NFL Nation: Jeremy Bates

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2012
8/09/12
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In which we look ahead to NFC North preseason football over the next two days. (A separate post on the Green Bay Packers' Thursday night turn on ESPN is right here.)

Chicago Bears
Opponent: Denver Broncos
Location:
Soldier Field
Day/Time:
Thursday/8:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes:
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee) is among those who won't play in a game most of the NFL will watch to see the return of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Urlacher has missed a week of practice because of soreness in his knee and then personal reasons, and it's possible the mystery surrounding his absence could be cleared up if he is in attendance at Soldier Field. Nick Roach will start in his place. … Defensive end Alex Brown signed a 1-year contract and will retire in an on-field ceremony before the game. … It's also worth noting that quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will be facing the team that began breaking up their nucleus in 2009.
Focal point: All eyes will be on left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who has a big lead in the competition for the starting job but still hasn't earned the full trust of offensive coordinator Mike Tice. Webb can either settle concerns with a solid performance or send the Bears back to the drawing board when camp resumes next week.

Detroit Lions
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Location: Ford Field
Day/Time: Friday/7:30 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: The Lions' defensive secondary will have three starters who emerged in the past few days. Rookie cornerback Dwight Bentley has done well during stints with the first team in recent days and is expected to start opposite Chris Houston. The Lions' safeties likely will be Erik Coleman and John Wendling. Louis Delmas had knee surgery this week and it appears Amari Spievey hasn't had a great camp. … Expect tailback Kevin Smith to start but there should be plenty of work for Joique Bell and Keiland Williams, among others.
Focal point: This will be the first time when we'll see a completely healthy Nick Fairley on an NFL field, and the Lions are eager to see what he can do. Fairley broke his foot during training camp last summer and was clearly limited in the 10 games he did play in. The preseason should give us a better idea if Fairley is destined to be a dominant difference-maker, as the Lions hoped when they drafted him, or if he will simply be a member of defensive rotation.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
Location: Candlestick Park
Day/Time: Friday/9 p.m. ET
Personnel notes: Tight end John Carlson (knee), running back Jordan Todman (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) are among the players who won't participate. Starters should see a few series, although coach Leslie Frazier implied that an early scoring drive could make it a short night for the first-team offense. … The defense could see more action in its first game environment under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. … Rookie Blair Walsh is the only place-kicker in camp, so he will get all of the kicks this preseason. We'll see if he gets the opportunity to demonstrate the strong leg he has displayed this summer.
Focal point: The Vikings have more than a half-dozen new starters, but from now through the foreseeable future, all eyes will be on quarterback Christian Ponder to gauge the level of his progress from a rocky rookie season. Preseason performance isn't always an indicator of true development, but we have found that to be the case with other young quarterbacks in this division.

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
PM ET
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.
Mike Tice Jerry Lai/US PresswireMike Tice may have more of a role as an offensive "manager" than that of a traditional coordinator.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- It shouldn't be this difficult. Finding Mike Tice on a football field should be easy. Just look up and listen.

Tice stands 6-foot-8 and has a deep voice he employs liberally during practices. It's hard to miss. So on the opening day of the Chicago Bears' training camp, I looked over to the spot where you normally find an NFL offensive coordinator. But as the Bears' quarterbacks warmed up, there was no Mike Tice.

I checked the receiver group. Couldn't see or hear him. Tight ends? Nope.

It wasn't until I located the offensive line that I caught a glimpse of him, my first clue that the Bears have crafted a unique -- but, I think, appropriate -- arrangement to operate their offense this season.

More than ever, NFL offensive coordinators rise from a quarterback background, developed as a player or an assistant coach or both. In the NFC North, for example, we have the Detroit Lions' Scott Linehan (college quarterback, quarterbacks coach) and the Minnesota Vikings' Bill Musgrave (NFL quarterback and quarterbacks coach). It's not a requirement for the job, but consider it a nod toward the increased importance of quarterbacks at this level.

Tice, on the other hand, will run the Bears' offense through the line -- a dream of many offensive line coaches that rarely comes to fruition. The idea, after the Bears spent two years struggling to meld their scheme with personnel, is to build an offense around quarterback Jay Cutler but operate it within the context of what the offensive line can handle.

It was an idea that initially sounded unappealing to Tice, who settled into a position coach's life over the past seven years after a rocky end to his tenure as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach. But given the opportunity to fashion the job to his strengths and expertise, Tice reconsidered.

"The more I thought about it," he said, "I thought, 'Who knows the offense we have better than I do? Who knows the line? Who knows how to protect the line better than I do? Who knows how to hide their flaws better than I do?' I've got a great relationship with the quarterback, [Devin] Hester, the tight ends, Why not?"

Based on Thursday's initial practice, and a subsequent interview, it's safe to assume Tice will spend a majority of his time with the offensive line. During practice, he'll break away only for seven-on-seven drills, leaving offensive line coach Tim Holt to run one-on-one blocking drills, and he'll spend about half of his total meeting time in the line's room. Meanwhile, newcomer Jeremy Bates will be Cutler's position coach and a key conduit of the passing game.

It would be easy to conclude, as I was prepared to, that in reality Tice is the Bears' blocking and running coordinator while Bates is the passing game coordinator. Tice, however, insisted that will not happen and said it is important "to be involved in the passing game and all facets and not just have a situation where I handle the runs and protection and someone else handles the passing game."

So how will it all work?

From what I can gather, Tice has crafted an offense that blends the power running game he learned from longtime NFL coach Joe Gibbs, elements of the West Coast passing game culled from Bates' career path and a downfield portion Tice used with the Vikings. Tice will call plays from the sideline, but he'll leave an important segment to Cutler -- who will get a pass-run option based on defensive alignments. (Tice once famously dubbed this element his "Duh offense" because it asks quarterbacks to audible to a pass when defenses are aligned against the run and vice versa.)

"We want to be able to do everything," Tice said. "We want to be able to catch and run. We want to be able to throw it deep. We want to be able to play-action, we want to be able to move the pocket. We want to be able to run the ball explosively. It's really not that different than what we did in Minnesota.

"I think Jeremy Bates has done a nice job of putting in his version of the West Coast scheme, which is nice. We melded that with the long stuff that we used to do in Minnesota and we kept our run game intact. Now we have the run game that you'll recognize. The quarterback has a lot to manage on the line of scrimmage, just like [Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper]. And we'll see what happens."

Without knowing the details, it's reasonable to be skeptical of an arrangement that shifts a longtime offensive line coach to the coordinator's role. But in this instance, I think it can work, especially if you consider Tice in the role of offensive "manager" rather than a traditional coordinator.

He'll make liberal use of Bates, an intense film rat who is best suited in a role of scheming by candlelight in his office. He'll rely heavily on Cutler, a veteran with strong opinions on what best suits his skills. And Tice will most assuredly do one thing that hasn't happened for at least two years in Chicago: He'll take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the offensive line when developing a game plan.

Is it unconventional? Sure. Does it have risks? Of course. But for this team at this time, it makes sense.

Bears Camp Watch

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
11:00
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NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: Quarterback Jay Cutler will demonstrate that he is the Bears' quasi-offensive coordinator. And that's not a bad thing.

After three years of surrounding him with ill-fitting talent, the Bears catered to Cutler this offseason and put him in position for his best season with the team. He has his favorite receiver (Brandon Marshall), a position coach he greatly respects (Jeremy Bates) and an offensive coordinator in Mike Tice who actively sought his input in developing the playbook.

Tice will call plays and make final decisions. But Cutler will appropriately have his hands all over the offense, and we should see evidence of that in practice drills and even interviews. That's the best way to get the most out of a talented veteran quarterback in his prime.

One thing that might happen: The Bears might find out they don't have a legitimate left tackle on the roster, the one flaw in efforts to fortify themselves around Cutler. Chris Williams and J'Marcus Webb will compete for the starting job. But to adjust an old saying: If you have two left tackles, you have none.

In an emergency, the Bears could conceivably move 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi from right tackle, but it's obviously not their preference. Both Williams and Webb have been starting left tackles in winning efforts, but as camp begins it's unclear if either has a long-term future at the position.

One thing we won't see: You never know with these things, but it's hard to imagine anyone complaining about their contract situations now that tailback Matt Forte and linebacker Lance Briggs have received new deals. Briggs requested a trade during training camp last summer, and Forte's disappointment with his status was clear as well.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is entering the final year of his contract but is set to make $7.5 million and has expressed no concerns. Again, sometimes contract disputes rose from nowhere, but for the moment the Bears' financial dealings appear to be in a happy place.

NFL32: Bears' chances in NFC North

June, 27, 2012
6/27/12
1:00
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Mort breaks down whether the Bears can win the NFC North, Chris Canty discusses the toughest quarterbacks in the NFC East, and Herm gives his advice to the rookies.
SportsCenter's divisional analysis moves to the NFC North on Tuesday night (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). We've already discussed our most versatile players as well as potential breakout players, so let's give our television pals a pre-show primer on the biggest improvement (and regression) each division team made this offseason:

Chicago Bears: Enhanced comfort zone for quarterback Jay Cutler
In detail:
The Bears fully committed to Cutler three years after acquiring him from the Denver Broncos. They finally gave him a full complement of promising receivers, most notably his all-time favorite in Brandon Marshall. Cutler will have his choice of big downfield threats, be it Marshall or rookie Alshon Jeffery, and Devin Hester has drawn rave reviews for his work within the team's new concepts. Coach Lovie Smith hired one of Cutler's favorite former coaches, Jeremy Bates, as quarterbacks coach, and offensive coordinator Mike Tice has liberally assimilated thoughts from Bates and Cutler into his scheme. For the first time the Bears feel like Cutler's team.
Biggest regression:
The Bears' top four defensive players -- linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman -- all got a year older without the team acquiring a potential heir at any of their positions. (Rookie defensive end Shea McClellin is projected to fill the Bears' spot opposite of Peppers.)

Detroit Lions: Insurance and a long-term plan at left tackle
In detail:
The Lions mostly stood pat this offseason, making it their top priority to keep together a nucleus that earned a playoff spot three years after the franchise bottomed out at 0-16. They accomplished that goal by reaching contract agreements with receiver Calvin Johnson and linebacker Stephen Tulloch while franchising defensive end Cliff Avril. Retaining young players with room for growth counts as an improvement, but most notably, the Lions hatched a legitimate plan for the end of left tackle Jeff Backus' career. First-round draft choice Riley Reiff could replace Backus this season if necessary but could also get a year to develop. Regardless, it's a rare luxury for a team to have a legitimate succession plan in place at left tackle.
Biggest regression: It might not qualify as a step back, but the Lions didn't do much to improve a secondary that struggled for large portions of the 2011 season. Nickel back Aaron Berry will compete with free agent acquisition Jacob Lacey to start opposite Chris Houston, and the Lions appear set to give safety Amari Spievey one more chance to lock down a long-term job.

Green Bay Packers: Adding juice to their defensive front
In detail:
As we discussed in May, the Packers devoted a large portion of their offseason to elevating the energy and competition along their defensive line. They hope to manage the playing time of nose tackle B.J. Raji more efficiently by calling on rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, along with eventual contributions from Anthony Hargrove (eight-game suspension) and Mike Neal (four-game suspension). The Packers have also signed Phillip Merling, a former second-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins, and veteran Daniel Muir.
Biggest regression:
The Packers had near-ideal insurance at quarterback when Matt Flynn was their backup quarterback. Presumptive replacement Graham Harrell has extensive experience in the Packers' system and has been widely praised by coaches this offseason, but no one has suggested he is the equivalent of Flynn just yet.

Minnesota Vikings: A better situation for a young quarterback
In detail:
Quarterback Christian Ponder will have a blue-chip left tackle in rookie Matt Kalil protecting his backside and two proven pass-catchers for mid-range passing in tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson. The Vikings have also added a receiver who can stretch the field in Jerome Simpson, who will be eligible to play in Week 4 after an NFL suspension, and might have unearthed a draft steal if Arkansas' Greg Childs is healthy. The offense is far from a finished product, but it is staffed much better at multiple positions than it was in 2011.
Biggest regression: The Vikings appear to have cast aside E.J. Henderson, their middle linebacker for most of the past decade. For now, that means they are hoping to make fourth-year player Jasper Brinkley their new starter. Brinkley played decently when he started four games as a rookie in 2009, but he missed all of 2011 because of a hamstring injury and coaches are waiting for him to turn it loose this spring.
As promised, let's take a stab at answering the questions we posed earlier this week in advance of mandatory minicamps for three NFC North teams. (Original post here.)

Chicago Bears: State of the offense and the progress of rookie defensive end Shea McClellin.

Our curiosity about the offense was adequately addressed. By all accounts, it will closely resemble the scheme that quarterback Jay Cutler and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates ran with the Denver Broncos from 2006-08. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice will apply some of his own tweaks, especially as it relates to the running game, but Tice has appropriately allowed Cutler and Bates to take substantial roles in the scheme's development.

"It's stuff that I do well," Cutler said. "It's stuff that I know. As a quarterback you want to be in the same offense over and over and over and over again so you can get a good feel for it and so you know all the nuances. This offense, I was in it three years in Denver, so this is my fourth year in it. I'm very comfortable with it.' … A lot of carryover [from Denver], a lot of stuff we did last couple years. It's kind of a mixture of some stuff Mike had done in his past, stuff Jeremy has, and he learned even more in Seattle, so it's a mixture of a lot of different things."

Meanwhile, McClellin didn't see much if any action with the first team at defensive end, and for now Israel Idonije is the starter at left end opposite Julius Peppers. There is an expectation that McClellin will eventually start, but it might not be in Week 1. Here's what defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli told reporters: " He can move well. He's got really good movement. He's got really good speed. He's got nice range. His size is fine. He's a real hungry guy and he's very smart. I know he's tough. We'll get the pads on him. That determines everything. I believe he'll come out and do a very nice job, but the movement, all the things you look for, it's there."

Detroit Lions: Comfort level in the secondary and the immediate role of rookie offensive lineman Riley Reiff.

In the early going at least, the Lions are working Aaron Berry and Chris Houston as their top two cornerbacks, with newcomer Jacob Lacey covering the slot receiver in nickel situations. My sense is the Lions feel more than comfortable with Berry as long as he remains healthy.

It was worth noting, however, that coach Jim Schwartz suggested it was time for safety Amari Spievey to even out his game. It appears to be a now-or-never year for the 2009 third-round draft pick.

Reiff continued working exclusively at left and right tackle, but the Lions haven't ruled out possible work at guard during training camp. If he is going to start in Week 1, however, the best guess is that it will come after beating out right tackle Gosder Cherilus. It's reasonable to think that left tackle Jeff Backus has at least one more year in him.

Green Bay Packers: Questions on the defense, linebacker Nick Perry, the safeties, quarterback Graham Harrell and left tackle Marshall Newhouse.

We've already spent some time discussing Perry, who sure looks like a big-time NFL linebacker but is still in the process of learning how to play the position. My sense is the Packers could use Charles Woodson in a safety-like role in the base defense and then mix-and-match when they are in nickel. There is definitely some hope that rookie Jerron McMillian, or even M.D. Jennings, could pose significant competition for Charlie Peprah in training camp.

Here's part of what coach Mike McCarthy said when I asked about his comfort level in Newhouse: "Marshall is at that point in his career, I think every player goes through it, the people in the building have a lot more confidence in him than maybe the people outside. I just don't think people know much about him. He's progressed so much and you see the ability, especially the athletic ability. I think Marshall is going to be a good player for us."

Finally, I saw no evidence to suggest the Packers will do anything other than make Harrell their No. 2 quarterback this season. Quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo: "A lot has been written about him not having great physical tools. Usually the people writing that have not seen him play or practice within the last three years. His arm has come alive. He's physically playing the game faster."
John Carlson came to work one day last summer to discover the Seattle Seahawks were forking over big bucks for another tight end.

The situation went from bad to worse for Carlson when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury requiring surgery. After sitting out the 2011 season and recovering, Carlson has lined up a visit with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bill Williamson notes on the AFC West blog.

Carlson, 27, illustrates the costs of quarterback and scheme instability.

The Seahawks used a 2008 second-round choice for him because their coach at the time, Mike Holmgren, thought Carlson could provide long-sought production at the position. The Seahawks have gone from Gil Haskell to Greg Knapp to Jeremy Bates to Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator since that time. They have shifted away from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and just about everyone else Holmgren brought to Seattle.

Carlson's production as a receiver suffered. He went from 55 receptions as a rookie to 51 the following year to 31 in 2010. The Seahawks have said they value him, but the money they gave Zach Miller last offseason told everyone which tight end Seattle valued the most.

Miller went from averaging about 60 receptions per season in Oakland to a 25-catch year with Seattle in 2011. He was strong as a blocker, but the drop in receiving production showed Carlson had company among Seattle tight ends struggling to produce in the passing game recently.

Anything else, Mr. Cutler?

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
5:52
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Let's take a moment to review.

As the Chicago Bears' offense collapsed last season, then-injured quarterback Jay Cutler made a nuanced plea for schematic continuity without directly endorsing the return of offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

A month later, the Bears replaced Martz and promoted offensive line coach Mike Tice into the role.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler, Brandon Marshall
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBears quarterback Jay Cutler got his receiver, former Denver teammate Brandon Marshall.
A few weeks after that, the Bears hired a quarterbacks coach whom Cutler once endorsed for Martz's job and is obviously a personal favorite. Jeremy Bates was one of the Denver Broncos' offensive assistants during Cutler's time there.

On Feb. 20, Cutler spoke openly during an ESPN 1000 interview about his desire for a big receiver and specifically acknowledged his continuing friendship with Brandon Marshall, who at the time was a member of the Miami Dolphins. Tuesday, less than an hour after the NFL's free agent and trading period opened, the Bears acquired Marshall for a pair of third-round picks.

What Jay wants, Jay gets.

Maybe he should have asked for Jake Long, Reggie Bush and a private plane as well.

In all seriousness, I know some of you will think that new general manager Phil Emery and coach Lovie Smith have gone out of their way to placate, suck up to and otherwise make their quarterback happy. But I wouldn't look at it quite that way.

What the Bears have done is take most every step available to maximize the huge investment they made in Cutler in their historic 2009 trade for him.

It's fair to expect an elite quarterback to raise the production of those around him, but the Bears hadn't given Cutler much to work with since his arrival. They traded away his best receiver, tight end Greg Olsen, and hoped he could make it work with former college teammate Earl Bennett, a kick returner trying to play receiver in Devin Hester and a raw speedster in Johnny Knox. Last year's signing of veteran Roy Williams proved a laughably inadequate response to their positional weakness.

It's also fair to expect a quarterback to find common ground with his coordinator, but Cutler has now bid farewell to two of them in his three-year Bears career. The hope now is that Cutler can resume his lockstep relationship with Bates, and get enough flexibility from Tice, to eliminate the red tape and bureaucracy that has stifled the team's offense at times in recent years.

There is no such thing as a perfect environment in the NFL, and it's worth noting that pass protection has probably been the single biggest issue the Bears offense has faced since Cutler arrived. Regardless, the Bears have surgically repaired much of the ruins around him.

Cutler has been reunited with his favorite coach and top receiver, and frankly it's on him to make it work. The Bears have reinforced their commitment to their franchise quarterback. The rest is up to him.
A Denver reunion in Chicago has some current AFC West relevance.

The Bears just acquired Brandon Marshall, and his big contract, from Miami for two third-round picks. The Bears were expected to be a big player for San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson. That pursuit likely won’t happen now.

So, the Chargers will likely have one less competitor for Jackson.

Also, I wonder if Peyton Manning will be bothered to see the Dolphins traded their top receiver. The Broncos are battling the Dolphins to sign Manning.

Two years ago, Denver received two second-round picks from Miami for Marshall, which helped the Broncos move up to take Tim Tebow at No. 25. In Chicago, Marshall reunites with former Denver quarterback Jay Cutler and Denver offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

In other AFC West news:

The agent for Kevin Boss tweeted that he will be cut Wednesday instead of Tuesday.

NFL.com reports that Nick Hardwick’s three-year deal in San Diego is worth $13.5 million with $6.5 million guaranteed. Pretty nice deal for the Chargers. Hardwick is a fine player.

Buffalo is visiting with Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams. San Diego has been interested.
NFL teams generally would not welcome a proven winning coach to a division rival.

The Arizona Cardinals won't mind seeing Jeff Fisher land in St. Louis, however, because the move eliminates their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, from consideration for the job. Horton interviewed for the position and could have been appealing relative to the other candidates beyond Fisher.

A look at other potential beneficiaries of Fisher's hiring, beyond the Rams:
  • Gregg Williams, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator. Williams worked under Fisher in Tennessee. He had chances to reunite with Fisher previously, but stayed with the Saints. His contract is set to expire after this season, however. That could clear the way for Williams to leave if Fisher decides to target him for the job in St. Louis.
  • Lake Dawson, Titans vice president of football operations. Dawson interviewed for the general manager's job in St. Louis while the Rams were trying to land Fisher. Dawson worked with Fisher in Tennessee. A former NFL receiver, Dawson's personnel roots run back to Ted Thompson when both were together with Mike Holmgren in Seattle. Fisher's hiring improves Dawson's chances.
  • West Coast-based offenses. Fisher is not known for having strong opinions on specific offensive schemes. I would expect him to take into account input from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford fared well as a rookie while running a West Coast offense. Fisher's teams in Jacksonville ran a Mike Shanahan-based variation of the West Coast scheme, similar to what the NFC West last saw when Jeremy Bates was Seattle's offensive coordinator in 2010 (Bates worked under Fisher's former coordinator in Tennessee, the late Mike Heimerdinger, when both were under Shanahan in Denver). ESPN's Mark Schlabach and others have noted that Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, the former head coach at Boise State and Arizona State, could be a consideration as coordinator for the Rams.

Fisher has had time to formulate plans in his mind. We should see signs of clear direction on the GM and coaching staff fronts before long.

We've had two rapid-fire news developments pop up Friday concerning the Chicago Bears:

  1. Baltimore Ravens executive Eric DeCosta, who might have been the Bears' top candidate to succeed general manager Jerry Angelo, announced he will remain with the Ravens and won't interview for any outside jobs. The Bears had requested permission to interview DeCosta, who likely is the heir to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
  2. The search for an offensive coordinator to replace Mike Martz, meanwhile, has reached its expected conclusion. As first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, offensive line coach Mike Tice has been promoted to the job.

There's not much more we can say about DeCosta's decision. It's easy to say the Bears' job has limited attraction for a big-time general manager candidate, considering he will be required to inherit coach Lovie Smith. Most general managers prefer to hire their own people, including the coach. But DeCosta also turned down opportunities to interview for jobs where he would hire the head coach. One name to keep in mind for the Bears continues to be Atlanta Falcons executive Les Snead.

Tice's ascension makes sense for the reasons we've been discussing for weeks. Mostly, it means the Bears won't start completely from scratch after hitting their offensive stride midway through the season. Tice shares some of Martz's terminology and root concepts, and has had two years to build a relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler. That puts the Bears ahead of where they would have been had they hired from the outside.

Tice, of course, is a much bigger proponent of the power running game than Martz was, and that puts him on a closer wavelength with Smith. It will also lead to a unique arrangement that presumably covers for some of the downsides this move would otherwise present.

Tice will call the plays for the first time in his career, according to the Bears' web site. But he will have a running-game focus, while a yet-to-be-hired quarterbacks coach will concentrate on the passing game.

The upside of that arrangement is that Tice will spend more time with the offensive line during the week, even though a new line coach will be hired. And it will also make the new quarterbacks coach more significant in the Bears' hierarchy than he otherwise would have been. (My first thought went to Jeremy Bates, Cutler's former quarterbacks coach when both were in the Denver Broncos. Just a guess, though.)

On the other hand, it will require a special degree of communication and cooperation for this to work.

There is a prevalent line of thought in the NFL that the play-caller and quarterback must be in lock-step and spend maximum time with each other during the practice week. Is that possible if Tice is focusing on the running game, and a quarterbacks coach who isn't the play-caller is spending more time with Cutler?

We'll find out. If the Bears truly become a run-oriented team under Tice, maybe it'll make more sense to have him work with the offensive line. Regardless, as we've discussed many times, there was no perfect solution awaiting the Bears on this issue. Starting over with a brand new coordinator and scheme, which would have been the fourth such change for Cutler in the past five years, wasn't appealing in the short-term. At this point, the Bears' best option was to find a way to make it work with Tice.
Analyzing Pete Carroll's recent comments regarding receiver Golden Tate and linebacker Aaron Curry required some reading between the lines.

What Carroll said about Tate: The second-year receiver will see his role increase quite a bit, particularly as a slot receiver on third down, a role Brandon Stokley played last season. "There’s nothing that we would like to see more than to elevate Golden’s effectiveness," Carroll told the Tacoma News Tribune. "We just didn’t get him over the hump last year, and we need to do that. He’ll be in position to take over a huge role for us."

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks are counting on more production from Golden Tate in 2011.
What to keep in mind: Carroll fired offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates this offseason. Bates was a big Matt Hasselbeck supporter. Hasselbeck was a big Stokley supporter. Hasselbeck and Stokley are seasoned veterans. Coaches often favor seasoned veterans during the regular season because they can trust them. Tate was a raw rookie who did not immediately grasp the nuances of the game. The organization wants to go young. This is the time of year to think about going young. It's tougher to do during a season, but I think Carroll will make a more concerted effort to push the team in that direction. Hasselbeck could still return, of course, but young players such as Tate are going to get longer looks, most likely. Some of the older players will not be back.

What Carroll said about Curry: The coach likes what Curry offers as a physical presence against opposing tight ends, but he wishes Curry would develop in other areas. Carroll: "We think he’s has a guy who has a tremendous amount of potential to get better. He wasn’t able to factor in the pass rush as we hoped. He wasn’t able to break into the top two rushers."

What to keep in mind: Carroll inherited Curry. He did not draft Curry. But the coach would still like to have more than a traditional strong-=side linebacker in return for the millions Curry is getting as the fourth player chosen in the 2009 draft. Curry is big, physical and athletic, but he is not a natural pass-rusher. He did not rush the passer much in college. At one point last season, I recall Curry using his Twitter account to vent about his role. Curry recently re-tweeted remarks suggesting Carroll was trying to put a "square peg into a round hole" by expecting Curry to rush the passer. I asked Carroll about Curry during the NFL owners meeting in March. This is what Carroll said:
"The thing about the situation, he was the fourth pick in the draft and expectations were ridiculously high. He made a ton of money. He is a really talented, big, good-looking athlete and everybody on the outside expects him to be something different than what he is right now. He hasn't dominated yet, but he is a player on the come and he is improving and working hard and figuring it out. He is a factor. He is a real positive factor for us. But it's all expectations. That screws everyone up. If you take a look at how he plays and what he does and how he produces, he's getting a lot done. But it doesn’t meet up to the expectations. You can almost mis-evaluate him because he is supposed to be whatever he is supposed to be. To me, he is a guy on the team who busts his ass and is working hard and we're trying to fit into situations and a role for him that is best. The first day I got there, within the first hour, I put on film of him because I wanted to see what he could be as a pass-rusher. See if he had that ability because of the speed and the size and all that stuff. My expectations for him are high, but I don't think they are unrealistic."

The bottom line? Seattle used the fourth overall choice in the draft for a strongside linebacker. Attempting to maximize the investment is only natural, and Curry's obvious physical talent suggests it could work, but it might not.
LockerAP Photo/Elaine ThompsonWashington quarterback Jake Locker didn't appear to do anything to hurt his draft status at his pro day on Wednesday.
SEATTLE -- The guest list for Jake Locker's pro day at the University of Washington offered up a few surprises.

Former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander, in town on business, dropped by the Dempsey Indoor facility. Former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira, in town for a meeting related to his role as interim head of Pac-10 officials, also attended.

Former Washington quarterbacks Warren Moon, Damon Huard, Brock Huard (working for ESPN), Hugh Millen, Cary Conklin and Sonny Sixkiller were there.

The quarterback-needy Tennessee Titans sent a large contingent featuring vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and pro scouting director Lake Dawson. Keith Gilbertson (Cleveland Browns), Randy Mueller (San Diego Chargers), Bob Ferguson (Indianapolis Colts) and Mike Sheppard (Jacksonville Jaguars) were among the former Seahawks staffers in attendance.

The Seahawks' current decision-makers and most of their coaches drove over from team headquarters, no surprise given the proximity and coach Pete Carroll's ties to Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, his former USC assistant.

But if the Seahawks' division rivals have any interest in Locker, they hid that interest quite well. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers did not send representatives, to my knowledge. They certainly did not have any high-profile staffers in attendance. That comes as a bit of a surprise given their obvious needs at quarterback and Locker's potential availability early in the second round, if he slips outside the first.

"I never read anything into which teams attend pro days," Locker's agent, David Dunn, said on the field following the workout. "I've had too many players selected by teams that weren't at pro days or didn't even visit with players."

Fair enough, but teams generally pay closer attention to quarterbacks. The 49ers sent Jim Harbaugh to Blaine Gabbert's pro day at Missouri. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt ran Auburn's Cam Newton through various throws at a recent workout.

"With quarterbacks, you want to be able to touch and feel and see how they are as people as well as athletes and players," Dunn said.

Locker was not the only Washington prospect performing for scouts, but he was the main draw. He did nothing obvious to damage his draft stock during the workout. He completed all but a couple of passes while showing fluidity in his drops and a short delivery, according to scouts who agreed to speak in general terms and not for attribution.

"I've never nitpicked a guy like I've nitpicked Locker," one of them said. "The guy is a winner, and at the end of the day that has to count for something."

Locker has been working with former NFL quarterback Ken O'Brien to bring his hand over the top more quickly when delivering the ball.

The controlled environment was set up to make him look good. No NFL coaches or personnel people asked Locker to perform unscripted throws. They watched Locker zip the ball with ample velocity and accuracy most of the time, save for a couple high throws that his overworked wide receiver, D'Andre Goodwin, snatched away from his body.

"I'm focusing on the fluidity of the drop, getting my feet in the right spot and just bringing the hand over the top as quickly as I could, rather than dragging my hand," Locker said afterward. "I have a tendency to do that sometimes. I want to bring my hand over the top and really point that finger at my target. I have been spinning the ball a lot better and it's been coming off my hand a lot better."

Locker's relatively low completion percentage at Washington and his inexperience running a pro-style offense have raised questions about his readiness for the NFL. Can he read defenses? Can he throw accurately and on time from the pocket? To what degree did a weak offensive line and receiving corps hamstring him in college?

I've heard differing opinions from scouts as to how well Locker would fit with the NFC West teams that need quarterbacks (Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco).

"A lot of people seem to have him pinpointed to Seattle at No. 25, but I don’t think that makes any sense at all," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "It works for people who do not know the X’s and O’s of it all. At 25, he has some value. He went to school in that area. It is easy to say that is a good fit, but I think Seattle is going more and more to a pure West Coast offense, and Locker doesn't fit the West Coast offense at all."

The Cardinals pick fifth and the 49ers pick seventh, earlier than Locker is expected to come off the board. Seattle is one of the few quarterback-needy teams picking later in the first round, when Locker figures to become a more likely selection.

"Jake seems to be an acquired taste," Dunn said. "The more you watch him on film, the more that you are around him, the more you like him."

How well Locker would fit with the Seahawks could hinge on the degree to which Williamson is right in his assessment of how Seattle's offense will evolve.

New coordinator Darrell Bevell comes from the Andy Reid/Mike Holmgren branch of the West Coast offense, a branch that relies more heavily on short, precise passes. Before Bevell replaced Jeremy Bates, the Seahawks had been running Mike Shanahan's version of the West Coast system featuring more quarterback movement, hard play-action fakes and deeper throws requiring greater arm strength.

Carroll, who attended the workout Wednesday, has said the Seahawks do not plan to significantly diverge from the system they ran last season. But it's plausible to think that Bevell's background could steer them away to some degree.

"You do have to be a precise passer in a Bill Walsh, traditional West Coast offense," Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFL Draft Scout, said from the Dempsey Indoor facility. "But I like any offense that is going to use Jake Locker's mobility as an asset rather than just keeping him pinned in that pocket. If you can use his legs as a weapon, that is where he has been his most accurate. He made significant improvements in his accuracy from the so-called pocket in this workout, but at the same time, his strength remains throwing on the move."

Rang said he would draft Locker in the first round as long as the team in question has a veteran starter in place.

I stood next to Moon, the retired Hall of Famer, throughout the workout. Moon said he sees the NFL game evolving to favor quarterbacks with mobility. Life for traditional pocket passers is getting tougher, in his view. Locker's athleticism and scrambling ability separate him from most prospects. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds, a time that holds up against those posted by some wide receivers. But quarterbacks must also succeed as pocket passers to make it in the NFL.

"Locker is pretty accurate outside the pocket," Williamson said, "but as far as going 1-2-3 and getting it out, having good footwork, hitting a guy in stride, he is terrible. I don’t see that fit at all. I do not think he is going to be the precise passer Harbaugh is looking for, either. I can see someone like Arizona being really interested in him in Round 2. They might like a more 'toolsy' guy, like a Ben Roethlisberger."

Williamson sees Locker appealing to a coach such as Shanahan, who might see Locker as a cross between Jay Cutler and Jake Plummer, two quarterbacks Shanahan coached in Denver. That's the type of quarterback Seattle was seeking when Jeremy Bates was coordinating their offense. It's the type of quarterback the Seahawks might still value if Bevell installs the type of system Carroll has favored previously.

"I don't know in the NFL right now if people run different offenses," Sarkisian said. "It's so much of a copycat league and everybody runs so many things that are similar that it's hard to say that New England is different than Pittsburgh that is different than Seattle that is different from the Chargers. They all have their focal points, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of similarities. Things will be tailored for him [Locker], like they are for every quarterback, but I just think he fits in as an NFL quarterback."

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