NFC North: Jordan Mills

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. -- 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.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.


LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears have officially ruled out starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea for Sunday’s game in St. Louis because of a toe injury that forced him to prematurely exit the Bears' Week 11 win against the Baltimore Ravens.

McClellin
Paea, who did not practice all week, suffered the same toe injury in Week 4 and subsequently missed the next two games before returning to the starting lineup on Oct. 20.

“It’s like having a flat tire,” Paea said about the bad toe. “Imagine having to drive on a flat tire.”

Paea will continue to rest and receive treatment on the toe, but he’s unsure how long he’s going to be sidelined.

“It’s just frustrating right now,” Paea said. “It’s the same exact thing injury. I just re-aggravated it. The field was kind of wet (Sunday), so that (probably helped cause) it.”

With Paea down for at least a week, the Bears are expected to welcome back defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring). McClellin participated fully in practice the entire week and is listed as probable.

Also probable for the Rams game: long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) and right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps).

Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) is questionable, and had limited participation in practice on Friday.

Quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Week 12. However, Ratliff practiced Friday (limited participation) and might be ready to make his Bears’ debut in Week 13.

The Bears' roster stands at 52 players (53 is the max). The open roster spot could be used to elevate a defensive back off the practice squad if Steltz is inactive on Sunday.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Sporting a cast on his fractured right hand, Chicago Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey returned to practice in a limited fashion on Thursday, while defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) participated fully for a second straight day. Both players are expected to be on the field Sunday when the Bears battle the St. Louis Rams.

“Shea practiced full today so we feel good about that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “[We feel good about] getting some people back. Isaiah worked noncontact [drills] today and was limited.”

Right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps) and long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also practiced without restrictions.

Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were limited. Trestman effectively ruled out Ratliff for the Rams game, but Steltz appears to be making progress after being on the wrong end of a nasty collision while covering a kickoff last week versus the Baltimore Ravens.

Starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) missed practice for the second consecutive day and is unlikely to play Sunday in St. Louis.

The Bears officially ruled out weakside linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) earlier in the week, but Cutler seems to be on the mend. The quarterback attended practice again Thursday without a hard cast on his left leg to protect his high-ankle sprain. Cutler simply wore a brace on the ankle and stood on the field for much of the workout that is open to the media.

Trestman was asked if Cutler is permanently out of the hard cast.

“I really don’t have an answer for you,” Trestman said. “It’s really a week-to-week thing. Really, on the cast or the brace he has, it might be a day-to-day thing. But I’m really not any more informed than that. Other than that, I know Jay is going to be week-to-week. I said day-to-day [Wednesday]; I meant week-to-week. … And we’ll see where he is. You see him in practice. You’re getting a good idea of where he’s at. You see him moving around, trying to move around during the individual periods that you’re out there to see and get a good idea of where he’s at. And hopefully he won’t have to have the cast put on.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey fractured his hand in the team's Week 11 win against Baltimore, but he is expected to play Sunday at the St. Louis Rams. Frey did not practice on Wednesday.

“Isaiah’s got a fracture in his hand,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s got it casted up. It looks good. It looks like they’ll be able to cast it up [Sunday]. We’ll know more tomorrow. We’re really optimistic on his end.

McClellin
Frey
“I’m optimistic that he’ll be playing. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through all the different logistics if that doesn’t happen. But it’s certainly been discussed. But I feel optimistic that he’ll be playing.”

Selected by the Bears in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Frey emerged as the team’s No. 1 nickelback when veteran Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Frey is seventh on the team with 32 tackles, even though he comes off the field when the Bears play their base 4-3 defense.

In other injury hews, defensive end Shea McClellin participated fully on Wednesday and is on track to return to the field Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a pulled hamstring. McClellin hurt the hamstring at practice the week after being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance in Green Bay on Nov. 4.

“I feel good,” McClellin said. “I feel 100 percent and ready to get back out there and help the guys out.

“It was pretty disappointing [to miss two games]. But it’s part of the game. Things happen. And you’ve just got to adjust. Sitting out is terrible. It's the worst thing. You just want to be out there with the guys helping out, especially if they're not doing too good. It's hard to watch what they're doing.”

Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since he signed with the Bears on Nov. 2. The four-time Pro Bowler has not played in a game since last November, when he suffered a groin injury that eventually required sports-hernia surgery.

However, despite Ratliff’s apparent progress, the veteran defensive lineman will not be physically ready to make his Bears debut this Sunday against St. Louis, according to Trestman.

“Ratliff got some work; he’ll be a week-to-week thing,” Trestman said. “He got some reps in practice. It was good to see him out there moving around. I would not say [his debut] will be this Sunday, and we’ll re-evaluate it next week. To be fair with the situation, I’d say we are still a little bit away [from Ratliff playing].”

Trestman calls defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) “very questionable” to face St. Louis. Paea re-injured the toe that forced him to miss two games in early November; he did not practice on Wednesday.

Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) practiced without restrictions, while right tackle Jordan Mills was limited with a sore quadriceps. Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) was held out of practice but was able to do some conditioning work on the side.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears list tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle) as questionable to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, while defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) is doubtful after sitting out the entire week of practice.

Bennett rested his sore ankle on Thursday, but returned to the field in limited fashion on Friday.

“He (Bennett) worked probably 50 percent of the practice,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We were trying to be smart with him, but he got work in today and did well. Hopefully with 48 hours (until kickoff on Sunday) he’ll feel even better. But we got some execution done with him, so it was good.”

Bennett has battled through nagging injuries much of the season, but has still managed to start all nine games and catch 40 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns.

McClellin was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, but he tweaked his hamstring at practice last Thursday and was inactive for the Bears’ Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

McClellin worked on the side with the training staff the past three days during practice but did not officially participate.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Sunday.

The Bears believe Ratliff will be in a position to contribute sometime in the next couple of weeks. The veteran defensive tackle participated in conditioning drills on Friday while his teammates practiced. Ratliff has not played in an NFL game since last November as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears also list long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) as doubtful and right guard Jordan Mills (quad) as probable.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears fitted quarterback Jay Cutler with a hard cast on his injured left ankle, which he was spotted wearing on Wednesday, but coach Marc Trestman insists the cast was simply applied to provide stabilization.

“The doctors and the trainers talked about just making sure that it’s stabilized,” Trestman said Thursday. “It wasn’t swollen after the game [on Sunday]. It was swollen certainly on Monday, and they just wanted to make sure it was stabilized. That’s really the only thing I know about it at this time. It is a hard cast.”

Cutler
While a hard cast suggests Cutler’s injury might be more significant than a mild high-ankle sprain, doctors and athletic trainers commonly use immobilization to ensure the injured joint doesn’t move at all, which promotes faster healing. Players can put on and take off a walking boot, making it not so strict an immobilizer as a hard cast.

In other injury news, tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle) didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center, but Trestman said the team is “hopeful that a day off the ankle will give him a little relief, and he’ll be back at it.” Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also missed practice, and is considered week-to-week in his recovery.

Trestman said that defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) “worked with trainers today” and that defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff “worked on the side, but not in the practice.” Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills took limited repetitions during Thursday’s session due to “a little bit of a quad.” Ratliff isn't expected to play this week, and it's unclear whether McClellin will recover enough to be able to contribute in Sunday's game. Mills isn't expected to miss time.

As for Cutler, the quarterback remains “week to week,” according to Trestman. But Cutler has spent his days of inactivity working with Josh McCown and Trestman to ensure the backup quarterback plays at his best Sunday when the Bears host the Baltimore Ravens.

“He’s in every meeting,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “He comes to the extra protection meetings to make sure he knows who we’re picking up in blitzes. He’s at every quarterback meeting. He’s in practice. He’s helping Josh. You saw him on the sideline in Green Bay. He’s helping coach. He’s not missing a rep, other than physical.”

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aided by terrific protection from the offensive line, Josh McCown pulled off a rare feat for a Chicago Bears’ quarterback on Monday night: win a game at Lambeau Field.

For the second consecutive game, McCown displayed remarkable poise and confidence in relief of Jay Cutler, completing 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 90.7, guiding the Bears to a 27-20 victory -- their win in Green Bay since 2007.

“It would be hard to find a (better win), but they are all special through every level from back at high school to Sam Houston to now,” McCown said. “They are all special. This is neat. This is really neat because it means so much to our team, because it is a divisional opponent, and it is for the divisional lead. All those things factor into this. So it is special and I am very thankful.”

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago TribuneJosh McCown completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay.
McCown, sacked only one time, appeared to be in complete control of the offense from the opening kickoff, leading the Bears on two separate scoring drives that consumed 10 or more plays, including a marathon final drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 8:58 worth of clock (18 plays and 95 yards including penalties) that resulted in a 27-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

“He’s got a lot of energy in the huddle,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “Every now and then we have to calm him down a little because he starts screaming and we don’t want the defense hearing the play. But we had a lot of fun and he did a great job leading us. That is what this game is all about; you prepare and when it’s time to play you go out there and let loose. We were able to do that today.”

On the season, McCown has connected on 36-of-61 throws for 476 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

According to Bears rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, McCown’s experience and understanding of the offense had a calming effect on the team the entire evening.

“Josh is a 12-year veteran,” Mills said. “He’s been through everything and has experienced all the ups-and-downs and has learned from it. He’s a true leader. Just to see him stay poised and calm in the pocket like that and show no fear towards anyone: that just left me speechless.

“I knew that he could do it. He knew that he could do it. But we had to show the world that he could do it. After seeing on Monday night how he is able to stand in pocket as cool as a summer’s day, it was really calming for me.”

Bears rookie linemen staying grounded

October, 17, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With the season closing in on the halfway point, the Chicago Bears’ rookie-loaded offensive line has become less and less of a story.

As right tackle Jordan Mills and right guard Kyle Long continue to hold their own, the constant tracking of their progress seems to be less relevant.

“You know we’re just taking it one day at a time, one game at a time, one practice at a time,” Mills said after practice Thursday. “Me and Kyle never pay attention to that. That’s the point of fans and media to give us that hype.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Mills, Kyle Long
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliChicago rookie offensive linemen Jordan Mills, No. 67, and Kyle Long, No. 75, have earned trust from quarterback Jay Cutler.
Nobody is calling the rookies Pro Bowl-bound just yet, but as experiments go, one that had the potential for total meltdown has instead shown definite promise.

“We’re new to this and sitting back watching, humbled and shocked,” Mills said. “We have kept each other grounded and never let our heads get too big. It’s starting to settle down and get normal and we just want to get better working together, working as an offensive line and working as an offensive team to get this from a good team to a great team.”

Also keeping them grounded is an NFL schedule that offers one unique test after another, with the Washington Redskins the next challenge. On Sunday, the Bears’ young offensive line will see another 3-4 defense (the third the Bears have faced this season), and some third-down blitzes that figure to come from all angles.

It has only helped the Bears that the first 3-4 defense they faced, way back in Week 3, belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was good because Pittsburgh’s 3-4 is probably one of the greatest 3-4 defenses that ever played and they have one of the greatest defensive coordinators [Dick LeBeau] that has coached,” Mills said. “To see that and go off of that game, they do some things similar. They try to confuse you on third down and any down they can put five bigs in the game. To have that [Steelers] game you can go back and watch because they do similar things.”

Most important when it comes to the growth of the line could be that quarterback Jay Cutler continues to grow more confident in the group that blocks for him.

“They’re playing great,” Cutler said. “I think Kyle gets most of the hype and the attention but Jordan is over there really locking down that side through the first six games of the season. There is a comfort level he gives Kyle. They are a little bit of yin and yang. Kyle is a little more upbeat and Jordan is the calmer of the two. The front five deserves a lot of credit through these first six.”

The encouragement from Cutler is nice, but Mills promises it won’t go to his head.

“Me and Kyle always talk about it, and the veterans talk about not becoming complacent,” Mills said. “Just because you overcome something there is always something bigger coming so you just take it one step at a time and you should be fine.”

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.
Here's a look at five things to watch during Sunday's game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Cutler’s poise: Crowd noise should be a factor, along with Detroit’s formidable defensive line, which in the past hasn’t been immune to engaging in extra-curricular activity, whether verbally or through rough play. Quarterback Jay Cutler is also known to be chatty with opposing defensive linemen. But don’t expect him to be drawn into whatever Detroit’s defense tries to instigate. Cutler needs to do what he’s been doing through the first three games: play sound, fundamental football within the confines of the system, and not take unnecessary chances.

“[Detroit’s] front four are good,” Cutler said. “So we have to take care of that. I’ve got to be on time. The receivers have got to get to their spots. Everyone, collectively, we can’t let down this week.”

If Cutler and the offensive line successfully weather Detroit’s initial punch, the Bears could be in for an afternoon of high production on offense. For the most part, Cutler picked apart the Lions in the past with a bad offensive line. Now that he’s got a solid line, Cutler could be deadly in this one.

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsChicago offensive lineman Kyle Long will be tangling with Detroit star Ndamukong Suh on Sunday.
Rookie O-linemen: Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills face difficult challenges against Detroit’s front four; especially Long, who will match up with Ndamukong Suh. The Bears will try to help out the rookies on occasion through the play calling and deploying extra help their direction. Long’s matchup appears to be tougher than Mills’, not only because of Suh, but due to Detroit’s wide-nine alignment, which will often put the right guard on somewhat of an island. The rookies won’t win every battle in Sunday’s game, but what’s important is maintaining poise, and coming out on top in the majority of them.

“Sometimes we can slide the line [toward Suh]. Sometimes we can do it with the back. Sometimes, the guards are going to have to handle [Suh] by themselves,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Then you can help with play selection, where you’re running the football, moving things around and making it a little more difficult in terms of where Jay is going to finally be in a passing spot, and throwing the ball quickly.”

CB Charles Tillman: Normally, there wouldn’t be reason for trepidation regarding Tillman’s matchup with Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson. After all, in the past six meetings between these teams, Johnson has produced only one 100-yard outing against the Bears (Oct. 10, 2011), while scoring just two touchdowns. Johnson averages 4.5 receptions per game against the Bears since 2010 for an average of 71.3 yards with Tillman as the primary man in coverage. Tillman, meanwhile, has racked up 37 tackles, broken up eight passes and intercepted two in addition to forcing two fumbles in that span. The problem now, however, is that Tillman is banged up, having missed two days of practice due to an injured right knee and sore groin. It’s likely Tillman will start on Sunday, but how long will he be able to play, and more importantly, how effective will he be?

Pass rush: Chicago generated more pressure from the front four last week at Pittsburgh, but the group needs to be even better against Detroit’s fourth-ranked offense. With defensive tackle Henry Melton out of the picture, that task becomes tougher with Stephen Paea playing the three-technique and Nate Collins moving to nose tackle. But defensive coordinator Mel Tucker showed against the Steelers he can manufacture pressure with blitzes from the linebackers and stunts up front.

“Whether it’ll be more coverage, more pressure, base, blitz or whatever it is, it’s whatever we think we need to do to get the job done to get them stopped. That changes sometimes from game to game or within a game. So we’re equipped to do whatever we need to do to get them stopped.”

Interestingly, the Lions are converting just 32.4 percent of third downs. If Chicago applies sufficient pressure against Detroit, that number is likely to drop even lower, which drastically increases the Bears’ chances for victory.

LB’s versus Bush: Detroit hurt the Minnesota Vikings substantially with the screen pass to Reggie Bush in the season opener. In addition to rushing for 90 yards on 21 attempts, Bush caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in that game.

“Reggie Bush is a talented running back,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Not only does he run the ball well but he catches the ball well. He runs well in space. He knows how to make defenders miss. He's a tough guy to also bring down. He's good. He can create mismatches, if you split him out and put him against some linebackers. But he's someone that you need to be aware of and know where he is on the field.”

With the additions of James Anderson and D.J. Williams to play next to Briggs, the Bears certainly became a more athletic group of linebackers which might be better equipped than most teams to handle Bush. If Chicago neutralizes Bush it basically shuts down Detroit’s second-most dangerous player behind Johnson.

PITTSBURGH -- Rookie right guard Kyle Long described Jay Cutler as “reptilian” and “cold blooded” Sunday night in the aftermath of the quarterback’s clutch play in leading the Chicago Bears to a 40-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the background, rookie right tackle Jordan Mills whispered: “He’s Mr. Fourth Quarter.”

“He has that ability, when everybody’s nerves are kind of on edge and people have that heightened sense of whatever, Jay’s just cool, just flatline out there,” Long said. “In the huddle, on the sideline, in practice, Jay is a cool cat."

He just caught fire at precisely the right moments Sunday at Heinz Field.

Aided by a defense that produced five turnovers and a couple of touchdowns, Cutler slammed the door on a potential Steelers comeback early in the fourth quarter with three game-clinching plays.

Having gained some momentum on a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that cut their deficit to 27-23, the Steelers looked to shut down Cutler and make their move to avoid starting 0-3. And it appeared the Steelers would be able to do so. On the Bears' final two drives of the third quarter, Cutler hit on 3 of 6 passes for 8 yards in addition to absorbing a sack for a 6-yard loss.

Through the first two quarters, Cutler had completed 12 of 18 for 75 yards for a passer rating of 75.0 and a sack in the face of seemingly constant Pittsburgh pressure.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Jay Cutler
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJay Cutler completed 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers.
“This could have been a very frustrating night,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “There were some people in his face. He had to scramble. But we knew going in that it wasn’t going to be simple. It wasn’t going to be clean on every play, and we tried to give him the quick stuff and get it out of his hands. At times, we took some [seven-step drops] and it made it tough. The pressure was coming, and it was coming from different places each and every time.”

But Cutler stepped into the thick of it and delivered when the Bears needed it most. With 9:15 remaining in the game, on third-and-10 from the Chicago 26, Cutler scrambled 13 yards and nearly ran over safety Robert Golden to gain extra yardage. Three plays later, he fired a 41-yard completion to Brandon Marshall.

“Really, it’s all Jay,” Marshall said. “Jay threw a 50-yard back-shoulder [throw]. I’ve never seen that happen before. The guy’s arm is amazing. Jay put it in the right place.”

Cutler did it again three plays later when he found Earl Bennett for a 17-yard touchdown with 5:48 remaining. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but Chicago successfully challenged to get the call reversed. Bennett’s score capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive, and with the extra point Chicago had a 34-23 advantage.

The drive essentially extinguished Pittsburgh’s chances for a comeback, while notching another outing in which the Bears received strong play from Cutler with the game on the line. Prior to Sunday’s contest, Cutler had led the Bears to consecutive come-from-behind victories over Cincinnati and Minnesota.

This time -- despite the Bears building a 24-3 lead in the second quarter -- Cutler found himself trying to hold off a comeback on the road that started with Ben Roelthisberger’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown just before intermission.

Cutler admitted it was difficult to remain patient with the Steelers starting to rally. But by doing so, he finished the game having completed 67 percent of his passes, with no turnovers and a passer rating of 90.8.

“It’s not something I’m used to,” Cutler said. “We have been practicing ball security a lot. We were sitting pretty good early on and we didn’t want to give them anything easy, especially when they started getting a little momentum. We didn’t want to force the ball. We didn’t want to give them positioning in our territory. We just wanted to be patient, and we caught man [coverage] there that last play, and we were able to get a big one to Earl.”

Four Downs: Hester a Bear beyond '13?

September, 19, 2013
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Devin HesterJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Hester stole the momentum back from the Vikings with kickoff returns of 80 and 76 yards in Week 2.
Shedding his receiver duties to focus on his return game has seemed to work out well for Devin Hester.

He returned five kickoffs for a Bears-record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 2 -- including a 76-yarder and an 80-yarder -- and brought back his only kickoff return 31 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.

If Hester, who will be a free agent after the season, continues to be a difference-maker for the Bears in the return game, will his career in Chicago extend beyond this season?

Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Devin Hester will play his way into a new Bears contract after this season.


[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastWill Devin Hester prove to be a luxury the Bears can't afford after this season?

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. A confident and healthy Hester is a great weapon for the Bears to have under contract moving forward. If Hester has a Pro Bowl caliber year returning kickoffs and punts, why wouldn't the Bears make an attempt to re-sign him in the offseason? The question, of course, is compensation. Hester is making a total of $2.1 million in 2013 to be strictly a specialist. Are the Bears comfortable paying him the same amount in a new contract? Will Hester want more? These are difficult topics to discuss because we really don't know how it's all going to shake out. But put it this way: After two weeks Hester has done nothing to hurt his chances of landing a new deal from the Bears in free agency, or maybe even before that.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Like Marc Trestman, I'm an admitted Hester fan. Watching him return kicks is like watching Derrick Rose drive the lane, pure athletic joy. But I don't know that the Bears will be able to afford a full-time kick returner. I think Hester will have a very good season, and I think he's worth a good deal just as a return man, but I bet the Bears let him get that money on the open market and invest in other positions. It'll be a sad day when Hester is no longer a Bear, so enjoy him now.

(Read full post)

Jay Cutler no longer seeing ghosts

September, 16, 2013
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CHICAGO -- After just two games, the Chicago Bears' revamped offensive line has performed so well that quarterback Jay Cutler no longer is seeing ghosts.

Four new members of the line, not to mention two rookies on the right side, could have been a recipe for disaster, but so far it has been good enough to allow Cutler to pass for 532 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 2-0 start.

Cutler
"The hardest thing right now is stepping in the pocket and not seeing ghosts because these guys are doing such a fabulous job protecting," Cutler said Monday on ESPN 1000's weekly "The Jay Cutler Show." "It's just getting used to being able to take my steps, take my appropriate drop and step up and go through all my reads. It's a good problem to have, but it's still something I have to get used to with these new guys."

It wasn't a problem last season, when the offensive line included guys like J'Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis and Chris Spencer.

When protection goes bad, quarterbacks can often feel pressure that's not there. At its worst, it can result in phantom sacks -- when the quarterback crumples simply expecting to get hit. Cutler seems to be moving as far away from that stage as he ever has.

"I think we do a good job of protecting me early in the game so I can get that trust level and can feel protected in there," Cutler said. "But the more I watch film, and the more I'm (playing) with these guys, they are doing everything they can to protect me, and I just have to do my job back there and deliver the ball for them because they're fighting their (tails) off."

As rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills hold their own on the right side, they are also gaining a respect for the guy they are protecting.

"He's so cool," Long said about Cutler following Sunday's 31-30 victory over the Vikings. "I wish I was as cool as Jay Cutler. I was all fired up, and Jay, his heart was going two beats a minute like nothing was going on. He does a great job. He's our leader on the offensive side of the ball and we'll follow him to the promised land. Today it was the end zone."

The typically unfazed Cutler said it's all in a day's work.

"I've got to have a sense of calm in the huddle," Cutler said. "If I was going crazy and all frantic, the guys will do the same. As long as I'm calm and have everything under control, that will perpetuate to the rest of the guys and they will be calm as well."

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