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Tice developing new identity

Bears offensive coordinator assuming role he never has fulfilled in 30-plus NFL seasons

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

4:14 PM CDT, September 8, 2012

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Mike Tice probably is more popular than any offensive coordinator in Bears history.

Of course that could change Sunday on the Bears' first possession against the Colts, which also will be Tice's first chance in the job.

Though the Bears don't have a very illustrious history of play callers, expectations for Tice are as high as a soaring punt.

A former NFL head coach who has been an assistant for a dozen years and played in the league for 14 more starting in 1981, Tice isn't going to get the shakes coming out of the tunnel.

"It's just plan your work and work your plan," Tice said. "That's all it is. If you have a plan and you execute it, you should be OK — if you have better players."

He laughs. But he knows part of his job is to make his players better than their opponents, regardless of who they are.

We know Tice the offensive line coach. We even know Tice the Vikings head coach. But nobody knows Tice the offensive coordinator.

That identity will develop over time.

"I'll create my own formula and my own tendencies," he said. "We'll see what they are as we go forward."

And it won't be just about Tice and what he likes to do. It will be about what his players allow him to do.

"We have to see what suits us," he said. "We think we have a feel for what we want. But it's a growth process. Some years you think you are going to be great at a particular run, and you end up stinking at it, but you are great at another. … We are going to be what we have to be to score points."

The second guessing starts at noon.

Comprehend trendEvolving offense

We're we're not entirely sure where the Bears offense is headed under Tice and with new pieces Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Evan Rodriguez, but we're reasonably sure it will be different than last year's in key areas.

Among them:

•There will be fewer four wide receiver packages.

Though the Bears have a deeper, better group of receivers this year, it is unlikely four of them will be on the field at once as often. Under Mike Martz in 2011, the Bears used such sets 55 percent of the time, third highest in the league according to Football Outsiders Almanac 2012.

•There will be more play action.

Last year the Bears used play action 15 percent of the time, which ranked 23rd in the NFL according to STATS. Tice's history says those numbers will rise.

"You have to run to be able to (use play action effectively)," Tice said. "We haven't run the ball real well (yet), so that beats up play action. But it's part of what we want to be."

•There will be fewer substitutions between plays.

Last year, the Bears repeated the same personnel group from one play to the next only 32.1 percent of the time — the lowest percentage in the NFL with the average being 47.7.

Tice still is likely to use multiple personnel groups. But he will be more concerned with a sound play call and execution than keeping defenders guessing about who will be lining up.

Numbers gamesSigning spree

New Bears general manager Phil Emery wasn't sitting on his hands all offseason.

Excluding street free agents but including Bears players whose contracts were up, he signed 14 unrestricted free agents between March 13 and the start of training camp.

Only the Patriots signed more (17), with the Chargers equaling the Bears.

Only five other teams signed 10 or more — the Redskins (13), Bengals (12), Rams (12), Broncos (10) and Vikings (10).

And here is an interesting factoid: The Bears have retained 12 of the 14 they signed. The only ones still not with the team are quarterback Josh McCown, who didn't survive the final cut, and receiver Devin Thomas, who decided to retire in training camp.

Only one team has more UFAs signed from the offseason on their roster — the Chargers with 13. The Patriots, interestingly, cut 10 of their 17.

Front office chessDT swap

The Bears had to choose between former Buccaneers defensive tackles this week: Amobi Okoye and Brian Price.

Given Okoye's production with the Bears last year, and Price's limited production in the preseason and training camp, it really wasn't much of a choice.

But that doesn't mean it was an easy decision. The Bears liked Price's potential, and knew he was a player they could get a lot more out of in 2013 than 2012. He probably needed an offseason to get in ideal shape.

The Bears gave the Bucs a seventh-round pick for Price, and it was not a conditional pick. The Bears won't get it back.

If Okoye had not been released, Price still might be a Bear. But the availability of a player the Bears had tried to re-sign in the offseason was too tempting.

The Bears could have chosen to keep five defensive tackles, but then they would have had to make a decision when Nick Collins comes off the reserved/suspended list this week.

Complicating matters, the team also needed to carry two punters initially because Adam Podlesh is injured. The Bears also are heavy at linebacker (seven) and safety (five), perhaps because of injuries to Brian Urlacher and Chris Conte.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei