Chicago Bears: Al Afalava
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CLEVELAND -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith said he already knew "what [our] 53-man roster looks like" on Tuesday, but wanted one last look Thursday night in the preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.
Maybe Smith wasted his time.
The Bears seemingly automatically moved Collins past inexperienced backup Caleb Hanie on the depth chart -- despite the Hanie spending the offseason and training camp as the No. 2 quarterback -- almost immediately upon signing the 38-year old veteran on Aug. 23.
Collins reinforced the team’s choice by completing 10 of 15 for 139 yards and a touchdown.
In finishing one half of work with a passer rating of 118.5, Collins completed his first four passes, while displaying near-effortless comfort in the club’s timing-based scheme.
“It was pretty comfortable on most things,” Collins said. “The formations and play-calling, some of them I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be, but overall I thought it was a pretty decent effort other than the mishap we had on the shotgun snap. Philosophically, I’m very comfortable running it. I just need to sharpen up on some things: the blitz reads, and the formations, getting the plays out quicker and things like that.”
Collins’ first touchdown pass -- a 15-yard strike to tight end Greg Olsen -- gave the Bears a 7-0 lead after Robbie Gould’s extra-point kick. Kevin Malast set up the TD three plays before, when he scooped up a Colt McCoy fumble on first down, which turned out to be the starting defense’s only snap of the game.
"I think he did a good job. It was tough -- he didn’t get many practice reps other than this week," Olsen said of Collins. "He was kind of a late addition to this team, obviously. But he’s a veteran, and he has been in there before. He did a really good job."
Collins played the entire first half with a patchwork group of starters and backups at several spots, including along the offensive line, where Josh Beekman started at center and Johan Asiata took several first-half snaps.
Chicago’s starting offensive line played in three series, and didn’t give up a sack, after allowing nine in the last two games. Collins suffered a sack in the second quarter, but by then, the starters had already left the game.
Several backups, meanwhile, might not have made enough of an impression to parlay their on-the-bubble status into spots on the 53-man roster. Linebacker Tim Shaw made four tackles in the first half, but it’s unclear whether he showed enough to keep a spot. In addition, injuries at several positions make Shaw -- a special-teams stalwart -- more of a luxury than necessity.
Defensive linemen Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton and safeties Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks were also considered to be on the bubble. All likely will be hot topics of discussion on Friday, when the Bears coaches and personnel staff meet at Halas Hall to make final roster decisions.
But for the most part, none of them stood out in the finale, making the decision more difficult. So if the staff’s collective mind was already made up heading into Thursday night’s outing, it’s unlikely any of the roster longshots changed it.
"Our back-end guys are getting a lot of reps tonight showing what they can do," Smith said at halftime. "Hopefully they can make a couple of plays and make us put them on the roster."
Basically a full-time starter since being selected by the St. Louis Rams in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft, Tinoisamoa currently finds himself sitting behind Roach on the Bears depth chart.
However, Tinoisamoa -- who played in just two games last year -- took repetitions with the first team Wednesday during the night practice.
"[It's] a good competition," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "Nick Roach has played some good football for us, played a lot of positions. Pisa has done the same. They battled throughout training camp last year; same thing is happening right now. Tonight, we gave Pisa some reps with the ones. Both guys, we feel like, are starters in the league."
The intense competition appears to be sharpening Tinoisamoa’s focus.
"It's good, because it's making me such a better player because I'm not used to this role of coming in and being this No. 2 guy," Tinoisamoa said. "I don't feel like a No. 2 guy. I'm with the younger guys [on the depth chart], and sometimes you get with the younger guys and you feel like you want to help them. Then again, I'm just used to doing what I do, playing like a No. 1 regardless of the reps. I know Nick feels the same way. I know he's out there feeling like he's No. 1. We've got such depth at linebacker. It's going to be a great competition."
Health seems to be the major questions concerning Tinoisamoa. Despite his previous success in St. Louis, he's never finished a game wearing a Bears' uniform. Tinoisamoa suffered a knee injury last year in the season opener at Green Bay. He returned the next month in Atlanta, but re-injured the knee, ending the year on injured reserve.
Despite Tinoisamoa’s setbacks, the Bears made it a point to re-sign him this offseason. The team limited the linebacker’s participation in offseason workouts, but six days into training camp, the knee is holding up just fine.
"I'm actually kind of surprised how everything is going as far as my health and my knee," Tinoisamoa said. "I was a little worried at first. I [wondered] if it was going to hold up. But it's been doing well and I've been able to do things I'm kind of excited about; things I was kind of hesitant about."
"Physically, at the time, it helps out a lot (being limited in the offseason). Mentally, it was kind of a crutch. So that's why I was like, ‘Hmmm [will the knee hold up?]’ But to get out here now and do it live, full speed, against the talent we have, and do it well, I feel pretty good about that."
Camp battle focus: Safety
Remember Al Afalava? Well, here’s a refresher.
Afalava started 13 games last season as a rookie for the Bears, racking up 70 tackles, in addition to forcing a fumble and breaking up nine passes. Then, when the club kicked off its offseason conditioning program, Afalava seemed to become a forgotten man.
The acquisitions and Afalava’s subsequent fall down the depth chart haven’t weakened his resolve. Because of injuries to Harris [back] and Wright [groin] he’s actually received more repetitions in recent days.
“I was struggling last year with an injury and just came back in the offseason, and found myself at the bottom of the depth chart. I’ve got to just keep a positive attitude and keep competing. I’m starting from the bottom and I’ve got to work my way back up. Oh yeah, it’s [humbling]. But you’ve always got to be humble, you know? All I can do is go out there and show them I can play. I’ll take it one day at a time, keep competing and working hard to put up some good film.”
Afalava said the additions of Harris and Wright didn’t bother him because of advice he received prior to coming into the NFL.
“I was told teams will bring in guys every year to replace you, and you’ve got to compete,” Afalava said. “That’s my situation right now. But I’m coming out here every day giving 110 percent. It’s going great so far. I just can’t wait until we start tackling during the preseason.”
Wednesday's weather report
Heat: 77.4 degrees
Heat index: 78 degrees
Along with Harris and Wright, center Olin Kreutz didn’t participate in Wednesday’s night workout, in addition to cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle), running back Harvey Unga (hamstring), defensive end Barry Turner, receiver Juaquin Iglesias (quadriceps), and quarterback Mike Teel (hamstring).
Tight end Greg Olsen dropped a middle screen pass that hit him perfectly in the hands.
Tight end Kellen Davis made two impressive catches during the night workout. The best grab came on a high pass in the end zone during goal line drills.
The Bears used the night session to work on several trick plays.
Cornerback Woodny Turenne suffered a stinger during a hard collision in team drills. Shaken initially, Turenne wasn’t injured and was able to continue participating.
Thanks for dropping by to check out the final installment of our NFC North breakdown, which kicked off earlier this week with a breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings.
To close the series, we take a look at the Bears.
We’d also like to thank Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Greg Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and John Niyo of the Detroit News for their input earlier this week in breaking down the division.
Five things the Bears need to worry about
1. The offensive line: History indicates quarterbacks take more punishment executing out of offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system likely due, in part, to the sheer number of pass plays called that involve seven-step drops. It’s no secret the offensive line, which returns virtually the same personnel from 2009, underperformed last season and isn’t 100 percent set heading into training camp. Those are causes for concern. Quarterback Jay Cutler took a career-high 35 sacks last season.
2. Safety: The Bears seem to have several options at safety, but the real concern is whether the club will be able to field the right combination at the position, which is crucial for the club’s Cover-2 heavy scheme. Chris Harris and Danieal Manning are the current starters. There’s uncertainty as to whether Harris still possesses the range to adequately handle the starting free safety spot (he appears to have lost a step), while some question Manning’s instincts in coverage. From the looks of things, the staff will let Harris and Manning battle it out at camp with rookie Major Wright, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. It’s imperative that the club quickly finds the best combination at the position.
3. Mark Anderson: Primarily a designated pass rusher as a rookie, Anderson registered 12 sacks in 2006, but hasn’t done much since (9.5 sacks over the last three years). The club plans to start Anderson opposite new acquisition Julius Peppers. But will Anderson be effective? He’d better be, considering general manager Jerry Angelo let go one of the team’s most popular players in Alex Brown, who likely would’ve been a more than adequate complement to Peppers.
4. Receivers gelling quickly with Cutler: Devin Hester took an important step in devoting a chunk of his offseason to working with former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who is well versed in Martz’s intricate timing-based attack. But collectively, the receivers need to gel quickly with Cutler for the offense to reach its full potential by the end of training camp, which is important for the team getting off to a good start.
5. No. 3 cornerback: The backup quarterback situation could go here, but the cornerback is a more pressing concern. After the starters -- Zackary Bowman and Charles Tillman -- there appears to be a dropoff in talent among the other corners. That’s definitely cause for concern considering how often the club will line up in nickel and dime (one or two extra defensive backs) packages against high-powered passing attacks such as Green Bay and Minnesota. Corey Graham, Tim Jennings, D.J. Moore, Woodny Turenne and rookie Joshua Moore are the candidates for the job. One of them needs to emerge at camp.
Five things not to worry about
1. Jay Cutler: Interceptions are a concern, but people need to come to grips with the fact that Cutler is going to throw them because of overconfidence in his strong arm, and the high potential for turnovers in Martz’s scheme. However, Cutler needs to negate the interceptions with touchdowns, which is likely what the quarterback will do this season. If Cutler can cut down on the interceptions, fans should consider that icing on the cake because in Martz’s scheme, Cutler is almost a lock to better the 27 touchdowns he threw last year, which ranked third in franchise history.
2. Matt Forte: Fans seem to be down on Forte after the running back followed a strong rookie campaign with 929 yards and a 3.6-yard average in 2009. But Forte appears poised to return to rookie form after a strong offseason in which he appears to finally be 100 percent healthy. Forte showcased improved quickness and agility at minicamps and OTAs. You can’t downplay the motivation factor, either. While he said all the right things when the club signed free agent Chester Taylor, several within the organization said the acquisition stoked Forte’s competitive fire.
3. Free-agent addition Peppers: A free-agent signing of this magnitude comes with increased bust potential. But that shouldn’t be the case with Peppers, who has produced double-digit sack totals in six of his eight years. Even if Peppers isn’t a sack machine right off the bat, all the attention devoted to him by opponents should open things up for other rushers coming off the edge (especially if the Bears bring linebackers off Peppers’ side). I could see the Bears at times employing a look this season similar to what the Giants used in their Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots (they overloaded the edge, using Justin Tuck -- who constantly lined up on different sides -- as an extra rusher).
4. Mike Martz: Don’t worry about Martz’s high-octane passing attack taking away Chicago’s well-earned reputation for playing smashmouth offense. Head coach Lovie Smith -- like Mike Singletary did with the offensive coordinbator in San Francisco -- isn't going to let it happen, and Martz is fine with that. Martz’s scheme merely diversifies the Bears’ offensive attack (extensively), making the club much more difficult to game plan against.
5. Robbie Gould: Truthfully, Gould is coming off his worst season since 2005. But when that worst performance in five years involves an 85.7 field goal percentage -- including a career-long 52-yard field goal -- it's safe to say your kicker is virtually automatic. Gould is the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history (85.9 percent) and has nailed 20 or more field goals in five consecutive years.
A: Matthew, I'm happy to report Wright's tenure in Chicago is off to a very encouraging start because the rookie sounds determined to not only play well on the field, but also act the proper way off it. I was told Wright approached at least one prominent veteran player this offseason to inquire about the professionalism necessary to succeed in this market and in the NFL. That sounds like a rookie who gets it. On the field, Wright continues to work his way up the depth chart, lining up with Steltz on the second team. At the moment, it looks like Steltz may be the third safety -- he filled in for Harris during last week's open OTA -- but Wright obviously is expected to contribute in the near future. If he continues his humble and hard-working approach, Wright will see the field much sooner rather than later.
Q: Jeff, is Al Afalava still on the team? He's never mentioned when people discuss the safety spot. What gives? -- Peter, Davenport, Iowa
A: Afalava is facing a numbers crunch at safety because right now, he's definitely behind Harris, Manning, Steltz and Wright on the depth chart. If the Bears decide to keep five safeties, that last spot should boil down to Afalava or Josh Bullocks. Even though Afalava is cheaper, Bullocks probably is a better special teams contributor, and that may be the deciding factor. Plus, Bullocks has plenty of experience and performed well at the end of last season. It may be a tough call, but I'd probably lean toward keeping Bullocks over Afalava. This is not meant as a knock against Afalava, who played admirably after being thrown into the fire last year as a sixth-round pick, but I think Bullocks is more valuable at this point of his career.
Q: Will the Bears finally find a role for Garrett Wolfe? He was a third-round draft choice and barely sees the field. Jeff, can you solve this mystery for a diehard Bears' fan? -- Elliot T., Wauconda, Ill.
A: Elliot, I still can't fathom why the Bears ran Wolfe (5 foot 7, 185 pounds) between the tackles last season. It made no sense. None. Wolfe needs to hit the corners and have some room to operate in the open field, then he could be a nice compliment to the offense. I mentioned earlier about the safety numbers, it also will be interesting to see how many backs the Bears keep on the final 53-man roster. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor are the only locks at this point, so it's unclear how much room is available for the likes of Wolfe, Kahlil Bell, Will Ta'ufo'ou and Eddie Williams, especially if the Bears open the season again with four tight ends. Wolfe always has been a solid guy on special teams, which helps when it comes to sticking on the roster. But only time will tell if the Bears can finally find a niche for Wolfe on offense. It's really a tough call.
Q: Jeff, in your opinion, what's the Bears' deepest position? We love the Bears coverage even down South. Thanks. -- Robbie, Macon, Ga.
A: Linebacker. The Bears are loaded at linebacker. Not only are Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher Pro Bowl-caliber players, Nick Roach, Pisa Tinoisamoa and Hunter Hillenmeyer have a combined 178 starts between them. Then there's the issue of versatility; Roach and Hillenmeyer can play middle linebacker and strong, while Tinoisamoa can handle strong and weakside linebacker duties if necessary. Adding Tim Shaw and Brian Iwuh within the past year only makes this group stronger. Shaw already has carved out an impressive nice on special teams, and Iwuh is expected to do the same.
Q: Not much lately on Greg Olsen. How has he looked at OTAs? -- Alex T., Glenview, Ill.
A: Not to beat a dead horse, but the media is only allowed access to a few OTAs, so we can't see everything taking place at Halas Hall this offseason. But from what we've been allowed to view, Olsen and Desmond Clark both look fine. I haven't noticed a ton of deep balls to Olsen -- unlike last year in training camp -- but the tight ends have been active in most of the 7-on-7 and full-team drills. We'll see how Brandon Manumaleuna effects the dynamic once he is thrown into the mix, but the Bears are again strong at tight end. I've also enjoyed watching Kellen Davis and Richard Angulo battle it out for the fourth spot. That should be a good competition this summer, considering the positive history Angulo has with Mike Tice and Martz. Angulo is a big guy (6-8) who has been held back by knee problems at other stops in the league. If he stays healthy, Angulo has the ability to be an extremely effective blocker and short-yardage receiver.
Unlike offensive and defensive linemen, it's easier to evaluate quarterback play during a non-padded minicamp. This weekend marks the first time Cutler will be on display working with his receivers as they run Martz's precise patterns. We may also get a glimpse at how the Bears plan to utilize tight end Greg Olsen. But for all the attention this offseason paid to tight ends, receivers, and Cutler’s protection up front, the Bears' offense will sink or swim based on the quarterback’s fortunes.
True to his style, Urlacher stayed fairly quiet this offseason. But all reports regarding Urlacher’s voluntary workouts have been positive. When Urlacher takes the field Friday, it will be the first time anybody outside of Halas Hall has seen the middle linebacker in action in eight months.
There also appears to be some uncertainty at defensive tackle, where Tommie Harris is enjoying his first surgery-free offseason in recent memory. Harris remains a major wildcard in this whole equation, considering he's shown: the ability to dominate games from his under-tackle position and the ability to completely disappear from time to time. If Harris can get his mind and body right, he and Peppers could form a scary duo. The Bears would also benefit from a playmaker at nose tackle. Veteran Anthony Adams is a hard-working, dependable leader, but Marcus Harrison needs to take that next step. Up to this point, conditioning issues have prevented Harrison from living up to his full potential. It'll be interesting to see how Harrison looks and moves this weekend, because he possesses the athletic ability to dominate inside, but only if/when he remedies the bad habits.
Chicago drafted Major Wright (third round) and brought back Chris Harris in a trade to add to a talent mix that includes Danieal Manning, Craig Steltz, Al Afalava and Josh Bullocks. Efficient play at safety is one of the key factors to success in a Cover-2 based scheme. Although the roster appears to contain the required individual talent to achieve strong play at the position, the club needs to find the perfect combination at safety, which isn’t always easy.
Manning and Steltz worked with the first team during voluntary offseason workouts, but it’s likely the Bears will roll out several combinations at the position during minicamp. It’s believed that the Bears envision using Manning mostly at strong safety this season, which would mean Harris, Wright and Steltz could be fighting for the open spot at free safety. But based on the depth of the position on paper, some of the safeties could be used solely in situational roles.
As it stands, the Bears receivers are certainly an explosive group with speedsters such as Devin Hester and Johnny Knox in the mix along with Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, Juaquin Iglesias and Davis. But they're young. Martz’s intricate system relies on timing and route precision, traits seen mostly in veteran receivers. The club shouldn’t have a problem with coaxing such attributes out of the current group. The concern would be whether the Bears can get the receivers to gel quickly enough for the club to take advantage of their immense athleticism paired with Cutler’s strong arm by Week 1.
Veteran minicamp will provide at least some indication as to how far the group has progressed. Given the collective talent at the position and Martz’s fast-break system, Chicago’s receivers -- if they can pick up the system quickly -- could be primed for a banner year.
By JEFF DICKERSON
Brad Maynard will handle the punting duties, despite being listed as questionable. Richmond McGee, who was signed Monday, will be inactive.
Standout defensive tackle Pat Williams will be inactive for the Vikings.
Adewale Ogunleye has officially been ruled out because of a lower leg fracture.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Al Afalava's debut at free safety went fairly smoothly last Sunday against St. Louis.
Do we want to stick around for an encore?
"It was different, but coach Gill [Byrd] did a great job at coaching us this past week," Afalava said.
There's no doubt Byrd (a former Pro Bowl defensive back in San Diego) is an excellent teacher, but Aaron Rogers is an entirely different breed of quarterback than the Rams' Kyle Boller. You can get away with sticking Afalava at free safety versus a terrible Rams' offense, but the Packers present a multitude of problems in the passing game.
Rogers has the luxury of throwing to either Donald Driver or Greg Jennings, who have combined for 109 catches, 1,675 yards and nine touchdowns.
"They're both good players. You can't worry about just one," Afalava said. "You've got to play them both the same."
True. But you don't have to leave the safeties the same this Sunday. Moving Afalava back to strong safety and re-inserting Danieal Manning at free safety may be the best route against Green Bay. Then Lovie Smith can re-evaluate the situation on a week-by-week basis in the final month.
CHICAGO -- Kevin Payne's return to the starting lineup at strong safety was a success, as the third-year defensive back displayed a knack for making plays in the box and in the passing game. Not only did Payne record eight tackles (second to Jamar Williams), he also broke up two passes and nearly had an interception late in the game.
"I'm not satisfied because there is always room for improvement," Payne said. "I just want to continue to get better, and do whatever I can to help this team win. That's always my goal. As a whole, the defense stepped up and play hard. We had a lot of success out there today."
"We felt that Kevin Payne being in the strong position and Al Afalava in the back would be the best combination for us to be successful today," Lovie Smith said.
He was right.
Steven Jackson (112 yards rushing) was the only offensive threat for St. Louis, which got just 113 yards passing on 32 attempts from quarterback Kyle Boller. That's just terrible. For comparison sake; Jay Cutler threw for 143 yards on only 17 attempts.
Clark had to leave Thursday's game against the San Francisco 49ers after re-aggravating a strained disc in his neck. Payne is still recovering from a back condition that forced the safety to miss the Niners game, while Kreutz was likely just given a day off Monday.
Despite Payne's absence, the health of the Bears secondary seems to be improving, as both Al Afalava (shoulder) and Zack Bowman (abdomen) were back on the field.
Bowman, who also made an early exit in San Francisco, was bothered by a lingering stomach issue that required extra medical attention Thursday night. However, Bowman now appears to be okay, and we should know more about Afalava's status when the team gets back to work on Wednesday.
The Bears need all hands on deck when they face Donovan McNabb and the Eagles this weekend, since Philadelphia is expected to be in a pass-first mode with Brian Westbrook possibly sidelined with another concussion.