Chicago Bears: Adam Podlesh

Rookie punter gets advice from vets

May, 18, 2014
May 18
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears aren’t accustomed to much turnover in the kicking game where free agent long snapper Patrick Mannelly (16 seasons) and place kicker Robbie Gould (nine seasons) have been fixtures at their respective position.

But the dynamic will change in 2014 with the arrival of sixth-round draft choice Pat O’Donnell, who is expected to be just the third starting punter (Brad Maynard and Adam Podlesh) used by the Bears since 2001, especially after the team informed veteran punter Drew Butler of his release on Sunday.

The 6-foot-5 O’Donnell showcased his powerful leg during the Bears’ three-day rookie minicamp, but the rookie also spent valuable time off-the-field learning from Gould, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. O’Donnell will double as the Bears’ holder next season barring some unforeseen event.

“Robbie has been throughout the building trying to help me out, and learning from him will be a great opportunity for me,” O’Donnell said on Sunday. “I know it’s a great challenge playing in Chicago at times, but I’m looking for to it. He told me that on a windy day like this you should go out and walk the field and try to correct your drop. [He told me] to focus on the kicking side of your technique.

“I held for three years, so I’m pretty familiar with that. Robbie is a veteran, so he’s going to tell me exactly how he likes it held. So I’m going to be guided in the right direction. So it’s not going to be too big of a challenge.”

O’Donnell routinely hit the roof of the Walter Payton center on Friday when the team conducted to opening day of rookie minicamp indoors. The final two practices were held on the outdoor practice fields, but O’Donnell continued to impress on Saturday during the brief kicking drills the punters participated in that were open to the media. Sunday’s final session lasted just under an hour.

Bears take Pat O'Donnell in 6th

May, 10, 2014
May 10
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The pick: Pat O’Donnell, punter, Miami

My take: Even though the Bears have favored a more directional approach to the punt game, the Bears went for the strong legged O’Donnell, who averaged 47.1 yards per punt last year with 23 kicks of 50-plus yards.

O’Donnell has the reputation of aggressively covering his punts; he made three tackles and one forced fumble in his lone year at Miami after spending the bulk of his college career at the University of Cincinnati. O’Donnell actually participated in the agility tests at the NFL Combine where he ran a 4.64 40-yard dash and did 23 reps on the bench press at 225-pounds.

Between his time at Miami and Cincinnati, O’Donnell averaged 43.5 yards per punt and his 234 total punts for 10,168 yards rank third among the major college’s active players.

NFL teams don’t usually draft specialists. However, Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis traveled to Miami to conduct a private workout with O’Donnell. DeCamillis came away from the meeting impressed. For the Bears to invest a 6th round draft choice, O’Donnell has to be considered the favorite to land the starting job. The Bears No. 1 punter spot has been open since Adam Podlesh’s release in March.

Uncharted territory: O’Donnell is the first punter drafted by the Bears since Todd Sauerbrun arrived in Chicago in 1995 in the second round. Sauerbrun is remembered for showing up to training camp as a rookie with “HANG TIME” vanity license plates, and for being one of the few punters to roll up the sleeves of his jersey. O’Donnell comes across as being more reserved.

What’s next: The Bears acquired a seventh-round pick (246) from the Denver Broncos to offset the loss of their original 7th rounder that went to Dallas in the Dante Rosario trade. Value can be found at this late stage. The Bears took wide receiver Marquess Wilson with their final choice last year, and the plan is for Wilson to be the team’s No. 3 wide receiver in 2014. Former starting offensive linemen J’Marcus Webb (2010) and Lance Louis (2009) were also plucked in the final round.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed former Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh to a one-year contract, the team announced on Tuesday.

The Bears released Podlesh in March prior to the start of free agency after the seven-year NFL veteran averaged 40.6 yards per punt, with a 37.9-yard net average in 2013.

Podlesh, who signed a five-year, $10 million contract with $3.5 million guaranteed with the Bears on July 30, 2011, was scheduled to count $1.825 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014 before team decided to cut ties with the punter.

Podlesh’s best season in Chicago came in 2011 when he set the Bears’ single-season record in net punting average (40.4). His 42.4 yards career gross punt average ranks second in team history.

The 30-year-old Podlesh spent his first four years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL draft.

Podlesh and second-year kicker Brad Wing are the only two punters listed on the Steelers’ official offseason roster.

Former Pittsburgh punter Drew Butler will have an opportunity to replace Podlesh in Chicago, if he wins the Bears’ starting job in the preseason.

Phil Emery: Bears 'wide open' at punter

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
INDIANAPOLIS -- Veteran punter Adam Podlesh will have to fight to keep the starting job he’s held since signing a five-year, $10 million contract with the Bears in the spring of 2011.

With the Bears presently carrying three punters on their offseason roster (Podlesh, Drew Butler and Tress Way), the team is not close to naming the 2014 starter.

“It’s wide open. It’s a wide open competition,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said Thursday at the NFL combine.

Podlesh averaged a career-low 40.6 yards per punt last season with a 37.9 yard net average. He tied for 13th in the NFL with 27 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20.

On two separate occasions in the past two years, the Bears have brought a large group of punters to Halas Hall for open tryouts after Podlesh experienced difficulties in game situations. In both instances, Podlesh responded with solid efforts the following week.

Podlesh set the franchise single-season record in net punting average (40.4) in 2011. The next year, Podlesh had the second-highest net punting average in franchise history at 39.4 yards.

However, Podlesh finished the 2013 campaign with a 36.1 yard per punt average over the last four games.

Further complicating the situation is Podlesh’s cost. He is scheduled to count $1.825 million against the cap in 2014. Butler carries a $495,000 potential cap charge. Way’s number would be $420,000.
The Chicago Bears added to the roster on Tuesday by signing punter Drew Butler to a contract, according to multiple NFL sources.

Terms of the deal weren’t immediately disclosed, but according to a league source with knowledge of the situation, the club is bringing in Butler -- the son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler -- to compete with Adam Podlesh during training camp.

Butler was one of six punters to work out at Halas Hall back in Oct. in the wake of Podlesh finishing with a 28.8-yard net average on five punts in a loss to the Detroit Lions. The group included T.J. Conley, Chris Kluwe, Mat McBriar, Brian Moorman, and Tress Way. At the time, an NFL source pointed out that Podlesh has "struggled all year," "has lost strength" and "can't hang the ball at all."

A former fourth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Podlesh signed a five-year contract in 2011 with the Bears worth $10 million. The team considered cutting Podlesh during the season, according to an NFL source. But he showed improvement immediately after the club brought in six punters for tryouts, only to regress somewhat as the season came to a close.

Podlesh finished 2013 with a net average of 37.9 yards per punt, and had one attempt blocked.

In the season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Podlesh finished with a net average of just 29.3 yards.

Report Card: Bears-Packers

December, 29, 2013

Week 17 Report Card: Bears vs. Packers


Rushing Offense

Two-time Pro Bowler Matt Forte had a fabulous game with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns (5.0 yards per carry). Forte closed out his 2013 season with 100-plus rushing yards in three of his final four games. The offensive line also deserves its share of the credit for opening up holes, while head coach Marc Trestman contributed to the effort with creative play calls that kept the Packers defense on its heels for a good portion of the second half.


Passing Offense

Quarterback Jay Cutler finished the game 15-of-24 for 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception (on the final play of the game) and a 103.8 passer rating. Overall, it was a fairly good day at the office for Cutler, who was sacked only one time. Alshon Jeffery hauled in a 67-yard reception but failed to snare a deep ball on third-and-17 with 6:38 left in the game that would have sealed the victory for the Bears. Brandon Marshall led the team with six catches for 74 yards.


Rushing Defense

Believe it or not, this marked an improvement for the Bears run defense. Green Bay rushed for a total of 160 yards and one touchdown on 34 carries (4.7 yards per carry), although no single Packers rusher broke 100 yards. The Bears allowed two runs of more than 17 yards throughout the game (James Starks had a 41-yarder, Eddie Lacy had a 17-yarder). At least the Bears made the Packers earn it on the ground for most of the afternoon.


Passing Defense

The Bears intercepted two Aaron Rodgers passes in the first half (Chris Conte, Tim Jennings), but the Green Bay quarterback still threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns. The second touchdown, the game winner to Randall Cobb, occurred due to a busted coverage. In Week 17, that kind of mental mistake is inexcusable. The Bears sacked Rodgers three times, but Julius Peppers whiffed on the final pass to Cobb, who found himself wide open en route to the end zone.


Special Teams

Devin Hester ran back a punt 49 yards and handled five kickoffs for 127 yards, while the Bears coverage teams limited Green Bays return men to next to nothing. However, Adam Podlesh averaged only 34.3 yards on four punts, just one of those pinning the Packers inside their own 20-yard line.



The Bears had two chances to clinch the NFC North title and failed both times to do so. The 8-8 record represents a two-win decline from 2012, when the Bears went 10-6 in Lovie Smiths final season. Its extremely difficult to give the Bears' coaches high marks when the season ends in such disappointment. The defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL for the majority of the season, and the unit made several key mental mistakes that contributed to Sunday's defeat.


Report card: Bears at Eagles

December, 23, 2013

Week 16 Report Card: Bears vs. Eagles


Rushing Offense

The Bears completely abandoned the run game when the Eagles jumped out to an early lead. Matt Forte finished with only nine carries for 29 yards. Michael Bush had seven rushing attempts for 20 yards in garbage time. This is especially disappointing because Forte had topped 100 rushing yards in each of the last three games leading into Sunday night.


Passing Offense

Jay Cutler had a handful of beautiful throws, but overall he connected on just 20-of-35 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown, with one interception that Philadelphia returned for a score. Cutler's quarterback rating was 73.8. In defense of Cutler, the Bears' pass protection was miserable. Cutler got sacked five times and was hit countless others. Forte had a particularly bad night picking up the blitz, an area he had really thrived in for the bulk of the season.


Rushing Defense

Philadelphia ran for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Both LeSean McCoy (133 yards, two touchdowns) and Bryce Brown (115 yards, one touchdown) had monster nights versus the Bears' 32nd-ranked rushing defense. The Bears haven't been able to stop anybody on the ground for much of the year. That is not expected to change.


Passing Defense

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was near perfect in the passing game: 21-of-25 for 230 yards, two touchdowns and a 131.7 passer-rating. The Bears did sack Foles twice, but on most occasions he had way too much time to stand in the pocket and survey the field. Foles is a master of the check-down. The Bears could never figure out how to stop him.


Special Teams

The Bears had one of the worst special-teams sequences in recent memory in the first quarter when Adam Podlesh had a 25-yard punt on the game's opening drive that gave Philadelphia the ball on the Bears' 43-yard line, and then Devin Hester fumbled a kickoff return. Both times, the Eagles scored a touchdown thanks to the short field the Bears' mistakes provided. Robbie Gould did kick a 50-yard field goal.



Even with the opportunity to win the NFC North outright, the Bears came out flat and looked totally unprepared to deal with whatever the Eagles threw at them on both sides of the ball. When that happens, the coaching staff will shoulder a large chunk of the blame.


Report card: Bears-Vikings

December, 1, 2013

Week 13 Report Card: Minnesota Vikings 23, Chicago Bears 20


Rushing Offense

Despite hyperextending his right knee in last week's loss to the St. Louis Rams, Matt Forte rushed for 120 yards on 23 attempts and became the Bears' second career all-time leader in yards from scrimmage. Michael Bush even made the most of his lone rushing attempt by gaining 15 yards. However, the Bears are still having a difficult time in short-yardage situations and were just 2-of-11 on third downs versus the Vikings.


Passing Offense

Josh McCown didn't play his best game of the season, but he finished with 355 passing yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 114.9. He was lucky not to have a couple of throws picked up. Alshon Jeffery broke his own franchise record with 249 receiving yards on 12 catches, two for touchdowns. There wasn't a ton of production after Jeffery, with Brandon Marshall finishing second on the team with four receptions for 45 yards.


Rushing Defense

The Bears sold out to stop Adrian Peterson, especially safety Craig Stetlz -- who recorded a team-high 12 tackles in place of injured starter Major Wright -- but Peterson still crushed the Bears with 211 rushing yards. Bears defenders appeared to be in the correct spot for most of the game, but their tackling was subpar. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gashed the defense for a 33-yard touchdown run, on which both Steltz and linebacker Khaseem Greene had legitimate shots to bring him down but came up empty.


Passing Defense

Under no circumstances should Matt Cassel be allowed to enter the game and pass for 243 yards and one touchdown. The Bears had success rushing the quarterback with five sacks, but veterans Greg Jennings, John Carlson and Jerome Simpson had too much room to operate on numerous occasions. Maybe the worst thing to happen to the Bears was Christian Ponder leaving the game with a concussion.


Special Teams

Robbie Gould is basically automatic from almost any range, but he missed a potential game-winning, 47-yard field goal in overtime, although Marc Trestman made a curious decision to kick it on second down instead of trying to run more plays to give Gould a shorter kick. Devin Hester had an impressive 57-yard kickoff return at the end of regulation, but his decision-making was suspect for most of the afternoon. Punter Adam Podlesh had a 33.7-yard net average. The Bears kicked the ball away from Patterson the entire afternoon, a sound strategy.



Again, it's tough to understand Trestman's decision to attempt the overtime field goal on second down. Forte was averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and the Bears have the luxury of the best long snapper in the NFL, Patrick Mannelly, on the roster. The odds of the Bears screwing up on second or third downs seem remote. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker definitely set a more aggressive tone with his unit, but the results were largely the same.

Report card: Bears-Ravens

November, 17, 2013

Week 11 Report Card: Chicago Bears vs. Baltimore Ravens


Rushing Offense

The Bears did an OK job on the ground versus a physical Ravens defensive front that played without starting nose tackle Haloti Ngata (inactive). Matt Forte carried the ball 18 times for 83 yards, and the Alshon Jeffery end around, a staple in the Bears' offense, gained 17 yards on three attempts. Considering the opposition, the Bears shouldn't be ashamed by their hard-earned 104 rushing yards.


Passing Offense

Taking into account the conditions on Sunday, Josh McCown's 216 passing yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions -- 92.9 quarterback rating -- look impressive on paper. McCown stepped up in overtime and delivered a 43-yard strike to Martellus Bennett that set up the eventual game-winning field goal. The veteran backup continues to display a knack for protecting the football. McCown hasn't tossed a single interception in 101 pass attempts on the season, and his poise in the pocket on Sunday was a major reason the Bears were victorious.


Rushing Defense

Baltimore entered the game averaging 73 rushing yards per contest but found success on the ground versus the Bears to the tune of 174 yards. Ray Rice, written off by many for his below-average play in 2013, carried the ball 25 times for 131 yards and one touchdown. One of the few saving graces for the Bears' defense was their goal-line stand at the end of regulation that forced the Ravens to kick a field goal and extend the game to overtime. But the rushing defense continues to be a serious problem for the Bears.


Passing Defense

The Bears limited Joe Flacco to just 17-of-31 for 162 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The middle of the field was open for much of the game but rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic did pick off Flacco down the middle of the field, while David Bass snared a Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown. The Bears also sacked Flacco three times -- Julius Peppers with two and Cheta Ozougwu with one. The Ravens' longest pass play went for 17 yards.


Special Teams

Robbie Gould is the master of the Soldier Field kicking conditions, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts despite the swirling winds. Adam Podlesh pinned Baltimore inside the 20 on two of his six kicks. The Ravens did little in their return game. A couple special teams penalties did hurt the Bears.



In hindsight, Marc Trestman probably needed to use his timeouts on the Ravens' final drive of regulation. That decision would have cost the Bears if the defense hadn't kept the Ravens out of the end zone and forced them to kick a game-tying field goal. But Trestman dealt with the long weather delay to the best of his abilities, and he had his team ready to play when it returned to the field. The Bears could have easily gone in the tank after the loss to the Detroit Lions in Week 10, but Trestman's group responded with a win that likely saved its season.

Five things we learned vs. Packers

November, 5, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 27-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers:

1. Josh McCown a solid investment at No. 2: The job McCown has done the past two games is nothing short of remarkable. Reserve quarterbacks pressed into action rarely have this level of success. Let’s put McCown’s performance Monday in perspective: He completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards, threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions and did it on the road -- in a place where the Bears seldom win, against a quality opponent. Seneca Wallace had no shot to lead the Packers to a victory after Aaron Rodgers suffered a left shoulder/collarbone injury in the first quarter. McCown, on the other hand, inspired confidence all night. Another stellar game by the offensive line and Matt Forte rushing for 125 yards certainly helped, but the star of the game from the Bears’ perspective has to be McCown. As I wrote last week, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. McCown treats every single person at Halas Hall with respect, and for that reason he has the entire organization on his side. This is a win Bears fans will remember for a long time, and it could be the turning point of the season.

2. Momentum is now on the Bears’ side: Chicago's once-promising season looked as if it was about to go off the tracks after the Bears dropped three of four games. But Monday's victory at Lambeau Field changes everything. Now sitting at 5-3 and 2-1 in the NFC North, the Bears return home Sunday to face a Detroit Lions squad that is much more vulnerable when playing on the road, away from the controlled environment of Ford Field. Following the Lions game -- a crucial matchup, considering that Detroit knocked off the Bears on Sept. 29 -- Chicago has winnable games against the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams. If the Bears play their cards right, they could finish November somewhere in the 7-4 range, or perhaps even better. That would put the Bears in prime playoff contention entering the final month of the season. Monday night was a swing game for the Bears -- and the season has now swung back in a positive direction after some scary moments of late.

3. Defensive ends produce: A consistent pass rush had eluded the Bears virtually the entire season, until defensive ends Julius Peppers (one) and Shea McClellin (three) combined for four sacks versus the Packers. Peppers also had an important interception, while McClellin delivered the hit that knocked Rodgers out of the game. Corey Wootton even contributed a sack late in the game from his defensive-tackle position. While there are many things the Bears can still improve upon on this side of the ball (the run defense and tackling among them), Peppers and McClellin finally delivered the kind of effort Chicago fans were desperate to see. Perhaps this game can serve as a springboard for McClellin, who said in the locker room that his effort definitely helped his confidence. This is the kind of production Bears general manager Phil Emery envisioned when he drafted McClellin No. 19 overall in 2012. Better late than never. And if it turns out to be an isolated occurrence, at least McClellin had the monster game against the Packers.

4. The offensive line is for real: The Packers game should only serve to reinforce the turnaround on the Bears’ offensive line from 2012 to 2013. McCown was sacked just one time in 41 pass attempts. Forte averaged 5.2 yards per carry, while the team overall rushed for 171 yards. This group has the perfect balance of youth and experience. Roberto Garza receives some credit for his effort his season. The Bears investigated drafting a center in last year's draft. But now it looks like the team should offer Garza a one-year deal in the offseason to keep him on the roster in 2014. Left guard Matt Slauson also seems worth a new deal. Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, Pat Meyer and Emery all deserve praise for turning one of the Bears’ greatest weaknesses into a strength in just one offseason.

5. Special teams slipped: What is going on with special teams? First, Adam Podlesh has a punted blocked for the first time in his NFL career, then Green Bay is able to recover a surprise onside kick in the second half. Special teams have been a staple in Chicago for years, but this season the group has not been as effective. With the defense still struggling in many aspects (Green Bay rushed for 199 yards), the Bears can not afford to make gaffes on special teams as they push for a postseason berth. Time to clean it up in the game’s third phase.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhA slow start for running back Matt Forte and the Bears' offense spelled doom against the Saints.
Slow starts: The Bears need to stop spotting opponents points early in games through mistakes, lax play, turnovers or simply giving teams short fields to work with because of unproductive drives on offense. Whatever the case, the Bears have trailed at the half now in three of five games before making adjustments in the second half to come from behind to win or at least make a seemingly lopsided loss look respectable. The Bears need to start making effective adjustments more quickly.

Chicago killed itself on the first play from scrimmage when Matt Forte doomed a drive with a fumble for a 10-yard loss, and New Orleans responded with a field goal to put the Bears at a disadvantage early. On Chicago’s next drive, ineptitude in blitz pickup resulted in another fumble that the Saints turned into another field goal. By the time the Bears started playing productive football, they were trailing 13-0 with 5:57 left in the first half. That’s too late.

Injuries to front four: With Henry Melton out for the season and Stephen Paea missing Sunday’s game because of a turf toe injury, the front four suffered another blow when Nate Collins left with a knee injury. That’s two starters and a backup ailing from injuries. Unheralded players such as undrafted rookie Zach Minter and Landon Cohen need to step up, along with players such as defensive end Corey Wootton, who is now being forced to play out of position. The personnel department needs to help in this area, too, by beating the streets for suitable talent to acquire, and that will be a difficult proposition.

Podlesh rebounds: The Bears brought in six punters for workouts Tuesday after Adam Podlesh produced a rancid performance against the Lions in Week 4, finishing with a net average of 28.8 yards. But Podlesh bounced back with a decent outing against the Saints. He finished with a net average of 44.8 yards, including a 54-yard effort in the first half, his best outing since Nov. 19 of last season.

Rush improved, but not enough: With the injuries mounting, it’s likely the pass rush will continue to be an issue for this team. The Bears sacked Drew Brees twice and have registered six sacks over the past three games. But the club needs to apply even more pressure. There’s no way Brees should be allowed enough time to complete nearly 83 percent of his passes.
Here's a look at five things to watch during Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Chicago’s pass rush: It’s imperative that the Bears pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown for 300 yards or more in nine consecutive games, which ties an NFL record he established from 2011-12. The Bears don’t necessarily have to sack him, but they need to disrupt the timing between Brees and his targets by getting to him, and forcing him to throw a little earlier than he wants. If the Bears can do that, they will take some pressure off the secondary. The Saints own a winning percentage of .703 when Brees throws for 300 yards or more, but the team is 16-11 when opponents hold the quarterback to fewer than 250 yards through the air. The Bears think they might have an inside track to getting to Brees, who has been sacked 12 times this season. Remember, Chicago’s offense is very similar to New Orleans’, and with new head coach Marc Trestman, the team now spends portions of practice pitting the starting offense against the starting defense.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Greg TrottJulius Peppers and the Bears need to pressure Drew Brees to have a chance against the Saints.
“(Defensive coordinator) Mel (Tucker) has some things that create some… I think we’ve done some things structurally to force and integrate some problems on New Orleans’ offensive side of the football,” Trestman said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Matt Forte’s production: Chicago needs to keep New Orleans’ offense off the field, and the best way to do it is to establish the run early with Matt Forte and chew up the clock. When the teams last played in 2011, Forte accounted for 166 yards from scrimmage (49 rushing and 117 receiving). So look for the Bears to make Forte an integral part of not just the rushing game, but the passing attack as well, because of his ability to create matchup problems for defenses. If Forte produces a big game, it significantly increases Chicago’s prospects for victory. The Bears should also try to get Michael Bush heavily involved to keep Forte fresh.

“You’ve got to play continuity football. We don’t want to put Drew Brees on a short field. We don’t want to do that. So that brings in the special teams and our ability to cover. Offensively, our ability to use the clock and to keep the ball out of his hands, that’s all a part of it,” Trestman said. “You’re not going to take away their offense trying to get their job done, which is to try to score. But ultimately within the framework of the game, you certainly want Drew Brees to have to go the length of the field where our defense can create more opportunities for ourselves.”

The Bears offensive line: New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mixes up fronts, which can confuse defenses. The Saints play a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4, but they also throw in quite a bit of nickel and dime looks, and exotic packages that feature all 11 defenders standing up, designed to throw off the count up front for offensive linemen. So the offensive line and quarterback Jay Cutler need to quickly recognize the looks given by New Orleans, and make the necessary adjustments. New Orleans has been able to generate a decent pass rush with just the front four, but a couple of players the Bears need to focus on are defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette.

“It’s one of those teams where you’re not looking at one simple front and going off of that. They give us a lot of looks, a lot of pressure from different spots on the field,” rookie right guard Kyle Long sad. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can move around from the top of the field down to the bottom. Their linebackers come up on the line of scrimmage. It poses a lot of threats for us. Our preparation and the things we’ve done this week, we’ve been able to simplify it and come up with a plan.”

How Bears defend Jimmy Graham: Tucker rightfully called Graham a “mismatch nightmare” because “he runs like a fast wide receiver, he’s got excellent catch radius, he’s a fierce competitor, his quarterback looks for him, and he feels like every ball that’s thrown to him he should catch it.” How the Bears defend Graham will likely determine the outcome of this game. So far, no team has been able to neutralize Graham , who leads the Saints with 27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns. His 413 receiving yards in the past three games ties Shannon Sharpe (1996) and Dave Kocourek (1961) for the highest total for a tight end in a three-game span. The Bears won’t be able to successfully guard Graham with a linebacker because of the speed mismatch, and nickel corner Isaiah Frey might be too small to handle the tight end, who at 6-7, is a former college basketball player. The Bears might try to use a couple of packages that feature Zack Bowman (6-1) at the nickel covering Graham.

How Adam Podlesh performs: Field position is crucial in every game, but it’s even more important in this contest because of New Orleans’ ability to score quickly. The Bears want to force Brees to direct long drives, which in turn, allow the defense more opportunities to force mistakes. Podlesh finished with a net-punting average of 28.8 yards in last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions, and his short 40-yard punt in the second quarter was returned by Micheal Spurlock for a 57-yard gain.

The Bears worked out several punters on Tuesday, and a source said the club has strongly considered going another direction at the position. So Podlesh, who specializes in directional punting, needs to perform well in this game, or his replacement could quickly be on the way.

“I kind of understood after what I put out there on the field in Detroit that I basically said to myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were going to look at was out on the market,” Podlesh said.

Mailbag: Is 2012 draft class a bust?

October, 4, 2013
Here is this week's installment of the Bears mailbag:

1. Jeff, are you worried the Bears' 2012 draft class is a bust? I don't like what I'm seeing. I know it's early, but is there a reason to be concerned? -- Dwight, Blue Island, Ill.

Dickerson: Let's start with the positives: 2012 second-round pick Alshon Jeffery is a quality No. 2 wide receiver who caught five balls for 107 yards and a touchdown last week against the Lions. Sixth-round selection Isaiah Frey not only earned a spot on the 53-man roster, but is currently the starting nickel back with 20 overall tackles. Unfortunately, the rest of the draft class has been underwhelming, Third-rounder Brandon Hardin is on injured reserve for the second straight year, which is a fortunate break for Hardin considering he struggled throughout the preseason. They likely would have cut him if he had been healthy. Fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez got released because he couldn't stay out of trouble and seventh-rounder Greg McCoy never made the team. The key for this group will be the development of first-round choice Shea McClellin. If McClellin eventually turns into a really good player, the class will be viewed in a positive light. Give it a little more time. But right now, I think it's fair to say that this year's current rookie class is superior to the 2012 crop.

2. I heard you on the radio say the Saints are a different team outside the dome. Are you serious? -- Matthew, New Orleans

Dickerson: That's exactly what I said. Players are able to make different cuts inside on artificial surfaces than outside at Soldier Field. Darren Sproles is shifty with the ball in his hands, but he's even more dangerous on turf. Most teams are a product of their environment. The Saints play eight home games indoors, practice indoors and travel to the Georgia Dome every season to face the Atlanta Falcons. Common sense dictates that New Orleans is tougher when playing in a dome. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is also known as a better player inside the Metrodome, although he did smoke the Bears at Soldier Field in 2007 for over 200 yards rushing. That's just reality. I feel the Saints will win on Sunday, but it won't be easy, and some of that is due to the fact the game is scheduled to be played in Chicago, and not the Superdome in New Orleans.

3. Why didn't the Bears cut Adam Podlesh on Monday? He was terrible against the Lions. You are the ultimate special teams' apologist, and I look forward to you defending this lousy punter. -- Mike, Park Ridge, Ill.

Dickerson: There's nothing to defend, really. Podlesh had a rough afternoon in Detroit. If he punts like that again on Sunday against the Saints, the Bears could have a new punter on the roster in Week 6. But keep in mind that Podlesh is a vested veteran entitled to termination pay if the Bears release him, and we all know the team does not have an abundance of salary cap space. Perhaps the Bears believe it would be too costly to cut Podlesh, but the bottom line is he needs to punt better. Now, as to your second point, if trying to be balanced when discussing a player makes me an apologist, then so be it. Podlesh has been effective for the majority of his two-plus seasons in Chicago. He set the franchise single-season record in net punting average (40.4) in 2011. Who holds the second-best net average mark in Bears' history? Podlesh, with a 39.4 net average in 2012. Podlesh also dropped 34 punts inside the 20-yard line last season. He had a solid four-year career in Jacksonville and signed a lucrative deal for a punter in free agency. It hasn't been all bad. Podlesh owned up to the fact he kicked poorly in Week 4 when he met with the media on Wednesday. If this continues, the Bears might be inclined to make a move. But I can understand why the organization wants to make it work with Podlesh. He deserves another shot, and he's getting it. Where the story goes from here is entirely up to Podlesh.

4. Brandon Marshall spoke in the offseason that he felt the Bears needed more weapons on offense, and that he attributed his hip injury last year to overuse. How is Marshall feeling and is he happy in the offense? -- Christina, Indianapolis

Dickerson: Marshall is dealing with a minor foot injury that has caused him to miss a couple days of practice this week, but the issue is not believed to be serious. Despite the Bears surrounding Marshall with better talent on offense, he still leads the team with 27 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns. On the surface, it seems Marshall should be happy; he's remained the No. 1 option in the passing game, but is also now surrounded by a better supporting cast. But I prefer not to speculate on Marshall's emotions. I do know for a fact that he wants the football, all the time. Regardless of what he said publicly in the offseason, Marshall does not want to be targeted less. He wants to be the focal point of the offense every single week. Through four games, he's on pace to catch 108 passes for 1,392 yards. Almost every wide receiver on the planet would be thrilled with the prospect of putting up those numbers. However, Marshall is a different breed. Maybe he still wants more.

5. Do you think Jay Cutler will be able to stay healthy all season? -- Cain, Green Lake, Wis.

Dickerson: Cutler hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2009. He's missed eight games, and half of the 2010 NFC Championship Game, in the last three seasons due to a variety of ailments. But much of that was due to all the hits Cutler took behind a subpar offensive line. He was sacked a combined 118 times from 2010-12. The Bears made several upgrades on the offensive line in the offseason, and the results speak for themselves. Cutler has been knocked down far less in the first four weeks, and that definitely improves his prospects of starting all 16 games. I think there is a good chance he stays healthy all year, or as healthy as any quarterback can stay in the NFL during a grueling 16-game regular season schedule.

Podlesh: Not surprised Bears tested market

October, 2, 2013
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears veteran punter Adam Podlesh cited bad mechanics as the reason he struggled in the Bears' Week 4 defeat at Ford Field when he averaged 40.2 yards on five punts with a net average of 28.8 yards.

"It was bad mechanics and a bad swing throughout the game," Podlesh said. "There are a few things that I've kind of looked into that I've kind of helped rectify the situation a little bit. This week has been good, today was good. I hit the ball well and kind of figured out a few of those problem areas."

Podlesh's performance against the Lions led the Bears to bring in six punters Tuesday for a tryout: Drew Butler, T.J. Conley, Chris Kluwe, Mat McBriar, Brian Moorman and Tress Way. Although none of the six left Halas Hall with a contract, Podlesh said he understood why the Bears felt it necessary to explore other potential options at the position.

"They notified me," Podlesh said. "I was appreciative of that, just to let me know. Not that it would have changed my thought process on anything. I kind of understood after what I put out there on the field in Detroit that I basically said to myself I wouldn't be surprised if they were going to look at what was out on the market."

Podlesh had to deal with a similar situation last year when the Bears worked out several punters after the seven-year NFL veteran hit a rough patch in the middle of the year. However, Podlesh finished 2012 on a high-note, pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line 17 times in the team's final five games.

"Obviously I started putting out a better product, started punting better [after the tryouts last year]," Podlesh said. "I don't know if that was just coincidental."

Podlesh set a franchise season record in net punting average (40.4) in 2011 after he signed a five-year, $10 million free-agent deal with the Bears that included $3.5 million in total guarantees. That lucrative deal came as a result of Podlesh's success from 2007-10 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Joe DeCamillis served as the special teams coach for two seasons. DeCamillis is currently in his first year as the Bears assistant head coach/special teams coordinator.

"It's more timing than anything else," DeCamillis explained. "I think he just got off on timing, so we'll keep working at it. He worked today. We'll keep going from there. There's nobody who wants it more for him than me. And there's nobody that wants it more for all of us than Adam, so we're going to keep working and keep getting better."

Bears head coach Marc Trestman believes Podlesh's problems are correctable, although it's likely the organization would opt to make a move if the punter has another shaky outing Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field.

"I think [Podlesh] will bounce back," Trestman said. "I think that talking to Joe and talking to Adam, I think that the mechanics of his kicking -- and I don't know kicking, I'm not going to tell you I know the difference -- but talking to Joe, they think they can make some corrections in a way that can help him get back to where we think he should be. We're optimistic that will happen.

"Teams all over the league bring players in at certain times of the season to make sure they've got a list of guys that they've looked at and worked at, and everybody knows we brought some punters in this week. I think every professional knows that he's got to step up each and every week and be at his best. We've brought people in almost every week since we've been here. But I don't think Adam needs anybody to come in to know that the next week he's got to punt better. We've all got to play better. We've got to coach better and play better if we're going to be in a position to win on Sunday."
The Chicago Bears made it clear Tuesday they want more production from punter Adam Podlesh.

According to two league sources, the club worked out six punters at Halas Hall on Tuesday, just two days after Podlesh finished with a 28.8-yard net average on five punts in a loss to the Detroit Lions, including one 40-yard punt returned by Micheal Spurlock for a 57-yard gain to the Chicago 22.

An NFL source pointed out that Podlesh has "struggled all year," "has lost strength" and "can't hang the ball at all." The team was still discussing the situation as of Tuesday afternoon, and the source indicated the Bears have considered moving in another direction with the team desperately needing more production at the position. But no definitive decision had been made.

Chicago worked out punters Drew Butler, T.J. Conley, Chris Kluwe, Mat McBriar, Brian Moorman and Tress Way along with long-snappers Charley Hughlett and Kyle Nelson, in addition to defensive tackle Ra'Shon Harris.

Kluwe played for the Minnesota Vikings from 2005-12 before moving on to Oakland, where he lost out in a punting competition during training camp. Moorman has spent time with Buffalo and Dallas, and like Kluwe came out on the losing end of a training camp battle in Pittsburgh.

McBriar played for the Cowboys from 2003-11 before joining the Eagles in 2012, only to be cut in March.

A former fourth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Podlesh signed a five-year contract with the Bears in 2011 worth $10 million.

Going into Sunday's game at Detroit, Podlesh had a 42-yard average on 14 punts, with six attempts being downed inside the opponent's 20.