Chicago Bears: San Diego Chargers
"He was pretty close," Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "The kicker made a nice play and then also the safety from the back side. It was just good to get him some action, some real action. It was good to see those guys blocking the way they did, too, because there was definitely some holes out there, which was nice to see."
Hester also was credited with a 23-yard kickoff return in the Bears' preseason opener in Carolina when he decided to run the ball out after fielding it in the back of the end zone. The Bears have given Hester the green light on kickoff returns in both exhibition games. That aggressive style doesn't just help Hester, it allows the rest of the return team members to practice setting up their blocks.
"Even when Devin was having those big years, Devin had some big holes to go through," DeCamillis said. "We just got to do a better job of getting some holes for him at the start, and then, you know, he's gotta go and play better also. So it's a combination of all of those. I've got to help him schematically with what we're doing. Guys gotta block better, and he's gotta return better. That's what we've been working on all camp, and hopefully it starts to show up."
DeCamillis also has taken notice of undrafted rookie Michael Ford, who is fighting to earn a roster spot at running back. With Armando Allen sidelined last week due to a hamstring injury, Ford helped his cause with a 100-yard kickoff return against the Chargers. He finished the game with three returns for 160 yards.
"It would be tough not to like what you saw in a Michael Ford," DeCamillis said. "He did a great job. On his long one, that wasn't one of the better blocked returns that we had all night. He made a guy miss right in the hole. So that was a great run by him, and he did a better job on coverage, too. So he's making it tough. He's doing a good job of what we need to see from him, that's for sure."
Blanchard broke a knuckle in his left hand in the third quarter of the Bears’ 33-28 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers.
A broken knuckle has the roster status of Bears quarterback Matt Blanchard in jeopardy.
Blanchard could not put a timetable on a return.
“I really don’t know yet,” Blanchard said. "We’re still talking and I still have to see some doctors. I still have to talk to our trainers and figure that stuff out.”
Based on Trestman’s comments throughout training camp, Blanchard had performed well in the preseason and appeared to be a strong candidate to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster as the Bears’ No. 3 quarterback before the injury. Blanchard completed 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards in the Bears' opening preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
“I feel good about my progress [in the offense],” Blanchard said. “I feel good about moving forward and a lot of the stuff’s out of my hands at this point.
“I just have to help the new quarterbacks coming in to get them ready for Oakland and get them ready for the last preseason game and be the best teammate possible.”
The Bears held the Chargers’ first-team offense and quarterback Philip Rivers scoreless on four possessions over a little more than a quarter, thanks greatly to their defensive line.
McClellin led the way on the Bears’ first stop of the Chargers’ offense. On a first-down play, McClellin tackled Chargers running back Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard loss. Facing long yardage, San Diego went to the air on the next two downs, but Rivers threw back-to-back incompletions.
On the Chargers’ next possession, Wootton stepped up. Wootton blew past San Diego right tackle D.J. Fluker on the inside and slammed Rivers to the ground for a sack. Wootton celebrated with a robot dance. Facing third-and-14, Rivers threw an interception on the following play.
McClellin emerged again on the Chargers’ third possession. He got past left tackle Max Starks and nailed Rivers from behind. The hit caused Rivers to fumble the ball, and the Bears recovered it.
The Bears again kept the heat on Rivers on the Chargers’ fourth offensive possession. On third-and-6 from the Bears’ 39-yard line, which is as close as Rivers got to Chicago's end zone, Collins ended Rivers' day by dropping him one final time for a sack.
McClellin, Wootton and Collins combined for 10 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble.
With those numbers, it’s no wonder Trestman was so happy.
One week after returning an interception for a touchdown in the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers, Bostic was at it again Thursday night in his Solider Field debut, delivering a vicious hit to San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie on a short pass on the third play of the second half. The force of the impact caused Willie to drop the ball, resulting in an incompletion.
"Obviously, it was a big hit," Bostic said. "We were trying to take the ball away, that's the main thing. I kind of read it kind of quick because of something we had on up front. It was a big hit. But we were trying to take the ball out, but we didn’t get it."
Bostic said he wasn't sure if it was the biggest hit of his career.
1. The progress of the offense: The 10 snaps the Bears' starting offense took in Carolina is too small of a sample size to draw any sort of conclusions. But we might have a better idea about where the offense stands on Thursday night, if the first team plays at least a quarter, as expected. Take away Jay Cutler's early interception, and the quarterback had a decent performance versus the Panthers, even without Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall on the field. With Marshall back in the lineup and Matt Forte expected to carry the ball more than one time against the Chargers -- we should have a better feel for the Bears' offense heading into next week.
2. The right side of the offensive line: Kyle Long's rise up to the depth chart does not come as a surprise. Although Long is still in the process of refining his technique, footwork and overall feel for playing right guard at the NFL level, he was the Bears' first-round pick (No. 20) in the draft. The plan was always for him to be a starter his rookie year. The surprise is fifth-round draft choice Jordan Mills replacing J'Marcus Webb this week at right tackle. Is this development more of a credit to Mills or an indictment of Webb, who if I recall correctly, basically entered training camp as the clear cut No. 1 right tackle. Whatever the reason, Mills has a great opportunity to win the job permanently. But if he falters, veterans Eben Britton and likely Jonathan Scott are waiting in the wings. So is Webb, technically.
4. Isaiah Frey pursuit of nickel back: Frey has been one of the best stories of training camp, hands down, but he cannot afford to let up just because he took over the No. 1 nickel back spot after Kelvin Hayden suffered a season ending hamstring tear. The Bears have other options on the roster in the event Frey slips in the coming weeks. The coaches could ask Pro Bowler Tim Jennings to slide inside to nickel and bring in cornerback Zack Bowman on passing downs. That is a plausible scenario. Rookie Demontre Hurst has appeared to do a nice job as the No. 2 nickel in camp, however, it's unclear if the Bears would be comfortable turning the complicated position over to an undrafted rookie with zero experience. Frey didn't appear in an NFL game last year, but at least he spent portions of the year around the team, plus the entire offseason. Recently signed defensive back Derrick Martin has experience at nickel, and so does safety Tom Nelson dating back to his days with the Cincinnati Bengals. The point is, Frey needs to keep pushing and making plays to ensure the Bears don't eventually turn to Plan B.
5. The reserve quarterbacks: Barring an injury, veteran Josh McCown enters the regular season as the Bears' No. 2 quarterback. That really isn't up for debate. Bears general manager Phil Emery once called McCown "a glue guy" for his ability to keep things together behind the scenes. I couldn't agree more. But after McCown, do the Bears keep three quarterbacks and break the preseason with Matt Blanchard on the 53-man roster? The question has nothing to do with the way Blanchard has performed in the preseason. He managed to complete 15-of-18 passes for 194 yards (one interception) versus the Panthers, despite being sacked five times. Blanchard has a strong arm, looks good in practice against the other backups, and seems like an intelligent and hard-working kind of guy. But sometimes the NFL comes down to a numbers game. Somebody is going to be squeezed off the roster to make room for Devin Hester. Remember, Hester is no longer a wide receiver, he's purely a specialist. That means the Bears will have four guys on the roster strictly for special teams. Where does that roster spot come from? Well, sometimes teams carry only two quarterbacks, as the Bears did last year. Would Blanchard clear waivers and be eligible to be signed to the practice squad for another year? Tough to say. All Blanchard can do is keep competing at the same level he has been. But it certainly wouldn't hurt his chances to earn a better paycheck if he lights it up whenever he hits the field in the final preseason games.
Sidelined with knee swelling for a good portion of training camp, Scott is expected to return in the coming days after medical personnel recently drained fluid from the veteran's sore knee and after an exploratory examination found no structural damage.
"It looks like it's gotten better," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We should see some movement in the right direction in the next few days and the next week. He was actually with the doctors today. [Head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks] came over to tell me that, said the results were very good. I didn't get specific with him, but he was positive about Jonathan getting back to us next week."
Scott, a seven-year veteran, has experienced swelling in his knees in the past and missed some time last season, his first with the Bears.
Scott's return will be welcomed considering the team is in the heat of a competition to find its starting right tackle. Incumbent J'Marcus Webb was moved to the second team, where he'll back up Jermon Bushrod at left tackle, and rookie Jordan Mills was elevated to the first team on the right side.
"You always want to see points," Trestman said. "That would be No. 1. We want to score."
Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears' starting offense played just 10 snaps last week in Carolina, and although the unit failed to put the ball in the end zone, Cutler did finish 6-of-8 passing for 56 yards after tossing an interception on their first offensive snap of the game.
With the starter expected to be on the field for at least one quarter against the Chargers, Cutler is hopeful the Bears will be permitted to show a tad more on offense.
"I hope so," Cutler said. "We're going to get some game-planning this afternoon, but still it's the preseason and we're still figuring out exactly what plays we like and what we're good at so we're not going to be game-planning like your regular week. We'll do a little bit tonight, some tomorrow, then we'll strap it up and play and hopefully some of that stuff pairs up nicely for us. If not, then we'll just have to work around it and figure it out and watch it on tape."
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s humbling, having Roberto Garza, Webb, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, the whole offensive line helps me,” Mills said. “They’re in your ear every time I make mistakes I can go to the sideline expecting some criticism, constructive criticism -- what to do here, you need to step this way, be a little bit lower, so it’s been great working with them. In my eyes, these dudes are all Hall of Famers in my eyes, so just to be here is so humbling.”
Bears head coach Marc Trestman cautioned that nothing is set in stone on the right side, but said Mills and Long will continue to get the bulk of the practice reps in the next couple of days leading up to the second preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, where the duo is likely to open up the game as starters.
However, Trestman stopped short of saying the team was sending a message to Webb.
“I think we've been very clear with J'Marcus about what we're doing,” Trestman said. “I said it last week that there's been an up-and-down performance level by J'Marcus but we were still going to do this. We were still going to give work to the other guys and see what they could do as well. So we'll evaluate it. We're going to go through the week like this. We'll evaluate the game and move forward into Oakland."
Seau, a 43-year-old former All-Pro linebacker, was found unconscious with a gunshot wound to the chest by his girlfriend Wednesday but lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful. Police were investigating the possibility that Seau's death was a suicide.
“The first way I heard about it was just a text that said, ‘That’s crazy about Seau,’” Hillenmeyer told ESPN 1000’s “Chicago’s GameNight” on Wednesday. “And what, to me, the scariest thing is that that was all I knew before I checked Twitter or tried to figure out what happened, and I already assumed exactly what it was. I don’t know him personally. I was obviously a big fan of his and the way he played the game.”
By standing idle as the franchise-tag deadline passed, the Chargers opened the door for Jackson to negotiate and sign with another team when free agency begins on March 13 (many times, deals are consummated before the official start of free agency). Jackson wants to remain in San Diego, and it's believed he'll accept a lesser deal to stay with the club. But it became virtually impossible for the Chargers to franchise Jackson under the new CBA regulations.
Jackson earned $11.4 million as the Chargers' franchise player in 2011. To retain Jackson again in that capacity in 2012, San Diego would have been required to pay the receiver 120 percent of his '11 salary, which all would count against the team's salary cap for the upcoming season.
CHICAGO -- Here are Five Things We Learned following the Bears' 31-20 victory over San Diego.
2. The picture at wide receiver has become clear: Devin Hester is the greatest return man in history and a major contributor to the club's overall success. But after being used strictly in the return game against Detroit, Hester wasn't targeted once in the win against San Diego. It seems Earl Bennett, Knox and even Roy Williams (five catches for 62 yards) have staked their claims to the starting reps at receiver, which seems appropriate given how the three performed on Sunday at Soldier Field. This should allow the Bears, even under Hanie, to be selective with how they use Hester on offense. Don't look at this development in a negative light. Hester can still be a weapon for Mike Martz, but he might be more effective in spot duty. Let Hester concentrate on special teams while at the same time throwing him a few bones every week at wideout. People have been clamoring for this for years, but if this past week is any indication, it could be the new reality for Hester on offense. It's no slight on Hester, but he wins games on special teams, normally not on offense.
3. Bears secondary is eight deep: When D.J. Moore returns from an ankle injury, Lovie Smith will have eight experienced defensive backs at his disposal as the Bears make a push toward the playoffs. Reserve safety Brandon Meriweather played a much more disciplined brand of football when he came off the bench for a few series on Sunday, and made three solid tackles. Corey Graham filled in nicely for D.J. Moore at nickel and Zack Bowman pitched in when the defense shifted to its "TANK" personnel to better match up with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates. Meanwhile, Chris Conte and Major Wright continue to bring stability to the safety position, with Wright forcing a turnover in each of the past three games, which is the lifeblood of Smith's defense. Even though Tillman had a rough time guarding Jackson, the overall performance of the starting corners this year has been well above average, and getting Moore back in the fold sometime in near future will only strengthen the group. What looked like a weakness early in the year, has become the backbone of the Bears' defense.
4. Graham can play defense: We all know Graham is on track to earn a Pro Bowl berth on special teams, but the Bears never seemed to believe he could contribute much on defense. Well, after intercepting a pass in each of the past two games while stepping in at the complicated nickel back position, Graham, who signed only a one-year contract at the start of training camp, is showing the rest of the league he should be given a chance to compete for a starting job on defense somewhere next season. Whenever Graham has been afforded the opportunity to be more than just a special teamer, he's responded. He did a nice job starting nine games at cornerback in 2008, but for whatever reason, he's never really been in the mix the past two and half years. But Graham is making a strong case to be more involved in the game plan, even when Moore returns to field.
5. Perhaps the Bears should pursue Jackson in free agency: Wow. What a performance by Vincent Jackson, who hauled in seven passes for 165 and repeatedly got the better of Charles Tillman. Jackson turns 29 in January and appears to have plenty left in the tank. I know it's going to cost a ton of money, but a 6-foot-5 threat who has already posted a pair of 1,000 yard seasons and has four 100-yard games in 2011 is worth the big contract. Drop Jackson in with Bennett and Knox and let the good times roll. The Bears have a history of signing free agents who played well against them the year before. They need to continue that tradition and snare Jackson once he hits the open market in the offseason.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears reeled off five consecutive wins in 2010 from Nov. 7 through Dec. 5 and reached their fifth straight victory of the 2011 season Sunday with a 31-20 trouncing of the San Diego Chargers.
The question now is how long can the current streak last with three more games against the struggling AFC West on the horizon?
The Bears have forced nine turnovers in their past two outings -- six against the Lions and three against the Chargers -- and are now 4-1 on the season when they finish on the positive side of the turnover margin and 10-1 the past two seasons under those conditions.
Talk about playing Chicago Bears football.
Let’s take a closer look:
What it means: The Bears didn’t gain or lose ground in their attempt to move up in the NFC North standings. More than anything, the triumph over the Chargers maintains the momentum built up by the team as it goes into the second of four consecutive outings against the AFC West, a division that had a combined 19-20 record coming out of Sunday’s games (the Kansas City Chiefs face the New England Patriots on Monday).
The Bears simply maintained their position as both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions emerged victors in their respective games.
Hester adds to accolades: The Chargers kept Devin Hester out of the end zone, but the return man added to his long list of accomplishments with a 37-yard punt return in the second quarter. With that long return, Hester now has 31 returns of 25 yards or longer since coming into the league in 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Hester’s 31 returns of 25 yards or longer is 15 more than any other player in the NFL.
Tight ends hurting Bears: Antonio Gates caught an 8-yard touchdown in the second quarter, marking the eighth touchdown given up by the Bears to a tight end. The eight TDs allowed by a tight end is the most of any team in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Interestingly, the Bears gave up just three touchdowns to tight ends last season, which was tied for the fewest in the NFL.
Three in a Roy: Having caught just three balls in the previous two games, receiver Roy Williams hauled in three consecutive completions from Jay Cutler for gains of 11, 11 and 12 yards during an eight-play drive in the third quarter that led to Bears taking a 24-17 lead on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Perhaps Williams was making up Sunday for a zero-catch performance in the team’s victory over the Lions.
Williams caught a season-high five passes for 62 yards and appeared to be Cutler’s go-to receiver in crucial situations.
Coming into the game, Williams’ best performance had been a four-catch outing against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 7.
Speaking of three in a row: Bears safety Major Wright notched his first career interception in the team’s 30-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 7. Since then, the second-year safety has picked off passes in each of the past two weeks.
Wright intercepted Rivers in the fourth quarter and was flagged for a group demonstration in the end zone. A week before, in Chicago’s win over Detroit, Wright scored on a 24-yard INT return.
Windy City stripper: Bears cornerback Charles Tillman struggled somewhat in pass coverage against Vincent Jackson, who finished the day with seven receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Tillman atoned with heady play, leading to the cornerback notching the 27th forced fumble of his career. In notching his third forced fumble of this season, Tillman poked the ball out of the arms of Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and recovered the loose ball at the San Diego 37 with 5:32 left in the third quarter.
Two plays later, the Bears turned that into a touchdown with a 24-yard scoring connection from Cutler to Johnny Knox.
Tillman’s 26 forced fumbles since 2003 ranked as the most by a defensive back coming into Sunday’s contest. Tillman has now played a role in 45 turnovers (28 interceptions and 27 forced fumbles) throughout his career.
What’s next: The Bears receive a day off on Monday before starting preparation for a road game next Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
During a drive spanning 83 yards and eight plays, Cutler completed three consecutive passes to Roy Williams for 34 yards before hitting Johnny Knox for a 42-yard strike to the San Diego 1.
Two plays later, Cutler dove through the teeth of San Diego’s defense for the score. The drive siphoned away five minutes and 11 seconds, and came after the Chargers appeared to seize momentum with a seven-play drive to start the second half.
Chicago tacked onto the lead on San Diego’s ensuing possession when Charles Tillman stripped Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, and recovered the loose ball at the visitors’ 37. Two plays later, Cutler launched a floating ball that Knox made a spinning adjustment to haul in, just keeping his feet inbounds for the TD.
Knox’s score came on his third grab of the day, as he finished the quarter with 97 yards receiving. By the end of the third quarter, Williams had gained 62 yards on five catches.
In getting Chargers off to a fast start in the third quarter, Phillip Rivers drove his team 76 yards, connecting with Vincent Jackson for a 47-yard gain, with the receiver holding on despite a bone-jarring hit from Bears safety Chris Conte.
Two plays later, officials called Tim Jennings for pass interference as the cornerback defended Vincent Brown, giving the Chargers possession at the Chicago 11. Three plays later, Rivers hit Jackson for a 5-yard touchdown to tie the score at 17 on Nick Novak’s extra point.
By the end of the third quarter, Jackson had caught seven passes for 165 yards.