Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher

LS Mannelly undecided about future

April, 8, 2014
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DES PLAINES, Ill. -- If Bears free-agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly does not return to Chicago for a franchise record 17th season, the team’s all-time leader in games played (245) would probably lean toward retirement.

That’s the scenario Mannelly laid out to reporters before being honored as the Bears’ 2013 Ed Block Courage Award winner at a luncheon held at Maryville Academy in suburban Des Plaines, Ill., an event attended by team matriarch Virginia McCaskey.

Mannelly
“It would be tough to put on another helmet for another team,” the Mannelly, 38, said.

The only member of the 1998 draft class that is still playing with their original team, Mannelly is almost three months into a four-to-six month rehabilitation process following offseason hip surgery.

Mannelly is scheduled to fly to California Tuesday night to continue his rehab work at EXOS in San Diego -- he is no longer under contract with the Bears and cannot use the facilities at Halas Hall -- but the veteran long snapper is undecided about his future.

"As athletes you always think you can play forever and I’ve been lucky to play for a long time," Mannelly said. "But I really want to listen to my body and see what happens. You always want to play forever. Your heart wants to play forever. Your mind wants to play forever. But we'll see.

"I would feel bad if I didn’t give it everything I had and [slacked] in the offseason. I’m not going to do that. I truly want to find out. I want to put myself in a position where I get sore again and feel hurt every day and see how much I enjoy it and how I bounce back the next morning.”

The Bears are expected to offer Mannelly a one-year contract if he decides to continue for another season, although a drop-dead date has not been set for Mannelly to make a final decision.

“We haven’t really set anything in stone for that,” Mannelly said. “I have some dates in my mind that I want to set to reach certain plateaus and goals to get ready for the season. I’ll leave those dates to me but we will see.”

If Mannelly’s recovery goes according to plan, he could theoretically return to the field when the Bears hold their organized team activities in late May and early June. But the Bears had to protect themselves at the position and agreed to terms on a three-year deal with former CFL long snapper Chad Rempel on Monday.

“It’s a smart move,” Mannelly said. “Phil Emery should do that. I’ll be 39 this year and I don’t know if I’m going to be back. They need to take care of their roster and that’s the most important thing.”

The Ed Block Courage Award is given out annually to one player on all 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room. Teammates vote for the award. Ed Block Courage Award winners symbolize professionalism, great strength and dedication, and are considered role models in the community.

Past Bears recipients of the Ed Block Courage Award include: Nick Roach (2012), Brian Urlacher (2011), Anthony Adams (2010), Israel Idonije (2009) and Charles Tillman (2008).

The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation promotes the prevention of child abuse by raising awareness and assisting agencies that provide for the care and treatment of abused children.

Patrick Mannelly wins Ed Block Award

March, 7, 2014
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Chicago Bears veteran long-snapper Patrick Mannelly has been voted the 2013 Ed Block Courage Award winner.

Mannelly will be presented with the award on April 8, at a luncheon held at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines.

The Ed Block Courage Award is given out annually to one player on all 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room. Teammates vote for the award. Ed Block Courage Award winners symbolize professionalism, great strength and dedication, and are considered role models in the community.

Past recipients of the Ed Block Courage Award include: Nick Roach (2012), Brian Urlacher (2011), Anthony Adams (2010), Israel Idonije (2009) and Charles Tillman (2008).

The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation promotes the prevention of child abuse by raising awareness and assisting agencies that provide for the care and treatment of abused children.

Mannelly holds the franchise record for seasons of service (16) and games played (245). He holds the honor of being the only player from the 1998 NFL draft (sixth round) that is still playing with the team that originally selected him. Mannelly has missed only 11 games in his career and has snapped the ball 2,282 times over the course of his illustrious career.

Mannelly, 38, is recovering from offseason hip surgery but is expected to be welcomed back to the Bears if he decides to play for a 17th season. The veteran long-snapper is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher weighed in Thursday on the team’s decision to part ways with return man Devin Hester.

Hester played eight seasons with the Bears, but on Wednesday was informed the club was looking to “go a different way with me,” he said on NFL Network. Urlacher told FoxSports.com he was “really surprised” to hear his former teammate would no longer be a Bear.

“You think of Devin returning all those punts and kicks as a Bear,” said Urlacher, now an NFL analyst for Fox Sports 1. “He’s going to break the record on another team, probably. It’s crazy to think he won’t be in a Bears uniform doing that. It’s frustrating as an ex-Bear and a player to see that happen.”

Especially when you’ve got firsthand experience with the business side of the NFL as Urlacher suffered a similar fate offseason when he and the Bears couldn’t come to agreement on a new deal.

Although Hester turns 32 in November, he led the NFL last season with a career-high 1,436 kick return yards on a league-high 52 tries, and returned five kickoffs for a team-record 249 yards against Minnesota in Week 2 of last season..

With Hester focusing primarily on returns in 2013, it’s likely the team held expectations that he would return to greatness on a more consistent basis.

But in 123 games (46 starts) over eight seasons (2006-13), Hester’s 3,241 punt return yards are eighth most in NFL history and his 12.3 punt return average ranks No. 5. Hester is the club’s all-time leader in total return touchdowns, punt return touchdowns, punt return yards, kickoff return yards (5,504), total kick return yards (8,745) and second in all-purpose yards (11,632).

“Look at what the Steelers have done the last couple days signing Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, some older guys to a couple more years just so they can retire as Steelers,” Urlacher said. “The Bears could do that with Devin. He should retire a Bear. He set all those records in a Bears uniform and his number 23 should be retired one day in Chicago.

“It’s just the loyalty factor,” he added. “It’s just not there. He should be a guy that retires as a Bear.”

Despite Hester expecting to play for another team in 2014, he would like to retire a Chicago Bear when his playing career comes to a close. In the meantime, Hester would like to reunite with former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"I look at Lovie as my number one coach right now because he's the one that took a chance on me coming out of the draft," Hester said. "He has all my respect so if he's a guy that is going to shoot at me and want me to come play with him again, my arms are open."

Urlacher believes a potential reunion with Smith would “be a great move” for Hester.

“He had great success from when Lovie was with Chicago,” Urlacher said. “All those returns were when he was his head coach. Anyone leaving Chicago and joining Lovie is a great move. He’s a great head coach and guys know what it’s like playing for him. He has been successful in the league and he’ll be successful down there, as well. I think Tampa would be a great fit for Devin.”

The Bears fired Smith on Dec. 31, 2012, before hiring Marc Trestman as his replacement.

2013 FA review: LB James Anderson

February, 13, 2014
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Money: Signed a one-year deal for $950,000 that also included a $200,000 signing bonus and $100,000 workout bonus. Anderson took up $1.25 million worth of salary cap space in 2013.

Stats: Anderson became the first Bears player other than Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to lead the team in tackles since Barry Minter in 1999. The eight-year NFL veteran made 129.5 tackles and a career-best four sacks. Anderson registered 7.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, 10 quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

[+] EnlargeJames Anderson
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMIJames Anderson could be seeking a multiyear deal after leading the Bears in tackles last season.
2013 role: Anderson was the only veteran linebacker to start all 16 games. He lined up on the strong side in the Bears’ base defense, but remained on the field in the nickel package and became the defensive signal-caller after Briggs suffered a shoulder fracture on Oct. 20. Anderson, new to the defensive scheme, played his best football before Briggs and D.J. Williams were lost to injuries. He finished the year with 14 tackles in two of the final three games against the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers.

The good: Anderson began the season with tackles for loss in three of the first five games. He meshed well with Briggs and Williams. Anderson’s four sacks tied for second on the team with Shea McClellin. The linebacker recorded a minimum of 10 tackles in six different games. Anderson’s even-keeled personality seemed to play well in the locker room with his teammates. His production (129.5 tackles) exceeded the modest one-year deal he signed in free agency. Anderson stayed healthy for the entire year.

The bad: Because of his lack of familiarity and experience within this particular defensive scheme, Anderson was unable to offer much assistance to rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene when the two rookies were obviously struggling to be in the correct spot after being pressed into action. Despite Anderson’s impressive statistics, he was part of one of the worst run defenses and front-sevens in Bears’ history.

2014 role: Unknown. Anderson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He is probably seeking a multiyear deal after taking a one-year contract to join the Bears. Anderson was not part of the group of players the Bears re-signed at the conclusion of the regular season. The market could dictate whether Anderson returns to Chicago.

Bears trainer joins Smith in Tampa

February, 7, 2014
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The Chicago Bears lost a valuable member of their support staff Friday when assistant head athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation Bobby Slater left the organization after 15 years to become the head athletic trainer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Slater spent nine of his 15 seasons with the Bears working alongside new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith, who has brought several former Chicago assistant coaches and support staff members to Tampa since being named head coach in January.

"I believe we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring Bobby here to work with our players," Smith told the Buccaneers official website. "I have a deep respect for the work Bobby did during my time with him at the Bears. I witnessed first-hand his expertise and attention to detail in working with the players and I know he will provide our Buccaneers players with great medical care."

Slater and current Bears head athletic trainer Chris Hanks dealt with several key injuries in 2013. Although starting quarterback Jay Cutler was originally expected to miss four to six weeks with a groin tear he suffered Oct. 20, he returned to action three weeks later and started against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10.

Slater oversaw the offseason rehabilitation of former middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in the 2012 offseason, when a variety of knee issues forced Urlacher to sit out the entire preseason. However, Urlacher managed to return for Week 1 of the regular season and stayed in the starting lineup until he suffered a season-ending injury later in the year.

While the relationship between NFL players and athletic trainers can often become adversarial, Slater and Hanks earned the reputation as being honest and trustworthy over the years with the players in the Bears' locker room.

Slater, who has ties to new Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht from their time together with the Miami Dolphins in 1995, replaces Todd Toriscelli, who now works for the Tennessee Titans.

Bears position outlook: Linebackers

January, 29, 2014
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Free agents: James Anderson, Blake Costanzo and D.J. Williams.

The good: Before suffering a minor shoulder fracture that forced him to miss seven games, veteran weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was in the midst of another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Despite sitting out almost the entire preseason due to a calf strain, Williams appeared to be stabilizing the position until he went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 18. Anderson led the Bears with 129.5 tackles. Rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic, forced into the starting lineup because of all the injuries, had a solid game versus the Baltimore Ravens in November with eight tackles and one key interception. He could be an outside linebacker in 2014. Costanzo topped the Bears with 17 special-teams tackles.

The bad: Obviously, the injuries to Williams and Briggs really hurt, especially after the Bears decided to let veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach leave the previous offseason. Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene predictably struggled on occasion when pressed into action as first-year players. The Bears' linebackers were often in the wrong place and out of their gaps, which played a role in the team having the worst run defense in the NFL. Even when Briggs returned late in the season, he was never the same.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Briggs has one year left on his current contract and is scheduled to count $6.5 million against the cap. The Bears really need a big year out of Briggs, so hopefully whatever unhappiness still lingers from the firing of Lovie Smith can be put aside for the greater good of the team. The last thing the Bears need is for Briggs’ contract to become a distraction in the offseason since the club has so many other holes to fill on defense. Bostic and Greene are locked in for the foreseeable future with cap hits below $1 million next year. Williams appears to be a prime candidate to return at another veteran minimum/incentive laden deal.

Draft priority: Moderate. Even with the selections of Bostic and Greene last year and the possible addition of Shea McClellin to the room in 2014, the Bears shouldn’t pass up a talented linebacker in the mid-to-late rounds if one remains on the board. There is a chance Costanzo leaves in free agency, meaning the Bears could have a large hole on their coverage teams. Bottom line: There is always value in selecting a good linebacker, especially given the ages/contractual statuses of Briggs, Williams and Anderson.
Free-agent cornerback Charles Tillman acknowledged recently that he has had "some dialogue" with the Chicago Bears about a new contract, but former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher believes Tillman could be a casualty of what Urlacher sees as a purging of players from former coach Lovie Smith's tenure.

Tillman
"What I'm thinking is the new guy that came in there, he's just trying to get rid of all of Lovie's players, is the way I feel about it," Urlacher, now an analyst at Fox Sports 1, said during Tuesday's "Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Radio 1000. "I think there's gonna be other guys around there that are gone as well that have been really good players for that team for a long time. You get older, that's what happens."

Urlacher apparently knows firsthand after he and the team couldn't come to agreement on a new contract last March, shortly after Marc Trestman took over as the club's head coach. The Bears offered Urlacher a one-year deal worth $2 million, but the linebacker submitted a counteroffer of $3.5 million. Eventually, the Bears announced through a press release they would be parting ways with Urlacher.

The difference in this case, however, is that Tillman still appears to be a productive player, while Urlacher was clearly on the downside of his storied career in 2012.

Tillman was a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012, but he played in only eight games last season before suffering a torn triceps that forced the Bears to place him on injured reserve on Nov. 11. Tillman picked off three passes in 2013, and he ranks No. 3 in franchise history with 36 picks in 154 games. He forced six turnovers in 2013, taking into account the three fumbles he forced.

"If I'm in the front office, I'm trying to give my team the best chance to win. For me as a front-office guy, he gives my team the best chance to win at left or right corner, wherever he is," Urlacher said. "If I was a GM and I had a chance to sign Charles Tillman before anybody else could sign him, I would love to sign him. Especially if he was with my team for 11 years, I would be happy to keep him on my team with the type of teammate he is and leader. But maybe there are different opinions about that in Chicago. You think about Charles Tillman, you think about a Bear, a guy who pretty much led the Bears through takeaways. When you think about the fumbles and stuff, he's the guy you think about."

Drafted by Chicago in the second round in the 2003 draft, Tillman has played his entire career with the Bears.

Since coming into the league in '03, Tillman ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in interceptions (tied for fifth with 36), interception return yards (fifth with 675 yards), interception return touchdowns (tied for second with eight), forced fumbles (second with 42) and pass breakups (fifth with 133).

Tillman's contract paid $7.5 million in 2013, and given the team's salary-cap constraints, it's unlikely moving forward that he'll receive a similar deal from the Bears.

"I think I'm OK with it," Tillman said in December as the team cleaned out its lockers. "I think it's the first time in my life I've had to make decisions like this. But I don't know. I'm just kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I'm not stressing. I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good."

One scenario Urlacher could see playing out is a reunion between Tillman and Smith, now the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also brought aboard former Bears assistant Gill Byrd to coach the secondary.

"That would not shock me one bit," Urlacher said. "Imagine that corner tandem [of Tillman and Darrelle Revis] right there. I would not be surprised if that happened. But I just don't see them letting him get away in Chicago. He's been too good of a player there for too long to let him get away for nothing."

Decision for Sunday in Briggs' hands

December, 20, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Much like the Chicago Bears' path to the NFC North title, Lance Briggs controls his own destiny.

The decision to play Briggs on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles now rests solely in the hands of the seven-time Pro Bowler, after head coach Marc Trestman announced on Friday that Briggs has received the necessary medical clearance from team doctors to return to action for the first time since he fractured his shoulder on Oct. 10.

Trestman has been quoted on the record multiple times in the past couple of days saying he is “optimistic” that Briggs will be active against the Eagles, especially after the veteran linebacker had full participation in Friday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLinebacker Lance Briggs, who last played Oct. 20 at Washington, has medical clearance to test his injured shoulder Sunday night against Philadelphia.
But Trestman stopped short of guaranteeing that Briggs will take the field against Chip Kelly's high-powered offense.

Why?

Though the odds seem favorable that Briggs will test out the shoulder Sunday night, likely on a limited snap count, it’s hardly a slam dunk.

The average NFL fracture takes six weeks to heal. Briggs himself originally declared that he would miss only three-to-four around the time the injury occurred. But three-to-four weeks turned into eight weeks and seven missed games as Briggs experienced unexpected complications with the shoulder.

“Initially (I thought I’d be back sooner),” Briggs said on Thursday. “And then you get to the point where you get tested and your strength and everything isn’t where it’s supposed to be, or my bone is not healing the way it’s supposed to. There was some talk of going on IR, but that didn’t happen, and I’m here now. Now, I just want to play football.”

Whenever a player contemplates going on injured reserve, that means the injury, in his mind, is serious enough to where it affects his ability to perform up to par on the football field. The fact Briggs strongly considered shutting it down for the season should not be overlooked.

Then there is the fear of re-injuring the shoulder.

Let’s not be naïve. Briggs is a business man. His contractual spats with the Bears have been highly publicized over the years. We all see the writing on the wall: the Bears are about to overhaul the defense in the offseason. Briggs, 33, is under contract with the Bears in 2014 for a total salary of $5.5 million, but the last thing any older veteran player wants is to enter an offseason hurt or in need of surgery.

The Bears aren’t exactly sentimental when it pertains to contract negotiations or shaping the future roster -- see Brian Urlacher.

So Briggs has plenty of motivation to ensure that his shoulder is completely healed when the offseason rolls around.

However, it’s obviously in the best interest of the Bears if Briggs plays on Sunday.

In the end, Briggs probably opts to knock off the rust and play a certain amount of snaps in Week 16.

But that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Don’t think for a second Briggs is blind to that.

Mailbag: Expectations for Hester vs. Vikings

November, 29, 2013
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Here is this week's edition of the mailbag:

1. JD, huge Devin Hester fan here. I almost cried when they took away his punt return touchdown last week. Can we expect Devin to light it up against Minnesota? -- Brendan, Peoria, Ill.


Dickerson: Brendan, Hester has torched the Vikings' special teams in 14 career games, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Hester was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against the Vikings in Week 2, when he set a franchise single-game record with 249 kick-return yards. However, it is important to note that Sunday's game will played inside the Metrodome. It's much tougher for a return man to get his hands on the football when the game is played in a controlled climate. Maybe Hester's best shot this weekend is to hope that Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke kicks him a returnable ball.

2. Why are the Bears going back to Jay Cutler? Josh McCown has found the fountain of youth. Ride with him! GO BEARS! -- Chester, Cicero, Ill.


Dickerson: Cutler is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He has too much talent and is earning too much money to sit on the bench if medically cleared to play. But I believe the Bears are taking the correct approach by sitting Cutler on Sunday and letting McCown start against the Vikings. High-ankle sprains are serious injuries. Cutler needs extra time to let his ankle heal before he's ready to return. McCown is clearly capable of beating the Vikings, who own the league's 30th overall defense (allowing 401 yards per game), so there was no need to rush Cutler back, even if he is pushing hard to come back. But when Cutler is ready, likely for the Bears' Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9, he will be back in the starting lineup.

(Read full post)

Four Downs: Cutler future more uncertain?

October, 25, 2013
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Jay CutlerAP Photo/Carlos OsorioWill the Bears opt to use the franchise tag on Jay Cutler after this season?
Life without Jay Cutler -- at least for several weeks -- begins for the Bears on No. 4 at Green Bay when Josh McCown takes over for the injured starter.

With Cutler's contract up at the end of the season and the prospect of getting him back for just a few more games, have the Bears seen enough from him to commit to a long-term deal? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Cutler's future in Chicago is much more uncertain now that he is expected to miss most of the rest of the season.


[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears expect Jay Cutler to miss at least four weeks with a groin injury.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. On one hand, Cutler has likely shown the Bears enough this season (91.7 quarterback rating) to merit the franchise tag designation in the offseason, keeping him in Chicago at a minimum through 2014. But on the other hand, it probably will be difficult for Cutler to secure a long-term extension because of the recent groin injury. Are seven games under Marc Trestman really enough to convince the Bears that Cutler is the right guy for the new regime? That's tough to say. But I don't buy the whole argument that Trestman's system is the star and not the players in it. Cutler is talented. He looked to be much more comfortable running this offense -- a better supporting cast no doubt played a role -- than he had in four previous seasons with the Bears. But the franchise tag allows the Bears the opportunity to take one more look at Cutler in 2014 before ultimately deciding whether to break the bank. There is a possibility that Cutler lights it up when he returns and leads the Bears to the playoffs, although the defense is still a major concern. But if that were to happen, I can envision the Bears and Cutler still getting a new deal done in the offseason. However, the odds seem better that Cutler is franchised in 2014.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. If you want evidence that Cutler's future is in Chicago, just look around the league. Mike Glennon? Christian Ponder? The Cleveland Browns' tire fire under center? For a country where seemingly every athletic kid wants to be a quarterback, there aren't a lot who can play this game, well anyway, in the NFL. Cutler isn't going to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, not even the mid-to-late 30s versions. But he's a much better alternative than what's out there and the Bears know this. All he needed to prove this season was that he could get along with Trestman. That's worked out fine. The Bears loaded up on offense since Phil Emery took over general manager to complement Cutler. Why dump him now? They won't.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs is a bigger loss to the Bears than Cutler.


[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesLance Briggs suffered a small fracture in his shoulder during Sunday's loss to the Redskins.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Both players are vital to the Bears' success and will be missed, badly. But at least the Bears still have Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and a decent offensive line around new starting quarterback Josh McCown. I doubt McCown can run the offense with the same efficiency as Cutler, but at least he has a fighting chance to do so. On defense, the outlook is bleak. The Bears couldn't stop anybody with Briggs. What's going to happen without him? There is still Pro Bowl talent on the defense, but Charles Tillman is banged up. Tim Jennings, like all cornerbacks, isn't nearly as effective without a pass rush. And Julius Peppers has one sack in seven games. This could get ugly.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I was wobbling on this fence this week, but I'm coming down on Cutler's side, if just barely. I just can't argue against a guy who has the ball on every play against a guy who might make 10 tackles a game. The defense is already horrible with Briggs, and they won't get better without their best performer. They'll miss more than his tackles -- leadership, play recognition, etc. -- but a defense can cover up for one player through schemes. You can't cover up for a quarterback. We have no idea how McCown will do as Cutler's replacement. Maybe he'll be great, and I'll be proven wrong as running backs and tight ends attack Briggs' replacement. But I'm sticking with the quarterback.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Brian Urlacher is right, Shea McClellin is miscast as a defensive end.


[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBig plays have been few and far between for Shea McClellin this season.

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The conspiracy theorists will say that Urlacher only made those comments because he dislikes Emery, the man responsible for drafting McClellin at No. 19 overall in 2012, but I'm not on board with that idea. Sure, Urlacher has issues with Emery (that's their business), but it doesn't change the fact that Urlacher was a master of this defense and knows exactly the types of players it needs to succeed. I believe Urlacher when he says that McClellin is miscast as a defensive end. We all see it every week. McClellin is a good athlete and works hard. He has value. But he looks overmatched at defensive end. Emery has drafted two studs on offense the past two years (Jeffery and Kyle Long), but I just don't understand the McClellin selection. Chandler Jones already has 6.5 sacks in seven games for the Patriots, bringing his career total to 12.5. McClellin has 3.0 career sacks. Both were available at No. 19.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. McClellin gets shoved around by tackles and tight ends. He's not strong enough, maybe not confident enough, to play defensive end on an every-down basis. He's got moves and he's got speed, so it's not like the guy is a bust. But he couldn't gain the weight necessary to play the position while keeping his speed. Emery tried his best to defend him this week, noting his run defense has improved. He's an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or a situational pass-rusher. Not much debate here.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will still make the playoffs.


[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBeating the Lions on Nov. 10 could be key to the Bears making the playoffs.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. As it currently stands, the Bears look like the third-best team in the NFC North. And how is this for a cruel twist of fate: The Bears' first two games without Cutler are against the two teams they're chasing in the division, Green Bay and Detroit. I just don't see how the Bears are going to stop anybody on defense without a decent defensive line. There will be games where the Bears can outscore the opponent. I still expect this team to win around eight games despite the injuries to key players. But it doesn't feel like a playoff team. And it certainly doesn't look like a playoff team on the defensive side. I realize this is a league based on offense, but teams need to at least have a respectable defense. The Bears' defense was anything but respectable in the Washington game, and I don't' believe that's about to change anytime soon.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction, but just barely. Look at the competition. Throw out the NFC East teams, they're no good. Carolina, now 4-3, isn't for real. San Francisco and Seattle will both make the playoffs out of the West. That basically leaves Detroit as the Bears' sole competition for a wild card, if you believe Green Bay wins the division. Detroit has the edge with one win over the Bears and the second game coming with Cutler presumably still out in two weeks. Looking at their schedules, I see each going 5-4 down the stretch, with the optimistic thought Cutler comes back after four games. That means if the Lions win at Soldier Field and my guesses are correct, they'll get in with the head-to-head tiebreaker. So that game could define the season.

Stock Watch: In McCown they now trust

October, 22, 2013
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Josh McCownBrad Mills/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears' Josh McCown will make his 34th career NFL start on Nov. 4 at Green Bay.

RISING

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Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: Losing Jay Cutler for a minimum of four weeks because of a torn groin muscle is a tough pill to swallow, but McCown at least gives the Bears a chance on offense. McCown gave the Bears all they could ask for against the Washington Redskins with completing 14-of-20 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown. Can he do it again? That remains to be seen. But McCown is an intelligent player with 33 career NFL starts under his belt. We should all know by now that starting experience is a big factor when it comes to a No. 2 quarterback. McCown can still throw the ball reasonably well and has plenty of skill-position talent, plus a decent offensive line surrounding him. To steal a phrase from ex-Bears general manager Jerry Angelo: The Bears aren't likely to fall off the cliff with McCown at quarterback.

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Briggs
2. Lance Briggs, LB: Briggs was all over the field making plays before he suffered a small fracture in his left shoulder that will shut him down for about six weeks. Briggs had eight tackles, one tackle for loss and two passes defended before he left the game. The veteran linebacker has performed at a Pro Bowl level this season, topping the team in tackles and tackles for loss, while tying for the team lead in sacks and forced fumbles. For as bad as things were on defense before Briggs got hurt, what is it going to look like now without him? Scary.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester is dangerous when he's confident. The hope is he can parlay his 81-yard punt return touchdown -- tying Deion Sanders for the most regular-season return scores in NFL history with 19 -- in Week 7 into more scores and long returns in the coming weeks. With the defense full of holes and Cutler on the shelf, the Bears will need points from their special teams. Hester really has a shot to help save the day -- if teams kick to him. Opponents will no doubt continue to try and avoid Hester, but as he proved in Washington, it only takes one mistake or bad kick and he can take it to the house. Also, field position will be at a premium with McCown at the helm. Hester can help in that area, too.

FALLING

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Mel Tucker
1. Mel Tucker, DC: With all due respect to Tucker, a 16-year coaching veteran and former collegiate defensive back at the University of Wisconsin, a confused and agitated fan base no longer wants to hear about the "next man up mentality," "pad level," or "the collective group effort." It's time for Tucker to start sounding like a defensive coordinator who is capable of leading the Bears out of this mess, as daunting a task it might be. Tucker doesn't personally owe the media anything, but how can reporters assigned to cover a team offer any sort of insight into Tucker's defensive philosophies or coaching style when every week during his limited media availability he talks in bland generalities and clichés? The Bears don't do Tucker any favors by preventing their assistant coaches from talking after games, but Tucker needs to use whatever opportunity he has to convince people that he is not destined to be the Terry Shea of Marc Trestman's first coaching staff. In case you need a refresher course on recent Bears history, Shea was fired after one season on the job as Lovie Smith's offensive coordinator in 2004 when his unit finished dead last in total yards, passing yards and points scored. Through seven games, Tucker's defense is ranked No. 26 in total defense and No. 28 in points allowed, with much better players than Shea ever had to work with.

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Shea McClellin
2. Shea McClellin, DE: I feel bad for McClellin. When one of the greatest linebackers of the last generation, Brian Urlacher, tells ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that McClellin is miscast as a 4-3 defensive end and better suited to be a 3-4 outside linebacker -- then you know that McClellin is out of place in the Bears' defense. McClellin's 56 snaps against the Redskins were at times painful to watch. His struggles are only heightened by the fact that the Bears really have nobody else to play the position now that Corey Wootton has been forced to move inside to defensive tackle because of injuries to Henry Melton and Nate Collins. McClellin needs to be a situational player to have any sort of impact, but injuries make that impossible. He needs to play. But mark my words: McClellin will eventually leave the Bears and sign with a team that presents him with a better defensive fit for his talents. Once that happens, McClellin will go on to be an adequate defensive starter of the next six to eight years. But the odds of that happening in Chicago seem remote, unless the Bears undergo a dramatic shift in their defensive philosophy in the offseason.

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Jordan Reed
3. Chris Conte, S: Competition brings out the best in all of us. It's probably time for the Bears to sprinkle safeties Anthony Walters or Craig Steltz into the equation to try and break Conte out of his funk. Conte is talented, but he seems to lacking somewhat in the confidence department. Conte has had several massive collisions in recent weeks trying to tackle running backs with a full head of stream in the open field. Maybe those collisions have chipped away at his confidence. Putting some pressure on Conte to keep his job could result in the safety elevating his game, a la punter Adam Podlesh who had to save his roster spot a couple of weeks ago after a rough outing against the Detroit Lions. Podlesh responded to the challenge. Perhaps Conte does the same.
Former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher realizes he isn't a scout or a general manager, and he prefaces his thoughts on DE Shea McClellin with that disclaimer. Still, the future Hall of Famer thinks McClellin might be better-suited for a move to linebacker.

McClellin
Urlacher said during “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on Monday that McClellin, a 2012 first-round pick, might be miscast in Chicago’s 4-3 defense.

“It’s looking like it more and more right now,” said Urlacher, an analyst on Fox Sports 1. “He’s definitely a good athlete. He gets off the football. He can run. He can hit, and all that good stuff. But I see him maybe as a Sam linebacker, a 3-4 outside guy the more I watch him play. The more you watch him play, he’s built for the outside linebacker position, I think.”

Urlacher apparently isn’t the only one to subscribe to that line of thinking regarding McClellin.

Thrust into the starting role full time opposite Julius Peppers because the team moved Corey Wootton inside to tackle, McClellin has underwhelmed thus far. McClellin collected half a sack in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but hasn’t contributed a sack since or tallied more than three tackles in any game.

Still, Bears general manager Phil Emery remains committed to keeping McClellin at defensive end.

“I’ve seen improvement in Shea, particularly in his strength against the run. The primary thing to remember about our defense, as opposed to how some others are structured, is we’re a one-gap fit defense,” Emery explained. “Generally our ends are C-gap players. In our defense, the most important thing is gap discipline, is doing your job first. I’ve seen drastic differences between him from a year ago in being able to maintain that leverage on that gap, to be able to drop his hips, extend his arms and hold his ground so that the ball is turned into another gap. So in terms of playing team defense, Shea is doing a great job at that.”

Perhaps he’d do better, however, at linebacker. That’s what Urlacher thinks. And while McClellin possesses the athleticism for a move to middle linebacker, he’s better suited to play on the outside, Urlacher said. Besides that, the Bears drafted the future in the middle with second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, who will make his second start on Nov. 4 at Green Bay.

“I think he’s athletic enough to [move to the middle], no doubt. The kid, if you look at all of his testing at the combine, all that good stuff the scouts like to look at, he’s got all the measureable [attributes],” Urlacher said. “But I don’t know if he could make that move. I think it would be hard to take your hand off the ground and be in a linebacker stance in the middle or inside. I haven’t seen too many guys do that. Athletically, there’s no doubt in my mind he could do it. I just don’t know that that would be the best move for him.”

Cutler wishes Urlacher well in new career

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
8:52
AM ET
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler still hasn’t reached out to retired middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, but spoke glowingly about the former player’s contributions while wishing him the best in his new career as an NFL analyst on Fox Sports 1.

Asked Monday during “The Jay Cutler Show” on ESPN 1000 whether he’s contacted Urlacher, Cutler said, “No I have not.”

Urlacher
“I’m not gonna touch this,” Cutler said. “He was an unbelievable player, gonna be in the Hall of Fame; huge hole that we had to fill, a void in that defense, a void as the team leader, a void as a voice the locker room. We’re still trying to find leaders, myself included, to make up for that void. So that’s what we’re working on right now. We wish him the best of luck at Fox Sports.”

Urlacher recently revealed during an interview on “In Depth With Graham Bensinger” that Cutler was the only ex-teammate who didn’t call after the linebacker’s retirement on May 22.

"Well, I did not hear from Jay, out of all the guys I played with, but that’s just -- maybe we weren’t as close as, like you said, as we could have been," Urlacher said. "That’s just the way to let you know where you stand with people. But it’s not his job to text me, maybe that’s not his thing. That’s fine. That’s the way it is. I felt like I stood up for him more than anyone else did over the last three or four years in the media. I feel bad for the guy, he takes a lot of grief from the media, too."

Cutler initially responded to Urlacher’s comments last week during his weekly news conference at Halas Hall by saying, “No, I haven’t spoken to Brian. I did not call him. I guess I’ll reach out to him."
Good morning, here are some Bears Essentials, as the team prepares to host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Soldier Field:

-- Maybe you missed it, but during an interview on “In Depth With Graham Bensinger”, which airs Sunday on WMAQ-TV NBC Chicago, former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said he likely would’ve signed the contract that maxed out at $2 million had the team been more candid during negotiations.

Sounds to me like Urlacher has had some time to reflect on the whole ordeal, and although he claims to not miss football, I think at least a small part of him wants to be a part of what’s taking place now with new head coach Marc Trestman at the helm.

-- Vikings team reporter Ben Goessling and I preview the matchup between Minnesota and Chicago, and give our predictions. Spoiler alert: we both picked the same team to win.

-- Bears right tackle Jordan Mills was listed at No. 8 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s NFL Rookie Rankings. Mills tried hard to play it cool at first, but he was smiling ear to ear while talking about how much he respects Kiper and the fact the draft guru placed him among the top 15 rookies.

-- Rick Telander says Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has way too much on his plate right now to be worrying about calling Urlacher. This is one of the smarter takes on the situation.

-- ESPNChicago.com’s Jeff Dickerson and Jon Greenberg debate four questions during the sites weekly Four Downs feature. Dickerson doesn’t believe in Cutler just yet, and made that abundantly clear in answering the question of whether the quarterback will make fewer mistakes this season in Marc Trestman’s offense.

Here’s what Dickerson wrote: Fiction. Can't make that assumption based off just one week. Cutler had an excellent performance in Week 1, and if he consistently plays at that level, the Bears are in great shape. But it's too early to tell. Cutler is still prone to making bad decisions. Remember, he lit up the Colts last season in Week 1 with 333 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The next week in Green Bay he tossed four picks and posted a quarterback rating of 28.2.”

You write the truth, Dickerson. I agree for right now. One game is not a large enough body of work to make a definitive judgement.

-- Speaking of Cutler, CSNChicago.com’s John “Moon” Mullin ponders whether the quarterback is becoming a clutch player.

Urlacher: Cutler never called after I retired

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
5:25
PM ET
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Retired middle linebacker Brian Urlacher revealed in a Yahoo! Sports interview that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the only ex-teammate who failed to reach out to Urlacher after he retired on May 22, even though the Bears legend described himself as one of Cutler’s most vocal supporters in the last several years.

"Well, I did not hear from Jay, out of all the guys I played with, but that’s just – maybe we weren’t as close as, like you said, as we could have been," Urlacher said. "That’s just the way to let you know where you stand with people. But it’s not his job to text me, maybe that’s not his thing. That’s fine. That’s the way it is. I felt like I stood up for him more than anyone else did over the last three or four years in the media. I feel bad for the guy, he takes a lot of grief from the media too."

Cutler responded to Urlacher’s comments on Thursday during his weekly press conference at Halas Hall.

"No, I haven’t spoken to Brian," Cutler said. "I did not call him. I guess I’ll reach out to him."

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher and Jay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images"Maybe we weren't as close ... as we could have been," retired Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (left) said of his relationship with Jay Cutler.
Denver traded Cutler to the Bears in April 2009 in exchange for a pair of first-round draft choices, a third-round pick and quarterback Kyle Orton.

Urlacher admitted that he initially had reservations about the club trading for Cutler because Orton had led the Bears to nine wins the previous season, throwing just 12 interceptions in 465 pass attempts.

"It was a tough situation with him coming in because we gave up two first-round picks to get him," Urlacher said. "We got rid of our quarterback at the time, Kyle Orton, who I didn’t think needed to be traded in the first place. I thought he was our guy. We won games with him. He did the things as a defensive player you needed: He didn’t turn the football over. He gave us a chance to play defense. So I was mad when they traded him in the first place. I didn’t understand it.

"I was also excited. We got a quarterback that could possibly take us to the Super Bowl. Jay Cutler is a first-round pick, had a great arm, etcetera. It’s just – he’s offense, I’m defense. We didn’t get a chance to interact as much as we should have, maybe."

Urlacher denied a report that he and Cutler had to be separated during an argument in 2009, the quarterback's first year in Chicago.

"No. I heard that too," Urlacher said. "That was early. That never happened. I never had an altercation with my teammates in the locker room. In practice, we fight all the time. Jay and I never fought in practice. We talked a lot just to keep practice interesting. We never had to be separated in the locker room. I don’t know where that came from or who made that up. But there was never anything even close to that."

Urlacher also squashed a rumor that Cutler had played a role in the Bears’ decision to break off contract talks with Urlacher in the early stages of free agency. Urlacher stated that if the Bears had made him an initial offer, instead of requiring his agent to submit a contract proposal in the exclusive negotiating window in the days leading up to the start of free agency, that he would still be on the field playing for the Bears in 2013.

"In the end, that's the Bears' decision," Urlacher said. "Phil Emery is the one who makes that decision. Phil Emery makes all personnel decisions, according to him. That’s what he says. It was his decision not to bring me back. Not Jay’s or anyone else’s. In the end, Phil had the final say on it."

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