NFL Nation: Adam Podlesh

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a setback before the start of training camp when free safety Mike Mitchell hurt his groin while working out.

Mitchell
Mitchell, the Steelers’ most significant signing this offseason, and running back Alvester Alexander have been placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Alexander, who spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, is also nursing an injured groin.

Both can come off the PUP list at any time, and coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers expect Mitchell to be sidelined for the first week of training camp.

“We’ll monitor him day to day,” Tomlin said late Friday afternoon.

Two Steelers players did not report to camp by the 4 p.m. ET deadline and each was excused by the team. Punter Adam Podlesh is staying with his wife until she gives birth to their child, and starting left guard Ramon Foster is coping with the death of his mother.

Tomlin did not give a timetable for the return of either player.

Tomlin addressed the media after the Steelers’ conditioning test, and he seemed pleased with his first look at the players since the end of offseason practices.

“I like the look in the eye of the group,” the eighth-year coach said, “and the way that they performed at the run test was impressive.”

Also of note from Tomlin’s first news conference of training camp.
  • Tomlin plans on running a physical camp after watching the players take part in non-contact practices during the offseason.

    “I enjoyed the spring and summer, but that’s the spring and summer. Now that we’re here in training camp we’re going to do what we do in this type of setting, which is compete,” Tomlin said.

    When asked if there will be tackling, Tomlin smiled.

    “Absolutely,” he said. “See you on Monday.”

    Monday is the first that that the Steelers are allowed to practice in full pads and hits. The team will conduct non-contract practices on Saturday and Sunday, something that is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement.
  • Tomlin said he won’t take a slower approach to installing the playbook despite the Steelers’ youth, particularly on defense.

    “We expect those guys to catch up. It’s professional football, they don’t have an academic workload to worry about,” Tomlin said. “Obviously we’re willing to adjust when it’s time to play football in September. It’s just smart football to do what your guys are capable of doing, but as we step into Latrobe we do not have that mentality. We need to see what they’re capable of handling. And in order to so that we’re going to install at our normal pace.”
  • Center Maurkice Pouncey won’t be eased into practice even though he is still less than a year removed from tearing the ACL in his right knee.

    The Steelers gave Pouncey periodic days off during the offseason practices as a precaution, but Tomlin said the three-time Pro Bowler won’t be limited in camp.

    “He’s ready to go,” Tomlin said.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Veteran punter Adam Podlesh will have to fight to keep the starting job he’s held since signing a five-year, $10 million contract with the Bears in the spring of 2011.

Podlesh
With the Bears presently carrying three punters on their offseason roster (Podlesh, Drew Butler and Tress Way), the team is not close to naming the 2014 starter.

“It’s wide open. It’s a wide open competition,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said Thursday at the NFL combine.

Podlesh averaged a career-low 40.6 yards per punt last season with a 37.9 yard net average. He tied for 13th in the NFL with 27 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20.

On two separate occasions in the past two years, the Bears have brought a large group of punters to Halas Hall for open tryouts after Podlesh experienced difficulties in game situations. In both instances, Podlesh responded with solid efforts the following week.

Podlesh set the franchise single-season record in net punting average (40.4) in 2011. The next year, Podlesh had the second-highest net punting average in franchise history at 39.4 yards.

However, Podlesh finished the 2013 campaign with a 36.1 yard per punt average over the last four games.

Further complicating the situation is Podlesh’s cost. He is scheduled to count $1.825 million against the cap in 2014. Butler carries a $495,000 potential cap charge. Way’s number would be $420,000.

Five things we learned vs. Packers

November, 5, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears’ 27-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers:

1. Josh McCown a solid investment at No. 2: The job McCown has done the past two games is nothing short of remarkable. Reserve quarterbacks pressed into action rarely have this level of success. Let’s put McCown’s performance Monday in perspective: He completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards, threw two touchdowns and zero interceptions and did it on the road -- in a place where the Bears seldom win, against a quality opponent. Seneca Wallace had no shot to lead the Packers to a victory after Aaron Rodgers suffered a left shoulder/collarbone injury in the first quarter. McCown, on the other hand, inspired confidence all night. Another stellar game by the offensive line and Matt Forte rushing for 125 yards certainly helped, but the star of the game from the Bears’ perspective has to be McCown. As I wrote last week, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. McCown treats every single person at Halas Hall with respect, and for that reason he has the entire organization on his side. This is a win Bears fans will remember for a long time, and it could be the turning point of the season.

2. Momentum is now on the Bears’ side: Chicago's once-promising season looked as if it was about to go off the tracks after the Bears dropped three of four games. But Monday's victory at Lambeau Field changes everything. Now sitting at 5-3 and 2-1 in the NFC North, the Bears return home Sunday to face a Detroit Lions squad that is much more vulnerable when playing on the road, away from the controlled environment of Ford Field. Following the Lions game -- a crucial matchup, considering that Detroit knocked off the Bears on Sept. 29 -- Chicago has winnable games against the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams. If the Bears play their cards right, they could finish November somewhere in the 7-4 range, or perhaps even better. That would put the Bears in prime playoff contention entering the final month of the season. Monday night was a swing game for the Bears -- and the season has now swung back in a positive direction after some scary moments of late.

3. Defensive ends produce: A consistent pass rush had eluded the Bears virtually the entire season, until defensive ends Julius Peppers (one) and Shea McClellin (three) combined for four sacks versus the Packers. Peppers also had an important interception, while McClellin delivered the hit that knocked Rodgers out of the game. Corey Wootton even contributed a sack late in the game from his defensive-tackle position. While there are many things the Bears can still improve upon on this side of the ball (the run defense and tackling among them), Peppers and McClellin finally delivered the kind of effort Chicago fans were desperate to see. Perhaps this game can serve as a springboard for McClellin, who said in the locker room that his effort definitely helped his confidence. This is the kind of production Bears general manager Phil Emery envisioned when he drafted McClellin No. 19 overall in 2012. Better late than never. And if it turns out to be an isolated occurrence, at least McClellin had the monster game against the Packers.

4. The offensive line is for real: The Packers game should only serve to reinforce the turnaround on the Bears’ offensive line from 2012 to 2013. McCown was sacked just one time in 41 pass attempts. Forte averaged 5.2 yards per carry, while the team overall rushed for 171 yards. This group has the perfect balance of youth and experience. Roberto Garza receives some credit for his effort his season. The Bears investigated drafting a center in last year's draft. But now it looks like the team should offer Garza a one-year deal in the offseason to keep him on the roster in 2014. Left guard Matt Slauson also seems worth a new deal. Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, Pat Meyer and Emery all deserve praise for turning one of the Bears’ greatest weaknesses into a strength in just one offseason.

5. Special teams slipped: What is going on with special teams? First, Adam Podlesh has a punted blocked for the first time in his NFL career, then Green Bay is able to recover a surprise onside kick in the second half. Special teams have been a staple in Chicago for years, but this season the group has not been as effective. With the defense still struggling in many aspects (Green Bay rushed for 199 yards), the Bears can not afford to make gaffes on special teams as they push for a postseason berth. Time to clean it up in the game’s third phase.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 5

October, 7, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhA slow start for running back Matt Forte and the Bears' offense spelled doom against the Saints.
Slow starts: The Bears need to stop spotting opponents points early in games through mistakes, lax play, turnovers or simply giving teams short fields to work with because of unproductive drives on offense. Whatever the case, the Bears have trailed at the half now in three of five games before making adjustments in the second half to come from behind to win or at least make a seemingly lopsided loss look respectable. The Bears need to start making effective adjustments more quickly.

Chicago killed itself on the first play from scrimmage when Matt Forte doomed a drive with a fumble for a 10-yard loss, and New Orleans responded with a field goal to put the Bears at a disadvantage early. On Chicago’s next drive, ineptitude in blitz pickup resulted in another fumble that the Saints turned into another field goal. By the time the Bears started playing productive football, they were trailing 13-0 with 5:57 left in the first half. That’s too late.

Injuries to front four: With Henry Melton out for the season and Stephen Paea missing Sunday’s game because of a turf toe injury, the front four suffered another blow when Nate Collins left with a knee injury. That’s two starters and a backup ailing from injuries. Unheralded players such as undrafted rookie Zach Minter and Landon Cohen need to step up, along with players such as defensive end Corey Wootton, who is now being forced to play out of position. The personnel department needs to help in this area, too, by beating the streets for suitable talent to acquire, and that will be a difficult proposition.

Podlesh rebounds: The Bears brought in six punters for workouts Tuesday after Adam Podlesh produced a rancid performance against the Lions in Week 4, finishing with a net average of 28.8 yards. But Podlesh bounced back with a decent outing against the Saints. He finished with a net average of 44.8 yards, including a 54-yard effort in the first half, his best outing since Nov. 19 of last season.

Rush improved, but not enough: With the injuries mounting, it’s likely the pass rush will continue to be an issue for this team. The Bears sacked Drew Brees twice and have registered six sacks over the past three games. But the club needs to apply even more pressure. There’s no way Brees should be allowed enough time to complete nearly 83 percent of his passes.
Here's a look at five things to watch during Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Chicago’s pass rush: It’s imperative that the Bears pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who has thrown for 300 yards or more in nine consecutive games, which ties an NFL record he established from 2011-12. The Bears don’t necessarily have to sack him, but they need to disrupt the timing between Brees and his targets by getting to him, and forcing him to throw a little earlier than he wants. If the Bears can do that, they will take some pressure off the secondary. The Saints own a winning percentage of .703 when Brees throws for 300 yards or more, but the team is 16-11 when opponents hold the quarterback to fewer than 250 yards through the air. The Bears think they might have an inside track to getting to Brees, who has been sacked 12 times this season. Remember, Chicago’s offense is very similar to New Orleans’, and with new head coach Marc Trestman, the team now spends portions of practice pitting the starting offense against the starting defense.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Greg TrottJulius Peppers and the Bears need to pressure Drew Brees to have a chance against the Saints.
“(Defensive coordinator) Mel (Tucker) has some things that create some… I think we’ve done some things structurally to force and integrate some problems on New Orleans’ offensive side of the football,” Trestman said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Matt Forte’s production: Chicago needs to keep New Orleans’ offense off the field, and the best way to do it is to establish the run early with Matt Forte and chew up the clock. When the teams last played in 2011, Forte accounted for 166 yards from scrimmage (49 rushing and 117 receiving). So look for the Bears to make Forte an integral part of not just the rushing game, but the passing attack as well, because of his ability to create matchup problems for defenses. If Forte produces a big game, it significantly increases Chicago’s prospects for victory. The Bears should also try to get Michael Bush heavily involved to keep Forte fresh.

“You’ve got to play continuity football. We don’t want to put Drew Brees on a short field. We don’t want to do that. So that brings in the special teams and our ability to cover. Offensively, our ability to use the clock and to keep the ball out of his hands, that’s all a part of it,” Trestman said. “You’re not going to take away their offense trying to get their job done, which is to try to score. But ultimately within the framework of the game, you certainly want Drew Brees to have to go the length of the field where our defense can create more opportunities for ourselves.”

The Bears offensive line: New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mixes up fronts, which can confuse defenses. The Saints play a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4, but they also throw in quite a bit of nickel and dime looks, and exotic packages that feature all 11 defenders standing up, designed to throw off the count up front for offensive linemen. So the offensive line and quarterback Jay Cutler need to quickly recognize the looks given by New Orleans, and make the necessary adjustments. New Orleans has been able to generate a decent pass rush with just the front four, but a couple of players the Bears need to focus on are defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette.

“It’s one of those teams where you’re not looking at one simple front and going off of that. They give us a lot of looks, a lot of pressure from different spots on the field,” rookie right guard Kyle Long sad. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can move around from the top of the field down to the bottom. Their linebackers come up on the line of scrimmage. It poses a lot of threats for us. Our preparation and the things we’ve done this week, we’ve been able to simplify it and come up with a plan.”

How Bears defend Jimmy Graham: Tucker rightfully called Graham a “mismatch nightmare” because “he runs like a fast wide receiver, he’s got excellent catch radius, he’s a fierce competitor, his quarterback looks for him, and he feels like every ball that’s thrown to him he should catch it.” How the Bears defend Graham will likely determine the outcome of this game. So far, no team has been able to neutralize Graham , who leads the Saints with 27 catches for 458 yards and six touchdowns. His 413 receiving yards in the past three games ties Shannon Sharpe (1996) and Dave Kocourek (1961) for the highest total for a tight end in a three-game span. The Bears won’t be able to successfully guard Graham with a linebacker because of the speed mismatch, and nickel corner Isaiah Frey might be too small to handle the tight end, who at 6-7, is a former college basketball player. The Bears might try to use a couple of packages that feature Zack Bowman (6-1) at the nickel covering Graham.

How Adam Podlesh performs: Field position is crucial in every game, but it’s even more important in this contest because of New Orleans’ ability to score quickly. The Bears want to force Brees to direct long drives, which in turn, allow the defense more opportunities to force mistakes. Podlesh finished with a net-punting average of 28.8 yards in last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions, and his short 40-yard punt in the second quarter was returned by Micheal Spurlock for a 57-yard gain.

The Bears worked out several punters on Tuesday, and a source said the club has strongly considered going another direction at the position. So Podlesh, who specializes in directional punting, needs to perform well in this game, or his replacement could quickly be on the way.

“I kind of understood after what I put out there on the field in Detroit that I basically said to myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were going to look at was out on the market,” Podlesh said.
Alshon JefferyNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Getty ImagesAlshon Jeffery had five catches for a career-high 107 yards against the Lions.

RISING

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Jeffery
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery did a little bit of everything in the Week 4 loss in Detroit. He came up with a tough touchdown catch despite blanket coverage (he dropped a sure touchdown the play before), showed the ability to beat a defense deep with a 44-yard reception, and proved he can also be a weapon in the run game with a 27-yard end-around. With the exception of the Bears' win against the Vikings on Sept. 15, Jeffery has been a reliable target for Jay Cutler the entire season. Jeffery figures to reach 60 catches in 2013 if he continues to avoid injury -- he missed six games his rookie season. Jeffery's confidence seems to be growing every week.

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Julius Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, DE: The Bears' failure to sack the quarterback is still alarming, but Peppers had his best game of the year on Sunday, by far. According to NFL statistics, Peppers finished with six tackles and the Bears' lone sack and quarterback hurry. Peppers also dropped Reggie Bush for no gain on the Lions' first offensive play from scrimmage, and overall, the defensive end appeared to be moving better than in previous weeks. With the Bears' depth on the defensive line tested due to injuries, it's vital Peppers contribute some impact plays to the defensive effort moving forward.

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Earl Bennett
3. Earl Bennett, WR: Bennett's role in the offense is expanding. The wide receiver participated in 49 plays and caught a late fourth-quarter touchdown from Cutler, Bennett's second score in the past two weeks after hauling in the Week 3 game-clincher versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bennett isn't targeted often, he has seven catches on the season, but when the ball does come his way, the wideout generally makes a play. Bennett is clearly the fifth option on offense, but he is sure-handed and dependable.

FALLING

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Jay Cutler
1. Jay Cutler, QB: The Bears lost to the Lions for two reasons; (1) Cutler turned the ball over four times, and (2) the defense failed to tackle Bush. Cutler will throw interceptions. That is a fact. Sunday marked the seventh time since 2009 that Cutler tossed three or more interceptions in a game. The Bears claim Cutler's mistakes were all physical, that his decision-making was sound in the 40-32 defeat. If that's the case, then all of Cutler's miscues are correctable. But these performances are always a concern with Cutler. The Bears might be able to beat a bad Minnesota team at home when the quarterback turns the ball over three times, but on the road against a quality opponent, the Bears have no shot to win if Cutler gives the ball away at such an alarming rate.

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Mel Tucker
2. Entire defense: The whole group gets the nod for Bush rushing for 112 yards on 11 carries in the first half alone. The Lions seemed to have a solid gameplan for how they wanted to attack the Bears, but that does not excuse the poor tackling. Bush was making Bears defenders miss all over the field. The Bears have allowed way too many big plays on defense this season. The turnovers and defensive touchdowns are great, but this group is expected to produce better results. Even without Lovie Smith, Rod Marinelli, Brian Urlacher and now Henry Melton, there are enough Pro Bowl-caliber defensive players on the roster to prevent these kinds of breakdowns. And where is the pass rush? This all better improve in a hurry with Drew Brees coming to town on Sunday, otherwise the Bears' 3-0 head start to begin the season could evaporate over the next month.

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Adam Podlesh
3. Adam Podlesh, P: He had a rough afternoon at Ford Field, there is just no other way to put it. Despite punting in a controlled climate, Podlesh averaged only 40.2 yards per kick with a net average of 28.8 yards. Heading into Week 4, Podlesh had been averaging 44.6 yards per punt with a 42-yard net average. Punters will have bad games from time to time. Podlesh had a mild slump last year but finished the season exceptionally strong. The hope is he puts the Lions game behind him and bounces back against the Saints. Field position figures to be at a premium against the high-powered Saints' offense, so Podlesh pinning the Saints deep in their own territory whenever possible will be an important key to victory.
Chris KluweTom Dahlin/Getty ImagesChris Kluwe ranked No. 31 last season in punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
Here's the key question to consider after the Minnesota Vikings made it official Monday and released punter Chris Kluwe: Would Kluwe be an ex-Viking today if he had never campaigned for gay rights, Hall of Fame candidacies and other issues?

My informed guess: Probably.

So what impact did Kluwe's public advocacy play in the Vikings' decision? It moved the odds from "probably" to "certainty," erasing any equity his eight-career with the franchise might otherwise have built.

I know that explanation won't satisfy those of you who are convinced the Vikings targeted Kluwe because he took on a politically and socially sensitive issue. It's easy to see this move, contextualize it with the Baltimore Ravens' release of special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, and suspect an agenda against NFL players who get involved in the gay rights issue.

I just don't think it's that simple. When viewed through the bigger picture of NFL business, and in the context of the Vikings' personnel approach over the past 16 months, you realize that Kluwe's off-field life was at best the final shove at the end of the plank.

The facts:

  • Kluwe finished 2012 ranked No. 31 among NFL punters in a statistic the Vikings value highly: punts downed inside the 20. Of Kluwe's 72 punts, 18 settled in what the league considers poor field position. By comparison, the Chicago Bears' Adam Podlesh nearly doubled Kluwe's total among his 81 punts. Podlesh finished with 34, while Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay had 30 in 70 punts.
  • Kluwe set a career high with a 39.9-yard net average, but that mark still ranked in the lower half (No. 18 overall) among punters.
  • In a relatively flat salary-cap era, the Vikings had an opportunity for significant savings. Because of a rarely needed NFL rule, Kluwe has no acceleration remaining on his six-year deal. Thus, all of his projected $1.45 million cap figure has been erased. His replacement, Jeff Locke, will count about a third of that total. In two years, in fact, the Vikings have shaved 23 years off the combined age of their punter and place-kicker and have lowered their cap commitment for those roles by two-thirds.

So in cold business terms, the Vikings had a 31-year-old punter who turned in a below-average performance last season and was entering the final year of his contract. They had several options, including keeping Kluwe for one more season, before deciding whether to re-sign him.

But if you've watched general manager Rick Spielman operate since January 2012, when he was promoted to his current role, you know he has systematically bid farewell to 30-plus-year-old players. The list ranges from guard Steve Hutchinson to linebacker E.J. Henderson to cornerback Antoine Winfield, and it has left only three players on the roster who are older than 30.

Two of them, defensive end Jared Allen (31) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (32), are among the best players on the team. The third is long-snapper Cullen Loeffler.

Even the most youth-oriented NFL teams make age exceptions for specialists, as the Vikings apparently have for Loeffler. But that's where Kluwe's advocacy came in. The Vikings didn't resent his personal views, per se, but his pursuit of them at a time when his own performance was slipping served to eliminate any benefit of the doubt he might have held with decision-makers. If they were otherwise inclined to wait another year for this move, or had some hesitation about using a rookie punter, Kluwe's standing wasn't high enough to push them in the other direction. He implied a divided attention, whether or not that was actually the case, and that isn't a recipe for convincing football-focused bosses that his performance was likely to turn around.

Kluwe made a true and real impact on a national issue, one so significant that NBA player Jason Collins thanked him by name last week when announcing he is gay. Those efforts didn't cost Kluwe his job Monday, but they eliminated any chance for saving it.

Packers-Bears II: Special-teams hit

December, 11, 2012
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A bit later Tuesday, we'll take a look at the big-picture implications of Sunday's matchup at Soldier Field. In the meantime, however, let's note that the Chicago Bears won't have three of their top special-teams players when they host the Green Bay Packers.

Gould
Gould
Place-kicker Robbie Gould (calf), safety Craig Steltz (chest) and safety Sherrick McManis (knee) were all placed on injured reserve Tuesday. Among other roster moves, the Bears signed 39-year-old veteran Olindo Mare to kick in Sunday's game and presumably for the rest of the season.

Gould has been the Bears' place-kicker for 122 consecutive games, dating back to Week 5 of the 2005 season. But he strained his left calf during pregame warmups last Sunday at the Metrodome and apparently won't recover in time to kick freely again for at least three weeks. Sunday, he managed two extra points but ceded kickoffs to punter Adam Podlesh and didn't attempt a field goal.

Mare hasn't played in the NFL this season but was the Carolina Panthers' regular place-kicker in 2011. He could have some winter weather to adjust to Sunday at Soldier Field, but the Bears' final two regular-season games -- at the Arizona Cardinals and at the Detroit Lions -- shouldn't be impacted by the elements.

Meanwhile, McManis ranked third on the Bears with 10 special-teams tackles entering last Sunday's game. Steltz had five and was also getting turns in the Bears' rotation at safety. As the world turns. ...

Pregame injury for Robbie Gould

December, 9, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Here's an early injury report from the Metrodome: Chicago Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould suffered a calf injury during pregame warm-ups.

As a result, punter Adam Podlesh took the opening kickoff. His kick hit at the Vikings' 2-yard line and bounced into the end zone for a touchback.

Gould was able to convert most of his warm-up kicks after the injury but clearly wasn't 100 percent. It's assumed he'll at least be available to take short-range attempts, but we'll keep you updated.

Pregame: No Delmas, Houston or Broyles

September, 9, 2012
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We've already noted that Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson will play Sunday. A few other important Sunday morning roster notes in the NFC North:

Chicago Bears cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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Most significant move: The most significant move of the final cut-down, and the entire offseason, is how aggressive the Bears were in trying to upgrade special teams. In free agency, they signed Eric Weems to help Devin Hester with returns. They kept undrafted safety Jeremy Jones to help on special teams, then traded fullback Tyler Clutts to Houston to acquire cornerback Sherrick McManis. They also kept linebacker Patrick Trahan to help out on special teams. Figuring the team will have a better offense, the Bears wanted to shore up special teams to keep their offense in good field position.

Onward and upward: With only three draft choices making the 53-man roster -- third-round pick Brandon Hardin ended up on injured reserve -- the Bears need to see if they can slide released draft choices Isaiah Frey (sixth round) or Greg McCoy (seventh round) to the practice squad. The Bears may only keep one on the practice squad because both are cornerbacks. They also hope to get undrafted tackle James Brown through waivers to get him on the practice squad. The Bears kept the predicted eight offensive linemen on the active roster, so they need a tackle (Brown, A.J. Greene or Cory Brandon) and an inside prospect to fill out the practice squad.

What’s next: The Bears aren’t standing pat. They ended up adding 16 new players to the roster and are in the process of signing defensive tackle Amobi Okoye as a backup. It wouldn’t be surprising if they look at Antonio Dixon, a defensive tackle released by the Philadelphia Eagles. A decision still has to be made on a punter. Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury, so the Bears kept undrafted punter Ryan Quigley on the active roster. It’s not out of the question for them to look for another punter who was released.
Reviewing Saturday's action at Soldier Field:

Chicago Bears 33, Washington Redskins 31

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: On an overall positive night for the Bears, three players encountered injuries worth monitoring. Punter Adam Podlesh suffered a hip flexor while trying to catch Redskins returner Brian Banks and will have an MRI on Sunday. Safety Chris Conte left the stadium with his right arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder injury, and rookie safety Brandon Hardin was carted off the field because of an apparent neck injury. Hardin was able to move his arms and legs and never lost consciousness. … Quarterback Jay Cutler's first action was productive. He completed four of his first five passes, including a 41-yarder to receiver Brandon Marshall on their first live play together in five years. … Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery continues to suggest he'll be ready to contribute right away, turning a throw over the middle from Jason Campbell into a 34-yard gain and catching a team-high three passes. … Michael Bush's pair of red-zone touchdowns further strengthened the idea that he will be the Bears' red zone and short-yardage back. … Defensive end Israel Idonije had 2.5 sacks, including a forced fumble against the Redskins' Robert Griffin III. … It was a wild night on special teams. The Bears gave up a 91-yard scoring return to Banks, but Lorenzo Booker had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Eric Weems also had a 48-yard return. Place-kicker Robbie Gould hit a 57-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining to account for the winning margin.

Local coverage: Podlesh thinks he'll be ready for the start of the season, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times. … Coach Lovie Smith didn't think that Conte's injury was too serious, and the Bears are crossing their fingers on Hardin. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more. … The Bears can live with how their offensive line played Saturday night, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. … It appears Jeffery has earned the trust of the Bears' quarterbacks, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com. … Melissa Isaacson of ESPNChicago.com: "This is a different Jay Cutler, with a different offensive coordinator and a different Bears team around him. ... Cutler and his new receivers showed the first glimpse of a passing offense that will be able to stand up to the better defensive backs while finally taking its place in a new NFL that isn't all that new anymore." … The Bears took a hard look not only at left tackle, between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, but also at left guard between Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

Up next: Friday at New York Giants
Bryan AngerCal Sport Media/AP ImagesUsing the 70th pick on Cal punter Bryan Anger hurts the Jaguars more than it helps them.


The Jacksonville Jaguars have been accused (occasionally by me) of not doing well enough in assessing how the rest of the league's teams value some players they draft.

Some personnel people around the league say the Jaguars simply don’t care about that. In a way, I admire them for it. Don’t be overly concerned and influenced by the forces around you, by the competition. Do your own thing. Bank on your convictions.

But when it comes to taking Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, the Jaguars absolutely should care about league context.

I know at least one other team had him rated as a fifth-rounder.

Anger is first punter to go in the top 100 picks since 1995, when Todd Sauerbrun went in the second round to Chicago, 56th overall. (Correction: In 2005, Kansas City took Dustin Colquitt in the third round, 99th overall. Apologies.)

There is a reason for that.

It’s important that you don’t punt terribly. But it’s not so important that you punt fantastically, certainly not important enough that you sacrifice the chance to improve at a position that could be on the field for three downs a game.

“I think it will be evident when you get a chance to see him punt: He’s got a strong history which I feel will transfer to this level in helping us defensively with the yardage we can gain in field position,” general manager Gene Smith said.

“… He’s the player in that round at your pick that you feel can upgrade your football team. I think that’s an easy decision for me, to get a starter in the third round.”

Calling a punter a starter is beyond a stretch.

The Jaguars' defense played 970 plays in 2011. The Jaguars' offense played 958 plays. The Jaguars punted 99 times.

“I think it’s first downs that you gain,” Smith said in a further defense of the pick. “And I feel like in the third round it’s not a round that you always get proven starters.”

Really?

In Smith’s three previous drafts, he picked four times in the third round. Guard Will Rackley, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Derek Cox are starters. The only non-starter, defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, has missed his first two seasons with injuries.

Jacksonville averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, 31st in NFL. It averaged 36.5 net yards per punt, 28th in NFL. Those numbers were, in part, a testament to the team’s foolish conclusion that greybeard Matt Turk was the man to replace Adam Podlesh, who left for Chicago as a free agent.

The Jaguars cut Turk after five games, going with Nick Harris the rest of the way. Harris was 3 yards, and 5.1 net yards, better per punt than Turk had been.

A longer punt is easier to cover, so this is too simple.

Nevertheless, here is my counterproposal to drafting Anger 70th:

Jacksonville uses an average punter and boosts its net average to what was the midpoint for 2011. By my calculations, that would give the Jaguars an extra 15.5 net yards a game. Then use the 70th pick on an offensive lineman who, as part of a better scheme, could help cut the Jaguars’ sack yardage in half. That would give the team an extra 10.3 yards a game, and also help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert not worry so much about getting crunched.

The overall gain from my plan -- not just estimating that the average that will come with a big leg, but actually factoring in context -- would be better.

The goal is not to punt, and you drafted a punter. That was the first thing a reporter in Jacksonville said to coach Mike Mularkey after the pick.

“And hold, hold for extra points,” Mularkey said. “If you want to write about him, he’s a really good holder for extra points and field goals, and he just so happens to be a difference-maker when it comes to punting.”

Oh, he holds, too? Well, that changes everything.

No, actually, any guy on offense with good hands, starting with your backup quarterback, should be able to function as a holder.

Maybe Anger is the league’s best punter and holder for 15 years.

Even if he is, it says here there will be at least three dozen players among the picks after Anger who have more impactful careers than he will. And that’s a modest 20 percent of the 183 guys we’re talking about. If the Jaguars missed on him by two rounds, maybe it’s 64 players. It could be more.

Are the Jaguars, coming off a 5-11 season, good enough that they can pass on such potential people? They are not. Perhaps are they expecting Gabbert to be terrible again, knowing they’ll be punting a ton and being proactive?

They need more guys who can score touchdowns or stop touchdowns. Get more guys who can get you first downs and you’ll punt less, kicking more field goals and scoring more touchdowns. Get more guys who can stop a third-down run or break up a third-down pass and you’ll be fielding punts, not covering them.

Do those things and getting a few additional yards when you have to kick the ball away doesn’t mean so much.

Know where you have a chance to add guys who fit that bill?

With the third-round pick you just used on a punter.

Too often the Jaguars are a punching bag or a punch line.

This time, they deserve it.
Barring a last-minute change this weekend, the Chicago Bears won't be the only NFC North team with a new punter in 2011.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press is reporting the Detroit Lions will release veteran Nick Harris and install rookie Ryan Donahue in that role. Harris, 33, has been the Lions' punter since 2003.

Donahue was one of the nation's top college punters last season at Iowa, and the Lions' pursuit of him this spring indicated they planned a serious challenge to Harris this summer. Both punters finished the preseason with identical 34.4-yard net averages, but you could tell the Lions were serious about Donahue when he began holding for place-kicker Jason Hanson in preseason games.

As you recall, the Bears decided against re-signing veteran punter Brad Maynard and instead acquired former Jacksonville Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh.

Observation deck: Bears-Giants

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
11:41
PM ET
Observations from the Bears 41-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants on "Monday Night Football":

Last October, the Giants slapped 10 sacks on the Chicago Bears.

Monday night, they didn't.

That's probably the most encouraging thing I can say about the Bears loss Monday night at New Meadowlands Stadium. This is not meant as (a total) back-handed compliment. In all sincerity, the Bears' first-team offensive line rebounded nicely from last week's four-sack outing and probably isn't in danger of the kind of shakeup a poor performance in this game could have generated.

[+] EnlargeBears offensive line
AP Photo/Julio CortezChicago's first-team offensive line played into the third quarter, but allowed only one sack.
Tackles J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi were each called for a false start, but I thought Carimi, especially, held his own against Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. The first-team offensive line played into the third quarter but allowed only one sack. Even that instance seemed more the fault of Cutler, who escaped the pocket but then slid to the ground rather than throw the ball away.

Stranger things have happened, but the Bears would be justified in keeping this offensive line together for at least another week. On a night when many people will overreact to a mostly meaningless preseason score, I also think:

1. Receiver Roy Williams needs to get his act together. His drop of Cutler's first third-down pass of the night, inexplicably undetected until Giants coach Tom Coughlin challenged it, was indicative of the performances he's put forth recently in practice. His second third-down opportunity was more difficult but still could have been caught.

Regardless, how much could Cutler possibly trust Williams at this point? And will the Bears keep him in the starting lineup or at least give Earl Bennett more repetitions? There is no doubt about Bennett's connection with Cutler. He targeted Bennett five times, connecting for three catches and 58 yards.

2. BREAKING: Tailback Matt Forte is fast. Forte put his speed on display during the first-quarter screen pass he took across the field and down the left sideline for 42 yards. That's the kind of (dare I say) Marshall Faulk-like open-field running he brings to the Mike Martz offense.

3. Goal-to-go woes. We've chronicled the Bears' ineffectiveness in goal-to-goal situations over the past few years, and it's worth noting two more failures Monday.

In the first quarter, Forte managed 2 yards on first-and-goal at the 7. The Bears wound up throwing on second and third downs before settling for a 23-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

The Bears signed free agent Marion Barber for these kinds of situations, but in the third quarter, Barber failed on three consecutive runs to push the ball into the end zone. The last attempt was on fourth down at the 1-yard line. Barber still runs hard, but nothing requires more power than a goal-line play.

4. A punting competition? The Bears signed free agent Adam Podlesh to a five-year contract worth $10 million, and almost half of that total is scheduled to be paid out in the next 12 months. You don't commit that kind of money to a punter who isn't a lock to make the team, so it was surprising to hear ESPN announcers describe Podlesh's punting battle with Spencer Lanning based on discussions with Bears coaches.

Lanning has had a nice summer, and I wouldn't blame a blocked second-quarter punt on him. But it would be a stunner if Podlesh weren't the Bears' punter to start the season.

5. Devin Hester's night. It was an interesting one, to say the least. He broke open down the right sideline in the first quarter for a 37-yard reception, but it could have gone for a touchdown if Cutler had got it out in front of him a little more. Later on the drive, however, Hester slipped near the goal line and couldn't reach a pass that otherwise would have gone for a score. He finished with three receptions for 46 yards.

6. Giving up 41 points: I know the final score was ugly, but the Bears defense that will spend regular-season games on the field didn't provide too many causes for alarm as far as I was concerned. The Giants offense went three-and-out on its first two possessions. Linebacker Lance Briggs didn't play and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher left after four series. Not much to see here.

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