Chicago Bears: Corey Graham

Emery calls Tillman 'ongoing process'

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery offered no update on the team's chances of re-signing veteran cornerback Charles Tillman when he spoke with the Chicago media on a conference call on Thursday.

"No different than yesterday," Emery said. "It's an ongoing process."

Tillman
Tillman, 33, traveled to Tampa Bay for a visit with Bucs coach (and former Bears coach) Lovie Smith on Wednesday, but is believed to have left the building without a contract.

The Bucs released pricey veteran Darrelle Revis but signed Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner to a four-year, $25.5 million contract with $14 million guaranteed.

Tillman earned $8 million last season in the final year of his contract with the Bears but will be hard-pressed to find a similar market in free agency.

The Bears have made it seem that they want Tillman to return, although likely at a significantly reduced price.

Tillman started eight games for the Bears in 2013 until he landed on injured reserve (with the designation to return) due to a torn triceps muscle. However, Tillman never returned to action and finished the year with 52.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

Tillman is arguably the greatest defensive back in the Bears' history. Since he entered the league in 2003, Tillman is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions (36), tied for second in interception-return touchdowns (eight), second in forced fumbles (42) and tied for fifth in passes defended (132) .

If Tillman wants to continue to explore his options, he has a large network of contacts spread out throughout the league, including Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks in Carolina, Bob Babich in Jacksonville and Rod Marinelli in Dallas. The Washington Redskins remain in the market for a cornerback after missing out on former Bears special-teams standout Corey Graham, who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with Buffalo.

Mailbag: Wait on a Cutler conspiracy theory

November, 15, 2013
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Here are your questions from this week's mailbag:

1. Why are the Bears playing us for suckers? It was clear watching the game on Sunday that Jay Cutler re-injured the groin. But the team refuses to say it. My suspicion is that Cutler never hurt his ankle. I smell a cover-up. The Bears must do you a lot of favors. Why else would you advance their agenda on the Cutler (laugh) ankle sprain? – Dexter, Cleveland

Jeff Dickerson: Dexter, Cutler’s left leg is currently in a cast from the knee down. The use of a cast is a common treatment to “calm down” high-ankle sprains that do not require a doctor to insert screws to stabilize the ankle joint. This conspiracy theory swirling around that Cutler never injured the ankle against the Detroit Lions is pure nonsense. The Bears, like every other NFL team, will on occasion hide injuries or downplay them, but the organization is not going to create a high-ankle sprain out of thin air. Cutler is technically listed as “week-to-week,” but given the serious nature of high-ankle sprains it could be several weeks until the quarterback returns. As for Cutler’s groin, I’m told he did not re-injure it last week; rather, he was experiencing normal discomfort in the region that any player would feel if he returned from a torn groin muscle in just three weeks. The only misinformation the Bears spread about Cutler’s groin was announcing that he was 100 percent prior to the Detroit game. He clearly was not at full strength. But what are the Bears supposed to do? Tell the Lions exactly where to attack Cutler? Spell out exactly what his limitations would be?




2. Jeff, do you foresee any changes on the offensive line after the year? – Mark Rudolph, Florida

Dickerson: Three of the five offensive-line spots are likely solidified for 2014 -- left tackle Jermon Bushrod, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. Maybe at some point the Bears contemplate moving Long to tackle and Mills inside to guard, but I believe it’s probably safe to pencil in both players for next season. Veteran center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the offseason, so the Bears will have to make a decision on those two spots. But I think Garza and Slauson have played well enough to merit new deals. Garza, 34, deserves a ton of credit for the season he’s having. The Bears seriously considered drafting a center to replace Garza, perhaps as early as this season, but that never materialized. Garza, a team captain, has been a tremendous leader in the locker room and a monster in the weight room. The 13-year veteran takes great pride in his craft, keeps himself in excellent shape and is moving well on the field. Taking all of that into consideration, I think the Bears would be wise to lock him up for another year or two.




3. Help me understand why the Bears passed on Ed Reed? Major Wright and Chris Conte are having awful seasons. How can Reed not help the defense? -- Jake, Wauconda, Ill.

Dickerson: The Bears never gave serious consideration to signing Reed, now a member of the New York Jets, after his release from the Houston Texans for two reasons: Reed’s age (35) and his rapid decline in performance. Those cannot be overlooked. Also, Reed probably didn’t fit the Bears’ current defensive scheme. Reed is a veteran of the 3-4 defense, not the Cover 2. This was never going to happen.




4. Hello Jeff, with all the problems on defense why did the Bears let Corey Graham go? From what I remember, he made a lot of plays whenever the Bears gave him a shot on defense. – Jennifer, Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Dickerson: Good memory, Jennifer. Graham always seemed to step up whenever the Bears called on him to contribute on defense, which wasn’t all that often under former coach Lovie Smith. Graham recorded 91 tackles in 2008 when he started much of the season at cornerback, and in 2011 he intercepted three passes when he stepped in at nickelback. But the Bears always seemed to value Graham more valuable on special teams. Graham’s special-teams prowess earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in his final season with the Bears, but he wanted a shot to contribute on defense. So he left Chicago after the 2011 season and signed a free-agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens, where he’s gone on to become a terrific nickelback. Graham won a Super Bowl last season, and is currently fourth on the Ravens with 48 tackles. Graham made the correct call to leave the Bears. In fact, he'd planned to sign with another team after the 2010 season, but the NFL lockout dramatically altered and abbreviated free agency that offseason, and so without the time to shop around his services, Graham reckoned his best option was to return to Chicago on a one-year deal.




5. I'm 77 years old and I can remember when we had Johnny Lujack, George Blanda, Ed Brown and Bobby Layne in camp. At least I think I remember. Guess who we released? This looks like the usual Bears team that is just good enough to lose. Hire cheap, pay cheap and this is what you get. Will I be alive to experience another 1985 Bears team? – Joe Petrucci, Floral Park, NY

Dickerson: Joe, keep the faith, my friend. The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement requires teams to spend money. The key is for teams to spend their money wisely and to draft well. While the Bears have quite a bit of work to do on defense in the offseason, the offense seems headed in the right direction. Marc Trestman certainly appears to be a capable head coach, and if the Bears can just hit on a couple of draft picks for the defense, the organization should be in decent shape. I wouldn’t rule out the Bears being contenders in the next couple of years, so long as they draft well on defense. I think they have the offense figured out. But their evaluation of defensive talent needs to improve.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub clarified Devin Hester's role on kickoff returns Wednesday in the wake of the club adding former Pro Bowl return man/wide receiver Eric Weems to the roster in free agency.

Weems signed a three-year contract with the Bears on March 14 after spending the previous five seasons in Atlanta where he posted consecutive 1,000-yard return seasons (2009,10) on kickoffs for the Falcons.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Hester will still be the Bears' go-to guy on kickoff returns.
"[Hester’s] still our No. 1 kickoff returner," Toub said. "So when we need a big one Devin is going to be in there. We have the luxury of having Eric Weems, so there will be times when we have them both back there. We'll kind of trick people as to who exactly is going to get the ball… we'll kind of move one guy up late. We'll also try to make them kick it away from Devin, maybe he can get the ball to Weems at times. There will also be times when just Weems is back there with a fullback. He's definitely a luxury for us. [Weems] can take it to the house, I mean he's scored touchdowns [on kickoff returns] and went to the Pro Bowl before.

"We're fortunate to have him."

Weems is expected to contribute in several phases of special teams, not just in the return game. Toub believes Weems can help replace 2011 Pro Bowl selection Corey Graham, who left the Bears in the offseason to sign with the Baltimore Ravens.

"That's the good thing about him; he's a good returner but he's also a good cover guy," Toub said. "He's here because he's a good cover guy. He's a No. 1 gunner. He's done a good job in that role.

"The other guy who's going to pick up a lot of slack is Blake Costanzo. He was a really good pickup for us. Those two guys were our No. 1 free agents on special teams and we got them both. They're both really good additions."

NFC North free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Chicago Bears

Key additions: Running back Michael Bush, linebacker/special teams Blake Costanzo, quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Brandon Marshall (trade), receiver Devin Thomas, receiver/returner Eric Weems.

Key losses: Running back Marion Barber (retired), cornerback Zack Bowman, cornerback Corey Graham.

Come on back: Lost in the shuffle of the Marshall trade were the return of three free agents who should play key roles in 2012. Tight end Kellen Davis figures to get an expanded role in offensive coordinator Mike Tice's scheme, especially as a receiver. Cornerback Tim Jennings should retain his starting role opposite Charles Tillman, with D.J. Moore in the nickel. And safety Craig Steltz will provide reliable depth at safety and will be one of the Bears' special teams leaders after the departure of Graham and Bowman.

What's next: There is no urgency yet, but the Bears will need to make peace with tailback Matt Forte at some point before the summer. Forte isn't happy that he's been made the Bears' franchise player and briefly lost his public composure when Bush signed a deal that guaranteed him about the same amount of money as the franchise tag will pay Forte. It's not a big deal if Forte skips the Bears' offseason program or even misses a few days of training camp, but the Bears will want to find a way to eliminate this issue by early August. Meanwhile, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears address their offensive line during the draft.

Detroit Lions

Key additions: Defensive end Everette Brown, cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

All in the family: With the exception of Wright, the Lions were able to retain the core of their 10-6 team. Among those who re-signed: Tackle Jeff Backus, safety Erik Coleman, defensive end Andre Fluellen, quarterback Shaun Hill and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And don't forget that receiver Calvin Johnson is locked up for perhaps the rest of his career. He signed a new eight-year contract worth $132 million.

What's next: The Lions appear interested in adding competition at safety, having hosted free agent O.J. Atogwe earlier this month. Adding a safety remains a possibility, if not through free agency, then probably through the draft. And while Backus is re-signed for two years, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions look for a long-term replacement in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Key additions: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

Shocker: The Packers usually do whatever it takes to keep their own players and avoid having to search the free-agent market for other the castoffs of other teams. They started off that way by re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract, but when they were unable to sign center Scott Wells, they quickly targeted veteran Jeff Saturday and made him their first starting-caliber free-agent signee in five years. General manager Ted Thompson also authorized the acquisition of Hargrove and the pursuit of Dave Tollefson.

What's next: It's not out of the question that the Packers will add a veteran pass-rusher, whether at defensive end or linebacker. Then they'll get back into their comfort zone and start preparing for the draft, where it's reasonable to think they'll use at least one of their 12 picks on a center while also continuing to pursue pass-rushers.

Minnesota Vikings

Key additions: Cornerback Zack Bowman, tight end John Carlson, running back Jerome Felton and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.

Key losses: Nose tackle Remi Ayodele (release), guards Anthony Herrera (release) and Steve Hutchinson (release), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (retire), running back Jerome Felton.

Methodical methodology: The Vikings made one big-money signing, bringing in Carlson as a new weapon for quarterback Christian Ponder, and otherwise have spent their offseason getting younger and signing complementary players. General manager Rick Spielman wants to end a cycle of seeking blue-chip players via free agency and instead count on the drafts for his difference-makers.

What's next: One way or the other, the Vikings need to find a deep threat for Ponder. The draft would seem the most likely place for that will happen. They are also midway through a rebuild of the secondary that could use at least one more cornerback and perhaps two safeties.

Bears' ST ace Graham leaves for Ravens

March, 23, 2012
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CHICAGO -- Free agent defensive back and special teams ace Corey Graham says he has agreed to terms with the Baltimore Ravens and is leaving the Chicago Bears.

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.

Offseason position outlook: Cornerbacks

February, 16, 2012
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Charles TillmanBob Donnan/US PresswireCharles Tillman made his first Pro Bowl in his ninth season with the Bears.
This is the ninth 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.

The Bears find themselves in the midst of conducting yet another search for a potential starter at cornerback opposite Charles Tillman, a nine-year veteran coming off his first Pro Bowl season.

The three most viable candidates -- Tim Jennings, Zack Bowman, and Corey Graham -- are all set to become unrestricted free agents, and there’s a strong possibility none will return to the club for 2012. Besides that, aside from Graham -- who never received much of an opportunity at corner, but played nickel -- Jennings and Bowman never emerged as potential long-term solutions at the position despite multiple opportunities.

Starting 28 games opposite Tillman, Jennings played well in 2010 and a good portion of 2011 before the team benched him in favor of Bowman late in the season. So it’s believed the team wants to explore the free-agent market or NFL draft for a potential starter at cornerback.

The Bears finished 28th last season against the pass, surrendering 354.1 yards per game but ranked in the top 10 (tied for sixth) with 20 interceptions. The cornerbacks contributed 12 of those picks, with nickel corner D.J. Moore intercepting four passes to lead the team, followed by Tillman and Graham with three apiece and Jennings -- who dropped several potential INTs -- with two.

Given Green Bay’s prowess in the passing game and the ascension of the Detroit Lions, led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, the Bears need to load up with the pass rush and coverage on the back end. Bears coach Lovie Smith said most of the team’s personnel decisions are based upon how players match up with division rivals.

“You mention a guy like [Calvin] Johnson ... I like big corners anyway to match up against some of those guys,” Smith said. “I definitely don’t think we need a complete overhaul by any means.”

Still the team -- given the likelihood of multiple free-agent departures -- needs to replenish some talent at cornerback.

THE CURRENT ROSTER


Charles Tillman: Scored two of the team’s six defensive touchdowns last season and played a significant role in the team ranking eighth in opponent passer rating (79.3). Tillman set a franchise record in 2011, by returning his fifth INT for a touchdown and also forced four fumbles on the way to being selected to his first Pro Bowl. With eight INTs since 2010, Tillman is tied with teammate D.J. Moore for the most picks in the NFL in that span. Smith said Tillman played the most disciplined football of his career in 2010, and only followed that up with a stronger 2011 campaign. Set to enter his 10th season, Tillman doesn’t appear to be declining.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireTim Jennings, who started 15 games last season, doesn't figure to be back with the Bears next season.
Tim Jennings: Tied for second on the team with eight pass breakups and started 15 of 16 games. Started the season with a 10-tackle effort in the opener, and played fairly well over the first 12 games. Towards the end of the season, Jennings’ play declined somewhat, leading to the club benching him for the Christmas matchup at Green Bay. An unrestricted free agent, Jennings will draw some interest on the open market for teams in search of a boundary corner. So his return to Chicago seems unlikely.

Zack Bowman: Started 12 games in 2009, and led the team with a career-high six INTs but lost a training camp battle with Jennings for the starting job in 2010. The team held high hopes that Bowman could bounce back and win back his job in 2011, but that never transpired. An unrestricted free agent, Bowman started one game in 2011 and finished the season with six tackles and one pass breakup. Because of his size (6-1, 196 pounds) and youth, Bowman should also generate some interest in free agency. A change of scenery might prove beneficial.

Corey Graham: One of the best special-teams performers in the league, Graham earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season by leading the team with 22 special-teams tackles. Graham is tied for third in the NFL since 2007 with 75 stops on special teams. But it appears the team has pigeonholed him in the role of a special teamer. So the unrestricted free agent will want a legitimate opportunity elsewhere to contribute on defense. Filling in for D.J. Moore at the nickel spot, Graham intercepted passes in three consecutive games from Nov. 13 to Nov. 27.

D.J. Moore: Led the team in interceptions (4) and tied for second in the team with eight pass breakups despite missing three games because of an ankle injury. Moore has now intercepted eight passes over the past two seasons and is pretty much cemented into that nickel corner role. Moore is set to enter the final year of his original rookie contract, and needs a strong 2012 to cash in.

Josh Moore: A fifth-round pick by the Bears in 2010, Moore played three games as a rookie but surprisingly was cut in September. The Bears brought Moore back to the practice squad in November, and former GM Jerry Angelo said the team never wanted to cut him. But the cornerback became a victim of the numbers game. Moore is actually one of the team’s best pure cover corners, but still needs to acclimate to the pro game to receive a real shot at making a contribution in 2012.

Bears free agents: Bowman, Graham, Jennings

POTENTIAL FREE-AGENT TARGETS


Brandon Carr, Kansas City Chiefs, unrestricted

Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons, unrestricted

Cortland Finnegan, Tennessee Titans, unrestricted

WHY CARR OR GRIMES MAKE SENSE


HawthorneNew general manager Phil Emery knows both Carr, pictured on the left, and Grimes extremely well, which makes them logical options. Emery played a role in bringing Grimes to Atlanta in 2006 as an undrafted free agent, and the GM spent time with Carr in Kansas City.

One potential problem with Grimes is his lack of size (5-10, 183 pounds). Smith prefers bigger corners. But Grimes has extensive experience playing in a system very similar to the one utilized by the Bears, and possesses one of the traits the team covets most: he’s aggressive in run support.

Carr (6-0, 207 pounds) is arguably the best corner available on the free-agent market. But his asking price will likely be way more than what the Bears would be willing to pay. Sure the team has plenty of room under the cap to bring aboard a high-priced player such as Carr. But the Bears typically don’t spend big money in free agency on corners. Besides that, Carr is considered more of a man corner; although it’s likely he wouldn’t have any problems playing in a more zone-oriented scheme.

While Carr or Grimes would make sense given their histories with Emery, don’t count out the Bears pushing hard to re-sign one of their own free agents such as Bowman or Tillman and adding to the position through the draft. The latter likely isn’t the team’s first choice, but could turn into Plan B depending on what transpires around the league.

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.

Pro Bowl honors bittersweet for Bears

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jubilant from news of being named to his first Pro Bowl, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman just as quickly morphed into crisis-control mode.

He’d just told his oldest daughter, Talya, of the pending trip to Hawaii that comes with being named to the league’s annual All-Star game. She wasn’t pleased.

“She was like, ‘I don’t want to go to Hawaii. They’ve got too many volcanoes; there’s hot lava out there,’” Tillman said, drawing laughter. “She saw something on one of these cartoon shows that had volcanoes. I kind of had to explain to her that it was a cartoon.”

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastCharles Tillman made two interceptons and forced three fumbles this season.
Humorous moments aside, though, Tillman and special-teams ace Corey Graham -- two of the club’s three first-time Pro Bowlers -- discussed on Wednesday how finally receiving their well-deserved recognition rings somewhat hollow, considering the Bears are currently 7-8 and out of the postseason for the fourth time in fifth years.

Tillman said the Pro Bowl is “something you should savor,” but “it definitely would’ve been nice to make the Pro Bowl -- slash -- play in some postseason games.” Graham said the team’s situation “takes away some of the joy,” adding that “if I can get us the opportunity to play in the playoffs, we’d rather have that than the Pro Bowl.”

Running back Matt Forte is the club's third first-time Pro Bowler, but was placed on the injured reserve on Tuesday, and had already gone home by the time the Bears held media availability in the locker room.

A ninth-year veteran, Tillman became the team’s first cornerback to make the Pro Bowl since 2005, after registering a career-high 107 tackles. The team’s leader in pass breakups (11), Tillman is also tied for the team high in forced fumbles (3), and fumble recoveries.

Tillman has also picked off two passes in 2011, returning one for a touchdown and leads all defensive backs in forced fumbles (27) since entering the NFL in 2003. Tillman’s 29 INTs rank him fourth overall in the NFL since 2003.

“It’s really not about recognition,” Tillman said. “I’m more thankful my peers and the coaches got me in, or voted me in. I don’t think it’s really about recognition, but I do recognize that they think I’m a good player. That means a lot. It makes me feel good.”

Tillman doesn’t consider this season to be the best of his career, but also doesn’t lament not making the Pro Bowl in previous years.

“I guess it just wasn’t my time. There were obviously other corners that were doing bigger and better things than me in the past,” Tillman said. “But everything happens for a reason. They called me this year. I got in. So I’m grateful for the honor.”

Bears coach Lovie Smith and special-teams coach Dave Toub singled out Graham last year for his play on special teams, but the fifth-year player didn’t receive the honor then. Graham leads the Bears with 20 special-teams tackles and is second in the league in that category (74 tackles) since entering the league in 2007.

Graham received the seemingly overdue news Tuesday from Toub.

“It’s very exciting to be honest with you. It’s something I’ve been striving for the last couple of years,” Graham said. “It’s good to finally make it and get a chance to play in it. Being here for Chicago, playing special teams, it means a lot, and we put a lot into it. It’s good to see it pay off. It’s like a dream come true for me.”

Tillman, Forte first-time Pro Bowlers

December, 27, 2011
12/27/11
6:33
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The Chicago Bears landed five players -- the most since the end of 2006 -- on the NFC Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, including three first timers in running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman and special teams ace Corey Graham, along with linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, who were named to the league's annual all-star game for the seventh, and eighth time, respectively.

The team's leading tackler (140 tackles), Briggs became the fourth linebacker in franchise history to receive seven consecutive Pro Bowl nods, and the team's ninth player to receive the honor seven times as a member of the organization.

Forte became the team's first running back to be named to the Pro Bowl since 1991 (Neal Anderson). Before sitting out the last three games because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee, Forte led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,487), ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards (997) and fourth among running backs in receiving (490 yards). Forte churned out a career-high 4.9-yard rushing average before the team made the decision Tuesday to place the running back on the injured reserve along with quarterback Jay Cutler.

In the final year of his original rookie contract, Forte seeks a long-term deal with the organization, but will likely receive the franchise designation.

A ninth-year veteran, Tillman's Pro Bowl invitation seems overdue. Tillman became the first Bears cornerback to receive Pro Bowl recognition since Nathan Vasher (2005) after posting a career-high 107 tackles. Tillman also leads the team in pass breakups (11), is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2). In addition, Tillman has intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown. The veteran cornerback leads all defensive backs with 27 forced fumbles since 2003, and his 29 interceptions tie him for ninth in the NFL overall over the last nine years.

Like Tillman, Graham was named to his first Pro Bowl. Graham generated buzz about possibly receiving the honor after a strong campaign on special teams in 2010. Graham leads the Bears with 20 special-teams tackles and ranks second since entering the NFL in 2007 with 74 stops on special teams. Graham contributes on five of the club's special-teams units, including punt and kick coverage, punt and kickoff returns and field-goal blocks). With Graham leading the way, the team's punt coverage unit allows just 5.4 yards per return, which ranks as No. 2 in the NFL.

Urlacher, meanwhile, became the sixth player in team history be be voted to eight Pro Bowls as a member of the organization. Urlacher ranks second on the team in tackles (125), and has tallied seven tackles for lost yardage. The linebacker is also tied for the team lead with three INTs, and has recovered two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown.

Interestingly, Briggs and Urlacher were the only linebackers from 4-3 schemes last year to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had been to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2008, 2009 and 2010) and six overall before missing the cut on the latest roster, despite leading the team with 10 sacks.

Return man Devin Hester -- a three-time Pro Bowler -- also wasn't named to the 2012 team. Hester returned two punt returns and a kickoff for touchdowns during an injury-mired 2011 campaign.

Streaking/Slumping: Week 13

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
11:41
AM ET
Julius Peppers & Anthony AdamsAP PhotosJulius Peppers continued his dominance against the Chiefs while Anthony Adams can't find his way back to the field.

STREAKING


Streaking
Graham
1. Corey Graham, CB: Filling in for the injured D.J. Moore, Graham generated three interceptions over four games, proving he’s more than just a special teams ace. Unfortunately, it appears Graham could be giving up his spot in the lineup to Moore, who should be set to return Sunday against the Denver Broncos. A five-year veteran, Graham is a free agent after the season and could be looking for an opportunity to contribute more on defense instead of solely special teams.

Streaking
Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: Week in and week out, Peppers puts on a showcase of elite athleticism with his strength and sideline-to-sideline speed. Fellow defensive end Israel Idonije said Peppers literally throws around opponents. Peppers has contributed three sacks in the last four games. Against the Chiefs, Peppers didn’t have any sacks, but was plenty disruptive. Peppers posted four tackles, including one for lost yardage and broke up a pass.

Streaking
Henry Melton
3. Henry Melton, DT: Melton came into Sunday’s game tied for fifth in the NFL among defensive tackles with five sacks. But he tacked onto that total against the Chiefs for six sacks on the season, which ranks as the most by a Bears defensive tackle since Tommie Harris notched eight in 2007. Melton experienced somewhat of a lull in production in October, but has tallied three sacks over the past four weeks.

SLUMPING


Slumping
Caleb Hanie
1. Caleb Hanie, QB: The team demonstrated faith in Hanie’s ability to lead this team to wins when Jay Cutler suffered the thumb injury that will keep him out indefinitely. But Hanie hasn’t proven the team right with his last two performances. Hanie has thrown six interceptions in two starts filling in for Cutler, with passer ratings of 56.9 and 23.8. The team continues to support Hanie, but his play definitely needs to improve for the Bears to get into the postseason.

Slumping
Louis
2. Lance Louis, RT: Louis certainly didn’t help Hanie’s cause by struggling against the Chiefs. Interestingly, Louis had been one of the offensive line’s most solid performers since becoming the starter at right tackle on Oct. 16. So Louis’ struggles against the Chiefs seem to be more of an aberration than the norm, and we expect him to bounce back against the Broncos.

Slumping
Anthony Adams
3. Anthony Adams, NT: Adams started all 16 games last season, but so far in 2011, he’s started in just four. In addition, he’s been inactive for three of the past five weeks as the team has preferred Matt Toeiana, Amobi Okoye, Melton and rookie Stephen Paea in the defensive tackle rotation. Bears coach Lovie Smith said earlier this season that Adams hadn’t been playing well. The veteran’s production may also be limited by back issues.

Graham: Contract won't affect Forte return

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Corey Graham does not believe Matt Forte's unresolved contract issue will affect the running back's timetable to return from a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

The reason: Forte played the entire season without a new deal and still compiled 1,487 yards from scrimmage.

Forte suffered a Grade 2 right MCL sprain during the Bears' 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

"I'm pretty sure, as everybody knows, Matt wants to play football," Bears nickel back/special teams ace Corey Graham said Monday. "He's been in tough situations this whole season. He wanted a contract and didn't get it, but he's still out there every week, battling through injuries and doing what he does. [So with] Matt, I'm pretty sure when he's healthy, he's going to come back. That's who he is. He's a football player, he's a competitor. He wants to play the game; he loves it. I'm sure when he's healthy he's going to come back.

"I can see what you are talking about when you talk about Matt's situation and his career down the line, but I don't think the doctors or our trainers would allow him to come back if he wasn't ready to go. I don't think Matt would think about more long term, if he's healthy and ready to play. I'm pretty sure he's going to play football."

Early indications point toward Forte being sidelined for close to a month. However, Forte has a track record of playing through pain that dates back to his injury-plagued second season in 2009 when he rushed for a career-low 929 yards on 3.6 yards per carry in 16 games.

One route Forte could go to speed up the recovery time is to use regenerative therapy in the form of Platelet Rich Plasma, or PRP injections. The shots are commonly used on athletes to speed up the body's normal healing process by injecting the patient's own blood, which contains a high concentration of platelets and growth factors, into the damaged ligament or tendons.

Golfer Tiger Woods had a PRP procedure performed a few years ago to alleviate discomfort in his surgically repaired knee.

But for at least the next few games, the Bears are expected to be without Forte, the offense's most consistent performer for much of the season.

"It's tough. Matt is an important part of our offense and of our team," Graham said. "We believe in what he can do so it's a tough loss for us, but we got to go out there and find a way to get it done. The next guy has to step up. You wouldn't be on this team if everybody didn't think you could play. When somebody goes down, it just means the next guy has to step up. Kahlil Bell, Marion Barber, they just have to go out there and find a way to get it done."

Graham's play could pay off in 2012

November, 30, 2011
11/30/11
3:52
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Corey Graham's sole focus is helping the Chicago Bears make the playoffs, either through his work on special teams, defense, or both. But to the casual observer, Graham could be in store for bigger and better things once the Bears' season wraps up.

[+] EnlargeCorey Graham
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Bears' Corey Graham has interceptions in each of the past three games.
Graham, a free agent last summer, explored his options on the open market before agreeing to a one-year deal to remain with the Bears in 2011. A potential Pro Bowler for his work on special teams, Graham has clearly stated the desire to one day expand his horizons and be a regular starter on defense somewhere in the NFL.

But since starting nine games at cornerback in 2008, Graham's opportunities on defense have been limited. It was that small body of work in the secondary which ultimately paved the way for Graham to return to Chicago a week into training camp. If teams weren't will to pay him starter money, he decided to come back to the Bears where he already had a carved out niche on special teams.

Graham continued his excellence on special teams -- he's second on the team with 13 tackles -- but received an unexpected shot to jump back into the defense when nickel back D.J. Moore missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury. Graham has thrived in the role and recorded three interceptions in the last three games.

According to Bears coach Lovie Smith, the defense "hasn't missed a beat" with Moore on the sidelines and Graham in the slot. With that kind of endorsement on file, not to mention the consistent flow of takeaways, it's quite possible teams will view Graham in a new light once free agency begins on March 13.

"I hope it helps," Graham said Wednesday. "That was the big thing when I talked to my agent and talked to a few teams [in free agency], they needed to see more recent film. I haven't had real defensive film since 2008. So I assume it's going to help, but I just have to go out there and make the best of the situation. Hope that I get another opportunity to go out there and play, and hope another team sees it, or even here. Maybe they like it and they give me an opportunity to play more on defense [moving forward].

"It can't hurt. Anyway you look at it, it can't hurt. When you get an opportunity, you got to make the most of it, and that's what I'm trying to do."

Graham new special teams captain

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
7:13
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CHICAGO -- With veteran long snapper Patrick Mannelly on injured reserve because of a torn ACL, the Chicago Bears have decided that potential Pro Bowler Corey Graham will replace Mannelly as the club's special teams captain.

Graham is tied with rookie linebacker Dom DeCicco for second on the team in special teams tackles with 12, two behind overall leader Brian Iwuh. Graham, who started Sunday at nickel in place of the banged up D.J. Moore, lead the Bears with a career-high 25 special teams stops in 2010.

A versatile member of the third phase, Graham plays on five of the six Bears special teams units (punt coverage, kickoff coverage, punt returns, kickoff returns and field goal blocks) and made a key contribution in the 31-20 win over San Diego when he downed an Adam Podlesh punt on the Chargers' 3-yard line.

The special teams standout has also picked off two passes in the last two weeks while at the nickel position.

Five Things We Learned: Bears-Chargers

November, 20, 2011
11/20/11
10:41
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CHICAGO -- Here are Five Things We Learned following the Bears' 31-20 victory over San Diego.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Hanie
AP Photo/David J. PhillipCaleb Hanie will get the chance to show what he can do with Jay Cutler out.
1. Caleb Hanie's time is here: The season is not over, Bears fans. With Jay Cutler expected to be out for at least the remainder of the regular season, per sources familiar with the situation, the reigns of the offense will be turned over to Hanie, who almost rallied the Bears past the Green Bay Packers last year in the NFC Championship Game. Hanie isn't Cutler, but there is no reason the Bears can't win enough games down the stretch the qualify for the playoffs. With a solid defense, excellent special teams, Matt Forte, an improving offensive line and receivers who are starting to make plays, the Bears need to simply tailor the game plan slightly to accentuate Hanie's strengths. Hanie is a mobile quarterback who does a good job making plays with his feet. As we saw in the postseason, Hanie already has a nice rapport with Bennett, and he threw a lot to Johnny Knox in the preseason since the wideout ran the bulk of his reps with the second team. Don't expect Hanie to be Cutler, but he can still be a successful quarterback if the Bears put him in the proper position to excel.

2. The picture at wide receiver has become clear: Devin Hester is the greatest return man in history and a major contributor to the club's overall success. But after being used strictly in the return game against Detroit, Hester wasn't targeted once in the win against San Diego. It seems Earl Bennett, Knox and even Roy Williams (five catches for 62 yards) have staked their claims to the starting reps at receiver, which seems appropriate given how the three performed on Sunday at Soldier Field. This should allow the Bears, even under Hanie, to be selective with how they use Hester on offense. Don't look at this development in a negative light. Hester can still be a weapon for Mike Martz, but he might be more effective in spot duty. Let Hester concentrate on special teams while at the same time throwing him a few bones every week at wideout. People have been clamoring for this for years, but if this past week is any indication, it could be the new reality for Hester on offense. It's no slight on Hester, but he wins games on special teams, normally not on offense.

3. Bears secondary is eight deep: When D.J. Moore returns from an ankle injury, Lovie Smith will have eight experienced defensive backs at his disposal as the Bears make a push toward the playoffs. Reserve safety Brandon Meriweather played a much more disciplined brand of football when he came off the bench for a few series on Sunday, and made three solid tackles. Corey Graham filled in nicely for D.J. Moore at nickel and Zack Bowman pitched in when the defense shifted to its "TANK" personnel to better match up with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. Meanwhile, Chris Conte and Major Wright continue to bring stability to the safety position, with Wright forcing a turnover in each of the past three games, which is the lifeblood of Smith's defense. Even though Tillman had a rough time guarding Jackson, the overall performance of the starting corners this year has been well above average, and getting Moore back in the fold sometime in near future will only strengthen the group. What looked like a weakness early in the year, has become the backbone of the Bears' defense.

4. Graham can play defense: We all know Graham is on track to earn a Pro Bowl berth on special teams, but the Bears never seemed to believe he could contribute much on defense. Well, after intercepting a pass in each of the past two games while stepping in at the complicated nickel back position, Graham, who signed only a one-year contract at the start of training camp, is showing the rest of the league he should be given a chance to compete for a starting job on defense somewhere next season. Whenever Graham has been afforded the opportunity to be more than just a special teamer, he's responded. He did a nice job starting nine games at cornerback in 2008, but for whatever reason, he's never really been in the mix the past two and half years. But Graham is making a strong case to be more involved in the game plan, even when Moore returns to field.

5. Perhaps the Bears should pursue Jackson in free agency: Wow. What a performance by Vincent Jackson, who hauled in seven passes for 165 and repeatedly got the better of Charles Tillman. Jackson turns 29 in January and appears to have plenty left in the tank. I know it's going to cost a ton of money, but a 6-foot-5 threat who has already posted a pair of 1,000 yard seasons and has four 100-yard games in 2011 is worth the big contract. Drop Jackson in with Bennett and Knox and let the good times roll. The Bears have a history of signing free agents who played well against them the year before. They need to continue that tradition and snare Jackson once he hits the open market in the offseason.

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