Chicago Bears: Isaiah Frey

Reviewing the Bears' drafts: 2012

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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Here's Part 4 of our series reviewing the past five drafts of the Chicago Bears.

For the first time since 2002, the Bears had a new set of eyes overseeing the draft process. The Bears fired longtime general manager Jerry Angelo at the end of the 2011 regular season and replaced him with respected scout and college talent evaluator Phil Emery.

First-round pick: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State

Number of picks: 6

How they did: Three members of the 2012 draft class had important roles for the Bears last season: McClellin, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (second round) and nickel back Isaiah Frey (sixth round). Safety Brandon Hardin, selected in the third round out of Oregon State, spent his rookie year on injured reserve and suffered another injury in the final preseason game last summer that again landed him on IR. The Bears quietly released Hardin several weeks later. Fourth-round pick tight end Evan Rodriguez contributed to the offense in 2012 but was released the next offseason after multiple brushes with the law. Greg McCoy, a cornerback/return man out of TCU whom the Bears took in the seventh round, failed to make the club out of training camp in his first season.

Pivotal pick: The Bears were in need of fresh legs at defensive end to complement Julius Peppers, who at that time still played at a Pro Bowl level, and veteran Israel Idonije. Emery bypassed what some considered safer pass rushing options at No. 19 overall (Chandler Jones and Whitney Mercilus) and selected McClellin, who impressed the Bears with his combination of speed and athleticism. Two years later, McClellin is projected to compete for a starting job at strong side linebacker in 2014. McClellin was certainly disruptive at times rushing the passer from the edge, but the name of the game at defensive end is sacks. McClellin had only a combined 6.5 sacks in two years, with three of the quarterback takedowns occurring in his memorable effort against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4 when McClellin knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game with a fractured collarbone. McClellin went on to win NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Best pick: Jeffery, by a mile. Undeterred by the rampant questions surrounding Jeffery's weight and attitude in his final year at South Carolina, the Bears moved up in the second round to snatch the former All-American wide receiver. Jeffery rewarded the Bears' faith by being named to the Pro Bowl in just his second season after catching 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 wideout holds the top two spots in franchise history for receiving yards in a game with 218 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 6, and 249 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1.

Worst pick: Hardin. A former and often injured collegiate cornerback, Hardin failed to make the transition to safety. Although Hardin had impressive size (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), he didn't seem to bend his hips much and appeared to play too high. Even if he stayed healthy, it would have been difficult to make an argument for the Bears to keep Hardin on the 53-man roster based on pure performance and football skills alone. The Bears are still searching for help at safety, in part, because the Hardin pick failed to pan out.

Bears position outlook: Cornerback

January, 30, 2014
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Free agents: Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, Sherrick McManis and Kelvin Hayden.

The good: Tim Jennings earned a return trip to the Pro Bowl and a new four-year, $22.4 million contract after he led the defense with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Before he suffered a season-ending triceps injury, Tillman had three picks and three forced fumbles. Bowman, who replaced Tillman in the starting lineup for the final seven weeks, had two interceptions and a pick-six in a pivotal win over the Cleveland Browns. Second-year nickel back Isaiah Frey made 62 tackles despite playing some of the year with a broken hand. The Bears' pass defense was by far the strength of the unit in 2013. McManis was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles.

The bad: Losing a player of Tillman’s caliber would hurt any team. Bowman did an admirable job stepping in for the two-time Pro Bowler, but Tillman is a turnover machine. His playmaking ability was missed. Hayden, who began training camp as the starting nickel back, went on injured reserve during the preseason.

The money (2014 salary cap figures): Jennings is scheduled to count $7.5 million against the cap next year, per the terms of his new deal. Frey, a 2012 sixth-round draft choice, will eat up only $495,000 worth of space in 2014. It’s unclear what the Bears plan to offer Tillman in free agency, but it will likely be far less than the $8,001,575 he made last season.

Draft priority: The Bears do have a couple of young cornerbacks on their offseason roster (C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst), but with Tillman, Bowman, McManis and Hayden all in-line to test the market, general manager Phil Emery would be justified in selecting a cornerback in the draft. Bowman is another versatile veteran who can be re-signed for close to the league minimum.

Devin Hester: I can cover anybody

November, 22, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Return specialist Devin Hester grinned Friday when approached by reporters to explain the cameo appearance he made at practice this week with the club’s defensive backs.

“If I go line up at quarterback and take a couple of snaps, you are all going to say we are running the option or running the Wildcat,” Hester said. “That’s your job.”

Hester
Hester, a former collegiate and NFL cornerback and nickelback, participated with members of the secondary in individual drills open to the media twice this week (Wednesday and Friday), and even spent roughly 10 minutes after Wednesday’s session working one-on-one with Bears’ defensive backs coach Jon Hoke.

“I did it to have fun,” Hester said. “Being a special-teamer now, I really don’t get as many reps as the normal guys do in practice since I’m a specialist now with the returns. That’s pretty much all I do now. To keep myself busy, I jump in every now and again to play around.

“We all hang out off the field, so whenever I come over there and play around with those guys, it gives them a little more energy and a little more excitement to go out there and work hard. When they see me in their group, it sparks them up a little bit. You have to make practice fun. You just can’t go through the same routine every day. When you joke around and have some fun, it goes by quick.”

While Hester seemed to enjoy the attention, he got serious for a moment when asked if he could cover Tavon Austin, the Rams' speedy rookie wide receiver, if the situation called for it.

“I can cover anybody,” Hester said before cracking a smile. “Just put a safety over the top, and I can shut anybody down. I need a safety over the top; I’m a Cover 2 man.”

Hester is likely an emergency option for the Bears if they suffer more injuries in the secondary Sunday. Cornerback Charles Tillman (triceps) has already been ruled out, while safety Craig Steltz is questionable with a concussion and starting nickelback Isaiah Frey is dealing with a fractured right hand that will require him to wear a cast during the game. The Bears also have reserve cornerbacks Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin on the depth chart, and could theoretically elevate another defensive back from the practice squad before Sunday since the active roster stands at 52 (the max is 53).

Nickel back Frey (hand) limited in return

November, 21, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Sporting a cast on his fractured right hand, Chicago Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey returned to practice in a limited fashion on Thursday, while defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) participated fully for a second straight day. Both players are expected to be on the field Sunday when the Bears battle the St. Louis Rams.

“Shea practiced full today so we feel good about that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “[We feel good about] getting some people back. Isaiah worked noncontact [drills] today and was limited.”

Right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps) and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also practiced without restrictions.

Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were limited. Trestman effectively ruled out Ratliff for the Rams game, but Steltz appears to be making progress after being on the wrong end of a nasty collision while covering a kickoff last week versus the Baltimore Ravens.

Starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) missed practice for the second consecutive day and is unlikely to play Sunday in St. Louis.

The Bears officially ruled out weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) earlier in the week, but Cutler seems to be on the mend. The quarterback attended practice again Thursday without a hard cast on his left leg to protect his high-ankle sprain. Cutler simply wore a brace on the ankle and stood on the field for much of the workout that is open to the media.

Trestman was asked if Cutler is permanently out of the hard cast.

“I really don’t have an answer for you,” Trestman said. “It’s really a week-to-week thing. Really, on the cast or the brace he has, it might be a day-to-day thing. But I’m really not any more informed than that. Other than that, I know Jay is going to be week-to-week. I said day-to-day [Wednesday]; I meant week-to-week. … And we’ll see where he is. You see him in practice. You’re getting a good idea of where he’s at. You see him moving around, trying to move around during the individual periods that you’re out there to see and get a good idea of where he’s at. And hopefully he won’t have to have the cast put on.”

Devin Hester does drills at DB

November, 20, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester spent a portion of Wednesday’s practice going through individual drills with members of the secondary, and even received one-on-one instruction from defensive backs coach Jon Hoke at the conclusion of the workout.

But does this mean Hester, a former collegiate and NFL cornerback, is a candidate to line up on the defensive side of the ball Sunday in St. Louis?

“He’ll jump into (the drills) from time to time and get a little work in,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “But there is really no news there. I’m not in the conversation business.”

Hester started games at cornerback and nickel back in college at the University of Miami and was a reserve cornerback for the Bears in 2006. Hester saw limited time on defense but did record 11 tackles and one pass break-up.

“We try to keep Devin as busy as we can throughout the course of practice,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “But you never know. You never know. We certainly want to keep him doing what he’s been doing. But he does have value, certainly, doing other things. And who knows. Nothing’s out of the question. It’s not something we’ve spent a lot of time talking about.”

With Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman on injured reserve and starting nickel back Isaiah Frey dealing with a fractured hand, perhaps Hester is an emergency option in the event the team suffers another injury at cornerback, or if Frey’s hand becomes an issue during the game. Tim Jennings is the logical candidate to bump inside and play the complicated nickel back position if Frey is unable to go. But given Hester’s experience, there is a remote possibly that he could be asked to step in at cornerback and play zone coverage. However, the Bears do currently have two reserve cornerbacks on the active 53-man roster: Sherrick McManis and Derrick Martin.

Frey has fractured hand; McClellin practices

November, 20, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey fractured his hand in the team's Week 11 win against Baltimore, but he is expected to play Sunday at the St. Louis Rams. Frey did not practice on Wednesday.

“Isaiah’s got a fracture in his hand,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s got it casted up. It looks good. It looks like they’ll be able to cast it up [Sunday]. We’ll know more tomorrow. We’re really optimistic on his end.

McClellin
Frey
“I’m optimistic that he’ll be playing. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through all the different logistics if that doesn’t happen. But it’s certainly been discussed. But I feel optimistic that he’ll be playing.”

Selected by the Bears in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Frey emerged as the team’s No. 1 nickelback when veteran Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Frey is seventh on the team with 32 tackles, even though he comes off the field when the Bears play their base 4-3 defense.

In other injury hews, defensive end Shea McClellin participated fully on Wednesday and is on track to return to the field Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a pulled hamstring. McClellin hurt the hamstring at practice the week after being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance in Green Bay on Nov. 4.

“I feel good,” McClellin said. “I feel 100 percent and ready to get back out there and help the guys out.

“It was pretty disappointing [to miss two games]. But it’s part of the game. Things happen. And you’ve just got to adjust. Sitting out is terrible. It's the worst thing. You just want to be out there with the guys helping out, especially if they're not doing too good. It's hard to watch what they're doing.”

Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since he signed with the Bears on Nov. 2. The four-time Pro Bowler has not played in a game since last November, when he suffered a groin injury that eventually required sports-hernia surgery.

However, despite Ratliff’s apparent progress, the veteran defensive lineman will not be physically ready to make his Bears debut this Sunday against St. Louis, according to Trestman.

“Ratliff got some work; he’ll be a week-to-week thing,” Trestman said. “He got some reps in practice. It was good to see him out there moving around. I would not say [his debut] will be this Sunday, and we’ll re-evaluate it next week. To be fair with the situation, I’d say we are still a little bit away [from Ratliff playing].”

Trestman calls defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) “very questionable” to face St. Louis. Paea re-injured the toe that forced him to miss two games in early November; he did not practice on Wednesday.

Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) practiced without restrictions, while right tackle Jordan Mills was limited with a sore quadriceps. Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) was held out of practice but was able to do some conditioning work on the side.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

October, 10, 2013
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 27-21 victory over the New York Giants on Thursday night at Soldier Field.

What it means: The Bears snapped a two-game skid, putting them in prime position to move to 5-2 at the bye if they handle business on Oct. 20 against the Redskins.

Stock watch: Cornerback Tim Jennings wins the MVP of this game. He put points on the board with a pick-six in the first quarter, and sealed the win with another interception with 1:54 left to play.

Questionable call: Zack Bowman put the Bears in ideal field position when he picked off Eli Manning, who was being pressured by Isaiah Frey on the nickel blitz, and returned the ball 24 yards to the New York 12. Chicago could have taken an early lead less than three minutes into the game, but Bears coach Marc Trestman elected to try to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Giants' 4, with Jay Cutler’s pass falling behind Brandon Marshall, who appeared to have three defenders in the vicinity. Prior to that incompletion, the Bears had converted 80 percent of their fourth-down attempts this season, which represented the best percentage in the NFL. But in that situation -- the team’s first drive of the game -- why not take the three points? Luckily for Chicago, on New York’s ensuing drive, Jennings picked off Manning and returned it 48 yards for a TD to put the Bears up 7-0 after the extra point. The return touchdown marked Jennings’ second of the season.

Marshall erupts: During the NFL Network’s pregame show, Marshall called himself a “caged lion,” in anticipation of New York’s struggling defense. “I want the ball; I want it a lot,” Marshall said. “You go two or three games getting two or three catches, and you look at the defense we’re going against … they have to pay.” They did, and dearly. Marshall, who had expressed frustration about his lack of receptions earlier in the week, caught nine passes for 87 yards and two TDs.

Speaking of pick-sixes: The Bears are now 24-2 in games since 2005 in which they scored a defensive touchdown, including 10 consecutive wins under those conditions. It seems unfathomable a team could rely so heavily on turnovers to change the tide of games, but the Bears have proven consistent at it. They’ve got it down to a science.

What’s next: Some much-needed rest for the Bears, who held out Charles Tillman and Stephen Paea from this game. They’ll play only one game in the next 24 days: on Oct. 20 when they travel to Washington before the bye.

Mailbag: Is 2012 draft class a bust?

October, 4, 2013
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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

Marshall
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.

Long, Mills and Frey impress vs. Raiders

August, 24, 2013
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- In the aftermath of Chicago’s 34-26 win Friday over the Oakland Raiders, surely some players long for one last shot to prove their worth, while others may have earned starting jobs that will likely keep them on the sideline for the preseason finale Aug. 29 against the Cleveland Browns.

“That’s a tough question to answer right now,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We’ve got some young players playing very well. We know we’ve got roster issues on all three sides of the ball. We’ll go to work on that as we get back to Chicago when we spend time tomorrow night in our personnel meetings.”

Here’s a look at three players who likely earned starting jobs by virtue of their performance against the Raiders, and three more whose jobs or roster spots may now be on the line:

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
AP Photo/Scott BoehmThe Bears' first-round draft pick, Kyle Long has impressed during the preseason and is poised to earn a starting job.
JOBS EARNED
RG Kyle Long. The club’s first-round pick, Long put together another quality start against the Raiders and, along with fellow rookie Jordan Mills, played a few more repetitions than the rest of the first-team offensive line. As expected of a rookie, Long appeared to miss a couple of assignments on plays where he was supposed to block second-level defenders. But his explosiveness, athleticism and tenacity at the point of attack are undeniable, as is the fact he continues to improve the more he plays.

Because the team made Long the No. 20 overall pick in the draft, his ascension to a starter’s role was inevitable. It’s always that way when first-round money is thrown into the equation. It was also aided by a regressing James Brown, who instead of rising to the challenge posed by Long, seemed to fall behind even more in the competition. Perhaps Brown felt the battle had already been virtually decided after his start on Aug. 9 in the preseason opener at Carolina. After that game, the coaching staff said it wanted to take a look at Long, who has started the past two contests.

RT Jordan Mills. Clearly quarterback Jay Cutler feels comfortable with Mills and Long as his protection on the right side of the line. Like Long, Mills made a couple of minor mistakes over his past two starts, including a false start Friday night in the second quarter. But Mills has kept Cutler clean in pass protection, while proving to be a dominating factor in the running game, which has been encouraging. After all, the Bears selected Mills with a fifth-round pick and it was expected he’d face a steep learning curve because of the differences in the pro game from the pass-happy attack he blocked for in college.

“They played well tonight,” Cutler said of the rookies on the right side of the line. “They get better and better each week. The thing about them is they want to do it. They’re excited about it. It matters to them, and they’re getting better. So I don’t see why [Mills and Long wouldn’t be ready to start in Week 1]."

CB Isaiah Frey. Kelvin Hayden’s season-ending hamstring injury gave Frey a chance to become the starting nickel corner. Still, the second-year veteran needed to earn the spot, which he’s done with consistent performances in practices that have transferred over to games. This may sound like an exaggeration, but really it isn’t. During training camp workouts at Olivet Nazarene University, you’d be hard pressed to find one day in which Frey didn’t make a play -- whether it was an interception or a pass breakup -- that drew attention to him. He played that well. Then, once it was time to play in the preseason, Frey simply duplicated what he’d been doing all along on the practice field.

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Wilson on spot to find special teams role

August, 11, 2013
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Wide receiver Marquess Wilson's sole responsibility in three years at Washington State was to catch the football, a job the Chicago Bears’ 2013 seventh-round draft choice excelled at.

[+] EnlargeMarquess Wilson
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Bears' Marquess Wilson, center, runs for a long gain after a catch against the Panthers on Friday.
Wilson left school as the Cougars’ all-time leader in receiving yards (3,207), while ranking second in school history in receptions (189) and touchdown catches (23). Those numbers look even more impressive when you factor in that Wilson played in only 33 career games with 27 starts before leaving the team last year after a fallout with WSU head coach Mike Leach.

Wilson flashed in the Bears’ first preseason game with an impressive 58-yard catch in Carolina.

But one area Wilson did not contribute in college was on special teams, a phase of the game that almost every NFL reserve player must embrace in order to earn a spot in the 53-man roster. Wilson said the Bears are taking a look at him on the punt (gunner) and kickoff team.

“It was different coming from college where I never played special teams, Wilson said. “But (I’ll do) anything to get on the field.”

Bears head coach Marc Trestman stressed on Sunday the importance of Wilson making a mark on special teams. Otherwise, can the Bears afford to carry him on the 53-man roster?

“I think the truth of it is and the content of it is he’s shown he can do it (special teams) and then he’ll fall off and then we’ll have to pick him up again,” Trestman said. “He’s got to understand it’s so important for him to be a special teams player for us if he becomes a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and he is competing to be a fourth or a fifth wide receiver and you can see what Joe Anderson and Eric Weems do for us. That’s part of the job for a receiver that is not one of the top three, he’s got to be an active special teams player and give us the kind of play that Joe and Eric give us on special teams at this point.

“So, he’s just starting to understand the importance. I have seen him out there and when he’s active and when he’s focused he shows that he has the ability to do it. He’s a young player, he’s probably never done it before but he’s got to recognize how important it is because of where he would be on the roster presently to make special teams a priority as all the guys who are looking for roster spots who are not starters. We talk about that every day and I think it’s become clearer to him now and I think we’re going to see more because he’s shown flashes of it in practice.”

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Rapid Reaction: Panthers 24, Bears 17

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
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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.

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Second-team sloppiness: 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.

Five things to watch: Bears-Panthers

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
9:00
AM ET
Jay Cutler AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler is expected to play a series or two against the Panthers on Friday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here are five things to keep an eye on Friday night when the Chicago Bears face the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

1. OL blocking: It's likely the Bears go into this game with a starting five up front that you won't see once the club opens the regular season Sept. 8 against Cincinnati, mainly because of the calf strain suffered by starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who isn't expected to play. The plan is to play the starters just a few snaps. So in that limited amount of time it's important to see how well the group protects and opens the lanes in the ground game given all the changes made schematically. Count on a starting five of Roberto Garza, James Brown, Eben Britton, J'Marcus Webb and Matt Slauson. Rookie Kyle Long should see plenty of snaps, too, and is also a player to keep close tabs on. The only way skill-position players such as quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte excel is for the offensive line to sufficiently do its job. If in limited duty, the starting offensive line performs similarly to the way the group played in 2012, it will be clear the group still needs extensive work.

2. Cutler's command of the offense: Cutler is in the midst of learning his fourth offense in five seasons with the Bears, and it would be unrealistic to expect him to operate flawlessly against the Panthers. But he does need to show some degree of command of the new system. So far during training camp practices, for whatever reason, the timing between Cutler and the receiving corps appears to be off. Some of that is a function of Chicago's defensive line bearing down hard on Cutler every play during training camp, and tipping many of his passes at the line of scrimmage. But in this game, the offensive line will have every tactic at its disposal to combat Carolina's pass rush. That should open up some passing lanes for Cutler to be able to find some type of rhythm. It's also worth it to watch how quickly the Bears get in and out of the huddle. The club unnecessarily burned timeouts too often last season, and Marc Trestman's system contains much more verbiage than some of the schemes Cutler has operated in the past.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Veteran Kelvin Hayden's week-to-week hamstring injury has opened the door for last year's sixth-round draft pick Isaiah Frey to move up the depth chart and play nickel back with the Chicago Bears' first-team defense until further notice.

"It's a good opportunity, but Kelvin's the starting nickel and I'm just taking his place right now," Frey said. "Hopefully he can get healthy, so we're still a very good team with both of us out there."

On Monday, Frey intercepted quarterback Jay Cutler when a receiver fell down, and then nearly picked off another ball later in the workout when he shot up field and broke up a Cutler swing pass headed toward the flat.

"I felt good," Frey said. "I just made the plays I was supposed to make. The star of the defense is the defense, so I'm just making the plays I'm supposed to.

"It seems like the ball is kind of a magnet towards me right now. I've just got to keep making the plays."

(Read full post)

Bears stuck with Evan Rodriguez

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
3:53
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[+] EnlargeJ'Marcus Webb
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoEvan Rodriguez's blocking has been perhaps his most valuable asset.
The Chicago Bears' apparent decision to keep second-year fullback/tight end Evan Rodriguez despite two offseason arrests speaks volumes about the pressure the organization is under to protect its draft picks after former general manager Jerry Angelo got fired for his inability to identify collegiate talent.

The No. 1 reason the Bears hired general manager Phil Emery was to fix the team's approach to the draft after the final years of Angelo's watch produced far too many misses.

Rodriguez was the fourth-round pick in Emery's first draft class. To admit defeat this early on a relatively high draft choice would be crushing, even if Rodriguez has done little to justify his spot on the team, outside of his draft status.

Rodriguez's final numbers his rookie year: four catches for 21 yards in 12 games.

To be fair, the Bears' offense last year was dysfunctional, and Rodriguez was never given the opportunity to stretch the field in the passing game -- the role Emery envisioned -- so it was easy to wipe the slate clean and expect Rodriguez to have a larger impact in the new Marc Trestman offense.

(Read full post)

Regrading the Bears' 2012 draft

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
10:38
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ESPNChicago.com kicks off its countdown to the April 25-27 NFL draft with a look back at last year's draft class. Check back each day leading up to the draft for a positional preview of all the draft prospects.

The Chicago Bears muddied the draft picture for outsiders with the moves they made in free agency, but that certainly added flexibility for what the club can now do with the 20th overall pick.

So as we prepare to get into that subject in preparing to kick off coverage of the 2013 NFL draft, let's take a look at how the team fared in 2012 with its six draft picks. Often immediately after a selection is made, reporters -- having not seen any of the prospects play a single down in the NFL -- submit overly positive or negative grades.

Well, we've now had an entire season to make an evaluation, and here's what we think:

Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State

Round: 1 Pick: 19 (Overall: 19)

Shea McClellin
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
What we said after the draft: General manager Phil Emery raved about McClellin's natural instincts, and functional athleticism, which should translate well as an NFL pass rusher. His physical attributes don't necessarily jump off the charts, but he plays better than workout testing would indicate. Drafting McClellin over Whitney Mercilus and Chandler Jones says a lot Chicago's belief in his ability opposite Julius Peppers.
Initial grade: B+

What we say now: First, the bad. McClellin struggled early on at training camp, and never cracked the starting lineup as a rookie. Sure, he was a rookie. But shouldn't a team's first-round pick be an immediate starter and impact player? McClellin wasn't either of those, but that's not to say he didn't produce a solid rookie campaign. He played in 14 games with 2.5 sacks and seven tackles, and after the season, Emery discussed metrics that would indicate McClellin was an impact player. The problem was he didn't make enough of an impact. Right now, this looks like an Emery single. This team needs home runs with the first-round picks.

Current grade: C

(Read full post)

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