Under Lovie Smith, the Bears never ran out of reasons why JíMarcus Webb should be their starting left or right tackle. Under Marc Trestman, the Bears needed only three weeks and one preseason game to find the one reason why he shouldnít: They can do better.
And it appears they already have. Jordan Mills, a fifth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech, passed his first test at right tackle last week against the San Diego Chargers. There are many more tests to pass ó the Bears havenít solved their right-tackle situation yet ó but itís progress. Because even if the Bears havenít found the right guy, theyíre one player closer to finding him. Thatís the advantage of moving on quickly.
We donít know yet if the Bears are a better-coached team under Trestman. But with general manager Phil Emery and the new coaching staff, they are a better-managed team. For better or worse, these guys donít waste time with evaluations and decisions. Whether itís Brian Urlacher, Gabe Carimi, Evan Rodriguez, Devin Hester or Webb, they seem to be operating under the philosophy that thereís always a better alternative. If Plan B fails, thereís always Plan C.
Every coaching staff in the NFL insists the best players will play, but some are better than others at finding the best players. Smith was the last one to realize that Rex Grossman wasnít his quarterback, that Mark Anderson wasnít an every-down defensive end and that Hester couldnít be a productive receiver and the best kick returner of all time. The early signs are that Emery and Trestman wonít take so long to make similar evaluations of Jay Cutler, Shea McClellin and the next supreme athlete who craves double duty.
With Emery and Trestman, the Bears seem more open-minded and strong-willed. When they nudged Urlacher out the door with a low-ball offer, the danger was the intangible effect it would have on a defense that followed Urlacherís dominating lead.
Fox analyst Troy Aikman was the latest to warn that the Bears will miss Urlacherís leadership. But as it looks right now, the Bearsí defense misses Urlacher only in a sentimental way. The leadership void has been filled ó mostly by Lance Briggs but also by Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman. Urlacher is gone, but the Bearsí swagger is as strong as ever.
The point is, the Bears made a tough decision and have moved on. And if you can move on from Urlacher, you can move on from Webb or even Cutler, if it ever comes to that. The Bears lost a third-string quarterback last week and hired two guys to replace him. Emery always seems to have more alternatives than he needs.
Itís not a perfect approach; there are going to be mistakes. Webbís demotion already casts a new light on the decision to trade Carimi during the offseason. Did the Bears dump the wrong right tackle?
Carimi, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round draft pick, looks like a better option than Webb right now. Maybe Carimi didnít have the work ethic the Bears wanted. But his injury ó a dislocated knee ó was so complicated and problematic that Carimi still is recovering from it. And now Carimi is acknowledging that he didnít go all-out last season because he was being cautious about his knee. Maybe the Bears should have been more patient.
But maybe not. Maybe Mills will render that debate moot. Maybe Kyle Long will be so good that it wonít matter. The possibility that unconventional hires Emery and Trestman know what theyíre doing is part of what makes this season so interesting.
Victories and losses and will tell the tale, but I like their style so far.