David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
8:38 PM CST, February 23, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS — Briefly forget the breakthrough cure for denial Lovie Smith discovered in the 52 days since the last time he spoke publicly about the Bears.
Soon enough we can address Smith changing his tune to finally acknowledge the need to part company with Mike Martz or admit mistakes made in evaluating backup quarterbacks. Before rehashing the past, consider the hint Smith dropped about the future.
The takeaway moment Thursday at the NFL scouting combine came when Smith stepped off the podium and started extolling the virtues of big wide receivers. The question related to stopping Calvin Johnson but, interestingly, Smith expanded his answer to detail how athletic, physical receivers in Johnson's mold "goes along with what teams are doing now.''
Teams other than the Bears, that is.
"A quarterback doesn't have to have that ball right in the perfect spot every time if you have a big body to throw to,'' Smith said. "Most guys would tell you they would like to have big receivers, but as much as anything you would like to have good receivers that can do something with the ball."
Smith might not have spoken to reporters for seven weeks, but it appears he talked — or listened — to Jay Cutler.
If the Chargers allow 6-foot-5 wide receiver Vincent Jackson to enter free agency — reports Thursday indicated they still are considering the franchise tag — somebody will overpay for the 29-year-old difference-maker. As Smith implied in his enthusiastic analysis of big wide receivers, the Bears with roughly $25 million of salary-cap space have as good of a reason as any team.
Give Cutler a weapon like Jackson in an offense that finally won't be designed to turn the quarterback into a crash-test dummy and the Bears understandably believe they can copy the Super Bowl champion Giants.
"You've got to play great defense and run the football, that hasn't changed,'' Smith said. "But at the end you have to also be able to pass the football. It takes all three things.''
The Bears do two of them efficiently. My secret Lovie Smith Decoder Ring tells me they plan to devote this offseason to improving the third, missing element. As much as a veteran free-agent offensive lineman remains a priority, nothing would upgrade the passing game quicker than signing a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Then draft a receiver before the third round. For too many years the Bears' wide receiving corps has resembled a good poker hand: three 3s and a pair of 2s. Enough.
Aggressively pursuing change to take advantage of Cutler's prime years likely will mean targeting Jackson and preparing a solid Plan B if the Chargers tag him. Depending on other franchise-tag decisions, smart alternatives could include Marques Colston and Pro Bowl-caliber, big-play threats Dwayne Bowe and Steve Johnson.
No, the Bears won't get off the bus gunning in 2012, but Smith seemed too preoccupied with passing trends to ignore the clues. I realize Phil Emery is the new GM. But if Smith didn't think his voice could be heard as loud as ever at Halas Hall, would he have framed a new deal with running back Matt Forte as imminent?
"In time, hopefully, (Forte) can get an agreement in place that suits Matt and we feel comfortable with,'' Smith said confidently. "It's just a matter of time. That will happen eventually."
Entering Season 9, Smith could help his image by being so direct more often. He still induced eye-rolling by endorsing tight end Kellen Davis and suggesting Julius Peppers gets double-teamed more than other elite pass-rushers — sorry, Lovie, the Bears used three blockers on Jared Allen in Week 17. But by Smith's standards, he connected by mixing candor with humor.
When I asked Smith about getting younger at linebacker he answered in a way that Brian Urlacher will appreciate more than my wife.
"We have concerns, (but) that's not one of them,'' Smith said. "Brian Urlacher's in perfect health. In time, when he can't play any more football — five, six years — you'll be long gone by then, David, you and I both will probably be long gone in retirement and Brian will still be playing."
When Smith noted the need "to go in a different direction" in regard to Martz, it beat his phony take the day before Martz's forced resignation.
"Mike did a super job for us," Smith said Jan. 2.
No, Martz didn't. Expect replacement Mike Tice to do better because he will install a Bears Offense tailored for their personnel — not one with a nickname or concocted by a so-called genius.
Imagine how smart a big, talented wide receiver such as Jackson could make Tice look.
Sounds like Smith already has.
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