NFC North: D.J. Williams

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The shuffling at linebacker continued Thursday with the Chicago Bears placing veteran D.J. Williams on the injured reserve with a neck injury, which will force the club to move Jon Bostic from the weak side back to the middle.

Williams
Williams
Bostic took first-team reps at middle linebacker during Thursday’s workout inside the Walter Payton Center. Rookie Christian Jones is expected to replace Bostic on the weak side Monday when the Bears host the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field.

"First of all, we’re not in the business of making excuses for injuries; we can’t," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "Certainly we’ve had guys working in and out. It started differently this year with Lance [Briggs], Shea [McClellin] and D.J. Shea was out for quite some time with his hand. He’s back. D.J. is obviously out of the mix right now, and Jon is working at the position. We’ve got Christian Jones, [who] comes in, has continued to progress, getting more reps and more playing time. It’s part of the developmental process of our football team right now. We’re trying to develop players and play at a high level at the same time."

With Briggs and now Williams on the injured reserve, the Bears will face the Saints with their seventh combination of starters at linebacker (the Bears started out in nickel personnel for two games).

Chicago’s defense currently has four starters -- Briggs, Williams, Charles Tillman and Lamarr Houston -- on the injured reserve.

Bostic filled in at middle linebacker in Week 3, at strongside linebacker in Weeks 4 and 5, before sliding over to the weak side for the club’s past two games as Briggs’ replacement.

"You lose some experience, obviously, but it has to be a next-man-up mentality," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "That’s been our approach from the beginning. Obviously, you don’t want to lose players, but that’s a part of the game. You take it in stride. We have good players behind them we feel can step up, and get the job done."

In other injury news, the team held out safety Chris Conte (back) for Thursday’s practice along with kicker Robbie Gould (right quadriceps), offensive lineman Michael Ola (back) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring). Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (knee) took part in a limited capacity, after sitting out the past two games.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Linebacker Shea McClellin returned to practice Wednesday after being inactive the past four games due to a hand injury along with starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod (knee and ankle) and linebacker Jonathan Bostic, who missed last week’s contest due to a back injury.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (ribs) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice, along with safety Chris Conte (shoulder), running back Matt Forte (coach’s decision), right tackle Jordan Mills (foot), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (coach’s decision) and linebacker D.J. Williams (neck).

The Bears held out Briggs and Williams from the club’s win last week over the Atlanta Falcons, and Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn’t anticipate Briggs will practice Thursday.

Mills, meanwhile, is hobbled with by the same left foot that forced him the miss the entire preseason after undergoing surgery in the offseason to repair a fractured metatarsal. In the win over the Falcons, Mills was flagged for three pre-snap penalties, and struggled in pass protection.

“We gave him some time off today,” Trestman said. “He was at practice, did some limited things. But we kept him out. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.”

Bushrod and Bostic participated in a limited capacity. Bushrod has missed the last two games after suffering ankle and knee injuries during practice leading into the club’s Oct. 5 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. Bostic missed the club’s last outing at Atlanta as the Bears’ entire starting linebacking corps was forced to miss due to injuries.

Other limited participants included safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerback Sherrick McManis.

Second-year receiver Marquess Wilson (fractured clavicle) is eligible to return to practice this week after being placed on short-term injured reserve on Sept. 2, but he didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout at Halas Hall. Trestman said the Bears plan to bring along the No. 3 receiver slowly. Wilson will be eligible to return in Week 10 when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers.

“There’s a whole plan involved to when he can start to work, when we want him to start work,” Trestman said. “That will all take place, really get started in the next two to three weeks in terms of his protocol so to speak [for getting] back into the swing of things. He’s obviously getting a lot of work with the trainers and working out with [strength and conditioning coordinator] Mike [Clark] and so forth. But it’s all part of the timing issue of when he can come back as much as anything.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears listed center Roberto Garza as participating fully in practice for the first time since the 14-year veteran suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, increasing the likelihood that Garza will return to the starting lineup Sunday in Atlanta.

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

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

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

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

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

Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod officially out vs. Panthers

October, 3, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears will face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday without left tackle Jermon Bushrod, as the club officially declared him out because of a knee injury suffered Thursday during a workout at Halas Hall.

In anticipation of Bushrod’s absence, the Bears shuffled in multiple players along the offensive line at practice Thursday in an attempt to find the best combination up front. Bushrod will miss his first game since 2009. He had started in 68 consecutive games.

“I don’t know how many it is in a row, but it’s coming to an end this week,” Bushrod said. “We’re gonna see how I feel in the next few days. [The injury is] nothing crazy. It’s just some things I have to deal with one day at a time. I miss it. I’ve been away from practice for two days. It’s hard to see the guys out there grinding.”

The Bears also announced defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff will miss his third consecutive game stemming from a concussion suffered during Week 2 at San Francisco, and linebacker Shea McClellin (hand) and safety Ahmad Dixon (hamstring) are also out for Sunday’s game.

Bushrod’s injury forced the Bears to move around players at multiple positions along the offensive line at practice Thursday as a contingency plan. Working in Chicago’s favor is the fact that center Roberto Garza and left guard Matt Slauson returned to practice Wednesday after missing the last three games with high ankle sprains.

Slauson is officially listed as probable , and if he plays, Bears coach Marc Trestman said the team will start Michael Ola at Bushrod’s left tackle spot. Ola has started the past three games at left guard in place of Slauson. But the team anticipates Slauson returning to the lineup against the Panthers.

“That’s a common thought and belief, that you want the quarterback’s back side to be protected, and as we’ve gone into it, the move is right now is Mike will be over there if Matt is playing,” Trestman said. “Mike got a lot of work over there, anyway, to be where we could certainly have him starting there and have him play the guard position as well. The hope is that Matt will be playing and Mike will be at left tackle.”

In other injury news, defensive end Jared Allen (pneumonia), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee), safety Chris Conte (shoulder), receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle), and linebacker D.J. Williams (neck) are officially listed as probable. Garza (ankle) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (quadriceps) are questionable.

Chicago typically dresses just seven offensive linemen for games, which means the club cross-trains the players at multiple positions up front in case of injury. During the preseason, Ola bounced along the offensive line, playing both tackle and guard in spurts.

A rookie, Ola admitted to feeling a little pressure about taking on the responsibility of protecting Jay Cutler’s blind side Sunday against the Panthers. Ola didn’t start taking snaps at left tackle until Wednesday’s workout.

“I definitely don’t want to be that guy who gets Jay hit at all, or I’ll be back to flipping burgers or something,” Ola said.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Linebacker Khaseem Greene admittedly struggled to acclimate himself to the speed of the NFL game last season when a shoulder injury to Lance Briggs thrust the rookie into the starting lineup for four games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greene figures to be intriguing because he has value on special teams where he recorded two tackles last year, in addition to defense. Senn is a core special-teamer, but isn’t considered much of a contributor at linebacker. The 6-foot-3 Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, had a rough game versus the Eagles, but performed well the first couple weeks of camp. Perhaps the potential upside of Jones proves too irresistible to resist if the rookie can be trusted on special teams. And Franklin, who also received increased reps in Monday's practice, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Bears, recording eight tackles.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For all the changes made on the defensive side of the ball, the key to the unit’s overall success might hinge on the health of 12-year veteran linebacker Lance Briggs.

Briggs
The linchpin of the defense, Briggs started strong in 2013, but ended up appearing in a career-low nine games because of a shoulder injury that kept him on the inactive list for two straight months.

 One of the best linebackers in franchise history, Briggs was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2005-2011 where he developed the reputation as one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the league.

At 33-years old, can Briggs still elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level?

“I don’t know. I’ve lost a couple of steps,” Briggs said with a smile on Thursday. “Now sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I’m lucky, a tackle will fall, and I’ll put my hand on him and get credit for it. That’s where I’m at in [this] stage of my career.”

The Bears believe otherwise. The organization feels Briggs is the best striker on the defense and will look to the 12-year veteran to help lead a revamped unit that includes other proven older players such as Jared Allen, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, Tim Jennings and Jeremiah Ratliff.

“If [Lance] is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we’re going to be a much better football team all around,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “What he can do ripples through the entire team.”

Of course, there is the issue of Briggs’ expiring contract.

 In the past, Briggs has gone public in expressing his displeasure with contract negotiations. He famously predicted he would never play another down for the Bears after the club slapped Briggs with the franchise tag in 2007. Briggs eventually signed a six-year extension in March, 2008 that the club later re-worked in 2012 to include another year and more guaranteed money.

However, Briggs said on Thursday he does not plan to make his contract a talking point this season.

“I’m not talking about a contract. I’m talking about playing football,” Briggs said. “I just want to play football. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m just appreciative.

“In a matter of one day, I learned that the coach that I’d been coached by for the last years was going to gone, and that whole staff was going to be gone. Everybody that I was used to everyday was going to be gone. The guy who I shared a room with for 10 years was going to be gone. A lot of the guys that I had built relationships with were gone. There’s some new guys coming in and filling up those numbers and those lockers. That’s life. That’s the way it is. It’s business.”

Briggs later reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Chicago.

“The only time I might not retire as a Bear was the time when I said I’d never put on a Bears’ uniform again,” Briggs said. “And I haven’t said that again since that time. So, of course [I want to retire as a Bear].

“I’m a Bear. I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to the city and playing for this team. When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jordan Palmer's return from a minor strain to his right throwing shoulder did little to clear up the Bears' fuzzy picture at the backup quarterback position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• The Bears invited numerous NFL player agents to Halas Hall on Tuesday to watch practice inside the Walter Payton Center. Agents are frequently spotted catching up with their clients at training camp, but rarely are large groups of agents permitted to observe a workout held at the team's facility.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A brief skirmish broke out at Tuesday's organized team activity during a team drill between members of the Chicago Bears' starting offense and defense. Involved in the short-lived fracas was defensive end Lamarr Houston, right tackle Jordan Mills, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Jared Allen.

Teammates quickly intervened to end the fight, but not before Bennett slammed his own helmet to the ground in frustration.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoChicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery had some outstanding catches during Tuesday's organized team activities in Lake Forest, Illinois.
"We are just competing,” Houston said afterward. "This is a competitive sport. That's the atmosphere Coach Trestman wants. We are competing every day to get better. Sometimes people get heated, but all we are doing is competing out there. It's exciting out there. It's a competitive atmosphere. We're having fun in practice.

"That's football. We just go back to the next play and keep working. It's nothing personal. Marty is a good guy. He's a good friend of mine. I'm going to go in there with him after this. Everything is all good.”

Bennett later tweeted: "I go hard every [expletive] day. No doubt about that. Not a single ounce of [expletive] in me.”

Here are several other observations from Tuesday's voluntary session:

• Former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente split reps with Eben Britton at left guard with starter Matt Slauson sidelined due to a shoulder injury.

• Middle linebacker D.J. Williams worked out in front of the media for the first time in the offseason. Williams was absent from last Tuesday's open OTA, but did participate in practices later in the week that were closed to the media.

Charles Tillman's absence on Tuesday opened the door for veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden to receive a look on the first team at cornerback in the base defense and in the nickel package. Hayden missed the entire 2013 regular season after tearing his hamstring in training camp. Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller still worked with the starters in nickel when Tim Jennings bumped inside to cover the slot.

• Hall of Famer Mike Ditka watched Tuesday's workout from the sidelines in Lake Forest. Ditka addressed the team last year following a practice at Halas Hall, and had his number retired by the Bears during halftime of the team's Monday night Dec. 9 game versus the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field.

• Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery flashed his strong hands when he went up and snagged a red-zone pass over Jennings.

• Safeties Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen had blanket coverage on Brandon Marshall on a deep Jay Cutler ball down the middle of the field. The pass fell incomplete.

• Rookie David Fales and second-year quarterback Jerrod Johnson received extra reps in team drills as No. 2 QB Jordan Palmer took a backseat to allow the young quarterbacks to get extended looks.
There's another potential suitor for tight end Jermichael Finley, but it's with the same caveat as there is with the Green Bay Packers.

Bush
Finley
Everything hinges on Finley's surgically repaired neck.

The free-agent tight end visited the New England Patriots last Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan. The trip to Foxborough came less than a week after Finley was in Green Bay to check in with the Packers' team doctors.

Finley has reportedly been cleared by the doctor who performed his neck fusion surgery, Dr. Joseph Maroon. But the Packers' doctors did not put Finley through the full battery of tests that would need to be done in order to clear him to return to the team.

Last week, Packers tight end Brandon Bostick, one of Finley's closest former teammates, said he believes Finley will play in the NFL again but was not sure whether it would be in Green Bay.

Finley bruised his spinal cord -- an injury that left him briefly without movement and feeling -- after taking a hit in the Oct. 20 game against the Cleveland Browns. He has not played since. Less than a month later, he had his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae fused together.

He was in the final season of a two-year, $14 million contract when he was injured. As an unrestricted free agent, he is allowed to visit and be examined by any team.

The Patriots' interest in Finley makes sense. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming off ACL reconstruction. The other tight ends on their roster are former Packers draft pick D.J. Williams, Michael Hoomanawanui and rookies Justin Jones and Asa Watson.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears kicked off organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday at Halas Hall without middle linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Derrick Martin, who weren’t in attendance during the workout for undisclosed reasons.

In addition to the absences, four players were held out of Tuesday’s session in safeties Chris Conte and Craig Steltz along with defensive tackle Nate Collins and guard Matt Slauson. Slauson said there’s a chance he could miss even more time this offseason due to an undisclosed injury, adding that it’s “to be determined” whether he’ll participate in any of the club’s remaining OTAs.

“They want to make sure that I’m OK,” Slauson said. “I’ll be good to go for camp, maybe before. We’ll see.”

Asked about the specifics of his injury, Slauson declined to comment.

Conte, meanwhile, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and there’s a chance he may not be available for the start of training camp in July. Collins is still rehabilitating from surgery after tearing an ACL in his left knee last October.

It’s unknown why Steltz was held out of practice.

The team didn’t make any of the coaching staff available to the media after Tuesday’s workout, but it’s worth noting that OTAs are voluntary. Williams played in just six games last season and is coming off surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle tendon suffered on Oct. 10 during a win over the New York Giants.

In all, 21 teams around the league started OTAs on Tuesday.

Bears draft focus: LB

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
12:30
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Despite selecting a pair of linebackers over the opening four rounds of last year’s draft, the Bears still need to find a viable, long-term solution in the middle of the defense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free-agency primer: Bears

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Key free agents: Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Major Wright, Devin Hester, Corey Wootton, Josh McCown.

Where they stand: The club informed Hester it won't be re-signing him for 2014, but the Bears are making a concerted effort to try to bring back Tillman. Still, there's a chance the economics won't work out, as Tillman could have other suitors willing to pay more than Chicago. The Bears did some work in re-signing free agents, such as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Kelvin Hayden along with center Roberto Garza, to cap-friendly deals. Negotiations to re-sign McCown have moved along slowly, which means there's a chance the Bears could lose him if another team gives the backup an opportunity to win a starting job. There's interest from both sides in re-signing Williams, and talks are expected to continue over the weekend.

What to expect: At this point, it's unknown where Chicago's pro personnel department has rated its own unsigned free agents against what else is available on the market. So count on the Bears waiting to see what the market value for their own players is before moving to re-sign them, which is actually a smart move that will keep them from overpaying. The Bears aren't expected to overspend on big names in free agency, but general manager Phil Emery has been known in recent years to make a couple of surprise moves. The Bears would like to infuse youth on defense, but that could prove to be a pricey proposition in free agency for a team with limited cap space. They do have the flexibility to free up cash by cutting players such as Julius Peppers, or restructuring Jay Cutler's deal, which includes a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until March 11 at 3 p.m. CT when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the third part of our series we’ll post all week.

Williams
Williams
2014 free agent: D.J. Williams

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 6 games (four starts); 39 tackles (21 solo), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 tackles for lost yardage, 1 quarterback pressure.

2013 salary: $900,000 base salary, $750,000 roster bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,281,250 cash value

Outlook: The Bears mentioned Williams' strong play prior to a season-ending pectoral injury on multiple occasions shortly after the season, and all indications are the club wants the veteran to return for 2014. Williams has spent time rehabbing at Halas Hall and says he would like to remain a part of Chicago’s defense in 2014. Given the mutual interest between the sides, it should be only a matter of time before the Bears sign Williams to a deal similar to what he received to join the club last spring. With Williams in the middle flanked outside by Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic (provided he wins the starting job at Sam), the Bears could field a solid linebacking corps next season provided the group stays healthy.

Steltz
2014 free agent: Craig Steltz

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 16 games (one start); 14 tackles, one pass breakup and 14 special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $50,000 workout bonus -- $765,000 cash value

Outlook: Steltz is a solid reserve safety and special teams contributor. He's spent his entire NFL career in Chicago and would no doubt prefer to stay with the Bears. League minimum contracts for NFL veterans are a sensitive subject. Minimum deals basically represent an invitation to try out for the team. Veterans that fall into the league minimum category will fight hard for signing bonus money. Steltz could possibly find himself in that situation. Steltz has always been a good soldier, hard worker and positive voice in the locker room. Whether the Bears reward Steltz with a signing bonus (he received a $125,000 signing bonus two years) remains to be seen. But he fits the mold of the type of player the Bears are looking to bring back.

Collins
2014 free agent: Nate Collins

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Five games (two starts); 13 tackles, three quarterback pressures and one sack.

2013 salary: $630,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus - $635,250 cash value

Outlook: Collins had a strong preseason and appeared poised to have a breakout year until he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Collins is a pass-rusher. Players that can pressure the quarterback are not easy to find. The Bears decided not to tender Collins at the restricted free agent amount last season, and instead released him and signed him back to a minimum deal. Because of the knee injury, Collins is probably looking at the same kind of deal this time around. Collins, who has potential, seems like a decent candidate to return in the later waves of free agency unless the Bears feel confident enough in his health to extend him an offer in the coming week.

Anderson
2014 free agent: James Anderson

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 16 games (16 starts); 129.5 tackles (76 solo), 7.5 tackles for lost yardage, 10 quarterback pressures, 4 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $950,000 base salary, $200,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,250,000 cash value

Outlook: Anderson led the team in tackles, and tied with Shea McClellin for second in sacks. But the Bears haven’t shown much interest in bringing back Anderson so far this offseason. As of Wednesday afternoon, the team still hadn’t approached the veteran about a possible return. Anderson doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the tough, hardnosed athletes the Bears are looking to add to the defense. So once the negotiation window opens, Anderson will likely be speaking with other teams before the Bears make a move. Anderson will likely leave, but it's still too early to rule out a return to Chicago.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Publicly acknowledging the failure of former first-round pick Shea McClellin as a defensive end on Thursday at the NFL combine, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery announced the rising third-year player will move to linebacker.

Interestingly, McClellin -- who played strongside linebacker and middle linebacker in college at Boise State -- will compete for starting jobs at both those positions with 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, who started nine games last season as a rookie in the middle for the Bears.

“I think he’s very excited [about switching positions]. Obviously at Boise, he played Mike, he played Sam, he played with his hand on the ground,” Emery said. “So versatility is his strength. I’ll say this: generally, we’ll take calculated risks, which we did with Shea. When we swing, we’re gonna swing on the high side of athleticism, and that’s why we’re still excited about him being able to contribute at a high level.”

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHigh on his athleticism, the Bears are confident that Shea McClellin can make an impact at linebacker.
In speaking to new linebackers coach Reggie Herring, Bears coach Marc Trestman gained confidence in McClellin’s ability to successfully transition to 4-3 linebacker, despite spending his first two years as a defensive end. During the evaluation process leading up to the 2012 draft, Herring believed McClellin possessed the skill set to play linebacker in the NFL, and relayed those thoughts recently to Trestman.

“And that was great to hear, and great to know,” Trestman said. “So he’s excited about working with him and certainly he is as big of an expert as we have on this staff in terms of the ability of developing a linebacker. So we are excited about it.”

The plan, according to Trestman, is for McClellin to start off competing with Bostic on the strong side, but he’ll also play in the middle. Bostic’s move to the outside stems from the team’s belief that his skill set would be better utilized at that position.

At middle linebacker, Bostic sometimes struggled to fight off blocks by offensive linemen (which came from both directions as the result of him playing in the middle), and even admitted that in the NFL blockers “get up on you” faster than he anticipated. Because of Bostic’s speed and explosive burst, however, Emery thinks he could contribute more on the outside. The team thinks that, eventually, Bostic will take over on the weak side for Lance Briggs.

“This is what we envision: Shea is going to move to linebacker, but Shea will be used in multiple roles, wherever his skills will take him,” Emery said. “He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing, playing against the run in run personnel. But he is going to have to compete for his job. Competition right now is Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and it’s Shea. Obviously, we feel that Lance Briggs is our weak[side] starter. If we add back a D.J. Williams or another player, that player will be involved in that competitive mix. It’s best person wins those two spots. We’re excited about the competition.”

Given the team’s evaluation of McClellin’s physical attributes, it appears the Bears envision a Swiss Army knife-type of role for the former defensive end. When the team used a first-round pick to select McClellin in 2012 to play defensive end, two personnel men revealed to ESPN.com that he wasn’t a first-round talent on their teams' draft boards.

Still, the Bears held high hopes for McClellin, who racked up 20.5 sacks at Boise State, 33 tackles for lost yardage and four interceptions.

McClellin played 14 games as a rookie and contributed seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, and followed that up with 29 tackles last season and just four sacks.

Emery admits defensive end might not have been the best place for McClellin, but said the situation “taught me to keep picking guys that have versatility because none of us are gonna be perfect. If you swing and miss on a player, you hope that they have the skill set, that they’re still competing and contributing in a positive way, which Shea did. In terms of pure defensive ends, [it taught me to] probably make sure they’re a little bit longer, and a little bit heavier.”

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