NFL Nation: Evan Rodriguez

Chicago Bears draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
6:05
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NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A wrap-up of the Chicago Bears’ draft. Click here for a full list of Bears' draftees.

Bears general manager Phil Emery likes to say a team can never expect to fill all of its needs via the draft. Well, eight draft choices later, the Bears actually came close.

Best move: Taking defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton with consecutive picks on Day 2. We don’t know if Ferguson or Sutton will pan out, but the Bears had to keep strengthening the defensive line after last season. Ferguson and Sutton join new faces Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Austen Lane, Trevor Scott and Israel Idonije, who is back for his second tour of duty. The Bears also re-signed tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins to help fortify the trenches on defense.

This reminds me of how Emery & Co. rebuilt the offensive line last offseason.

Riskiest move: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey’s (fourth round) on-field production speaks for itself: 4,239 yards, 48 rushing touchdowns and 77 receptions for 679 yards in three years for the Wildcats.

However, there are questions about Carey that extended beyond the football field. The 5-9, 207-pound tailback reportedly had multiple run-ins with the authorities, including a charge of assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend that was later dismissed.

Carey depicted himself as a high-character individual when he spoke to Chicago media members following his selection by the Bears at No. 117.

“As you guys are going to get to know me over the years; I’m an outgoing [person] who loves kids and is light-hearted,” Carey said. “I would never do anything to harm people. I’m a loveful cat.”

Emery is not afraid to draft or acquire players with questionable character. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has rewarded Emery’s faith in him by posting consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. On the flip side, 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez lasted only one season before being cut after multiple run-ins with the law last offseason.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Casey
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, a fourth-round pick by the Bears, has some question marks in terms of off-the-field incidents.
Most surprising move: Emery told reporters before the draft that he rejected the notion of drafting a developmental quarterback in the later rounds with the intent of grooming him to be a future starter.

The Bears selected San Jose State quarterback David Fales in the sixth round (183).

Go figure.

File it away: Time will tell if the Bears regret passing on a safety in the first round.

The organization continued its longstanding tradition of waiting until the later rounds to address the position when they moved back into the fourth round and traded away a pair of fifth-round selections to grab Minnesota’s Brock Vereen at 131. Vereen does have an excellent NFL pedigree. His brother, Shane, a standout running back, was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. Their father, Henry, was drafted by the Bucs in 1979.

Vereen is a versatile player who lined up at all four defensive back spots over the course of his career with the Golden Gophers. He started 36 games and registered 200 tackles, four interceptions, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and one blocked kick.

“Brock is one of the smartest and most versatile players I have ever had the privilege of coaching and is an outstanding young man,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “He is the ultimate team player and will do whatever is needed to help the Bears win. I know he is going to make Chicago a better team and will also be a great teammate in the locker room.”

But you can argue the Bears are in this mess at safety because the organization doesn't put a high enough value on the position.

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

July, 28, 2013
7/28/13
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DAVIE, Fla. -- The tough questions came at a furious pace in the first week of Miami Dolphins training camp.

Is this team a legitimate playoff contender?

When will we see big plays from free-agent signing Mike Wallace?

Can rookie and No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan make a huge and immediate impact?

Welcome to the world of the 2013 Dolphins. This is not your typical, hapless South Florida football team with low expectations. This year’s Dolphins are gunning for the postseason and have a roster good enough to do damage in the AFC.

The Dolphins have not been to the playoffs since 2008. But this year’s Miami team is deeper and more talented than any in recent memory, which has raised the bar.

“You want to have great expectations for yourself, but at the same time you don’t want to put too much on yourself,” Dolphins second-year coach Joe Philbin said. “You just want to go in and work every single day to get better. We aren’t predicting anything or say we are going to do this or that.”

Are the Dolphins true contenders this season? Let’s examine some key issues.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can the Dolphins catch the Patriots?

Seemingly every move Miami made this offseason had something to do with closing the gap with the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots.

The Dolphins had an inconsistent pass rush and needed more to rattle Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. As a result, Miami traded up eight spots to No. 3 and drafted the super-athletic Jordan to pair with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake.

Miami also had the 27th-ranked pass defense because of poor cornerback play and slow linebackers. The Dolphins fixed that by signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and speedy linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler in free agency.

[+] EnlargeCameron Wake
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsWith its pass rush lacking last season, Miami will need Pro Bowler Cameron Wake to be a force again in 2013.
The Dolphins’ pass offense also wasn’t up to par last season and had only one touchdown reception from the receiver position. As a result, Miami signed tight end Dustin Keller and receivers Brandon Gibson and Wallace in an effort to score points and keep up with New England, which led the NFL in total offense in 2012.

The Patriots have been on top of the division for the past dozen years. But considering New England’s offseason troubles and Miami’s upgrades, the Dolphins believe they have a shot to make a run in the division.

“Nobody stays on top forever, and the underdog will have his day,” Ellerbe said this week. “And I feel like we’re an underdog right now. It’s a new season and only time will tell.”

2. Will QB Ryan Tannehill thrive in Year 2?

The 2012 quarterback class exploded on the scene last season. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks all led their teams to the playoffs. Tannehill, who won seven games in Miami, was a cut below. Now, he is expected to take the next step in Year 2.

Miami cannot afford a sophomore slump from Tannehill. The Dolphins built the offense around his strengths and put the right pieces in place for him to thrive. His presence and mentality as a leader are apparent.

“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect coming in other than coming in and fighting for a job,” Tannehill said. “This year I got to really use the offseason to grow my leadership, set things up, get with guys. Now coming in I can really focus on taking this team to the next level, doing everything I can to improve my game and to help improve the guys around me as well.”

Tannehill got off to an uneven start in training camp. He had a particularly poor practice last Tuesday, when he threw a pair of pick-sixes to Ellerbe and safety Chris Clemons. Poor sessions like that are reminders that Tannehill has only 16 NFL starts and still has a lot to learn. However, Tannehill strung together better practices later in the week.

3. Can RB Lamar Miller carry the load?

The AFC East blog touched on this topic earlier in the week. Miller, a second-year tailback, is expected to replace former starter Reggie Bush this season. Keep in mind that Miami is putting a lot of stock in Miller after just 51 carries last season. To Miller’s credit, he led the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry.

Durability will be the biggest question. Miller had injury issues in college, which is one of the reasons he fell to the fourth round of the 2012 draft. But Miller has looked healthy and effective so far in training camp.

“I feel very comfortable just getting used to running the ball, the offensive line scheme and just being [involved] more,” Miller said last week. “I just know what I’m doing. I’m not second-guessing too much, and I’m just doing what the coaches are telling me to do. Last year, I was thinking about it too much.”

One of the big things Miller must improve on is his pass protection. It was one of the reasons he failed to get consistent playing time last season. Miller spent a lot of time this offseason with San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore to work on becoming a complete tailback.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The Dolphins are a faster and more dynamic this year. Practices are faster and there’s more talent flying around the football field.

One of the biggest complaints in Miami the past few years has been that the Dolphins didn’t have enough playmakers. Players such as Wallace, Keller, Ellerbe, Grimes and Jordan were all added to change the makeup of the team. The added speed and athleticism are expected to add at least a couple wins to last year’s total.

“I think we are faster as a football team,” Philbin confirmed. “I think our play speed -- it’s still a little bit early in camp to get a real good feel and to compare it to a year ago as to what it’s going to be this year -- but I think it has the potential to be a very fast team.”

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

I’m still not sold on Miami’s offensive line. This is a group that was up and down last year, and the Dolphins lost their most proven player in former four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.

[+] EnlargeBrent Grimes
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsComing off an Achilles injury, CB Brent Grimes has displayed his Pro Bowl form early in Dolphins camp.
Miami’s offensive line is one of the thinnest groups on the team this year. As a result, the Dolphins have been doing a lot of experimenting to find the right combination of players in the first week of training camp.

The biggest question involves new left tackle and 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin. He will replace Long and plays an important role in protecting Tannehill’s blind side. Martin was inconsistent at left tackle late last season while Long was injured. His performance in camp so far has been average. We’ve seen both good and bad from Martin.

Projected starting guard John Jerry suffered an injury in the first week, which has affected depth on the team. Miami is trying rookie Dallas Thomas as the starting guard and also exploring Mike Pouncey at guard. This is clearly not one of the team's strengths.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore looks solid early in training camp. Moore has been mostly efficient and accurate playing with the backup units. Moore also has thrown the deep ball well. A case can be made that Moore has been the most consistent quarterback in the first week of training camp. This is a rare year in Miami where there is no quarterback competition or controversy. But Moore is proving to be one of the best veteran backup quarterbacks in the NFL and looks ready if Tannehill is injured.

  • Grimes has made several “wow” plays and looks 100 percent recovered from his Achilles injury. Grimes missed most of last season with the Atlanta Falcons, and the Dolphins signed the former Pro Bowl corner to a one-year contract because of durability concerns. Grimes is very athletic, which helps him overcome his lack of size. Grimes and Wallace have had some very good battles in camp, and it's making both players better.

  • Miami’s kicking competition so far is going to the incumbent. Veteran Dan Carpenter has been more accurate in the first week of training camp. Rookie Caleb Sturgis, a fifth-round pick, came to the Dolphins with strong credentials. But Sturgis missed several kicks this week, and that’s put him behind Carpenter early. Sturgis also injured his groin in the first week and missed some practice time. Financially, the Dolphins could save more than $2 million this year by going with Sturgis. But the company line is that the best player will win the job.

  • The deepest part of Miami’s roster is its defensive line. The Dolphins have a very strong rotation of starters and backups at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Wake, a Pro Bowler last season, is joined by Jordan and young upstart Olivier Vernon, who has been very impressive in camps. Miami’s defensive tackle rotation includes Pro Bowler Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick, who has shifted to the position full time from defensive end. These players will be rotated to keep the defense fresh.

  • Miami’s rookie cornerbacks are off to a slow start. The Dolphins invested second- and third-round picks in corners Jamar Taylor and Will Davis. Taylor missed all of OTAs and minicamps with a sports hernia injury and injured himself again in the second day of camp. Davis has stayed healthy but has allowed several big pass plays in the first week. Cornerback is a tough position to play in the NFL, and it will take time for Taylor and Davis to get up to speed.

  • The Dolphins’ backup receiver positions are wide open. Miami is expected to keep at least five receivers on the 53-man roster this year, and only three spots (Wallace, Brian Hartline, Gibson) are locked up. Other receivers such as Armon Binns, Rishard Matthews and Marvin McNutt are battling for the final spots. They all occasionally show flashes, but consistency has been an issue.

  • Finally, the role of fullback appears to be reduced compared to last season. The Dolphins are using more three-receiver sets this year, and tight ends Keller and Charles Clay at times have been moved around and used as an H-back. Versatility will be important for this position. Fullback Evan Rodriguez has been getting more looks with the starters lately than last year’s starting fullback, Jorvorskie Lane.
It's fair to wonder whether the Chicago Bears will part ways with tight end/fullback Evan Rodriguez amid reports of his second arrest this offseason, this time for driving under the influence early Friday morning.

As Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com notes, the Illinois State Police also charged Rodriguez with speeding and improper lane change. According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Rodriguez's blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.17.

Charges were ultimately dropped after a March arrest for resisting an officer without violence and disorderly intoxication, but Bears general manager Phil Emery said he was still disappointed with the arrest and that he had "re-educated" Rodriguez on expectations for Bears players.

As far as I'm concerned, finding trouble two months after a dressing-down from the general manager is asking to get fired. It almost certainly will bring some level of discipline from the NFL, which reserves the right to punish for incidents even if charges are dismissed.

The Bears invested a fourth-round draft pick in Rodriguez last season despite a number of off-field incidents in college. He is a good blocker and has potential as a receiver. The team issued a statement saying it was still gathering information on the latest incident, but how many chances will a backup tight end/blocking fullback get? We'll soon find out.

NFC North Friday injury report

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
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Getting inside an uneventful Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) has been ruled out for the second consecutive week. Receiver Earl Bennett (hand) is questionable, but all other players will be available for Sunday's game at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Green Bay Packers: Receiver Greg Jennings (groin) had already been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. Safety Sean Richardson (hamstring) is also out. Cornerback Davon House (shoulder) is questionable. All other players on the 53-man roster should be available. Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters he has not decided whether to activate defensive end Mike Neal, who has a one-week roster exemption following his four-game NFL suspension.

Minnesota Vikings: Safeties Mistral Raymond (ankle) and Andrew Sendejo (ankle) are out and won't play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell (calf) is doubtful, but Erin Henderson (concussion) is questionable and likely to be available to resume his starting role, coach Leslie Frazier told reporters. Receiver Michael Jenkins (rib) is questionable, but he had full participation in Friday's practice.
The Chicago Bears have officially listed tailback Matt Forte as questionable for Monday night's game at the Dallas Cowboys. But Forte (ankle) practiced for the third consecutive day Saturday, albeit on a limited basis, and seems to have a pretty decent chance of playing.

The Bears are relatively deep at the position and could probably afford to give Forte another week without game-speed contact. But Forte has been a fast healer in the past, and it seems as though the Bears are counting on some level of participation from him Monday night.

The Bears also listed receiver Earl Bennett (hand) as questionable. Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) has been declared out.

NFC North Week 4 Friday injury report

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Tight end Evan Rodriguez (knee) missed practice and isn't expected to play Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Linebacker Brian Urlacher took his regular day off Friday. Receiver Earl Bennett (and) and tailback Matt Forte (ankle) were limited. The Bears will announce game statuses Saturday.

Detroit Lions: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (leg muscle/hamstring/hip) is listed as probable. He had full participation in Friday's practice and he'll start Sunday at Ford Field. Safety Louis Delmas (knee) is doubtful, but he never practiced this week and won't play. Running back Mikel Leshoure (groin) and tight end Tony Scheffler (calf) are questionable but expected to play.

Green Bay Packers: The only players who might not be available for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints are safety Sean Richardson and cornerback Davon House (shoulder). All other players, including running back James Starks (toe) are at least probable. Coach Mike McCarthy indicated that Starks is no better than No. 3 on the depth chart behind Cedric Benson and Alex Green, an indication he might not be active Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings ruled out linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) and safety Mistral Raymond (ankle), as expected. Safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) and defensive end D'Aundre Reed (calf) are questionable, and all other players are expected to be available. Quarterback Christian Ponder (neck) returned to full participation in practice Friday.
Our Rookie Buzz series has had some hits and misses. It's lost two of the original four members to season-ending injury, but in the end, it appears that NFC North teams will be getting early-season contributions from a dozen 2012 draft picks, depending on health. Let's take a look at who the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings appear to be counting on:

Bears defensive end Shea McClellin
Likely role: Nickel pass-rusher
Comment: As we've discussed, the Bears could follow a playing-time model similar to what the San Francisco 49ers did with 2011 top pick Aldon Smith: Less than 50 percent, but hopeful of high production in small doses.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Likely role: No. 3 or No. 4 receiver
Comment: Has been productive in the preseason and is an especially big target down the seam.

Bears tight end Evan Rodriguez
Likely role: No. 3 tight end and/or H-back
Comment: Rodriguez has proved to be quick down the field and a nifty runner once he makes the catch.

Lions cornerback Bill Bentley
Likely role: Starter or nickel cornerback
Comment: Bentley's had a few roller-coaster trips on the Lions' depth chart, but if he is healthy he figures to be one of the Lions' top three cornerbacks.

Packers linebacker Nick Perry
Likely role: Starting outside linebacker
Comment: He's gotten almost every snap with the starters this summer, mostly to give him every opportunity to learn a new position. But his pass-rush skills are evident.

Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy
Likely role: Defensive tackle in the nickel
Comment: The Packers play their nickel defense more often than their base, which makes Worthy a quasi-starter.

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward
Likely role: No. 2, 3 or 4 cornerback
Comment: Like Bentley, he's made a few trips up and down the depth chart. But he has a chance to start soon opposite Tramon Williams.

Packers safety Jerron McMillian
Likely role: Nickel safety
Comment: McMillian is one of three players getting a chance to fill this role, competing against M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine.

Vikings offensive lineman Matt Kalil
Likely role: Starting left tackle
Comment: This assignment has never been in doubt.

Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Likely role: Starter
Comment: He hasn't let go of a spot he earned midway through the preseason.

Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson
Likely role: No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback
Comment: Dealing with a concussion but has outplayed veteran Chris Carr to be the nickelback.

Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh
Likely role: Starter
Comment: Has demonstrated a powerful and accurate leg this summer.

Camp Confidential: Bears

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Summer visitors to Olivet Nazarene University are greeted annually by navy blue banners promoting the Chicago Bears' training camp. Bears team logos are plastered all around town. Marquee signs invite the hungry and thirsty to patronize local establishments. And in 2012, there was a notable addition to the welcoming committee.

Overt talk of a Super Bowl run hits you from every angle here. You see it on a championship prediction posted outside an elementary school near campus. You hear it chanted from 12,000 fans attending practice. You notice the Bears' normally mild-mannered place-kicker drawing powerful conclusions.

Emboldened by a newly-fortified offense and a veteran defense that hasn't gotten old yet, the Bears opened training camp with the highest of expectations.

"There's no doubt that this year by far is our best chance to win a Super Bowl," place-kicker Robbie Gould said on the eve of camp Listen. "We have the talent. Yeah, we do have to earn it on the field, but when it comes to putting the pieces together, this is definitely the year that we have the pieces. … I think everyone understands that this is an opportunity, and that we might only get that one chance to make it to the Super Bowl and win it. I think everybody is excited about that."

Indeed, the long-term future of this team is murky, with linebacker Brian Urlacher entering the final year of his contract and five other starters -- including quarterback Jay Cutler, linebacker Lance Briggs, receiver Devin Hester and Gould -- facing a 2013 expiration. But for the short term, the Bears couldn't be more enthused.

"I'm definitely excited about how stacked we are at each position," cornerback Charles Tillman said.

The pieces, as they say, are in place, and nothing I saw in the early days of training camp suggested otherwise.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWith several new weapons, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice is optimistic that his "Duh offense" won't be a dud.
1. Adding explosion to offense: I lost track of how many different people used a form of the word "explosion" to describe the Bears' hope for their new offense. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said he wants to be explosive in both the running and passing games and added: "We have too many athletes not to be able to."

The key to explosive plays -- usually defined as runs of 12 or more yards and passes of at least 16 yards -- is getting those athletes into empty space. Tice has a simple approach to doing that, one he began preaching in the spring and continued during the early days of camp. He affectionately calls it the "Duh offense."

In essence, he will give Cutler the responsibility of changing plays at the line of scrimmage based on the "number count" of the defense. If defenses are aligned against the pass, Cutler can call a run. If they are stacked on the line of scrimmage, Cutler will have the ability to switch from run to pass. The approach requires the type of balanced personnel the Bears have, and in the end it produces volume mismatches at the point of attack.

2. Play calling: Tice's experience in developing successful offenses is unquestioned, as is his expertise in matching a scheme with the capacity of an offensive line. But the one thing Tice hasn't done in 30-plus years in the NFL is be a team's primary playcaller over the course of a season, a task he is preparing for in training camp.

Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will relay the call to Cutler during games, but the calls will originate with Tice. "It's all about rhythm," Tice said. "It's all about good installation. It's about the right balance and making sure you understand what your opponent is trying to do in certain situations. It'll be fine."

3. Defensive assumptions: Optimism about the Bears has been generated mostly by additions the Bears made to their offense, from receiver Brandon Marshall to running back Michael Bush to Bates. It has been assumed that the Bears' special teams will maintain its annual strength, and also that an aging defense has at least one more top-level season in it.

Urlacher (34) looked like his usual self after rehabilitating a knee injury all offseason. Defensive end Julius Peppers (32), Briggs (31) and Tillman (31) all appeared to be in excellent shape.

"I don't feel like it's my 10th year," Tillman said. "My body doesn't feel like it. My mind doesn't feel like it. I feel good, mind, spiritually."

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

No one is going to confuse Cutler with Alvin Wong, a.k.a "The Happiest Man in the World." But on a relative scale, Cutler arrived at camp and moved through its first few days with the buoyancy of a man who has been placed squarely in position to succeed.

"This is the most comfortable I think I've been going into a camp with the offense," Cutler said, "and what we are doing scheme-wise and the talent around me."

Those who know him best agree.

"He looks a lot more comfortable," said receiver Earl Bennett, Cutler's longtime teammate dating to their Vanderbilt days. "He just looks ready to go. He's excited about the new toys he has on offense and the guys surrounding him, and he's just excited about the season."

Arriving at training camp, Cutler said, "was like Christmas."

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

[+] EnlargeJ'Marcus Webb
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCan the Bears count on J'Marcus Webb to consistently protect the blind side of QB Jay Cutler?
Left tackle is one of the three or four most important positions on a team, but it is one of the Bears' few legitimate question marks. A competition between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams is probably Webb's to lose, but at the very least, it's nerve-wracking to launch a Super Bowl run without an established starter to protect a quarterback's blind side.

Webb and Williams alternated with the first team during the practices I watched, and it's clear that Webb has the physical tools necessary to play the position. Williams, on the other hand, hasn't played the position in two years and might be a fallback if Webb can't eliminate the mental and technique mistakes that plagued him in 2011.

"We'll turn the heat on both of them," Tice said. "We want to see who is going to block our good pass-rushers."

Competition itself isn't a bad thing. But the Bears really need a winner to emerge, rather than being left to select the less damaging option.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • We've discussed the likelihood of Bush serving as the Bears' short-yardage and goal-line back. At 245 pounds, Bush is better suited and has had more career success in that role than starter Matt Forte. But Bush made clear he would rather not be pigeon-holed in that manner. "That's the role I've been stuck with because of my size," he said. "If that's what I've got to do, then that's what I've got to do. … No one likes to be a battering ram. It just happens that way." Regardless, it makes too much sense not to at least give that arrangement a long look.
  • Cutler and Marshall arrived for lunch together on the first day of practice. They broke open a new critical-thinking board game at night, which Marshall referred to as "Q." (Cutler won the first two games.) But Marshall said the pair's much-discussed friendship is "not always fun." He added: "In any relationship, when you take two people from two different places and you put them together, you butt heads. Because sometimes we try to impose our own wills on each other. But sometimes you understand there is no right and wrong. It's just two different people. I think that's when the relationship gets better. With Jay and I, it's always some work."
  • Perhaps their friendship made our expectations unreasonably high, but I was surprised by how many miscommunications Cutler and Marshall had in their first few practices. On Day 1 alone, I counted five passes that either hit the ground or were intercepted because Cutler threw one way and Marshall ran another. But we found out in the third practice how little that mattered. Cutler and Marshall put on a show in full pads, wowing fans and players who can't remember the last time the Bears had a true No. 1 receiver.
  • Tice will undoubtedly use tight ends more in the passing game than predecessor Mike Martz, and the Bears have accumulated an interesting group to deal with. Kellen Davis figures as the starter with Matt Spaeth as the top blocker. But it's certainly worth pointing out that rookie Evan Rodriguez, a fourth-round draft pick from Temple, appeared in much better shape than he was reported to be in this spring and seemed to have a knack for turning upfield quickly after the catch. "This game is about explosion," Rodriguez said. (There's that word again.) Rodriguez added: "Everybody in this league is so fast. You've really got to push to get that five yards, and then after that, it's every inch that matters."
  • Rookie safety Brandon Hardin is getting work on all four special teams, including a role as the personal protector on punts. It's also worth noting that when free safety Chris Conte briefly left practice Saturday night, it was Hardin who stepped in with the first team. "I'm looking forward to helping the team in that special-teams aspect until I get on the field as a safety," Hardin said.
  • Although there is uncertainty at left tackle, the return of 2011 draft choice Gabe Carimi has added a level of stability to the right side. Carimi reported to training camp in excellent condition, having dropped his weight to 308 pounds and lowered his body fat form 26 percent to 19 percent by changing his diet in the offseason. "The goal was to have more muscle mass," he said.
  • The Bears' immediate plans are to use rookie defensive end Shea McClellin as a situational pass- rusher. In that scenario, Israel Idonije would hold a starting spot opposite Peppers. I didn't see any examples of it early in camp, but you wonder if the Bears would be tempted to use Idonije as an inside pass-rusher, with McClellin on the edge, in obvious passing downs. Another candidate to be an inside pass-rusher is newcomer Brian Price.

CampTour'12: Bears Day 2

July, 27, 2012
7/27/12
7:15
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Let's roll through some thoughts and observations after watching the Chicago Bears' second training-camp practice:

  • One of the prettiest plays in 1-on-1 drills came when receiver Earl Bennett hauled in a long pass down the right sideline from quarterback Jay Cutler. Bennett used some crafty veteran contact with his left arm to keep cornerback Kelvin Hayden at bay.
  • After fans cheered Bennett's catch, cornerback Tim Jennings turned to the crowd and said: "Hey, we [cornerbacks] play for you guys, too." Jennings drew a laugh.
  • The Bears' three-receiver set has been pretty consistent: Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester and Bennett usually in the slot. When Hester was shaken up briefly during team drills, rookie Alshon Jeffery replaced him on the outside. So that gives you a clear sense of the depth chart as it stands now. If the Bears keep veterans Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special-teams purposes, and that is quite possible, it will be difficult for 2011 slot receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to make the team.
  • Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub put out some interesting lineups during kickoff-return drills. Bennett was among those manning a front-line position. Two others were rookies, safety Brandon Hardin and tight end Evan Rodriguez. Historically, it's fair to make assumptions about a young player's chances to make the team based on his standing on special teams. In other words, it's looking good very early for Rodriguez, especially. Hardin was already a lock to make the team.
  • We didn't see new defensive tackle Brian Price on Friday, a day after the Bears acquired him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because his physical was not complete. The Bears indicated that should happen Saturday. According to the collective bargaining agreement, however, Price must ease into training camp with three unpadded practices before he can join the team fully. So it will be a bit of time before Price is up to speed.
  • For those interested in such things, during team drills, it was quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates who relayed plays via radio to Cutler. Bates stood next to offensive coordinator Mike Tice during the process.
  • In person, running back Michael Bush proved to be a much bigger dude than I thought he was. The Bears list him at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, but when you see him in a T-shirt on rather than a jersey, you could easily mistake him for a linebacker or even a small defensive end.
  • The Bears' first full-pads practice is scheduled for Saturday night. I won't miss it.

Fourth round review: NFC North

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
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I have a hard time getting wrapped up in the individual selections that teams make in the fourth round of the NFL draft and lower. That doesn't mean these picks are unimportant, but essentially we're at a point in this affair where everybody has some flaws and, historically speaking, it's difficult to project many of them into significant roles.

With that said, let's take a collective look at the highlights of the NFC North's fourth round.

Chicago Bears: Most notably, the Bears continued to look in places other than their much-discussed offensive line in this draft. Fullback/tight end Evan Rodriguez is a combination blocker/vertical threat who dropped because of character concerns. He was arrested twice in his college career, once in 2007 and again in 2009, and ultimately transferred from West Virginia to Temple. But in a Mike Tice offense, it's important to have multiple tight ends who can block and catch.

Detroit Lions: Some media analysts had Oklahoma defensive end/linebacker Ronnell Lewis rated as perhaps a second-round pick because of his pass-rush abilities. The league didn't agree, and Lewis was available with the No. 30 pick of the fourth round. (The Lions had traded down, picking up a sixth-round pick in the process.) Does that mean he was a steal, or the media analysts were wrong? Could be either. The Lions view Lewis, who is listed at 244 pounds, as a defensive end. That might require him to bulk up or else be inserted into a specific passing-down role, but low fourth-round picks aren't usually three-down players.

Green Bay Packers: Think defense was a priority for the division champions? The Packers chose their fourth and fifth consecutive defensive players in this draft with their pair of compensatory picks at the bottom of the fourth round. Iowa defensive tackle Mike Daniels was the third defensive lineman. Maine safety Jeron McMillan was the second defensive back.

Minnesota Vikings: Fans could exhale after the Vikings finally drafted a pair of receivers, Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. At 5-foot-10, Wright would seem to be best suited as a slot receiver, which is where Percy Harvin plays as well. But the middle of the fourth isn't the time to start getting picky. Take the best receiver and then let coaches figure out how to get him on the field. Childs, meanwhile, is 6-foot-3.

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