Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Stock Watch: D.J. Williams shakes off rust
By Jeff Dickerson
D.J. Williams had two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble against the Steelers.
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler continues to earn a spot on the list because of his penchant for late-game heroics. Cutler passed for only 159 yards against Pittsburgh, but he rallied the troops in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the Bears' lead to four points. Cutler's brilliant trio of third-down conversions on the fourth-quarter drive that culminated with Earl Bennett's 17-yard touchdown reception is further proof of Cutler's new-found resiliency. In the past, the Bears probably lose that game Sunday night due to a late turnover. But the 2013 version of Cutler remains poised in adverse situations, even when he makes a bad throw or takes a hit in the pocket. Calm Cutler has a 94.2 quarterback rating through three games, exactly the kind of numbers the Bears want to see.
2. D.J. Williams, LB: There were never any internal concerns that starting Williams at middle linebacker over Jon Bostic would stunt the rookie's growth. Williams' occasional rusty play in the first two weeks did make you wonder if the Bears made the right call. But Williams eased concerns Sunday night when he registered two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble despite playing his fewest snaps of the season. Bostic's time will come. The Bears view the second-round pick as a future starter and the first linebacker off the bench in the event of an injury, but Williams has solidified a spot for himself on the first team. It's hard to envision the Bears turning back to Bostic at MLB in 2013 unless Williams gets hurt.
3. Lance Briggs, LB: Sticking with the linebacker theme, Briggs is playing like a man possessed, even with his new-found on-field responsibilities. Briggs is a vicious hitter and a seasoned playmaker. The press box stats awarded Briggs seven tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and the forced fumble that landed in the arms of Julius Peppers and returned for a touchdown to close out the game at Heinz Field. Has Briggs turned into a better player without Brian Urlacher or are we just noticing him more? Whatever the reason, Briggs is making a strong case to return to the Pro Bowl after a rare snub last year.
1. Michael Bush, RB: Bush is a tremendous weapon in short-yardage goal-line situations and gave tremendous effort to score from 1 yard out in the first quarter. But it's been a little surprising the Bears haven't used him more in light of the hefty contract he signed in 2012 to serve as the No. 2 running back behind Matt Forte. Bush has carried the ball 16 times for just 24 yards (1.5 yards per attempt) in three games. Surely, Bush can do more for the Bears offense than simply serving as a battering ram in the red zone. Remember, Bush rushed for almost 1,000 yards for the Raiders in 2011, and once ran for 177 yards in a game against Tampa Bay. With Forte banged up after the Steelers game, Bears coach Marc Trestman hinted that Bush will have an expanded role Sunday in Detroit.
2. Anthony Walters, S/ST: Walters is the No. 4 safety on the roster because of the niche on special teams he's carved for himself. There is nothing wrong with being aggressive and trying to block a punt, but you can't come up empty handed if you leave your feet and dive at the punter. Walters came up empty on a blocked punt attempt in the second quarter and instead got flagged 15 yards for roughing the punter. That play gave the Steelers a fresh set of downs and ultimately led to a Pittsburgh touchdown that swung the momentum back in favor of the home team. Against a better team, a special-teams error like that could end up being the difference between a win or a loss.
3. Henry Melton, DT: Injuries are a cruel part of the game. This is not meant to kick Melton while he's down, but the course of the defensive tackle's career has been altered after he tore his left ACL on Sunday night. Melton is unlikely to receive a long-term free-agent deal in the spring -- that's just the reality of the situation -- but that doesn't mean his prospects of one day signing another lucrative contract are over. One-year "prove it" deals are a common part of life for NFL veterans. Just look around the Bears locker room at all the guys with contracts set to expire. Melton's inspiration should be starting linebackers Williams and James Anderson, both of whom are betting on themselves to parlay one-year deals into something more lucrative in the future, either in Chicago or someplace else. That needs to be Melton's goal. Look at it this way: After being overpaid as the franchise player in 2013, Melton is expected to be underpaid in 2014. That's just how it goes. But Melton can go a long way toward making sure he's not underpaid in 2015 by seriously attacking his knee rehabilitation over the next eight months.