NFC North: Aaron Kromer


CHICAGO -- A black Vanderbilt cap pulled low over his brow, Jay Cutler plopped down at the podium, took three questions and bailed before the entire media corps had even descended from the locker room to where the Chicago Bears hold press conferences.

Too bad Cutler wasn't as successful escaping the New Orleans Saints in Monday night's 31-15 shellacking in which he tossed three interceptions, suffered seven sacks and finished with a season-low passer rating of 55.8. For a man receiving $22.5 million in 2014 as part of a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million, the production isn't matching up to the salary.

"Just trying to get better for these next two games," Cutler said. "Just going out and trying to get a good performance offensively."

Cutler failed in that endeavor against New Orleans' 31st-ranked defense, a group that forced the quarterback to extend his NFL lead for turnovers (24) as he tossed two of his three interceptions during a first half in which he generated a passer rating of 14.9.

[+] EnlargeCutler
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seven times on Monday night.
Both Cutler and Bears coach Marc Trestman downplayed the possibility that the quarterback's performance was negatively impacted by the drama permeating the team during the week of preparation. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, during a team meeting last Monday, reportedly tearfully apologized to Cutler and the offense for criticizing the quarterback to an NFL Network reporter after a Dec. 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Kromer revealed he was the anonymous source in the NFL Network report, which stated the organization was feeling buyer's remorse regarding its high-priced quarterback. While Kromer admitted to criticizing Cutler, he denied any other involvement in the report.

"No, I don't think so," Cutler said when asked if the distractions at Halas Hall during the week had a negative impact. "Just have to look at the film. I have to play better. We'll take a look tomorrow and see exactly what slowed us down."

Trestman said the activity at Halas Hall had no impact on the team during the week. "Excellent work during the week, energy, meetings were good," he said. "Absolutely none."

So what happened, then?

The Bears brought aboard Trestman in January 2013 because of his ability to coax the best from quarterbacks. He'd gained a reputation for helping signal-callers such as Steve Young and Rich Gannon improve. In nearly two complete seasons under Trestman, Cutler owns a 10-15 record.

What's worse is that the promise Cutler flashed during his first year working with Trestman sparked general manager Phil Emery to lock up the quarterback with a long-term deal that more and more is appearing to look like an albatross. On top of his NFL-high salary this year, Cutler is scheduled to receive $15.5 million fully guaranteed in 2015.

Such monstrous figures limit Chicago's ability to add more quality players, which wouldn't be as significant an issue if the quarterback were performing at the level of his salary.

As of Dec. 10, five teams around the NFL had at least 14 percent of their salary caps allocated to the quarterback position, with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the way at 16 percent, followed by the New York Giants (15.9), St. Louis Rams (15.1), Chicago (14.4) and New Orleans (14.4). Obviously, three of those teams have quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings. Even Denver and Green Bay -- teams with Super Bowl-winning signal-callers -- have smaller percentages of their overall caps allocated to the quarterback position than Chicago.

Like Cutler and Trestman, players in the locker room Monday night downplayed the impact of Kromer's confession and apology -- for an act that constitutes a breach of trust -- on the offense's performance against the Saints. The Bears were just 2-of-12 on third-down attempts and lost the total yardage battle 443-278.

"Not at all," right tackle Jordan Mills said when asked about the Kromer situation impacting the offense. "People make mistakes. We're not perfect. That had nothing to do with our focus this week. [Kromer] apologized for it, and we moved on from it. He was sincere about it. But Coach Kromer cares about all of us and he knows we're not perfect, that he's not perfect. None of that affected us. We just need to be more consistent."

Tight end Martellus Bennett likened the offense's struggles to walking through a dark room, arms outstretched, fingers trailing the walls in search of a light switch.

"You can put anything on paper, but when you show up, the game is played on grass," Bennett said. "I think there are some positions on the team that need to step up the leadership and things like that. Overall, I just feel like we need passion to come from certain places, and I don't think the passion is always there. Overall, it just hasn't been there."

So, who's missing the passion?

"Several people," Bennett said. "But I don't really get into the name thing. They know who they are."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Aaron Kromer broke locker room code and breached the trust of quarterback Jay Cutler, but in the wake of this latest demonstration of dysfunction at Halas Hall, it’s worth pondering what the Chicago Bears brass would actually accomplish now by firing the offensive coordinator. Not that it's been discussed.

While Kromer likely brought about at least a small amount of distrust within the locker room by criticizing Cutler on background to an NFL Network reporter last week, on the flip side, there are players in that locker room who believe the offensive coordinator simply said what needed to be said. According to the Chicago Tribune, Kromer, during a meeting on Monday, made a tearful apology for criticizing Cutler, which led to a report by the network Sunday that the organization is feeling “buyer’s remorse” after signing the signal-caller to a seven-year, $126.7 million contract.

[+] EnlargeAaron Kromer
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFiring Aaron Kromer for his criticism of QB Jay Cutler wouldn't solve the problems that continue to plague the Bears.
Kromer apologized again during a news conference Friday and Cutler said he respected that and the relationship is good.

Kromer's sentiment shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you buy a Ferrari and it handles like a bobsled, wouldn’t you have buyer’s remorse, too?

“It doesn’t always fall on (Cutler),” Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said Monday during “The Brandon Marshall Show” on ESPN 1000. “I guess that's why those guys are the highest paid players out there because when you win and everything is going good, they get all the glory. When it's bad, they take more than what they should take. But I can understand that. As far as a businessman, I would have buyer's remorse, too."

That’s only natural for a team coming into the season with high hopes hinging on a quarterback the organization believed had finally turned the corner and was poised to finally live up to the promise of his immense physical gifts.

The Bears acquired Cutler from the Denver Broncos in a 2009 trade, and since the quarterback's arrival in Chicago, the team has advanced to the postseason only once (2010). In five-plus seasons with the Bears, Cutler has played in four offensive systems for four coordinators, and it seemed possible the latest revelation could result in the club bringing in No. 5.

But what would that accomplish at this point?

After all, Kromer doesn’t call plays or make important personnel decisions. That’s all on head coach Marc Trestman. Kromer is this team’s offensive coordinator in title only.

Cutler, 31, leads the league in turnovers (a league-high 15 interceptions and six fumbles), but currently owns the highest passer rating (91.7) of his nine-year NFL career.

Trestman on Monday remained committed to Cutler as the club's starting quarterback.

Perhaps he should, considering Cutler was actually involved in the interview process that brought Trestman to Chicago. Let’s also remember the Bears chose Trestman over current Arizona head coach Bruce Arians.

Was it because Cutler preferred the subdued Trestman over the demonstrative, take-charge Arians?

Regardless of what the answer to that question is, the fact is Cutler has been coddled for way too long in Chicago. Some players in the locker room know that. They also probably know that firing Kromer won’t change anything as the man who calls the plays, makes the decisions, and seems to struggle to hold Cutler accountable will still be in place.

Make no mistake, what Kromer said wasn’t wrong. It was just the manner in which he did it.

Ultimately though, while firing Kromer now might restore a little of the trust in the locker room, the truth is such a move would only do what the organization has done all along, and that’s to bend over backwards for a quarterback who isn’t providing real return on investment.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Dating all the way back to September, the Chicago Bears brass routinely spouted rhetoric about the need to achieve a more balanced run-pass ratio. Yet the Bears haven’t delivered.

With the Bears coming off a 34-17 loss at Detroit in which they called 48 passes and eight runs -- a franchise low for runs in a game -- such talk continued at Halas Hall Monday as they prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night at Soldier Field.

“We’re just trying to get some balance in our offense. We’ve got to take the mistakes we made last week and turn them into a positive this week,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “One of the things we know we have to do is we have to attempt to run the ball more. As I said to our team, ‘We don’t have to run the ball for 7 yards a carry.’ Running the football has a residual effect on a lot of different things. It helps your movement game. It helps your play-action game. We all know these things. We didn’t get it done last week. We admit to that, and we have to move forward.”

Forte
Forte
That’s all been said before by Trestman, quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. With an offense featuring one of the league’s best rushers in Forte, the team has called more runs than passes only once this season, and that was during a 38-17 loss to Green Bay Sept. 28.

Even during the team’s five victories, the Bears called 109 runs to 163 passes. The closest to achieving true balance with the run and pass was the club’s Nov. 23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in which the Bears ran 26 times and called 27 passes.

“It’s of the utmost importance, especially if we’re playing outside with the weather and stuff,” Forte said. “You can’t just sit back there and throw 50 passes a game and expect to win. [Against Detroit], the front four were pinning their ears back. They didn’t have anything to do but pass rush. They’re not respecting the run, and then if you play fake, they’re not going to take the play fake because you haven’t been running the ball. It’s a big part of the play-action game, to keep the defense off of keying on exactly what to do, whether it’s pass rush or trying to stop the run.”

Considering Chicago hadn’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter of six consecutive games until Thursday against the Lions, the Bears have been playing from behind in many cases. But even then, Kromer believes the Bears can still benefit from running the ball because it opens up other facets of the game.

Headed into the matchup with Detroit, the game plan was to hit the Lions with the quick passing game and screens before leaning on the rushing attack.

“But then the game didn’t present itself the way we hoped at that point where we got down by two touchdowns, and then we had to try to throw it to get back in it, we felt,” Kromer said. “A (part) of it is individual game plans. So you’re playing Detroit and they’re giving up very limited amount of run yards and so you say to yourself, ‘Well, but they’re not doing a great job on the perimeter versus the quick screens,' and so like I said, we’re trying to establish that at first, and then start to run it more often as the game went on. But what’s not happening is we’re not in the game when we’re going to start running it more, and then it becomes a passing game.”

That complicates matters for the entire offense.

Cutler
“It’s hard, it makes things hard,” Cutler said. “If you’re running the ball efficiently and giving the illusion you’re going to run the ball, it definitely helps. You want to throw the ball. You want to throw touchdowns. You want to throw for big yards. But you definitely want to win football games, and I think anyone who has been doing this for a while realizes you’ve got to have the best of both worlds. You’ve got to be able to run the ball. You’ve got to be able to do some play-action. There’s no one out there who can drop back 40 to 50 times consistently and win football games. It’s really hard.”

That’s why the Bears hope to flip the script against Dallas, which currently ranks 22nd against the run (allowing 119.6 yards per game) and is coming off an outing in which LeSean McCoy ripped the defense for 159 yards and a touchdown.

“I trust our offensive line and those guys want to run the ball, too,” Forte said. “I know they were upset about the outcome last week. This defense that we’re going up against is really good against [the run], too. They might be ranked lower, but ranks don’t mean anything in the NFL.”

In 8-degree temperatures with a wind chill of minus-9 at Soldier Field last season against the Cowboys, the Bears racked up 490 total yards, with 149 of that coming courtesy of the rushing attack. The Bears called 32 runs and 36 passes in that outing and will need to achieve similar balance Thursday against the Cowboys to come out on top.

“We’ve got to get some more balance in our football, and part of that is being able to run the ball, not just more effectively, but to allow it to [be in] balance with the other things we do. We’ve got tremendous targets outside,” Trestman said. “We’ve got three tremendous targets and we’ve got a very good running back. We’ve got to continue to work to try to balance all that out. We would have liked to run it more [against Detroit]. It didn’t happen that way, and we’ve got to move forward to Dallas. We could have that discussion forever.”
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 21-13 victory over Tampa Bay:

Although the Bears constantly harp about forcing turnovers, several players in the locker room said they expected to gobble up more takeaways as the weather worsened.

As the game progressed Sunday, the rain began to fall harder and the Bears forced three turnovers in the third quarter alone -- four for the game.

Fuller
Fuller's status uncertain: Rookie Kyle Fuller left Sunday's game with a knee injury, but the extent wasn't immediately known. Fuller dressed at his locker with no wraps or bandages on either knee and appeared to be walking just fine.

Kromer stays late: Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer stayed in the locker room and met for several minutes with tight end Martellus Bennett before going over to offensive linemen Jordan Mills and Kyle Long. Bennett appeared to be discussing better ways to get open for Jay Cutler.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler owns a 1-10 record against the Green Bay Packers, but when asked Thursday whether a common denominator existed in the futility, the quarterback gave little explanation.

"Different coordinators, different teams," Cutler said. "It’s different circumstances every time."

Yet the results remain the same on most occasions.

In 10 regular-season games against the Packers, Cutler has passed for 2,184 yards, 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions to go with a passer rating of 67.0.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJay Cutler and the Bears need to win the turnover battle if they are to upset Green Bay on Sunday.
Cutler’s last victory against the Packers came in 2010, and in that outing, the quarterback completed just 59.3 percent of his throws for one touchdown and one interception and a passer rating of 82.5. The Bears used a 62-yard punt return by Devin Hester, a timely strip from Brian Urlacher and a Tim Jennings recovery to win the game 20-17 on Robbie Gould's 19-yard field goal with four seconds left.

Another notable from that game: officials flagged the Green Bay Packers 18 times.

Still, Cutler and the Chicago Bears (3-5) believe they have a chance to turn around what’s thus far been a disappointing season for a club which came into the year with high expectations.

"If we didn’t believe we might as well go home," Cutler said. "That’s the only thing we can do is stay positive, keep working. I thought the guys have done a fabulous job of coming back and staying positive, and keep working and improving on things. You look at the film, and we’re definitely doing things to hurt ourselves. There’s no doubt about that."

Cutler certainly shares in some of that, having turned over the ball an NFL-high 12 times, leading to 44 points by opponents. Under Bears coach Marc Trestman the past two seasons, the team owns an 8-0 record when it finishes on the positive side of the turnover margin.

Yet the Bears have ended up on the negative end of the turnover margin in all five of their losses this season, and are 2-9 in those circumstances the past two seasons under Trestman.

"Obviously, he’s a huge part of the offense being the quarterback," running back Matt Forte said of Cutler. "Every offense has that guy, but we count on everybody as a group. We got to come together as an offense. Everyone has to be on the same page for it work. We’re all on the same page, it’s just we haven’t been executing the plays. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the same page sometimes. Everybody is not perfect. There’s going to be mistakes out there. We just have to do less of those mistakes. The main factor of those games that we lost, every game that we lost, we lost the turnover battle and that’s the most compelling fact about it."

Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said that nothing in particular stood out last week when they conducted a self-evaluation of the offense during its time off, and a source indicated the staff doesn't plan to tweak much with the scheme or play-calling, despite the bye-week analysis. Kromer noted that Cutler "seems refreshed" since the club returned to Halas Hall to begin preparation for Sunday’s game against the Packers.

"Everybody on the team has gotten an opportunity to watch what happened throughout the [first eight games of the] season. They spend so much time during the week getting ready for the next opponent. They study themselves, and then they go right into the next opponent right away," Kromer said. "What it’s given everybody is an opportunity -- the bye week, that is -- an opportunity to study themselves. I think it has helped Jay, as well as everyone."

It’s unclear whether it will help Cutler finally put forth a winning performance against the Packers. The quarterback turned over the ball twice during a 38-17 loss to the Packers on Sept. 28 at Soldier Field.

But Trestman expects Cutler to take on a lead role in the team turning around the season.

"Your quarterback is always a significant person to do that, because he handles the ball on every play. We all know that. So certainly he's part of it, but I don't just think he's the only one. I think we want to do it together. We do it as coaches. We want to do it as a complete team," Trestman said. "But certainly Jay is a big part of that. He's a team leader. He's around the guys all the time. He's influential in our locker room. He's influential in our meeting rooms and certainly on the field his component, his level of play is going to be indicative of where we're going to go in the next eight weeks."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler's interactions with teammates and the media always seem to creep into the narrative about the quarterback, and on Tuesday Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said "we've absolutely noticed a difference in Jay."

Cutler admits he's changed, too.

Cutler
"It might be true. Anytime you are in an offense and have the same group of guys around you, it's going to be more comfortable. It is for me anyway," Cutler said. "I like the group of guys we have in the locker room, understand what we are doing offensively. And it's early. It's still preseason with you guys."

Described as petulant to the media in the past with televised on-field blowups with teammates and coaches as evidence that he's been difficult to get along with, Cutler hasn't displayed such qualities so far. But to Cutler's credit, he didn't in 2013 either.

Going into 2014, Kromer believes Cutler is taking on more of a leadership role. He's moved on to a new staff led by an offensive-minded head coach in Marc Trestman. He's finally protected well, and not taking unnecessary punishment every time he drops back to pass. He's surrounded by a bevy of weapons on offense, and playing in an offensive system he believes in strongly on a new seven-year contract.

"I think everyone in the building has noticed a difference in Jay," Kromer said. "None of us knew Jay very well before getting here last year, and we worked through the year and that first year is always hard on everybody. But what I see in Jay Cutler right now is a guy that's the leading the group; a guy that is approachable, and is working to make everybody better because he realizes it's important that everybody is on the same page with him."

New receiver Santonio Holmes admitted as much Monday, saying the quarterback has "taken me under his wing, talked to me, and kept me close." The expectation is Cutler's approach will translate into victories this season. During training camp, Brandon Marshall called Cutler "a totally different person," adding that "I think he has great balance in is life now."

"He's talked with receivers. He's talked with linemen. He's working with running backs constantly," Kromer said. "That's a maturity on his part of knowing the offense, knowing what we want as coaches and feeling good about being the leader that he is. It's been a very good start of the year that way."

Will it continue? Well, it did in 2013 despite the Bears finishing 8-8 in a season in which Cutler was forced to miss time due to injuries on two occasions.

Cutler seems to now totally understand the value of making everyone else around him better, which is part of the reason that within an hour of Holmes signing his contract on Saturday, the two were on the field together working on plays to develop a rapport as quickly as possible. Cutler displayed similar qualities in 2013, too.

"If Santonio Holmes is going to play, Jay's going to rely on him," Kromer said. "Jay knows he has to be on the same page with him. So the faster he can get to know him, the better off he's going to be and that's Jay's goal."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears continue to ponder whether to play recent signee Santonio Holmes on Friday night at Seattle due to the receiver's limited exposure to the offense.

Bears coach Marc Trestman said he hasn't yet made a determination.

"I can't say that right now," Trestman said. "I think we're trying to get him to that place. I think I'll know a little bit more after practice tomorrow. We'll see where he's at. We'll talk to him and we'll see if he's ready to go and get some playing time."

Holmes
Holmes participated in the club's Tuesday workout inside the Walter Payton Center and Trestman "thought he worked positively today." Within an hour of signing his contract with the Bears on Saturday, Holmes and quarterback Jay Cutler were on the field working together; the quarterback administering a crash course to the receiver on the nuances of the club's offense.

What Cutler notices is Holmes still possesses the speed and explosion that made him one of the league's most feared deep threats at one time, but it might be too lofty an expectation -- despite recent efforts -- for the duo to strike on-field accord by the time takes the field to face the Seahawks.

"He obviously knows how to play football," Cutler said. "He's been around a long time, been in a few different systems and been successful. It's just a matter of getting him caught up with our verbiage, how we like to do things, the little tweaks we like, and just kind of get in a rapport with him timing wise. It just takes time. He's explosive. He'd probably be honest [and tell you] he's a little bit rusty. He's been out of football. But getting in and out of cuts, [he] catches the ball well, extremely explosive, fast. He's exciting. It's hard coming in where we are offensively and just kind of throwing him into the mix."

With second-year receiver Marquess Wilson out of action due to a fractured clavicle suffered in training camp, the Bears hope to find a suitable slot receiver to complement Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Trestman said veteran Josh Morgan deserves the first opportunity to work with the starters Friday at Seattle, but Cutler believes the team could have Holmes ready to play by the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against Buffalo.

Morgan has caught five passes for 77 yards through the first two games of the preseason, and outside of Holmes, appears to be the most capable fill-in option at the No. 3 receiver spot.

"He's had two good weeks of practice, two good games, productive games," Trestman said. "He's made plays out there. I think he deserves a chance to step up now and get the first opportunity to do that. He's a powerful guy. He's explosive. He's got straight-line speed, and he's got experience. He's the most experienced, other than Santonio, of any of the receivers that we have."

If Morgan falters, the club appears confident it can get Holmes up to speed quickly enough for him to have an immediate impact in the regular season. Kromer said Holmes "has been impressive in practice. Especially today, he stood out."

Still, Trestman wants Holmes to develop enough of a comfort level with the system before the club rushes him out onto the field.

"I just want him to feel comfortable to be able to go in there and perform and not put our team in a position where his mistakes would create mistakes around him," Trestman said. "We want to give him the best chance to succeed on an individual basis as well."

A ninth-year veteran, and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes has caught 381 passes for 5,963 yards over eight years with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2006-09), and New York Jets (2010-13). Holmes could also become a contributor on special teams, as he's returned 66 punts for 636 yards and a touchdown in addition to 18 kickoffs for 436 yards.

But do the Bears have enough time to prepare Holmes for the limelight?

"We'll find out," Cutler said. "I think [we do]. We might have to help him along in the huddle and make sure he knows what he's doing. But we've got enough veteran guys. We can get him to where he needs to be."
Aaron KromerAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOffensive coordinator Aaron Kromer works with QB Adam Kennedy during the Bears' rookie camp.
Red-faced, his hair a sticky, wet mess, quarterback David Fales strolled off the field fresh off his first experience with a Marc Trestman football practice during a recent three-day rookie minicamp, describing it as “chaos, bring the rage, intense.”

In 2014, Year 2 of operating Trestman’s offense after a breakout 2013 campaign, that’s exactly what the Chicago Bears hope to deliver to opposing defenses. The plan to do that involves a mixture of comfort in Year 2 of the scheme and a focus in the playbook on what the players did well in 2013, while also finding ways to expand the system based on the latter.

So far, the process looks promising, according to coaches and players.

“I don’t want to say there’s a comfort level, but there’s not a complacent level with how we’re handling things,” Trestman said. “Our guys have worked extremely hard. They have a tremendous grasp of the offense. With that in mind, we started with 'this is a football,' and we worked our way into each and every phase in a normal progression. But there certainly is a sense of confidence, a sense that we’ve got a chance to be a very good offense; particularly because those are guys that have been together. But they’re not taking anything for granted.”

That becomes quite apparent if you’ve tracked any of the moves made this offseason by the club’s veteran offensive players on social media. There you’ll find group selfies such as the one left tackle Jermon Bushrod posted in March that included right tackle Jordan Mills, receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, tight end Fendi Onobun, center Roberto Garza, guard Kyle Long and quarterback Jay Cutler. So it’s apparent they’re spending copious amounts of time together training, running through repetitions on offense, and building chemistry through off-the-field fellowship, as a good portion of the club’s offensive players traveled to Florida to train at FitSpeed Athletic Performance, which is co-owned by Marshall.

In their first season operating Trestman’s scheme, the offense set multiple single-season franchise records. The unit racked up a franchise-best 6,109 net yards and the passing offense set single-season marks in net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9). The Bears also set franchise records with 344 first downs and scored the second-most points (445) in franchise history.

Yet nobody -- especially the players -- is basking in the accomplishments from last year because let’s not forget the Bears finished out of the playoffs with an 8-8 record last season. Cutler has won only one playoff game in eight NFL seasons, and he recently turned 31. Marshall, meanwhile, despite making the Pro Bowl five times in eight seasons, still hasn't played in a postseason contest.

So despite the breakout performance on offense last season, there's still a feverish sense of urgency for the group in 2014 to reach its full potential. Ask any of the skill-position players about 2013, and there's a good chance you get the standard we-left-a-lot-on-the–field line.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhQB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall will draw from their leadership skills and two seasons playing together to help elevate the Bears' offense in 2014.
“You know, it was a long journey last year from this first day when we started, just to get the cadence,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “It was like rookie camp with veterans, and it’s always hard when you have a new staff because you’re working so hard on just the plays, how we call things, what we should be looking at, the technique we want different from other teams, that you don’t get the nuance of the play. You have to get yourself past the whole, ‘This is who I block, this is what route I run, this is who I throw it to.’

"So it’s been refreshing being with Jay Cutler, the offensive line and the running backs. And when you install a play from last year, they look at you like, ‘I remember.’ I’m making a big point, and we as a staff are making a big point of, ‘listen closely to what we’re coaching because you probably missed a couple of things last year.’ So we’re doing everything we can to have them pay attention to the little things.

“What are the little things? The little things are things they didn’t get before.”

When the Bears hired Trestman in January 2013, the staff didn’t even know what type of offense it would run. The coaches had an idea of how the players might fit, but not how they’d actually operate within the system the staff was installing.

That’s why as the year progressed last season “we became more efficient as an offense,” Kromer said.

The club gradually narrowed the playbook to feature what the team did well and what the players -- especially Cutler -- liked to do most. That narrowing continues this offseason. But at the same time, the team wants to broaden the system, as Kromer explained, “from that spectrum” of what the players already do well.

“Any group that can play together for a few years is good,” Marshall told the “Carmen & Jurko” show on ESPN 1000 on Tuesday. “It’s going to be awesome to see us grow because of the experience and the time we’re able to put in during the offseason. Now we bring in Coach Trestman going in his second year, and he’s really putting science behind all of his madness. It’s bringing everybody together, and it’s really cool to see what’s going on in our locker room. I’ve never been with a bunch of selfless guys like this. Everyone is just all-in, whether it’s the running game, the passing game. Everyone believes [and is] pulling for each other. It’s cool, man. It’s awesome to be part of this crew.”

Trestman called the process of working with Kromer, the staff and Cutler this offseason to tweak the playbook for 2014 “excellent.”

“We’ve narrowed some of the things we did last year, and we’ve expanded to some of the things we want to take a look at,” Trestman said. “We still have a pretty long list of plays in our playbook, so to speak, to keep it simple. It’s just the daily process of working through the plays, getting better, evaluating what we did last year, working to improve, and then working into the new football that we’ve put in.”

Will it all work this season? That’s the big unknown. But the body of work the offense put on the field in 2013 provided plenty of reasons to be optimistic headed into the season. In addition to the new coaching staff bringing in an unfamiliar scheme, the Bears put together a brand new offensive line as Garza was the only returning starter from 2012. It’s also easy to forget Marshall spent all of last offseason rehabbing from arthroscopic hip surgery, and was hobbled throughout the early part of the season.

Now, everyone’s healthy, and familiar with the system. Most importantly, they're hungry.

“Team goals, I would say just enjoy the journey,” Marshall said. “But of course we definitely want to be in Arizona [for the Super Bowl]. That’s going to be really tough. We have to put it together. On paper, we look great, but we have to go out there and do it. We have the guys that can upstairs, [and] downstairs. So we’ll see how it goes.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Shaking his head and smiling, Josh McCown paused for a couple of seconds Thursday to consider how someone could hear his thick Texas drawl in the huddle and think it’s reminiscent of “a combination of Jesus and Ben Stiller,” as tight end Martellus Bennett had just described it minutes earlier.

“Uh, I’m trying to process Ben Stiller and Jesus,” McCown said, laughing. “I just want to be there to listen to them two talk, because I think that would be cool.”

McCown took some ribbing for his accent at Halas Hall this week, with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer joking the quarterback’s drawl “slowed [offensive calls] down just a little bit.” But nobody inside the locker room or the organization is complaining about the results produced by McCown, who is 2-0 in relief of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown's play has earned him high praise indeed from his Bears coaches and teammates.
McCown has completed 61 of 101 passes for 754 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 100.0, and the Bears' offense hasn’t seemed to skip a beat without Cutler in the picture.

Coming into the season, McCown, 34, owned a record of 13-20 as a starter, which makes his recent success seem somewhat improbable.

“Someone once said a long time ago, the difference between a very good player and an average player is reps,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And that’s clearly what we see on tape with Josh. He’s a fine football player. He’s playing very well. His numbers reflect that.”

McCown attributes his success to a combination of factors, ranging from a more mature approach to the game to the bevy of weapons surrounding him, not to mention a strong belief in the scheme brought to Chicago by Bears coach Marc Trestman. McCown hasn’t started more than two games in a season since 2007, when he struggled to a 2-7 record with the Oakland Raiders.

Even after that bout of adversity, a year out of the game in 2010, and mostly fruitless stops with two more teams (including Chicago), McCown doesn’t “know if I allowed myself” to consider whether he’d ever again receive an opportunity to start in the NFL.

“I wasn’t hoping it would happen. I wasn’t going, ‘I can’t wait until Jay gets hurt so I get a chance,’” McCown said. “It was just more of every day trying to get better so that if I have to play, I’ll be ready to play and be productive. Nothing more than that, and nothing more than just so I can be productive for this team right now. On whatever day that is, can I go out and play good football and give us a chance to win the ballgame?”

McCown obviously has answered that question in the affirmative in his last two outings. Asked about the quarterback’s winding career path, Trestman said, “You just learn that every quarterback’s on their own journey.”

“You look at the history of the game and where quarterbacks come from. Some are drafted in the first round and do well, others don’t. Others are drafted the 199th pick in the draft, and they wind up winning three Super Bowls and are Hall of Famers. Other guys are working in a grocery store one year and the next year they’re MVPs in Super Bowls,” Trestman said. “Another guy I coached didn’t start playing until he was 29 years old, and he’s in the Hall of Fame today. So they all have their own way of reaching this moment.

“Josh in an unselfish guy who works very hard, who just has been working hard his whole career, doing whatever’s asked of him to do, and he’s in a position to help this football team, and I don’t think he’s carrying it on his shoulders. Everybody is on their own journey in their own place emotionally, physically, and you know Josh is in that place right now.”

In the huddle, however, McCown seems right at home, despite Bennett’s colorful description.

Asked how McCown sounds in the huddle, Bennett said, “Ben Stiller, maybe, but Ben Stiller in ‘Heavyweights.’ Yeah, it’s a little country, but it’s a combination of Jesus and Ben Stiller.”

“We’ve all heard Jesus,” the tight end added. “But some of us aren’t listening.”

Four Downs: Minimal dropoff with Bostic?

October, 17, 2013
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Jon BosticAP Photo/Scott BoehmJon Bostic will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Redskins.
While veteran D.J. Williams recovered from a calf strain that kept him out of the preseason, many clamored for rookie Jon Bostic to win the middle linebacker job. Now with Williams shelved for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bostic is getting his chance.

What can be expected of the second-round pick who has played almost entirely on special teams to this point? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears won't lose much with rookie Jon Bostic taking over for the injured D.J. Williams.


[+] EnlargeJonathan Bostic
AP Photo/Scott BoehmRookie Jon Bostic showed his hard-hitting style in the preseason.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears were pleased with Williams at middle linebacker. The veteran shook off the rust that plagued him in the first couple of weeks to record, by the team's count, 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Williams is the fifth-leading tackler on the team after six games, even though he was primarily used as a two-down linebacker, coming off the field in nickel situations. Williams is an experienced and savvy veteran. Bostic is a rookie. There are going to be bumps in the road. He is extremely athletic and has shown an ability to make big plays, but at his core, he is still a rookie. Bostic will make mistakes. The Bears just hope those mistakes don't result in touchdowns. The Bears always viewed Bostic as a future starter, but the plan was for Williams to handle middle linebacker in 2013. Now that plan is null and void and the team will have to adjust. Bostic is a good option, but he's not the best option. At least, not this season.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Everyone was excited in the preseason because Bostic is athletic and knows how to play in an aggressive, takeaway-hungry defense. But this is about more than storylines and draft status. Bostic lacks Williams' experience in the NFL. That's a pretty simple statement, but it's the real issue. Bostic can't learn experience, that intuition you earn by playing in enough games to let muscle memory take over. Bostic told me in training camp about watching Lance Briggs with admiration, as the veteran knew exactly where the play was going. Bostic doesn't have that yet, and the Bears have to hope he's a quick learner so he can realize the right fits between the gaps. Williams knew them. After missing the entire preseason, he slid right in without missing a beat.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Lions are a bigger threat to the Bears in the division than the Packers.


[+] EnlargeNick Perry
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers handed the Lions one of their two losses this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The road to the NFC North title still runs through Green Bay. Until the Bears prove they can beat the Packers, Marc Trestman's team cannot be considered one of the NFC's elite. Jay Cutler is having a solid season, but he needs to defeat Green Bay to truly get over the hump. Cutler has one victory over the Packers since he arrived in Chicago in 2009, and if the Packers don't commit a staggering number of penalties that 2010 night at Soldier Field, Cutler would be winless against the division foe. This is still Green Bay's division. The Lions like to run their mouths, but that franchise has accomplished next to nothing. The Bears have a great shot to knock off Detroit in November at Soldier Field. But can they do the same against the Packers? That remains the larger unanswered question.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Both are threats, of course, but the road to the division goes through Green Bay. Detroit obviously has the edge on the Bears, but they still have to win at Soldier Field. The Bears need to take one of two against the Packers this season. And if Cutler can just play a clean game in Green Bay in two weeks, that will exorcise some of his demons with the NFC North titans. Cutler needs to aim for the Packers.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman's system is most responsible for Cutler being sacked only nine times this season.


[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler has been sacked nine times this season, tied for second-fewest in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Trestman's desire that Cutler get rid of the ball in a timely fashion definitely helps. But to attribute the improved pass protection primarily to the system is unfair. The Bears are simply better up front. Why it took the organization so long to assemble a good offensive line is beyond me, but general manager Phil Emery accomplished in one offseason what the previous administration failed to do in the post-Super Bowl years of 2007-2012. Let's give some credit to Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills for keeping Cutler upright. Aaron Kromer also deserves a mention. Although Trestman runs the offense, Kromer controls the offensive line and has played an important role in developing the two rookies on the right side. Cutler himself has done a nice job avoiding the rush, and the receivers also play a role in protection. This has been a collective effort since the start of the season. If it continues, the Bears' offense will only get better.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Of course his play calling, getting the ball out quicker and such, is a big factor, but you can't discount the play of the offensive line and Cutler's trust in his receivers. While coaching is a bigger factor in the NFL than in the other major professional sports, the guys on the field are still the ones who have to execute. For most of the first six games, Cutler has had time to throw because his linemen, and additional blockers, have held up their end. It helps that Cutler isn't locking in on one player or one option. Kromer has certainly helped there, too, but give credit where credit's due here.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will beat the Redskins if they hold Robert Griffin III in check.


[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiHaving to dig out of deficits all season, the Redskins and QB Robert Griffin III have been especially pass-heavy on offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are just a better team. However, Griffin remains a wild card. I have a ton of respect for RG III and the way he returned to the starting lineup only eight months after suffering a serious knee injury that required surgery. But he just doesn't quite look the same this season. As a rookie, he was a dynamic multipurpose threat. This year he's been more of a pocket passer with a 59.8 completion percentage and 80.4 passer rating. There is always a chance RG III has a big game against a shaky Bears defense. But if the Bears keep RG III in check, it's hard to imagine the Redskins doing enough to win the game, even with it being at FedEx Field.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Griffin showed more athleticism last week, albeit in a loss to Dallas, but he's scary because of his arm, not just his legs. With time Griffin is still very, very dangerous. And the Bears' defense is giving quarterbacks time with a flaccid pass rush. With their ballhawks in the secondary, the Bears need to force him into some quick decisions, and they especially need to force him into some third-and-long situations. Julius Peppers, for one, needs to make an impact this week.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer took exception Wednesday to the perception that the club has struggled in the running game and at adequately protecting quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears gave up three sacks in their first 12 plays from scrimmage Sunday in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, and the ground game churned out 94 yards with the offense in pass mode due to the club falling behind 20-7 at the break.

"Right now, if you look at statistically where we are -- and that's what a lot of people do; we're seventh in the league in rushing yards per carry, and we're sixth in the league in sacks given up," Kromer said. "So we have had one [bad] quarter and everyone panics that we can't play football in Chicago anymore. I say they're wrong."

Kromer's partially correct in his assessment.

The Bears rank 11th in the NFL in total offense (368.6 yards per game), are tied for sixth in rushing average (4.6 yards per carry) and are tied for fifth in sacks allowed as just one of seven teams in the league to surrender fewer than 10 through the first five games.

Chicago's offense is also No. 3 in the NFL in scoring (29 points per game).

Perhaps the offense's two most pronounced areas of deficiency are third-down conversion percentage (36) and average time of possession (29:10), two areas in which the team is 21st in the NFL. Last week's game skews Chicago's overall time of possession stat somewhat, given the offense possessed the ball for just 24 minutes while the Saints maintained possession for 36.

So despite the Bears losing two in a row, the club knows the season hasn't gotten away; that they're still trending upward offensively in terms of development.

"I think the key is you keep doing the things you know are right. You keep working on the things to make the corrections. You stay even-keeled," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "You don't lose your mind. You try to have common sense about it. You know it's a long road. It's a long journey and anything can happen, and you try not to reach and do things that others think you maybe should be doing. You try to be real pragmatic about it. We continue to grade ourselves, critique ourselves and try to find ways that we can detail our work and get better."

At this point, that's all the team should be doing to ensure they've developed sufficiently enough that during the playoff push in November and December they're able to deliver.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler’s drop-backs against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday likely won’t include the familiar sight of him patting the ball indecisively, as the pass rush comes barreling through the protection.

Instead, expect rhythmic, on-time throws from what might be shaping up to be a new Cutler in a new Bears offense under coach Marc Trestman.

“In the new offense and where we’re at right now, I think this is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in a new offense, [despite] not having as many reps as somebody [who is in] Year 2 or 3 of the offense,” Cutler said. “We want to get rid of the ball quick. You don’t really want to give 97 [Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins] and those other guys a lot of time to work into their second moves because they get to the quarterback. They get to the quarterback a lot, and they show you a lot of different fronts, which makes it even more difficult trying to figure out who’s who. So we’ve got to be on it with our protection game, and on the outside, guys have got to get open quickly.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsFiery Bears QB Jay Cutler appeared to be a happy camper this summer. Will that hold during the regular season?
Although the Raiders took on the look of inferior competition when the Bears faced them on Aug. 23, Cutler’s performance provided a glimpse of what this new offense might blossom into at some point this season. Given that it was the third preseason game -- widely viewed as the most important -- it marked the first time the coaching staff actually game planned a defense, and pulled real plays from the playbook as opposed to keeping the scheme basic as a deterrent to revealing too much to future opponents.

Cutler responded by hitting 3 of 5 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown during Chicago’s first two drives, before finishing the game with 142 yards passing and a 93.8 rating in two quarters of action.

The staff expects a similar performance Sunday with more extensive game planning and the team going deeper into the playbook to utilize concepts that work best for Cutler.

“I think Jay, just as we saw in the third preseason game when we really amped it up and ran our offense, I thought he did a good job with getting the ball off is what we said at the time, and the timing with which he did that, and the way he ran the offense was impressive, and he’s done it ever since,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “So we feel good about entering this game.”

The staff and Cutler expect some mistakes, though.

“There’s gonna be bumps in the road. There’s gonna be some missed assignments; just want to minimize them as much as we can,” said Cutler, who Trestman has described all preseason as being “even-keeled.”

Throughout Cutler’s career in Chicago, “even-keeled” seems to have been the antithesis of the quarterback.

Even Trestman admits he “really won’t know” the truth about Cutler “until some adversity hits.” But the coach expects Cutler to not deviate very far from the quarterback he’s been.

“He’s a fiery guy and I think people know that,” Trestman said. “He’s a very competitive, tough man and tough player. So I expect some of that to come out as we move along. I think he’s been very even-keeled as far as his preparation, work ethic and determination to learn and get things done from his position standpoint.”

Trestman considers the fiery element of Cutler as something “universal in guys who are confident in their abilities, their skill set, both physical and emotional skill set. I think that’s pretty common.” That’s why Trestman won’t attempt to quell Cutler during those times when he does suffer the occasional blowup.

“His demeanor, because he is the quarterback, is critically important. I think there’s going to be moments like that, that’s just part of who he is and I’m not going to take that away from him,” Trestman said. “From my standpoint, I don’t think you’re going to see somebody firing back. I’m going to let him wear himself out, get it off his chest, tell him to go back and play the next play. At the end of the day, I know that when a player gets that way, that’s not really who he is. It’s an emotional game, and guys are going to lose it for a minute. The most important thing is to get back to move on to the next situation. That’s what I hope to do is to, just be there to help him get on to the next play, the next quarter, the next game, whatever it might be. That’s part of my job to help him do that.”

Cutler’s job, meanwhile, is to move the offense; put it in the best position to succeed by making smart, timely decisions and taking care of the football. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod recognizes the potential difficulty in that.

“He has a lot that he has to take on, mentally, to take Coach Trestman’s and Coach Kromer’s ideas and philosophies from the classroom to the playing field. Then, he has to take it to the [game] come Sunday,” Bushrod said. “He’s doing a great job picking it up, and I can see it every day with him making calls and putting us in the right position to do what we have to do.”

Trestman thinks this year “we’re going to find out where [Cutler] is” as a quarterback.

Cutler, meanwhile, seems to relish the challenge.

“I’m just kind of a piece of the puzzle. It takes those 10 other guys to do their jobs for me to do mine,” Cutler said. “That being said, at the quarterback position we do have a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of responsibility. I own up to that each and every day.”

BBAO: Timetable for Jerome Felton

August, 15, 2013
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

At this point, the Minnesota Vikings do not believe that fullback Jerome Felton will miss the start of the regular season, even after he underwent an emergency appendectomy Wednesday on the final day of training camp.

There doesn't seem much reason for Felton to play in the preseason, but with 24 days remaining until the Vikings' regular-season opener at the Detroit Lions, there is an adequate time period for him to heal.

The only other fullback on the Vikings' roster is undrafted rookie Zach Line, who made a splash in the preseason opener with a 61-yard touchdown reception.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Line.
  • There are four players, including rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, in line to compete with punt returner Marcus Sherels. More from Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune speaks with former Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze, whose coaching internship with the team ended Thursday. Udeze just hit the five-year anniversary of receiving a bone marrow transplant to fight leukemia.
  • Receiver Matt Willis is one of five players to watch Thursday night in the Lions' preseason game at the Cleveland Browns, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press wants to see better work from defensive backs Bill Bentley and Don Carey in this game.
  • John Niyo's Detroit News column on Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy is worth a read. Levy's eccentric personality has led him on some wild adventures. Niyo: "Last summer, that meant swimming with great white sharks in South Africa and bushwhacking his way through Botswana. This summer, he headed for Peru, spending five days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu and then another week slogging through a remote area of the Amazon rainforest in Peru’s Loreto province. Five hours from the nearest town, it was just Levy and a couple local guides, living off the land. And for Levy, this was paradise found."
  • The starting job is there for the taking for Chicago Bears rookie linebacker Jon Bostic. More from Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com has a story on the unlikely connection between Bears rookie guard Kyle Long and defensive tackle Nate Collins.
  • Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Assignments will be blown, sacks will be given up and frustration will ensue. But Bears offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer wants that to continue right now for two rookies, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. Kromer will throw them to the wolves and let them learn and grow -- that's part of the plan to find the best five for the offensive line."
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "There are hard workers, there are workaholics and then there's Jarrett Bush."
  • Packers quarterback Vince Young is making progress but has a long way to go, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com: "At age 29 and entering his ninth NFL season, Aaron Rodgers is on a rep count for the first time since he became the Green Bay Packers starting quarterback in 2008. It has been especially noticeable during team periods this week, when at times Rodgers has taken only the first rep or two before giving way to the backups. That’s a significant change from past camps in which Rodgers often took the first three or four reps of each period, and the backups would get two or one snaps each."
  • Packers tight end Matthew Mulligan brings a level of physicality to the team's running game. More from Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Back in March, Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. began the process of interpreting the Chicago Bears' new offense under coach Marc Trestman. Horton's original post predicted the kind of shorter routes and quicker releases that the Bears have displayed during spring practices that were open to reporters.

In this Insider post , Horton focuses on how the Bears' pass protection is likely to change in the new system. The Bears will now place more emphasis on interior pass protection than on the edge, an "inside-out" philosophy that offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer used with quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Horton: "The Bears will pass block from 'inside-out,' which is somewhat unique as they try to eliminate inside pressure and blitzes by having strong play from their guards and centers and not always 'fanning' outside to pick up the edge blitz. It is a scheme that served Kromer well with Drew Brees in New Orleans and, if successful, it will allow [Jay] Cutler to step up into the pocket and stay inside his protection, rather than being flushed like he has so often in recent years."

This approach represents a mixed bag for Cutler, who has been battered by edge pass-rushers during his Bears career but can be dangerous when he escapes the pocket. (According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cutler has thrown for the NFL's eight-highest total of yards outside of the pocket since the start of the 2009 season. His total inside the pocket ranks No. 15.)

Still, Horton's explanation offers some context for why the Bears plan to use first-round draft pick Kyle Long at guard. The quickest point to the quarterback is a straight line. If the Bears play the way they want to, edge rushers won't have enough time to get to Cutler anymore.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning. We're expecting a busy day here at NFC North blog headquarters on the first full day of NFL free agency.

Atop the list is three players who have or are visiting the Detroit Lions: running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin and defensive lineman Jason Jones. We're also hoping to get a sense of where receiver Greg Jennings will land, and of course, the mere connection of "free agent" and "Brian Urlacher" still hasn't sunk in.

In the quiet of the morning, however, let's catch up on some details in local coverage from Tuesday's action -- starting with some odd descriptions of the way the Minnesota Vikings released cornerback Antoine Winfield:
  • According to Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune, Winfield was working out at the Vikings' practice facility when general manager Rick Spielman summoned him to his office and informed him of the news. Spielman did not offer Winfield the opportunity to play at a lower salary, according to Wiederer.
  • The Vikings made Phil Loadholt one of the highest-paid right tackles in the game, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com. Loadholt received a four-year deal worth $25 million, including $7 million guaranteed.
  • Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on rumors that receiver Percy Harvin didn't want to play with him, via Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "I haven't put too much thought into it. If that was his opinion, that's unfortunate. But he's a Seahawk now, so it doesn't really matter."
  • The Green Bay Packers offered Jennings a contract worth $10 million annually a while ago, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers want free-agent running back Steven Jackson, but only at their price, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • The Packers reduced the salary of defensive end Johnny Jolly, who has been reinstated by the NFL after a three-year suspension, from $2.521 million to $715,000, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. It's not clear if that means they plan to give him a chance to make the team or were merely making a salary-cap maneuver.
  • The Lions are in position to make "a ruckus" Wednesday, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Signing Bush and Quin would be an impressive start to the Lions' 2013 season, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
  • The Lions are working toward a three-year deal with cornerback Chris Houston, according to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports via Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Urlacher is awaiting a counteroffer from the Bears, according to WFLD-FOX 32 in Chicago via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • It was stunning to see the Bears sign both left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer helped develop Bushrod in New Orleans, notes Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.

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