Chicago Bears: Jermon Bushrod

Bears Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Safety Adrian Wilson seems to be gaining a level of comfort in Chicago’s scheme, which in turn has resulted in the veteran playing somewhat faster. But don’t be fooled by Wilson’s seemingly average workout pace as some within the organization believe he’s “practicing like a veteran,” meaning he’s expending as little energy as possible just to make it through camp and into the preseason games. For Wilson, the exhibition games are where he’ll make his mark, and that’s when people within the organization expect the safety to go full bore. Considering he’s currently in a backup role, expect Wilson to receive significant snaps late into the games against mostly backups, and he’ll need to play well -- nearly dominate -- before the staff feels comfortable enough to put him into the mix for one of the starting jobs. The coaching staff hopes Wilson pans out because if he does, it gives the Bears an intimidating force on the back end they haven’t had in several years.
  • The Bears pumped in the music as usual for the individual portions of practice, but when the team simulated some live situations, staffers piped in crowd noise through the public address system. The extra noise didn’t seem to affect execution on either side of the ball.
  • Strangely, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte seemed to drop more passes in one day Thursday than they had throughout all of training camp. Jeffery and Forte each dropped two passes with the former making up for it by hauling in a long ball late in practice between two defenders. Chris Williams, a candidate to become the club’s primary punt returner and a backup receiver, muffed a punt and also dropped a pass.
  • Despite Marshall's drop, he made perhaps the catch of the day in a goal-line drill. With Demontre Hurst draped all over him, Marshall made a spinning one-handed grab for a touchdown. Marshall receives points for difficulty on this one as he caught the touchdown with his left hand.
  • Just before the start of practice, the Bears announced they signed offensive lineman Graham Pocic to a one-year contract and waived receiver Terrence Tolliver with an injury settlement. Pocic signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Illinois.
  • Non-participants at practice Thursday included safeties Craig Steltz (groin) and Chris Conte (shoulder) along with guards Kyle Long and Eben Britton (hamstring). Long has been cleared to return to practice, but won’t be back in pads until the club’s night workout Saturday at Soldier Field. Britton wasn’t on the field with teammates as he spent all of the practice rehabilitating inside with athletic trainers.
  • Jermon Bushrod, Stephen Paea, Austen Lane, and Jordan Mills were the stars of one-on-one drills featuring offensive linemen against defensive linemen. Paea made the most impressive move of the day, using a swim move to blow past Roberto Garza in just one step.
  • The Bears practice again Friday at 9 a.m. CST.
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.
Overview: Rising second-year right tackle Jordan Mills believes the Bears are “very close” to fielding a Super Bowl offense, and that is not merely overconfidence. Because in the next breath, Mills is quick to say there is "not one thing I do great or good enough that I don’t need to work on." He constantly asks, "What can I do to become a great player, a great teammate and help this team?"

Bushrod
Mills
That attitude, it seems, has become contagious for the entire offense, not just the offensive line and could serve the team well in its quest to improve upon last season. Obviously, one major component in the offense’s improvement came as the result of better protection provided by Mills and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

In 2013, quarterback Jay Cutler suffered the fewest sacks of his tenure with the Chicago Bears.

With Busrod and Mills penciled in once again as the starters at tackle for 2014, the hopes is the sack numbers will drop even more.

"We’re gonna be tested," Mills said.

Battle to watch: Credit general manager Phil Emery for stocking the roster with so much depth at offensive tackle from the top of the depth chart to the bottom. It is expected that Eben Britton will seize the top backup role on the right side, but the left side is up for grabs now that Jonathan Scott is no longer with the team. Seventh-round pick Charles Leno Jr. could find himself battling with Joe Long, Michael Ola and perhaps James Brown for that spot. The runner-up in that battle could wind up still making the roster as a backup.

Dark horse: Britton finally feels completely healthy after an injury-plagued start to his career in Jacksonville, and it showed last season when he was given opportunities to play. Britton served as the second tight end in some formations, but also received time on the line in various situations. The club likes Mills, and believes he has a bright future as the starting right tackle. But if Mills is slowed in his recovery from a broken foot during training camp, there is a chance Britton could seriously contend for a starting spot.

Who makes the cut: Bushrod, Britton and Mills, would appear to be locks to make the team. Long and Leno could wind up with the final two spots, but remember that Ola has experience with Trestman as the two worked together with the Montreal Alouettes.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Third-round draft choice Will Sutton practiced on Thursday after being excused the previous two days for what he called "a family emergency".

Sutton never went into specific details about the matter but said "everything is good now" when asked if the situation had been resolved.

"I talked it over with the coaches and they let me go," Sutton said. "They said to take as time as I need but I'm here today."

Sutton felt he performed fine on Thursday despite missing the first two days of the club's mandatory minicamp, but the Arizona State product revealed that he plans to return home in the weeks leading up to training camp to ensure that he keeps himself in top physical shape. Sutton gained weight his final year with the Sun Devils that caused his production and draft stock to dip.

He is currently listed at 6-foot, 303 pounds on the Bears' official offseason roster.

"I'm just going to go back to Arizona and train," Sutton said. "It's going to be hot. It's going to be hot.

"My weight isn't a problem. I put on the weight [last year] because I was told to. It's not a problem. It's not that I'm lazy and don't work out."

Speaking of working out, the Bears don't necessarily view the five week gap between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp as a vacation. Bears head coach Marc Trestman delivered that message to his team at their final meeting before the players left the building Thursday afternoon. Apparently, Trestman's speech resonated within the locker room.

"There's no real time to rest," Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "You might take your weekends off, but for five days a week you need to get ready for training camp. It's not time to take off."

Kicker Robbie Gould added: "The time to take vacations is in January."

The Bears are set to report to training camp on July 24 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

• Teams can learn a lot about themselves over the course of an eight-week NFL offseason program.

But can you actually tell if a team will be good in the regular season based on OTAs and minicamp?

"No, you really can't tell," Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Tim Jennings said. "All you can tell is where your team is at. You don't know where you are going to rank, but you know what you have at this moment."

• The Bears clearly like that they have seen from rookie safety Brock Vereen. He took all the first-team reps alongside Ryan Mundy throughout the entire minicamp, but the organization is not ready to anoint Vereen a starter.

• Trestman described undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Lynch as being in the mix for a reserve role in the Bears' offensive backfield.

"We have a logjam from two through five [on the running back depth chart]. Jordan is in that logjam. A lot of that will be balanced out with special teams. I'm looking forward to seeing him in pads with the rest of the younger guys.

"Jordan is doing well."

• Safety Chris Conte was excused for a third straight day due to an illness that the Bears were concerned could be contagious, according to Trestman. However, the bulk of the roster was present on the final day of minicamp, although right tackle Jordan Mills, right guard Kyle Long, cornerback Sherrick McManis and Matt Slauson did not participate.

• Safety Craig Steltz went through individual drills for the third straight day while wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had full participation after he rested on Wednesday.
After enduring a pair of first round flops from 2008-10, the Chicago Bears finally solved their offensive tackle problem last offseason when they splashed big money to lure Jermon Bushrod in free agency and drafted Jordan Mills in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech.

Mills' offseason foot surgery and subsequent rehabilitation could open the door for re-signed veteran guard/tackle Eben Britton to push for the starting job, but the Bears appear to be well-stocked at the top of their tackle depth chart.

But since a team can never have enough quality offensive tackles, the Bears may consider using a draft pick to increase the competition among backups James Brown and Joe Long. Seven-year veteran Jonathan Scott is still available on the open market after his contract expired with the Bears last month.

It is strange, and rather refreshing, to enter a draft without the offensive line being a major need for the Bears. Based on the current roster, it would be a surprise if the Bears took a tackle before the third day of the draft, unless there is significant concern about Mills' health. But by all accounts Mills' recovery is on schedule.

Five potential targets:

1. Justin Britt, Missouri

2. Matt Patchan, Boston College

3. Seantrel Henderson, Miami

4. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, McGill (Canada)

5. Kevin Pamphile, Purdue

The next five: 6. James Hurst, North Carolina; 7. Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State; 8. Kevin Graf, USC; 9. Garrett Scott, Marshall; 10. Parker Graham, Oklahoma State.

Position grade: B

Bears free agency: good and bad

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
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Bushrod
Good
Jermon Bushrod
Position: Left tackle
Contract: Five years, $35,965,000 with $17,715,000 in total guarantees
Years of service with Bears: 2013-present

Recap: The perception is the Bears overpaid for Bushrod. In reality, the seven-year NFL veteran represented a massive upgrade over former starting left tackle, J'Marcus Webb. Bushrod anchored a Bears' offensive line that stayed intact for the entire 2013 season, until rookie right tackle Jordan Mills injured his foot in the first quarter of the team's Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. With Bushrod protecting quarterback Jay Cutler's blind side, the Bears tied for fourth in the NFL with the fewest sacks allowed (30), while the line helped pave the way for tailback Matt Forte to rush for a career-high 1,339 yards. Bushrod is a professional in the locker room. He handles his business with class and is a terrific role model for the younger, impressionable offensive linemen.

Manumaleuna
Bad
Brandon Manumaleuna
Position: Tight end
Contract: Five years, $15 million
Year of service with Bears: 2010

Recap: Manumaleuna, a favorite of ex-offensive coordinator Mike Martz, caught five passes for 43 yards and one touchdown in his lone season with Chicago. He was released the following summer for reporting to training camp overweight, forcing the Bears to carry $1.6 million of dead salary cap money. Manumaleuna had a good run in the NFL with stops in St. Louis and San Diego, but failed to make an impact in Chicago. He missed a team meeting the night before the regular-season opener because he misunderstood the schedule. Manumaleuna was a fine guy in the locker room, but he never got with the program. He never played in another NFL regular-season game after his release from the Bears.

As expected, no extra picks for the Bears

March, 24, 2014
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Only nine NFL teams have received fewer compensatory draft picks than the Chicago Bears since the system of awarding extra picks was implemented in 1994.

And that won't change this year.

The Bears were not given any additional selections in the upcoming draft. Not that they were expecting any.

Compensatory picks are based on the previous offseason's net losses in free agency. In 2013, they offset their major free-agent losses -- guard Jermon Bushrod (who signed with the New Orleans Saints) and linebacker Nick Roach (Oakland Raiders) -- by signing free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett to a four-year, $20.4 million contract.

Since 1994, the Bears have received 17 compensatory picks. Only Arizona (16), Kansas City (15), Carolina (14), the New York Jets (13), Washington (12), New Orleans (10), Denver (nine), Houston (nine) and Cleveland (six) have received fewer.

On Monday at the NFL annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., a total of 13 teams received 32 compensatory picks for this year's draft.

The Bears have seven selections in the upcoming draft. They own their own picks in each of the first six rounds and also have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sixth-round pick, which they acquired in the trade for guard Gabe Carimi. They do not have their seventh-round pick, which they traded to the Dallas Cowboys for tight end Dante Rosario.
As Chicago eyes free agency next month, we’ll take a look back at the top players from the 2013 class of free agents, how they performed in their first year with the Bears and their prospects for 2014. Here we look at offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod:

Bushrod
Money: Signed a five-year contract worth a little more than $35.965 million that included $17.715 million in guarantees.

Stats: None, but as one of four new starters on the offensive line, Bushrod helped the Bears set a franchise record in yards (6,109) as the club finished with a 4.9 sack percentage on 609 drop backs, which ranked as the club’s sixth-lowest sack percentage since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.

2013 role: Of all the free-agent offensive linemen available, Bushrod had allowed the most combined sacks, hits and hurries, but he still represented an upgrade over the inconsistent J’Marcus Webb. Bushrod became an immediate starter on the offensive line, and protected the blindside of quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to helping his position group adjust to the new blocking schemes brought to the club by coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who the tackle had previously worked with in New Orleans. A Pro Bowler in 2012, Bushrod started all 16 games at left tackle for the Bears.

The good: Chicago surrendered just 30 sacks, which ranks as the club’s fewest since 2008 and the second fewest for the Bears in seven seasons, and Bushrod played a major role in that. On the season, Bushrod was responsible for four sacks, and that number perhaps could have been greater when taking into account the Bears now utilize an offense designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. Perhaps one of Bushrod’s greatest accomplishments in 2013 came in helping the rest of the offensive line learn the team’s new blocking schemes because of his experience working with Kromer in New Orleans. Bushrod was slightly better than average in pass protection. But when Chicago ran the ball behind Bushrod over left tackle, it averaged 5.03 yards per attempt, which ranked as 12th in the NFL.

The bad: In addition to the four sacks Bushrod surrendered, he also allowed nine hits and 42 quarterback pressures. By comparison, in 2012 Webb gave up seven sacks, five hits and 30 hurries. But Webb’s salary wasn’t near what the Bears paid to land Bushrod. So he’s got to perform at a level commensurate to what the Bears are paying. In addition, Bushrod tied with tight end Martellus Bennett for the team lead in penalties (seven). Luckily for the Bears those penalties resulted in only one stalled drive. Five of the flags were called for holding (three) or false start (two). Bushrod’s 2013 season was an improvement over what he did in 2012, but not by much. In 2012, Bushrod gave up four sacks, eight hits and 45 hurries.

2014 outlook: Bushrod is set to count $7.3 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014. So while he didn’t play horribly in 2013, he needs to play at the level he’s being paid: as an elite pass-protector. Bushrod knows that, and should improve in Year 2 with the Bears as the offensive line continues to develop chemistry. Down the stretch of 2013, Bushrod displayed signs of improvement. Over the last five games of the season, he surrendered a sack, two hits and six pressures after giving up a sack, three hits and 20 pressures in the five games previous. So perhaps Bushrod can carry that momentum into 2014 because he’ll certainly need to for the Bears to improve upon a strong 2013 campaign in the first year of Trestman’s offense.
2014 free agents: Roberto Garza, Eben Britton, Jonathan Scott, Taylor Boggs.

The good: With four new faces on the offensive line, the Bears used the same five starters up front for all 16 games last season and were one of just three teams in the NFL (Washington and Philadelphia were the others) to start the same five for the entire season. Garza was the only starter in 2013 returning from the 2012 team, and the right side of the line consisted of two rookie starters in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, who were the first rookie starters on Chicago’s offensive line on opening day since 1983. The offensive line paved the way for the team to set multiple franchise records on offense, and allowed 30 sacks, which tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL. The 30 sacks were the fewest allowed by the Bears since 2008.

The bad: Despite the improved sack numbers, the argument could be made they were a result of the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quicker than they had in the past. At Philadelphia, the offensive line gave up five sacks, and on occasion, the group struggled to provide sufficient push in short-yardage situations. After all the punishment Jay Cutler has taken over the years, it’s hard to find much “bad” about the 2013 offensive line. Perhaps the most concerning issue the group will having moving forward is whether the front office will bring back Garza, the quarterback of the offensive line, who is set to become a free agent.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Jermon Bushrod ($7.3 million), Matt Slauson ($2,747,500), Long ($1,886,580), Mills ($536,200), James Brown ($570,000), Gaines Rogers ($420,000), Joe Long ($420,000).

Draft priority: Moderate. Even if the Bears bring back Garza, they’ve got to start thinking about the future of the position, and they can possibly address that with a mid-to-late-round pick. Boggs served as Garza’s primary backup in 2013 as well as the top reserve at left guard. But Boggs is about to hit free agency. So the Bears need to decide whether to bring him back, along with pending free agents Britton and Scott, who have proved to be quality backups capable of starting. Reserve right guard James Brown is entering the final year of his contract as well. So while the starting offensive line for the most part appears set for the next couple of years (starting left guard Matt Slauson recently signed a new deal), the Bears might need to start developing younger players at the backup positions that can eventually become starters.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


Stock Watch: As usual, Marshall recovers

November, 26, 2013
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Brandon MarshallMichael Thomas/Getty ImagesAfter a down game against the Ravens, Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Rams.

RISING

Up arrow
  
Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: McCown's inclusion in this category is a weekly occurrence, but the veteran quarterback continues to exceed expectations. Despite being under heavy pressure Sunday, McCown completed 36-of-47 throws for 352 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (102 passer rating). McCown did everything is his power for the Bears to win that game. For the season, McCown is 97-of-148 for 1,106 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. In the NFL, statistics usually don't tell the whole story. In this case, they do. McCown isn't just the best story on the Bears in 2013, he's one of the best stories in the NFL. If McCown can lead the Bears past the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and get the club to 7-5 when Jay Cutler likely returns on Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys, then the 34-year-old quarterback should be named team MVP at the conclusion of the season, if he hasn't locked up the award already.

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Corey Wootton
2. Corey Wootton, DE: Wootton's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but he is the Bears' most consistent defensive lineman even though injuries have forced him to move inside to defensive tackle. Wootton held his own in the 42-21 loss to the Rams, which is a lot more than can be said for any of the other Bears defensive linemen. Double teams are a fact of life for Wootton these days, but he still manages to be effective when others around him falter. Wootton's evolution from an injury question mark to a reliable starter over the past two seasons has been enjoyable to watch. A solid and unselfish guy in the locker room, Wootton figures to be a strong contender to receive a new deal at the end of the season.

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Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall generally responds after the kind of so-so performance he had two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught just four passes for 42 yards and had a bad drop. Last Sunday, Marshall had his way with a sub-par Rams secondary en route to 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Marshall is now at 74 catches for 945 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers that were unheard of for a Bears wide receiver after 11 games until Marshall arrived in the spring of 2012. Earl Bennett also deserves mention for having his best game of the season with eight receptions for 58 yards.

FALLING

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Shea McClellin
1. Shea McClellin, DE: Almost every member of the Bears' front seven on defense, with the exception of Wootton, is a candidate to be mentioned in this space, but McClellin's failures in the run game were the most glaring. Time after time, McClellin crashed down from his defensive end spot only to create massive running lanes for the Rams to bounce the ball back outside and hit the edge. There is nothing wrong with McClellin being aggressive off the snap, but at some point he needs to diagnose the play and figure out where the football is headed. McClellin potentially altered the NFC North landscape with his hit on Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 11, but he doesn't have much to show for his season besides that game.

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Bush
2. Michael Bush, RB: Marc Trestman made two comments on Monday in the aftermath of the St. Louis defeat that were rather curious. Trestman vigorously defended Bush, who finished Sunday with minus-5 yards on seven carries. Bush is averaging 1.6 yards per carry on the season. In the past three games, Bush has run the ball 11 times for zero yards. After signing a four-year, $14 million ($7 million guaranteed) deal with the Bears, Bush told reporters that he did not consider himself to be a short-yardage back. He was spot-on. Maybe Bush resurrects his career in 2014, but the odds of that happening in Chicago appear to be slim.

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Jermon Bushrod
3. Jermon Bushrod, LT: Bushrod had his hands full with Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, one of the top pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL, from start to finish in St. Louis. In general, the offensive line had a rough day against the Rams, although Trestman felt the group did a "great" job. The Bears only surrendered one sack (Quinn) in Week 12, but much of that was due to McCown's ability to sense the pressure and move up in the pocket to deliver the ball before he got drilled. Even though he experienced a rash of problems Sunday, Bushrod has still been a massive upgrade at left tackle over J'Marcus Webb. While some suggest the Bears overpaid in free agency (five years, $35.965 million), the former Pro Bowler gives the Bears instant credibility when it comes to protecting the quarterback's blind side. It was a move the Bears had to make. Bushrod will bounce back, and so will the rest of the Bears offensive line after that shaky effort against the Rams.

Four Downs: Minimal dropoff with Bostic?

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Jon BosticAP Photo/Scott BoehmJon Bostic will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Redskins.
While veteran D.J. Williams recovered from a calf strain that kept him out of the preseason, many clamored for rookie Jon Bostic to win the middle linebacker job. Now with Williams shelved for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bostic is getting his chance.

What can be expected of the second-round pick who has played almost entirely on special teams to this point? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears won't lose much with rookie Jon Bostic taking over for the injured D.J. Williams.


[+] EnlargeJonathan Bostic
AP Photo/Scott BoehmRookie Jon Bostic showed his hard-hitting style in the preseason.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears were pleased with Williams at middle linebacker. The veteran shook off the rust that plagued him in the first couple of weeks to record, by the team's count, 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Williams is the fifth-leading tackler on the team after six games, even though he was primarily used as a two-down linebacker, coming off the field in nickel situations. Williams is an experienced and savvy veteran. Bostic is a rookie. There are going to be bumps in the road. He is extremely athletic and has shown an ability to make big plays, but at his core, he is still a rookie. Bostic will make mistakes. The Bears just hope those mistakes don't result in touchdowns. The Bears always viewed Bostic as a future starter, but the plan was for Williams to handle middle linebacker in 2013. Now that plan is null and void and the team will have to adjust. Bostic is a good option, but he's not the best option. At least, not this season.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Everyone was excited in the preseason because Bostic is athletic and knows how to play in an aggressive, takeaway-hungry defense. But this is about more than storylines and draft status. Bostic lacks Williams' experience in the NFL. That's a pretty simple statement, but it's the real issue. Bostic can't learn experience, that intuition you earn by playing in enough games to let muscle memory take over. Bostic told me in training camp about watching Lance Briggs with admiration, as the veteran knew exactly where the play was going. Bostic doesn't have that yet, and the Bears have to hope he's a quick learner so he can realize the right fits between the gaps. Williams knew them. After missing the entire preseason, he slid right in without missing a beat.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Lions are a bigger threat to the Bears in the division than the Packers.


[+] EnlargeNick Perry
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers handed the Lions one of their two losses this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The road to the NFC North title still runs through Green Bay. Until the Bears prove they can beat the Packers, Marc Trestman's team cannot be considered one of the NFC's elite. Jay Cutler is having a solid season, but he needs to defeat Green Bay to truly get over the hump. Cutler has one victory over the Packers since he arrived in Chicago in 2009, and if the Packers don't commit a staggering number of penalties that 2010 night at Soldier Field, Cutler would be winless against the division foe. This is still Green Bay's division. The Lions like to run their mouths, but that franchise has accomplished next to nothing. The Bears have a great shot to knock off Detroit in November at Soldier Field. But can they do the same against the Packers? That remains the larger unanswered question.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Both are threats, of course, but the road to the division goes through Green Bay. Detroit obviously has the edge on the Bears, but they still have to win at Soldier Field. The Bears need to take one of two against the Packers this season. And if Cutler can just play a clean game in Green Bay in two weeks, that will exorcise some of his demons with the NFC North titans. Cutler needs to aim for the Packers.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman's system is most responsible for Cutler being sacked only nine times this season.


[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler has been sacked nine times this season, tied for second-fewest in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Trestman's desire that Cutler get rid of the ball in a timely fashion definitely helps. But to attribute the improved pass protection primarily to the system is unfair. The Bears are simply better up front. Why it took the organization so long to assemble a good offensive line is beyond me, but general manager Phil Emery accomplished in one offseason what the previous administration failed to do in the post-Super Bowl years of 2007-2012. Let's give some credit to Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills for keeping Cutler upright. Aaron Kromer also deserves a mention. Although Trestman runs the offense, Kromer controls the offensive line and has played an important role in developing the two rookies on the right side. Cutler himself has done a nice job avoiding the rush, and the receivers also play a role in protection. This has been a collective effort since the start of the season. If it continues, the Bears' offense will only get better.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Of course his play calling, getting the ball out quicker and such, is a big factor, but you can't discount the play of the offensive line and Cutler's trust in his receivers. While coaching is a bigger factor in the NFL than in the other major professional sports, the guys on the field are still the ones who have to execute. For most of the first six games, Cutler has had time to throw because his linemen, and additional blockers, have held up their end. It helps that Cutler isn't locking in on one player or one option. Kromer has certainly helped there, too, but give credit where credit's due here.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will beat the Redskins if they hold Robert Griffin III in check.


[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiHaving to dig out of deficits all season, the Redskins and QB Robert Griffin III have been especially pass-heavy on offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are just a better team. However, Griffin remains a wild card. I have a ton of respect for RG III and the way he returned to the starting lineup only eight months after suffering a serious knee injury that required surgery. But he just doesn't quite look the same this season. As a rookie, he was a dynamic multipurpose threat. This year he's been more of a pocket passer with a 59.8 completion percentage and 80.4 passer rating. There is always a chance RG III has a big game against a shaky Bears defense. But if the Bears keep RG III in check, it's hard to imagine the Redskins doing enough to win the game, even with it being at FedEx Field.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Griffin showed more athleticism last week, albeit in a loss to Dallas, but he's scary because of his arm, not just his legs. With time Griffin is still very, very dangerous. And the Bears' defense is giving quarterbacks time with a flaccid pass rush. With their ballhawks in the secondary, the Bears need to force him into some quick decisions, and they especially need to force him into some third-and-long situations. Julius Peppers, for one, needs to make an impact this week.

Saints confuse Bears' offense early

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
6:50
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CHICAGO -- Credit New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for surprising the Chicago Bears’ offense with a variety of different looks that resulted in two sacks and two Jay Cutler fumbles in the Bears’ first three drives to open Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.

“The first quarter they were bringing things that we really hadn’t seen on tape,” Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. “We knew going into the game they had a whole bunch of different fronts -- two down, three down and they even put a linebacker over me. It was all kind of stuff. We came out in the first quarter and they had a two-down front and they had people all over the place. It was a little tough to identify who we wanted to identify.

“It was just different looks. It was more mentally than physically. We picked it up. But we can’t put our defense in the hole early on. You can’t give an offense like the Saints short fields. But our defense fought back and actually gave us a chance. We just couldn’t get it done.”

The Bears’ offense eventually recovered and did an adequate job protecting Cutler (3.0 sacks) for the rest of the afternoon, but the sluggish start forced the team’s defense to spend valuable time on the field attempting to slow down Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans’ offense. Although the Bears limited the Saints to a pair of first-quarter field goals, New Orleans eventually led the game 13-0 with 5:57 left in the second quarter, as the Bears were able to convert just two of six third down chances in the first half -- Bears were 4-of-10 on third-down conversions for the game.

“Once we made the corrections, we were able to move the football down the field,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “But we have to do that early. Our whole objective this game was to come in here and convert on third downs and keep our defense off the field. But we weren’t able to do that. We put our defense in tough situations today. We haven’t played our best football yet. When we do know who to block and get the job done you see what we can do.”

Locker Room Buzz: Chicago Bears

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
5:23
PM ET
CHICAGO -- Observed in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

Bushrod
Lamenting the loss: Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod sat alone at his locker after all the other players had left. As he pulled on one of his black and pink LeBron James sneakers, the question was posed as to whether losing to his former team hurt more than a defeat to another team. “Would’ve liked to get the W; would have been nice,” Bushrod said. “But at this point, I just want to win, period.”

Blocking schemes tossed: Strewn across a bench in front of a locker was a bundle of papers detailing blocking schemes drawn up for the game plan against the Saints. It appeared as if a player had been studying them prior to the team coming out for the game. But early on, those schemes didn’t seem to work. Jay Cutler suffered three sacks in the first half, including one on a corner blitz by Malcolm Jenkins that caused the quarterback to fumble, with Cameron Jordan scooping up the loose ball. New Orleans turned that turnover into a Garrett Hartley field goal.

Bennett keeps sense of humor: Wearing an ice bag on his left knee, tight end Martellus Bennett stopped in front of the doors leading out of the locker room and stared at a table that usually contains postgame snacks for the players. “Where’s a Rice Krispies treat when you need one?" he asked.

Stock Watch: Forte shows his versatility

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
2:30
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Matt ForteAP Photo/Jim PrischingMatt Forte racked up 161 yards from scrimmage in the Bears' victory over the Vikings in Week 2.

RISING

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler turned over the ball three times, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Instead of melting down, Cutler completed 8 of 10 (including a spike to stop the clock) passes for 76 yards on the club's game winning drive, and hit Martellus Bennett on a 16-yard scoring strike for the game-winner. Cutler has now engineered back-to-back comebacks against two 2012 playoff participants. Considering the way Cutler has been able to overcome adversity in these difficult games early on, you've got to be encouraged by his prospects later down the line in big games and possibly the postseason.

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Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: After a lackluster season opener in which he rushed for 50 yards on 19 attempts, Forte bounced back in a major way against the Vikings. Forte contributed 161 yards from scrimmage (90 yards rushing, 71 receiving), marking his 13th career game in which he's generated 150 yards or more. Forte was targeted more than any running back in the NFL in Week 2 (11 times) and caught every ball thrown his way. Forte was also a valuable contributor in pass protection. Furthermore, his yards per route run was the highest in the league of any RB and his drop pass rate was the lowest of any RB, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Devin Hester
3. Devin Hester, KR/PR: Hester seemed poised to bust a few big returns considering he's run back four returns for touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings, which is the most he's had against any team. When the Vikings returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a TD, Hester immediately responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 76-yard return. Hester broke his own 2006 record for return yards in a single game (225), by burning the Vikings for 249 yards. His 49.8 yards per return against the Vikings ranked as the third best in franchise history among players with three or more returns in a game.


FALLING

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Julius Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, DE: Peppers missed practice time last week after experiencing flu-like symptoms, and Bears coach Marc Trestman said the defensive end was even more ill against the Vikings than he had been in the previous two days leading into the game. Two games into the season, Peppers has not recorded a sack, and at this time last year, he'd already racked up two. That's not to say Peppers won't produce his third consecutive season with double-digit sack totals, because more than likely he will. But the veteran is certainly off to a slow start, having graded out negatively in both games.

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Henry Melton
2. Henry Melton, DT: Melton has actually graded out worse than Peppers through the first two games. The club gave Melton the franchise designation in the offseason with the hopes that it could eventually work out a long-term deal with the defensive tackle. But at this point, the franchise might be reconsidering its intentions. Melton has contributed three tackles thus far, with no sacks or quarterback pressures. Through the first two games of the 2012 season, Melton had posted three sacks. So like Peppers, Melton is off to a slow start.

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Jermon Bushrod
3. Jermon Bushrod, LT: The prized acquisition of free agency, Bushrod signed on to be Cutler's blindside protection, and while he's been a significant upgrade over former left tackle J'Marcus Webb, there's still room for improvement. According to Pro Football Focus, Bushrod graded out as the worst of Chicago's offensive linemen against the Vikings. He surrendered a sack, a quarterback hit and three hurries against the Vikings. Through the first two games, Bushrod has given up two quarterback hits and six pressures, in addition to grading out negatively in each contest.

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