PHOENIX — Safety Antoine Bethea, who had not made the Pro Bowl in the last four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, made it in his first season with the San Francisco 49ers and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
“The Bears can expect to have a great leader who will have his guys ready to play every Sunday,” Bethea said of his former coordinator, who was hired in the same capacity by Bears head coach John Fox this week. “It was a pleasure playing for him this year.”
Bethea said Fangio’s strength with the 49ers was in preparation, but also on game day. “Just having guys in the right places at the right time,” said Bethea, a Pro Bowl player with the Colts in 2008 and 2009. “On game day, he’s on point. Right time. Putting us in the right situation. Right calls. And just having guys in the right place where everybody can succeed.”
The 49ers’ defense consistently played at a high intensity level under Jim Harbaugh. But Fangio gets a lot of credit for that as well, Bethea said.
“When you have a coach that everybody respects and loves, you want to play hard for him —that’s what he had,” Bethea said. “He had the respect of all the guys on the defensive side of the field and we didn’t want to let him down.”
2. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett knows he didn’t make the Pro Bowl on his own. Bennett called quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte to thank them for helping him get there. And he paid to have his tight ends coach, Andy Bischoff, fly to Phoenix for the game. Bischoff unfortunately is looking for work after Marc Trestman was fired following the season.
“He’s a big part of why I’m here,” Bennett said. “I won’t get to play with him again, so it will be the last time for us to get together and hang out and appreciate what we accomplished before he goes and finds a new job.”
2a. Bennett said Bischoff was a big help to him “not just as a coach, but as a friend. There were some things I felt I needed to work on and I’d write them down and he’ll make sure that we worked on all those things. We made sure we got better at those things.”
Bischoff, he said, didn’t just coach. He listened.
“[Against the Patriots] it was like, ‘Coach, this week we’ve got to work on our releases more than anything else because we’re playing the Patriots. Ninkovich is one of the best guys at jamming off the line.’ That whole week we put in extra time on our releases and Ninkovich didn’t touch me once. So different things like that in a game — each week seeing what we needed to work on and going for those things.”
3. New Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase had prolific offenses in his two seasons as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator — first in the NFL in points and yards in 2013 and second in points and fourth in yards in 2014. But when Peyton Manning is the quarterback, it’s hard to tell how much credit the coordinator deserves.
“I think he’s a great offensive mind,” Broncos Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady said. “He was calling the plays for the most part. Peyton can make a check here and there — but 85-90 percent of the time, Gase is calling the play. I think he’s going to do a great job [with the Bears]. I think he’s eventually going to be a head coach some day.”
4. Colts placekicker Adam Vinatieri, who played six of his 10 seasons in New England for Bill Belichick, was diplomatic when asked about the “Deflate-gate” controversy that has dominated the NFL this week.
“He’s a heck of a coach. And I think in this league everybody’s looking for a competitive edge,” said Vinatieri, who at 42 made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2004. “There’s probably a fine line and a gray area. I’ll let everybody judge what that means or how they feel about it — if in fact things were done [improperly].
“I know him as a heck of a coach that gets his team prepared to play. Will this change people’s perspectives? That’s for them to decide, not for me. I’ve got a ton of respect for the man. I think he’s a great, great coach.”
5. Tight end Greg Olsen, a first-time Pro Bowl player in his eighth NFL season, was not a happy camper when he was traded by the Bears on the eve of training camp in 2011. But after four years with Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers, he says it worked out for the best.
“I do. I really do. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Olsen, who had 84 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns last season. “Chicago was my home for four years. I have a lot of fond memories. I still keep in touch with a lot of the guys. I’m thankful to the organization for taking a chance and drafted me.
“But I’ve moved on to Charlotte and have made a home there. I’m just glad. Things have worked out for everybody. We’ve become a part of the Charlotte community. We love playing for that organization. They’ve been amazing to my family, both personally and professionally. We’ve got great guys on the team. Our coaching staff is fantastic, led by coach Rivera. It’s really an ideal situation.”
6. Olsen reunited with former teammate Devin Hester this week —they are teammates on “Team Carter” at the Pro Bowl. In 2009, Olsen (60-612, eight touchdowns) and Hester (57-757, three touchdowns) were the leading receivers for Jay Cutler. It was almost old-home week, as former Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, now the receivers coach for the Cardinals, stopped by to meet both former players.
“Devin is awesome,” Olsen said. “This is my third different team playing with Devin —college [at Miami], pro and now the Pro Bowl —so that’s kind of cool. It’s been fun. He’s been a good friend and a guy I’ve known for a long time.”
7. Vinatieri could open the game by kicking off to Hester. The last time he did that on the opening kickoff, Hester returned it 92 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.
“We [were] trying to angle it into the corners,” Vinatieri said. “We didn’t want kick it down the middle and give him the whole field to work with. We wanted to pin him in the corner and push our coverage to him. But he still got out of that box and shot down the [other] sideline. You never want to start any game, especially a Super Bowl off, down 7-0.
“At that point, we said, ‘All right,’ We figuratively broke our sword and said, we’re not kicking the ball to him anymore. We started squib-kicking and kicking all around to make sure he couldn’t get the ball in his hands.”
8. Russell Wilson’s success is no surprise anymore, but it never was to Bears guard Kyle Long, who competed against Wilson in baseball and football since they were 14 years old in Virginia.
“Russell Wilson was Russell Wilson when he was 15 years old,” Long said. “He’s always been the same guy. You give him an inch and he’ll take a mile —that’s what the great ones do. He’s a scrappy guy. You look at him on paper and he doesn’t stand out. But then you see him on the field and he plays like he’s seven-feet tall. He’s unbelievable.
“We only played one time in high school football, but I saw a lot of him on a baseball diamond. He’s a hell of a competitor and an even better guy.”
9. Sight seen at Pro Bowl practice: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who caught three touchdown passes and returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns last season, kicking a 25-yard field goal on his first try —good even with the narrower goal posts, which have been reduced from 18.6 feet to 14 feet for the Pro Bowl.
Just as impressive, Eagles kicker Cody Parker kicking one 25-yarder after another standing flat-footed —with no approach whatsoever.
10. Martellus Bennett’s reputation as an entertaining personality preceded him at the Pro Bowl. And he lived up to it.
“He’s a funny guy,” Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said. “He’s really funny.”
“Everybody’s trying to get me to talk as much as possible,” Bennett said after Saturday’s practice at Scottsdale Community College. “Everybody tells me to get on certain busses so I can tell stories. I’ve been enjoying being around the guys and telling jokes and laughing.”
“He’s the type of guy that you never forget once you meet him,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who is coaching “Team Carter” this week. “We’ve had a lot of fun with him. He makes the bus ride on the way over worth having.
“And hey, what a great player. I can’t get him out of my mind, because he caught that [43-yard] pass in overtime against the Ravens two years ago to beat us [setting up a Robbie Gould field goal in the muck at Soldier Field in 2013]. And as he pointed out, ‘It was well covered [by Ladarius Webb].’ I said, ‘Yes, I remember that. He went up and made the play. Great guy.”