Chicago Bears: Hunter Hillenmeyer
Former Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent, along with former Bears Hunter Hillenmeyer and Brendon Ayanbadejo, wrote that the "Illinois General Assembly should act now and give same-sex couples the freedom to marry."
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Seau, a 43-year-old former All-Pro linebacker, was found unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest by his girlfriend Wednesday but lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. Police were investigating the possibility that Seau's death was a suicide.
“The first way I heard about it was just a text that said, ‘That’s crazy about Seau,’” Hillenmeyer told ESPN 1000’s “Chicago’s GameNight” on Wednesday. “And what, to me, the scariest thing is that that was all I knew before I checked Twitter or tried to figure out what happened, and I already assumed exactly what it was. I don’t know him personally. I was obviously a big fan of his and the way he played the game.”
CHICAGO -- Hunter Hillenmeyer’s professional football career might be winding down, but the former Chicago Bears linebacker remains plugged-in to the ongoing NFL labor dispute.
The team’s former player representative -- a role currently held by kicker Robbie Gould -- Hillenmeyer landed on injured reserve Sept. 14, 2010 due to a concussion and because players on IR tend not to be around the facility every day, Hillenmeyer pushed for the Bears to elect a new player rep (Gould). Hillenmeyer continued to serve as an alternate representative, and even though the Bears released the veteran on Feb. 28, he continues to help Gould provide lockout updates to members of the Bears roster.
“It’s tricky because there is definitely progress, but you have to know the starting points to know exactly where that progress has gotten to,” Hillenmeyer told ESPNChicago.com on Tuesday. “In our most recent conference calls, one of our key things that DeMaurice Smith was trying to communicate to the player reps was ‘listen, people in the media outlets have to have some news, people want to know what’s going on, so they’re probably going to lean towards making more out of the day-to-day than there really is.’ DeMaurice message was that a deal is not imminent and it’s dangerous for players to think that because if guys go spending money like they think there is going to be a paycheck coming on the date of the first game, that’s a dangerous mindset for players to have.
“While we are certainly optimistic that it gets done way before that, and we can have a normal preseason and a normal regular season, players have got to prepare for the worst. That’s a daunting thing but an important message to communicate. I’ll tip my hat to Robbie on this one, because he did something that was absolutely necessary and put our entire team on the same e-mail chain. That’s always an easy way to communicate and something we had never done in the past. Robbie and I, every time we have a conference call or we get information from Smith or any of the players on the executive committee, we’ll pass that along or give the highlights to the other players. Some guys take a really active interest. There are really a couple of guys on the Bears who e-mail or text me bi-weekly, and then there are other guys who just want it to get done, just like the fans.”
A versatile linebacker who started 69 regular-season games and posted a pair of 100-plus tackle seasons for the Bears from 2003-09, Hillenmeyer, originally selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth-round of the 2003 NFL draft, is unsure whether to continue playing after suffering a concussion playing special teams against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 of the 2010 regular season.
“I’m still figuring that out, but I’ve obviously had the benefit of time on my side. It’s crazy to me does start, there are 500-600 free agents out there who are trying to figure out, not just what their contract is going to look like, but what team they’re going to be playing for,” Hillenmeyer said. “You’re going to have a period where it’s bedlam whenever it gets worked out, where general managers and agents are literally not going to be able to sleep for weeks because they’re going to have to figure out where everybody is going to land.
“I’m still weighing that decision because there are a lot of factors…doctors opinions and things like that are weighing into my decision. I love football. I really do wish I could play another four to five years, but I’m still in the information gathering stage trying to figure out what is the best thing is for me to do.”
Hillenmeyer remains heavily involved in teaching proper player safety and will host a free football camp at Northwestern University on Saturday, July 9 from 9 am to 2 pm. The proceeds from the camp, for players in grades 8-12, will benefit Gridiron Alliance, which helps athletes who have suffered spinal cord injuries playing high school football. The camp will feature position-specific training and combine style testing stations. Visit positionclinic.com for registration details.
Bears coach Lovie Smith predicts an infusion of youth at the position through the upcoming draft or free agency.
"This year, when you look, we don’t have a lot of linebackers signed," Smith said. "We’re gonna have to bring somebody in. But I like the play that we’ve gotten from our backups. Our backups have really stepped up."
Whether they’ve done so sufficiently remains in question with the team looking ahead to the April draft and free agency once the lockout comes to conclusion. In addition to adding youth at the position, the club needs to determine how to fill the remaining starting role at strong side linebacker alongside Urlacher and Briggs.
At this point, the only candidate currently under contract with any real experience is Nick Roach, a rising fifth-year player, who started in six games and contributed 11 tackles.
"It’s hard for me to talk about some of those [other] players when we only have a couple of guys really signed right now," Smith said. "Just talking about last year, Nick Roach has started a long time for us. Nick, Pisa [Tinoisamoa], all those guys have started. Brian Iwuh, when he filled in for Lance Briggs, [he] played well; would’ve gotten the game ball if we had beaten Seattle [on Oct. 17]."
The problem right now, though, is Tinoisamoa and Iwuh aren’t under contract. An unrestricted free agent, Tinoisamoa missed all or parts of seven games in 2010 and wants to return in 2011, but acknowledged his injury history as a potential hindrance to striking a new deal with the Bears.
Tinoisiamoa posted 51 tackles last season, in addition to a sack and a forced fumble.
Iwuh led the Bears with 12 tackles (10 solo) in his only start last season, and finished the year tied for second in special-teams stops (18). The Bears attempted to sign Iwuh to a multi-year contract prior to the lockout, and it’s likely the sides will come to an agreement once NFL business resumes.
Rod Wilson, who saw his most significant action filling in for an injured Roach against Detroit on Dec. 5, was signed last September to replace Hunter Hillenmeyer, but doesn’t appear to be in the team’s plans for 2011. Wilson and his representatives haven’t heard from the team since the end of the season.
So in terms of potential candidates currently on the roster for the vacant starting spot on the strong side, there’s just Roach -- who was tendered a one-year offer earlier this month -- along with Chris Johnson and Patrick Trahan, a pair of rookies in 2010 who in January signed reserve/futures contracts.
It’s also worth noting that although Urlacher and Briggs show no signs of declining play, they’re 32, and 30, respectively. (Urlacher will be 33 in May).
"We’ll be [fine]. But you just have to keep in mind what we try to look for [at linebacker]," Smith said. "The linebacker [positions] -- [numbers] three through seven or [numbers] three through six -- have to be core special-teams players. Whoever we have in the mix, they’re gonna have to be core special-teams guys that we feel really good about."
"I asked him that the other day, I was like are you going to try and hit it?" Toub said. "He was like, ‘hell yeah’. I think every punter will try when they go to that stadium. Can he do it? I don't know, I don't know.
"You need a strong leg to do it. Maybe in his younger years, but not now."
That may have been one of few light-hearted moments this week for Toub.
Only one game into the regular season, the special teams coach is already down one key contributor, and may be without another when the Bears face Dallas on Sunday.
The Bears decision to place Hunter Hillenmeyer on injured reserve not only hurts the defense, it also affects special teams, where the veteran linebacker played a large role.
"He was a four-phase starter for us, so we have to get him replaced," Toub said of Hillenmeyer. "A guy like Rod Wilson, the fact he was able to play special teams a few years ago for us in basically the same spots, he's going to come in and do that for us in this game."
Wilson's arrival should ease some concerns, but such a quick fix doesn't exist if a hamstring injury forces Nick Roach to miss the Cowboys game. Roach, a fellow four-phase starter, is listed as questionable, but did have limited participation in practice Friday.
"There is no one guy who can do that," Toub said. "We'll have to replace him with two or three guys if Roach is down [this week]. But we're still holding out hope for him."
The Bears need to pay particular attention to their coverage units this weekend, because, like the Bears, Dallas boasts a talented group of return men, including rookie Dez Bryant.
"He's an outstanding athlete with great speed," Toub said. "He had one punt return last week where he hit it north and south. We're prepared for anything he can give us."
It won't be his last.
After subbing in for starter Chris Harris on a few series, it was interesting to observe Wright on the field for the all-important final Detroit drive of the game. It bodes well for Wright that the the coaching staff trusted a rookie in such a crucial situation.
"The plan was to get him in [the game] about the third series," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Some positions on our football team we rotate players. We went in to the game thinking safety would be one. We thought all three of those players [Wright, Harris, Danieal Manning] could play winning football for us. Still feel the same way about them."
At the minimum, Wright will rotate again with Harris on Sunday in Dallas. But it's only a matter of time before the rookie third-round pick earns a permanent spot in the starting lineup.
"I'm not back there seeing what [Cutler] is seeing, because he is seeing a lot of different things. It's just something that when I was going through my progressions and my route, and I guess he saw something different. But it's something that can be fixed."
Lance Briggs registered 147 tackles en route to his fifth straight Pro Bowl selection, while backups Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach filled in admirably for the injured Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa. Subbing for Urlacher at middle linebacker for the final 10 games, Hillenmeyer posted career highs in tackles (105) and forced fumbles (4). Roach, who saw time at both middle and strong side linebacker, tied for the team lead with 10 tackles for lost yardage. Injuries limited Tinoisamoa to just two games last season, but the eight-year veteran stayed healthy this summer, and is slated to open the 2010 regular season in the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, Urlacher (left calf) and Briggs (ankle) each missed time in the preseason, but both are expected to return when the Bears open the regular season against Detroit. Former Jacksonville linebacker Brian Iwuh, who was signed in the offseason, rounds out a group heavy on talent and experience, even after saying goodbye to Jamar Williams (traded to Carolina) and Tim Shaw (cut last Saturday). Although Roach, Iwuh and Hillenmeyer are currently slotted in backup roles, the three will be counted on to contribute for Dave Toub on special teams, one of the main strengths of Iwuh, who tallied 61 special-teams tackles over four years with the Jaguars.Best-case scenario
Everybody stays healthy. Urlacher regains his old form, and dominates from the middle linebacker spot, while Briggs makes his sixth-consecutive Pro Bowl. Tinoisamoa resembles the player he was in St. Louis, where made 661 tackles in six seasons. Roach, Iwuh, and Hillenmeyer are solid on special teams, and if called upon, pick up the slack if one of the front-line players gets hurt.Worst-case scenario
Everybody gets hurt. Slowed by a slew of recent injuries, Urlacher shows his age and is unable to be a difference maker. Briggs finally begins to break down, Tinoisamoa can’t stay on the field, and the backups are once again forced to start for the bulk of the year. Just like in 2009, this is one of the few positions with enough talent to withstand injuries. But there is always a trickle-down effect when first-team guys miss time. Not only would removing Roach or Iwuh, in particular, from their duties on special teams hurt the team, it’s unfair to expect reserves to perform at the Pro Bowl level of players such as Urlacher and Briggs.
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