NFC North: Mark Bradley

Jay Cutler and Julius PeppersUS PresswireThe Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Jay Cutler. Is he the reason Chicago is on the brink of the Super Bowl? Or does the credit go to Julius Peppers and the defense?
Let's play a game of addition.

  1. The starting quarterback is the most important player on any football team.
  2. The Chicago Bears finished the regular season 11-5, won the NFC North division title and will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
  3. Jay Cutler is the biggest reason why.

So, in this case, does 1+2=3? Did the Bears need Cutler as their quarterback to advance this far? Was he the key to their resurgence this season? Or could they have followed the same path without making the 2009 blockbuster trade that cost them three high draft choices? In today's Double Coverage, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert discuss that very question.

Kevin Seifert: Jeff, you've been covering the Bears for years. You saw them go to Super Bowl XLI with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. You've lived through Kordell Stewart, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Brian Griese and Kyle Orton. You've seen a team win in spite of its quarterback, and you've seen quarterbacks single-handedly lose games. Let's start it off this way: How much credit do you think Cutler should get for the Bears sitting one step from the Super Bowl?

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, right, and coach Lovie Smith
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrived in Mike Martz's offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Cutler deserves plenty of credit, Kevin. As much as we want to hammer Cutler for his mistakes -- more on that later, I'm sure -- you can't overlook the fact his quarterback rating was above 100 six times in the regular season. And you guessed it: the Bears won all six of those games.

So if the most important player on the field was arguably the best player on the field nearly half the time, I find it impossible to minimize the positive impact Cutler had on the Bears' playoff run. Is he going to run for public office after he's finished playing football? No. Does he care that we're talking about him today, either good or bad? No. But to sit back and say Cutler was simply along for the ride wouldn't be doing his contributions much justice.

And by the way, thanks for bringing up Chad Hutchinson. I was trying to suppress that memory. What's next? Are we going to break down the NFL career of Jonathan Quinn? I could talk bad Bears quarterbacks all day.

KS: Any time. How about this: Cade McNown, Henry Burris, Shane Matthews and Steve Stenstrom. That pretty much covers it for our generation, I think.

Anyway, I agree it would be wrong to overlook some of Cutler's individual performances this season. He bounced back from some early hits in Week 2 to throw three touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys in a 27-20 victory. He forgot about the early interception against the New York Jets and went on to throw for another three touchdowns in a 38-34 victory. His performance against the Philadelphia Eagles -- four touchdown passes, 146.2 passer rating -- was superb. And don't forget his late-game drive against the Detroit Lions in Week 13, the one that locked up the division title.

But I think the question at hand is whether the Bears would have won 11 games with, say, Orton at quarterback. To me, Cutler was not among the top two reasons for the Bears' success this season.

More important was the defense, which limited opponents to 17.9 points per game, and the best special teams in the NFL. As a result of those two factors, Cutler and the rest of the Bears' offense had the best head start in the NFL. No offense had a better average start of its drive (33.7-yard line) than the Bears'.

Do you think the Bears win those games with Orton?

JD: I must first admit to being a card-carrying member of the Kyle Orton fan club. Is there a more underappreciated quarterback in the NFL? That being said, I think you could make the playoffs with a guy like Orton, but the Bears are in a better position to potentially win a Super Bowl with a guy like Cutler.

Let me explain.

I firmly believe if Orton quarterbacked the Bears in 2009 they probably would have won three more regular-season games (against the Packers, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers). They would have finished 10-6 and perhaps earned an NFC wild-card playoff berth. Cutler cost the Bears those games because of a barrage of turnovers and terrible decisions. But that's where the ride would've ended with Orton, in my opinion.

Could Orton have beaten the Cowboys, Eagles or Jets in 2010? Maybe. But with apologies to Jim Mora, we're talking playoffs, Kevin, playoffs!

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireThe Bears' defense, led by Julius Peppers, gave the offense a head start on most drives.
Believe me, I know Cutler's only career postseason victory came against Seattle this past weekend, and he could easily go out Sunday and throw five interceptions against the Packers. But he could just as easily throw five touchdowns.

That's why the Bears are better off with Cutler -- because Orton hit his glass ceiling as an NFL quarterback. Cutler has not. Look at how Cutler tore up the Jets. The defense struggled, and it needed a lift from the quarterback position to beat a tough opponent. Cutler delivered. I'm not saying Orton is incapable of leading a team to victory over playoff-quality teams, but the chances Cutler can do it are greater.

Sorry, Kyle. I loved your neck beard. But I have to go with Cutler on this one.

KS: It's all fantasy talk, of course. We'll never know if Orton would have played well enough last year to compel the Bears to keep offensive coordinator Ron Turner this season. We also don't know if Mike Martz would have wanted Orton this season.

But the Bears gave up two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder for Cutler. Has he provided them enough value for those picks? Or could they have used those draft picks to improve themselves in other areas?

It would be wrong to say that Cutler hasn't had a positive impact on the Bears this season, but I'm not willing to say he was the key to the Bears' division title, either. But if the Bears go to the Super Bowl, no one is going to care about that distinction.

JD: And you know Cutler is happiest when nobody cares!

I guess it's possible Jerry Angelo would have turned those two first-round selections into starting-caliber players. But I've seen the Bears use high draft choices on the likes of Michael Haynes, Roosevelt Williams, Mark Bradley, Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Bazuin, Michael Okwo, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias. So to assume Angelo would've waved his magic draft wand and taken the right guys? Well, that would be misguided, to say the least. Despite all the warts, I'm happy with Cutler and feel the Bears are now in a better position to win their first Super Bowl since the 1985 season because of him.

I could talk bad Bears draft picks all day.

KS: Spoken like a longtime Bears follower. Basically what you're saying is that while Cutler has demonstrated some flaws, his acquisition nevertheless prevented the Bears from making another series of draft mistakes! Perfect. I love it.

On that note, Jeff, this has been fun. I think we can agree Cutler has made a positive impact on the Bears' run to the NFC Championship Game. Could they have done it without him? That's up for debate.
Barring a change in his weekly routine, Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre will give his weekly news conference Wednesday afternoon at about 1:15 p.m. ET. I’m guessing he’ll take a question or two about his relationship with coach Brad Childress, a national topic of debate ever since he revealed Sunday night that Childress wanted to take him out of a 7-6 game in the third quarter at Carolina.

Update: Here is a news analysis from ESPN's Ed Werder, who reports Favre and Childress are mostly at odds over the level to which Favre audibles during games. I can tell you from experience that this has been an issue for several other quarterbacks who have played for Childress in Minnesota.

As Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests, Childress and Favre are similarly stubborn and need to find some common ground for at least the next several weeks. Powers writes:

“It isn't anything that can't be cured by six tubes of liniment and some time off for Favre, who is old, beat up and cranky. And Childress might want to have himself checked for obsessive-compulsive disorder because he doesn't cope with change very well. No coach should pop a blood vessel every time an audible backfires.”

I’ll be in attendance, as you might imagine, and will report back as soon as I can. You can also check our NFL page if a news story is warranted.

Continuing around the NFC North:
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris cleared up some of the mystery surrounding his one-game suspension Thursday, telling the Chicago Tribune that a baby he fathered out of wedlock "has weighed on me" and "really affected my professional life."

Harris admitted he has not been fully committed to his job but disagreed with coach Lovie Smith's decision to suspend him for Sunday's game at Detroit. Officially, the Bears issued the discipline because he was late to a rehabiliation appointment.

Here is Harris' response to Smith's decision:

"If I'm not coming to treatment or if I'm not doing all these other things, my approach if I [were a coach] would be, 'What's going on? Is everything OK? I wouldn't punish him and think that this punishment is going to help him. I would try to help this player. Suspending me is not going to help my [personal] problems. You actually just put more on what I'm going through."

The child was born prematurely Sept. 14, the day the Bears played at Carolina. Harris attended the delivery and joined his teammates in Charlotte prior to the 1 p.m. ET kickoff.

But the birth apparently is only one of several problems Harris has had. Both the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times reported Harris argued with Smith over the release of receiver Mark Bradley.

The Bears have indicated Harris would rejoin the team Monday, but you have to wonder if a four-day absence will rectify all of the issues surrounding their best defensive player. There should be a significant clearing of the air between Harris and Smith before everyone moves forward.

The suspension was almost out of character for Smith, but as the Tribune's David Haugh writes, it was an important display of authority from a coach who is sometimes viewed as too forgiving.

Brad Biggs of the Sun-Times, meanwhile, adds an important element to the story: The suspension all but assures Harris won't meet a set of contract qualifiers that fully maintain a bonus due in 2012. The Bears owe Harris an $8 million bonus that year, but it reduces by $1.5 million for every season that he doesn't make the Pro Bowl and play in 74 percent of the team's defensive plays.

Elsewhere around the NFC North:

  • The Detroit Lions continue to drop hints that they'll be less committed to the running game when they emerge from the bye, according to the Detroit News. Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto: "We've got to manufacture more points faster. We'll probably play a few more receivers in the game a little more often than we've been doing."
  • The NFL granted the Lions an extension to sell out Sunday's game and as of Thursday afternoon fewer than 2,000 tickets remained. The team has a 50-game home sellout streak.
  • Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't suit up for Thursday's practice, but the Packers still plan to test out his sprained right shoulder Friday in practice. Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal has details.
  • You can have Brett Favre's old house in Green Bay (actually, Ashwaubenon) for $475,000.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chronicles the rehabilitation of defensive tackle Justin Harrell, the 2007 first-round draft pick who is on the physically unable to perform list. Harrell is eligible to be activated Oct. 13.
  • Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson (dislocated toes) is highly unlikely to play Monday night against New Orleans, according to the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams, speaking to the St. Paul Pioneer Press about the Saints' offensive line: "I've seen better."
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It will be interesting to see what treatment option Green Bay cornerback Al Harris chooses for his ruptured spleen.

Whether he opts for surgery or several months of rest, he will almost certainly miss the remainder of the season. But one of the options -- surgical removal -- reportedly would decrease his chances of returning in 2009.

So Harris will have some heavy thoughts on his mind starting Wednesday. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, he sent his medical records to a pair of specialists Tuesday and should get their recommendations within 24 hours. Tramon Williams is expected to take his place in the starting lineup.

Elsewhere in the NFC North this morning:

  • The Packers' entire secondary is banged up. They open the practice week unsure if either starting safety -- Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Nick Collins (back) -- will be ready to play Sunday at Tampa Bay. Overall, it's already been a bad year for injuries in Green Bay, writes Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.
  • Are the people of Wisconsin moving on? Television ratings in Milwaukee for Brett Favre's third game with the New York Jets were down 42 percent compared to his first two games, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Detroit backup quarterback Drew Stanton spent some extra time with coaches Tuesday, prompting Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com to wonder if a change is coming after the Lions' bye week. Starter Jon Kitna said no one had informed him of anything and added: "I'm all about this team winning. If they feel that's necessary, then so be it. But I don't think I'm the problem."
  • You have to love Lions receiver Roy Williams. As long as everyone is expressing their opinion -- vice chairman Bill Ford, Jr., said Monday he would fire general manager Matt Millen if he could -- Williams went ahead and blurted this out: "And if I was the offensive coordinator, I'd be in four-wides. It means nothing. Everybody has their opinions."
  • Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris didn't agree with the team's decision to release receiver Mark Bradley, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. Harris: "I don't feel like he had a fair chance. I feel like he just had his job taken from him. You know how it goes: He had a knee surgery, then he lost his job."
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times on Bradley's release: "It signals new accountability at Halas Hall."
  • Minnesota has one game remaining before left tackle Bryant McKinnie returns from an NFL suspension. His replacement, Artis Hicks, will be matched up against Tennessee Pro Bowler Kyle Vanden Bosch on Sunday. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune has details.
  • The playing time for Minnesota nose tackle Pat Williams has decreased notably this season, according to Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Coach Brad Childress said he is simply trying to keep Williams' legs fresh and that there are no injury issues.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Interesting move today in Bearsland. Chicago released receiver Mark Bradley, a former second-round draft pick who at one point seemed to have the inside track on a starting position, and claimed cornerback Marcus Hamilton on waivers from Tampa Bay.

Hamilton made his NFL debut against the Bears last Sunday at Soldier Field, finishing with two defensed passes. The Buccaneers waived him Monday, probably hoping they could sneak him onto their practice squad.

Bradley's career was never the same after he tore an ACL during his rookie year in 2005. Some hoped he could replace Bernard Berrian in the starting lineup this season, but he had a quiet training camp and was only on the field for one snap in three games, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' weekly playing time analysis.

Quarterback Kyle Orton is now the only remaining member of the Bears' 2005 draft class. Running back Cedric Benson was their top pick, and Bradley was second.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We've gotten several questions regarding the "other" Adrian Peterson this week. Specifically, people want to know why the Chicago Bears in essence made Peterson a healthy scratch for Sunday's game at Carolina.

Among them was Tony of Rochester, Minn., who writes: Kevin, have you heard anything on why Chicago's Adrian Peterson was inactivated last week? I would have thought he would have been the clear choice for backup to Forte.

Kevin Seifert: According to the Larry Mayer of chicagobears.com, the Bears chose receiver Mark Bradley over Peterson when whittling down their game-day roster. (Bradley was deactivated for the opener against Indianapolis). As a result, Garrett Wolfe served as the backup for starting tailback Matt Forte.

Sunday deactivations aren't always a big deal, but this one was. Peterson hadn't missed a game since 2004 and overall had played in 63 of a possible 65 games entering Sunday. The Bears don't have big plans for him as a runner this season, but in retrospect he might have been a better option than fullback Jason McKie on that key fourth-down play in the fourth quarter against the Panthers.

And it wasn't like the Bears had some special plan for Bradley. According to a weekly participation analysis prepared by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bradley played one down Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It seems like ages ago, but I did spend a few days at the Chicago Bears' training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., this July. The Bears were in the early stages of their quarterback competition, but one thing struck me about Kyle Orton: He looked lean and athletic and was displaying a low-key personality -- pretty much the opposite of the impression I had of him from the outside during the early part of his career.

Orton once had a reputation as a typical early-20s party animal, if for no other reason than a few unfortunate pictures that circulated on the Internet during his rookie year in 2005. I didn't know if I had misjudged the situation or not (wouldn't be the first time), but as David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes, it turns out Orton has made a conscious effort to get more serious about his profession and his personal life.

"I've learned a lot of stuff, and obviously I'm a different guy from '05 in all aspects of my life," Orton said. "I'm different just like everybody else is three or four years down the road."

He was married in March and dedicated the rest of his offseason to relearning the Bears offense to give himself the best chance to win the starting job.

"I'm still the same guy," Orton said. "I'm still a fun guy and like to hang with my teammates. It's not like I'm trying to live in a hole or anything. But [I] certainly have to be careful and not put myself or my family in jeopardy."

That sentiment doesn't guarantee Orton success this season, but at least he's given himself the best chance possible.

Elsewhere around the NFC North, A MERE 54 HOURS UNTIL THE BLACK AND BLUE REGULAR SEASON KICKS OFF:

  • Having lost his spot as a starting receiver, the Bears' Mark Bradley has been working as a gunner for punt coverage, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Asked if he was upset that he is no longer a first-team receiver, Bradley said: "I'll say I'm just confused."
  • Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said any intensified emotions he might feel against the Green Bay Packers shouldn't impact the teams' game Monday night. "Last time I checked, I won't be out there between the white lines or anything physically like that," Childress told members of the Wisconsin media.
  • Vikings left tackle Artis Hicks spoke Thursday for the first time about replacing the suspended Bryant McKinnie. "It's not that big of an adjustment," Hicks said, according to the Star Tribune. "The biggest thing is guys are a little bit faster out there, a little bit more athletic."
  • Vikings running back/kick returner Maurice Hicks has a sprained foot and might not be ready for Monday night's game, according to the Star Tribune.
  • Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk was cleared to practice Thursday as he recovers from a strained chest muscle. But he hasn't been cleared to play yet Monday night, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • There has been plenty of discussion about the Detroit Lions' new running game. But of equal importance is the Lions' efforts to improve their run defense, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

We're with you a little later than normal because we wanted to give you a chance to absorb Saturday night's posts on NFC North cutdown day. (Yeah, riiiiiiiight....)

We are heading into the most optimistic week of the NFL season. No one has lost a game and everyone is mathematically and realistically still in the playoff race. Life is good everywhere.

Which brings us to a pair of columns published Sunday morning in the Detroit Free Press, which covers a team that hasn't made a playoff appearance this decade. The Detroit Lions finished the preseason 4-0 and appear to have made some important improvements, but the locals know better than to get too excited.

  • Here's how Michael Rosenberg put it: "They have moved up in the world from hopeless to hopeful."
  • And Drew Sharp: "The odds certainly favor the Lions finally breaking that glass ceiling into mediocrity."

In relative terms, that's about as positive a review the Lions have received in a while. Yes, there is optimism even in Detroit. For this week, at least.

Elsewhere around the division:

  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune writes the Vikings haven't gotten their money's worth from left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who signed a seven-year contract worth $48.4 million in 2006. The NFL suspended McKinnie for the first four games of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and, Zulgad writes, coach Brad Childress would be justified in feeling betrayed.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette suggests the Packers' cuts on Saturday reflect an ongoing willingness to experiment with youth rather than play it safe with veterans.
  • Rookie running back Kregg Lumpkin has a chance to be active for the Packers on Sept. 8 against Minnesota, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Packers might want Lumpkin available because starter Ryan Grant didn't have a preseason carry.
  • The Chicago Bears kept unproductive receiver Mark Bradley for another season, but this is likely Bradley's last chance with the team, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It's not too hard to cull the primary goal of all four NFC North teams in Thursday night's preseason finales: Stay healthy.

Take this history lesson from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press: The last two times the Detroit Lions visited Buffalo for their preseason finale, as they will tonight, a significant injury occurred.

In 2003, starting tailback James Stewart separated his right shoulder and never played for the Lions again. In 2005, meanwhile, quarterback Jeff Garcia fractured his left fibula and sprained his ankle. He missed the next five games and wasn't very effective upon his return.

Those kind of horror stories will compel all four division coaches to limit starters to a series or two, at best, Thursday night. Most teams have a pretty good idea about their rosters and have only a few, if any, decisions remaining.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • Both Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times and David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune mentioned Chicago Bears receiver Mark Bradley as player who doesn't seem to have a lock on a roster spot yet.
  • Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly had his court case moved to Sept. 16. He was arrested July 8 in Houston for felony drug possession. Jolly could eventually face discipline from the NFL.
  • Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at what it feels like to be cut. The Packers have to shed 22 players by 3 p.m. Saturday.
  • Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper, describing himself: "I'm like a fine wine, a Cabernet-Merlot-Shiraz blend. It can do a lot of things. It gets better as you open it up and let it get out there and air out, filtrate, do all those things. I don't even need a decanter. Just let me go out there and run. Pour me in your mouth, suck it up and let it run."
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
BookerDavis

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- You don't normally think speed when you see Marty Booker running down the right sideline. And truth be told, Booker wasn't exactly open Wednesday afternoon when Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman spotted him. But Booker was locked in single coverage, an alignment that dictates a throw in most offenses.

A veteran of 10 NFL seasons, Booker fought off a defender with his left hand while stretching out his right. Grossman's pass settled perfectly in Booker's right palm, and he held on for a highlight-reel 40-yard reception.

It was perfect execution: Grossman threw to the right receiver, while Booker used veteran wiles to keep the defender away and soft hands to make the catch.

As unrealistic as it might sound, the Bears will need similar execution this season if they want to energize an offense that looks pretty bland from the outside. Once you get past the quarterback derby between Grossman and Kyle Orton, you realize that an equally pressing issue is a decided lack of playmakers at the receiver position.

The unexpected holdout of Devin Hester only adds to the deficit. Aside from Booker, the Bears are hoping to scrounge at least some plays from a group that includes Mark Bradley (38 career catches), Rashied Davis (39), Brandon Lloyd (three teams in four years) and rookie Earl Bennett.

Most observers expect the Bears to rely heavily on their running game this season, but they won't get very far if their receivers can't occasionally stretch the defense.

"We've got to prove ourselves," Booker said. "Everybody can speculate what they want to speculate on. But we know how it is, and we know how it's going to be. It's just on us to go out there and play with a chip on our shoulders. As receivers we just need to be consistent so that our offense can be the offense we want it to be."

Through two days of practice at Olivet Nazarene University, the Bears have connected on enough downfield passes -- mostly off the arm of Grossman -- to believe they have a chance to move the ball through the air this season.

Thursday, Davis stepped up. He caught a pair of long touchdown passes, the first going 65 yards and the second coming when he out-jumped a defender near the goal line.

With Hester holding out, coach Lovie Smith has made a point to acknowledge that his receivers have been catching the ball well this week. But it's no secret that Smith's receiving group would look decidedly more threatening with Hester on the field.

Consider the case of Lloyd, who might be getting his last chance to play in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers gave up on him in 2005 and the Washington Redskins did the same thing last season. He has 25 receptions in the past two seasons and hasn't scored a touchdown since 2005, but the Bears are giving Lloyd as good of a chance as anyone to earn a prominent role.

Give Lloyd credit for being realistic about the situation. Asked if he was excited about the possibility of starting this season, he laughed and said: "I'm just excited to have a job."

Bears position battles

July, 24, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The Chicago Bears can't say for sure who will start at quarterback, receiver or running back. That makes for a few position battles, don't you think?

No. 1 and No. 2 receiver: Devin Hester vs. Marty Booker vs. Mark Bradley vs. Brandon Lloyd

The Bears bid farewell to 2007 starters Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, leaving this position wide open for competition. They envision Hester as their top receiver, but an unexpected holdout -- not to mention his inexperience at the position -- could curtail their plans.

Otherwise, the position is a completely up in the air. Booker is a trusted veteran but not exactly a game-breaker, while Bradley has had trouble staying healthy. Lloyd, meanwhile, is on his third NFL team in six years. There isn't usually much to read into this, but for those interested: On the first practice of training camp Wednesday, the Bears had Booker and Bradley working with the starters.

Intensity index: Red hot

Running back: Matt Forte vs. Kevin Jones vs. Adrian Peterson

The Bears have all but anointed Forte as the successor to the Cedric Benson/Thomas Jones era, but Forte will still have to prove himself in training camp. He has the size and speed to be a 20-carry back in the NFL, but the Bears might ultimately choose to take it slow with him.

To that end, they signed Jones to provide depth and to hedge their bets a bit. Jones is less than seven months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee and isn't ready to practice yet. But in a best-case scenario, he could be ready to contribute a few weeks into the regular season.

Should the Bears need help before then, veteran Adrian Peterson will be available, as always. The Bears prefer to limit him to a backup role, but he is in position to bail them out if necessary.

Intensity index: Hot

Bears stunned by Hester holdout

July, 23, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 
 AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
 Devin Hester has 11 returns for TDs in two seasons.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears insisted Wednesday they were blindsided by kick returner/wide receiver Devin Hester's decision to hold out from training camp. The Bears assume Hester is not happy with the pace of negotiations on a potential contract extension, but general manager Jerry Angelo said: "I really don't know why he isn't here today."

According to Angelo, one of Hester's agents "floated" the idea of a holdout earlier this week. Angelo, however, said he "didn't take it serious because we were still talking." Numbers were still being exchanged, Angelo said, when the decision was made.

"There was no closure," Angelo said. "Usually when you say, 'Hey, it's over, take it or leave it, we're out of money,' you might get a reaction like that. But continuing on into negotiations as we have been, it's surprising. ... We did tell Devin we were going to address his situation and we have. That's where it is. The timing of it maybe wasn't satisfactory to him, but those things kind of run their course."

That lack of urgency apparently set Hester off. He told the Chicago Tribune that the team wasn't "taking it seriously that I wanted to get a new deal." Hester went on to make this outlandish statement:

"You should pay me like I'm one of a kind. It's like dating a girl. When you find somebody that is real special, you're going to do whatever it takes to keep her. You might cut back on what you're giving your mom to give her. And that's how I feel they should treat me."

This broadside clearly caught the Bears off-guard and represents a huge setback on the first day of training camp. Coach Lovie Smith and his staff are planning to make Hester a full-time receiver while maintaining his role as the NFL's top returner. After the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Hester was going to get every opportunity to be the Bears' No. 1 receiver in 2008.

Hester, who has two years remaining on his contract, participated fully in the team's offseason program but still will need maximum training camp time to secure a smooth transition to receiver.

"I know he would like to be out here," Smith said. "He realizes how important his work is, especially for him becoming a full-time receiver."

Hester's absence left the Bears with an underwhelming group of receivers for the first practice of training camp. Veterans Marty Booker and Mark Bradley took the initial repetitions with the first team, while Brandon Lloyd and Rashied Davis also rotated in. The Bears ran plenty of plays for tight ends Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen, a pattern they figure to follow at least until Hester's situation gets resolved.

That could take some time, however. Angelo noted it is the team's right to fine Hester for every day he misses at a maximum of about $15,000 per day. Angelo also said the team has a policy that expects players to participate in camp while negotiating extensions. In other words, the Bears could stop negotiating altogether until Hester reports.

Angelo didn't sound like a general manager who wants to play hardball with one of his favorite players. What's also clear is the Bears never believed Hester would hold out until the minute they realized he wasn't here.

Rookie signings intensify

July, 22, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

BOURBONNAIS, ILL. - Hi gang. Just getting back online after this evening's sojourn to the site of the Chicago Bears' training camp at Olivet Nazarene University. It's been a busy day in the NFC North, so let's catch up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

What? Could one whole day have passed without an update in the Brett Favre saga? It appears as though both sides rested Sunday, at least publicly, in anticipation of a key week for the Green Bay Packers. So we'll take our cue and go Favre-less ourselves -- for now -- in this edition of Black and Blue all over.

  • It's not clear if Chicago Bears wide receiver Mark Bradley will be ready for the start of training camp after offseason surgery on his right knee. With the departures of Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Bradley has an opportunity to finally establish himself as a front-line receiver. But he has to get on the field. And stay there.
  • Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times endorses Kyle Orton for the Bears' starting quarterback job based on one qualification: He isn't Rex Grossman. "I have slightly more faith that he'll make fewer mistakes than Rex Grossman," Mariotti writes.
  • Rookie safety/linebacker Caleb Campbell (Army) is expected to report to Detroit Lions camp on Wednesday, according to the Detroit News. Campbell's status has been in some doubt as the U.S. military reviews the "alterative service option" that will allow him to defer and modify his post-graduate service obligation.
  • Among the issues that have been swept under the (public) rug recently is the Green Bay Packers' concerns at defensive line, according the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The Packers traded Corey Williams and then watched Justin Harrell tweak his back and Johnny Jolly get arrested this month for drug possession in Houston. Jolly could eventually face NFL discipline.
  • The Packers are hoping to identify a clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Ryan Grant, assuming Grant signs a contract and reports to camp on time. Brandon Jackson will get the first crack, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
  • Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress will keep in mind the NFL's new 80-man roster limit while monitoring his players' workload in training camp. "You don't need to be a slavedriver," Childress told the Star Tribune.

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Thursday, 9/4
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