On the NFL
4:09 PM CDT, May 26, 2012
If you want to know what Mike Tice's Bears offense will look like in the fall, it isn't a crystal ball you need.
It's a time machine. Set at 2003 or so.
From 2002 to 2005, Tice was head coach of the Vikings. He didn't coordinate the offense or call plays, but the Vikings offense was what Tice wanted it to be.
"Mike was very involved in the offense in Minnesota," said Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who had the same position with the Vikings for the first three years of Tice's tenure. "He was an offensive head coach. I leaned on him heavily. He had lots of very good ideas."
Tice took the existing offense, which Brian Billick and Dennis Green had designed, and put his personal stamp on it. Evident were influences from Joe Gibbs, for whom Tice played for one year; Chuck Knox, for whom Tice played for eight years; and Linehan.
Other influences are likely to show up in the Bears offense — most notably Mike Martz and especially Jeremy Bates, the Bears' new quarterbacks coach who has been acting more like the vice president of offense than the secretary of the department of passing.
But the Bears offense is Tice's baby. And this baby is likely to turn out much like its older brother from Minnesota.
That is not a bad thing.
For most of his time as head coach, Tice had a strong-armed quarterback (Daunte Culpepper) throwing to a big receiver who caused matchup problems (Randy Moss). He will have the same in Chicago with Jay Cutler firing to Brandon Marshall.
In Matt Forte, the Bears have a better, more versatile running back than the Vikings ever had under Tice. But the Vikings had an offensive line held in higher regard.
That Vikings offense was dynamic. It finished in the top four of the league in yards three times in Tice's four years, including first in 2003.
How did the offense produce so much? It hit a lot of big plays.
Perhaps because Tice is a former line coach and was a blocking tight end himself, he has been stereotyped as a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of guy. One of his stated emphases when he took over the Vikings was to run the ball more.
Tice liked his inside zone running game. But he liked his big-play passing game more.
Tice's Vikings teams averaged 7.63 yards per attempt. The Bears over the same period averaged 5.68. Even Martz's pass-happy Bears last year averaged only 7.07.
Tice's quarterbacks went for the long one frequently. They attempted 82 passes of 41 yards or more, an average of 20.5 per season. The Bears attempted only seven passes of 41 yards or more last year.
"The passing game was based on getting big plays," Linehan said.
And it's not as if the passing game was playing second fiddle to Mr. Handoff.
During Tice's tenure in purple, 65 percent of the Vikings' yards came through the air. During the same period, 60 percent of the Bears' yards came via the pass. Passing also accounted for 60 percent of the Bears' yards last year.
Tice's Vikings threw 48 percent of the time on first down. Martz's Bears passed only 41 percent of the time on first down last year.
In the three years Culpepper was healthy, the Vikings finished ninth, third and second in the league in passing yards.
Vikings quarterbacks took their fair share of sacks and hits as a result. But not as many as Cutler has been taking in recent years.
Tice did what he had to do to help his line.
"He always said the passing game starts with protection," said former Vikings center Matt Birk, now with the Ravens. "A lot of our (downfield) shots came off play action.
"He understands the NFL game is about matchups. If your left tackle has a tough matchup in a given week, you are either going to call protections to slide to him, or the back is going to be sure to chip the defensive end on the way out. And he's not going to call 10 seven-step drops in a row."
Part of the reason the Vikings were so aggressive passing under Tice is they had the personnel to do it. But so do the Bears.
Tice takes a tailor's approach, cutting or loosening the offense so it fits the players. For instance, Culpepper was comfortable in the shotgun. The Vikings took 28 percent of their snaps from the gun under Tice.
"(The Bears) will have an identity based on the strengths of the personnel they have," Linehan said. "And they have very, very good players. I'd be surprised if it looked a whole lot different from the way things looked in Minnesota."
Another likely carry-over for Tice is his ambitious use of tight ends. In Minnesota, he used multiple-tight-end formations 43 percent of the time. One of his favorite personnel groupings included one back, two wide receivers and two tight ends.
Tice didn't have Pro Bowl talent at the position, but a tight end led his offense in receptions twice and finished third twice. The player who led the Vikings in receptions twice was Jermaine Wiggins, a journeyman who never came close to having the kind of numbers he had under Tice in four previous NFL seasons.
"What he will do is stick with what players do best," said former quarterback Brad Johnson, who played for Tice and also was his teammate. "He won't get overcomplicated as far as having too many plays."
Tice also won't get overcomplicated in terms for play calls, if the past is an indicator.
"The system we had makes sense as far as the verbiage in a huddle," Johnson said. "It's easy to call a play. It's easy for rookies and free agents coming in to learn it. It was probably the easiest of the six systems I played in to learn."
Vikings quarterbacks could change from run to pass with a one-word code the moment they saw a safety crowding the box.
"We had a pretty good system," said Birk, who estimated the Vikings audibled up to 15 times a game. "Daunte and Randy hooked up a lot of times on that audible."
There will be new twists in Tice's Bears offense. But the template for it can be found in an old Vikings playbook.
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