Chicago Bears: Scott Wells

BBAO: Two healthy CBs for Lions

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

After a tough and physical game last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Detroit Lions have begun preparations for Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears with only two healthy cornerbacks.

The Lions aren't required to issue an injury report until Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, but as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes, rookie Bill Bentley (shoulder) and veteran Jacob Lacey (concussion) appeared to sit out Wednesday's practice. Both players didn't return after suffering their injuries against the Eagles. That left veteran Chris Houston and rookie Jonte Green as the only healthy cornerbacks on the 53-man roster.

Fellow rookie Chris Greenwood was activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list this week but hasn't yet been added to the 53-man roster. It would be asking a lot for him to be ready to play Monday night.

The Bears aren't expected to have their full arsenal of receivers Monday night because of Alshon Jeffery's fractured hand, as ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright notes, but the Lions appear shorthanded for the moment regardless.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Lions center Dominic Raiola on gaining respect in the Lions-Bears rivalry, via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: "Yeah, we can say that now that we are talented enough to compete. Back in the day the Lions were, you know, bad, and there are some that still feel that way about us -- same old Lions. It's going to be that kind of thing for a while until we can do what we want to do consistently against them."
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz on defensive tackle Nick Fairley's encouraging performance against the Eagles, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "We expected stuff like that when we drafted him in the first round. I don't want to be giving pats on the back for doing what we expect from you."
  • Bears running back Matt Forte appears fully recovered from last month's ankle sprain, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune: "[I]t is safe to say the Bears failed Chris Williams as much as he failed them."
  • Green Bay Packers running back Alex Green spent a lot of time studying the way Cedric Benson plays, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers cornerback Davon House is hoping to regain his starting job, writes Sarah Barshop of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Packers center Jeff Saturday joked that the team will speak in Pig Latin on Sunday to avoid former Packers center Scott Wells providing any insight into their approach against the St. Louis Rams. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com explains, complete with a Pig Latin headline.
  • There remains "some question" about why the Minnesota Vikings only use receiver Percy Harvin on short passes, writes Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune.
  • The Vikings aren't looking ahead despite a schedule that has them playing two games in five days, notes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Vikings defensive end Brian Robison addresses the Arizona Cardinals' troubles in pass protection with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

NFC North free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
2:47
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Chicago Bears

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

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

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

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

Detroit Lions

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

Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

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

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

Green Bay Packers

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

Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

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

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

Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Tentative NFC North salary-cap status

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
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The NFL's new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has brought an issue we haven't faced in a number of years: Tight salary-cap situations.

After jumping considerably in the final few years of the old CBA, the league's cap limit isn't expected to rise much, if any, for the 2012 season. That means teams will have roughly $120 million to work with as they assemble the top 51 players on their training camp roster.

Based on the numbers I've been able to dig up, it appears that three of our four NFC North teams are going to be relatively tight against that number, especially considering they need to save room for signing a draft class. All teams must be in compliance when the new league year opens, and free agency begins, on March 13.

The following is how much each team currently has committed to its 2012 cap. Keep in mind that the numbers probably will change between now and March 13 as teams re-sign, re-negotiate and release players from their rosters.
A few thoughts:
  1. We've already discussed the Lions' situation at some length. Simple math tells us they're going to have to adjust some current salaries just to get under $120 million, and the first candidate is receiver Calvin Johnson, who is projected to count about $22 million against the cap alone. As we've noted, four players -- Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch -- account for nearly half of their total cap projection.
  2. There are tricks available for teams like the Lions who want to keep or re-sign their players in a tight environment. They come with risks and the potential for future problems, but there is always a way to squeeze players into a given year's cap. The new CBA has a provision that allows teams to borrow against future caps, providing another option.
  3. One positive bi-product of the Bears' decision to trade for quarterback Jay Cutler in 2009: It relieved them of the cap commitment associated with two first-round draft picks. That's one of the reasons new general manager Phil Emery has some $18 million to work with if he wants to sign veteran free agents and/or use his franchise tag on tailback Matt Forte.
  4. The Packers have a number of veterans they want to re-sign, including tight end Jermichael Finley and center Scott Wells. With about $5 million in wiggle room, based on these numbers, they'll need to make some adjustments to fit both players in. As Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has already suggested, the Packers could carve out some space by either releasing receiver Donald Driver or renegotiating his contract. The same could happen for left tackle Chad Clifton.
  5. Still, it should be clear why it seems unlikely that the Packers would place their franchise tag on quarterback Matt Flynn for the purposes of trading him after March 13. Doing so would require a $14 million cap commitment, require more cap maneuvering than would be comfortable and likely exposing either Finley or Wells to the free agent market.

What the Packers are saying

January, 17, 2011
1/17/11
7:12
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Admit it, you can’t get enough of the pre-game hype concerning the Chicago Bears’ matchup with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game.

So here at ESPNChicago.com, we decided to feed the beast, kicking off a week of extensive coverage before one of the year’s biggest games. Here’s a potpourri of remarks from the Packers about Sunday’s game against the Bears:

[+] EnlargeTramon Williams
Dale Zanine/US PresswirePackers cornerback Tramon Williams returned an interception for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.
CORNERBACK TRAMON WILLIAMS

How would you describe the Packers defense?
Williams:
Relentless. We just finished watching the film. And as a [defensive back] you don't get to see the front seven doing their job because you are in coverage all the time. But when you come back and watch film and see the way those guys are playing up front, it's crazy. They've done a great job up there and kind of made our job easy in the back end.

How different will it be to play the Bears a third time?
Williams:
It's not going to be much different. It's one of those deals to where you know someone so good that you know the game is going to be a battle. It's going to come down to the small details. When you play a team like that, you may not feel that you have to put in as much studying because you feel you know that team. But you don't take that approach. You have to go back in, pay attention to more details, and kind of go into Chicago Bears locker room and see [whether you] can understand their players like they understand it. That's something that my coach just finished telling me that he's going to do, detailing this work like that. That's something that our defense has been doing, detailing their work all year. I think that's what made us play the way we've been.

CENTER SCOTT WELLS

What’s it like to be the favorite after being considered underdogs most of the season?
Wells:
No, we're going in this week, we're playing the Bears. Huge rivalry game. We have a lot of respect for them. I think they do for us as well. We're focused on what we have to do to go in there and get the win.

What’s the biggest challenge to neutralizing the Bears defense?
Wells:
For us, we want to be a two dimensional offense, want to run the ball and pass the ball effectively. They use the front four, and two -- mainly [linebackers Lance] Briggs and [Brian] Urlacher -- and I guess all three of their linebackers to create penetration up front, try to funnel things up to their linebackers to eliminate explosive gains in the run game. So our key is going to be to eliminate that penetration, create some seams and try to be a two dimensional offense.

How much does the rivalry between the teams factor into this matchup?
Wells:
For one, I think it's great for the fans. It's a huge rivalry game. There's some great history between these two teams. So we're familiar with them. They're familiar with us. So the preparation's really going to go back to trying to evaluate what we do and controlling what we do going into this game and being at our best effort to go out there and get the win.

How much mutual respect is there involved in this rivalry?
Wells:
I think there's a lot of respect with that. But when it comes game time, there's some hatred and emotions that come up. You want to beat your opponent. The fact that we see them twice a year, you know, they see us, and they're always tight games. Our fans and their fans are so close geographically, I think adds to it. So there's as far as a rivalry goes -- yeah, there's some hatred there as far as the rivalry goes, but at the same time there's mutual respect in the fact that the games are so close, they're so physical, and there's outstanding players on both teams.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPackers wide receiver Greg Jennings says the Bears have the fastest defense he's faced this season.
RECEIVER GREG JENNINGS

How aware of this rivalry were you growing up?
Jennings:
Honestly, I didn't become aware of it until I got here. I could have cared less for the Bears, and should I say the Packers, too? I really didn't watch either the Packers or the Bears. I was a Barry Sanders follower. So whatever Barry did, I knew everything he did. But once I got here, I started to understand how in depth the rivalry was and how important it was to not only the players, the organization, but to the fans.

Are there any advantages or disadvantages to playing a team three times?
Jennings:
Well, there are advantages and disadvantages. But the number one thing, I'll go with the disadvantages first. There are tons of disadvantages, just basically because they know you inside and out. You know them inside and out. But at the same time, you can flip that and that's an advantage at the same time. Obviously we know those guys. They know us. There's nothing that they're going to do different that we're going to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, where did that come from?’ And there's nothing that we're going to do that says, ‘wow we didn't prepare for that.’ They know what we are. They know how we operate. And we know who they are. We know how they operate. Obviously we've played them twice already. Two close games, two games that could have gone either way. And here we are again, when it really counts this time. Well, it really counted the last time we played, too.

Are the Bears the fastest defense you’ve faced all season?
Jennings:
I would have to say yes. They do a great job of flowing to the ball. Obviously a lot of those guys, veteran guys, savvy guys. So they know what it takes to get wins. And that's why they're in the position they're in as well. Obviously what they bring to the table defensively is pretty much the ground and the foundation of their team.

LINEBACKER A.J. HAWK

Where does Devin Hester rank among the most elusive guys you’ve faced?
Hawk:
He's right at the top of the list, I would say. For sure. He can do everything. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he's tough to stop. Tough to get down. He does a great job of especially returning punts. When he gets the ball, he might make a few moves, make the first guy miss. He gets vertical quick. When a guy does that, as you've seen against us, he got one earlier this year on us. They can crease you pretty quick and he can get in the end zone fast.

What will it be like to face the Bears a third time?
Hawk:
It will be good. That's why I think it's going to be a great matchup, just because there's no secrets. They're not going to do anything new. We're probably not going to do anything new. It's going to be football. It's going to be up to the guys on the field, I think. I think coaches can sit back and sometimes try to complicate things and come up with new schemes and crazy situations, but when it comes down to it, it's the guys on the field that are playing the game. For us, we know each other so well that it's fun. It's football. This is how it should be. In Chicago, cold weather game. Big rivalry. It's going to be a good one.

What do you see from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler right now?
Hawk:
I mean, I think he's the type of guy that his teammates, I can tell, I think they love having a guy like Jay Cutler, because he brings a lot of energy and big-play capability to the field. I think he's done a really good job all year of kind of capitalizing on the defense's mistakes. He seems like he just has great command of the offense, great command of the game. That's what you want out of a quarterback. Everyone knows he has a huge arm and can make all the throws, but I think he's really whoever he's working with over there -- I think they're doing a great job. He's just growing into being a great quarterback.


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