NFC North: Chicago Bears

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The body-language cops and critics knock Jay Cutler enough that new signees aren’t sure what to expect from the quarterback upon joining the Chicago Bears.

That’s partly why backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen expressed surprise Thursday about Cutler’s willingness to take on the role of mentor. After signing with the Bears on June 5, Clausen spent his first weekend as a Chicago Bear with Cutler learning the offense.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJimmy Clausen is looking to impress coach Marc Trestman enough to earn the Bears' No. 2 QB job.
“Just hearing different things around the league, ‘Jay’s this, Jay’s that, different guys are this or different guys are that,’" Clausen said. “But you’ve just got to get to know a person, a man on the team. He’s just like all the rest of the guys, just hungry to get out there each and every day, work hard, and win on Sundays.”

With Cutler’s help, Clausen put on enough of a show during veteran minicamp in June to convince the team’s brass to extend the audition to training camp. Now, Clausen finds himself in prime position to overtake Jordan Palmer to become the primary backup to Cutler.

“He helped me out a lot,” Clausen said of Cutler. “Obviously, you get a whole entire playbook, but a lot of the plays in the playbook aren’t necessarily the ones you run. So he kind of went through pretty much the whole entire playbook and said, ‘Hey, you need to know this, this, and this. He really helped me a lot.”

That assistance perhaps plays a role in intensifying the competition between Clausen and Palmer for the No. 2 job. Palmer originally signed with the Bears last August, was cut after training camp, and returned two months later to finish out the season with the team.

Early in the offseason, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery expressed confidence in going into the 2014 season with Palmer as the No. 2 quarterback. But the Bears drafted David Fales in the sixth round, and signed Clausen in June following a strong workout and personal interview session with the brass at Halas Hall.

“Right now, Jordan Palmer has the first shot at being No. 2,” Trestman said. “There’s three guys there up for the No. 2, but it’s going to start with Jordan, and we feel really good about Jimmy. We felt really good about David’s performance as well. We’re just going to work at it like that. We’re going to give Jordan the first shot. He’s been here the longest. Jimmy Clausen has the most experience, so we’re going to work to get him in there.”

Does Cutler have a preference? The quarterback certainly didn’t indicate as much Wednesday when he arrived at camp.

“Jordan, he’s been around a long time, his older brother, he’s been able to watch him a lot,” Cutler said. “Jimmy, he’s played in big games at Notre Dame and kind of [has] the pedigree. He’s a high-round pick, was in a tough position in Carolina. They’re both very hungry. They’ve both worked extremely hard this offseason putting in the time mentally.”

Clausen spent the past month going into camp, studying and training in Westlake Village, California, alongside players such as Clay Matthews, Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick.

“I think I’ve got a good grasp of it right now,” Clausen said. “It’s just taking what I’ve been studying onto the field and having it translate into practice each and every play. It’ll be interesting to get on the field and get going. I’m excited. Day 1 is tomorrow.”

Like Cutler, Clausen has dealt with scrutiny over the years regarding his attitude, and perceptions about his ego. He encourages those hurling the criticisms to do what he did in establishing a relationship with Cutler.

“Everybody has their own opinion, but until you get to know somebody, you can’t really make a judgment on the person,” Clausen said. “A lot of people say different things about me, or different guys on the team, or Jay, or whoever it may be. I think it’s unfair if you just make a judgment without knowing somebody, but that’s just how this world is today.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Surrounded by media outside the cafeteria at Olivet Nazarene University on an unseasonably cool July afternoon, Chicago Bears safety Adrian Wilson wanted to say what was truly on his mind.

Instead, he kept calm when asked Thursday how it felt to miss the entire 2013 season.

Wilson
“It was terrible,” Wilson said. “It was pretty bad. I really can’t describe it now because all of the cameras are in my face. The words I want to use aren’t words I can use on camera.”

But what the lenses might be able to catch once the team straps on the pads for workouts at training camp are flashes of sheer nastiness and physicality not seen in Chicago’s secondary since Mike Brown roamed it. Wilson says he’s ready. Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks he is, too.

But age (he’ll be 35 in October) and health remain concerns. Wilson missed all of 2013 after suffering an injury in the preseason finale as a New England Patriot, which was revealed to be Haglund’s deformity and required him to wear a hard cast for more than two months.

Wilson joined the Patriots after a 12-year tenure with the Arizona Cardinals, which released the aging veteran despite his five Pro Bowl selections and contributions in 181 career games.

When Wilson suffered the injury with the Patriots, it was believed the safety was in jeopardy of not making the team.

Yet in Chicago, for Wilson, there’s new life, provided he can stay healthy and consistently showcase the burst, superior instincts and athleticism he displayed back in June during the workout at Halas Hall which prompted the Bears to sign him.

“It’s an open competition back there,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “If he’s ready to go condition-wise in terms of on a daily basis and practice effectively, we’ll see where he’s at. We’re excited and hopeful that what we saw in the workout will transcend over the course of training camp.”

Wilson signed with the Bears after they had already conducted organized team activities and minicamps. So he didn’t participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program. To get Wilson up to speed, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and secondary coach Jon Hoke reached out, as did Jared Allen, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, among others.

Wilson also got a hold of an iPad loaded up with Chicago’s defensive system, and crammed day after day, learning the intricacies of the scheme.

“Good thing they made iPads,” Wilson joked. “I missed pretty much everything [in the offseason]. So I got caught up with the iPad and I’m ready to roll. For the people that know me, they know how obsessed I am with just learning the ins and outs of the defense.”

There’s also an infatuation with disproving the naysayers. During his 12 seasons in Arizona, Wilson missed significant time only once (seven games in 2007 due to a season-ending heel injury). That’s partly why Wilson -- despite missing all of 2013 -- never doubted he’d return to action.

Now he’s in a wide-open competition at the safety position, as both spots are up for grabs.

“There’s no challenge, man,” Wilson said. “Football is football. I’m a guy who’s very prideful. I’m a little bit disappointed from last year. I don’t have any goals. I’m just going out there and competing with myself. I’m not competing with anybody. I’m just here to play football. I take a lot of the critics that said I can’t play, that it was a terrible signing by the Bears, and all the other stuff that’s being said. I use that as motivation for me.”

Will it be enough? That’s unclear at this point, but we’ll certainly receive at least an indication one way or another on Sunday, when the Bears participate in their first fully-padded workout of camp.

Emery talked about Wilson being a player that will “come down in the box and whack you, and whack you in space,” but also mentioned the veteran is “a very instinctive player; gets his hands around the ball and he gets around the ball carrier. He’s urgent and physical.”

The “physical” part is what Chicago has missed in recent years at the safety position, which is why the brass badly wants Wilson to succeed. Outside of Wilson, no other safety on the roster possesses the physicality to be an intimidating force on the back end.

“Mr. Emery gave me a chance,” Wilson said. “I think it’s low risk for them, high reward. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. Obviously, I think I still have burst. I think I can still play.”

Long arrives at ONU

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
4:09
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long's absence lasted just one day.

Long
The 2013 first-round pick arrived on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University around lunchtime Thursday, one day after the rest of the team reported to training camp, and told reporters he is recovering from a viral infection that is expected to sideline Long through the weekend.

"I was pretty sick and run down this past weekend, but I'm feeling better," Long said before entering the ONU dining hall.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said Wednesday that Long will be re-evaluated at the beginning of next week.

No official timetable has been set for Long to start practicing, but right tackle Jordan Mills believes the Pro Bowl right guard will return in short order.

"He's going to be fine. He's tough," Mills said. "He hates that he wasn't here to see everybody yesterday."

The Bears ran their annual conditioning test Thursday morning, which consisted of three, 300-yard shuttles.

Safety Craig Steltz (groin surgery) passed his conditioning test and is optimistic he'll practice Friday when the Bears hold their first workout open to the public at 9 a.m.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The chances of Charles Tillman returning to Chicago for a 12th season seemed remote at the onset of free agency in March.

Tillman, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his illustrious career, appeared destined to reunite with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. But after making a free agent visit to the Buccaneers, Tillman went home without a deal, and ultimately re-signed with the Chicago Bears for one year at $3.25 million. Tillman earned just over $8 million in 2013.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman wasn't expecting to spend a 12th season in Chicago, but he's back with the Bears as training camp gets set to open.
On the eve of his 12th training camp with the Bears, Tillman admitted to still being somewhat surprised he remains with the Bears when reached during a promotional appearance Wednesday morning.

“At the end of the day this is a business,” Tillman said. “Despite all that I’ve done for Chicago, none of that matters, that doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just a [salary] cap number. I realize that. They realize that. It’s the game. It’s the world we live in. I’m very well aware of that. At the end of the day it was business. At the end of the day it’s always business. If I get hurt, if I go down, the show goes on. I’m replaced. When I retire, it’ll be somebody else and I’ll be long gone and forgotten. That’s just how this business and this league operates.

"So it was just all business at the end of the day. I didn’t take it personally. They didn’t take it personally. They were just trying to get the best guy at the cheapest amount. That’s just kind of how this business rolls.”

Tillman was one of the many casualties on defense last season. The two-time Pro Bowl selection started just eight games (52.5 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles) before suffering a season-ending triceps injury. Tillman watched as the Bears’ defense hit historic lows, ranking dead last in the league against the run.

But the offense thrived under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, finishing No. 2 in points scored and No. 5 in passing yards.

That resurgence on offense, coupled with key offseason defensive signings such as Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, has Tillman convinced this could be his best shot to reach a Super Bowl since the 2006 team.

“Our offense did a really good job for us last year keeping us in games because what we were doing on defense wasn’t cutting it,” Tillman said. “The hard part about our offense is can they do it again? We claimed that title last year of being a very good offense. That was last year. This is this year now. Can you do it again? Nobody cares about last year. You can’t hang your hat on being one of the best offenses of 2013. If you do, it’s going to be a long season for us.

"Defensively, we can’t hang our heads on being the worst defense in the NFL last year. Right now we have to focus on and prepare to be one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2014. It’s a title you have to reclaim every year. From both a team standpoint and individual perspective. It’s all reset. The Seattle Seahawks were Super Bowl champions last year. Well, there’ll be a new one this year. Everybody is equal and everybody is even.

"I think Lamarr and Jared are going to help us out a lot. But how much better are we? I think we are better, but that’s just a thought. I think we have the best team on paper in the NFL right now; the hard part is going out there and proving that we are the best team. Right now, we are stacked. We have a lot of talent of defense. I think the Bears did a very good job in helping us out in areas that we were weak in last year. We just need to go out and execute like we are supposed to, and then we can call ourselves a better team.”

Tillman, a native of Texas, has spent the days leading up to training camp working in conjunction with Gatorade to educate younger football players and athletes on heat safety and the importance of hydration when participating in sports during the warm summer months.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago's signing of veteran safety Adrian Wilson in June slipped past some observers, with the pundits paying attention believing the team acquired a player no longer capable of consistently performing at a high level.

The Chicago Bears obviously view Wilson differently. In fact, Wilson is very much in contention for one of Chicago’s two starting safety jobs, which are currently up for grabs.

Wilson
“I’ve talked to Adrian enough to know he’s truly a professional,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s committed to the game and being great at the game. He’s got an opportunity to come back and play the game in a situation he thinks he can not only help our football team, but to continue to play at a high level. So we’ll see. We’re excited to have him. He’s been an outstanding player in this league for a very long time; one of the best to play this game.”

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson caught the eye of the team’s personnel men with a strong workout in June, and one source within the organization believes if the veteran remains healthy, he could give Chicago’s secondary the intimidating presence it has lacked at the safety position in recent seasons. None of the contenders currently on the roster are as physical as Wilson, according to the source.

However, Wilson, a five-time Pro Bowler, missed all of the 2013 season due to injury. It was reported that Wilson suffered a torn Achilles, but the safety posted on Twitter recently that he was dealing with Haglund’s deformity, which is a bony enlargement on the back of the hell that rubs against and irritates the Achilles.

In 181 career games, Wilson has racked up 978 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 106 pass breakups, and 13 forced fumbles in addition to recovering nine fumbles.

“We brought Adrian in for a workout. It was obvious he still has a very good burst,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “In terms of how he moved around, the burst he displayed, the hand and ball skills, there [was] no reason not to sign him, to put him in the competitive mix. The position is wide open. If Adrian Wilson walks in here and he’s in football shape and, like the rest of them, stays healthy, he can claim the job. But he’s gonna have a fight on his hands.”

The Bears lost last season's starter at strong safety, Major Wright, to Tampa Bay during free agency, and free safety Chris Conte will begin training camp on the active physically unable to perform list after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. The Bears signed veterans Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray during the early portion of free agency before bringing aboard Wilson late.

Mundy took the majority of repetitions with the starters at strong safety during organized team activities and minicamps. But in Chicago’s defense, the safety “positions are essentially interchangeable,” according to Trestman, which means that Wilson could wind up playing either spot for the Bears, as could Mundy and the other candidates.

“We want to find the best two guys,” Trestman said. “In other words, if Ryan and Adrian are both at the strong safety position on Friday, that doesn’t mean Ryan can’t go to free [safety] on Saturday and Adrian can’t be at strong safety. I’m not trying to get into how we’re going to start this thing. I’m just saying we’re going to move these guys around and try to find the best two guys that can play every down.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Jordan Palmer, 30, showed the Chicago Bears' coaching staff enough in the offseason program to enter training camp as the No. 2 quarterback, but Palmer's spot on the roster is far from secure.

Palmer
Clausen
The most immediate threat to Palmer appears to be former Notre Dame standout and 2010 Carolina Panthers second-round draft choice Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was a late addition to the offseason roster, but he clearly impressed the coaching staff at the tail end of organized team activities and during the veteran minicamp after signing a one-year deal with the Bears on June 5. The Bears also spent a sixth-round draft choice on quarterback David Fales, who passed for 8,382 yards and 66 touchdowns in two seasons at San Jose State.

"Right now, Jordan Palmer has the first shot at being No. 2, [but] it's a competition," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Wednesday. "There are three guys who are up for the No. 2, but it's going to start with Jordan. We feel very good about Jimmy and we felt very good about David's performances as well. So we're going to work it like that. We're going to give Jordan the first shot. He's been here the longest. Jimmy Clausen has the most experience so we're going to work him in there, and we're going to provide David with opportunities throughout camp to play and perform not just in practice, but in games.

"It'll be an on-going process [that takes place] day-to-day. We don't have to make a decision for quite some time and we'll get a chance to see a lot of plays of practice and certainly in the preseason games as well."

Bears general manager Phil Emery described Clausen as having "a chip on his shoulder" and "eager to prove people wrong" after the quarterback started just 10 games for Carolina from 2010-13.

Palmer has appeared in only four regular-season games (zero starts) since 2008 with the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 10-of-15 passes for 59 yards and two interceptions.

Finding a serviceable No. 2 quarterback is essential for the Bears after injuries have forced incumbent starter Jay Cutler to miss 12 games over the past three seasons. Josh McCown thrived in the backup role in 2013, but the veteran signed a lucrative contract in the offseason to be the new starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's going to be interesting," Cutler said of the battle for No. 2. "There's not going to be a lot of reps for them. I think a lot of it is going to play out in the preseason games. Because I'm going to get a lot of the reps in camp. Jordan, he's been around a long time, his older brother, he's been able to watch him a lot. Jimmy, he's played in big games at Notre Dame and kind of got the pedigree. He's a high-round pick; he was in a tough position in Carolina. They're both very hungry, they've both worked extremely hard this offseason putting in the time mentally, which is probably more important for them right now, just trying to figure out the playbook so they can go to the line of scrimmage and be fluent in what they want to do. We'll see how it goes."
Jay Cutler can take the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, according to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who believes the enigmatic quarterback might now be hitting his prime.

Favre
Cutler
Asked on ESPN 1000’s “Carmen and Jurko” show on Monday whether Chicago could advance to the Super Bowl with Cutler under center, Favre said “I think they can,” adding that it appears the Bears are finally starting to put enough talent around the quarterback after focusing for so many years on the defense.

“It goes without saying that Jay has all the tools it takes to be a great quarterback,” Favre said. “And I think the pieces are beginning to be in place. For years their defense had just been so dominating, and it’s time for their offense to really prove their worth. I think Jay can be that guy.”

Chicago’s brass does, too, considering the organization rewarded Cutler back in January with a contract extension worth $126 million. Cutler celebrated his 31st birthday back in April, and although players’ physical skills often start to diminish after the age of 30, Favre pointed to a pair of former MVPs in making a case for the Chicago quarterback.

Asked if Cutler could become a great quarterback after the age of 30, Favre didn’t hesitate.

“Rich Gannon did it. Steve Young did it. Sure,” Favre said. “I think you become a lot wiser as you kind of lose some of your physical abilities. I think at 30 for a quarterback, really, you’re just kind of hitting your prime.”

Perhaps one component of the growing wisdom Favre anticipates from Cutler will manifest itself in decision making. In part, because of supreme confidence in his arm strength, Cutler has gained a reputation for forcing throws into tight windows, which often leads to interceptions.

Favre had the same reputation during his 20-year NFL career, and called his arm strength “a blessing and a curse.” Favre holds the NFL record for career interceptions (336).

“What I mean by that, I had an arm that I felt was as good if not better than anyone,” Favre said. “I wasn’t as fast. I wasn’t as tall. I wasn’t as smart. But I knew I could make the throws no one else could make. I would attempt throws I knew I could get away with. Would it come back to haunt me sometimes? Sure it would. But I played 20 years and sometimes it bit me in the butt. Most of the time, I got away with it. I think had my arm not been as strong, I wouldn’t have attempted those. You get away with it more times than not, but occasionally it gets you. I think that’s just the way really any player plays throughout the league; knowing your imitations, and sometimes, it gets the better of you.”
Tim JenningsAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhTim Jennings, left, expects to be rushing the quarterback more often this season.
We caught up with Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings recently to discuss a variety of topics, ranging from his work with martial arts expert Joe Kim to what he thought of the changes last season made by coach Marc Trestman.

As training camp approaches, here’s something to whet your appetite for Bears football:

Since you’re playing nickel some and you’re expected to do some blitzing, tell us what are you doing with Joe Kim?

Tim Jennings: Joe Kim, he’s supposed to be like a master of kung fu or whatnot. So he works a lot with our defensive line on their pass-rush moves. So I work with Joe Kim now that I’m playing the nickel position. I think I’m going to be blitzing a lot more. So I need to kind of work on some pass-rush moves, man, because I can’t beat everybody with the quickness and strength. So I want to put some more in my repertoire.

With the scheme changing up front, how much do things change for you guys on the back end?

Jennings: It doesn’t really change too much. [Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker] just wants us to be in the position to do our jobs. Really, our success comes from that defensive front, and I think that’s why he’s doing a lot more things to try to create the freedom for those guys to get to the quarterback and create pressure; just let me, Charles [Tillman], and now Kyle Fuller just do our thing.

With all the things this team did with the front this offseason, how much easier will it make your job on the back end?

Jennings: Of course, that’s exactly what I expect. On the back end we just have to do our job, be where we need to be and then the plays will start coming because of the pressure that we’re putting on the quarterback. The throws won’t be as perfect. Then, we could start getting a feel for some things to where we can be there a little bit quicker, where the field starts to shrink. Then, we can start to anticipate things a lot more. I think that’s just the approach that Coach Tucker has taken. Me and Charles, we’re taking that same approach. We just need to do our jobs, be where we need to be, do what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years that we’ve been playing together. With the pressure on the quarterback, if we’re getting to the quarterback, a lot more plays will come for us on the back end. It will work hand in hand. So if we’re where we need to be, we can take some throws away from the quarterback, make him hold it longer. We’ll get a lot more snaps.

Throughout the offseason, you’ve worked some at nickel while Fuller has gone to your spot outside. With camp coming up, do you anticipate any packages where maybe Fuller goes inside to nickel while you stay outside?

Jennings: Right now, I do not anticipate that. I think I’m that guy to move inside. Just the fact that we’re looking at our division, guys we’re going to face and stuff, matchups that we’ll have. We want to make sure the matchup is to where we’ve got the best advantage, where we can be equal with those guys. Maybe if we’re playing Detroit and they move Calvin Johnson inside at the slot, of course we’re going to have Charles Tillman follow him around. We feel like that’s a better matchup. It gives us the best chance to win. So we’re going to move guys around and we’re going to match up. I think that’s why we drafted Kyle Fuller. It was a good move.

Last year, you guys didn’t get the repetitions at practice that you had been used to getting in the past, and we saw what happened. Do you see this team making some changes or tweaks in terms of how you do things at practice this upcoming season?

Jennings: Well, I don’t think we’re going to change that. One thing about coach [Marc] Trestman is he’s big on competition. So he’s going to line up his ones against his ones. He wants to get the best out of both teams, offense, defense and special teams. So the structure I don’t think is going to change. As far as us not practicing [last year], I wouldn’t say all that. I think the reps that we get are quality reps because we compete so much. When I am out there, it’s against our ones. It’s against Brandon [Marshall]. It’s against Alshon [Jeffery]. It’s a way for us to get better. But he’s being smart about the reps knowing that it’s a long, long, long season. It’s big to make sure guys are healthy and ready to go on Sunday. It took me some getting used to when he first got here last year, to really realize what’s going on, why we’re doing things this way. But it’s making sense to me right now in seeing the structure he does things in and the competition he wants from this group is meaningful.
Examining the Chicago Bears' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Despite recently signing, Jimmy Clausen quickly gained ground on Jordan Palmer at the club's veteran minicamp and appears poised to unseat the latter for the No. 2 job behind Cutler. The team likes Fales' long-term potential, and it will look to keep him on the roster as a developmental prospect to groom in Marc Trestman's scheme.


RUNNING BACKS (4)

Forte's role in the offense is expected to evolve somewhat, and the team added an interesting between-the-tackles grinder in Carey, who is arguably the most physical back of the entire 2014 class. Fiammetta will stay in his role as fullback, and Ford will contribute mostly on special teams if he can't claim the primary backup role behind Forte.

RECEIVERS (5)

Marshall and Jeffery will get an opportunity to prove they're the league's best duo at the position in 2014. Wilson comes into the season with high hopes and the expectation that he'll grow into the No. 3 role. Morgan and Weems will be pushed by all the young prospects at camp, but their experience and reliability will win out.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

This is a position where it might make sense to add a third player. Bennett clearly is the team's best all-around tight end, while Mulligan excels as an in-line blocker. Zach Miller is more of a receiving tight end than all-around blocker, but if the Bears go with three tight ends, either he or Dante Rosario could get the call.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)

The case could be made that offensive line is one of the team's strongest position groups, which is somewhat strange given all the struggles the Bears have experienced in recent years there. The starting five from 2013 return for 2014, and the Bears also have some prime candidates should they decide to reload up front, as Britton and De La Puente are capable of starting.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

Look for veterans at the bottom of the roster such as Scott, Lane and Collins to be pushed tremendously by several of the youngsters at training camp. Injuries in 2013 made this position group a weakness, but the Bears made sure to load up on the defensive line through the draft and free agency.

LINEBACKERS (6)

The Bears will have difficult decisions to make here, and we believe Jones, an undrafted rookie, is talented enough to make the team. Khaseem Greene has improved, but it will likely come down to him and Senn for that final linebacker spot, which Senn might win because of his abilities as a special-teamer.

CORNERBACKS (5)

The depth chart here is pretty set in stone, but first-rounder Fuller will definitely see plenty of time on the field.

SAFETIES (4)

Both starting spots are up for grabs, but Conte probably won't be ready for the start of camp. If he doesn't recover quickly, he could wind up losing his roster spot. We've got Wilson making the cut, but his odds are long; he has to prove he's still got something left in the tank.

SPECIALISTS (4)

Williams is the only question mark among the specialists, and he's being pushed hard by Micheal Spurlock, Armanti Edwards and Josh Bellamy.

Camp preview: Chicago Bears

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation's Michael C. Wright examines the three biggest issues facing the Chicago Bears heading into training camp.

Cutler after the big-money contract: Lost in all the anticipation for the upcoming season seems to be an undercurrent of skepticism regarding whether quarterback Jay Cutler is worth -- or whether he’ll eventually prove he’s worth -- the seven-year deal signed in January worth $126.7 million. The verdict remains out, and even the team made sure to structure an escape hatch into the Cutler deal. Essentially, Cutler signed a three-year deal worth $54 million that contains rolling club options from now until 2016. If the Bears decide to release Cutler after the 2016 season, they can do so with no salary-cap repercussions because he didn’t receive a signing bonus, which means no proration.

Cutler took a major step in his first season working with head coach Marc Trestman, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. But will Cutler continue to trend in that direction?

In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. But last year, the quarterback produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2, his best since his rookie season (2006). The coaching staff and front office believe they made a wise investment in Cutler. What’s more is the players in that locker room believe in Cutler, too.

Safety play: Unrest at the safety positions seems synonymous with the Bears in recent years, and the team goes into camp with both spots up for grabs. The Bears drafted Brock Vereen, and signed M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray, Ryan Mundy and Adrian Wilson to battle it out for the top spots. Mundy has taken repetitions with the first group as have Vereen and Jennings, but the picture won’t start to clear up until the Bears play some preseason games.

“The simple fact [that] we’ve rotated him in with the ones is a clear indication we think he can compete,” Trestman said of Vereen, a fourth-round pick. “We’re not going to anoint him yet. You’ve got to be very careful with young players. They get in shorts and they’re doing well, and then you put on the pads and you’ve got to see how they are in pads. There’s no reason to think he can’t put himself in position to compete for one of those jobs, but it’s way, way too early.”

Chris Conte is the only returning starter at the safety position, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be fully healthy for the start of camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, which forced him to miss organized team activities and minicamp.

Can Shea play LB? That’s been the question regarding former first-round pick Shea McClellin since the team announced it would be moving him to linebacker from defensive end. While McClellin certainly doesn’t appear to be out of place at his new position, we still haven’t seen him in live game situations. So it’s unclear whether the Bears will be able to salvage the first pick of Phil Emery’s tenure as general manager.

“He’s going to be a typical 4-3 linebacker for us,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I see him as probably more of a blitzer than maybe a four-down rusher. But he will have some edge-rush opportunities.”

McClellin is competing with Jon Bostic for the starting spot at Sam linebacker, and it’s likely Bostic will win the job. That could relegate McClellin to more of a role as a pass-rushing specialist. McClellin is also taking repetitions at middle linebacker, but he’s not likely to beat out incumbent D.J. Williams or Bostic.

McClellin deserves credit for transforming his body during the offseason in preparation for the new role. Now he has to prove he’s capable of performing consistently in the new gig.
Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images

This is the play voters and ESPN Bears reporter Michael C. Wright picked as the most memorable play in Chicago Bears history, narrowly beating out William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown run in Super Bowl XX and Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977. Site: Soldier Field

Thank you, thank you, thank you, voters. We definitely agree on this one. But as time ticked away on voting for the Chicago’s most memorable play, there certainly was trepidation about how things would pan out as Walter Payton’s rather beastly run against the Chiefs in 1977 was basically neck-and-neck with William “Refrigerator” Perry’s touchdown in Super Bowl XX as the voting deadline neared.

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No knock on Perry, as his touchdown certainly was “memorable.” But for many Bears fans, that Perry play served as reminder that Payton didn’t score a TD in that Super Bowl trouncing, which from this vantage point, was a travesty.

As is the case with fellow Chicago icon Michael Jordan, it’s difficult to pull a top play from the many Payton blessed fans with throughout his 13-year NFL career. But this one embodied Payton as a runner, fully displaying all the attributes that made “Sweetness” one of the best running backs.

With the Bears down 17-0 in the third quarter, Payton took a handoff right, spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier and Tim Gray, cut back left and made three Chiefs miss, in addition to plowing over two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke seven tackles on a run that sparked Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback win.

“If you look at the video, I’m within three or four feet of him four times,” Chiefs defensive tackle John Lohmeyer said in the book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton.” “I didn’t give up because it was well known that you couldn’t get him down with ease, and he was an escape artist. I tried tackling him. We all did.”

Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch might hold the “Beast Mode” nickname, but Payton’s 1977 run against the Chiefs might be true definition of that moniker. Not only was Payton’s run the best play in franchise annals, it’s arguably the top run in NFL history.
Cutler
Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is a Chicago native, summed things up succinctly when asked about Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler's new contract, which pays $126.7 million over seven years.

"Are you serious?" McNabb asked on 87.7 The Game's "Jarrett, Harry and Spike" show.

"Jay might be the luckiest dude in Chicago, to be honest with you, with the contract he received for what we haven't seen thus far. I think the sky's the limit for him. But for what we've seen in Chicago, when you didn't finish the NFC Championship [Game], which was due to injury. Even with that, you haven't been able to get past that hump. One game to get into the playoffs, you couldn't get it done. Caleb Hanie comes in to play. Josh McCown comes in to play, and then the contract comes up and you get paid like a top-three, top-four quarterback. Are you serious? For what we've seen? If he doesn't do it this year, it's going to end up being a mistake."

That's precisely why Cutler's performance and continued development remain the most important key to success over the next three seasons for this team. Essentially, the Bears are handcuffed to Cutler at least until 2016, which more or less makes his new contract a three-year, $54 million deal. The contract contains rolling options from now until then, with no cap repercussions if the team releases Cutler after 2016 because he didn't receive a signing bonus, meaning there's no proration to account for.

Cutler showed tremendous growth in 2013 during coach Marc Trestman's first year in Chicago. In four seasons with the Bears prior to 2013, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 in 2013, his best since 2006.

Such positive trends need to continue with Cutler for the Bears to sustain any level of success over the next few seasons.
Walter PaytonTony Tomsic/Getty Images
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We’re chronicling the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve looked at Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XX during a 46-10 shellacking of the New England Patriots.

Make sure to vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 28, Chiefs 27
Date: Nov. 13, 1977 Site: Soldier Field

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Elusiveness, explosion, speed, and violence, Walter Payton showed it all in this 18-yard run, which is likely the greatest of a storied career that produced hundreds of breathtaking moments.

The play certainly put Hall of Famer Jim Brown on notice, and definitely should be included in the discussion of the single greatest plays in NFL history.

“I don’t know the game, but I can tell you what moment,” said Brown, who was watching Payton on television for the first time. “I didn’t know who he was, and I saw him make this one run. He fought for every inch. He must have twisted, knocked three or four guys over, spun around, accelerated. I said, ‘Oh my goodness [laughing], what kind of animal is this? What kind of guy is this?’ All those moves, and the strength and tenacity; that was it, I didn’t have to see anymore. I knew this was a great runner.”

Taking a handoff on a sweep right, Payton spun away from linebacker Willie Lanier, cut back left, made three Chiefs miss, in addition to trucking two others before being dragged down from behind at the Kansas City 4. In all, Payton broke six tackles. When he took the handoff, the Chiefs led 17-0. Surely the momentum from such an eye-popping run helped to spark Chicago’s eventual 28-27 comeback victory.

Payton rushed for three second-half TDs to lead the rally, and the victory marked the club’s first of six in a row to end the season as the Bears earned their first trip to the postseason since winning the NFL championship in 1963.

Nearly seven years later, Payton would break Brown’s record to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. In classic Payton fashion, he downplayed the achievement, declaring Brown still the king of all NFL runners.

“I don’t believe I ever broke Jim Brown’s record,” he’d say later. “I think it’s still standing. I don’t think the record books need to be rewritten. I didn’t do it in the amount of time that Jim Brown did. If you can’t do it in nine years and eight games, then you didn’t break his record. I had more games and I played longer, so I didn’t break it.”

William PerryAP Photo/Amy Sancetta
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Today, we run down the second of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Chicago Bears franchise history. We’ve chronicled Devin Hester’s 92-yard kickoff return to open Super Bowl XLI, and we’ll also break down how Walter Payton displayed his signature strength and speed in breaking tackles during a run against the Chiefs. It was the run Jim Brown said convinced him of Payton’s greatness.

Please vote for your choice as the Bears’ most memorable play.

Score: Bears 46, Patriots 10
Date: Jan. 26, 1986 Site: Louisiana Superdome

Call this play in Bears history a bittersweet one.

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On one hand, William “Refrigerator” Perry’s 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a 46-10 rout of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX -- otherwise known as “The Plunge” -- certainly gave fans a nice moment of entertainment. But on the other, the team’s choice to call on Perry for the score instead of Payton, the team’s heart and soul, goes down as one of the major regrets about that game still harbored by former coach Mike Ditka.

Keyed on all day by New England’s defense, Payton -- the game’s all-time leading rusher at the time -- finished without a touchdown despite the club having multiple opportunities near the goal line to get him into the end zone for a score on the game’s biggest stage.

“That was probably the most disturbing thing in my career,” Ditka later said in the book “Payton.” “That killed me. If I had one thing to do all over again, I would make sure Payton took the ball into the end zone. I loved him; I had great respect for him. The only thing that ever really hurt me was when he didn’t score in the Super Bowl.”

Perry’s TD came on a call from Ditka, but quarterback Jim McMahon had a reputation for changing plays when he wanted to. Besides, allowing a defensive lineman in Perry to score a TD instead of the game’s best player at the time seemed as if Ditka was taunting New England. After all, Perry’s run made the score 44-3. It’s a shame Perry scored a TD in the Super Bowl and Payton didn’t.

Ditka has explained that the call was an option play in which McMahon could have pitched the ball to Payton, who later said, “I knew I was going to be a decoy today.” On McMahon’s first touchdown, which came after a fake to Perry, the quarterback also could have pitched it to Payton.

“On the touchdown that I scored, it was a play designed for Walter,” McMahon later said. “But the truth is I don’t think anyone recognized it during the game. I know I didn’t.”

 
video
Here’s the second part of our interview with Brandon Marshall as part of ESPN The Magazine’s Comeback Issue, which dropped on July 7 with a story about the Chicago Bears receiver.

Marshall spent time with us at his home in Chicago discussing a variety of topics, with most focused on some of the things he’s doing to promote mental health awareness. Our entire interview didn’t make it into the magazine story or the video clip above. So I decided to pull it together in its entirety:

Michael C. Wright: You’ve called the trade from Miami to Chicago a “career-saving trade,” a “life-saving trade.” Did you really feel your life was in jeopardy?

Brandon Marshall: No, I think a lot of people took that out of context. What I meant by that was when you look at the career side, it’s like, to be honest, I think I played with five or six different quarterbacks. You see how my production dropped and people were looking at me like, "He used to be a top-five receiver. It’s him. He’s dropping all these balls. He’s the issue. He’s the problem." Those people in Miami, they wanted my head for a year or two. But then I come to Chicago and you see me continue to produce at a high level. I had Jay Cutler. I was in a system I was familiar with. So it was career-saving. Now, the life-saving thing we’re talking about, I don’t know if the cameras can see it [Marshall looks around], but look at this beautiful city. You know what I mean? I say that it wasn’t a life-or-death thing. But a lot of us go through life doing things that we don’t love. We’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and we die freaking chasing money or chasing something to pay bills or we’re not happy. But for me, every single day, I walk outside my door and I smell the city air. I look at these tall buildings. I see people wearing Bulls hats, Blackhawks hats, Bears shirts. It’s fulfilling. It’s stimulating. The love and joy that we receive on a daily basis, it sometimes is too much. So that’s what I mean when I say life-saving. It’s like a dream. It’s the perfect situation, not only doing what I love, but doing it in a place where I can say I love, that’s now home for me. I don’t think you could buy that.

[+] EnlargeDavone Bess
AP Photo/David RichardDavone Bess, who was arrested in January, is "one of those guys that's walking with me," says former teammate Brandon Marshall.
You’ve taken on somewhat of a role as a mentor. What are you doing with your former teammate Davone Bess?

Marshall: I wouldn’t say that’s a mentorship, that’s more of, I think in every man’s life they need ... the perfect illustration is you have yourself here, you have a mentor above you. Then you have men you can walk with, and then there’s a mentee. So Davone Bess is one of those guys that’s walking with me, a guy that when I fall, he can pick me up and vice versa. It’s an interesting story because when we were playing together in Miami, we used to sit on the plane and talk about the same stuff. Our situations aren’t unique. Every guy deals with it at this level. We would compare text messages from family and friends asking us for money, or cussing us out because we said no, or threats, legal issues. And what you saw is, you saw a break in me early, and then a couple of years later, you see a break in Davone Bess’ health and stability. So it’s like it was always there, but it presented itself at different times. So good thing that I’ve been through it, someone that he can trust and believes in, and now I can say, "Bro, this is what I did and it worked for me."

You said that 2013 was the first year in your career that you were not selfish. Can you explain what you meant?

Marshall: I’m a believer in Christ. That’s my Lord and savior, and when you read the Bible, one of the biggest things that jumps out to me is his ability to serve others. So I always tell guys, if you want to be Muslim, be Muslim. You know, I have my beliefs. I’m not forcing that on you. But if you say you’re a Christian, then it’s either you’re all-in or you’re all-out. One of the teachings is being a servant, and you can’t be a selfish servant. I don’t think those two relate. It’s a contradiction. Last year I grew spiritually, and that was the first time I was able to step outside myself on this spiritual journey and be able to say, "You know what, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. But I’m gonna serve Alshon Jeffery. I’m gonna serve Martellus Bennett." Because I know there’s something bigger. I’m a part of something greater. I can’t wait to see what it is. But I know if I just continue to pour into those young men’s lives, we will be great together.

How confident are you that you can continue on this track? As we’ve discussed before, you’ve got a past. Can you honestly say that none of the things that have haunted your past will creep back into your life?

Marshall: That’s interesting because I never really read my Twitter mentions, because one day it’s gonna go from a ton of mentions and a ton of retweets to nothing when I’m not relevant anymore, when I’m not catching any more touchdowns. I’m preparing for that. I don’t really read too many stories. I will look at stats, but I won’t read stories. I did read your story the other day where you said, "Let’s see if he can keep it up," or something along those lines.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesBrandon Marshall is confident his problems are behind him.
I didn’t write that. I wrote that you needed to keep it up.

Marshall: I found that interesting. I found that interesting that there is a thought about me reverting back. But I always tell people that’s just part of the journey, especially for a young man given so much freedom, so much fame, so much fortune. That’s part of the journey, to make mistakes. But the problem is, you make your mistakes in the public’s eye. People look at me like, "Is this an act?" I know you believe in me, but some people will say, "Is it an act?" Or "It’s only going to last for so long." But I’m actually growing, every single day. This is the new me. This is who I am. So there isn’t any reverting back. But I do make mistakes. I’m pretty much still in the same exact situation. I just look at life differently and my approach is different. There’s some things out there I still need to work on.

Last thing. Can you finish this sentence for me? I would describe my comeback as...

Marshall: Inspirational.

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