Chicago Bears: Greg Olsen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here are a few quick thoughts from Chicago's 24-17 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Friday in the preseason opener:
What it means: There's still work to do on both sides of the ball. What's most important is the team came out of the game relatively injury free while still managing to get in some much-needed work.
On offense, the protection was somewhat inconsistent, which led to a sack of Jay Cutler, who also tossed an interception on the group's first play of the game.
"It was an unfortunate start," Cutler said. "I have to put the ball on Alshon’s [Jeffery] other shoulder. We had some good stuff after that; we had some bad stuff. Typical preseason game. We just have to take a look at it and get better next week."
The first team managed to gain just three first downs in three series, but there's no denying that outside of the interception, Cutler was pretty much on target with his throws.
Cutler completed 6 of 8 passes for 56 yards and finished with a passer rating of 54.2.
"Well, other than the pick we had, we moved the ball a little bit," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We got a few throws in. Jay made some great throws. We caught some slants in contested throwing areas. We got a few runs in. Matt [Forte], got a couple of catches, moved the ball around. Certainly didn't do what we wanted or up to our expectations. But other than the first play and the one sack -- we've got work to do."
Defensively, the bad news was the group gave up one touchdown trying to defend a short field created by Cutler's interception, combined with a pass-interference penalty on James Anderson on the next play as he tried to cover former Bears tight end Greg Olsen. The Anderson penalty put the Panthers at the Chicago 4. Three plays later, Cam Newton hit Brandon LaFell for a 3-yard touchdown at the 10:14 mark to give the home team an early lead.
The good news is the defense put points on the board with Jon Bostic's 51-yard interception return at the 6:09 mark of the first quarter. Bostic filled in for injured starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams (calf) and while it's too soon to definitively gauge his performance (that comes after film study), the showing appeared promising.
"There were a lot of things we could do better," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "There were some things we did well. When we put on the tape, we'll all evaluate the things to improve on. All in all, when you are getting turnovers in the game that is very big."
Injury update: Long-snapper Pat Mannelly suffered injured ribs when he was blindsided on a punt in the first half. The severity of that injury wasn’t immediately known. Team officials took defensive tackle Henry Melton back into the locker room in the first quarter, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. He’ll have to follow the NFL's new concussion protocol before he's allowed to practice again. It is possible Melton could be back on the field for Chicago's next practice at training camp, but unlikely given his importance to the defense. There's no need to rush him back into action.
Webb of inconsistency: J'Marcus Webb performed inconsistently in 2012 at left tackle, and his move to the right side for 2013 wasn't promising in the first preseason game.
During Chicago's third series of the night, Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson blew past Webb on the outside. In his attempt to recover, Webb overstepped outside, and Johnson cut back inside to sack Cutler along with Kawann Short.
Don't count out Webb just yet though. It's only the first preseason game.
Josh McCown zipped a near perfectly thrown ball to tight end Fendi Onobun in the end zone for what should have been a touchdown in the second quarter, but he dropped the pass. On the next play, running back Armando Allen fumbled after catching a pass from McCown, with Anderson Russell recovering for Carolina at the Panthers' 12.
Onobun has struggled to catch the ball throughout the preseason, but seemed to come on in recent practices after the team had brought in Leonard Pope to compete for the job. The Bears rave about his consistency, but the truth is Onobun needs to be more consistent at catching the ball if he expects to make the 53-man roster at the end of camp.
Lopsided time of possession: Both teams played the majority of the first quarter with starters on the field on both sides of the ball, and the Panthers dominated time of possession. Carolina was 2-of-5 on third-down conversions, while the Bears finished 0-for-2 in that category. The Panthers held the ball for 9 minutes, 31 seconds in the first quarter, and the Bears held possession for 5 minutes, 29 seconds.
Bostic time? Not yet, but the rookie definitely showed why the Bears made him their second-round pick in the draft. In addition to the 51-yard interception return for a touchdown, Bostic was credited for two tackles and a pass breakup. He's probably not ready to take over D.J. Williams' starting job in the middle, but his play should definitely raise the comfort level of the coaching staff if the rookie is forced to play in a pinch.
Bostic wasn't the only rookie to show promise. Fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene came into the game during the team's third defensive series and contributed two tackles, including one for lost yardage.
Frey maintains: Second-year veteran Isaiah Frey maintained the momentum he's been riding throughout training camp practices with a solid outing in his first preseason game. Frey took over at the starting nickel corner when Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. The youngster hasn't disappointed.
Virtually every day of practice at training camp, Frey has made a head-turning play, whether it's an interception or a pass breakup. Against the Panthers, Frey nearly picked off a Derek Anderson pass in the second quarter.
Briggs makes calls: With Brian Urlacher now out of the picture, Briggs has taken on the responsibility of making the club's defensive calls. Briggs said it went well.
"It went smooth. I got the call, called it out to teammates, they heard it, they received it, and they played the play," Briggs said.
What’s next: The Bears receive a day off on Saturday, before hitting the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University on Sunday for the final week of training camp. Chicago hosts the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night at Soldier Field for the second game of the preseason.
A look at whether each NFC North team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.
Chicago Bears: A hot start in free agency netted left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The Bears had been trying for five years to find a genuine left tackle, and Bushrod's arrival should boost the faith of quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett, meanwhile, gives the Bears the kind of pass-catching tight end they once had in Greg Olsen. But Bushrod and Bennett accounted for most of the salary-cap space the Bears had budgeted to use, and now they are nibbling the edges. Overall, however, the Bears improved two important positions, making them winners in free agency.
Detroit Lions: The NFC North's most active offseason team has added three new starters in running back Reggie Bush, defensive end Jason Jones and safety Glover Quin. Bush will have a big impact on balancing the explosiveness in the Lions' offense, and Quin will pair with the returning Louis Delmas to give the Lions their best safety duo in recent memory. The Lions have improved as many positions as they could have given their tight salary-cap situation.
Green Bay Packers: It's difficult to win when you don't play, and general manager Ted Thompson is notoriously reluctant to compete financially in the market. He allowed receiver Greg Jennings to sign with the Minnesota Vikings and didn't make a good enough offer on running back Steven Jackson. But the Packers have made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons by following a similar approach. These days, their focus is on saving enough salary-cap space to re-sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews. The Packers won't find two players better than that on the free-agent market.
Minnesota Vikings: In essence, the Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin for Jennings, along with a first-, third- and seventh-round draft pick. They won't replace Harvin's unique skill set, but that's not a bad recovery. The Vikings are also in a better spot at backup quarterback with Matt Cassel rather than Joe Webb. But they don't have a middle linebacker after bidding farewell to Jasper Brinkley, and they remain thin at cornerback after releasing Antoine Winfield. The Vikings remain a work in progress this offseason. They haven't won or lost yet.
But Cutler admitted his ribs affected his throwing and, in turn, the Bears' game plan in the second half. Are they in for more of the same against the Panthers? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should be concerned about Cutler's ribs on Sunday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. How can you not be concerned about a potential injury to your franchise quarterback? Cutler has made it clear he's going to start the game, but offensive coordinator Mike Tice should be mindful about calling too many pass plays if the protection is shaky early in the game. The last thing the Bears want to do is expose Cutler to greater injury with the meat of their schedule coming up in two weeks that begins with a home date against the Houston Texans. I'm not saying Cutler and the Bears should avoid throwing the football, but they need to be smart with how they use the quarterback, at least in this game.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Cutler said he'd be ready to go on Thursday, and I'm going to take his word on that. Besides, we all know of Cutler's reputation for toughness. It's worth noting that even Cutler said the rib injury in the second quarter against the Lions affected his ability to throw in the second half. But five full days of healing should be sufficient for Cutler to play Sunday against the Panthers with no ill effects. He'll definitely feel some pain when he has to drop back and really let it rip on outs and deep balls. But I'm not sure it'll be so painful that Cutler will be negatively affected.
Scott Powers: Fact. It's nice for Cutler to say he'll be fine against the Panthers, but I'd be concerned if I was Lovie Smith. Cuter didn't look like he was comfortable throwing the ball in the second half against the Lions. Aside from his performance this Sunday, I'd also be worried if he takes any more hits there. It's not like the offensive line has all of sudden made him untouchable. The Lions got to him plenty on Monday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. This is assuming he's healthy enough to play, of course. The Bears wouldn't take a chance on starting him otherwise, I assume. Cutler wears a flak jacket for protection, and I can imagine the Bears will protect him as well with extra blocking help. The key, as it is with every team, is to get an early lead and ride the running game. If Cutler can play, he can play. No need to baby him. As we know, he's tough, right?
The manner in which Bears head coach Lovie Smith heaped praise on Kellen Davis this offseason made it sound as if the club would aggressively try to re-sign the free agent tight end.
"I think if you want to feature Kellen Davis you can do that," Smith said last month at the NFL Combine. "Great size, great in-line blocker, skilled enough of an athlete to be able to move outside and do some things. I really like him."
The Bears could still bring back the 2008 fifth-round draft choice, but they will have competition.
After the Bears traded away Greg Olsen last summer at the start of training camp, Davis started a career-high 15 games in 2011. An above-average run blocker, Davis caught just 18 passes for 206 yards and five touchdowns. However, those numbers did come under former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who has always failed to truly utilize the tight end position in the passing game.
If Davis decides to not re-sign with the Bears, the club did express interest in tight end John Carlson on Tuesday, per a league source, but the former Notre Dame standout is currently scheduled to first visit the Kansas City Chiefs.
There was once a time when the Bears' tight end position averaged roughly 87 catches and 883 receiving yards over a span of three years.
It was 2007-2009.
Olsen, Chicago's 2007 first-round draft choice, saw his receptions steadily rise under former offensive coordinator Ron Turner, going from 39 as a rookie to 54 in 2008 then a team-high 60 in 2009. Clark, the ninth all-team leading receiver in team history, suffered through an injured-plagued 2009 campaign, but was still considered an effective option for the Bears in the passing game -- the veteran averaged 43 catches and 513 yards the prior three seasons (2006-2008).
So with Olsen and Clark firmly in the mix, the Bears could finally consider tight end a strength of the offense moving forward.
Then Mike Martz was hired as the team's offensive coordinator on Feb. 1, 2010.
It was like the day the music died.
Here is a quick run-down of what happened at tight end the next two years:
Martz pushed for the Bears to sign Brandon Manumaleuna, who caught five passes for 43 yards and a touchdown in 2010. He was cut after failing his physical in July 2011.
Clark had his role reduced to the point that he dressed for a mere five regular-season games in 2010. He was brought back as a free agent the following year then suffered a minor injury and was released prior to the beginning of the regular season. The team instead opted to keep undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Adams, who eventually landed on injured reserve.
Olsen's production declined dramatically in 2010 – his receptions dipped from 60 the year prior to Martz's arrival to 41 in the new offense. Olsen was then traded to Carolina for a third-round pick prior to the 2011 season.
The Bears signed another blocking tight end in Matt Spaeth to replace Manumaleuna. Spaeth had seven catches in 2011.
The end result of Martz's vision: a combined 25 catches for 256 yards from Kellen Davis and Spaeth in 2011.
While Martz and the Bears succeeded in turning the tight end spot into a complete nonfactor on offense, others around the NFL took a much different approach to the position. Coincidently, or maybe not, several of those teams qualified for the divisional round of the postseason, where they continued to feature their tight ends and use them as vertical threats down the field.
It should be noted Martz, oddly enough a former tight end himself at Fresno State, worked with Davis in 2008 while offensive coordinator of the 49ers. Predictably, Davis languished in Martz’s system, catching a mere 31 balls for 358 yards a pair of touchdowns.
However, once San Francisco fired Martz, Davis exploded the following year and posted a career-best 78 receptions for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Coincidence? Hardly. Just another example of how Martz selfishly and stubbornly chooses his "system" instead of properly evaluating the talent on his roster and coaching to their strengths, not his own.
Now comes the question of how the Bears are going to salvage the neglected tight end position. Obviously, getting rid of Martz and elevating Mike Tice was the first step, but are the Bears in need of a serious personnel upgrade?
Maybe not, according to Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
"We have an excellent tight end," Smith said at his end of the year press conference. "We brought Matt Spaeth here to primarily be a blocker for us and he filled that role well. Kellen Davis can do anything the good tight ends in this league can do. As a catcher if we focus in on him, we can make him more of a guy that people are talking about just based on throwing him the ball more. So I think we have an excellent tight end with good speed, size. I think we had a combination of as good a tight end, the makings of, as anyone around in Kellen."
Sounds as if Smith expects a Vernon Davis-type leap from Kellen Davis, an unrestricted free agent, in 2012.
While it's an interesting premise laid out by Smith, just remember, Vernon Davis is a former first-round pick (No. 6 overall in 2006) with first-round talent.
Kellen Davis went in the fifth round. Some would argue for good reason.
A few other names surfaced, including linebacker Nick Barnett and center Olin Kreutz. But Barnett in essence departed midway through last season, replaced more than capably by Desmond Bishop, and it's hard to argue that the Chicago Bears offensive line is in worse shape without Kreutz than it was when it contributed to 56 sacks with him last season.
Jenkins is an interesting case. He was not a full-time player last season, starting eight games, but none of you have forgotten his seven sacks and the apparent impact it had on the Green Bay Packers' No. 1 pass defense (based on opponents' passer rating). This season, the Packers' pass rush has been limited and opponents have the NFL's 15th-best passer rating against Green Bay's defense.
Mavajo wrote Jenkins is "the only key difference between this year and last year. … You gotta put 2+2 together and figure that's why." Added tearloch:
"I will say that last year the Packer D was noticeably better with Jenkins in the lineup as opposed to without him, especially on run D. This year, with the big leads they have had for most of the games, the run D, IMO, has been artificial inflated by minimum attempts against, much like the end of last year (playoff run). It will be interesting to see how the GB run D holds up when truly tested. I think Jenkins is sorely missed in GB. His replacements are doing an OK job, but Jenkins was a really good player, but his age and injury history, as well as contract demands, made him expendable."
Jenkins has four sacks in four games this season for the Philadelphia Eagles. Rice, on the other hand, has piled up 188 receiving yards in two games with the Seattle Seahawks. Biglamb7474 thinks Rice is "the obvious choice" and added that the Minnesota Vikings have been forced to make Percy Harvin their No. 1 receiver "even though his talents are much more emphasized in the two spot."
Biglamb7474 added: "The loss of Rice also gave an already declining [quarterback Donovan] McNabb even that much less to work with. ... I mean, did the Vikings even once pay attention to what happened in Washington last year when McNabb was inserted into an offense with a mediocre receiving corps at best? Rice is a big and fast sure-handed receiver in a league that has transformed into one in which defense is becoming less important and elite offenses (particularly the air attack) are essential."
Wrote severs28: "They have no one to stretch the field right now, and when healthy, Sidney Rice is a premier wide receiver. I mean, he has better stats in two games than any Vikings receiver through four? And it's not like he went to New England or Green Bay. Seattle has a terrible o-line, and Tarvaris [Jackson] as a QB. He would have at least those numbers for Minnesota."
Added DaBearz84: " Olsen is not as missed as Kevin would like us to believe. The reason that no one on the Bears team has more then 12 receptions is because [quarterback Jay ]Cutler can't get enough time to throw the damn ball."
On the other hand, Jveyron19 thinks Olsen was "the biggest loss from a 'team' aspect" because the Packers "have enough playmakers to fill in the gap that Jenkins pass rush."
My take? I agree that Olsen wouldn't have the same numbers with the Bears that he does with the Panthers. But to me, that's a big problem.
I don't think pass protection alone is to blame for the Bears' anemic pass offense thus far. Let's just say that Cutler doesn't always have a bevy of open receivers to choose from. Olsen has re-established himself as a downfield threat, as well as a sure-handed check-down receiver, and if used properly would absolutely help alleviate some of the Bears' issues.
The Bears traded Olsen rather than require Martz to find a way to incorporate him into his offense. Given what he could have offered them, and the mess he's left behind to this point, I think that makes his departure the most significant thus far in the NFC North.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:
Speed rushers: Two weeks ago, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali put four hits on Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Last week, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen sacked him three times while fellow defensive end Brian Robison brought him down twice. Hali and Allen are two of the NFL's best pass rushers. Sunday, the Lions will face the best. No NFL player has more sacks this season (5.0) or over the past three seasons (51.5) than the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware. Stafford has had success getting the ball downfield despite facing those elite rushers. But the Lions probably don't want to find out how much damage Ware can do. They would be well-advised to devote more attention to him than Hali and Allen saw. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is one of the NFL's top blockers at his position. The Lions might need to utilize him in that regard Sunday.
"Statement game:" I personally hate that phrase and think it's mostly irrelevant in the world of the NFL. With that said, I think the Lions have their best opportunity yet to demonstrate how far they've come and to set their fan base into a frenzy heading into their Oct. 10 prime-time game against the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys are 2-1 and have designs on the NFC East title. The Lions, meanwhile, have won in Dallas only twice in their history. Last season, the Bears began walking with a little extra pep in their step after winning at Cowboys Stadium. The Lions could do the same. A win would give the Lions their eighth consecutive regular-season victory, dating to last season. That would be their longest winning streak since taking nine consecutive games from 1953-54.
Run to daylight: The Carolina Panthers are giving up an average of 117 yards rushing per game this season, the seventh-worst mark in the NFL. As we've discussed a few times, the Bears haven't paid enough attention to their running game this season. That has to stop Sunday. We can spend all the time we want discussing the return of Panthers coach Ron Rivera and tight end Greg Olsen. I'm sure they’re both pumped for this game. But the Bears can control it if offensive coordinator Mike Martz can find a way get the running game going. The Panthers should be vulnerable in that area.
Someone will win: The 0-3 Minnesota Vikings will play at the 0-3 Kansas City Chiefs. Something has got to give, right? A matchup of two winless teams after at least three weeks is relatively rare; it's happened six times in the past 10 years of NFL play. The Vikings haven't given up on their playoff hopes quite yet. After all, three teams have advanced to the postseason over the past 21 seasons after starting 0-3. But if the Vikings fall to 0-4 on Sunday, the most interesting question remaining in their season will be when rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will get on the field. When they acquired starter Donovan McNabb this summer, I don't think the Vikings believed they would be facing a Ponder Watch so early in the season.
But there are plenty of issues worth pondering before then, and our ESPNChicago.com roundtable weighed in on a few in this week's Four Downs:
Fact or fiction: The Bears need to end the Roy Williams experiment.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fact. There is zero chemistry between Williams and Jay Cutler. None. The groin injury can't be used as an excuse because even before Williams got hurt in Week 1 he failed to show anything of substance in training camp or the preseason. He dropped a sure touchdown against the Packers, and his lack of effort on a few other throws was unacceptable. At this point, the Bears would be better served giving Johnny Knox all the game reps. Knox might drop some passes, but at least he runs full-speed while doing it.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fiction. Three games into the season? Seriously? Williams is playing on bad wheels, which is part of the reason for his struggles thus far. But if you look at that game against the Packers, yes, Williams was targeted four times, and he was unable to come up with a catch. But three of those passes were off the mark. The slant in the end zone, however, he should have hauled in for a touchdown, no doubt about it. But I’m not ready to ship a guy out of town for dropping one ball while trying to play injured. Williams is still as good or better than any of the receivers on the roster.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Williams didn’t catch a pass in his second game with the Bears, but only one, a touchdown drop, was without a doubt, his fault. Maybe he’s not running the right routes, but the two picks Cutler threw while targeting Williams looked uncatchable. Maybe Williams should’ve broken them up, but give him a little more rope before we send him to the gallows. Williams had a decent first game before suffering a groin injury.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction -- for now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all season. I’m not saying cut Williams, but if significant improvement isn’t evident soon, as in a couple more games, he certainly doesn’t have to start. Granted, Jay Cutler had a bad day accuracy-wise against the Packers. But he should not have been as far off target as he was to Williams, if the receiver was where he was supposed to be. Even last year’s ho-hum corps, especially with the return of Earl Bennett, would be addition by subtraction.
Fact or fiction: Lovie Smith needs to get more involved in the offensive game plan and play-calling.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fiction. Lovie Smith is a defensive coach. Now, as the head coach, Smith certainly shares his views on offense with Mike Martz and the assistants. But you can't expect him to start calling plays at this stage of his career. If the Bears wanted an offensive minded head coach, they should've hired one in 2004. Smith knows defense. Martz is supposed to know offense. Supposed to.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fiction. As the head coach, Smith’s job is to delegate, and let his coordinators handle their responsibilities. Otherwise, what’s the team paying them for? If anything, Smith should get offensive line coach Mike Tice more involved in the game-planning and play-calling. Tice actually has the chops to be an offensive coordinator in this league, and his influence in Jacksonville was a big reason the Jaguars led the league in rushing from 2006-07 with an average of 154.1 yards per game. Put it this way, if Tice had more say in the play-calling, the offense would resemble the “Bear football” everyone constantly talks about.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Offense isn’t Lovie’s bag, is it? Yes, he should remind Mike Martz to run the ball, but let’s not get crazy about a power struggle for the play-calling. While the Bears need to run the ball more, for Cutler’s health especially, it’s not as if the lanes were open early for Matt Forte.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction. Mike McCarthy can call his own plays, handle his other responsibilities and obviously pull it off. But Smith isn’t an offensive coach, and if he needs to yank the Mike Martz’s headset away, then both should be fired -- Smith for hiring him and Martz for failing so miserably. That does not mean Smith should not exercise more authority than he seems to be when Martz strays off course, but no, he is not the answer offensively.
Fact or fiction: The Bears miss tight end Greg Olsen.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter:Fact. Trading Olsen to Carolina makes absolutely no sense if the Bears are going throw the ball 40 times a game. So now all of sudden, the Bears want the tight end to be a threat in the passing game? What happened to the great emphasis on the blocking tight end? The Bears made a major mistake, not just shipping Olsen off to the Panthers, but also releasing Desmond Clark. If you're going to throw the ball, these two guys should've been on the opening day roster.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fact. With Earl Bennett out of the lineup, the Bears are missing the target quarterback Jay Cutler has total faith in. Olsen wasn’t what you’d call a world beater in Chicago, but he was the huge target Cutler could count on underneath whenever he was under duress. Olsen averaged 10.2 yards per catch in 62 games with the Bears, and presented matchup problems for opposing safeties. He didn’t provide much as a blocker. But when the team was creative and moved him around, Olsen was a valuable weapon.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fiction. Olsen didn’t fit in this offense, and he wasn’t good enough to make a dramatic exception. Splitting Olsen out wide didn’t create any Jermichael Finley-type mismatches. He was pretty reliable, sure, but he only caught 41 passes last season. He was replaceable. It’s fun to blame the early struggles of the Bears' offense on a personnel absence, but Olsen wouldn’t have changed much thus far.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fact. Few would imagine the Bears missing Olsen, which speaks to the current state of their offense. But especially with the absence of Bennett, Cutler clearly needs a go-to guy. His impressive catch and touchdown run aside, Kellen Davis has three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Davis, like Matt Spaeth, is there for blocking, but there hasn’t been an abundance of that either. Davis whiffed badly on what resulted in a sack on Sunday. Although Olsen was never known for his blocking, he could at least catch third-down passes and was reliable in the red zone.
Fact or fiction: I would take Cam Newton over Jay Cutler as Bears QB right now.
Jeff Dickerson, Bears reporter: Fiction. Cutler is a traditional NFL quarterback with a big arm. Newton is off to a good start, don't get me wrong, but I worry about a quarterback that runs the ball so much. It will eventually catch up to him. Cutler is the smarter choice, although I'm beginning to wonder how much longer he'll last in Martz's offense. Plus, you can't expect Newton to step in his rookie year and run this system with any degree of success. Heck, Cutler can't do it after a full year around Martz.
Michael C. Wright, Bears reporter: Fact. I’ll be the one to say it: Give me Cam. It’s just a matter of personal preference in this case, and I know folks will start with the lack of weapons and bad offensive line excuses. But in 71 games over five years with the Denver Broncos and Bears, Cutler hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s an elite quarterback. And for what the Bears gave up (two first-rounders) and are paying Cutler, he should be just that -- an elite quarterback -- and not what he is -- a player with an “elite” skill set, and 32-33 record as a starter. Three games into his NFL career, Newton already has two 400-yard passing games, while Cutler has one over five-plus seasons. Newton also strikes me as a natural leader, and a guy willing to do anything to win. I just haven’t seen those same intangibles from Cutler. Besides that, I think we’ve pretty much seen the best of Cutler, while Newton still hasn’t fully tapped his potential.
Jon Greenberg, columnist: Fact. Does Cutler look ready to take the Bears to the Super Bowl? No. So the immediacy of "now" is overrated. Newton’s fast start has temporarily obscured the problems he will have this season as a rookie quarterback, but I would absolutely take him over Cutler right now. The unknown in Newton is definitely better than the known in this case. And I bet a straw poll of the locker room would find a closer vote than one would think.
Melissa Isaacson, columnist: Fiction. Newton has upside like Cutler has critics. But three NFL games does not an NFL career make, and Martz’s system could very well ruin Newton just as it is dragging down Cutler. Considering the current condition it is in, the Bears' offense could swallow up and spit out any quarterback, particularly a young one.
- Now the Bears' offense is really in a pickle. We've all been telling offensive coordinator Mike Martz to run the ball more. But in retrospect, do you blame him for limiting its exposure Sunday? A 14-0 second-quarter deficit can make it tough to be patient. But more importantly, the Bears couldn't run when they tried. Half of their 12 attempts lost yardage. As currently constituted, the Bears aren't going to be successful when they throw too often. But can you force balance? Negative runs are just about the same as a sack. Their offensive line looked overpowered by the Packers' huge defensive line. Over the past two weeks, at least, the Bears have been on their heels no matter which way they've turned.
- Quarterback Jay Cutler seemed close to bubbling over Sunday, noting that he doesn't audible and deferring play-calling questions because "I don't call the plays." He also left little doubt that he felt the Bears didn't give tailback Matt Forte enough opportunities. But Cutler deserves his fair share of blame for forcing passes downfield. I realize receivers Roy Williams and Johnny Knox both let him down Sunday with key drops, but Cutler threw two interceptions among the eight passes he threw more than 15 yards downfield. Both of those interceptions came on passes intended for Williams. He completed only two of those eight attempts. Cutler's gun-slinging mentality makes him especially vulnerable in an offense with limited alternatives. I'm not sure if it's in him to be more disciplined than he has been. Perhaps he needs more playmakers than most in order to succeed.
- Tight end Kellen Davis made a great individual play on his 32-yard touchdown reception, breaking three tackles on the way to the end zone. But as I watched Cutler struggle to find receivers downfield, I couldn't help but wonder about the decision to trade Greg Olsen and insert Davis as the starter. The touchdown was one of three catches Davis has made this season. Olsen is having a productive season with the Carolina Panthers, having caught 12 passes through three games, including a game-winning touchdown Sunday. I realize Martz doesn't use the tight end much, but Olsen would be the best pass-catcher on this team -- at any position -- if he were still with the Bears. Everything is relative, but it appears the Bears traded away a player who could be offering Cutler an important target right now if they were willing to use him effectively.
I was surprised at how well the Packers ran against the Bears, especially between the tackles. Tailback Ryan Grant didn't have much traction to the outside, but he gashed the Bears for 92 yards anyway, mostly on runs behind center or guard. The Packers were able to shield linebacker Brian Urlacher from making plays on many of those runs. The Bears finished 2010 with the NFL's second-best rush defense based on total yards allowed, but that has slipped to No. 18 over the first three games of the 2011 season with basically the same personnel.
During a 20-minute conversation with reporters, Angelo addressed the club’s wild wide through free agency, the decision to trade tight end Greg Olsen, and how negotiations with stalwart center Olin Kreutz imploded, in part because of the fast pace of an unprecedented time in NFL history.
Here are the goods.
Every decision that we made, we feel very good about the roster. Now, it’s about team-building, galvanizing. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the offseason to do that. Normally that’s when you do your team-building, that’s when that intangible, the camaraderie comes. The good thing for us, we do have a good nucleus. We were able to bring back Corey Graham, Anthony Adams, Nick Roach. We do believe in continuity, but we also believe in competition. That’s very, very important. I find in this business the curse to success is complacency, and we’ve seen that firsthand here in Chicago. I feel that the players we brought in here are going to create very good competition. We’re obviously gonna have a roster change. We believe it’s going to be for the good. How that all comes together, how fast that comes together, time will tell.
Obviously the real disappointing news comes with the loss of Olin Kreutz. I first want to say from my personal experience of being with Olin through most of his career, he embodies what a football player is. I have the highest respect for him. The reason that I’m in this business and why we’re all in this business is because of players like Olin Kreutz. Great legacy, certainly very, very disappointing that he chose not to accept our final offer. His decision, he thought about it, we did the best we could do given that we had a lot to do and felt that we gave him a fair offer. He chose to go in another direction. I told him that if he thought long and hard on it, and I know he did … I was hoping that he may change his mind. His representation, in particular Mark Bartlestein, did a great job. Mark and I had a lot of dialogue. Obviously we differed in some areas and how we see “fair.” Fair sometimes is a nebulous word. Very, very, sad, very disappointing, but I know this in our sport, it’s [not] about one thing. It’s not about any one player. It’s not about me. It’s about the team.
I told Olin, I told his agent, if we can’t get this done in a certain timeframe, then we need to move on because it is about the team. We can’t lose other options. We talked to a potential player yesterday in the morning. He was very interested. We waited to get back with him in the afternoon [and] two more teams are now in it, and the price has already gone up. It’s very, very difficult. So it was a line we had to walk. We had to make a decision. As tough of a decision as it is, you know, we have to move on as a football team. Again, a great player, a sad day for the Chicago Bears, for all of us. We again wish Olin but the best, he and his family. In saying that, I’ll open it up for questions:
Question: Do you worry about how this might affect the locker room since players have come out and said they wanted Kreutz back?
Answer: It just tells you how revered he was, and you can put me first in line on that. He’s done a lot for this football team, but there comes a time where there’s going to be closure. Nobody lives forever. Nobody goes on forever. That’s just the nature of the business. Whenever that is -- whether it’s next year or the year after that -- there’s going to be this moment. This is the time.
Q: Are reports accurate about the sides being only $500,000 apart?
A: It was accurate. Again, we negotiated in good faith. We wanted Olin back. They saw it differently, and I have to respect that and obviously, they have to respect our position. It’s not about one person. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle and how everything fits. You have to put value on each piece and we did. We have to do our best. You’re not going to win them all. They’re not going to all go the way you want. Is it a going to be a loss? Yeah, it’s going to be a loss. It’s going to be a temporary loss, but we have to regroup. We’re bringing in Chris Spencer to come in here and compete for that starting center spot. Our coaches are going to determine that -- in particular coach [Mike] Tice -- and get those five best players on the field as soon as we can. I’m concerned about that. As I’ve always said, making sure we get the same five on the field as soon as we can, particularly with no offseason, that’s our challenge with our offensive line as much as anything.”
Q: You talked earlier about having to speed up the timetable to make a decision with Kreutz so the team wouldn’t miss out on other players. Can you explain that?
A: There were several players, in particular [Spencer], and things were moving at it was a little bit of a dormant period. Now, things have picked up. As things pick up, the price of business picks up as well. We feel good about it, and we’re anxious to get everybody on the field and practicing, particularly on Thursday. It’s a good time, though, for the young players to get to showcase themselves because most of them we have never seen until this weekend.
A: To me, leadership starts with paying the price. That’s what leadership means. And I think we’ve got a locker room of guys who are willing to pay the price. That’s leadership. Leadership isn’t talk. Leadership is action. Olin Kreutz was a warrior. He led based on his actions. Rashied Davis was a warrior. It’s about their reactions, not their words. We’ve got a good group of leaders. I told you last year [that] the greatest compliment I could have given our team last year [was] their character. It was a good football team. I’ve been with better football teams, but the things that they went through and achieved [were] based on the character of the football team. Certainly, Olin was a part of that, but we have a good nucleus. We have a challenge ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of new players. We have 48 new Bears. A good handful of them are going to make our 53-man roster. So, hey, it’s a fun time. It’s a challenge. It’s a chase. This is what you wake up for. We’re excited about the future of the Bears this year. [When] we see everybody take the field on Thursday, obviously our biggest fear is injury, particularly for the young players because we don’t have any experience like we would have gotten in the offseason. A little soft tissue injury, he’s out two weeks. Well, that window closes on him. That’s probably going to happen, but all 31 teams are in that boat.”
Q: What did you like about Spencer?
A: Not many centers are out there. He’s still in the prime of his career. He’s 29. Two years, probably he had about a good 30-some starts. So good experience. No. 1 draft pick. He’s got some good things. Did a lot of tape on him. I like his strength. Very good run-blocker. We like the traits that he brings. You’re going to like him. He’s the antithesis of Olin. He’s not as outgoing, but a good person, a good work ethic. But hey, he’s competing for a starting job. I’m not saying that there’s any … there’s no entitlement here. We all know that. Very few players have that luxury. Chris is going to have to come in here and compete and earn his way.
Q: Doesn’t $500,000 seem like a small amount to lose a player like Kreutz?
A: It goes beyond that. There’s more to it than just the dollar sign. Again, it’s a big puzzle. And you just can’t focus on one piece. It doesn’t work that way. It has to come together. And we have a lot of things happening at a very fast pace. We didn’t have two months to draw things out, to be patient. We have to move now. I don’t have a crystal ball now. I have to deal with reality, and I have to think about what? No. 1, the team. It’s about the team. This is what we’re built on: team. And ultimately that’s mine and coach [Lovie] Smith’s responsibility.
Q: Are you worried about a divide between the front office and the coaching staff?
A: No. I resent the fact that something was written that said there is a divide and regardless of what anybody says, that’s not true. That’s a lie. And it’s fabricated, and I resented it when I read that. That, to me, was dirty pool. We talk about everything. Do we agree on everything? Absolutely not. You don’t agree on everything with your wife. How am I going to agree with 18 coaches and 15 scouts? It doesn’t work that way. But at the end of the day we’ve got to make a decision, and we all agree on one thing: Once we make a decision we’re all for it. We’re going to make it work. That’s what teams do.
So, we talked through it. Very difficult. Things were said. We weighed them. We did the best. We had an offer. We bumped our offer. We did the very best we could. So now we’re going to let the chips fall where they may and we’re going to move forward.
Q: What’s the timetable for signing Matt Forte to a new deal?
A: Things are starting to settle down. Once Cliff gets the numbers back in order again. I told Matt personally, certainly talked to his agent and said our intent. He called me in the summer, and I wouldn’t give him anything definitive. I have my thoughts, but I’m very measured when I talk about players’ contracts, particularly extensions. And we have a pretty good track record of doing it. And I told him I can’t give you any timetable. That’s not possible, so I’m not going to tell you that. He didn’t like hearing it. But that’s the way things go sometimes. When we talked this summer, these past weeks, I told him now our intent is to do that. That’s a strong word. When I say intent, then we’re motivated to do something. The timetable is yet to be determined. Just be patient. Take care of your job as you already have and continue to do and we’re going to do our part. But again, it’s a negotiation. You’ve got to find that common ground. That part of it will be a challenge. You’re not talking about a UFA (unrestricted free agent), where there’s an open market, you bid. These extensions are much tougher, because agents normally look at the UFA market to set their counts. But he’s not a UFA. And that’s the challenge. We’ve got a pretty good track record. Cliff’s the best. I trust he. [Adisa] Bakari, Matt’s agent, we’ve dealt with him. He’s a very good agent. So I feel optimistic. But again, we’ll just let that play itself out.
A: It’s plausible. But again, it’s competition. We’ve got a good football player at what I consider a good value. That’s what it’s about. The thing I like about some of the players we have, in particular Roy Williams and Vernon Gholston -- they could have had more money at other places. I like players who like to bet on themselves. When you pay a player a lot of money to get him, you’re betting on him. But these players are betting on themselves. I respect that about them. It tells you a little bit about how they feel about our situation and how they feel about themselves.
Marion the same way, [he is a ] Big Ten player, and we’ve got a good contingent of Big Ten players. We like Midwest football players. [Tight end] Matt Spaeth another one, wanted to get back this way. Again it’s about competition. Best players play. We don’t base our evaluations on resumes. Resumes are how we evaluate them to get here. But once they’re here it’s up to them and the coaches make those decisions.
Q: Are there any concerns about continuity along the offensive line?
A: Come on? We’re not putting our heads in the sand. It’s going to be. But, there’s going to be growing pains. We’re going to see things we didn’t see. There is some continuity from the experience that some of the players had, and hopefully we’ll see them take a step. But it’s hard to predict. That’s why we play the game. We’ll see.
Q: There were trade rumors on Greg Olsen last year. Was this the time to move on from him?
A: You know, he came at me hard last year. I understood it. I told him I’d think about it. Greg’s a great kid, works his tail off. I said, ‘I don’t see that being in our best interests’ [when Olsen asked for a trade]. I said, ‘Again, it’s about the team.’ And I said that’s going to hurt our football team. I said, ‘You’re going to have to suck it up, do your job. You’ve got a contract. We paid you well for your services. He’s a professional, he took the high road. I respect that. Saying that, this year was different. We’re not really looking for Kellen Winslow, we’re looking for Mike Ditka. And so, the tight ends we have now, really fit more of the profile we want for our offense. It’s no more than that. And we got some good compensation. They got a heck of a tight end. [Panthers general manager] Marty Hurney is a good friend of mine. And Marty’s is just happier than heck to get him. Greg’s in a good spot. Hey, we hope he’s a Pro Bowler, and he just has a great career. We really wish him the best.
Q: To be clear, this was more about Olsen’s style and fit in the offense, right?
A: We just didn’t feel we were going to be able to make that kind of investment. I said, ‘Greg, the intent was not to extend you.’ He didn’t like to hear that, no more than I liked to say it. But hey, it is what it is. I hate that term, but I’ve been using it a lot.
Q: Will you add more offensive linemen?
A: Hey, it’s tough. These offensive linemen are tough to find. We’ve got a good nucleus of young guys with traits we look for, but they’ve got to come together. We can’t just run up and down the starting line, get a guy with a few games under his belt, and think that’s the answer. They’ve got to come together. We like our young players. We need to develop some of them. How are you going to develop them if you don’t play them? And if you don’t play them, then how do they know you believe in them? It’s a catch 22. We brought in an experienced center, who is in the prime of his career. That’s the best we could do. Everybody has an opinion: ‘They need this, they need that.’ Well, tell me who you want. Who should we look at? Give me names. Don’t tell me about our problems. Give me solutions. I’m in the solution business, not identifying the problems. You guys do a great job of identifying our problems. How about a few solutions.
(A reporter says, “Olin Kreutz”).
Q: Before making a decision how much do you consider how the rest of the team will react?
A: Hey, I do. But they didn’t hire me to be loved. They hired me to make decisions based on what’s in the best interests of the team. That’s what it’s about, people. Come on? This isn’t a wake. We’re sad, but nobody died. We wish him the best. He had a great career. Long after I’m forgotten, he’s going to be long remembered, as well he should be.
"We're really not looking for Kellen Winslow; we're looking for Mike Ditka," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said Sunday. "The tight ends that we have now really fit more of the profile we want in the offense. It's no more than that."
It was slightly more than that, because Olsen, entering the final year of his rookie contract, was looking for a long-term extension to remain in Chicago. Following being sent to the Panthers, Olsen signed a four-year, $24 million, including $10 million guaranteed.
"We just didn't feel we were going to be able to make that kind of investment," Angelo said. "I told Greg, I said 'Greg, our intent is not to extend you'. He didn't like hearing that, no more than I liked saying it, but hey, it is what it is. I hate that term, but I've been using it a lot."
Ironically, the roles were reversed the previous offseason, when Olsen pushed Angelo for a trade after the club hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
"He came at me hard last year, I understood it," Angelo said. "I told him I'd think about it. Greg is a great kid, works his tail off, and I said 'Greg, I don't see that being in our best interests.' Again, it's about the team, and I said, 'That's going to hurt our football team.' I said you're going to have to suck it up. Just do your job, you have a contract, we paid you well for your services. He's a professional, he took the high rode. I respect that.
"Saying that, this year was different."
But there’s no doubt Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and running back Matt Forte would be ready to go if the current labor strife -- as widely predicted -- ends later this week.
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