Chicago Bears: Jon Bostic

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A lingering foot injury kept starting right tackle Jordan Mills off the practice field Friday -- forcing the Chicago Bears to list Mills as questionable to face the New England Patriots on Sunday.

 Mills went backwards on the injury report the entire week; downgraded to limited participation in practice on Thursday (Mills had full participation on Wednesday) before sitting out Friday's session altogether.

“It’s a problem [Mills’ foot injury] right now and we’ll have to see how it is over the course of the next couple of days,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “We’ll have to see where Jordan is. If he can’t go, then Michael [Ola] will be in his place [at right tackle].

Ola started three games at left guard and two games at left tackle earlier in the season when Matt Slauson and Jermon Bushrod were injured.

Meantime, linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs) are both listed as doubtful for Week 8. Trestman said Briggs is still dealing with soreness but is making progress towards an eventual return.

In more encouraging news, rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller is probable for Sunday after suffering a broken right hand and right hip pointer injury last weekend in the loss to the Miami Dolphins. Fuller has worn a protective brace on his hand the past two days at practice, but it’s unknown if he plans to wear anything on his hand versus New England, according to Trestman.

Safety Chris Conte (shoulder), defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (non-injury related) and tight end Martellus Bennett are also probable.

Safety Danny McCray has been ruled with a knee injury.

Bears CB Kyle Fuller limited at practice

October, 23, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand, hip) returned to practice on Thursday wearing a protective brace on his fractured right hand.

The official injury report listed Fuller as having limited participation.

Fuller
“I talked to him after practice. He said it went well,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said.

“Our decision with Kyle is day-to-day in terms of how he’s working. He practiced today to the full extent of practice. We’ll see how that is tomorrow and we’ll continue to evaluate it daily. We certainly want him to feel comfortable playing and not to have the concerns that he can hurt himself more with what he has. We certainly wouldn’t put him out there if we thought that was the case.”

Linebackers Lance Briggs (ribs) and Jon Bostic (back), tight end Martellus Bennett (hamstring) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) were also limited.

Three players were held out of practice: defensive end Jared Allen (rest), safety Danny McCray (knee) and KR/WR Chris Williams (illness).

Safety Chris Conte (shoulder) practiced without restrictions for the second consecutive day and is expected to be available Sunday when the Bears travel to New England. Conte was inactive in Week 7 after failing to finish four of the Bears' first six regular-season games.

Bears OL reunited at practice

October, 16, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Injuries forced the Chicago Bears to use four different offensive line combinations through six games, but all five starters were together on the practice field Thursday in preparation to play the Miami Dolphins.

Left tackle Jermon Bushrod (ankle/knee) is likely to return to action on Sunday after being upgraded to full participation in practice, while right tackle Jordan Mills (right) did limited work following a rest day on Wednesday.

“Today was like the first time we’ve all practiced together since Week 1,” Mills said. “I wasn’t there in OTAs (foot surgery) and parts of camp. Then it was Kyle Long when he had his illness. Then unfortunately Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson got hurt in the same game (Buffalo) with the same injury. Then Bushrod [suffered his injury at practice before Carolina game]. But all these dudes [we have as reserves] played so well it was like nobody ever left.”

Linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were the only ones to sit out Thursday’s indoor session, but head coach Marc Trestman refused to officially rule out either player, yet.

Trestman said the Bears have rotated safeties Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen and Danny McCray this week at practice, but Mundy and Vereen lined up together in Atlanta after Conte left the game, the fourth game he’s been unable to finish in 2014. Conte did cardiovascular work on Thursday.

Linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and D.J. Williams (neck), and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) had limited participation.

Cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps/knee) and linebacker Shea McClellin (hand) practiced without restrictions and are expected to be available to face Miami.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears listed center Roberto Garza as participating fully in practice for the first time since the 14-year veteran suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, increasing the likelihood that Garza will return to the starting lineup Sunday in Atlanta.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Garza practiced today, and we’ll see what kind of aftereffects he’ll have after a full day of work,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Last week, Trestman announced that Garza will return to the starting lineup upon receiving the proper medical clearance, but added the club is pleased with veteran Brian de la Puente, who has replaced Garza at center for four straight games.

Seven players missed practice on Wednesday: running back Matt Forte (coaches' decision), left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee/ankle), linebackers Shea McClellin (hand), D.J. Williams (neck), Jon Bostic (back), Lance Briggs (ribs) and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring).

With the top four linebackers out, the Bears took a look at the trio of Khaseem Greene, Christian Jones and Darryl Sharpton.

In other injury news, safety Chris Conte and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were limited because of concussions, and cornerback Sherrick McManis had limited participation because of a quadriceps injury. McManis is a candidate to be used at cornerback in the nickel subpackage Sunday given the release of Isaiah Frey on Tuesday.

Bears rest starters in preseason finale

August, 28, 2014
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CLEVELAND -- The Chicago Bears are taking a conservative approach to the preseason finale.

With the regular season opener 10 days away, the Bears appear to be resting all of their starters and several key reserves in the fourth preseason games against the Cleveland Browns.

The Bears made no official announcement except that rookie David Fales will start at quarterback in place of Jay Cutler, but nearly every member of the first-team offense and defense participated in pregame warm-ups without pads or helmets.

That list of players included: linebackers Jon Bostic and Shea McClellin, and right tackle Jordan Mills, who missed the first three preseason games with a foot injury.

Even certain backups seem to be getting the night off.

Wide receiver Josh Morgan, running back Ka'Deem Carey, wide receiver Micheal Spurlock, defensive end Trevor Scott and defensive tackle Ego Ferguson wore baseball caps instead of helmets while teammates went through pregame drills.

Safety Chris Conte (concussion) made the trip to Cleveland, but is not expected to play.

However, veteran guard Eben Britton is scheduled to make his preseason debut.

The Bears must reduce their roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

Five things we learned vs. Jags

August, 15, 2014
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CHICAGO – Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 20-19 preseason victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

1. Relax, it’s the preseason: Emotions run high for NFL fans no matter what time of the year. But preseason games don’t count for a reason. No, the Bears defense did not look particularly sharp in the first quarter as Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne guided the Jacksonville offense down the field with relative ease on multiple occasions. But again, it’s the preseason. As defensive end Jared Allen put it: “Look, this was an ugly game. But if we win this game in the regular season, we’re loving it, because you have to learn how to win ugly games. Better to have this stuff happen now as opposed to the regular season.” In 2010, the Bears’ defense couldn’t stop a soul in the preseason. That year seemed to work out pretty well for the team, if I remember correctly.

2. Bears lose valuable piece on offense: Now, when a key player is injured in the preseason that is an important development. Tight end Zach Miller was having an outstanding summer before he suffered what sounds like a serious foot injury Thursday night. Too bad. After Martellus Bennett, Miller had emerged as the next best threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Miller will be missed.

3. Jon Bostic flashes in run defense: When Bostic eventually puts it all together; he’s going to be a good NFL player. Bostic blasted Toby Gerhart for a 4-yard loss on a third-and-1 in the first quarter, in the process demolishing the Jacksonville offensive lineman that stood in his way. You can’t teach speed, and Bostic has an abundance of it. Say what you want about Bostic’s struggles last year, and there were plenty of them, the linebacker has showed the ability to make plays. Sure, Bostic needs to even out his game and improve on the mental aspects of playing linebacker, but his athleticism is off the charts.

4. Rookie punter looks tough to beat: Pat O’Donnell had a decent night versus the Jaguars. He had a 48.7 average and 48.3 yard net average on three punts with a long of 57 yards that happened when the Jacksonville return man slipped and fell down allowing the ball to roll. Tress Way also booted a 54-yard punt, but averaged 43.3 yards per kick with a 40.0 net average. Kind of seems like O’Donnell -- while not as consistent as he needs to be -- makes fewer fatal mistakes over the course of a game. The Bears probably have a higher level of trust in O’Donnell at this stage of the competition.

5. Return woes apparent: Say what you want about Devin Hester, the Bears never had a kick return controversy in the preseason. Some fans acted pleased when Hester left for Atlanta in the offseason, but there is a major void in the return game. Eric Weems has done little to impress in that phase of special teams (Weems remains excellent in coverage), and Chris Williams has been out with a hamstring injury. The Bears better have something else up their sleeve.

Khaseem Greene no longer overthinking it

August, 11, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Linebacker Khaseem Greene admittedly struggled to acclimate himself to the speed of the NFL game last season when a shoulder injury to Lance Briggs thrust the rookie into the starting lineup for four games.

Greene
But with a year of experience under his belt, Greene has quietly pieced together an impressive camp, and even spent Monday’s practice next to Jon Bostic on first-team nickel with Briggs taking a veteran’s day off.

“It’s slowed down a lot for me this year,” Greene said. “I’m seeing stuff quicker. I’m being able to just be a natural football player and just use my instincts to react. The game definitely has slowed down. It’s fun now. I’m not overthinking it.

“The older guys always say that it will slow down once you get a grasp of the playbook and learn how to start studying opponents. Guys say those skills come with age and from the experience of doing it. I feel like from last year to this year, I’ve made a big jump as far as the game slowing down. I’m now able to read and react.”

The jury is still out regarding the number of linebackers the Bears plan to keep on the 53-man roster. With Briggs and Bostic already locks to make the team, the remaining linebacker spots are between D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn, Christian Jones, Jerry Franklin and Greene.

It will be interesting to see which players are pushed out if the Bears decide to keep six at the position.

Williams and McClellin appear safe if they stay healthy, but the picture is cloudy after the top four.

Greene figures to be intriguing because he has value on special teams where he recorded two tackles last year, in addition to defense. Senn is a core special-teamer, but isn’t considered much of a contributor at linebacker. The 6-foot-3 Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, had a rough game versus the Eagles, but performed well the first couple weeks of camp. Perhaps the potential upside of Jones proves too irresistible to resist if the rookie can be trusted on special teams. And Franklin, who also received increased reps in Monday's practice, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Bears, recording eight tackles.

Observations: Bears to trim a QB?

June, 17, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jordan Palmer's return from a minor strain to his right throwing shoulder did little to clear up the Bears' fuzzy picture at the backup quarterback position.

Limited by the injury the last two weeks of organized team activities (OTAs), Palmer had full participation in the Bears' first of three mandatory minicamp workouts held on Tuesday, but he seemed to struggle with his accuracy at times, although Palmer reported no issues with his shoulder when he spoke with reporters after the practice.

"I felt great," Palmer said. "It was good to be back in the mix. I thought we had a pretty good practice today. [There wasn't] too much [rust]. It's still football. We're still wearing shorts and T-shirts, but it was good to be back out there with the guys."

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWith the addition of Jimmy Clausen, the Bears now have quarterbacks under contract.
Meantime, newcomer Jimmy Clausen made the most of his limited reps, and even spent the end of practice occasionally working in with Palmer and starter Jay Cutler, while developmental quarterbacks David Fales and Jerrod Johnson took turns running the scout team offense on the other side of the field.

Clausen signed a one-year deal with the Bears on June 7.

"I watched Jimmy when he was at Notre Dame," Cutler said. "Liked him. He was in a tough situation out there in Carolina. Offensive line was pretty rough; he was getting hit a lot. The system turned over on him. He throws the ball well. I didn't have any input on bringing him here, though. Once he did get here, though, he was in the quarterback room over the weekend three straight days grinding way, trying to figure out this offense. He was peppering me and David Fales, [quarterbacks coach] Matt Cavanaugh, all questions. So he's been working hard. I think he likes the opportunity he has here. He's a little bit humbled going through the experience of being on the streets and getting picked up again. He's got a good attitude. Training camp and preseason, we'll see how it works out."

Clausen's first task is sticking on the roster long enough to report to training camp with the club on July 24. But the odds of that happening seem promising. However, with five quarterbacks currently under contract, the Bears are likely to jettison at least one reserve quarterback in the coming weeks.

"I don't know if that's ever happened [going to camp with five quarterbacks], not in the times I've coached the position," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "These next two days are certainly critical; we've got to continue to analyze the situation. It would be hard to, we need legs at camp, but we'll see. We'll make that decision, and we don't even have to make that decision this week, we'll make it before the start of training camp. I think we've got five viable guys. You take Jay out of it and we've got four guys that are really competing hard and all have the requisite skill set to play in the National Football League, we've just got to continue to watch it and see how it unfolds."

Here are other observations from the Bears' opening minicamp practice:

• The Bears rested starting right tackle Jordan Mills (foot) after the second-year offensive lineman returned from offseason surgery in May to participate in OTAs. Mills called his absence "precautionary," but wasn't sure if he'd practice on Wednesday or Thursday before the team breaks for the summer.

"It's just a little precaution, nothing major," Mills said. "I'm 100 percent. I was kind of mad I couldn't go out there and practice today with them but the trainers know best. They just wanted to rest my foot a little bit.

• Safety Chris Conte, linebacker Khaseem Greene and defensive tackle Will Sutton were all excused for "family reasons" according to Trestman. Matt Slauson (shoulder) was present but continued to sit out. Safety Craig Steltz took part in certain individual drills as he recovers from an offseason leg issue.

• Veteran Kelvin Hayden was the Bears' fourth cornerback when the team went to its dime package on defense.

• Trestman called D.J. Williams "the lead dog" at middle linebacker, but 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic took reps with the first team at linebacker in the nickel package, and could definitely still challenge for the open outside linebacker spot if Williams manages to stay healthy and solidifies the middle in the club's base defense.

• Safety Ryan Mundy dropped an easy pick when a Cutler pass sailed off its mark close to the right hash.

• Linebackers Jerry Franklin and Christian Jones saw action with the No. 2 group. Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, has opened some eyes in the offseason program.

• With Mills out, Michael Ola spent time at right tackle with the starters. Brian de la Puente continued to take reps at left guard.

• Converted running back Jordan Lynch ran a wheel route out of the backfield and caught a diving touchdown pass from Johnson late in the session.

• Rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller broke up a pair of passes in team drills.

• Brandon Marshall burned Tim Jennings for a long touchdown reception. On the play, the Bears had speedster Chris Williams lined up in the slot.

• The Bears invited numerous NFL player agents to Halas Hall on Tuesday to watch practice inside the Walter Payton Center. Agents are frequently spotted catching up with their clients at training camp, but rarely are large groups of agents permitted to observe a workout held at the team's facility.

Observations: Vereen challenging at FS

June, 11, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoBears safety Brock Vereen, who participated in the team's rookie minicamp in May, is adjusting to playing in the NFL.
Vereen took all the first-team reps at safety alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy on Wednesday, as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz continue to be sidelined due to injuries. M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray handled the reps on the second team.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.

"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.

Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:

• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.

• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.

• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.

• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.

Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.

• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.

• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.

• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery couldn’t resist cracking a smile on Thursday when responding to a question about converted linebacker Shea McClellin's new trimmed and toned offseason physique.

"He looks like an extra from a Dolph Lundgren movie, doesn't he?" Emery said. "He's looking good, looking trim and fit."

McClellin moved out to California for 12 weeks in the offseason to train with veteran performance coach Scot Prohaska where he dropped 11 pounds and reduced his body fat by eight percent. He reported to Halas Hall for the start of the offseason program two weeks ago at 252 pounds and 10 percent body fat.

"To be honest with you, I have never expected anything less than Shea and Shea was in tremendous shape when he came here last summer," Emery said. "Shea is a hard gainer in terms of putting weight on. And obviously we've put him in two different directions. Up and through the end of the season it was at defensive end. And to his knowledge he was a defensive end until we hired the rest of our defensive staff at the very last week of January.

The moment that we notified him that, hey, we're moving him to linebacker, he found the right person, he moved out to California and he attacked it with vigor. And that's what I would have expected out of Shea. And the end result of what he looks like is because of his efforts."

However, McClellin has not been promised a starting job at strong side linebacker. McClellin and fellow linebackers D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will have to compete for the two open linebacker spots next to perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs.

"We're counting on him being part of that mix at linebacker and competing for the job. Nobody is going to be given a job; it's a full-on mix. The only person we've told has a job --the room has been told that -- is Lance Briggs. The rest of it is the best player wins."

Bears draft focus: LB

April, 21, 2014
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Despite selecting a pair of linebackers over the opening four rounds of last year’s draft, the Bears still need to find a viable, long-term solution in the middle of the defense.

While 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker as a rookie, Bears general manager Phil Emery has hinted on multiple occasions that Bostic may be better suited to one day move to outside linebacker.

“Maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability,” Emery told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” last December.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Scott Donaldson/Icon SMIAlabama's C.J. Mosley is the top-rated inside linebacker in this year's draft.
Where Bostic lines up this year is up in the air. The Bears re-signed veteran inside linebacker D.J. Williams to a one-year deal, but Williams hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and appeared in just six games last season before landing on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Williams will turn 32 in July, and even if he does manage to shake off the injury bug, is likely a short-term fix at middle linebacker.

Khaseem Greene, a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, replaced Lance Briggs at weakside linebacker for seven games last year and seems earmarked for a role on special teams in 2014, unless the Bears suffer another rash of injuries at the position.

Former first-round pick Shea McClellin is expected to transition from defensive end to strongside linebacker.

So if the Bears are serious about potentially moving Bostic outside in the near future, the team needs to find help at inside linebacker, possibly in this draft.

Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is the consensus No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2014 draft class and could be available when the Bears pick at No. 14 overall in the first round. But with greater needs at safety, cornerback and defensive tackle, the Bears could wait until the middle rounds to address linebacker.

If that is the route the Bears decide to go, Monday is an important day because Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov is scheduled to hold a private pro day and run in front of scouts and NFL personnel people for the first time in the offseason. Skov, who declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, pulled a hamstring before Stanford’s pro day that kept him sidelined. He also did not run the 40 yard dash in February at the NFL combine.

Skov has dealt with injuries throughout his college career, but the 6-foot-2, 245 pounder finished last season with better overall numbers than many of the other highly rated linebackers in the class of 2014, including Mosley.

Skov recorded 109 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in 2013.

Another mid-round linebacker that could make sense for the Bears is Louisville’s Preston Brown, who began his college career at strong side linebacker before moving to the middle where he led the Cardinals in tackles back-to-back seasons. He had 98 stops, five sacks and 14 tackles for loss for Louisville last year.

“Moving to the middle taught me how to take control of the whole defense,” Brown said. “When you’re on the outside, you line up more at the line of scrimmage. In the middle, you sit back five yards and have to study what’s going on and make sure everybody is in the right place. You have to know everybody’s job.

"When you play Mike linebacker, you have to study a ton and learn the different shifts and formations. You have to be dialed in every snap, every game, because if you miss a check that could result in the other team scoring a touchdown. [Intelligence] is so important when you play middle linebacker.”

Brown has strong ties to new Bears assistant defensive line coach Clint Hurtt, who served as Louisville’s defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator from 2010-13.

“I love Coach Hurtt and he was one of my favorite coaches on the staff,” Brown said. “I would meet with him at least once a week and watch the run game and pick up some pass-rush moves from him. You could always talk to him if you had a problem. He was one of my favorite coaches.”

Five potential targets
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Shayne Skov, Stanford
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Preston Brown, Louisville
5. Max Bullough, Michigan State

The next five: 6. Avery Williamson, Kentucky; 7. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut; 8. Khairi Fortt, California; 9. DeDe Lattimore, South Florida; 10. Glenn Carson, Penn State.
Position grade: B

Reviewing the Bears' drafts: 2013

April, 18, 2014
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Here is Part 5 of our series reviewing the past five drafts of the Chicago Bears.

With one full-season under his belt, general manager Phil Emery took on the task of rebuilding the offensive line, while inserting youth into an aging defense that would be playing under a new head coach for the first time since 2004.

First-round pick: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon

Number of picks: 6

How they did: Above average. Four of the six members of the 2013 draft class cracked the starting lineup last season, with Long and fifth-round choice Jordan Mills starting all 16 regular-season games. Bostic was thrown into the fire after veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams suffered a season-ending injury, and Greene had the unenviable task of attempting to replace perennial Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, who missed seven games because of a shoulder issue. Seventh-rounder Marquess Wilson played sparingly as a rookie, but is expected to have a much larger role in the offense as the No. 3 wide receiver in 2014. Cornelius Washington, a sixth-round defensive end out of Georgia, spent the bulk of the season on the inactive list.

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKyle Long showed leadership qualities as a rookie.
Pivotal pick: Long. The Bears switched out four of their five starting offensive linemen from 2012 to 2013. Though the club signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson (a pair of excellent free-agent pickups) before the draft, it was critical for the organization to hit on a first-round offensive lineman after missing on Chris Williams (2008) and Gabe Carimi (2011). Another failure on the offensive line in the first round would have forced the Bears to spend more money in free agency or re-draft the position again entirely. That will not have to happen unless Long suffers some kind of injury. He should be a fixture on the Bears’ offensive line for 10 years, at least. Plus, his athleticism and intelligence could allow him to change positions in the future if the Bears deem it necessary.

Best pick: Long. When respected team captain and veteran center Roberto Garza calls it quits, Long will take over the leadership of the offensive line and be one of the key voices in the locker room. Although Long prefers not to talk about himself, he has a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. But what makes this such a great pick is that Long was a relative unknown coming out of Oregon, where he started just a handful of games. It takes guts to select a player at No. 20 overall who played only one year of major college football. Yet, the Bears did their homework, stood by their convictions, and were rewarded with likely the club’s best first-round pick since Tommie Harris in 2004.

Worst pick: Washington. But to be fair, he’s only been in the NFL for one season. There is a chance he improves his technique in the offseason and learns how to use his 6-foot-4 frame to his advantage. Washington never really had a permanent position at Georgia, so he is considered raw. Obviously, the Bears did not feel comfortable enough to use Washington last season as a rookie even though the club badly needed help up front on the defensive line. With the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije, it will be tough for Washington to make an impact, or even to make the team in 2014. But it’s never wise to give up on a young player after just one season. Let’s see how it plays out for Washington when the team officially begins its offseason program on April 22.

Melton drops weight, Bears want him back

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

2013 FA review: LB James Anderson

February, 13, 2014
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Money: Signed a one-year deal for $950,000 that also included a $200,000 signing bonus and $100,000 workout bonus. Anderson took up $1.25 million worth of salary cap space in 2013.

Stats: Anderson became the first Bears player other than Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to lead the team in tackles since Barry Minter in 1999. The eight-year NFL veteran made 129.5 tackles and a career-best four sacks. Anderson registered 7.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, 10 quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.

[+] EnlargeJames Anderson
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMIJames Anderson could be seeking a multiyear deal after leading the Bears in tackles last season.
2013 role: Anderson was the only veteran linebacker to start all 16 games. He lined up on the strong side in the Bears’ base defense, but remained on the field in the nickel package and became the defensive signal-caller after Briggs suffered a shoulder fracture on Oct. 20. Anderson, new to the defensive scheme, played his best football before Briggs and D.J. Williams were lost to injuries. He finished the year with 14 tackles in two of the final three games against the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers.

The good: Anderson began the season with tackles for loss in three of the first five games. He meshed well with Briggs and Williams. Anderson’s four sacks tied for second on the team with Shea McClellin. The linebacker recorded a minimum of 10 tackles in six different games. Anderson’s even-keeled personality seemed to play well in the locker room with his teammates. His production (129.5 tackles) exceeded the modest one-year deal he signed in free agency. Anderson stayed healthy for the entire year.

The bad: Because of his lack of familiarity and experience within this particular defensive scheme, Anderson was unable to offer much assistance to rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene when the two rookies were obviously struggling to be in the correct spot after being pressed into action. Despite Anderson’s impressive statistics, he was part of one of the worst run defenses and front-sevens in Bears’ history.

2014 role: Unknown. Anderson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. He is probably seeking a multiyear deal after taking a one-year contract to join the Bears. Anderson was not part of the group of players the Bears re-signed at the conclusion of the regular season. The market could dictate whether Anderson returns to Chicago.

Rookie review: MLB Jon Bostic

February, 4, 2014
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Stats: Bostic started nine of 16 games at middle linebacker and finished fifth on the team with 75.5 tackles. The 2013 second-round pick out of the University of Florida also posted 4.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and one fumble recovery. Before being inserted into the starting lineup after veteran D.J. Williams landed on injured reserve, Bostic contributed heavily on special teams where he made three tackles.

Bostic
2013 role: Although the Bears used a second-round draft choice on Bostic, the original plan called for the young linebacker to sit behind Williams for at least one season and focus primarily on special teams. So even though Bostic played the entire preseason with the first team with Williams sidelined due to a serious calf strain, Bostic returned to the bench in favor of Williams when the Bears opened up the regular season versus the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8. But Williams lasted just six games and went on injured reserve on Oct. 18 with a torn chest muscle. Bostic was a fixture at middle linebacker for the rest of the regular season, and along with fourth-round choice Khaseem Greene, became the first rookie linebackers to start for the Bears since Lance Briggs in 2003.

The good: From a physical standpoint, Bostic proved that he belongs at the NFL level. Bostic can run. He had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of all the linebackers at the 2013 NFL combine, and can use that speed to chase plays down from the backside. Bostic can also deliver a hard hit. Bears general manager Phil Emery labeled Bostic the club’s second-best “striker” behind Briggs, a perennial Pro Bowler on the weak side. One of Bostic’s top plays in 2013 occurred in the Bears’ November win over the Baltimore Ravens when the first-year linebacker sunk back in coverage in the middle of the field and intercepted a pass. That sequence reminded many of how retired ex-Bears’ middle linebacker Brian Urlacher used to cut off the deep middle of the field with his uncanny speed and athleticism for 13 years.

The bad: From a mental standpoint, Bostic played like a rookie. He often found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Bears had one of the worst defenses in the NFL, especially versus the run. When that happens, the linebackers usually assume a good chunk of the blame. After the Bears suffered many of their key injuries, it became commonplace for opposing ball carriers to reach the Bears’ secondary without even being touched, with many of those long runs coming right up the middle of the defense. The Bears allowed 2,583 rushing yards in 2013, for an average of 5.3 yards per carry.

Looking ahead: According to Emery, Bostic’s best chance for success in the future might be at outside linebacker. If the Bears re-sign Williams in free agency, there is a chance Bostic could move to strongside linebacker in 2014, with Williams in the middle and Briggs on the weak side. Shea McClellin may also figure into the mix at linebacker depending on the kind of front the Bears show opponents in a given package, but Bostic is a pure linebacker and needs to be on the field in some capacity. Best-case scenario is that Bostic learns from his rookie mistakes, and because of his speed and athleticism becomes a more complete, and consistent player in 2014. Bostic always seemed to have a good attitude and appeared to be well liked by his teammates in the locker room. The future does seem promising, but the Bears will expect Bostic to cut down on the amount of mental mistakes in his second NFL season.

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