NFC North: Tommie Harris

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The pick: Will Sutton, defensive tackle, Arizona State.

My take: The Bears poured a massive amount of resources into repairing the interior of the defensive line with Sutton and second-round pick Ego Ferguson of LSU. Sutton, a two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, had 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss for the Sun Devils in 2012 and likely projects to line up at three-technique in the NFL.

Sutton's numbers dropped last year when he registered only 48 tackles, four sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss. Many draft analysts believe Sutton's decline in production was due to his being overweight. Sutton said he is currently at 290 pounds but can continue to drop weight if the Bears want him to.

The defensive tackle was declared academically ineligible in 2010.

Sutton obviously made a positive impression on the Bears and defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni during his pre-draft visit to Halas Hall.

Double-dip: The last time the Bears went back-to-back at defensive tackles in the early rounds was 2004 when former general manager Jerry Angelo selected Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson. When Harris and Johnson were healthy and focused, they comprised one of the best defensive tackle combos in the league. The Bears would be absolutely thrilled if one day Sutton and Ferguson can grow into that role.

Both players are expected to be part of a rotation in 2014, but Sutton and Ferguson could be the future starters at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively.

What's next: The Bears hold four picks Saturday (Nos. 117, 156, 183, 191) but none in the seventh-round due to last year's trade with Dallas for tight end Dante Rosario. But the Bears do have an extra choice in the sixth round, courtesy of sending former first-round choice Gabe Carimi to the Bucs.

With cornerback and defensive tackle addressed, the Bears are expected to target help at linebacker, running back and perhaps safety, although the consensus top-five safeties are all off the board.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We noted last month that Green Bay Packers quarterback B.J. Coleman did not appear to be making a serious challenge for Graham Harrell's role as the backup to Aaron Rodgers. Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette helps explain that dynamic from the perspective of Harrell's development.

According to coach Mike McCarthy, Harrell has "definitely made another step this offseason" and is "much stronger" and "more conditioned." In addition, Harrell has "done some things in fine motor skill development I think you've seen showing up in the way he throws and releases the football," McCarthy said.

Preseason concern about Harrell last summer dissipated amid Rodgers' annual good health. We'll see if his improvement bears out on the field during training camp and preseason games.

Continuing around the NFC North:

NFC North links: High hopes for McClellin

July, 19, 2012
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Chicago Bears

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says the Bears need rookie defensive end Shea McClellin to produce early and often this season. Biggs: "They selected him because they have a true need at defensive end. The last time the Bears had a rookie first-round pick make an impact was Tommie Harris in 2004."

Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com look at the makeover the Bears experienced at wide receiver and if the group can live up to the hype.

Detroit Lions

It's early, but are the Lions content with letting Cliff Avril walk after this season?

Linebacker Justin Durant could be a cap casualty, suggests NFL.com's Brian McIntyre.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers made a concerted effort this offseason to improve their defense, starting with the defensive line.

Quarterback Graham Harrell says he'll be ready to step in should anything happen to Aaron Rodgers.

Minnesota Vikings

Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com kicks off his position preview with a look at the Vikings' running backs.

General manager Rick Spielman touches on a number of topics as the team prepares for training camp.

BBAO: Rookie camps complete

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good morning. Three rookie minicamps over the weekend leaves us with more local links than a person has the right to expect on the second Monday in May. In this post, I've tried to pick out the highlights. Many of them don't relate to rookies, but be aware I'll have a second post up soon that addresses some of the questions we had Friday about these camps.
  • New Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice wants players to "play fast" in his scheme, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. Tice: "We don’t want to be out on the field and have the kids think[ing] too much. We don't want to make it hard for the kids. We want to make sure the kids know exactly what we’re gonna do, when we're gonna call it and why we’re gonna call it. That's our job as coaches. We have some great athletes on offense. We have to put them in a position to show us and show the fans, and show the people that love the Bears, their athleticism and explosiveness. We want to be explosive."
  • Bears special teams coordinator Dave Toub downplayed any possibility other than Devin Hester being his top punt and kickoff returner in 2012. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times checks in with former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, whose wife died unexpectedly three months ago.
  • New Bears quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will have starter Jay Cutler rolling more often than he did under Mike Martz, according to Dan Pompei of the Tribune.
  • Detroit Lions defensive end/linebacker Ronnell Lewis is "nicknamed the Hammer for a reason," writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.
  • Receiver Ryan Broyles was an "impatient observer" at the Lions' rookie minicamp, notes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com offers five observations from the Lions' camp, including: "Linebacker Travis Lewis looked very comfortable in the defensive scheme, playing both outside and middle linebacker."
  • Green Bay Packers tight end Andrew Quarless (knee) isn't expected to be cleared to practice when training camp begins, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette takes a look at the Packers' current in-house options as a developmental center. He also notes the Packers have three assistant coaches who played center in the NFL.
  • The Packers might not give much training camp work to defensive linemen Mike Neal and Anthony Hargrove, both of whom are suspended during the early part of the season. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will formally sign the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill on Monday, according to the Associated Press via 1500ESPN.com.
  • Richard Meryhew of the Star Tribune looks at the challenges of designing, planning and building the team's new stadium in a four-year timeline.
  • New Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson on his recent 15-day jail sentence, via Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "It was terrible. It sucked. Any kids out there, that's a place you don't want to be. Somebody tells you when to wake up, when to make your bed, when to take a shower, when you can have a snack. That's an obstacle you don't want to face. I want all kids to learn not to go down that path and to learn from me."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Let's take a break from our (relatively) serious coverage of the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill to note some highly significant intersections of the NFC North and reality television.

First, Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver made it through another week on "Dancing with the Stars" and is headed to the semifinals of the competition. I guess that means we'll need to ramp up our "DWTS" coverage. Via Twitter, Driver said: "I want to bring the Mirror Ball to Titletown." The question now is if Titletown is ready for the Mirror Ball.

Meanwhile, EW.com reports that Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is part of a new celebrity dating show on Fox called "The Choice." New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is also a cast member.

Whether this appearance fits into Suh's offseason image repair plan remains to be seen.

With that, let's continue around the NFC North:

BBAO: Franchise tag window opens

February, 20, 2012
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

I hope everyone had a great weekend and is ready for Franchise Monday! Yes, today is the first day that NFL teams can tag franchise players, a designation that requires premium compensation for another team -- and allows for right of first refusal -- to acquire them via free agency. The window extends through March 5, and as you know, we spent much of last week discussing the various possibilities for the NFC North.

Two division players, Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte and Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, have already acknowledged they might not react well if franchised. Avril's comments came over the weekend while speaking to several Detroit-area reporters.

I know a lot of you are worked up about his potential reaction, but all Avril really said was that an offseason/training camp holdout was one of several potential scenarios if he is franchised. It wasn't a threat as much as it was an acknowledgement of reality. Here's exactly how he put it: "There's a lot of different possibilities, and that's one of the possibilities -- not showing up. But we don't know. That's not the plan, obviously. But there's a lot of different possibilities, and that's definitely one of them."

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported over the weekend that the Lions had decided to use the franchise tag if they can't get Avril signed to a long-term extension before the March 5 deadline. That would take some substantial salary-cap maneuvering, but as we've discussed many times, there is always a way to get a single move accomplished under the salary cap if you're willing to accept sacrifices in other areas.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Lions safety Louis Delmas broke his media silence over the weekend, notes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Longtime Lions assistant coach Don Clemons, who worked for nine different Lions head coaches, has retired after 27 years with the team. Tim Twentyman of the team's website explains.
  • The Green Bay Packers denied permission for safeties coach Darren Perry to interview for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coordinator job, according to Dan Pompei for the National Football Post.
  • I'll do a separate post on the Green Bay Press Gazette's special report on the newly corporate Green Bay Packers, but here's the primary link for you to chew on now. Links to sidebars are embedded.
  • ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde's position-by-position review of the Packers hits the defensive line.
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press evaluates the career of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. Fowler: "A look at Spielman's body of work shows he's a detail-oriented grinder who is growing as an evaluator and works well with others after years as a pseudo-general manager behind head coaches with a heavy hand in roster moves. But it's fair to question his ability to resuscitate the Vikings after miscues and a lack of autonomy through 20 seasons in the business."
  • Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune believes that building a new football stadium in downtown Minneapolis is critical to maintaining a strong heartbeat for the center of the metropolitan area.
  • A number of Chicago Bears players attended the funeral of the wife of former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We noted last month that all four NFC North teams faced decisions on their quarterback depth this offseason. The Detroit Lions, specifically, had to decide whether to bring back backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton -- both of whom are pending free agents -- or if they would use the positions to help draw down their bloated salary-cap structure.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that Hill is likely to return, one way or the other, even if it means taking a "slight discount" to make it happen.

That makes sense for all parties. Hill has a longtime connection with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, performed well when the Lions needed him in 2010 and understands that he won't get a chance to beat out starter Matthew Stafford. That's a pretty good combination for a backup quarterback.

Continuing around the NFC North:

BBAO: Anniversary of Duerson suicide

February, 13, 2012
2/13/12
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune checked in with the family of Dave Duerson as the first anniversary of his suicide approaches. According to Pompei, the family has found a measure of peace after a Boston University study determined Duerson suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to head trauma.

Alicia Duerson, his former wife, said the revelation brought some "closure" to questions about Dave Duerson's intent. His son, Tregg, said: "I understand why he did it now."

Duerson, the former Chicago Bears safety, shot himself through the heart on Feb. 17, 2010, asking that his brain be donated to the Boston University study.

Catching up on the weekend in the NFC North:
  • Brad Biggs of the Tribune has playing-time figures for every Bears player in 2011.
  • The wife of former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris died at 29, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. Ashley and Tommie Harris, who have two children together, were married in January.
  • From the Associated Press: "Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden has reached a deferred judgment agreement to resolve a disorderly conduct-domestic abuse charge without pleading guilty. Defense attorney Steve Richards said Walden has agreed to perform 50 hours of community service and continue counseling."
  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "Clearly, the Packers aren't hurting for money, so was it really necessary to raise ticket prices for the third consecutive year?"
  • Packers receiver Donald Driver appears willing to take a pay cut to remain with the team in 2012, according to Kareem Copeland of the Press-Gazette.
  • The Star Tribune's assessment of the Minnesota Vikings' stadium drive as the second full week of February begins: "[I]nterest in getting a stadium deal done this session has perceptibly waned at the State Capitol."
  • Detroit Lions defensive players are hoping that a full offseason together will help build chemistry, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions running back Kevin Smith is a free agent but wants to return in 2012, according to Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com.
  • Monarrez wonders if the Lions might pursue Tennessee Titans cornerback Courtland Finnegan in free agency.

Bears regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 20
Preseason Power Ranking: 13

[+] EnlargeCaleb Hanie
AP Photo/Paul SakumaCaleb Hanie was ineffective after taking over for an injured Jay Cutler in late November.
Biggest surprise: The Bears installed little-known Henry Melton into the critical "three-technique" position on their defensive line, hoping that the converted running back/defensive end could play the role of interior playmaker last filled by Tommie Harris about five years ago. Melton had his ups and downs, but he finished with seven sacks in 15 games. The only defensive tackle in the NFL with more sacks was Tommy Kelly of the Oakland Raiders, who had 7.5. Melton will have to even out his game to be a long-term starter, but no team is going to turn down seven sacks from an interior defensive lineman.

Biggest disappointment: Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie spent nearly four years in the organization before the Bears called on him for extensive service. No matter the situation, that's a reasonable timeframe for a quarterback to develop into a useful asset. When Hanie took over a 7-3 team, it was fair to think he could navigate the Bears toward the playoffs. Instead, he was benched after four consecutive losses, punctuated by nine interceptions and 19 sacks, and helped scuttle the Bears' postseason hopes. You can't blame Hanie for everything that went wrong during that stretch, but the quarterback is the most important player on the field and Hanie obviously didn't do enough to win a game. The Bears deserve some blame for failing to develop him, but in the end the responsibility lies with the player.

Biggest need: Amazingly, it's a toss-up between two positions that annually draw offseason discussion around this team: receiver and safety. Quarterback Jay Cutler has obvious chemistry with receiver Earl Bennett, but it's also clear that Devin Hester is best left primarily as a returner and that veteran Roy Williams is on his last legs. The Bears traded away tight end Greg Olsen because he didn't fit into now ex-coordinator Mike Martz's system, and they enter this offseason with a far-too-limited number of reliable pass-catchers. Meanwhile, there is reason to believe that 2011 third-round pick Chris Conte merits a look as a starting safety in 2012, but 2010 third-rounder Major Wright hasn't shown much progress and the Bears desperately need a playmaker in the back end.

Team MVP: Part of me wants to say that tailback Matt Forte deserves the award. Amid a public negotiation about his expiring contract, Forte was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage when he suffered a season-ending sprained knee in Week 13. But the Bears' collapse after Cutler's injury, especially before Forte was sidelined, demonstrated how valuable he really is. The Bears averaged 32 points per game during a five-game winning streak prior to his injury. In a 1-5 finish, they averaged 14.2 points per game. Sometimes, as they say, you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

Whither Hester? In Week 10, Hester returned a punt 82 yards against the Detroit Lions for his 18th career touchdown return. That left him one behind Deion Sanders' NFL record. But illness and a sprained ankle dramatically limited Hester's impact thereafter. He caught only four passes in the Bears' final seven games, and over that stretch he managed three returns for more than 30 yards. Hester is the type of player who could have helped overcome the ineffective offense Cutler left behind. His disappearance is a little-mentioned, but highly important, factor in their 8-8 final record.
Chris Harris is 29 years old. Last season, the Associated Press named him a second-team All-Pro. So how could it be that Harris made it through only seven games for the Chicago Bears this season before his surprise release Thursday morning?

A couple of factors are in play here, not the least of which is the Bears' pathological compulsion to swap out players at the safety position. Since taking over as coach in 2004, Lovie Smith has made 29 changes to his lineup at safety. When the Bears return from their bye next week, they'll be looking for a new starter to pair next to the sudden anchor of the position, rookie Chris Conte, who has started two games in his NFL career.

It's fair to say that Harris struggled some in coverage this season, most recently when receiver Dezmon Briscoe beat him for a touchdown in last Sundays' 24-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But I think even Harris would admit he is best used near the line of scrimmage as a run enforcer. A starting safety must be able to function in pass coverage, but the Bears could have protected Harris more if they had a better option to play alongside him. Wright, Conte and newcomer Brandon Meriweather -- who has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks -- all have similar run-first styles.

Finally, I think it's impossible to ignore the systematic breakup the Bears are engineering of their long-held core of veterans. Since the end of last season, they have bid farewell to defensive tackle Tommie Harris, center Olin Kreutz, tight end Desmond Clark and now Harris. (You wonder if linebacker Lance Briggs, who requested a trade last summer, will be the next to go.)

The Bears had justifiable football reasons for parting ways with each of those veterans. If Smith was ready to bench Harris permanently, there was no sense keeping him as a backup/special-teams player. NFL teams routinely make harsh decisions about key players, but the Bears have made a number of them in short order. So it goes.

Donovan McNabb not buying the pattern

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
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You know the story.

Pro Bowl quarterback gets traded by his long-time employers to a division rival. Quarterback gets benched late in the season, is shipped out for a sixth-round draft choice and takes a 60 percent pay cut to play for near-backup money. Debuting for his third team in three years, quarterback throws for 39 yards on an otherwise record-setting passing weekend in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeDonovan McNabb
Matt A. Brown/Icon SMIDonovan McNabb threw for just 39 yards in the Vikings' opener.
The pattern doesn't look good for Donovan McNabb, whom the Minnesota Vikings acquired this summer to provide a short-term competitive jump while rookie Christian Ponder spends some development time on the sideline. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, McNabb admitted that "from the start of this, there can be a lot of assumptions." But he suggested that writing him off after one unproductive week would be a mistake.

"A lot of times we make too much of one particular game," McNabb said, "where all of a sudden one person looks great and the other guy, he doesn't have it. And as the season goes on, the guy that they felt looked great in the first game, you don't hear about any more. And the team that maybe started out a little slow and continued to progress, those are the teams that you talk about later. That's one thing that I've learned in my 13 years."

In truth, anyone who watched the Vikings' 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers knows McNabb deserves but a portion of the blame for Minnesota's anemic passing results. The Chargers' pass rush broke free a number of times, and as we discussed earlier this week, the Vikings called a run on about 80 percent of their first-down plays.

It's no secret that tailback Adrian Peterson is the Vikings' best player, but McNabb insisted that the offense will "by no means" be predictable and hinted there is much more coming on the proverbial conveyor belt.

"I mean everyone expects us to hand the ball off to Adrian," McNabb said. "But there are plays in this offense and things that we can do, and things that we will do, that will begin to answer a lot of the questions that teams might have."

It would be unfair for everyone involved to start drawing conclusions about McNabb. He was a pretty good quarterback as recently as 2009, and the blame for his performance last season for the Washington Redskins has been debated around the NFL.

But I'm also reminded of our discussions on this blog about former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, whose production dipped dramatically after his 2007 Pro Bowl season. As the Bears waited for him to return to form over the next three seasons, it became clear: The longer a player moves away from success, the less likely he is to regain it.
Reviewing Friday's action at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Green Bay Packers 24, Indianapolis Colts 21

Preseason record: (2-1)

Of interest: The Packers offense opened with a three-and-out and then shifted to its increasingly intriguing no-huddle offense. It led to a total of 10 points for the starters in the first half, including Aaron Rodgers' 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley. Rodgers finished with 204 passing yards in the first half. But the Packers walked away with plenty to work on. Rodgers continued to take more hits than you would like. Left tackle Chad Clifton struggled with defensive end Dwight Freeney, contributing to a pair of sacks and also producing a holding penalty that wiped out a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chastin West. Right guard Josh Sitton gave up a sack for the second consecutive week, this time to former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris. ... Tailback Ryan Grant managed 16 yards on six carries, an effort that will keep his competition with James Starks in play. Starks got only one carry but caught five passes for 38 yards. ... The first-team defense blitzed Colts quarterback Curtis Painter extensively but eventually gave up a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter. One came on a busted coverage by safety Morgan Burnett, while the other came with the always-shaky Jarrett Bush in man coverage. ... Coach Mike McCarthy worked hard to ensure this victory, however, ordering a 2-point conversion after Ryan Taylor's 11-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds remaining. After a successful onside kick, place-kicker Mason Crosby atoned for an earlier miss with a 50-yard game-winner. ... Quarterback Graham Harrell's late-game heroics could go a long way toward making the team.

Local coverage: McCarthy said he never considered kicking an extra point after Taylor's touchdown to leave with a 1-point loss, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. McCarthy: "I understand the mindset of kicking the extra point and going home a little healthier. That's a terrible message to send to your team, in my opinion. ... I thought it was a tremendous boost for our football team. I think anytime you win a game in that fashion, it's healthy." ... The Packers starters should have scored more points, Demovsky quotes right tackle Bryan Bulaga as saying. ... Players seemed tired at times as a result of the no huddle, but Clifton (via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) said: "There's no excuse for it. I need to play better. Our job is to perform and perform at a high level. I didn't do that tonight. I know it wasn't one of my finest performances. I'll just have to learn from it." ... Burnett admitted he was at fault in the busted coverage that led to Reggie Wayne's 57-yard touchdown. Via Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel: "That was on me all the way. I should have stayed deep in my half. It's just a routine play. I need to really work on that. I can't put too much thought in it. Just need to bounce back." ... Rodgers on his touchdown pass to Finley, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "It was two guys on the same page. It was nice to be able to have that non-verbal acknowledgement of what we're trying to do there."

Up next: Thursday against Kansas City Chiefs
One of the least heralded engines of the Chicago Bears' run to the Super Bowl in 2006 was a pair of well-matched defensive tackles. Tommie Harris was the quick playmaker who had five sacks in 12 games. Tank Johnson was a 315-pound run-stuffer who kept centers and guards away from linebacker Brian Urlacher.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireThe Bears are counting on defensive lineman Henry Melton, 69, to be a disruptive force this season.
That duo came to mind the other night as I watched the Bears' first-team defense practice with Henry Melton at Harris' former position and Matt Toeaina at Johnson's nose tackle spot.

Veteran Anthony Adams was sidelined by a minor injury and could ultimately supplant Toeaina, and it's also possible that rookie Stephen Paea could work his way into the rotation. But based on recent personnel moves, and the lack thereof, it seems clear the Bears are counting on Melton to provide the interior disruption at the so-called "under tackle" position that is considered a fundamental building block of the Bears' scheme.

Fans who follow the Bears closely know that Melton flashed a few signs of promise at the end of last season, collecting 2 1/2 sacks over the final two months of the season, but no one can credibly stand up and say he is indisputably ready to take on a such a critical role on the defense.

"I'm just trying to establish myself right now," Melton said. "It's time for me to go out there and prove something."

Melton's relative inexperience at the position is stunning. He began his college career at Texas as a 280-pound running back, scoring 16 touchdowns during his first two seasons. He transitioned to defensive end midway through his career, actually losing 15 pounds to meet the program's size requirements, and didn't become a defensive starter until his senior year.

The Bears made him a fourth-round draft choice in 2009, and after a year on injured reserve, Melton played in 16 games last season as a reserve defensive end and occasional inside pass-rusher.

Is that the type of pedigree a Tampa-2 defense should be looking for in its under tackle? It's true that you can't have a proven veteran at every position, and the Bears can put All-Pro defensive Julius Peppers next to him. But they are without question taking a leap of faith with a player of unique athletic background but little seasoning at the position.

When I asked Peppers how he thought the Bears line was shaping up this summer, his answer was revealing.

"It hasn't shaped up," Peppers said. "It's still early. When we make the final team and see who we've got, we'll see what our expectations are. Right now it's kind of up in the air."

I don't think Peppers was implying the Bears will seek a new lineup via free agency or trades later this summer. He just put words to what is obvious: It's impossible to know if Melton is ready to take on this job. But the Bears have been talking up his candidacy for months, so I expect them to give him a long leash as the season begins.

To wit: In March, general manager Jerry Angelo said: "We feel, physically speaking, he's got everything you want in terms of size, speed, toughness. That's not any question. Now it's just a matter of learning the position and that will come with the repetition of more play."

To prepare for the role, Melton gained nearly 30 pounds and is now 295. He said the footwork he learned as a running back will help him because "you've got to position your feet around your opponent before you start using your hands" and suggested it is just a matter of time before he locks down the position.

"It's really just repetitions," he said. "You've got to really get in your groove. Once you get things going, the game really starts slowing down for you."

We'll see.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- When the playing surface at Soldier Field fell into disrepair last Friday, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith brought players back to Olivet Nazarene University for a late-night practice.

When a thunderstorm set off lightning warnings about 90 minutes into Monday afternoon's practice, Smith called off the rest of practice and began looking for ways to make up the lost practice time later this week.

And now it's time for us to call an audible as well.

The Bears have decided to take Tuesday off and have pushed Wednesday's practice to 7 p.m. ET. So rather than wait 36 hours for more Bears camp action, I'm going to hop in the NFC North blog tour bus and head to Detroit.

I'm told it's a five-hour drive from Bourbonnais, which should put me in Allen Park, Mich., in time for a couple winks and then Lions practice at 9:15 a.m. ET.

Thanks to all of you for sticking with me during what has been the most unpredictable few weeks I've encountered since I began covering the NFL. The unprecedented timing of free agency, new training camp rules and near-constant schedule changes has made it impossible to conduct an efficient and orderly CampTour'11.

Fear not, Bears readers. We've already examined the Bears' offensive line, and I've got a notebook full of interviews with information to dispense over the coming days. My formal Camp Confidential will run Thursday, and I've got posts coming on the defensive tackle the Bears hope will replace Tommie Harris as well as a look at the Bears' new-look receivers group.

As for Monday's practice, Smith said the disruption of the past few days emulated some of the schedule upheaval the team will experience during the regular season when it travels to London for a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "A veteran crew should be able to handle situations like that," Smith said.

Regardless, Smith admitted he might use some of his starters longer than usual in Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.

We've talked about that quite a bit," Smith said. "Haven't come to a complete conclusion yet, but we have talked to them about playing a little bit more."

Who knows what could happen between now and then. Barring some major news, I'll be back with you Tuesday from Detroit.
A few Tuesday training camp tidbits in quick-hitting fashion ...

Item: The Chicago Bears signed tight end Desmond Clark to a one-year contract.
Comment: It's not entirely clear what the Bears are up to at tight end. Clark was inactive for 11 of 16 games last season and didn't seem to fit into the team's plans. But he has been a locker room pillar for years and might have extra value now that we know center Olin Kreutz won't return. Said Clark: "I think the way the Bears viewed me as a leader had a great deal to do with it."

Item: After mulling retirement, Kreutz wants to play somewhere this season, according to his agent.
Comment: Kreutz didn't encounter a ton of interest on the free-agent market, but someone will need a veteran center in the next few weeks, if not before.

Item: The Indianapolis Colts signed former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris.
Comment: Four sacks in two years.

Item: The St. Louis Rams signed former Green Bay Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga.
Comment: Poppinga is expected to compete with another former Packers linebacker, Na'il Diggs, for a starting job. He'll certainly bring an aggressive attitude to the Rams' defense.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings might still be in the market for free-agent receiver Malcom Floyd, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
Comment: Could Floyd bulk up and play left tackle?

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Thursday, 9/4
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Monday, 9/8