NFC North: 2013 preseason

Most significant move: Joe Webb has officially made the Vikings' roster at two different positions. After a dismal performance in place of Christian Ponder during the Vikings' playoff game last January, Webb made the transition to wide receiver this spring and beat out Stephen Burton for the final roster spot. Burton started off well in camp, but was inconsistent in the Vikings' final two preseason games, while Webb caught a touchdown pass from Ponder that showed he might have potential as a red zone target. He'll probably also factor in on special teams, but in beating out Burton -- who was with the Vikings all of last season -- Webb rewarded the coaching staff's faith in him.

Sherels survives again: Marcus Sherels has made a habit of turning in notable preseason performances to claim one of the Vikings' final roster spots. He saved his best for last on Thursday night, returning a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown and recording an interception less than a week after his father's funeral. The performance was enough for Sherels to fight off Bobby Felder for the Vikings' final cornerback spot, and it likely means he keeps his job as the team's punt returner. His results were mediocre aside from a 77-yard touchdown last year, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer praised Sherels' sure hands and decision-making this week. That probably helped him beat out Felder, who looked impressive as a punt returner in his own right and might claim a practice squad spot.

What's next: The Vikings will announce their practice squad tomorrow, and could look for more help on the offensive line, where they only kept eight players.

Vikings moves: Released TE Colin Anderson, RB Joe Banyard, S Brandan Bishop, OG Travis Bond, CB Brandon Burton, WR Stephen Burton, DT Everett Dawkins, S Darius Eubanks, CB Bobby Felder, TE Chase Ford, OT Brandon Keith, DT Anthony McCloud, LB Tyrone McKenzie, OT Kevin Murphy, DT Spencer Nealy, DE D'Aundre Reed, WR Rodney Smith, WR Adam Thielen, DE Collins Ukwu. Placed OG Seth Olsen on injured reserve. Placed FB Jerome Felton and OG Demarcus Love on suspended list. Placed WR Greg Childs on physically unable to perform list. Placed DT Christian Ballard on reserve/left squad list.
When the Vikings officially announce their 53-man roster sometime between now and tomorrow evening, they will conclude what coach Leslie Frazier says "is, without question, one of the toughest parts" of his job.

"When you sit down with them on that Saturday, or Friday, they come by the office and you explain to them that their career in Minnesota is going to be over, and there's a possibility it may be over for good, it can get emotional," Frazier said. "You spend a lot of time with them from April on, and some, like the veterans, you've been with them for years. To have to explain to them or let them know that the end of the journey is now, it's a tough time, a very tough time."

Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman collaborate on the process with Frazier's coaching staff, but the final say belongs to Spielman. The process is more a discussion than a negotiation -- "There are no chips (to play)," Frazier says -- but the head coach's input on whom he feels he can work with also carries plenty of weight.

"One of the things that he’s learned and I’ve learned is that you don’t want to make that decision about a player if the coaches -- the head coach in particular -- are totally against it," Frazier said. "It’s hard if as a coach, you have to get this guy going and so on and then you don’t necessarily believe in it. It’s a tough deal, but we’ve been very fortunate in our relationship where we can discuss every single guy."

When the Vikings finish their deliberations, here's our guess at how their 53-man roster will look:

[+] EnlargeMcLeod Bethel-Thompson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsWith so much uncertainty at the quarterback position, the Vikings may opt to keep McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
QUARTERBACKS (3): Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Vikings' only question here appears to be whether they keep Bethel-Thompson or go into the season with two quarterbacks. Considering they've spent a year developing the strong-armed 25-year-old, and the fact that they're not exactly entrenched at the position with Ponder and Cassel, they'll keep him around to continue working with him.

RUNNING BACKS (4): Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Zach Line

This group will likely have a different look after Week 3, when Jerome Felton is eligible to return from his suspension. His return might push Line to the practice squad, but for now, the undrafted free agent makes it as another fullback option. He was impressive as a pass-catcher in the preseason, and made a nice kick-out block on Joe Banyard's 18-yard run in the fourth quarter on Thursday night. Banyard had a nice preseason, but loses out to Asiata, who has been strong on special teams. Banyard could be a practice squad candidate, though, after spending time there last year.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5): Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Joe Webb

Had this decision been made a couple of weeks ago, Stephen Burton might have grabbed the spot over Webb. But the converted quarterback caught a touchdown pass on Sunday night against San Francisco, and though he dropped a pass on Thursday night, he had the most targets and catches among wide receivers. The Vikings have invested enough time into the Webb experiment that they'll continue to see it through, especially with Burton being inconsistent late in the preseason; he stopped short on a route that helped lead to Ponder's interception on Sunday night, and caught just one pass for 14 yards on Thursday. Greg Childs also lands on the PUP list, where he'll get more time to try to return from two knee injuries.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison

Few surprises here; Rudolph is the starter, Carlson gets another year to work his way into the offense and Ellison stays for his contributions as a run-blocker, which could land him more playing time at fullback while Felton is out.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8): Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Jeff Baca, Seth Olsen, Brandon Keith

The starting five returns intact from a year ago, and Baca -- the fifth-round pick who played center extensively on Thursday night -- beats out Joe Berger for one of the reserve spots. Baca, who can also play guard, will team with Olsen to give the Vikings a pair of versatile interior linemen off the bench. Keith, a veteran who can play guard and tackle, beats out rookie Travis Bond for the last spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Sharrif Floyd, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, George Johnson, Chase Baker

The Vikings will have a couple of tough decisions to make here; we have D'Aundre Reed, who spent the 2012 season on the 53-man roster, off the team in favor of Johnson, whom the Vikings signed late last season. Baker also gets a spot, at least for the early part of the season, with the Vikings' defensive line depth is a concern and Christian Ballard remains away from the team. The Vikings will either have to cut Ballard or leave him on the reserve/left squad list, but it seems unlikely they'll give him a roster spot at this point.

LINEBACKERS (8): Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop, Audie Cole, Marvin Mitchell, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Larry Dean

At one of the more competitive spots on the roster, the Vikings go young with a pair of rookies (Hodges and Mauti) and a second-year linebacker (Cole). Dean sticks because of his value on special teams, and Bishop -- who has looked better in the final two preseason games -- could wind up starting at weakside linebacker. There are injury concerns here with Bishop and Mauti, but if both players are healthy, they offer more upside than Tyrone McKenzie.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10): Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Jefferson, Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo

Sherels and Felder have been fighting for one of the final spots on the roster, but both offer enough value on special teams that the Vikings will keep them both. Sherels showed what kind of a return man he can be with his 109-yard kickoff return against Tennessee, but Felder has looked like a capable punt returner, as well, and gives the Vikings another option in the slot if Robinson can't handle the job. The biggest name left off the roster here is safety Mistral Raymond, who was starting early last year but hasn't been able to stay on the field.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Blair Walsh, Jeff Locke, Cullen Loeffler

A kicker, a punter/holder and a long-snapper. That's all the Vikings need on special teams. They'll have a simple decision to close out their roster.

Bears begin to trim roster to 53

August, 30, 2013
Here is a list of the Chicago Bears’ confirmed cuts as of Friday morning:

OT J’Marcus Webb
QB Jordan Palmer
S Brandon Hardin
S Tom Nelson
OL Edwin Williams
WR Josh Lenz
LB Jerry Franklin
WR Brittan Golden

Bears release QB Jordan Palmer

August, 30, 2013
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears have informed veteran quarterback Jordan Palmer that he will be released prior to the deadline for NFL teams to establish their 53-man roster, Palmer announced Friday morning on his official Twitter account (@JwPalms).

“I really appreciate all the kind words from the #Bears fans but I'm headed home today,” Palmer wrote. “Crazy biz but appreciative.”

Palmer had a strong first-half performance Thursday against Cleveland when he completed 11-of-17 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown, for a passer rating of 102.8. Chicago receivers also dropped at least three throws that would have otherwise resulted in completions.

Bears head coach Marc Trestman praised Palmer following the game. The Bears signed both Palmer and fellow quarterback Trent Edwards after second-year QB Matt Blanchard fractured his left hand in the club’s second preseason game. The Bears and Blanchard later reached an injury settlement.

“It says a lot about his preparation,” Trestman said. “He came in here; he dug in; he has learned a lot of the offense and spent a lot of time, on his own, trying to assimilate all of it. I’m happy for him that he came out and played very efficiently for us.”

It’s possible the Bears could turn to Palmer later in the regular season if the team suffers an injury to either starting quarterback Jay Cutler or No. 2 Josh McCown.

Edwards replaced Palmer in the second half and went 10-of-17 for 135 yards and tossed an interception that went through the hands of tight end Fendi Onobun and returned for a touchdown by the Cleveland defense.

The Bears could be leaning toward keeping just two quarterbacks on the Week 1 active roster and signing a quarterback to its practice squad.

In other news, the Bears also informed wide receivers Britton Golden and Josh Lenz of their release Friday.

NFL teams have until 3 p.m. CT on Saturday to trim the roster to 53, but the Bears are expected to make the majority of their roster moves on Friday.
The day before the Vikings' first preseason game, Marcus Sherels' father, Ben, lost his long battle with cancer. Marcus Sherels played for the Vikings the next night.

He played again the following Friday in Buffalo, continuing his seemingly annual battle to claim one of the Vikings' final roster spots. But when it finally came time to say his final goodbyes to his father in Rochester, Minn., Sherels had to step away from the team for its third preseason game against San Francisco. He found a source of support in coach Leslie Frazier.

"You try to put yourself in his shoes, knowing what he might be going through," Frazier said. "We have some other guys on our team who lost a parent. It's hard to focus on your job. Last week, when he talked to me about going to the funeral, I wanted to be very clear to him that there was no hesitation on my part, or our organization's part, about him going to that funeral. He thought he might need to play because of the situation, but there's nothing more important than being there with your mother, your brother and your sisters at that time."

Sherels will find out in the next 36 hours whether he'll continue his time with his home-state team. But what he did Thursday night, in his first game after his father's funeral, might have ensured he will stay around with the Vikings for a fourth season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Sherels
AP Photo/Jim MoneMarcus Sherels, fighting for a roster spot with the Vikings just weeks after his father's death, returned a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown Thursday.
He ran the opening kickoff of the second half back 109 yards for a touchdown, and cut in front of a crossing route to intercept Titans quarterback Rusty Smith just over three minutes later. That all came on a night when Bobby Felder, whom Sherels has been battling for one of the Vikings' final cornerback spots, sprained his ankle while defending a 50-yard completion. The plot surrounding Sherels might have changed drastically, and if it did, it happened with a roster full of teammates cheering for him.

"Our whole sideline was just jubilant to see him come out and play the way he did," Frazier said. "I'm really happy for him."

This is far from Sherels' first time on the fringes of the Vikings' roster, but the 25-year-old, who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota, had an interesting response when he was asked about his tenuous spot. "I always feel like that, and I like it that way," he said. "Competition always makes us better."

For whatever reason, he's developed a knack for sticking on the Vikings' roster. He had an interception in the team's third preseason game in 2010, and ran an interception back 64 yards for a touchdown in the second preseason game of 2011. It took a step of faith on Sherels' part to miss the third preseason game, especially when Felder had played well at cornerback and impressed as a punt returner. But Sherels saved his best for last Thursday night.

"(Coach Frazier) was the one that basically told me I need to be with my family, (and said) he would have done the same thing," Sherels said. "I am glad I made that decision."

He's got enough collateral with the Vikings that he might be able to stick once again. The undersized Sherels has struggled in pass coverage -- witness Aaron Rodgers' 73-yard pass to Jordy Nelson over him in the final game of the regular season last year -- and aside from a 77-yard punt-return touchdown a year ago, Sherels averaged just 6.77 yards a return, irking some fans with his tendency to fair-catch punts rather than taking a shot to return them.

But special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Sherels made the right decision to fair-catch a punt on all but one occasion last season, and aside from his fumble last November against Seattle, he's shown sure hands.

"It's the right idea, because it's either high and short, or it's a plus-50 punt (in Vikings territory) and he had to come up and catch it," Priefer said. "We only had one touchback against us, but that's because of the quality of the punts against us last year. Marcus, I thought, did a great job for us."

Sherels certainly has his fair share of fans in the Vikings organization, and just when he seems in danger of losing his spot, he's found a way to get the job done. This year, he's been able to do it with a heavy heart.

"For him to come out and play the way he played tonight, just tells you a lot about Marcus' heart and his character," Frazier said. "As an organization, we try to be supportive of all of our guys when they're in that situation. ... Those are real human moments. Our players need to know that we're concerned about them beyond what they do between the white lines."
CHICAGO – Offensive starters for the Chicago Bears in tonight’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns:

WR – Joe Anderson
LT – Cory Brandon
LG – Edwin Williams
C – Taylor Boggs
RG – Derek Dennis
RT – J’Marcus Webb
TE – Kyle Adams
HB - Fendi Onobun
WR – Terrence Toliver
QB – Jordan Palmer
RB – Armando Allen
Here are three positional battles to monitor heading into the Chicago Bears’ preseason finale versus the Cleveland Browns:

1. Running back: Undrafted rookie Michael Ford is making a strong push to grab one of the final spots on the 53-man roster after returning a kickoff 100 yards in the second preseason game against San Diego, then following up that performance with 58 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries last week in Oakland. If the Bears decide to keep just three tailbacks, it means either Ford or veteran Armando Allen has to go. Allen played well last season for the Bears, appearing in 15 games and recording seven special-teams tackles. But Allen has been working his way back from an injury the past couple weeks, which has opened the door for the less expensive rookie out of LSU to showcase himself in these preseason games. Both figure to receive ample playing time tonight at Soldier Field.

2. Quarterback: The Bears’ offense is entirely in the hands of veteran quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards after Bears head coach Marc Trestman announced last week that starter Jay Cutler and No. 2 Josh McCown would not see the field in the final preseason contest. If the Bears open the season with three quarterbacks, and that is still an if, the final spot could be determined by which of the two reserves has a better game against the Browns, plus what each accomplished on the practice field the past two weeks. The Bears got a brief look at just Palmer last week in the fourth quarter (1-for-1, five yards), but both quarterbacks will get an extended look tonight. Even if the Bears decide to go with just two quarterbacks to start the year, the team might still find themselves in need of another QB later in the season -- that’s why this is still an important game for Palmer and Edwards, regardless.

3. Offensive line: If the Bears retain eight offensive linemen, as offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer hinted earlier in training camp, then two spots might still be available. That means Jonathan Scott, Eben Britton, J’Marcus Webb and Taylor Boggs are probably the guys still alive to make the team, although sometimes these calls are already made before the final preseason game. Scott has actually pulled off the rare feat of improving his position on the team despite missing the past several weeks with a knee injury that required a procedure to clean it out. That’s because Webb has continued to struggle ever since being demoted to second-team left tackle. Webb is a mystery. He has all the physical gifts, but his inconsistency coupled with his strange behavior and apparent lack of passion toward the game, makes him a strong candidate to get cut. If Scott’s knee is OK for Week 1, then it might make sense to just keep him and Britton, try and sneak Boggs on the practice squad, and send Webb on his merry way. But if Webb wants to make one final stand, he better make the most his opportunities tonight.

We'll begin to move on from the Kevin Williams-Joe Looney play after this afternoon -- the Vikings are now about as close to their next game against the Tennessee Titans as they are to last Sunday night's game in San Francisco -- but I thought it would be worthwhile to add one more item to the discussion, from Vikings players Chad Greenway and Jared Allen on the double standard they believe exists on hits like these.

Gripes from defensive players on the league's move to protect quarterbacks are nothing new, but I thought what both players had to say today went a step further.

[+] EnlargeKevin Williams
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceDefensive lineman Kevin Williams might be playing his final season with the Vikings.
Williams injured his knee after Looney blocked him low, and both Greenway and Allen said they had no doubt Looney would have been fined had he been a defensive player hitting an offensive player. Allen, in particular, has some experience in that area. He was fined $21,500 last year for a hit on then-Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis, after Allen launched into Louis on an interception return and injured his knee. Allen said at the time he wasn't trying to deliver a dirty hit, and said on Tuesday he paid his fine without complaint. Both he and Greenway asked for the standard to be the same for offensive players.

"I think the reality is, if the role was reversed and it was a defensive guy going into a quarterback or a receiver or a high-profile player, you tell me what's going to happen," Greenway said. "We've seen the fines, you've seen what's gone on in this league. I think you have to be consistent. If you're going to go down that route, you better be consistent with every player, offense, defense, no matter what number's on the back of your jersey."

The league is cracking down on peel-back blocks for 2013, but as's Mike Sando pointed out yesterday, Looney's hit wasn't illegal by the letter of the law. Still, it seemed like the kind of hit -- especially in a preseason game -- that at least violated the spirit of the law. And this isn't the first time Allen has called for more attention to what defensive players have to put up with.

He spoke out last October, after Jets guard Matt Slauson ended Brian Cushing's season on a peel-back block, saying "my knee is as valuable as Tom Brady's," and detailed some of the things defensive players have to put up with under the rules.

"It's bad enough we have to deal with, where an offensive lineman can engage us and the adjacent offensive lineman can chop our legs," Allen said. "It's bad enough that we have to deal with a motioning tight end coming in on a pass-rush situation, we're focused on the tackle and they can take our ears out. I'm just saying, be consistent. How is (Williams) not a defenseless player? You go back and look at that play, and tell me he's not a defenseless player. He has no idea that guy is there, and that dude could have taken him up high. He could have hit him right in the chest, and he chose to duck down and hit him in his knee. We don't have anything [for that]? I'm just a little upset about it."

The league's move to eliminate peel-back blocks, and its prohibition of running backs using the crown of their helmet to hit defenders, would seem to be moves designed with defensive players' safety in mind. But there is a gray area within all these rules, and the Williams play won't be the last one to get players irked this year. It is interesting, though, to see more of a spotlight put on where defensive players are being exposed to dangerous hits, given the league's work in recent years to protect skill players, especially. Time will tell if the hit Williams took will help trigger another round of safety measures.
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Ben MargotJay Cutler and the Bears will tweak their new offense as the season progresses.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was not shy about admitting Tuesday that he might not know the breadth of the team’s new offense by the end of the season, much less the start.

“It will extend to Week 15,” Cutler said of the learning curve. “It’s going to be a process throughout the entire year of us staying on top of things and knowing exactly what (coach Marc Trestman) wants us to do out there. It’s a week-by-week thing. It’s never going to be perfect.”

Cutler isn’t just an experienced NFL quarterback, he is also a veteran of learning new offenses. And it’s quite possible that Cutler has never fully grasped the full scope of any of the offenses he has been required to learn before moving on to the next.

Despite what he doesn’t know by the season opener, though, that shouldn’t mean the Bears will be limited offensively when they take the field Sept. 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

(Read full post)

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears whittled to the 75-man roster limit Tuesday by finalizing an injury settlement with quarterback Matt Blanchard.

A second-year veteran, Blanchard fractured a knuckle on his left hand during the team’s win over the San Diego Chargers. Prior to the injury, it appeared likely the Bears would try to keep Blanchard on the 53-man roster or waive him in final cuts with the expectation of adding him to the practice squad.

The problem is there’s no way a team can release an injured player without reaching a settlement.

“I’m just disappointed he was injured. I really liked his progress. I think we resonated that through the times we’ve talked here,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I think everybody has an idea how we felt about Matt while he was here.”

Blanchard’s settlement makes him ineligible to return to the Bears until after Week 10. After the timeframe for the settlement expires, Blanchard can sign with another team. So it’s likely the quarterback would sign with another club after the length of the settlement -- which is commensurate with the time a player is expected to be out due to the injury -- has expired because he can’t rejoin the Bears until 2 1/2 months into the season.

In making the decision, Trestman said he hasn’t “even thought about” the timeframe for Blanchard’s recovery, adding that “we’ll just see how it goes as we move forward.”

When the team hit the practice field for the portion of Monday’s workout that the media is allowed to view, Blanchard wasn’t out on the field with the rest of his teammates. With the team going into the final exhibition game Thursday not expecting to play any of its starters, it’s likely the team would have played Blanchard for a significant amount of repetitions.

Instead, the Bears will divvy up the snaps to recently-signed quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards, with the former set to start.

“They’re both really smart guys and knowledgeable. They’ve practiced well,” Trestman said. “I expect that they’re gonna do well.”

Blanchard spent the majority of the 2012 season on the practice squad.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Middle linebacker D.J. Williams returned to practice on Tuesday for the first time since suffering a July 31 right calf injury, but the club’s plan for him moving forward is murky with the starters not expected to play Thursday in the preseason finale and the regular-season opener nearly two weeks away.

Williams didn’t participate fully in practice.

“But he’s getting more work,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

Williams took part Monday in pre-practice stretching, and has also spent some time running. But Trestman said Monday that Williams’ conditioning could be an issue for the opener. So there’s a chance the team could opt to hold out Williams in favor of rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic, who has filled in as the starting middle linebacker.

“I couldn’t answer that question,” Trestman said when asked whether Williams would be ready for the opener. “Each and every day he gets a little better, and we’ll know a lot more at the beginning of next week. He’s got four or five days before our first day of practice on Monday. So we’ll see how it is at that point in time. I can’t answer the question other than there’s improvement there. Talking to him, he’s certainly positive that he can be ready. Players are always that way. They are, and they should be. We’ll see. I’m encouraged, but we don’t know at this time.”

The Bears signed Williams to a one-year contract in March worth $900,000 as the replacement at middle linebacker for Brian Urlacher, and drafted Bostic as the future at the position.

But Williams’ calf injury pushed Bostic into the starting spot, and the rookie has turned heads with big hits and game-changing plays such as his interception return for a touchdown in the exhibition opener at Carolina.

Still, Trestman wasn’t ready on Monday to declare Bostic the starter.

“Well, I am not going to use that term ‘starting middle linebacker,’” Trestman said. “(Bostic) has started in the last couple games, and I think he has continued to grow and get better, and shown he can be a very good player in this league. He is fitting in and if he happens to be the guy who is that guy on Game 1 or Game 2 or whatever it is, I think he can grow into the position and be a more than sufficient middle linebacker in this league.”

With Williams still technically a starter, it’s unlikely the Bears would place him in harm’s way by giving him snaps Thursday against the Cleveland Browns. Given that Williams has missed virtually all of training camp and the preseason, he won’t have any way to compete with Bostic for the starting job.

Perhaps Williams’ long track record in the NFL is sufficient enough for the staff. Before joining the Bears, Williams played in 127 games for the Denver Broncos with 115 starts and has posted 886 tackles (673 solo) to go with 20.5 sacks, two interceptions, 14 forced fumbles and seven recoveries. Throughout his career, Williams has posted five 100-tackle seasons.

“There’s always competition. It’s compete to play, compete to stay,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “So there’s nothing ever set in stone. You’re only as good as your next play. That’s what we preach to the guys. So every time out is important. Every practice is important, every meeting, every rep that we take in a game. It all means something.”

In other injury news, the Bears practiced Tuesday without offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive tackle Corvey Irvin (ankle), cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring), and running back Harvey Unga (undisclosed).

The team also held out defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett, who continue to go through the concussion protocol. Melton and Bennett took part in pre-practice stretches with teammates, and they’re also working on physical conditioning.

Trestman believed that Tuesday marked the first time Bennett had run since suffering the concussion.

“Earl and Henry both got running in today,” he said.
The rancor over Joe Looney's low block on Kevin Williams was still strong on Tuesday morning, as the Vikings got back to work in preparation for their final preseason game. Coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings have been in contact with the league about the hit, and linebackers Chad Greenway and Desmond Bishop didn't mince words when they were asked about it.

"It's really quite ridiculous," Greenway said. "It's something we talked about in our meetings with the refs before the preseason started. It's just unnecessary. He wasn't going to make the play. He wasn't going to be part of the play. I understand that guy [Looney]'s trying to earn a job, as well, but he could have easily just hit him high. You can say what you want about, you didn't mean to hurt him, but the reality is, you did that. And now we have a guy who's been one of the best at his position for a long time dealing with an injury he shouldn't have to deal with."

That will be the lasting effect of Looney's hit on Williams, once the Vikings' anger has cooled down. Williams, who sustained a hyperextended right knee, a posterior capsular strain and a bone contusion, could be back for the season opener on Sept. 8 in Detroit, but the concern over his injury is significant enough that Sharrif Floyd -- himself returning from a minor knee surgery after a low block in the Vikings' first preseason game -- probably won't play in the final preseason game on Thursday night. Floyd, who was expected to miss the rest of the preseason, might have been able to play a few snaps, Frazier said, but the Vikings determined it wasn't worth the risk.

"When you have a question mark regarding a potential Hall of Famer like Kevin Williams, that creates some concern," Frazier said. "He’s one of the best to ever play the game at his position. We’re all hoping he’ll be ready to go, but it definitely creates some concern from a depth standpoint.”

The Vikings expected to be deep at the position after drafting Floyd 23rd overall, but particularly at the three-technique tackle position, they're sweating things out before they start the season. Floyd will head into the opener with just 53 snaps of preseason experience, and if Williams isn't ready, the Vikings could be leaning on the rookie more than they'd planned to do. They would like to rotate Williams and Floyd, but that might not be an option in the first week of the season.

And defensive tackle Christian Ballard is still away from the team while he deals with personal issues. Frazier said "nothing has changed" with Ballard's situation, and it's becoming clearer the situation will take some time to get resolved. Ballard might be a better fit as a nose tackle than a three-technique, but he would help the Vikings' depth at the moment. With him gone, and with knee injuries complicating things for both Floyd and Williams, the Vikings won't start the season anywhere near as settled on the defensive line as they'd like to be.

"With Sharrif coming off an injury, with Kevin a little bit banged up, now you’re into your depth quite a bit," Frazier said. "We have some other guys on our roster that we’ll try to give an opportunity and see how they progress, but we’re all hoping that Sharrif will play well and continue to improve and that we’ll get Kevin on opening day.”
First off, shoutouts to all the good folks that sent in emails and tweets suggesting a name for our new feature that, every morning, will take a quick trip through the most pertinent Chicago Bears headlines.

After spending the day reading all the emails and tweets, I decided on Bear Essentials as the name of this feature. Why? Because it’s so simple, and I sort of dig the brevity of the acronym BE. While I know Bear Essentials might sound like a shampoo, lotion or other cosmetic, hey, we're all about cleanliness and grooming. So thanks everyone for all the great suggestions. Let's also give props to the Packers fan that sent an email wanting the feature to be called Bear Droppings. That was kind of funny.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

-- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune examines the possibility of the Bears parting ways with quarterback Matt Blanchard by the NFL’s 3 p.m. deadline to cut the roster down to 75 players. With the current roster sitting at 76, it’s a definite possibility given that the broken knuckle on Blanchard’s left hand is expected to keep him out approximately a month. So the Bears might look to clear the quarterback’s spot by giving him an injury settlement.

If Blanchard takes an injury settlement, he won’t be able to come back to the team until after Week 10, which Biggs points out could also create the possibility of the quarterback signing with another team after he regains health and the time frame (which is commensurate to the time he’s expected to miss) for the settlement has passed.

For Blanchard to have stuck around as long as he has, the coaching staff and personnel department definitely sees something worth developing. Given Blanchard’s likely recovery timeframe, he could possibly be healthy enough to return by Week 3. And I’m not convinced the team has seen enough from new signees Jordan Palmer, who will start Thursday night, and Trent Edwards to give up so soon on Blanchard.

Going back to my former life covering a different NFL team, I remember a head coach telling me that once a player took an injury settlement, “he could never play for me again.” Hopefully this isn’t the case with Blanchard and the Bears. We’ll see soon enough though.

-- Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times takes a look at Marc Trestman’s staff of head coaches in waiting.

-- Tom Musick of Shaw Media relieves the baseball past of Bears rookie Kyle Long. Man, it’s hard to imagine a dude as big as Long hurling a fastball at you.

-- Rick Morrissey has an interesting take on former Bear Brian Urlacher’s new career in the media. For the record, Urlacher was pretty decent to me during our interactions. In fact, during one our first conversations, he sat down with me for about 20 minutes for an interview for a story on his return from a pretty significant wrist injury suffered in 2009. Then, we spent the other 20 minutes or so getting to know one another, and this was right in the midst of training camp in 2010. Urlacher seemed thoughtful, funny and engaging, not to mention genuinely interested in the conversation (which wasn’t about football) at hand.

Once Urlacher would get in front of a large group of reporters, though, everything would change. I don’t think Urlacher truly disliked all of the media. He seemed to like some more than others, sure. I just don’t think he was ever comfortable speaking in those big news conference settings.

That’s true of lots of players around the NFL.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Martellus Bennett picked up the phone shortly after the team’s 6 a.m. arrival Saturday from the trip to Oakland, Calif., and called fellow tight end Fendi Onobun, who was feeling down after dropping what should have been a touchdown during Chicago’s 34-26 win over the Raiders.

“I told him, ‘Come by the crib,’” Bennett explained.

Once Onobun arrived, he and Bennett sat on a couch for four hours engaged in what the veteran tight end described as a “heart-to-heart” conversation.

“I was just telling him that I think he just gets to the point where he just thinks football, football, football,” Bennett said. “But you can lose yourself. Football is not who we are; it’s what we do. Sometimes, when it becomes who you are, you kind of lose yourself. Every little thing that goes wrong with it, it affects you in a major way instead of (you) being able to deal with the adversity. Bad stuff happens in football. You’re going to have the drops.”

In Onobun’s case, he suffered two against the Raiders, including a first-quarter drop from Jay Cutler that should have gone for a 26-yard touchdown.

“I don’t want to say (he was) too rattled,” Bennett said. “It’s just one of those things like you go out there, you work so hard every single day. He stays after (practice) catching the ball. He wants to do so well. You want to do so well. (When) things don’t go the way you want it to go, it affects him to another level than it does other guys.”

Bennett should know a little more about Onobun than most. The two were basketball teammates at Alief Taylor High School in Houston. Onobun never played high school football, and spent four years at Arizona as a basketball player before transferring to Houston to play football for one season. At Houston, Onobun caught two passes. But the St. Louis Rams still used a sixth-round pick to select him in the 2010 draft. Since then, Onobun has spent time with a total of six NFL teams.

“Fendi Onobun has had a very good camp, and has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in the games,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We have seen in the games. For those of you that have been to practice, you’ve seen things in practice that we haven’t seen in the games. Does that mean we’ve lost confidence? No. We’ve got to continue to have him work through it. This is really his first year of football and he’s shown the ability to do it. He’s just got to work through this phase when he gets under the lights (so) that he can continue to play as consistently, and I think he can do that down the road.”

But why hasn’t he?

“I can’t speak for that,” Trestman said. “I just think it’s the next stage in his development. We’re all pulling for him both in the locker room and on the field that he will continue to progress and get through this little batting slump he has been (going through) during the games that we really haven’t seen during practice.”

That’s why Bennett sat down Onobun on “this nice black leather couch” the veteran described as “straight from Italy, not American made."

While it’s possible Onobun might be overthinking the game, in part because of his background in basketball, Bennett downplayed that theory.

“We just sat down. We talked hours and hours, not just (about) football, but life in general,” Bennett said. “I told him, ‘Don’t let people use (your basketball background) as an excuse for you. You’ve been bouncing around the league a couple of years now. You can’t use that as a crutch. You’re a smart guy, graduated college.’ I didn’t graduate college, but he’s not smarter than me. He’s a smart guy. He gets it. But just letting your body do the work and not your mind, that’s what football is about.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears returned to the field to resume workouts Monday, but continued to hold out defensive tackle Henry Melton and receiver Earl Bennett as the duo works through the steps of the concussion protocol to return to the field.

Melton and Bennett attended the session inside the Walter Payton Center during the portion of practice open to the media, but it appears neither has been cleared to return to activity. Considering the starters aren’t likely to play much, if any, during the preseason finale against Cleveland on Thursday, there’s no rush for Melton and Bennett to return to the field.

“Henry is into (the) running (phase of the concussion protocol). Earl is day-to-day," coach Marc Trestman said. "I know he was with some of the medical people this morning, I haven’t checked. Henry ran today. He’s going to run tomorrow and Wednesday and pick up that running significantly. That’s where he is at this point.”

However, the Bears have already begun preparations for the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8, and the week leading into that outing would seem to be the target date for Melton and Bennett to rejoin the team for workouts.

As the club’s franchise player, Melton has already solidified his status as a starter. Bennett, meanwhile, is competing with Joe Anderson, Eric Weems, Terrence Toliver and rookie Marquess Wilson for one of the receiver spots behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Bennett hasn’t practiced with the team since suffering the concussion on Aug. 3 at Soldier Field after a hard hit from safety Chris Conte.

Melton suffered his concussion in the first game of the preseason at Carolina.

In other injury news, the team held out quarterback Matt Blanchard (hand), linebacker D.J. Williams (calf), offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (knee), defensive tackle (Corvey Irvin) (ankle) and cornerback Zack Bowman (hamstring).

Fullback Harvey Unga (ribs), defensive end Cheta Ozougwu (hamstring), and long snapper Patrick Mannelly returned to the practice field Monday after missing last week’s game at Oakland.