Chicago Bears: Michael Bush

Bears draft focus: RB

May, 1, 2014
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The signing of veteran tailback Shaun Draughn last week eased some concerns about the Bears' lack of depth in their offensive backfield, but the team could decide to add another running back in the later rounds of next month's draft to compliment the current trio of Matt Forte, Michael Ford and Draughn.

One potential candidate is Wisconsin running back James White, the Badgers' fourth all-time leading rusher with 4,015 yards. White's 45 career rushing touchdowns ranks third in school history.

ESPNChicago.com reported in mid-April that the Bears had traveled to Madison, Wis. and conducted a private workout with White, who led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown at the 2014 at the 2014 Senior Bowl.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas reportedly made a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall.

Both White and Thomas are listed at 5-foot-9.

While Forte handled almost all of the snaps at running back last year in Marc Trestman's offense, the Bears do need to have a plan in place in case Forte is forced to miss time or a game due to injury. The club released veteran Michael Bush prior to the start of free agency.

Ford is a promising second-year player out of LSU, but he did not carry the ball in 2013. However, he is expected to compete for the No. 2 job in the preseason.

Since the general consensus in the NFL is that running backs can be found almost anywhere, the Bears should have a large group of players to choose from if they want to invest one of their final picks in the position.

Five potential targets:
1. James White, Wisconsin

2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon

3. Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State

4. Marion Grice, Arizona State

5. James Wilder Jr., Florida State

The next five: 6. Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; 7. Rajion Neal, Tennessee; 8. Tyler Gaffney, Louisville; 9. Senorise Perry; 10. Storm Johnson, UCF.

Position grade: C

Bears sign RB Shaun Draughn

April, 23, 2014
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The Chicago Bears signed running back Shaun Draughn to a one-year contract, the team announced.

Draughn
Draughn played in 20 games for the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens from 2011-13. His best season came in 2012 when he carried the ball 59 times for 233 yards and two touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 158 yards for the Chiefs.

Draughn also returned 23 kickoffs for 537 yards that same year in Kansas City.

Bears general manager Phil Emery served as the Chiefs' director of college scouting when Draughn entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of North Carolina. Draughn originally signed with the Washington Redskins before eventually making his way to Kansas City.

The 6-foot, 205 pound tailback appeared in just three games and ran the ball only four times for two yards for the Ravens last season.

The Bears were looking to add depth in the backfield in the offseason after the club released veteran running back Michael Bush on the eve of NFL free agency in March. The team could still decide to draft a running back in the late rounds to compete with the likes of Draughn and Michael Ford for the reserve roster spots behind two-time Pro Bowl starter Matt Forte.

Bears keep tabs on RB James White

April, 14, 2014
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The release of veteran running back Michael Bush on March 10 left a hole in the Chicago Bears' backfield the team must eventually fill.

While the Bears do currently have second-year tailback/return man Michael Ford slotted behind two-time Pro Bowler Matt Forte on the depth chart, the team could use more depth and competition at the position.

That help could arrive next month if the Bears select a running back somewhere between the fourth and sixth rounds of the upcoming NFL draft, a reasonable target area given the priority in the early rounds will likely be safety, cornerback, defensive tackle and inside linebacker, in no particular order.

One backfield prospect to keep tabs on is former Wisconsin running back James White, who led all rushers with 11 carries for 62 yards and one touchdown at the 2014 Senior Bowl.

The Bears recently traveled to Wisconsin's campus in Madison to put White through a private pre-draft workout, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Although listed at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds, White finished his four-year career at Wisconsin as the Badgers' No. 4 all-time leading rusher with 4,015 yards and ranks No. 3 in school history with 45 rushing touchdowns.

White ran for 1,444 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 39 passes for 300 yards and two scores for Wisconsin last season. He also returned kickoffs his first two years in Madison.

Keep in mind, the Bears require a versatile running back that is capable of not only picking up yards on the ground if called upon, but also a player that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Utilizing the tailback in the passing game is a key component of Marc Trestman's offense, and one of Forte's greatest strengths since entering the league in 2008.

In addition to White, there should be an ample supply of running backs for the Bears to choose from in the later rounds if the organization decides to fill that need via the draft.

Other names to consider are Alabama State's Isaiah Crowell, Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas (the Bears reportedly hosted Thomas on a top-30 pre-draft visit at Halas Hall), Tennessee's Rajion Neal, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, Louisville's Senorise Perry, Arizona State's Marion Grice and Florida State's James Wilder, Jr., among others.

Grice suffered a lower leg injury last year and had to wait until last week to work out in front of scouts at his personal Pro Bowl. Representatives from 17 NFL teams were in attendance. The Bears were not present, but the 6-foot, 207 pound Grice did catch 91 passes out of the backfield for the Sun Devils over the last two seasons.

The Bears also worked out a handful of veteran free agent running backs last week at Halas Hall.

Can Bears maximize Michael Bush?

February, 21, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s hard to blame the Chicago Bears for signing veteran tailback Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract in 2012 that included $7 million in total guarantees.

With starting running back Matt Forte locked in a contract dispute with the club after receiving the franchise tag following the 2011 regular season, the Bears needed to protect themselves in case Forte and the team were unable to reach a long-term agreement. Forte had also missed the final four games that year with a knee injury.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsMichael Bush had a career-low 63 carries in 2013.
In the end, Forte and the Bears reached an accord on a four-year deal and Bush spent the last two seasons as a part-time player in the Bears’ offense.

Last year, despite eating up $3.550 million worth of salary-cap space, Bush carried the ball a career-low 63 times for 197 yards (3.1 yards per rush) and caught the ball just four times for 48 yards.

Can the Bears get more bang for their buck out of Bush, who is scheduled to count $3.850 million against the cap in 2014?

“I think, No. 1, it was very difficult to take Matt off the field, and it was very impressive that he had the endurance to do what he did this year,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said at the NFL combine. “There were times that we just felt we had a plan to play Michael more, the defense may have been on the field, and Matt had a good enough rest so we kept Matt out there and didn’t get Michael on as much as we would’ve liked to. We had a plan but we didn’t execute it. A lot of that, going in, was Matt’s productivity.

I’ve experienced this in Oakland when we had Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner. There’s a place, certainly, for that type of back. If you have a system of football that’s flexible enough, you can seamlessly make that transition and still be just as effective.”

If the Bears decide to cut ties with Bush, the organization would still be on the hook for $2 million worth of dead salary cap space -- the remaining balance of Bush’s prorated $4 million signing bonus. But it’s unclear whether the Bears believe second-year running back Michael Ford is ready to assume the role as the team’s No. 2 tailback. The 5-foot-10 Ford played on special teams last year where he appeared in 12 games and returned five kickoffs for 37 yards and made five special-teams tackles. Ford’s 2014 salary cap number is projected to be $496,166.

Four Downs: Go defensive line at No. 14?

February, 14, 2014
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Jernigan & Nix III & Tuitt USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan, Luis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt could be options for the Bears in the NFL draft.
Decimated by injuries, the Chicago Bears' defensive line turned in a nightmarish 2013 season. The Bears allowed 2,583 yards rushing, more than 400 worse than the 31st-ranked Atlanta Falcons, and their 30 sacks were good for 30th in the NFL.

Will the Bears address their glaring need for help up front with the 14th pick in the May NFL draft? Our panel weighs in on that and more in an offseason edition of Four Downs:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears' first pick of the draft will be on the defensive line.


SportsNation

What position should the Bears address with the 14th pick in the draft?

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    60%
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    18%
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    4%
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    16%
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    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,022)

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Teams need to be flexible in the draft, but the Bears' most glaring need is on the defensive line. Two years ago, the Bears' No. 1 need was to find a pass-rushing defensive end, and the club selected Shea McClellin at No. 19 overall. Last year, the Bears badly needed to upgrade the offensive line and took guard Kyle Long at No. 20. While the actual picks themselves (McClellin and Long) came as a surprise to many, the Bears did target the position groups most believed they would. We are weeks away from free agency, and three months from May's draft, but there seems to be a surplus of talented defensive linemen who could be available when the Bears go on the clock at No. 14. I never rule anything out. Maybe a top-notch cornerback is still on the board at No. 14. Or a safety. We should have a better idea the direction the Bears are leaning after the club makes some moves in free agency. But this far out, it seems like a safe bet that a young defensive lineman is fairly high on the team's wish-list.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. And they better get it right this time. Premier defensive line help is expensive on the free agent market, so it makes sense to get some help on a rookie deal. Phil Emery whiffed two years ago when he selected McClellin out of Boise State to play defensive end. He should look for inside help, given the Bears' lack of depth at tackle, unless there is a can't-miss defensive end waiting for them. Every defense starts up front, and the Bears' injury problems at defensive line led to the defense's demise last season. Go big or go home, Phil.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will consider Missouri DE Michael Sam in the third round.


[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMIMichael Sam won SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, helping Missouri win the SEC East title.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Sam was a 6-foot-1, 260-pound 4-3 defensive end in college. Despite all his impressive accomplishments at Missouri, Sam fits the description of a tweener in the NFL. Does he have a position at the next level? McClellin is 6-3. Most would argue he is between positions in the NFL. Do the Bears really want to go down that road again? If Sam falls to the late rounds and the Bears view him as the best player available, then perhaps the team considers drafting him. That's not a knock on Sam. He is the SEC's reigning Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and the Bears, like the rest of the NFL, covet players out of that conference. But the third round sounds kind of high for a player with Sam's modest measurables.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I would love for the Bears to draft Sam. His story is inspiring, and given that Chicago has a thriving gay community, he could have a seamless transition to living as an adult in an NFL city. I also think the Bears' locker room would welcome him, and all the fears about "the NFL not being ready" would be proven garbage prognostication. But here's the thing. They already have an undersized defensive end in McClellin. The signs are pointing to the Bears moving him to outside linebacker. That's a move that a lot of NFL scouts and draftniks believe is in Sam's future. I hope he ends up here, but I don't think it happens with the Bears' other defensive needs.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Roberto Garza's career in Chicago is over.


[+] EnlargeRoberto Garza
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWill Roberto Garza see a 10th season in Chicago?
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. But if you read between the lines at the Bears' end-of-the-year news conference, there is a strong likelihood the team will only offer Garza a one-year veteran minimum contract. Garza has been a great player for the Bears, but the NFL doesn't usually pay players for their past performances. You get paid in the NFL based on what the team projects your contributions will be in the future. Garza is nearing the end of an outstanding career, but if 2013 is any indication, he has more left in the tank. Personally, the way Garza keeps himself in top physical condition, I can envision him playing at least two more seasons. But just because I feel that way doesn't mean the Bears will offer Garza a multi-year deal. He'll probably have to test the market. But at the end of the day, I predict Garza returns to Chicago for a 10th season. He's built up so much good equity in the organization, I'd hate to see the sides part on less than amicable terms. But in this business, who knows?

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the Bears get another season out of Garza. Their offensive line thrived last season, and Garza was integral to the group's development. I think the Bears need to draft a young center, but Garza should be able to get another year out of his body. He takes good care of himself and has a fantastic attitude. Of course, Emery has shown little nostalgia in his short tenure, with good reason. So maybe they just move on and grab a veteran center in free agency. But I'm leaning toward a one-year return.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will have a new No. 2 running back next season.


[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsMichael Bush's production didn't merit his price tag last season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Michael Bush carried the ball 63 times for 197 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in 2013. He is to count $3.85 million against the Bears' salary cap next season. That doesn't add up. Either Bush takes a pay cut or the Bears need to go in a different direction, even though cutting Bush would force the Bears to carry $2 million worth of dead salary-cap space. Having a dependable No. 2 tailback behind Pro Bowler Matt Forte is important, but Bush's current contract just doesn't make much sense given his minor role in the offense. If the Bears are going to pay decent money to another skill position player, give it to another pass-catching tight end to complement Martellus Bennett. Forte stays on the field too much for Bush's deal to be considered cost-effective for the Bears.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Bush has a $3.85 million cap hit next year. He's been a decent backup, but not for that price. The now cost-conscious Bears will likely save money by getting rid of him and finding a replacement on the free agent market or through young Michael Ford. Maybe that's the offensive position they draft. Don't rule it out. Regardless, Forte will continue to be the man in 2014. Given his dual roles as running back and pass-catcher, he looks like a bargain with a $7.5 million cap hit.
2014 free agents: None.

Forte
Forte
The good: Matt Forte earned his second Pro Bowl berth after finishing the season ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 1,339 rushing yards, third in yards from scrimmage (1,933), third in first downs (97), fourth in receiving yardage by running backs (594) and tied for No. 6 in rushing touchdowns (nine). The rushing yardage and yards from scrimmage were career bests for Forte. In all, Forte ranked in the top 10 in eight statistical categories, while also serving as a crucial component of the protection schemes. Forte’s primary backup, Michael Bush, finished second on the team in rushing with 197 yards.

Bush
Bush
The bad: As well as Forte played in 2013, he can’t do it all by himself. So the Bears need to explore the possibility of bringing in a complementary back. Bush averaged just 3.1 yards per attempt, and ran seven times for minus-five yards in a Nov. 24 loss at St. Louis. Given that Bush outweighs Forte by 27 pounds, it would seem logical he’d be a more viable short-yardage option. But that didn’t seem to be the case in 2013. The team’s 1,828 rushing yards ranked as the team’s lowest total in three years, and the 404 attempts were the club’s fewest since 2009. The Bears also finished last in the league in third-and-1 rushing situations, converting just 33.3 percent.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Forte ($7.5 million), Bush ($3.85 million), Tony Fiammetta ($730,000), Michael Ford ($496,616). The cap numbers are manageable, but the Bears might look into upgrading in Bush’s spot given that his contributions aren’t commensurate to the $3.85 million cap figure. Perhaps the Bears will give Ford an opportunity to win the No. 2 job during training camp. Ford excelled during training camp and tied with Forte for the team lead in preseason rushing, but he’ll have to improve at pass protection for the team to feel comfortable enough to increase his role.

Draft priority: Low. The Bears would be fine going into the season with Bush as the primary backup to Forte. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see whether they can upgrade there because Forte, while healthy in 2013, has missed time in the past. Teams are increasingly going to a running back-by-committee approach, but in Chicago, Forte has shouldered the majority of the workload. That just doesn’t seem to be a sustainable plan moving forward.

Report card: Bears-Vikings

December, 1, 2013
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Week 13 Report Card: Minnesota Vikings 23, Chicago Bears 20

Forte
B

Rushing Offense

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

Jeffery
B+

Passing Offense

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

Peterson
D

Rushing Defense

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

Cassel
C

Passing Defense

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

Gould
C-

Special Teams

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

Trestman
D

Coaching

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

Mailbag: Expectations for Hester vs. Vikings

November, 29, 2013
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Here is this week's edition of the mailbag:

1. JD, huge Devin Hester fan here. I almost cried when they took away his punt return touchdown last week. Can we expect Devin to light it up against Minnesota? -- Brendan, Peoria, Ill.


Dickerson: Brendan, Hester has torched the Vikings' special teams in 14 career games, returning three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns. Hester was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts against the Vikings in Week 2, when he set a franchise single-game record with 249 kick-return yards. However, it is important to note that Sunday's game will played inside the Metrodome. It's much tougher for a return man to get his hands on the football when the game is played in a controlled climate. Maybe Hester's best shot this weekend is to hope that Vikings rookie punter Jeff Locke kicks him a returnable ball.

2. Why are the Bears going back to Jay Cutler? Josh McCown has found the fountain of youth. Ride with him! GO BEARS! -- Chester, Cicero, Ill.


Dickerson: Cutler is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He has too much talent and is earning too much money to sit on the bench if medically cleared to play. But I believe the Bears are taking the correct approach by sitting Cutler on Sunday and letting McCown start against the Vikings. High-ankle sprains are serious injuries. Cutler needs extra time to let his ankle heal before he's ready to return. McCown is clearly capable of beating the Vikings, who own the league's 30th overall defense (allowing 401 yards per game), so there was no need to rush Cutler back, even if he is pushing hard to come back. But when Cutler is ready, likely for the Bears' Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 9, he will be back in the starting lineup.

(Read full post)

Stock Watch: As usual, Marshall recovers

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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Brandon MarshallMichael Thomas/Getty ImagesAfter a down game against the Ravens, Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Rams.

RISING

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Josh McCown
1. Josh McCown, QB: McCown's inclusion in this category is a weekly occurrence, but the veteran quarterback continues to exceed expectations. Despite being under heavy pressure Sunday, McCown completed 36-of-47 throws for 352 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (102 passer rating). McCown did everything is his power for the Bears to win that game. For the season, McCown is 97-of-148 for 1,106 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. In the NFL, statistics usually don't tell the whole story. In this case, they do. McCown isn't just the best story on the Bears in 2013, he's one of the best stories in the NFL. If McCown can lead the Bears past the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday and get the club to 7-5 when Jay Cutler likely returns on Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys, then the 34-year-old quarterback should be named team MVP at the conclusion of the season, if he hasn't locked up the award already.

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Corey Wootton
2. Corey Wootton, DE: Wootton's numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, but he is the Bears' most consistent defensive lineman even though injuries have forced him to move inside to defensive tackle. Wootton held his own in the 42-21 loss to the Rams, which is a lot more than can be said for any of the other Bears defensive linemen. Double teams are a fact of life for Wootton these days, but he still manages to be effective when others around him falter. Wootton's evolution from an injury question mark to a reliable starter over the past two seasons has been enjoyable to watch. A solid and unselfish guy in the locker room, Wootton figures to be a strong contender to receive a new deal at the end of the season.

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Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall generally responds after the kind of so-so performance he had two weeks ago against the Baltimore Ravens when he caught just four passes for 42 yards and had a bad drop. Last Sunday, Marshall had his way with a sub-par Rams secondary en route to 10 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Marshall is now at 74 catches for 945 yards and nine touchdowns, numbers that were unheard of for a Bears wide receiver after 11 games until Marshall arrived in the spring of 2012. Earl Bennett also deserves mention for having his best game of the season with eight receptions for 58 yards.

FALLING

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Shea McClellin
1. Shea McClellin, DE: Almost every member of the Bears' front seven on defense, with the exception of Wootton, is a candidate to be mentioned in this space, but McClellin's failures in the run game were the most glaring. Time after time, McClellin crashed down from his defensive end spot only to create massive running lanes for the Rams to bounce the ball back outside and hit the edge. There is nothing wrong with McClellin being aggressive off the snap, but at some point he needs to diagnose the play and figure out where the football is headed. McClellin potentially altered the NFC North landscape with his hit on Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 11, but he doesn't have much to show for his season besides that game.

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Bush
2. Michael Bush, RB: Marc Trestman made two comments on Monday in the aftermath of the St. Louis defeat that were rather curious. Trestman vigorously defended Bush, who finished Sunday with minus-5 yards on seven carries. Bush is averaging 1.6 yards per carry on the season. In the past three games, Bush has run the ball 11 times for zero yards. After signing a four-year, $14 million ($7 million guaranteed) deal with the Bears, Bush told reporters that he did not consider himself to be a short-yardage back. He was spot-on. Maybe Bush resurrects his career in 2014, but the odds of that happening in Chicago appear to be slim.

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Jermon Bushrod
3. Jermon Bushrod, LT: Bushrod had his hands full with Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, one of the top pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL, from start to finish in St. Louis. In general, the offensive line had a rough day against the Rams, although Trestman felt the group did a "great" job. The Bears only surrendered one sack (Quinn) in Week 12, but much of that was due to McCown's ability to sense the pressure and move up in the pocket to deliver the ball before he got drilled. Even though he experienced a rash of problems Sunday, Bushrod has still been a massive upgrade at left tackle over J'Marcus Webb. While some suggest the Bears overpaid in free agency (five years, $35.965 million), the former Pro Bowler gives the Bears instant credibility when it comes to protecting the quarterback's blind side. It was a move the Bears had to make. Bushrod will bounce back, and so will the rest of the Bears offensive line after that shaky effort against the Rams.

Stock Watch: QB not a factor for Marshall

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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Brandon Marshall and Josh McCownNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall and Josh McCown have hooked up on touchdown passes in each of the past two games.

RISING

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Brandon Marshall
1. Brandon Marshall, WR: Marshall is red hot. The four-time Pro Bowl selection topped 100 receiving yards (7-139-2) for the second straight week on Sunday. Over the past four games, Marshall has 29 grabs for 408 yards and five touchdowns. He leads the Bears with 60 catches for 786 yards and eight scores, and he is on-pace for 106 total receptions, barring injury. On another positive note, Marshall seems to have chemistry with Josh McCown, the Bears' new starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

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Josh McCown
2. Josh McCown, QB: All McCown does is move the football. The veteran quarterback stepped in for Jay Cutler at the end of the fourth quarter against the Lions and promptly guided the Bears' offense on a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive that culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Marshall. On the drive, McCown went 6-of-9 for 62 yards and the score. In three appearances this season, McCown has completed 42-of-70- passes for 538 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 103.2 quarterback rating. McCown can't be perfect forever, but the Bears hope the veteran can protect the ball and lead them to a key victory Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Jay Cutler
3. Cutler, QB: Sorry, but I believe Cutler had a good game against Detroit despite his physical limitations caused by the groin injury and high-ankle sprain he suffered late in the second half. Despite all that, Cutler should have finished the game with three touchdown passes -- Alshon Jeffery failed to catch two potential scores. Cutler flashed the arm several times on Sunday, throwing rockets to his receivers. Of course, the quarterback did throw a costly interception in the end zone, and by the second half, was a shell of his former self in the mobility department. But the Bears failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities in Week 10 that were not Cutler-related. He did enough to help the Bears win that game. And let's not forget that Detroit has a pretty good front seven. While I think the Bears made an error not removing Cutler from the game sooner, he has nothing to be ashamed about. He played through injuries and put his team in position to win. He did his job.

FALLING

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Matt Slauson
1. Matt Slauson, LG: There is plenty of blame to go around on the Bears' offensive line, but Slauson's mistakes against the Lions garnered the most attention. With 10:57 left in the game, Slauson was called for a holding penalty that negated a Matt Forte 9-yard touchdown run. The Bears eventually had to settle for a field goal. At the end of the game, Slauson failed to help center Roberto Garza block Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley on the second failed two-point conversion attempt. Slauson has been a solid professional all season and certainly looks to be a candidate to receive a contract extension in the offseason, but Sunday wasn't his best effort.

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Matt Forte
2. Matt Forte, RB: Forte was a non-factor in the 21-19 defeat, rushing for just 33 yards on 17 carries (1.9 yards per attempt). Some of Forte's issues can be attributed to poor play from the Bears' offensive line, a unit that missed its share of blocks. However, Forte failed to avoid a couple of tacklers in the open field on plays that were set up to produce sizeable gains for the offense. Forte also caught four passes for 16 yards, giving him only 49 all-purpose yards in Week 10. Forte is rarely this ineffective.

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Bush
3. Michael Bush, RB: The Bears asked Bush to pick up one first down on Sunday. He failed to do it. For the season, Bush has gained 69 yards on 32 attempts (one touchdown), while catching two passes for 21 yards. There are plenty of undrafted rookie running backs who can give you that kind of production. Bush will earn $2.55 million in 2013. He's on the books for total cash payouts of $2.850 million in 2014 and $3.6 million in 2015. The Bears will have to carry $1 million worth of dead salary-cap money over the next two years to cut Bush in the offseason. In a featured role, Bush might be OK. But in his current role in this offense, Bush isn't giving the Bears much bang for their buck.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field:

What it means: The Bears missed an opportunity to seize the division lead and put some cushion between themselves and the Green Bay Packers, who lost to Philadelphia. Instead, Chicago made its road to the postseason more difficult. Quarterback Josh McCown came in and provided a spark late, nearly rallying the Bears. His entrance at the 2:17 mark was long overdue, as Jay Cutler seemed to be hurting the team by trying to play through injury.

Second-guessing fourth-down call: Bears coach Marc Trestman drew praise for his decision Monday night to go for it on fourth down against the Packers, but a similar move in the second quarter resulted in criticism. With his team holding possession at the Detroit 27-yard line, Trestman called for a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. The offensive line appeared to produce adequate push, but Bush ran into the backs of his blockers.

Protecting Cutler: Just 21 days removed from tearing a groin muscle, Cutler returned to the starting lineup on Sunday, showing no residual effects from the injury -- at least initially. Cutler connected on 3 of 4 for 61 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall on Chicago’s opening drive. The team put Cutler in the shotgun for the majority of the game to minimize the risk of aggravating the injury; Chicago operated out of the shotgun on 12 of its first 13 snaps and 25 of 33 snaps in the first half. Then, late through the second quarter, Cutler started to show signs that he was in pain. That pain appeared to increase during the team’s first drive to start the second half. Looking stiff and sluggish, Cutler seemed to be in enough discomfort to leave the game. But the next time the Bears had the ball he hit Marshall for a 44-yard completion. Later in the drive, Cutler -- in tremendous pain -- actually headed toward the sideline, with McCown running onto the field. Cutler fell as he neared the sideline, but waved off McCown and walked back to the huddle.

Run D better, still needs work: Reggie Bush ran wild in the first meeting between the teams, gaining a 139 yards on 18 attempts. Chicago’s defense did a much better job defending Bush on Sunday, but the running back still made a few key plays. Bush broke a 39-yarder on Detroit’s first drive of the second half, which put the Lions in position to go ahead by seven on Calvin Johnson’s 4-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Bush shook struggling Bears safety Chris Conte; Charles Tillman making the touchdown-saving tackle.

Conte redemption? Despite the early struggles, Conte picked off a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Johnson and returned it 35 yards to set up a Robbie Gould 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Then he gave Chicago’s offense another chance when he knocked a pass out of Johnson’s hands in the end zone.

What’s next: The Bears return to Halas Hall on Monday to watch film of the loss to Detroit before taking the day off Tuesday. The club begins preparations Wednesday to host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday at noon.

Bush limited to two snaps in Week 4

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
4:37
PM ET
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The expectation was for Chicago Bears No. 2 running back Michael Bush to have a larger role in the offense during the club’s Week 4 game against the Detroit Lions.

However, the Bears sent Bush on the field for just two of the team’s 72 offensive snaps in their 40-32 loss to the Detroit Lions. In stark contrast, starting tailback Matt Forte played 71 of the 72 snaps and carried the ball 14 times for 95 yards and one touchdown. Forte also caught the ball five times for 22 yards.

The Bears signed Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract in the spring of 2012 to serve as Forte’s primary backup. Bush will earn a total of $2.550 million this season ($1.5 million base salary, $1 million roster bonus and $50,000 workout bonus), but has run the ball just 16 times for 24 yards in four games.

Bears coach Marc Trestman explained that Bush’s role was limited on Sunday because the Bears fell behind by 20 points in the first half.

“I think it was the kind of game it was more than anything,” Trestman said. “It was a two-minute drill more than anything else. We want Michael to be part of our football team and hope to get him in the mix during the course of the game. We have to grow in that area. We just have to find more ways to get him out there. It’s just difficult because we don’t want to take Matt off the field, either.”

Bush appeared in 13 games for the Bears last season, carrying the ball 114 times for 411 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for a career-high 977 yards for the Oakland Raiders in 2011.

Stock Watch: D.J. Williams shakes off rust

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
12:12
PM ET
DJ WilliamsJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesD.J. Williams had two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble against the Steelers.

RISING

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler continues to earn a spot on the list because of his penchant for late-game heroics. Cutler passed for only 159 yards against Pittsburgh, but he rallied the troops in the fourth quarter after the Steelers cut the Bears' lead to four points. Cutler's brilliant trio of third-down conversions on the fourth-quarter drive that culminated with Earl Bennett's 17-yard touchdown reception is further proof of Cutler's new-found resiliency. In the past, the Bears probably lose that game Sunday night due to a late turnover. But the 2013 version of Cutler remains poised in adverse situations, even when he makes a bad throw or takes a hit in the pocket. Calm Cutler has a 94.2 quarterback rating through three games, exactly the kind of numbers the Bears want to see.

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DJ Williams
2. D.J. Williams, LB: There were never any internal concerns that starting Williams at middle linebacker over Jon Bostic would stunt the rookie's growth. Williams' occasional rusty play in the first two weeks did make you wonder if the Bears made the right call. But Williams eased concerns Sunday night when he registered two sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble despite playing his fewest snaps of the season. Bostic's time will come. The Bears view the second-round pick as a future starter and the first linebacker off the bench in the event of an injury, but Williams has solidified a spot for himself on the first team. It's hard to envision the Bears turning back to Bostic at MLB in 2013 unless Williams gets hurt.

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Briggs
3. Lance Briggs, LB: Sticking with the linebacker theme, Briggs is playing like a man possessed, even with his new-found on-field responsibilities. Briggs is a vicious hitter and a seasoned playmaker. The press box stats awarded Briggs seven tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed and the forced fumble that landed in the arms of Julius Peppers and returned for a touchdown to close out the game at Heinz Field. Has Briggs turned into a better player without Brian Urlacher or are we just noticing him more? Whatever the reason, Briggs is making a strong case to return to the Pro Bowl after a rare snub last year.

FALLING

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Bush
1. Michael Bush, RB: Bush is a tremendous weapon in short-yardage goal-line situations and gave tremendous effort to score from 1 yard out in the first quarter. But it's been a little surprising the Bears haven't used him more in light of the hefty contract he signed in 2012 to serve as the No. 2 running back behind Matt Forte. Bush has carried the ball 16 times for just 24 yards (1.5 yards per attempt) in three games. Surely, Bush can do more for the Bears offense than simply serving as a battering ram in the red zone. Remember, Bush rushed for almost 1,000 yards for the Raiders in 2011, and once ran for 177 yards in a game against Tampa Bay. With Forte banged up after the Steelers game, Bears coach Marc Trestman hinted that Bush will have an expanded role Sunday in Detroit.

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Anthony Walters
2. Anthony Walters, S/ST: Walters is the No. 4 safety on the roster because of the niche on special teams he's carved for himself. There is nothing wrong with being aggressive and trying to block a punt, but you can't come up empty handed if you leave your feet and dive at the punter. Walters came up empty on a blocked punt attempt in the second quarter and instead got flagged 15 yards for roughing the punter. That play gave the Steelers a fresh set of downs and ultimately led to a Pittsburgh touchdown that swung the momentum back in favor of the home team. Against a better team, a special-teams error like that could end up being the difference between a win or a loss.

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Henry Melton
3. Henry Melton, DT: Injuries are a cruel part of the game. This is not meant to kick Melton while he's down, but the course of the defensive tackle's career has been altered after he tore his left ACL on Sunday night. Melton is unlikely to receive a long-term free-agent deal in the spring -- that's just the reality of the situation -- but that doesn't mean his prospects of one day signing another lucrative contract are over. One-year "prove it" deals are a common part of life for NFL veterans. Just look around the Bears locker room at all the guys with contracts set to expire. Melton's inspiration should be starting linebackers Williams and James Anderson, both of whom are betting on themselves to parlay one-year deals into something more lucrative in the future, either in Chicago or someplace else. That needs to be Melton's goal. Look at it this way: After being overpaid as the franchise player in 2013, Melton is expected to be underpaid in 2014. That's just how it goes. But Melton can go a long way toward making sure he's not underpaid in 2015 by seriously attacking his knee rehabilitation over the next eight months.

Atkins impressed with Bears' RG Long

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
12:27
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears knew at the end of last season the team desperately needed a massive overhaul on the offensive line. Mission accomplished. General manager Phil Emery tackled the issue of improving the line by investing significant resources in both free agency and the NFL draft en route to acquiring left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills -- leaving veteran center Roberto Garza as the lone holdover from 2012.

[+] EnlargeGeno Atkins
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsCincinnati's Geno Atkins should prove to be a tough assignment for rookie Kyle Long in his first regular-season start.
This new-look group will be put to the test immediately in Week 1. The Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sunday with arguably one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, led by the game’s premiere three-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who inked a lucrative five-year contract extension after he led all interior defensive linemen last season with 12.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 15 tackles for loss.

As a unit, the Bengals’ defensive line recorded 43 sacks last season and helped the defense rank sixth in fewest yards allowed.

This should present a terrific challenge up front for the Bears, especially for the Long/Mills rookie right side of the offensive line. Atkins told the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday that he was impressed by Long’s performance in the preseason after the first-round pick won the starting job outright. The Atkins-Long matchup is expected to be one of the most intriguing battles on Sunday.

“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”

Atkins also praised Bears tailback Matt Forte, who averaged 9.9 yards per carry on 15 rushing attempts behind the offensive line in the preseason. Forte is expected to be a focal point of the Bears’ offense in Week 1.

“He’s very, I want to say, shifty,” Atkins said. “He likes to cut back, so, I mean, he’s very explosive. If you give him a cutback lane, he will take it back and make you pay. To me, that makes him a dynamic player.
They’ve got tons of playmakers like Jay Cutler, Forte and Michael Bush. The offensive line is pretty stout. They’re a big group. And Brandon Marshall. They’re already loaded, so we just have to get after them.”
Reggie BushRonald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesIt's one thing for Reggie Bush to talk about titles, but it's another for the Lions to win them.
While the groundwork for every NFL campaign is primarily laid in the offseason, championships are never won in May.

But organizations need to set lofty goals. Have you ever heard of an NFL team striving for mediocrity?

So while a part of me wants to cringe when I read Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley quoted in the Detroit News saying that his team is "going to the Super Bowl”, or watch a video of Detroit running back Reggie Bush tell reporters that he signed with the Lions "to win championships," the reality is that every NFL player should feel that way about the prospects of his respective club this time of the year.

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