coach Mike Tice, who says his unit remains a block or two away from springing running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor for huge gains on any given play.
Yet despite the ground game catching so much heat lately, Tice isn’t necessarily worried about the line snapping into shape immediately because it’s “a long road” with the club just reaching the halfway point of the season.
Still, Tice hits the pause button in film sessions and groans. Just too many missed opportunities for a team that can’t afford them.
“We’ve had a lot of that,” Tice said on Wednesday. “The players come in on their days off, and they do a great job of watching the tape with me at 5 o’clock on Tuesdays. We watched [tape of the Bills game] last night, and I must’ve caught myself five, six, seven, eight times [saying], ‘Gosh, one block here. Gosh, look how close this is.’”
It’s not an isolated situation or one Tice hasn’t experienced. Typically, because of issues involving cohesion along the line and timing with the running backs, many teams often struggle to catch a groove immediately running the ball.
Serving as an assistant head coach in Jacksonville, where he worked with tight ends and the offensive line from 2006-09, Tice saw such a scenario play out year after year when the Jaguars featured Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield. In ’06, the Jags averaged 136.5 rushing yards per game over the first eight outings, before exploding to a 184.3-yard average -- including a 375-yard rushing performance -- over the last eight games. In 2007, the Jaguars averaged 139 yards over the first eight games and 169.1 over the final eight.
In Chicago, however, injuries and experimentation up front have slowed the Bears’ timetable for total cohesion.
Tice isn’t overly concerned.
“That’s OK because it goes into that realm of ‘let’s get better each week,’” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and the good teams I’ve been on got better as the season went on. They didn’t get worse. The bad teams I’ve been on -- fortunately, I haven’t been on many -- get worse as the season goes on, you know. You have to overcome injuries, [and] confidence problems that players go through during the season. You have to overcome bad coaching. You just have to keep plugging and getting better. Hopefully we’re one of those teams.”
Chester Taylor hopes so, too, and considers last week’s commitment to the run against the Buffalo Bills a good start. Prior to the win over the Bills, the Bears displayed true commitment to the run on just two occasions, a 19-14 season-opening win over the Detroit Lions, and a 23-6 triumph over the Panthers with Jay Cutler out of the lineup because of a concussion.
The Bears own a 12-1 records over the past five years when one of their running backs logs a 100-yard day.
“Yeah, any way that the running backs can get in the game and try to help our team win is the best thing for us,” Taylor said. “I mean me and Matt [Forte] just love playing, trying to get the ball and helping our team score points and move the ball.”
Tice points to the bye week as what he hopes was somewhat of a turning point for how the team operates offensively moving forward. But don’t count on the team slamming its head against a wall play after play if the run isn’t working.
The Bears won’t run the ball ineffectively just to appease the fan base.
“We went through the bye like all staffs do, and we evaluated who we are, what we were doing,” Tice said. “We came out with what we wanted to accomplish, what players we wanted to help, how we could help them, what plays we were majoring in, and whether we wanted to fix some of them, [or] get rid of some of them. So the blend [of run and pass against the Bills] was nice. [But] there’s gonna be games where the mix is one-sided one way or another, and that’s just the NFL because you’re just trying to really win the game.”
Bears coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Martz concurred. Both understand developing a potent ground attack takes time, and Smith believes Tice is the right man to help the team accomplish such a task.
Smith pointed to Tice’s “track record” as proof. But if he’s followed it thoroughly, he’d know lines associated with Tice tend to improve as time goes on, especially in the running game.
“Everywhere he’s been he’s been that way. I know his history,” Smith said. “Talk to anyone around; Mike’s one of the best coaches around the league, period.”
Regardless of how much he moans and groans during Tuesday film sessions.