Chicago Bears: Caleb Hanie

J'Marcus Webb AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMike Tice seemed to put J'Marcus Webb on notice after his performance wasn't "up to par" in the preseason opener against Denver.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears offensive tackle Chris Williams understands the precarious position he might be in, regardless of his first-round pedigree.

That’s why he can’t go into Saturday’s matchup against the Washington Redskins with the mentality that it’s just another preseason game.

“I’m not in that position,” Williams said. “Preseason is like a regular game for me. You go out there, you play hard, and you try and win a starting job.”

A candidate competing with third-year veteran J’Marcus Webb for the starting job at left tackle, Williams produced a solid performance in the club’s preseason-opening loss last week to the Denver Broncos, which earned him more repetitions from the coaching staff as it intensifies the evaluation process to nail down the starters as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeWilliams
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhChris Williams doesn't care where he start on the offensive line, he just wants to start.
Webb emerged early as the favorite to win the starting job, and still might be in that position. But Williams knows how he stacks up against Redskins pass rushers such as Brian Orakpo (9 sacks in 2011) and Ryan Kerrigan (7 sacks in 2011) could change the completion of the left-tackle competition.

After all, neither Webb nor Williams is excelling at camp.

Webb is coming off a performance last week that wasn’t “up to par as far as the standards we’re trying to set to protect our quarterbacks,” according to offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who also singled out Williams for having a “solid” outing.

“Not many of us performed the way we needed to last week,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “I assume we’re all going to do a good job this week, left tackle included.”

Williams isn’t reading too much into the team’s decision to give him more repetitions in recent days or the fact Tice wants to see him working against Washington’s starters. Williams just wants a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, regardless of where.

Webb could make that tougher for him, because he’s come on in recent practices, according to Tice.

“I don’t know if I would (classify) it as a second chance, but it’s a chance for me to go out and win a starting job, which I’ve been trying to do all along,” Williams said. “We’ve all got something to prove. I want to prove I can go out and block anyone, and block people consistently. There’s nothing extra there for me. I’ve been trying all camp to win a starting job. So I’m not going to do anything different.”

There’s a good chance the top performer at left tackle against the Redskins eventually wins the starting job, with the club looking to name its starting five up front as soon as possible so the offensive line can develop cohesion going into the regular season. Typically the third preseason game for teams is somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the regular season, with most teams sitting out starters during the final exhibition matchup.

So if either player is to make a move toward separating themselves as the clear cut starter, preseason Game No. 2 is the time to do it.

Here’s a look at a few matchups to watch Saturday when the Bears host the Redskins at Soldier Field:

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireMatt Forte will make his preseason debut on Saturday against the Redskins.
  • RB Matt Forte vs. LB London Fletcher: Without Forte, the Bears managed a paltry 36 rushing yards on 21 attempts last week versus Denver which averaged out to 1.7 yards per carry. A healthy Forte dropped into the mix should help the Bears ground game as the all-purpose tailback is set to see his first live game action (besides the 2012 Pro Bowl) since he injured his MCL last season in Week 13. Fletcher is a highly decorated linebacker entering his 15th NFL season who spent time in St. Louis early in his career with Bears coach Lovie Smith.

  • DE Shea McClellin vs. QB Robert Griffin III: McClellin had a decent preseason debut in front of the home fans last week as he recorded a sack against Denver quarterback Caleb Hanie. McClellin should have ample opportunities Saturday night to chase down RGIII, who is expected to play around 30-35 snaps. After a slow start to camp, McClellin is now working as an outside rusher in the Bears’ nickel package and will be on the field against Washington in obvious passing situations. Can the Bears’ first-round pick chase down the athletic Griffin -- the No. 2 overall pick and 2011 Heisman trophy winner -- like he did Hanie in the preseason opener?

  • QB Jay Cutler vs. CB DeAngelo Hall: Cutler helped punch Hall’s ticket to the 2010 Pro Bowl when the cornerback intercepted the Bears quarterback four times in a regular season game at Soldier Field. That game represented rock bottom for Cutler in a Bears uniform, but he has since rebounded and played above average football for the past year and a half. However, Cutler isn’t one to forget and would no doubt relish the chance to burn Hall on a deep pass down the field while the starters are still in the game.
  • Source: Hanie, Broncos agree to deal

    March, 24, 2012
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    5:57
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    CHICAGO -- Former Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos, according to a source familiar with the situation.

    Read the full story.

    Source: Hanie to visit Broncos

    March, 21, 2012
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    CHICAGO -- Free agent quarterback Caleb Hanie is scheduled to visit the Denver Broncos on Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation.

    Read the entire story.

    NFC North free-agency primer

    March, 8, 2012
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    AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

    Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

    Chicago Bears

    Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

    Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

    What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

    Detroit Lions

    Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

    Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

    What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

    Green Bay Packers

    Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

    Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

    What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

    Minnesota Vikings

    Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

    Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

    What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

    Bears look to improve backup QB spot

    March, 7, 2012
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    David GarrardScott A. Miller/US PresswireDavid Garrard said he'll be fully recovered from surgery by the end of March.

    The fervor of the local fan base concerning Chicago's potential pursuit of San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson hasn't pushed the organization's need to add a capable backup quarterback to the back burner.

    That became apparent when news surfaced of the team's plans to set free reserve Caleb Hanie in free agency. Given the team's tight-lipped stance recently regarding potential plans for free agency and the draft, its actions indicate a real desire to upgrade the talent behind starter Jay Cutler.

    "I just feel we'll be able to strengthen that position more than we were this past year," Bears coach Lovie Smith said last month at the NFL combine.

    That's certainly understandable given Chicago's tumble from 7-3 to 8-8 due largely to Cutler's fractured thumb, which cost the quarterback the final six games of the season, not to mention the Bears a shot at a second-straight appearance in the postseason.

    (Read full post)

    Backup quarterback on agenda for Bears

    February, 23, 2012
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    [+] EnlargeJosh McCown
    AP Photo/Jim MoneTwo solid performances last season should keep Josh McCown in the mix for a backup job with the Bears.
    INDIANAPOLIS -- With the Chicago Bears unable to win a game last year after Jay Cutler suffered his second serious injury in the past two seasons, coach Lovie Smith said Thursday the club plans to take a hard look at the No. 2 quarterback spot leading up to free agency and the NFL draft.

    Caleb Hanie and veteran Josh McCown are both unrestricted free agents, which leaves untested 2011 fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle as the only reserve quarterback on the roster.

    That will no doubt change.

    "First off, each year you learn something," Smith said. "We thought we had a better plan at the quarterback position. I knew how valuable Jay was to us. That won't change. But we do need to get ourselves in a better position at that backup quarterback position. So you start with that.

    "We have a lot of options out there. I think this is an attractive place for a quarterback. We're going to look at all people. And I'm talking Caleb, Josh and free agent quarterbacks out there. I just feel like we'll be able to strengthen that position more than we were this past year.'

    "I should have mentioned Nathan Enderle also. Nathan by being a rookie and not really being a factor last year, you tend to forget him sometimes. But he'll be a part of the mix also."

    McCown, however, might have the best shot to earn one of the backup roles after he turned in a pair of decent performances to wrap up the regular season. But the Bears would be wise to also explore other options, especially free agent Kyle Orton, who might welcome the opportunity to return to Chicago if he can't find work in the league as a starting quarterback.

    Offseason position outlook: Quarterback

    February, 6, 2012
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    Cutler/UmenyioraChris McGrath/Getty ImagesMike Tice's new offense figures to take advantage of Jay Cutler's ability to throw on the run.
    This is the first installment of a 10-part series that reviews every Bears position group on offense and defense, while also taking a quick look at potential free agent targets and the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.

    Jay Cutler flashed enough development through the first 10 games of the 2011 to merit inclusion into conversations about the NFL’s elite at the position. Then he suffered a fractured thumb that forced him to miss the final six contests, ruining what seemed to be a promising season.

    If anything, Cutler’s injury taught the Chicago Bears the value of keeping a capable No. 2 on standby, considering the team lost five of six down the stretch.

    With the team set for the future with Cutler at the helm as the starter, the Bears face a couple of interesting dilemmas this offseason with backups such as Josh McCown and Caleb Hanie set to go into unrestricted free agency.

    In addition, new general manager Phil Emery must also determine whether rising second-year player Nathan Enderle fits into the offense the team will utilize under new coordinator Mike Tice, while figuring out whether the quarterback possesses enough upside to warrant a roster spot for 2012 as a developmental prospect.

    THE CURRENT ROSTER


    Jay Cutler: Cutler averaged 229.1 yards passing, which ranks as the third-best single-season mark in franchise history, and his passer rating of 85.7 registered as seventh in franchise annals.

    Prior to Cutler’s thumb injury, the club ranked sixth in scoring (26.8 points per game), and it seemed the quarterback -- at the time of the injury -- was playing his best football as a Chicago Bear. There’s concern about how Cutler will perform in 2012 playing for his third offensive coordinator in four seasons.

    But Tice has been clear about his intentions of catering the offense to fit Cutler’s talents. So the transition should be smooth. Look for the new offense to feature the ability to audible, in addition to several plays with moving pockets to take advantage of Cutler’s mobility.

    [+] EnlargeCaleb Hanie
    Mike DiNovo/US PresswireFree agent Caleb Hanie would seem to have played his way out of Chicago, but he might be a better fit in Mike Tice's offense.
    Caleb Hanie: Following a promising showing in the 2010 NFC title game with a few shaky performances when given the opportunity to start in relief of Cutler. In four starts, Hanie tossed nine interceptions, and finished the season with a passer rating of 41.8.

    Those showings, coupled with the fact he’s a free agent might mean Hanie won’t remain with the team in 2012. But don’t be so fast to make that assumption. Hanie wasn’t an ideal fit for Mike Martz’s offense, but what Tice plans to implement actually caters to what the quarterback does well.

    The club likely won’t ever trust Hanie again as the No. 2. But there’s a small chance he sticks as the third quarterback.

    Josh McCown: Played well enough to warrant consideration as the No. 2 behind Cutler in 2012. But the club would be doing itself a disservice if it doesn’t bring in competition from outside for the job.

    McCown completed 63.6 percent of his passes in the three games he played (two starts), and showed plenty of poise in the pocket as well as an ability to make things happen with his legs when things break down. It’s likely the Bears will extend McCown an offer to return, but the club could have some competition from other teams based on the way the quarterback performed late in the season.

    Nathan Enderle: Inactive for 14 of the team’s 16 games, Enderle never received an opportunity to play even when Hanie struggled to fill in for Cutler because the coaching staff deemed the rookie unready.

    For a brief period during training camp, Enderle moved ahead of Hanie on the depth chart. But Enderle didn’t develop enough -- because of limited repetitions -- to become a realistic option as a backup.

    Handpicked by Martz because he possessed the traits to thrive in that pass-oriented system, Enderle may no longer be considered an ideal fit for what the Bears plan to do with Tice as the offensive coordinator.

    Bears free agents: Hanie, McCown

    POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS


    Kyle Orton, Kansas City Chiefs, unrestricted
    Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders, unrestricted
    David Garrard, unrestricted

    WHY GARRARD MIGHT MAKE SENSE


    Unlike Orton and Campbell, Garrard likely won’t be expensive, and he won’t enter a new situation looking to win the starting job. Besides that, Tice is familiar with Garrard from their time spent together with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Garrard, 34, has started 76 career games, with a career completion percentage of 61.6 and a passer rating of 85.8. A 10-year veteran, Garrard has thrown just 54 interceptions in 2,281 attempts. Physically, Garrard possesses many of the traits (strong arm, good mobility, and toughness) that would make him an ideal fit for Tice’s offense.

    Carr to Bears: Invest in proven backup QB

    February, 1, 2012
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    INDIANAPOLIS -- David Carr has some advice for the Chicago Bears: Spend money to sign a proven, veteran No. 2 quarterback in the offseason.

    [+] EnlargeShaun Ellis
    Elsa/Getty ImagesDavid Carr has played in 92 games in a 10-year NFL career, giving the Giants a veteran insurance policy for Eli Manning.
    Carr, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft by the Houston Texans, now spends his days as the primary insurance policy behind quarterback Eli Manning in New York. After a 10-year pro career that has also included stops in Carolina and San Francisco, Carr believes he knows what it takes to be a successful second-string quarterback in the NFL: experience and practice reps.

    "Look, I started almost 100 games (79), so I know what to expect when I go out on the field," Carr said Wednesday. "[Giants] coach [Tom] Coughlin has always been smart about keeping a veteran guy. Look at the situation the Cowboys got into a couple of years ago. Jon Kitna, now maybe his best days athletically were behind him, but it was like his 14th or 15th year. The guy knows what to expect. He's not seeing a defense on a Sunday that he hasn't seen before or already faced at some point in his career. There is a lot of value to veteran quarterbacks. Young guys are great to have, and great to develop, and that's where you find the talent to push on for the next decade. But when you are in a situation like that, it's better to have a guy who has been there before.

    "You look at it as an insurance policy. You want to have one that's sound and has been in that situation before. As nice and as fancy as it is to get a strong-armed quarterback who has tremendous upside, there is something to be said for the Jon Kitnas of the world. I think the coaches realize that, I think general managers realize that and they start to see that. Like I said, it's great to have the young guys in there and eventually they can be starters in this league, but in situations like what came up in Chicago, you have to have a guy ready."

    Being a reserve quarterback under former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz was tricky. Martz worked exclusively with starter Jay Cutler, virtually ignoring the other quarterbacks on the roster, until he was forced to watch tape with Caleb Hanie after Cutler broke his right thumb in November. Even then, Martz didn't have much time for Hanie outside of one private film session following Hanie's first start against Oakland. Further complicating matters was Martz's philosophy toward backup quarterbacks receiving legitimate practice reps.

    Basically, the backup never got meaningful practice reps outside of the bye week. That's a big problem, according to Carr.

    "Here as a backup it's a little bit easier just because, most of the time there is a real young guy taking the scout team reps or the defensive look reps, but coach Coughlin gives me every one of them," Carr said. "So I'm taking just as many snaps as Eli. Now, it's not the offense we are really running, but I try to translate it to our terminology. If I see the card, or see the play we are running, I try to switch it over to our language just so guys, who might play, who are in there with me will also get some reps.'

    "When I was in San Francisco, I got zero reps all year as a backup quarterback. It's a tough situation, especially when you are asked to go into a game or start a football game when you haven't had a snap in three or four months.

    "People can't imagine how hard that is."

    Paging Jason Licht: New England won't make pro personnel director Jason Licht available to the media during Super Bowl week even though Licht was a finalist for the Bears general manager job. Licht was a no-show Tuesday at Super Bowl XLVI media day at Lucas Oil Stadium, then on Wednesday, a Patriots media relations director said Licht will not be made available the entire week.

    Forte tops list of 14 Bears free agents

    January, 11, 2012
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    Matt ForteDennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireImpending free agent Matt Forte will either sign an extension or be franchised by the Bears.
    The Chicago Bears got a jump on their own 2012 free agent class when they signed center Roberto Garza, receiver Earl Bennett and offensive lineman Edwin Williams to contract extensions prior to the conclusion of the regular season.

    That leaves 14 players (unrestricted and restricted) set to come out of contract when the new league year and free agency begins at 3 p.m. CT on March 13.

    Kahlil Bell, RB, restricted: Bell made a strong push over the final three weeks of the season, rushing for a career-high 121 yards on 23 carries versus the Green Bay Packers on Christmas night. He also fumbled the ball three times in the final two games (he lost one), but overall did a respectable job filling in for the injured Matt Forte and Marion Barber. It's unknown if another team will sign Bell to an offer sheet (which the Bears would have the opportunity to match), so right now it appears as if the running back will be back in Chicago for 2012, probably as the No. 2 tailback behind Forte.

    Zack Bowman, CB, unrestricted: Bowman intercepted a team-high six passes in 2009 but never recovered after he lost his starting job early in 2010 to Tim Jennings. The 6-foot-1 defender seems better suited to play more man coverage, rather than in Lovie Smith's Cover 2, and would benefit from a fresh start somewhere else. His struggles versus Green Bay near the end of the regular season were grossly exaggerated. Bowman lined up in the required outside leverage technique the Bears were required to play in the red zone on two of those Packers touchdown receptions. Earlier that evening strong side linebacker Nick Roach was handcuffed the same way when Jermichael Finley ran a quick slant into the end zone. The Bears actually changed their red zone defense the following week at Minnesota to take away those quick slants. But by that point, the damage to Bowman's reputation had already been done.

    Kellen Davis, TE, unrestricted: A good run blocker, a below average pass blocker and an average pass catcher who managed to haul in five touchdowns. The Bears got rid of Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, in part, to allow Davis to flourish in the starting role. It never really happened. The best overall blocking tight end on the roster is Matt Spaeth, so if the Bears want to bring in a better receiving tight end, where does that leave Davis? But Davis is an excellent athlete and former draft choice, which helps his chances of sticking around.

    Matt Forte, RB, unrestricted: Forte sounds as if he expects the Bears to stick him with the franchise tag. But the hope is both parties once again attempt to hammer out a long-term deal in the offseason. Forte bet on himself this season and made his first Pro Bowl. He's one of the top all-purpose rushers in the league, and with the Bears committed to running the ball more in 2012, Forte will continue to be a vital part of the offense. Surely given the importance of Forte to the franchise, the two sides can somehow find a way to reach some common ground. If not, it could be an ugly summer.

    Corey Graham, CB, unrestricted: Graham tested the market last year and returned to the Bears. He will no doubt do the same this offseason, as the Pro Bowl special teams standout looks for a spot where he can contribute on defense. But money talks. The Bears better plan to make Graham a sweet offer if they expect him to come back. He displayed an ability to make impact plays during his stint at nickel back, and was supposed to play some safety Christmas night and defend Finley, but the Bears pulled the plug on the idea the Friday before the game. That probably doesn't help the situation from the Bears' standpoint.

    Caleb Hanie, QB, unrestricted: Hanie is another player who could probably use a change of scenery after going 0-4 in place of the injured Jay Cutler. Perhaps the quarterback can find the right system that highlights his skills as a runner and on-the-move playmaker. But the first step is making sure to find a spot on somebody's training camp roster and then let the chips fall as they may.

    Israel Idonije, DE, unrestricted: Although the Bears need to upgrade at defensive end, Idonije is a relatively productive player whom the Bears should make an attempt to re-sign and keep in the mix. There is nothing wrong with having a 5-8 sack a year guy in the rotation. Idonije is well-liked, plays hard and does a lot of good work in the community. Unless the Bears plan to completely overhaul the position (minus Julius Peppers, of course) then Idonije has a fairly good shot of signing yet another contract with the Bears.

    Tim Jennings, CB, unrestricted: Jennings is looking for a significant raise from the $1.9 million base he earned in 2011. Keep that in mind. The Bears probably are looking to pay much more, but Jennings is a good player, especially in this scheme. Sure, he lacks height and drops way too many interceptions. But Jennings solidified one of the cornerback spots the last two years and is an aggressive tackler. For those reasons, the Bears might be inclined to make Jennings an offer. Whether the cornerback deems the offer acceptable is another story.

    Amobi Okoye, DT, unrestricted: Okoye showed enough flashes to warrant another one- or two-year deal at moderate pay. He's still young and might be even better next year after a full offseason of working with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But the Bears will need more than four sacks from Okoye next season.

    Chris Massey, LS, unrestricted: Massey walked into a tough spot after Patrick Mannelly was lost for the year due to a torn ACL. He did OK. He didn't botch any snaps. But There won't be a need for Massey if Mannelly is 100 percent by the start of training camp, but it would be wise for the Bears to hang on to the veteran's phone number just in case.

    Josh McCown, QB, unrestricted: McCown did enough in the final two games of the year to receive another one-year deal. He should enter training camp as the team's No. 3 quarterback, at the very least. He made the most of the opportunities given to him and should be commended. A good guy who fits in well inside the Bears locker room.

    Brandon Meriweather, S, unrestricted: The former Patriot was an expensive mistake to the tune of $3.25 million total this season. The coaches don't seem to trust him. Unless something drastically changes between now and March, Meriweather's odds of returning for a second season in Chicago appear to be remote.

    Craig Steltz, S, unrestricted: One of the pleasant surprises of the second half of the season. Despite being buried on the bench for much of the season, Steltz finished with 48 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one sacks and was fourth on the team with 12 special teams stops. Steltz would like to remain in Chicago. The Bears should honor that request and give him a new deal. He earned it.

    Roy Williams, WR, unrestricted: The mere notion Williams feels he "did enough" or "made enough plays" when the team failed to make the playoffs is insulting. The only real chemistry Williams showed was with McCown late in the year. News flash: Jay Cutler is going to be the Bears starting quarterback in 2012, not McCown. Williams isn't horrible, but he's not good enough to be guaranteed a roster spot or playing time. The Bears tried that last year and it backfired.

    Four Downs: Was McCown better option?

    December, 28, 2011
    12/28/11
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    McCownJeff Hanisch/US PresswireJosh McCown completed 68 percent of his passes for 242 yards against the Packers on Sunday.
    Josh McCown couldn't deliver a victory against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but he gave the Bears the spark Caleb Hanie couldn't deliver in four starts. With the benefit of hindsight, should the Bears have started the veteran McCown sooner? And if they did would we be talking about a playoff return for Jay Cutler right now?

    Our Four Downs panel weighs in on that and more:

    First Down

    Fact or Fiction: The Bears would have won at least two games with McCown starting after Cutler’s injury.


    Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. That’s impossible to say for sure. How can we know if McCown would have been ready to start before the Packers game? He was coaching high school football until late November. Plus, McCown did not fare well in practice prior to the week of the Packers game, so I don’t blame the coaching staff for sticking with Caleb Hanie until Sunday. If McCown would have played the kind of football he did against Green Bay in those contests versus Kansas City or Denver, then sure, the Bears win. But there is no guarantee it would have happened.

    Josh McCown
    Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesJosh McCown needed some time to get back up to speed in the NFL when he signed with the Bears in November.

    Michael C. Wright: Fiction. If you saw McCown shortly after his arrival with the Bears, you would have wondered what he was doing on an NFL roster. It looked that bad at practice, and several players confirmed McCown had been struggling. So I won't question the coaching staff's timing as to when they decided to make McCown the guy. It took McCown some time to get acclimated to playing in the NFL again, and reacquainted with Mike Martz's scheme. Had the Bears gone with McCown sooner, the results would likely have been as disastrous as what we all saw with Hanie under center.

    Melissa Isaacson Fiction. Hate these questions! Yes, I said with Donovan McNabb they could have won one or more but wasn’t willing to go any further than one. So am I willing to say McCown would have led the Bears to two victories against the Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos or Seahawks? In the final analysis, it’s not all on the quarterback, which we saw clearly against the Packers. So no, the Bears needed and need more.

    Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There’s something about a backup performing at a mediocre clip that turns Chicagoans into dreamers. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have been better than Hanie, but it’s not like McCown lit the world on fire against Green Bay. He just wasn’t awful. Maybe the Bears win a couple games with him, but I’m not convinced.


    Second Down

    Fact or Fiction: The blame for another season missing the playoffs falls more on the front office than the coaching staff.


    Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Teams win as an organization, and they lose as an organization. It’s just like blaming Hanie for the Bears failing to miss the playoffs. It’s not just the responsibility of one player, one coach or one front office member. Everybody needs to do their job better in 2012, from the top on down. The front office needs to sign and draft better players, the coaches need to put the players in a better situation to win and the players need to execute better. Blaming just one aspect of the organization is the easy way out. The Bears need to show significant improvement on all fronts. Otherwise, the club will be forced to make radical changes after the 2012 campaign.

    [+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
    Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIBears general manager Jerry Angelo's biggest mistake might have been counting on Caleb Hanie as a capable backup for Jay Cutler.

    Michael C. Wright: Fact. The injuries definitely don't fall on the coaching staff. But the ability to evaluate and acquire quality replacements is the responsibility of the front office, which failed on that front with the backup quarterback situation. The front office seemed to be so hung up on acquiring a player with knowledge and experience in Martz's offense that it reduced the talent pool of potential quarterbacks. You could also look at the contributions of the team's free agent acquisitions in assessing the job done by the front office.

    Melissa Isaacson: Fact. Though it's not all on the quarterback, GM Jerry Angelo and his staff simply did not leave the Bears with an adequate backup plan. And they did Jay Cutler no favors with a sub-par receiving corps and offensive line, which was painfully obvious after he was sidelined. The coaching staff is certainly not blameless (someone should have reminded Marion Barber to stay inbounds, for example) but the front office is ultimately where the buck stops.

    Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the blame should be equally dispersed between the two camps. The front office deserves blame for not improving the offensive line and adding a better wide receiver. The coaches deserve blame for not adequately preparing a game plan to put Hanie in the right situations. And if Hanie wasn’t capable of running an NFL team, then the coaches should have made sure Angelo understood that.


    Third Down

    Fact or Fiction: Kahlil Bell has shown enough to be the No. 2 running back in 2012.


    Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Bell plays like a winner. He runs hard, shows good vision and can help out on special teams. He is far more valuable than injury-prone Marion Barber. I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel entering the season with Barber as the No. 1 in the event Matt Forte is traded or holds out, but as a complement to Forte, Bell is ideal. Another good game Sunday versus the Vikings will no doubt hammer home the point to any Bears fans still on the fence.

    [+] EnlargeKahlill Bell
    AP Photo/Mike RoemerBears running back Kahlil Bell made the most of his opportunity on Sunday.

    Michael C. Wright: Fact. In two starts Bell has performed with significant workloads. But what's also promising is the fact he's so similar to Forte in terms of what he brings to the offense. Like Forte, Bell can be somewhat of a slasher who can also contribute as a threat in the passing game. Bell has also shown he can be an inside runner that can move the pile in short-yardage situations.

    Melissa Isaacson: Fiction. Love what Bell has shown so far, but have we not learned enough about backups in meaningful positions to at least have some healthy competition in training camp? Yes, Bell has looked promising and it will be fun to see him in another starting role against the Vikings, but don’t get too carried away with his 121 yards (on 23 carries) against the Packers either as the Bears media guide is full of guys like Brock Forsey, who in 2003 rushed for 134 yards (on 27 carries).

    Jon Greenberg: Fact. Bell is fast and Bell is hungry. He could be a No. 1 back in the right system (think Denver during Mike Shanahan’s run), and he easily could be a factor for the Bears next season. And I guarantee you this, Bell will talk to the media after the game.


    Fourth Down

    Fact or Fiction: Barber and Roy Williams won’t be back in 2012.


    Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Williams is gone. Let’s move the drill. But I can’t totally write off Barber until I know what is going on with Forte. Barber performed at a decent level before the meltdown in the Mile High City, and even in that game he rushed for 108 yards. If Forte gets a new deal, I immediately kick Barber to the curb and draft another running back or perhaps take a closer look at Armando Allen. However, as long as Forte is hanging in limbo, I probably keep Barber and his $1.9 million base salary in 2012.

    [+] EnlargeMarion Barber
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWith another year on his deal, Marion Barber might be needed insurance against a Matt Forte holdout.

    Michael C. Wright: Fiction. My head tells me both won't be back, but my gut says the Bears may try to re-sign Williams as insurance. Williams played his best game as a Bear against the Packers, and really he's been a fairly decent third-down receiver. If the Bears decide to totally revamp the receiving corps, I don't think Williams will be back. But my guess is the Bears won't be willing to spend the money it takes to do that. So if the club adds one or two more receiving threats, it might be a good idea to keep Williams if the front office can get him to agree to a veteran minimum type of deal. As for Barber, I think Bears coach Lovie Smith pretty much said good-bye to him on Monday without actually saying it. He's missed too much time because of injuries, cost the team two games with bone-headed plays, and has been outplayed by Bell, who will wind up being a cheaper option for the team.

    Melissa Isaacson: Fact. If Williams is back, then the entire front office needs to go, and I’d be a little worried about Angelo. Williams is an easy call as he was a relatively small ($1.5 million), one-year investment and the experiment obviously did not pay off. As for Barber, the Bears owe him approximately $2 million next season and the Bears will be in for a $2.875 million cap hit. But the injury-riddled Barber has missed four games with a bad calf and had as many negative moments as positives (with the mental gaffes against Kansas City and Denver enough to get a lot of players cut on the spot). There’s not a Bears fan around who wouldn’t say that it’s worth it to eat the $2 million and get rid of two more ex-Cowboys in one fell swoop.

    Jon Greenberg: Fact. I don’t see any reason to bring both back. Mental gaffes aside, Barber has been solid, but I think Bell can back up Forte. Williams, a great postgame quote, hasn’t done much to elicit a return. I think the Bears can finish 8-8 without these two. And why wasn’t Sam Hurd included in this question?

    Sources: McCown may start against Packers

    December, 20, 2011
    12/20/11
    3:08
    PM ET
    The Chicago Bears are giving recently acquired quarterback Josh McCown a chance to win the starting job against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, according to multiple sources.

    Read the entire story.

    Streaking/Slumping: Week 15

    December, 20, 2011
    12/20/11
    2:46
    PM ET
    Bell-BarberUS PresswireKahlil Bell became more of a focal point of the beleaguered Bears' offense at Marion Barber's expense.

    STREAKING


    Streaking
    Julius Peppers
    1. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers dropped Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson and stripped him to post his 10th sack of the season. Peppers has now recorded double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his 10-year NFL career. In two seasons with the Bears, Peppers has tallied 18 sacks, which is the most in a two-year span by a Bear since linebacker Rosevelt Colvin (21 sacks in 2001-02).

    Streaking
    Steltz
    2. Craig Steltz, S: Steltz led the team in tackles, recording eight, according to statistics distributed in the press box. Filling in for Major Wright, Steltz has been a steadying influence on the back end, which is somewhat uncommon considering he’s a backup. Steltz is in the final year of his original rookie contract, and is set to become a free agent after the season so the team will have to make a decision on whether to bring Steltz back. If the Bears are wise, they pull the trigger on that transaction.

    Streaking
    Kahill Bell
    3. Kahlil Bell, RB: The No. 3 running back, Bell became more of a focal point of the offense when Matt Forte suffered the MCL sprain against the Kansas City Chiefs. What’s interesting about Bell is he’s delivered every time the team has increased his workload. So maybe he deserves a promotion to the No. 2 role. After all, this team is paying Marion Barber $1.9 million in base salary in 2012 to back up Forte. Maybe that money should be spent elsewhere.

    SLUMPING


    Slumping
    Caleb Hanie
    1. Caleb Hanie, QB: Hanie has thrown nine interceptions in four starts, and watched the Seahawks return two picks for touchdowns. What’s worse is he’s completed 50 percent or worse in three starts while generating passer ratings of 56.9, 23.8, 79.9 and 33.3. For a little perspective, consider the fact that quarterback Jay Cutler threw just seven interceptions despite starting in more than twice the games that Hanie has started.

    Slumping
    Marion Barber
    2. Marion Barber, RB: Barber followed up a 108-yard performance against the Broncos with a 33-yard dud in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It’s bad enough he’s made mistakes that have cost the Bears two consecutive games. But Barber averaged just 3 yards per carry against the Seahawks and his longest run was a 6-yard gain. That’s not sufficient production considering the team needs to lean on the ground game to take pressure off its struggling quarterback.

    Slumping
    Jerry Angelo
    3. Jerry Angelo, GM: The general manager deserves to take some heat for the way things have unfolded for this team in a couple of areas. Despite Cutler showing that he could go down with an injury in the NFC title game last season, Angelo miscalculated the value of adding a legitimate No. 2 quarterback to the roster. The team’s logic was that none of the available signal callers were familiar with the scheme of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. If that’s truly the case, maybe it points to another issue: that Angelo brought in the wrong offensive coordinator because an offense shouldn’t be so difficult that it limits the talent pool at such a crucial position.

    Lovie won't commit to QB vs. Packers

    December, 19, 2011
    12/19/11
    1:48
    PM ET
    LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith called Caleb Hanie "our starting quarterback" on Monday, but just as quickly revealed a decision hasn't been made regarding the position, leaving ambiguity as to the team's plans for Sunday's matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

    Read the entire story.

    Chronicling a collapse: How Bears got here

    December, 19, 2011
    12/19/11
    10:41
    AM ET
    Four straight losses have sunk the Chicago Bears to playoff long shots at 7-7. Here is a timeline of how they got here:

    Jay Cutler
    AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

    1. CUTLER BREAKS THUMB


  • Nov. 20 at Soldier Field: Attempting to make a tackle after throwing an interception to San Diego Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason, in part because Johnny Knox slipped on the route, Cutler suffered a Bennett’s fracture in his right thumb that requires surgical repair in Vail, Colo. Cutler’s injury thrusts Caleb Hanie into the starting lineup. The team hasn’t won a game in the four weeks Cutler has been out of the lineup.

    Caleb Hanie
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2. HANIE'S ROUGH FIRST START


  • Nov. 27 at Oakland Coliseum: Hanie tossed two interceptions in the first quarter, and the Bears' first five drives resulted in two turnovers and three three-and-outs. After the slow start, Hanie hit Knox for a 29-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-6 lead toward the end of the first half. But Hanie’s third pick of the game led to another Oakland score. Hanie put on a promising performance, passing for 254 yards and two TDs in the loss.

    Matt Forte
    AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

    3. FORTE INJURES KNEE


  • Dec. 4 at Soldier Field: Making a cut on an weak-side run in the first quarter, running back Matt Forte was slammed in the knee by Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson. The hit resulted in Forte leaving the game after just five carries with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Forte hasn’t played since, and says he doesn’t expect be back for the rest of the season.

    Tyler Palko
    AP Photo/Charles Krupa

    4. PALKO HAIL MARY


  • Dec. 4 at Soldier Field: In the same game Forte was injured, Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko threw his first career touchdown pass on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Waiting in the end zone for the pass, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher attempted to knock the ball down, but safety Chris Conte knocked it right into the hands of Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster. That pass was the game’s only TD. The Bears eventually lost 10-3.

    Marion Barber
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    5. BARBER GAFFE NO. 1


  • Dec. 11 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High: With the Bears leading 10-7 and the Denver Broncos out of timeouts, Barber ran out of bounds to stop the clock with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter. The mistake gave Denver extra time to mount a comeback and tie the game 10-10 at the end of regulation. Even Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow said, “I might have thanked the Lord” when Barber made that mistake.

    Marion Barber
    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    6. BARBER GAFFE NO. 2


  • Dec. 11 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High: In overtime of the same game, Barber fumbled just five plays into Chicago’s possession, and that led to the Broncos hitting a 51-yard field goal with 8:34 left in OT for the victory.

    Sam Hurd
    AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

    7. SAM HURD ARREST


  • Dec. 14 at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Rosemont, Ill.: Undercover officers arrest Hurd on federal drug charges. Authorities say Hurd allegedly attempted to purchase cocaine and marijuana in North Texas. The arrest sparks national conversation and a firestorm of controversy at the team’s training facilities in Lake Forest. Many of Hurd’s teammates are shocked by the arrest. Clearly the spectacle of the arrest led unwanted distractions.

    Johnny Knox
    AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

    7. KNOX INJURY


  • Sunday at Soldier Field: Just three plays into Chicago’s second possession on Sunday, Knox caught a 17-yard pass from Hanie on a slant route and fumbled. In the scramble for the loose ball, Knox was clocked by Anthony Hargrove in a collision that caused the receiver’s body to jolt backwards violently. The hit led to Knox suffering a lower back injury that will require surgery. Knox became the team’s fifth offensive starter to go down with a significant injury.
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