Chicago Bears: Alex Brown
Linebacker was a must for the Bears.
Bears general manager Phil Emery needed to find a young linebacker to push Williams and Anderson for starting jobs, while at the same time providing the club with insurance in the event one of the front line guys went down with an injury.
“The reason we like Jon -- he’s a three-position linebacker,” Emery said. “We felt it was very important that if we were going to take a linebacker in the second round, that we get somebody who can immediately fill in at all three spots. If one of our starters was not available due to injury, that he could fill in immediately and we would have a good football player in place right now.
“Obviously he’ll be given the opportunity to earn a starting job. We see him as a future starter.”
“D.J. Moore, if I’m not mistaken, played with him a little bit at Vanderbilt. Then he played with him here in Chicago,” Brown said to Jonathan Hood on “Chicago’s GameNight” on ESPN 1000. “So (Moore), Earl Bennett, they probably know him better than we’ll ever know him. Those are probably the two guys to talk to to see what type of guy Jay is. If you’re the same guy you were six years ago, that’s probably just how you are.”
Cutler became the target of heavy criticism last Thursday night when he was seen yelling at left tackle J’Marcus Webb and bumping into him on the sideline during a 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. During the game, Webb gave up two sacks to Clay Matthews and two more pressures as the Packers generated seven sacks and forced Cutler into four interceptions.
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“Good, good,” Brown said playfully during an in-studio appearance Thursday on “The Waddle and Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000.
Brown, however, stopped short of making any predictions regarding the number of times he plans to sack quarterback Jay Cutler. A 10-year veteran, Brown has 45.5 career regular season sacks, but only managed two in 2010 during his first year with the Saints.
But the Bears' 2002 fourth-round draft pick did foreshadow doing something memorable when he faces his old teammates.
“Heck no, I’m not going to do that. I just saw the [Vancouver Canucks’] Sedin twins guarantee a victory [over the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals] and they got their butt kicked,” Brown said. “But I’m going to give it everything I got. But I’ll say this, you will see the [Florida] Gator chomp come out. It will come out, that’s for sure.
Brown, who went to Florida, celebrates on the field by doing the Gator chomp after making a big play or recording a sack.
Thanks for dropping by to check out the final installment of our NFC North breakdown, which kicked off earlier this week with a breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings.
To close the series, we take a look at the Bears.
We’d also like to thank Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and John Niyo of the Detroit News for their input earlier this week in breaking down the division.
Five things the Bears need to worry about
1. The offensive line: History indicates quarterbacks take more punishment executing out of offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system likely due, in part, to the sheer number of pass plays called that involve seven-step drops. It’s no secret the offensive line, which returns virtually the same personnel from 2009, underperformed last season and isn’t 100 percent set heading into training camp. Those are causes for concern. Quarterback Jay Cutler took a career-high 35 sacks last season.
2. Safety: The Bears seem to have several options at safety, but the real concern is whether the club will be able to field the right combination at the position, which is crucial for the club’s Cover-2 heavy scheme. Chris Harris and Danieal Manning are the current starters. There’s uncertainty as to whether Harris still possesses the range to adequately handle the starting free safety spot (he appears to have lost a step), while some question Manning’s instincts in coverage. From the looks of things, the staff will let Harris and Manning battle it out at camp with rookie Major Wright, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. It’s imperative that the club quickly finds the best combination at the position.
3. Mark Anderson: Primarily a designated pass rusher as a rookie, Anderson registered 12 sacks in 2006, but hasn’t done much since (9.5 sacks over the last three years). The club plans to start Anderson opposite new acquisition Julius Peppers. But will Anderson be effective? He’d better be, considering general manager Jerry Angelo let go one of the team’s most popular players in Alex Brown, who likely would’ve been a more than adequate complement to Peppers.
4. Receivers gelling quickly with Cutler: Devin Hester took an important step in devoting a chunk of his offseason to working with former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who is well versed in Martz’s intricate timing-based attack. But collectively, the receivers need to gel quickly with Cutler for the offense to reach its full potential by the end of training camp, which is important for the team getting off to a good start.
5. No. 3 cornerback: The backup quarterback situation could go here, but the cornerback is a more pressing concern. After the starters -- Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman -- there appears to be a dropoff in talent among the other corners. That’s definitely cause for concern considering how often the club will line up in nickel and dime (one or two extra defensive backs) packages against high-powered passing attacks such as Green Bay and Minnesota. Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Woodny Turenne and rookie Joshua Moore are the candidates for the job. One of them needs to emerge at camp.
Five things not to worry about
1. Jay Cutler: Interceptions are a concern, but people need to come to grips with the fact that Cutler is going to throw them because of overconfidence in his strong arm, and the high potential for turnovers in Martz’s scheme. However, Cutler needs to negate the interceptions with touchdowns, which is likely what the quarterback will do this season. If Cutler can cut down on the interceptions, fans should consider that icing on the cake because in Martz’s scheme, Cutler is almost a lock to better the 27 touchdowns he threw last year, which ranked third in franchise history.
2. Matt Forte: Fans seem to be down on Forte after the running back followed a strong rookie campaign with 929 yards and a 3.6-yard average in 2009. But Forte appears poised to return to rookie form after a strong offseason in which he appears to finally be 100 percent healthy. Forte showcased improved quickness and agility at minicamps and OTAs. You can’t downplay the motivation factor, either. While he said all the right things when the club signed free agent Chester Taylor, several within the organization said the acquisition stoked Forte’s competitive fire.
3. Free-agent addition Peppers: A free-agent signing of this magnitude comes with increased bust potential. But that shouldn’t be the case with Peppers, who has produced double-digit sack totals in six of his eight years. Even if Peppers isn’t a sack machine right off the bat, all the attention devoted to him by opponents should open things up for other rushers coming off the edge (especially if the Bears bring linebackers off Peppers’ side). I could see the Bears at times employing a look this season similar to what the Giants used in their Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots (they overloaded the edge, using Justin Tuck -- who constantly lined up on different sides -- as an extra rusher).
4. Mike Martz: Don’t worry about Martz’s high-octane passing attack taking away Chicago’s well-earned reputation for playing smashmouth offense. Head coach Lovie Smith -- like Mike Singletary did with the offensive coordinbator in San Francisco -- isn't going to let it happen, and Martz is fine with that. Martz’s scheme merely diversifies the Bears’ offensive attack (extensively), making the club much more difficult to game plan against.
5. Robbie Gould: Truthfully, Gould is coming off his worst season since 2005. But when that worst performance in five years involves an 85.7 field goal percentage -- including a career-long 52-yard field goal -- it's safe to say your kicker is virtually automatic. Gould is the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (85.9 percent) and has nailed 20 or more field goals in five consecutive years.
Unlike offensive and defensive linemen, it's easier to evaluate quarterback play during a non-padded minicamp. This weekend marks the first time Cutler will be on display working with his receivers as they run Martz's precise patterns. We may also get a glimpse at how the Bears plan to utilize tight end Greg Olsen. But for all the attention this offseason paid to tight ends, receivers, and Cutler’s protection up front, the Bears' offense will sink or swim based on the quarterback’s fortunes.
True to his style, Urlacher stayed fairly quiet this offseason. But all reports regarding Urlacher’s voluntary workouts have been positive. When Urlacher takes the field Friday, it will be the first time anybody outside of Halas Hall has seen the middle linebacker in action in eight months.
There also appears to be some uncertainty at defensive tackle, where Tommie Harris is enjoying his first surgery-free offseason in recent memory. Harris remains a major wildcard in this whole equation, considering he's shown: the ability to dominate games from his under-tackle position and the ability to completely disappear from time to time. If Harris can get his mind and body right, he and Peppers could form a scary duo. The Bears would also benefit from a playmaker at nose tackle. Veteran Anthony Adams is a hard-working, dependable leader, but Marcus Harrison needs to take that next step. Up to this point, conditioning issues have prevented Harrison from living up to his full potential. It'll be interesting to see how Harrison looks and moves this weekend, because he possesses the athletic ability to dominate inside, but only if/when he remedies the bad habits.
Chicago drafted Major Wright (third round) and brought back Chris Harris in a trade to add to a talent mix that includes Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. Efficient play at safety is one of the key factors to success in a Cover-2 based scheme. Although the roster appears to contain the required individual talent to achieve strong play at the position, the club needs to find the perfect combination at safety, which isn’t always easy.
Manning and Steltz worked with the first team during voluntary offseason workouts, but it’s likely the Bears will roll out several combinations at the position during minicamp. It’s believed that the Bears envision using Manning mostly at strong safety this season, which would mean Harris, Wright and Steltz could be fighting for the open spot at free safety. But based on the depth of the position on paper, some of the safeties could be used solely in situational roles.
As it stands, the Bears receivers are certainly an explosive group with speedsters such as Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in the mix along with Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, Juaquin Iglesias and Davis. But they're young. Martz’s intricate system relies on timing and route precision, traits seen mostly in veteran receivers. The club shouldn’t have a problem with coaxing such attributes out of the current group. The concern would be whether the Bears can get the receivers to gel quickly enough for the club to take advantage of their immense athleticism paired with Cutler’s strong arm by Week 1.
Veteran minicamp will provide at least some indication as to how far the group has progressed. Given the collective talent at the position and Martz’s fast-break system, Chicago’s receivers -- if they can pick up the system quickly -- could be primed for a banner year.
Six days after being released by the Chicago Bears, defensive end Alex Brown has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This seems like an excellent situation for Brown, who not only joins the defending Super Bowl champions, but also becomes a member of an aggressive Saints’ defense run by coordinator Gregg Williams.
Brown, 30, should be a strong contender to replace left defensive end Charles Grant in New Orleans, although Brown played primarily on the right side in Chicago. Aside from acquiring a quality defender, the Saints have immediately increased their character and leadership quotient in the locker room, and I suspect fans in New Orleans will be quick to embrace the former fourth-round pick out of Florida.
The Bears and Saints are not scheduled to meet in the regular season, so any hope of Brown taking revenge on his former team would have to wait until the postseason.
A:I think Aromashodu could indeed have a solid season, and you're absolutely correct when it comes to his on-field rapport with Cutler. What I like about Aromashodu is that he cleans up mistakes: passes don't have to be perfectly thrown because he can go get the ball. I'm sure that's a major reason Cutler is such a fan, because as we all know, he had the luxury of working with a bigger receiver (Brandon Marshall) in Denver. If Aromashodu can learn the Mike Martz offense and continue to work hard, he'll be a valuable weapon. One more player to keep an eye on is Matt Forte. Trust me, don't sleep on Forte just because the Bears signed Chester Taylor. My guess is Forte is more motivated than ever to prove his critics wrong after an injury plagued/mediocre 2009 season, and because of his versatility in the backfield, should do well under Martz.
Q: You give Jerry Angelo a lot of grief, why don't you ever talk about some of the good moves he's made on draft day? A little balance would be nice and long overdue. -- Larry, Deerfield, Ill.
A: You're right, I did recently lay out some of the poor high draft choices since 2002 -- Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Cedric Benson, Mark Bradley, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, etc -- so it's only fair to acknowledge some of the good moves made by the Bears general manager. Personally, I feel the selections of Charles Tillman [second round] and Lance Briggs [third round] in 2003 was the high point for Angelo in Chicago. But I also applaud the picks of Bernard Berrian [third round, 2004], Kyle Orton [fourth round, 2005], Devin Hester (second round, 2006], Alex Brown [fourth round, 2002], Zack Bowman [fourth round, 2008] and Johnny Knox [fifth round, 2009]. We've also seen positive glimpses from Greg Olsen, Chris Williams, Earl Bennett, Forte and Danieal Manning, so hopefully some of these players can take that next step this upcoming fall. Not everything has been negative from a draft standpoint, but let's be real, there have been a lot more misses than hits in the last five years.
Q: When is this team going to get serious and add some help at safety? Look at the Giants, they had problems at safety, and they got Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. What are the Bears waiting for? -- Michael H., Oak Forest, Ill.
A: Relax for a second when it comes to safety. Yes, the Bears need to upgrade the position [badly], but there's no need to rush out and sign any of these remaining free-agent veterans, because most, if not all, will still be available after the draft. Remember, this is a very deep draft at safety, and I anticipate the Bears will take at least one safety before it's all said and done. Then, if they're still not satisfied, maybe they explore adding another veteran. Also, don't discount the possibility that a talented safety gets cut loose by a team in May or June. Look, if the season started tomorrow, the Bears would be in a lot of trouble in the secondary, but the good news is they have months and months to get it sorted out.
Q: Any chance the Bears bring Alex Brown back at a lower rate if he finds the market isn't particularly good? I don't think that he is above that. He is very humble and seems to love Chicago and the fans [it's mutual]. I doubt the Bears would try it because they tend to stick to their decisions to the death. Just wondering if that was even a possibility. -- Drew, St. Louis
A:That a very noble idea Drew, but unfortunately, I don't see any chance Brown re-signs with the Bears at a lower cost. In fact, Brown is reportedly generating some major interest around the league this week -- he's too good of a player to be unemployed for long. Brown has always been loyal and humble, but this is business, and the defensive end needs to make the best business decision he can for his career and family. Coming back to the Bears doesn't seem to be in the cards.
Q: So if Lance Louis doesn't get suspended to start the year, will he start at left guard? I was holding out hope for Rob Simms, but what happens if the Bears don't bring in an experienced guard? -- Brad S., Wauconda, Ill.
A: First of all, I don't excuse anything Louis allegadly did to his former college teammate, but that was before Louis entered the NFL, so I really don't understand why the league would get involved. To me, that's between Louis, his accuser and the courts. As for Louis' potential on the field, the Bears obviously think he has a bright future, and will no doubt give the former seventh-round pick an opportunity to earn some playing time. Personally, I'd like to see the Bears upgrade the guard spot via free agency and the draft, but if they fail in that regard, Louis certainly has a shot. I remain a fan of Josh Beekman, but sometimes feel like I'm the only one fighing that battle. Nobody gets to the second level of defenders better or faster than Beekman, who got unfairly pushed aside last season in favor of Frank Omiyale, but the Bears clearly have reservations about his size. Former practice squad member Johan Asiata may also jump into the mix if the Bears don't add another body or two inside.
"I enjoyed my time, and I appreciate the Bears for giving me the opportunity to play," Brown told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday morning. "The city of Chicago, there wasn't a better place to spend eight years of football. I got to see a lot of highs and lows and had a lot of fun with all of it."
Brown, 30, had two years left on his existing contract and was due to collect $10.5 million in those final two seasons.
Once word got out last week that the Bears were planning to move forward without the popular veteran, it became increasingly difficult for the organization to find any trade partners. Teams knew if they waited, Brown would end up as a free agent.
Before Brown became aware of the Bears' intentions, a source said his agent approached the team a little over a month ago about a contract extension. The Bears immediately shot down the request, sources familiar with the situation told ESPNChicago.com.
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Great, another tweet. And this one carrying even worse news than Oney Guillen leaving the White Sox, if you can believe it.
But at least we don't have to do too much deciphering to spot a good-bye. Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown made it official Wednesday by thanking the team that cut him loose and wishing the organization the best.
Brown wrote off his apparent exit from the Bears as "the nature of the business" and did not reveal any bitter feelings as he tweeted, "Bear down!"
If he could have sung one last verse of the team fight song, I'm quite certain he would have, for that's the kind of guy he is. But most teams these days don't put much of a premium on dependable players and stand-up people.
They want more. More production. More for their money. More evidence that as high-powered executives, they're doing their jobs when in most cases, less is more.
In Brown's situation, a little hand-wringing is fair game. For all the sacks he didn't ring up, you knew what you were going to get from him each day, each practice, each season. Dependability. Durability. No surprises. On a defense that is a far cry from the league elite, above-average known quantities like the eight-year veteran should be considered gold.
But the Bears, in that arrogant way they have, will roll the dice that Mark Anderson will somehow snap back into the carefree rookie who had 12 sacks in 2006, as opposed to the guy who has disappeared since then, handing the starting job back to Brown, who never deserved to have it taken away in the first place.
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"I am extremely grateful for my time as a Chicago Bear and I wish the Bears the best," Brown tweeted. "I am glad that they gave me an opportunity to realize a dream I had as a child. I appreciate the fans but as we all know this is the nature of the business. Bear down!"
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