Chicago Bears: Jared Allen

Allen: Bears better fix run D

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
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CHICAGO -- Determined to improve a unit that ranked dead last stopping the run (161.4 yards per game) and recorded only 31 sacks in 2013, the Chicago Bears spent a substantial amount of offseason money and used two high draft picks to help fix its defensive line.

At least through Week 1, the team has not seen a return on its investment.

Joseph
Houston
Allen
In a home defeat full of disappointments, perhaps the most upsetting development was the Bears' continued inability to stop the run. The Buffalo Bills rushed for 193 yards on 33 attempts (5.8 yards), including long gains of 38 and 47 yards respectively by tailbacks Fred Jackson and Anthony Dixon. On Bills' runs, Jackson and Dixon were virtually untouched before they reached the second and third levels of the Bears' defense.

Jackson's run essentially sealed the victory for the Bills in overtime.

"When you give up that many rushing yards, it's embarrassing. What can I say?" defensive end Jared Allen said. "It all starts with the run game. I know this league is about sacks and rushing the quarterback, but you do not win unless you stop the run. You don't get chances to rush the quarterback unless you stop the run.

"Obviously, we have to go back and watch the film and figure out where our run fits are, and play our fits. You got to make plays. We have to clean that up. If we stop the run today, it's a totally different game."

Fellow defensive end Lamarr Houston pointed to a lack of discipline.

"We didn't play disciplined football, not for all four quarters," Houston said. "We need to play disciplined football. We need to know our jobs and do our jobs. You play good run teams, you have to play disciplined football. You have to know your job and stay on your job. That's disciplined football."

Prized free agent pick-ups Allen and Houston combined for two tackles and zero quarterback hits, according to the official NFL stat book distributed in the press box. Overall, the Bears registered just one sack (Willie Young) and two quarterback hits (Young and Charles Tillman) on Bills starter E.J. Manuel, who passed the ball 22 times.

"Hopefully we'll look back on this and this will just be a game that we lost," Allen said. "You don't want to give home games away, but we'll fix some problems and move on. That's what you do. We've got a huge opponent coming up when we go play Sunday night football against San Francisco. We better darn well get this run thing figured out."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman drew laughs Monday attempting to repeat the word “trepidation” in response to whether he feels any regarding the defense, as the club prepares to open the regular season against Buffalo.

While the defense performed average to below average most of the preseason, Trestman remains unconcerned about the unit’s ability to get the job done once the season kicks off.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesCoach Marc Trestman is hoping that the Bears' defense can build cohesion in the coming weeks.
“I don’t feel that word trepi, trepi … what was it again?” Trestman asked, smiling. “Trepidation? If it’s more than three syllables, I’m out of business. I don’t feel that trepidation. The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during [the preseason]. We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works. But the talent level’s there.”

The Bears revamped the defensive line by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, in addition to drafting defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. The club also signed several players to compete for two open spots at safety, and used its first-round pick to select rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller.

But throughout the preseason, the entire group hasn’t performed together. Allen played in only the club’s second preseason outing against the Jaguars after missing the opener due to family reasons and exhibition contest No. 3 due to a bruised shoulder. Safety Chris Conte didn’t make his preseason debut until Aug. 22.

The Bears held out all the starters on defense for the preseason finale at Cleveland.

“There's always concern, but I think we're going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It's a full game. We're not going to just play a quarter here, two quarters here. We're going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we're at. It's still hard to tell [how good we can be] because we were missing Jared Allen some games. We finally are going to get everybody back together and play a whole game. We played one quarter, two quarters here, and Seattle was a tough test for us. It lets us know that we still have some work to do and we've got to get it together and work hard this week and see what we have for Buffalo.”

Trestman declined to name the starters at safety, saying, “We’ll talk more about that on Wednesday,” while Conte hasn’t yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion on Aug. 22. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Lance Briggs missed Monday’s workout with Trestman saying his absence was excused.

“We think the talent level is in a place right now where we’ve got a chance to go out each and every week, get better and improve,” Trestman said. “That’s what we’re going to try and do as we work through this week of practice and the start of the season.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte missed practice Monday as he goes through the NFL's return-to-play concussion protocol, while Jared Allen (shoulder), Eben Britton (hamstring), Kyle Fuller (ankle) and Isaiah Frey (hamstring) returned to workouts inside the Walter Payton Center as the team preps for the exhibition finale at Cleveland.

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Conte
Conte suffered a concussion during the second half of the club's loss Friday at Seattle. It was his first live action since missing the entire offseason and much of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

Bears coach Marc Trestman declined to give a timeframe for Conte's return, citing the fluidity of the NFL's concussion protocol.

Asked about the severity of Conte's concussion, Trestman said, "I can't answer that. I can't. It's a day-to-day thing. He's going through the protocol. I saw him after the game, and he was in a good place. But obviously he's going through the protocol right now, so I don't have an answer to that question."

Conte's latest setback brings about another question as to whether he's done enough to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster given his limited exposure in the evaluation process. The Bears opened up training camp with an open competition for both starting safety spots, and Conte -- given his experience -- seemed to be one of the favorites to win a job.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker liked what he saw from Conte against the Seahawks.

"I thought Chris played fast. He was aggressive. He made a nice play in the end zone. He was excited to be out there," Tucker said. "There was no hesitation with Chris in his reads and his progressions, and I thought that was positive. With the amount of evaluation time available, we felt like that was enough time to make a clean evaluation on him, and we don't feel differently."

Against the Seahawks, Conte was credited with one assisted tackle and a pass breakup when he laid a vicious hit on Luke Willson in the end zone to prevent what would have been a touchdown.

Although Britton, Fuller, and Frey returned to practice Monday along with receiver Chris Williams, Trestman was unsure of their availability for the exhibition finale, and called Fuller and Frey day-to-day. Right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) also took part in Monday's practice, but hasn't yet played in a preseason outing. Brian de la Puente (knee) was also held out of Monday's workout.

Conte, meanwhile, started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and didn't take part in his first practice until Aug. 10.

Conte finished third in tackles last season (95), and tied for second with three interceptions. Conte struggled tremendously through the 2013 season, highlighted by him playing the wrong coverage on a late fourth quarter Randall Cobb touchdown in the team's Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers which knocked the Bears out of the playoffs.

Conte said the 2013 season led to "a lot of soul searching" in the offseason.

"It was a good time for me to get better in a lot of different areas," Conte said during training camp. "Hopefully I'm a better person and a better football player. I learned to keep people close to me that I care about and to always know the people that support me are the only people that really matter. I'm not even thinking about last season. I'm thinking about this year. I don't even know what happened last season."

Five things we learned vs. Jags

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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CHICAGO – Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 20-19 preseason victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

1. Relax, it’s the preseason: Emotions run high for NFL fans no matter what time of the year. But preseason games don’t count for a reason. No, the Bears defense did not look particularly sharp in the first quarter as Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne guided the Jacksonville offense down the field with relative ease on multiple occasions. But again, it’s the preseason. As defensive end Jared Allen put it: “Look, this was an ugly game. But if we win this game in the regular season, we’re loving it, because you have to learn how to win ugly games. Better to have this stuff happen now as opposed to the regular season.” In 2010, the Bears’ defense couldn’t stop a soul in the preseason. That year seemed to work out pretty well for the team, if I remember correctly.

2. Bears lose valuable piece on offense: Now, when a key player is injured in the preseason that is an important development. Tight end Zach Miller was having an outstanding summer before he suffered what sounds like a serious foot injury Thursday night. Too bad. After Martellus Bennett, Miller had emerged as the next best threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Miller will be missed.

3. Jon Bostic flashes in run defense: When Bostic eventually puts it all together; he’s going to be a good NFL player. Bostic blasted Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 in the first quarter, in the process demolishing the Jacksonville offensive lineman that stood in his way. You can’t teach speed, and Bostic has an abundance of it. Say what you want about Bostic’s struggles last year, and there were plenty of them, the linebacker has showed the ability to make plays. Sure, Bostic needs to even out his game and improve on the mental aspects of playing linebacker, but his athleticism is off the charts.

4. Rookie punter looks tough to beat: Pat O’Donnell had a decent night versus the Jaguars. He had a 48.7 average and 48.3 yard net average on three punts with a long of 57 yards that happened when the Jacksonville return man slipped and fell down allowing the ball to roll. Tress Way also booted a 54-yard punt, but averaged 43.3 yards per kick with a 40.0 net average. Kind of seems like O’Donnell -- while not as consistent as he needs to be -- makes fewer fatal mistakes over the course of a game. The Bears probably have a higher level of trust in O’Donnell at this stage of the competition.

5. Return woes apparent: Say what you want about Devin Hester, the Bears never had a kick return controversy in the preseason. Some fans acted pleased when Hester left for Atlanta in the offseason, but there is a major void in the return game. Eric Weems has done little to impress in that phase of special teams (Weems remains excellent in coverage), and Chris Williams has been out with a hamstring injury. The Bears better have something else up their sleeve.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett remains on the club's suspended list and is not expected to be present at Soldier Field for Friday's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, the club announced 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

Bears general manager Phil Emery told the media Tuesday that Bennett had been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team and fined an undisclosed amount for starting an altercation in Monday's practice with rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller.

The Bears have offered no timetable on Bennett's potential return, calling it a day-to-day situation. The Bears' next scheduled practice is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Olivet Nazarene University.

The following Bears' players have also been ruled out against the Eagles: safety Craig Steltz (PUP), cornerback Tim Jennings (quad), cornerback Isaiah Frey (hamstring), safety Chris Conte (PUP), offensive guard Eben Britton (hamstring), right tackle Jordan Mills (foot), right guard Kyle Long (ankle) and defensive end Jared Allen.

Bears head coach Marc Trestman excused Allen from practice all week for family reasons, but the pass-rusher is present at Soldier Field. Allen is expected to return to the practice field after the Bears' off-day Saturday.

W2W4: Chicago Bears

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
12:00
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The Chicago Bears (0-0) and Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) open the preseason Friday night at Soldier Field.

1. Backup quarterbacks: Expect Bears coach Marc Trestman to pull the starters after a series or two, which means we won’t see much of quarterback Jay Cutler. We already know what he can do. The team needs to see whether Jordan Palmer or Jimmy Clausen can get it done if called upon. So they’ll receive the bulk of the snaps in this game. Trestman already has said that Palmer will receive first crack at the No. 2 job. So he’ll probably come into the game immediately after Trestman pulls the starters. Palmer has been solid, yet unspectacular, in camp. The same can be said about Clausen, who has performed a little better so far than Palmer. Trestman isn’t likely to name a bona fide No. 2 after this game, but the picture should clear up a bit.

2. Safety play: While abysmal play at safety in 2013 can be attributed at least in part by inconsistency along the defensive line, there should be no excuses now with all the retooling the club has done along the defensive front. Almost every day, the Bears have opened practice with different combinations at the position as both spots are up for grabs. Adrian Wilson, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and rookie Brock Vereen have all taken first-team reps. The unofficial depth chart released by the team lists Vereen and Mundy as the starters. So there’s a good chance they’ll run with the No. 1 defense against the Eagles. But we should see all five of the aforementioned safeties extensively. Keep a close eye on Wilson, because there’s still a question as to whether he has anything left in the tank. The Bears hope Wilson pans out because he could add an intimidating presence on the back end that the club has lacked in recent years.

3. Front seven: The Bears spent the bulk of the offseason revamping a front seven that played a major role in the team ranking last in the NFL in 2013 against the run. The Bears made changes to the coaching staff, overhauled the scheme and added Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamarr Houston in addition to drafting Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Now we get a chance to see whether all the work will reap rewards. There’s a chance Allen won’t play -- he’s been excused to be with his family for the birth of his daughter. So Young and Trevor Scott will likely take the bulk of Allen’s reps. Perhaps the most significant change in the scheme involves the emphasis on defensive linemen using their hands properly to engage and shed blocks. That’s why the Bears brought in martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive line hand-fighting techniques. So from the first team all the way down to the on-the-bubble players, we should see significant improvement in that area, which in turn should bring optimism about how the group will perform in the regular season.

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
4:09
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.

Wake-up call: Family Fest practice

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
8:00
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Every day of Chicago Bears training camp, we'll have a wake-up call that previews the day ahead.

6:45 p.m. CT -- Bears practice with full pads at Soldier Field (ticket required).

Approx 9 p.m. CT -- Marc Trestman and select players will briefly be available to the media coming off the field.

Saturday is the Bears’ annual Family Fest night at Soldier Field that features live music, giveaways and a fireworks show post-practice. Tickets to the event can be purchased at ChicagoBears.com. Tickets are $8 or $12 and parking is $22 per vehicle.

Among the storylines we’ll be following:

Lance Briggs wants to retire a Bear

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
3:55
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For all the changes made on the defensive side of the ball, the key to the unit’s overall success might hinge on the health of 12-year veteran linebacker Lance Briggs.

Briggs
The linchpin of the defense, Briggs started strong in 2013, but ended up appearing in a career-low nine games because of a shoulder injury that kept him on the inactive list for two straight months.

 One of the best linebackers in franchise history, Briggs was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2005-2011 where he developed the reputation as one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the league.

At 33-years old, can Briggs still elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level?

“I don’t know. I’ve lost a couple of steps,” Briggs said with a smile on Thursday. “Now sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I’m lucky, a tackle will fall, and I’ll put my hand on him and get credit for it. That’s where I’m at in [this] stage of my career.”

The Bears believe otherwise. The organization feels Briggs is the best striker on the defense and will look to the 12-year veteran to help lead a revamped unit that includes other proven older players such as Jared Allen, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, Tim Jennings and Jeremiah Ratliff.

“If [Lance] is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we’re going to be a much better football team all around,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “What he can do ripples through the entire team.”

Of course, there is the issue of Briggs’ expiring contract.

 In the past, Briggs has gone public in expressing his displeasure with contract negotiations. He famously predicted he would never play another down for the Bears after the club slapped Briggs with the franchise tag in 2007. Briggs eventually signed a six-year extension in March, 2008 that the club later re-worked in 2012 to include another year and more guaranteed money.

However, Briggs said on Thursday he does not plan to make his contract a talking point this season.

“I’m not talking about a contract. I’m talking about playing football,” Briggs said. “I just want to play football. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m just appreciative.

“In a matter of one day, I learned that the coach that I’d been coached by for the last years was going to gone, and that whole staff was going to be gone. Everybody that I was used to everyday was going to be gone. The guy who I shared a room with for 10 years was going to be gone. A lot of the guys that I had built relationships with were gone. There’s some new guys coming in and filling up those numbers and those lockers. That’s life. That’s the way it is. It’s business.”

Briggs later reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Chicago.

“The only time I might not retire as a Bear was the time when I said I’d never put on a Bears’ uniform again,” Briggs said. “And I haven’t said that again since that time. So, of course [I want to retire as a Bear].

“I’m a Bear. I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to the city and playing for this team. When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Arguably the best drill conducted in full pads is the one-on-one pass-rush competition between offensive and defensive linemen.

Granted, football is not an individual sport, but players are required to win individual battles in the trenches for the betterment of the team.

Collins
Perhaps no defensive lineman flashed as often as fifth-year defensive tackle Nate Collins did on Sunday during the 15-minute exercise. That is an encouraging sign for the Bears. Collins missed the final 11 games last year because of an ACL tear that required surgery, and the Bears depth on the defensive line suffered because of it.

Collins spent months rehabbing the left knee before returning to the Bears on a one-year deal in March. Equipped with a bulky knee brace, Collins received medical clearance to participate in the offseason program in May and has been relatively full-go ever since.

"I have a mentality where the moment you get comfortable something bad can go wrong or something unexpected can happen," Collins said. "I do everything I can and focus on what I can control and everything else will work itself out. I just know if I come out here and perform my best every single day then good things will happen."

Collins showcased a variety of moves the handful of times he lined up opposite reserve offensive linemen in the drill, relying on his speed and technique on certain rushes, and brute power to push up the field on others.

"It really felt good to get out there. There was a lot of adrenaline and energy running through me. I'm just glad I was able to come out here and do what I love because I love football. I love football, I love these guys and I love this team. It's a blessing I was able to come out here and compete with my brothers."

Other observations from the drill included: defensive tackle Stephen Paea winning a memorable one-on-one matchup with veteran center Roberto Garza. Defensive end Trevor Scott continued his strong start to camp by beating an offensive tackle off the edge on one rush, then winning another matchup with an inside move. Rookie second-round pick Ego Ferguson ended up on the ground on two separate occasions, but Ferguson did manage to push his way into the backfield on one snap. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod got the best of defensive end Jared Allen the one time they squared off in the session. Right tackle Jordan Mills held his own versus ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- While Jared Allen’s physical skill set made him an alluring offseason acquisition for Bears, it’s the intangibles that stood out in Day 1 of training camp, according to Bears coach Marc Trestman.

“I thought Jared set the tone defensively with Lamarr [Houston] and the guys up front, Jeremiah [Ratliff] up front, just in the start of practice,” Trestman said. “That was clear through his performance today that he not only started fast and finished strong.”

Chicago’s defense netted a Kyle Fuller interception early on in full team work Friday at Olivet Nazarene University, and the momentum from that play seemed to carry the unit through the duration of practice. Walking off the field just minutes after the workout, cornerback Tim Jennings felt “the defense came out with a lot of energy.”

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Jerry Lai/USA Today SportsDefensive end Jared Allen's infectious personality has made an impression on the Bears.
Combined with veterans such as Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Jennings and Houston, perhaps Allen served as the catalyst. Of course, Allen won’t take credit. He knows his worth is proven by what’s done on the field, not rah-rah motivational speeches.

“You’re a leader by what you do. I’ve had success in this league, so for me, it’s nothing I want to say to a guy,” Allen said. “I’m going to encourage a guy. I’m going to help young guys out if they want it. But the way I’m going to lead is I’m going to show up to work and I’m going to put my best on the field, and I’m going to expect the guy next to me to be his best.”

Tillman, Briggs, and Jennings have taken a similar approach, making Allen seemingly a natural fit in Chicago’s revamped group chock-full of a mixture of young, ascending players combined with established veterans.

“There’s so much change,” Allen said. “Guys get to know each other from playing against each other and you have a mutual respect. So it’s not like I was totally new. I know Lance. I know Peanut. I know these guys, and as they get to see how I work, the young guys see that, and they see how the vets who have had success in this league collaborate and work together. So there’s not much that has to be said. You show up and go about your business, and you expect guys to do the same.”

Allen joined the Bears with Hall of Fame credentials as a five-time Pro Bowler, and member of the 100-sacks club, but Trestman believes the defensive end’s infectious personality could play into him positively affecting other players on Chicago’s defense, which hit historic lows last season, ranking last in the NFL against the run.

Obviously, the addition of Allen doesn’t automatically fix things. But his combination of skill and intangibles certainly helps.

“He’s a very likable guy in the locker room. He’s a fun guy to have a conversation with,” Trestman said. “We’re excited to have him with us. He’s been a tremendous addition in our locker room and we’re hopeful it’ll translate to the field and the games as well.”

The Bears worked a few packages during Friday’s workout which feature Allen, Willie Young, Ratliff and Houston all on the field at the same time. When the team runs its base defense, Allen and Houston are the starters at defensive end. But in some packages, Houston kicks inside to defensive tackle next to Ratliff, which should allow Young and Allen to better attack the edges.

As an 11-year veteran Allen knows to temper his excitement, because once the season kicks off, anything can happen. But having been a part of successful defenses in the past in Kansas City and Minnesota, Allen believes the Bears have the ingredients to put together something special.

“We’ve got quality vets, we’ve got Pro Bowl guys,” Allen said. “We’ve got guys who are right on that precipice of exploding. I’m excited to work with Willie and Jay Ratliff being healthy again, and Lamarr. We worked on some different packages and stuff today to get all four of us on the field. It's exciting to see the talent level we've got with Briggs behind us and Bostic. You can keep going. I'm excited to play with the DBs, honestly, to have some lockdown corners -- the young guy running there flying around and picking balls off today. So that's what's exciting about it. The fans and the media want to talk about what happened last year. I wasn't here. To me that doesn't matter. I know how things can change in one year. I honestly believe -- I've been a part of really good defenses -- we have those components. As long as guys continue to grow and develop and understand how each other work and the coaches continue to let us work within our scheme, I think we'll be fine.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The chances of Charles Tillman returning to Chicago for a 12th season seemed remote at the onset of free agency in March.

Tillman, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his illustrious career, appeared destined to reunite with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. But after making a free agent visit to the Buccaneers, Tillman went home without a deal, and ultimately re-signed with the Chicago Bears for one year at $3.25 million. Tillman earned just over $8 million in 2013.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman wasn't expecting to spend a 12th season in Chicago, but he's back with the Bears as training camp gets set to open.
On the eve of his 12th training camp with the Bears, Tillman admitted to still being somewhat surprised he remains with the Bears when reached during a promotional appearance Wednesday morning.

“At the end of the day this is a business,” Tillman said. “Despite all that I’ve done for Chicago, none of that matters, that doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just a [salary] cap number. I realize that. They realize that. It’s the game. It’s the world we live in. I’m very well aware of that. At the end of the day it was business. At the end of the day it’s always business. If I get hurt, if I go down, the show goes on. I’m replaced. When I retire, it’ll be somebody else and I’ll be long gone and forgotten. That’s just how this business and this league operates.

"So it was just all business at the end of the day. I didn’t take it personally. They didn’t take it personally. They were just trying to get the best guy at the cheapest amount. That’s just kind of how this business rolls.”

Tillman was one of the many casualties on defense last season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection started just eight games (52.5 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles) before suffering a season-ending triceps injury. Tillman watched as the Bears’ defense hit historic lows, ranking dead last in the league against the run.

But the offense thrived under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, finishing No. 2 in points scored and No. 5 in passing yards.

That resurgence on offense, coupled with key offseason defensive signings such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, has Tillman convinced this could be his best shot to reach a Super Bowl since the 2006 team.

“Our offense did a really good job for us last year keeping us in games because what we were doing on defense wasn’t cutting it,” Tillman said. “The hard part about our offense is can they do it again? We claimed that title last year of being a very good offense. That was last year. This is this year now. Can you do it again? Nobody cares about last year. You can’t hang your hat on being one of the best offenses of 2013. If you do, it’s going to be a long season for us.

"Defensively, we can’t hang our heads on being the worst defense in the NFL last year. Right now we have to focus on and prepare to be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2014. It’s a title you have to reclaim every year. From both a team standpoint and individual perspective. It’s all reset. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions last year. Well, there’ll be a new one this year. Everybody is equal and everybody is even.

"I think Lamarr and Jared are going to help us out a lot. But how much better are we? I think we are better, but that’s just a thought. I think we have the best team on paper in the NFL right now; the hard part is going out there and proving that we are the best team. Right now, we are stacked. We have a lot of talent of defense. I think the Bears did a very good job in helping us out in areas that we were weak in last year. We just need to go out and execute like we are supposed to, and then we can call ourselves a better team.”

Tillman, a native of Texas, has spent the days leading up to training camp working in conjunction with the Gatorade Beat the Heat program to educate younger football players and athletes on heat safety and the importance of hydration when participating in sports during the warm summer months.

A timely initiative considering football training camps are opening up across the country on a variety of levels. Tillman and the rest of his Bears' teammates took part in a mandatory conditioning drill on Thursday morning, and while the temperature registered in the low 70s in Bourbonnais, other regions are not so fortunate.

"I went to Copperas Cove High School in Texas so I know all about growing up and playing in the heat," Tillman said. "The key is to hydrate yourself before you hit the field. The more you drink and hydrate yourself ahead of time, the better off you will be in the long run."

Pre-camp check: Defensive tackle

July, 1, 2014
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Overview: Season-ending ACL tears to Henry Melton and Nate Collins left the Bears exceedingly thin at defensive tackle last season. Determined to avoid a repeat scenario, the Bears spent two early draft picks to inject some youth and increase depth at the position, LSU’s Ego Ferguson (2nd round) and Arizona State’s Will Sutton (3rd round).

Both rookies, along with re-signed veteran Nate Collins, are expected to fight for spots in the Bears’ defensive tackle rotation behind projected starters Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea, after the club allowed Melton and DT/DE Corey Wootton to depart via free agency.

The Bears were pleased enough with Ratliff, a former Pro Bowl player for the Dallas Cowboys, to offer the tackle a new two-year deal in the offseason. Paea, whom the Bears moved up in the second round of the 2011 draft to grab out of Oregon State, is entering the final year of his original rookie contract. For Paea, it’s now or never. He’s shown promise throughout his four-year NFL career, but has struggled to stay healthy and has never truly dominated over an extended period of time in the regular season.

Battle to watch: Will one of the rookies step up? Ferguson and Sutton are different players. Despite Ferguson’s limited body of work at LSU (12 starts), the Bears believe the 6-foot, 309 pound rookie has the traits to be an effective run-stopper at the NFL level. Sutton was an elite pass-rusher with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles-for-loss in 2012, but his production dropped his senior year with the Sun Devils due to weight gain. Both rookies have upside, but neither is a sure-fire lock to make an impact in 2014.

Dark horse: Many believed Collins was on the verge of a breakout year before the knee injury in Week 5. The affable Collins, who played in nine games for the Bears in 2012, has shown the ability to rush the passer. Collins participated in organized team activities and the veteran minicamp, proving that he is fully recovered from the ACL surgery.

Who makes the cut: It just depends on how many defensive linemen the Bears decide to keep on the 53-man roster. Ratliff and Paea (barring injuries) appear to be locks, along with defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. Ferguson and Sutton are likely in good shape because of their draft status, and Collins is an experienced reserve. On paper, the Bears seem equipped to carry five tackles, but preseason injuries at other positions can always change the composition of the roster in August and September.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and players on the offensive side of the ball recognized a degree of saltiness this offseason from the defense throughout organized team activities and mandatory minicamp.

That's a positive sign, sure. It's also meaningless.

During a workout in training camp last August, tight end Martellus Bennett and cornerback Kelvin Hayden tangled in a skirmish eventually joined by several members of the defense. The defense was salty back then, yet finished with a sour, punch-drunk taste on its tongues at the conclusion of 2013 as it tumbled to the bottom of the NFL rankings in part, due to injuries, becoming the team's weakness after so many years of being its strength.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP PhotoThe Bears, armed with Jared Allen, Willie Young and Jeremiah Ratliff, are working to prevent a repeat of 2013's poor defensive performance.
"We're practicing with an edge," Trestman said of the defense after Wednesday's workout inside the Walter Payton Center. "You can't play in the National Football League without being tough and having an edge and having a saltiness to your demeanor. We want to get to that point where we're consistently doing that. We're certainly seeing it from the offensive side. Our practices without pads are highly competitive. We're getting better. When Jermon Bushrod has to play against Jared Allen every day, and Jordan Mills has to play against Lamarr Houston every day, or Willie Young, that's pretty competitive. Then you've got [Jeremiah] Ratliff inside and the guys that are working inside. I think the mentality starts with how we sell it."

But no matter how that's peddled or packaged, it's for naught without results.

The Bears allowed the most points (478) last season in franchise history, the most total yards (6,313) and rushing yards as injuries cost the defense a combined 55 games last season, and that's not accounting for the unit losing defensive lineman Turk McBride to a ruptured Achilles and Sedrick Ellis, who made an impulse decision to retire before the start of training camp.

On the way to failing to prevent opponents from scoring fewer than 20 points all last season, the Bears relied on young and unheralded players such as David Bass, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene, Isaiah Frey and Landon Cohen to play significant roles as injuries took a toll.

At the conclusion of that disaster, Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker met with Trestman and general manager Phil Emery to determine how they could prevent a repeat of 2013.

"I laid out my vision for the group and what I thought needed to be done, and it was in line with what they thought as well," Tucker explained. "So it was just a matter at that point of putting the pieces together from a staff standpoint and from a player standpoint, and then going to work. They have confidence in me to get that done, so that's what we're doing."

It's also why Emery and Trestman made it a priority to provide Tucker what he needed to succeed. The Bears added Houston, Allen and Young in free agency to shore up the depleted defensive line, in addition to re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff and drafting Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. On the back end, the Bears used a first-round pick on cornerback Kyle Fuller, re-signed Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, drafted safety Brock Vereen and signed three more safeties in Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray.

Understanding that the roster turnover would add several newer veterans and younger players, the Bears replaced linebackers coach Tim Tibesar and defensive line coaches Mike Phair and Michael Sinclair with Reggie Herring, Paul Pasqualoni and Clint Hurtt, all noted for their abilities as teachers.

"I've known coach Pasqualoni for a while and we've [done clinics] together and spent some time together talking football, so I really knew what he was all about. In terms of the front we want to play a certain way, we want to align a certain way, we want to use our hands a certain way, there's a certain way we want to play blocks to make sure we can control the line of scrimmage, and make the plays we need to make," Tucker explained.

"So that's important and we're on the same page there. Coach P[asqualoni], first and foremost is a great person, but he's a hard-nosed, tough guy, no-nonsense guy. Coach Herring is a guy I've seen coach over the years, and I know what he's all about. He has a tremendous amount of experience, and knows from being in a 4-3 and a 3-4, he knows how we want our backers to play, the technique and fundamentals and how we fit in the run game; how you have to play these zone schemes that we're seeing. You know the run game in the NFL right now is zone plays: inside and outside zones; hard zone, flat zone, and it's not just isos and powers. We have to understand, and we do understand that from a front seven standpoint, we've got to get our hands on guys, we've got to play blocks on the linebackers, we've got to be square, we've got to shuffle, mirror, fill and fall back, period; regardless of whether we're in Cover 2 or Cover 3 or whatever we're in. That's how we're going to play. So we understand that as a group and we coach them that way, and I think the players are responding to that."

That's apparent at recent practices, but we're also talking about workouts in shorts and helmets where contact is limited due to rules of the collective bargaining agreement. Still, Allen believes the defense will start to take shape quickly, and pointed out that offseason work such as minicamps provide an indication of what the fully-developed picture might be at the end of training camp.

"We don't have that much time. Once we get in training camp, when you get pads on within a week you're gonna understand if a guy's gonna fit into what we're trying to do. And then that's on the coach to put the right pieces together," Allen said. "I'm excited. It's just getting that energy. We have a good offense. I know what I expect from that offense because I've played against it. I expect them to put points up. So for me, it's getting the defense to match that. It's making guys understand that the time is now. We have an opportunity. When you play defense with a good offense, it makes it fun."

Saltiness, apparently, plays into that too if utilized correctly.

"These guys, they care about football. They want to be great," Trestman said. "They know to win in this league you've got to play with an edge. Salty helps as long as your fundamentals and techniques are right. Tough guys without system doesn't work very good. It all goes together. That's what makes great defenses. We think we've got the ability to do that and the right guys to do it. We'll see. We've got a lot of work to do."

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