Chicago Bears: Melissa Isaacson

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- In order to win the job and establish himself as the No. 3 receiver behind one of the best duos in the league, all Marquess Wilson has to do is establish the trust of a quarterback who does not exactly hand it out like Halloween candy.

No big deal.

But Wilson put it in simple terms Monday.

[+] EnlargeMarquess Wilson
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsMarquess Wilson believes his offseason training allowed him to become a "a little faster and a little stronger."
“Shoot, every time he throws it to you, you better catch it,” Wilson said of his quarterback, Jay Cutler. “That’s how you’re going to gain his trust, or just get open and pray he’ll throw it to you. But if you show him you can get open, he’ll throw it to you.”

Just get open.

Wilson, who caught two passes for 13 yards in last year’s rookie season, admitted just learning the verbiage of the new offense was easier said than done.

“To be honest, with four games left in the season,” Wilson said when asked how long it took. “[That’s when] it felt like it clicked and I got it more.”

The result of Wilson’s offseason has yet to play out, but the story of Wilson joining Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to train at the South Florida fitness facility Marshall co-owns has created an aura of high hopes for the second-year player, whether the 2013 seventh-round pick is worthy or not.

“You just have to continue to play your game and be yourself, so you can’t really let the words get to you and worry about what other people say,” Wilson said of the praise dished out by Marshall during the offseason. “I can say ‘thank you,’ but I still have to be myself and do what I do and play football.”

While Wilson is doing what he does, so too is receiver Josh Morgan, who looked good in practice Monday. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Morgan, a six-year NFL vet, is a physical receiver that would fit in nicely at the third receiver spot.

Behind Wilson and Morgan are Josh Bellamy, Michael Spurlock, Armanti Edwards, Terrence Tolliver, Eric Weems and Chris Williams.

But early in camp, many eyes are on Wilson. And while Bears fans may not have been heartbroken to see Earl Bennett go in a salary-motivated move, the pressure is still on Wilson to produce, particularly after the build up from Marshall, who worked similarly with Jeffery after his rookie season.

Wilson said he got “a little faster and a little stronger,” in his offseason work, “which is what Brandon was trying to get me to do.”

Wilson said he and Marshall “are close” in speed, though in head-to-head races, “I only beat him once. That was it.”

And at 6-4, Wilson also fits the current mold of Bears receivers, with Marshall also 6-4 and Jeffery 6-3. The experience of working with Marshall and Jeffery, Wilson said, was a special one.

“Those two guys set a high bar, but everyone pushes for that goal,” he said. “That’s definitely in my mindset, to work as hard as them and do as well as they do.”

After that, gaining Cutler’s trust should be a snap.

And after the first four days of training camp, Wilson said Cutler and his leadership “feels different, more confident.”

“Just the way he’s throwing the rock, you know?” he said. “He’ll sling it in there. He knows where to put it and when to throw it, just slinging it in tight spaces. Or when you’re deep, he knows how much to put on it, which is great.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Churning up a toboggan hill as part of his offseason conditioning program in a suburban Chicago park, Matt Forte apparently stopped long enough only to urge on and, yes, ride his workout partner.

"He killed me," said Michael Ford, one of several Bears running backs vying for the No. 2 spot behind Forte this training camp.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
AP Photo/Scott BoehmFourth-round draft pick Ka'Deem Carey is one of four backs with no NFL experience competing for a backup job with the Bears.
"His work ethic is amazing and the things he does in the offseason to get himself ready are brutal. ... But the tradition set before him and with him, we have to hold to the same standards."

Ford and the others are well aware what they are up against -- not just the No. 2 job, which to a large extent, is up for grabs, or in the words of GM Phil Emery just last week, "very unsettled."

But with four of the five backs behind Forte having not had a single NFL carry, they must also be prepared to step into a position that may be de-valued throughout the league but remains a central part of the Bears offense.

Forte's production in 2013 amounted to almost one-third of the Bears' total offense; his career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches for 594 yards) both setting a standard and a making a statement that first-year coach and offensive innovator Marc Trestman was not about to abandon his running back.

"It's important to this offense," said rookie Ka'Deem Carey. "You get out in bursts, you catch some passes, you run, you pass block. They love the running back here, so I landed in the perfect spot."

Carey, selected in the fourth found, will get plenty of competition from Ford, Shaun Draughn, who signed a one-year free agent contract and undrafted rookies Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch, who might end up with a spot on the practice squad in his first year of transitioning from college quarterback to NFL running back.

"You can tell the way the reps are going, they want to see everybody at their best, so they give you chances out there to make plays and it's up to you to learn the playbook and do it," Carey said Monday, the second day in pads for the Bears.

"With everyone out there, it just makes you better. But we're not selfish. If someone messes up, we'll tell him what he did wrong and we'll learn off his mistakes and we just get better off each other's mistakes."

Carey's speed has been questioned, but more importantly for the former Arizona standout and the others will be their protection skills. Ford, who played in 12 games last season on special teams, likely will contribute the most in the return game.

"It's definitely not nerve-wracking," Ford said of the competition, "because it's always going to bring out the best. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best and you want the best competition at your camp. At least then you know you're going to be battle-tested."

Ford said he prefers not to look at the position as his.

"Even Matt told me he doesn't look at it like that," he said. "He just goes to practice everyday and tries to separate himself from everybody and he tells me to do that, too. ... Just try to get better each and every day."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There are few people who can describe free agency as “wild” and “fun” (not counting the guys getting multimillion-dollar offers thrown at them) and be as believable as Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was Wednesday.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears general manager Phil Emery has been active early in the free-agent signing period.
When Emery spoke to the media about the Bears’ latest free-agent acquisitions -- defensive end Lamarr Houston and safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings -- it was with the same passion he brought to his first offensive-minded signing period last year.

“You can’t be timid during the UFA process,” said Emery, who also signed linebacker D.J. Williams and special-teams linebacker Jordan Senn this week. “There’s a lot of moving parts. You have to stay in it, you have to swing hard and be willing to reload and swing again.”

Sure, it is fair to question whether Emery was being a bit impulsive when he grabbed Houston, who has never had more than six sacks in a season, and signed him to a five-year contract that averages $7 million per season, after cutting Julius Peppers, who had seven sacks in a bad year.

But in Houston, Emery gets a 26-year-old who can consistently tackle people, no small feat here lately and the Bears’ biggest problem last season, in case anyone forgot. Teams generally do not risk getting the ball intercepted and their quarterback stomped when they can run at will. In fact, opponents ran against the Bears nearly 50 percent of the time (over the league average of 42 percent), which also no doubt slanted the sack numbers for Peppers & Co.

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Boldly promising the "Monsters of the Midway are back," while evoking the names and nicknames of Bears legends Walter Payton, Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, Lamarr Houston welcomed himself to Chicago on Wednesday in a big way.

[+] EnlargeLamarr Houston
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNew Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston will wear No. 99 which previously belonged to Shea McClellin, who will now wear No. 50.
Now Bears fans are just hoping for a big impact from the 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive end signed to a five-year, $35 million contract after spending the first four years of his pro career with the Oakland Raiders.

With the release of Julius Peppers and the Bears' last-place league standing in sacks last season, general manager Phil Emery addressed that concern quickly when talking about Houston, who had a career-high six sacks last season.

"He's a good pass-rusher," Emery said. "When I looked at him versus the players that we have on our team, his two-year combined total disruptions is higher than anybody on our team. And I know I've used that word disruption and there are a lot of variations of what that means ...

"The research from 2008 on [shows] when a pass play is performed without pressure, without a knockdown, hit or sack, the percentage of completion is about 64 percent. When there's a sack, obviously it goes to 0. But with a hit or a pressure, it goes to 38.5. So those are significant when you talk about disruptions of a passer. And he certainly has had those."

And Houston, Emery emphasized, was targeted by the Bears because of his versatility, his tackle totals (tops in the NFL for defensive ends playing in the 4-3 over the past two seasons combined) and his ability to play against the run or the pass, both standing up or with his hand on the ground.

"I think that's very important," Houston said of being an all-around end. "Sack totals are important in this league and mine haven't been the highest, but I know that I will prove to everybody that there's a reason I'm here and in the future, it will tell you how good of a player I can be with this group of men and how good of a group we can be together."

What does it say that the Bears put such faith in the 26-year-old former second-round draft choice out of Texas?

"That they believe in me," Houston said. "They believe in what I can do, they have a use for my skill set, and I think doing that is only going to help me get better and improve my game."

Also introduced to the media Wednesday, safety Ryan Mundy vowed to compete for a starting spot with a physical approach to the game.

"That's been my M.O. for as long as I can remember, since I started playing football," said Mundy, who signed a two-year deal. "I'm not a guy who's going to shy away from contact. I like to get down there, mix it up with tight ends, running backs, might even run into a few linemen here and there.

"I think that's the No. 1 attribute I bring to the game. I like to use my size and strength and combine that with my athletic ability to get guys on the ground and get some third-down stops for our defense."

The 6-1, 209-pounder started just 14 of 80 games over five seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants, but appeared in all of them, and started one of four postseason games he played, finishing with four tackles and two forced fumbles.

Emery said the Bears will continue to "look at safety extensively" in free agency, the draft and post-draft.

"I feel like I'm coming in here to compete for a starting opportunity, and that's all I can ask for," Mundy said. "I don't shy away from competition. I look forward to getting started with workouts and practices and everything like that. Nothing's set in stone, and I don't take anything for granted, I'm just excited about the opportunity and I'm ready to get to work."
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- We know all about Jay Cutler playing for a new contract this season. If he plays exceptionally well or, even better, leads the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, he can expect the really big bucks. If he merely plays well and gets the Bears into the playoffs, then it's probably just reasonably big money for a guy already making $8.47 million in base salary.

But for Cutler, the stakes may be bigger than the bucks.

Whether he wants to call it a career crossroads or not -- and he does not -- Cutler is playing for something almost as valuable to a professional athlete, particularly one with his pedigree, and that's control over his career.

Going into his eighth NFL season, Cutler is quite possibly looking at going from a starting quarterback some (albeit) misguidedly label as top tier, to a player teetering on the edge of No. 2 status.

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Isaacson: Following Lovie a challenge

January, 21, 2013
Marc Trestman can ask former boss Vince Tobin all about replacing a beloved coach. He can ask any of the '85 Bears too, about Tobin taking the place of revered defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan after the Super Bowl season. But Trestman might not like what he hears as he takes over for Lovie Smith.

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GM can't wait too long to find right coach

January, 11, 2013
While the sheer length of Phil Emery's growing list of head coaching candidates has drawn some skepticism, some say it may just be a case of the Bears general manager biding his time until his top candidate becomes available.

When that happens, however, Emery had better act fast, say former coaches who have been there.

"When I went through the process of becoming a head coach, I had five interviews set up but I never got to the second one," said Herm Edwards, ESPN analyst and former head coach of the Jets and Chiefs. "After the first one, I was supposed to go to Detroit but New York wouldn't let me go to Detroit."

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Bears glimmer of hope doesn't feel hopeful

December, 23, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If this is what hope feels like, um, yippee?

The Chicago Bears left themselves a glimmer of a chance for a playoff berth with their 28-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. As the saying goes, they did what they had to do.

As the saying also goes, they are still who we thought they are.

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Gameday chat: Bears-Cardinals

December, 23, 2012

Numbers no secret for social Marshall

November, 25, 2012
[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireBrandon Marshall caught 12 passes for 92 yards on Sunday, going over 1,000 yards rushing on the season.
CHICAGO -- Brandon Marshall was well aware of the territory he officially entered Sunday.

“In the third quarter, I leaned over to Jay (Cutler) and I said ‘That catch puts me at 1,000 yards for six seasons in a row,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re disgusting,’ ” Marshall recounted to big laughs after the Chicago Bears’ 28-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“I’m aware of it and it’s social media, man,” Marshall explained. “People give you a heads up, that’s how I know stats and records because the guys who follow me on Twitter. It’s every day they’re tweeting me things I’m not aware of.”

Marshall, who went over 1,000 with an 11-yard catch and finished with 12 catches for 92 yards, may not have told Cutler that he also became the first Bears’ receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 to go over the 1,000-yard mark, but he did know that with 69 receptions this season he is 32 catches short of breaking another Bears' season record.

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Gameday chat: Bears-Vikings

November, 25, 2012

Time for Jason Campbell to step up

November, 16, 2012
Jason Campbell is not a bitter guy. He says it wouldn’t do any good anyway. But there was an unmistakable edge in his voice last August in Bourbonnais when the Chicago Bears quarterback was talking about the broken collarbone that ended his season last year and, as it turned out, his career with the Oakland Raiders.

“It was a bone, not anything affecting my throwing motion,” Campbell explained.

He had led the Raiders to a 4-2 start, but in a panic move after the injury, the Raiders traded a first-round pick (in 2012) and second-round pick (in ’13) to the Cincinnati Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer. Oakland ended up finishing the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

“It’s crazy sometimes that this is your eighth year and you still feel like you have to prove yourself,” Campbell said this summer.

Read the entire column.

Bears' Cutler a Nashville 'legend'

November, 2, 2012
[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJay Cutler didn't lead Vanderbilt to a bowl game, but he did become the first Commodore to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year, in 2005.
It was in defeat that Jay Cutler proved his mettle as a college player, the kind of NFL quarterback he could one day be. It was in Nashville where even the losses gained him the kind of respect he still can't quite get as a pro.

As the former Vanderbilt hero returns to Tennessee this weekend to play before fans who would still love to see him in Titan blue, it is not difficult to imagine that even an 11-1 record in his last 12 starts as Bears quarterback leaves Cutler wanting so much more.

It is perhaps unfair to call this, at age 29, a career crossroads for Cutler. He does have the Pro Bowl bid, if only one in 2008. And one trip to the playoffs, although that ended badly two years ago with one victory, one loss and a knee injury from which, on a psychic level at least, he may still be recovering.

Some who know him and Cutler himself will say he doesn't give a whit what outsiders think of him and that he doesn't necessarily feel he has anything to prove. So why is that so hard to believe?

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Isaacson: Not your ordinary Bears' QB

October, 28, 2012
CHICAGO -- Maybe it's the uniform. Or just Chicago fans' lot in life. Whatever it is, if we haven't figured it out yet, we better get used to the idea that Bears' quarterbacks are simply never going to make it easy on us.

Six sacks in the first half Sunday had something to do with Jay Cutler's horrid passer rating early.
For those who dislike Jay Cutler's personality, who question his leadership skills or his consistency, there will always be another reason to justify it. But after the Bears' come-from-behind 23-22 victory over Carolina on Sunday, certain inalienable facts need also be acknowledged.

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Bears' Tillman getting better with age

October, 25, 2012
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Even as a rookie, he was never shy. But Charles Tillman was amazed when he was selected with the 36th overall pick in the 2003 draft, the second-rounder out of Louisiana-Lafayette joking in his first words to the Chicago media, "I don't smoke but I feel like I need a cigarette."

Ten NFL seasons later, some things haven't changed. Like his pre-Bears days, when Tillman was considered an obscure name but a top-10 cornerback in a very deep draft class, he's still a highly regarded talent with a relatively low profile.

"He's always been good," said Brian Urlacher, citing Tillman's signature fourth-quarter interception of a Randy Moss pass in the end zone his rookie season, "he just hasn't gotten the recognition. He's been taking the ball away his whole career. There's been some good corners in the NFC so they've kind of overshadowed him, but he's been doing it his whole career."

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