NFL Nation: Jordan Mills

The Bears have agreed to terms with offensive tackle Eben Britton on a one-year contract, the team announced Thursday.

The veteran appeared in 13 games for the Bears in 2013, starting four of them as a sixth eligible lineman. Bears head coach Marc Trestman identified Britton in training camp last summer as a player he expected to be active and contribute on game day. Britton did not disappoint and meshed well with the rest of the Bears’ offensive line on and off the field.

Britton started 30 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009 to '12, making 23 starts at right tackle and seven starts at left guard. Jacksonville drafted Britton out of Arizona in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft.

The 6-foot-6, 308-pound Britton could be in line to receive extended time with the first team at right tackle in the offseason as Jordan Mills recovers from January foot surgery.
Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery revealed Thursday that right tackle Jordan Mills suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot, and after further evaluation the rookie underwent surgery Friday morning, according to a league source.

"I know he still has to have some further evaluation, and that's just where we're at,” Emery said when asked whether Mills would miss any of the team's upcoming offseason conditioning program.

At this point, it is expected that Mills will be able to participate when the Bears convene at Halas Hall during the third week of April to start the offseason program. A rookie fifth-round pick, Mills suffered the injury during the first quarter of Sunday's season-ending loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Interestingly, Mills didn't suffer the injury while actually playing. Mills told he hurt the foot while going from the sideline into the game and played three snaps before being declared out.

Mills started every game for the Bears in 2013, giving up just three sacks in 1,022 snaps.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 15
Preseason power ranking: 13

Biggest surprise: The Chicago Bears' offensive line didn't exactly set the world on fire, but for the first time in recent memory the group wasn't the weak link of the team. The Bears revamped the offensive line by adding four new starters: Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson. The group's efforts, combined with a more quick-hitting passing game, resulted in just 19 sacks for QB Jay Cutler, his lowest total since 11 with Denver in 2008. The offensive line in 2013 displayed more consistency than any at other time in Cutler's time in Chicago, but the group struggled at inopportune times and often was aided by Cutler and Josh McCown getting rid of the ball quickly. Still, this year's group laid a foundation it can build on.

Biggest disappointment: New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will unfairly take criticism for the defense's failures in 2013. Coming off a 2012 campaign in which the defense ranked No. 5 overall and in the top 10 against the run and the pass, the unit in 2013 surrendered the most rushing yards (2,583) and points (478) in franchise history. Injuries played a major role. They cost the team a combined 72 missed games, 43 among starters alone. In recent history, the defense was the one facet that Chicago could always count on. But that wasn't the case in 2013. What's most surprising is how quickly the defense's decline came after being the team's backbone for so many years.

Biggest need: The defense is badly in need of a total makeover, and the bulk of that work should be done on the defensive line. It's safe to say now that former first-round defensive end Shea McClellin hasn't lived up to expectations and franchise defensive tackle Henry Melton is overrated. The Bears also have to decide whether to move forward with Julius Peppers, who is expensive and starting to show his age (will be 33 on Jan. 18), while finding a way to bring back Corey Wootton. The back end needs help, too. The deals for cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are up, as is the contract for safety Major Wright. The Bears also need to bring in competition to push underperforming safety Chris Conte.

Team MVP: Running back Matt Forte quietly put together his best season as a pro, accounting for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage (1,933) and career highs in rushing (1,339 yards) and receiving (74 catches, 594 yards). Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may have made flashier plays, but make no mistake: Forte is what makes the offense go. Cutler called Forte the best all-around back in the league, and he definitely made a strong case for it in 2013. A true three-down back, Forte threatened defenses as a runner and a receiver. On passing downs, Forte was also key in the team's protection schemes.

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears have officially ruled out starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea for Sunday’s game in St. Louis because of a toe injury that forced him to prematurely exit the Bears' Week 11 win against the Baltimore Ravens.

Paea, who did not practice all week, suffered the same toe injury in Week 4 and subsequently missed the next two games before returning to the starting lineup on Oct. 20.

“It’s like having a flat tire,” Paea said about the bad toe. “Imagine having to drive on a flat tire.”

Paea will continue to rest and receive treatment on the toe, but he’s unsure how long he’s going to be sidelined.

“It’s just frustrating right now,” Paea said. “It’s the same exact thing injury. I just re-aggravated it. The field was kind of wet (Sunday), so that (probably helped cause) it.”

With Paea down for at least a week, the Bears are expected to welcome back defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring). McClellin participated fully in practice the entire week and is listed as probable.

Also probable for the Rams game: long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) and right tackle Jordan Mills (quadriceps).

Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) is questionable, and had limited participation in practice on Friday.

Quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle), linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Week 12. However, Ratliff practiced Friday (limited participation) and might be ready to make his Bears’ debut in Week 13.

The Bears' roster stands at 52 players (53 is the max). The open roster spot could be used to elevate a defensive back off the practice squad if Steltz is inactive on Sunday.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears nickelback Isaiah Frey fractured his hand in the team's Week 11 win against Baltimore, but he is expected to play Sunday at the St. Louis Rams. Frey did not practice on Wednesday.

“Isaiah’s got a fracture in his hand,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s got it casted up. It looks good. It looks like they’ll be able to cast it up [Sunday]. We’ll know more tomorrow. We’re really optimistic on his end.

“I’m optimistic that he’ll be playing. I don’t think it’s necessary to go through all the different logistics if that doesn’t happen. But it’s certainly been discussed. But I feel optimistic that he’ll be playing.”

Selected by the Bears in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Frey emerged as the team’s No. 1 nickelback when veteran Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Frey is seventh on the team with 32 tackles, even though he comes off the field when the Bears play their base 4-3 defense.

In other injury hews, defensive end Shea McClellin participated fully on Wednesday and is on track to return to the field Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a pulled hamstring. McClellin hurt the hamstring at practice the week after being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance in Green Bay on Nov. 4.

“I feel good,” McClellin said. “I feel 100 percent and ready to get back out there and help the guys out.

“It was pretty disappointing [to miss two games]. But it’s part of the game. Things happen. And you’ve just got to adjust. Sitting out is terrible. It's the worst thing. You just want to be out there with the guys helping out, especially if they're not doing too good. It's hard to watch what they're doing.”

Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since he signed with the Bears on Nov. 2. The four-time Pro Bowler has not played in a game since last November, when he suffered a groin injury that eventually required sports-hernia surgery.

However, despite Ratliff’s apparent progress, the veteran defensive lineman will not be physically ready to make his Bears debut this Sunday against St. Louis, according to Trestman.

“Ratliff got some work; he’ll be a week-to-week thing,” Trestman said. “He got some reps in practice. It was good to see him out there moving around. I would not say [his debut] will be this Sunday, and we’ll re-evaluate it next week. To be fair with the situation, I’d say we are still a little bit away [from Ratliff playing].”

Trestman calls defensive tackle Stephen Paea (toe) “very questionable” to face St. Louis. Paea re-injured the toe that forced him to miss two games in early November; he did not practice on Wednesday.

Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) practiced without restrictions, while right tackle Jordan Mills was limited with a sore quadriceps. Safety Craig Steltz (concussion) was held out of practice but was able to do some conditioning work on the side.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears list tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle) as questionable to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, while defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) is doubtful after sitting out the entire week of practice.

Bennett rested his sore ankle on Thursday, but returned to the field in limited fashion on Friday.

“He (Bennett) worked probably 50 percent of the practice,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We were trying to be smart with him, but he got work in today and did well. Hopefully with 48 hours (until kickoff on Sunday) he’ll feel even better. But we got some execution done with him, so it was good.”

Bennett has battled through nagging injuries much of the season, but has still managed to start all nine games and catch 40 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns.

McClellin was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his three-sack performance against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 4, but he tweaked his hamstring at practice last Thursday and was inactive for the Bears’ Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

McClellin worked on the side with the training staff the past three days during practice but did not officially participate.

In other injury news, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder), quarterback Jay Cutler (ankle) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) were all ruled out for Sunday.

The Bears believe Ratliff will be in a position to contribute sometime in the next couple of weeks. The veteran defensive tackle participated in conditioning drills on Friday while his teammates practiced. Ratliff has not played in an NFL game since last November as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Bears also list long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) as doubtful and right guard Jordan Mills (quad) as probable.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears fitted quarterback Jay Cutler with a hard cast on his injured left ankle, which he was spotted wearing on Wednesday, but coach Marc Trestman insists the cast was simply applied to provide stabilization.

“The doctors and the trainers talked about just making sure that it’s stabilized,” Trestman said Thursday. “It wasn’t swollen after the game [on Sunday]. It was swollen certainly on Monday, and they just wanted to make sure it was stabilized. That’s really the only thing I know about it at this time. It is a hard cast.”

While a hard cast suggests Cutler’s injury might be more significant than a mild high-ankle sprain, doctors and athletic trainers commonly use immobilization to ensure the injured joint doesn’t move at all, which promotes faster healing. Players can put on and take off a walking boot, making it not so strict an immobilizer as a hard cast.

In other injury news, tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle) didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center, but Trestman said the team is “hopeful that a day off the ankle will give him a little relief, and he’ll be back at it.” Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly (calf) also missed practice, and is considered week-to-week in his recovery.

Trestman said that defensive end Shea McClellin (hamstring) “worked with trainers today” and that defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff “worked on the side, but not in the practice.” Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills took limited repetitions during Thursday’s session due to “a little bit of a quad.” Ratliff isn't expected to play this week, and it's unclear whether McClellin will recover enough to be able to contribute in Sunday's game. Mills isn't expected to miss time.

As for Cutler, the quarterback remains “week to week,” according to Trestman. But Cutler has spent his days of inactivity working with Josh McCown and Trestman to ensure the backup quarterback plays at his best Sunday when the Bears host the Baltimore Ravens.

“He’s in every meeting,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “He comes to the extra protection meetings to make sure he knows who we’re picking up in blitzes. He’s at every quarterback meeting. He’s in practice. He’s helping Josh. You saw him on the sideline in Green Bay. He’s helping coach. He’s not missing a rep, other than physical.”

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aided by terrific protection from the offensive line, Josh McCown pulled off a rare feat for a Chicago Bears’ quarterback on Monday night: win a game at Lambeau Field.

For the second consecutive game, McCown displayed remarkable poise and confidence in relief of Jay Cutler, completing 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 90.7, guiding the Bears to a 27-20 victory -- their win in Green Bay since 2007.

“It would be hard to find a (better win), but they are all special through every level from back at high school to Sam Houston to now,” McCown said. “They are all special. This is neat. This is really neat because it means so much to our team, because it is a divisional opponent, and it is for the divisional lead. All those things factor into this. So it is special and I am very thankful.”

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago TribuneJosh McCown completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay.
McCown, sacked only one time, appeared to be in complete control of the offense from the opening kickoff, leading the Bears on two separate scoring drives that consumed 10 or more plays, including a marathon final drive in the fourth quarter that ate up 8:58 worth of clock (18 plays and 95 yards including penalties) that resulted in a 27-yard Robbie Gould field goal.

“He’s got a lot of energy in the huddle,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “Every now and then we have to calm him down a little because he starts screaming and we don’t want the defense hearing the play. But we had a lot of fun and he did a great job leading us. That is what this game is all about; you prepare and when it’s time to play you go out there and let loose. We were able to do that today.”

On the season, McCown has connected on 36-of-61 throws for 476 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

According to Bears rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, McCown’s experience and understanding of the offense had a calming effect on the team the entire evening.

“Josh is a 12-year veteran,” Mills said. “He’s been through everything and has experienced all the ups-and-downs and has learned from it. He’s a true leader. Just to see him stay poised and calm in the pocket like that and show no fear towards anyone: that just left me speechless.

“I knew that he could do it. He knew that he could do it. But we had to show the world that he could do it. After seeing on Monday night how he is able to stand in pocket as cool as a summer’s day, it was really calming for me.”

Bears rookie linemen staying grounded

October, 17, 2013
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With the season closing in on the halfway point, the Chicago Bears’ rookie-loaded offensive line has become less and less of a story.

As right tackle Jordan Mills and right guard Kyle Long continue to hold their own, the constant tracking of their progress seems to be less relevant.

“You know we’re just taking it one day at a time, one game at a time, one practice at a time,” Mills said after practice Thursday. “Me and Kyle never pay attention to that. That’s the point of fans and media to give us that hype.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Mills, Kyle Long
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliChicago rookie offensive linemen Jordan Mills, No. 67, and Kyle Long, No. 75, have earned trust from quarterback Jay Cutler.
Nobody is calling the rookies Pro Bowl-bound just yet, but as experiments go, one that had the potential for total meltdown has instead shown definite promise.

“We’re new to this and sitting back watching, humbled and shocked,” Mills said. “We have kept each other grounded and never let our heads get too big. It’s starting to settle down and get normal and we just want to get better working together, working as an offensive line and working as an offensive team to get this from a good team to a great team.”

Also keeping them grounded is an NFL schedule that offers one unique test after another, with the Washington Redskins the next challenge. On Sunday, the Bears’ young offensive line will see another 3-4 defense (the third the Bears have faced this season), and some third-down blitzes that figure to come from all angles.

It has only helped the Bears that the first 3-4 defense they faced, way back in Week 3, belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It was good because Pittsburgh’s 3-4 is probably one of the greatest 3-4 defenses that ever played and they have one of the greatest defensive coordinators [Dick LeBeau] that has coached,” Mills said. “To see that and go off of that game, they do some things similar. They try to confuse you on third down and any down they can put five bigs in the game. To have that [Steelers] game you can go back and watch because they do similar things.”

Most important when it comes to the growth of the line could be that quarterback Jay Cutler continues to grow more confident in the group that blocks for him.

“They’re playing great,” Cutler said. “I think Kyle gets most of the hype and the attention but Jordan is over there really locking down that side through the first six games of the season. There is a comfort level he gives Kyle. They are a little bit of yin and yang. Kyle is a little more upbeat and Jordan is the calmer of the two. The front five deserves a lot of credit through these first six.”

The encouragement from Cutler is nice, but Mills promises it won’t go to his head.

“Me and Kyle always talk about it, and the veterans talk about not becoming complacent,” Mills said. “Just because you overcome something there is always something bigger coming so you just take it one step at a time and you should be fine.”
Here's a look at five things to watch during Sunday's game between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions at Ford Field:

Cutler’s poise: Crowd noise should be a factor, along with Detroit’s formidable defensive line, which in the past hasn’t been immune to engaging in extra-curricular activity, whether verbally or through rough play. Quarterback Jay Cutler is also known to be chatty with opposing defensive linemen. But don’t expect him to be drawn into whatever Detroit’s defense tries to instigate. Cutler needs to do what he’s been doing through the first three games: play sound, fundamental football within the confines of the system, and not take unnecessary chances.

“[Detroit’s] front four are good,” Cutler said. “So we have to take care of that. I’ve got to be on time. The receivers have got to get to their spots. Everyone, collectively, we can’t let down this week.”

If Cutler and the offensive line successfully weather Detroit’s initial punch, the Bears could be in for an afternoon of high production on offense. For the most part, Cutler picked apart the Lions in the past with a bad offensive line. Now that he’s got a solid line, Cutler could be deadly in this one.

[+] EnlargeKyle Long
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsChicago offensive lineman Kyle Long will be tangling with Detroit star Ndamukong Suh on Sunday.
Rookie O-linemen: Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills face difficult challenges against Detroit’s front four; especially Long, who will match up with Ndamukong Suh. The Bears will try to help out the rookies on occasion through the play calling and deploying extra help their direction. Long’s matchup appears to be tougher than Mills’, not only because of Suh, but due to Detroit’s wide-nine alignment, which will often put the right guard on somewhat of an island. The rookies won’t win every battle in Sunday’s game, but what’s important is maintaining poise, and coming out on top in the majority of them.

“Sometimes we can slide the line [toward Suh]. Sometimes we can do it with the back. Sometimes, the guards are going to have to handle [Suh] by themselves,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Then you can help with play selection, where you’re running the football, moving things around and making it a little more difficult in terms of where Jay is going to finally be in a passing spot, and throwing the ball quickly.”

CB Charles Tillman: Normally, there wouldn’t be reason for trepidation regarding Tillman’s matchup with Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson. After all, in the past six meetings between these teams, Johnson has produced only one 100-yard outing against the Bears (Oct. 10, 2011), while scoring just two touchdowns. Johnson averages 4.5 receptions per game against the Bears since 2010 for an average of 71.3 yards with Tillman as the primary man in coverage. Tillman, meanwhile, has racked up 37 tackles, broken up eight passes and intercepted two in addition to forcing two fumbles in that span. The problem now, however, is that Tillman is banged up, having missed two days of practice due to an injured right knee and sore groin. It’s likely Tillman will start on Sunday, but how long will he be able to play, and more importantly, how effective will he be?

Pass rush: Chicago generated more pressure from the front four last week at Pittsburgh, but the group needs to be even better against Detroit’s fourth-ranked offense. With defensive tackle Henry Melton out of the picture, that task becomes tougher with Stephen Paea playing the three-technique and Nate Collins moving to nose tackle. But defensive coordinator Mel Tucker showed against the Steelers he can manufacture pressure with blitzes from the linebackers and stunts up front.

“Whether it’ll be more coverage, more pressure, base, blitz or whatever it is, it’s whatever we think we need to do to get the job done to get them stopped. That changes sometimes from game to game or within a game. So we’re equipped to do whatever we need to do to get them stopped.”

Interestingly, the Lions are converting just 32.4 percent of third downs. If Chicago applies sufficient pressure against Detroit, that number is likely to drop even lower, which drastically increases the Bears’ chances for victory.

LB’s versus Bush: Detroit hurt the Minnesota Vikings substantially with the screen pass to Reggie Bush in the season opener. In addition to rushing for 90 yards on 21 attempts, Bush caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in that game.

“Reggie Bush is a talented running back,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Not only does he run the ball well but he catches the ball well. He runs well in space. He knows how to make defenders miss. He's a tough guy to also bring down. He's good. He can create mismatches, if you split him out and put him against some linebackers. But he's someone that you need to be aware of and know where he is on the field.”

With the additions of James Anderson and D.J. Williams to play next to Briggs, the Bears certainly became a more athletic group of linebackers which might be better equipped than most teams to handle Bush. If Chicago neutralizes Bush it basically shuts down Detroit’s second-most dangerous player behind Johnson.

PITTSBURGH -- Rookie right guard Kyle Long described Jay Cutler as “reptilian” and “cold blooded” Sunday night in the aftermath of the quarterback’s clutch play in leading the Chicago Bears to a 40-23 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the background, rookie right tackle Jordan Mills whispered: “He’s Mr. Fourth Quarter.”

“He has that ability, when everybody’s nerves are kind of on edge and people have that heightened sense of whatever, Jay’s just cool, just flatline out there,” Long said. “In the huddle, on the sideline, in practice, Jay is a cool cat."

He just caught fire at precisely the right moments Sunday at Heinz Field.

Aided by a defense that produced five turnovers and a couple of touchdowns, Cutler slammed the door on a potential Steelers comeback early in the fourth quarter with three game-clinching plays.

Having gained some momentum on a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that cut their deficit to 27-23, the Steelers looked to shut down Cutler and make their move to avoid starting 0-3. And it appeared the Steelers would be able to do so. On the Bears' final two drives of the third quarter, Cutler hit on 3 of 6 passes for 8 yards in addition to absorbing a sack for a 6-yard loss.

Through the first two quarters, Cutler had completed 12 of 18 for 75 yards for a passer rating of 75.0 and a sack in the face of seemingly constant Pittsburgh pressure.

[+] EnlargeChicago's Jay Cutler
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJay Cutler completed 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers.
“This could have been a very frustrating night,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “There were some people in his face. He had to scramble. But we knew going in that it wasn’t going to be simple. It wasn’t going to be clean on every play, and we tried to give him the quick stuff and get it out of his hands. At times, we took some [seven-step drops] and it made it tough. The pressure was coming, and it was coming from different places each and every time.”

But Cutler stepped into the thick of it and delivered when the Bears needed it most. With 9:15 remaining in the game, on third-and-10 from the Chicago 26, Cutler scrambled 13 yards and nearly ran over safety Robert Golden to gain extra yardage. Three plays later, he fired a 41-yard completion to Brandon Marshall.

“Really, it’s all Jay,” Marshall said. “Jay threw a 50-yard back-shoulder [throw]. I’ve never seen that happen before. The guy’s arm is amazing. Jay put it in the right place.”

Cutler did it again three plays later when he found Earl Bennett for a 17-yard touchdown with 5:48 remaining. The play was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but Chicago successfully challenged to get the call reversed. Bennett’s score capped a nine-play, 74-yard drive, and with the extra point Chicago had a 34-23 advantage.

The drive essentially extinguished Pittsburgh’s chances for a comeback, while notching another outing in which the Bears received strong play from Cutler with the game on the line. Prior to Sunday’s contest, Cutler had led the Bears to consecutive come-from-behind victories over Cincinnati and Minnesota.

This time -- despite the Bears building a 24-3 lead in the second quarter -- Cutler found himself trying to hold off a comeback on the road that started with Ben Roelthisberger’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown just before intermission.

Cutler admitted it was difficult to remain patient with the Steelers starting to rally. But by doing so, he finished the game having completed 67 percent of his passes, with no turnovers and a passer rating of 90.8.

“It’s not something I’m used to,” Cutler said. “We have been practicing ball security a lot. We were sitting pretty good early on and we didn’t want to give them anything easy, especially when they started getting a little momentum. We didn’t want to force the ball. We didn’t want to give them positioning in our territory. We just wanted to be patient, and we caught man [coverage] there that last play, and we were able to get a big one to Earl.”

Four Downs: Hester a Bear beyond '13?

September, 19, 2013
Devin HesterJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDevin Hester stole the momentum back from the Vikings with kickoff returns of 80 and 76 yards in Week 2.
Shedding his receiver duties to focus on his return game has seemed to work out well for Devin Hester.

He returned five kickoffs for a Bears-record 249 yards against the Vikings in Week 2 -- including a 76-yarder and an 80-yarder -- and brought back his only kickoff return 31 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.

If Hester, who will be a free agent after the season, continues to be a difference-maker for the Bears in the return game, will his career in Chicago extend beyond this season?

Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: Devin Hester will play his way into a new Bears contract after this season.

[+] EnlargeDevin Hester
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastWill Devin Hester prove to be a luxury the Bears can't afford after this season?

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. A confident and healthy Hester is a great weapon for the Bears to have under contract moving forward. If Hester has a Pro Bowl caliber year returning kickoffs and punts, why wouldn't the Bears make an attempt to re-sign him in the offseason? The question, of course, is compensation. Hester is making a total of $2.1 million in 2013 to be strictly a specialist. Are the Bears comfortable paying him the same amount in a new contract? Will Hester want more? These are difficult topics to discuss because we really don't know how it's all going to shake out. But put it this way: After two weeks Hester has done nothing to hurt his chances of landing a new deal from the Bears in free agency, or maybe even before that.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Like Marc Trestman, I'm an admitted Hester fan. Watching him return kicks is like watching Derrick Rose drive the lane, pure athletic joy. But I don't know that the Bears will be able to afford a full-time kick returner. I think Hester will have a very good season, and I think he's worth a good deal just as a return man, but I bet the Bears let him get that money on the open market and invest in other positions. It'll be a sad day when Hester is no longer a Bear, so enjoy him now.

(Read full post)

Jay Cutler no longer seeing ghosts

September, 16, 2013
CHICAGO -- After just two games, the Chicago Bears' revamped offensive line has performed so well that quarterback Jay Cutler no longer is seeing ghosts.

Four new members of the line, not to mention two rookies on the right side, could have been a recipe for disaster, but so far it has been good enough to allow Cutler to pass for 532 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 2-0 start.

"The hardest thing right now is stepping in the pocket and not seeing ghosts because these guys are doing such a fabulous job protecting," Cutler said Monday on ESPN 1000's weekly "The Jay Cutler Show." "It's just getting used to being able to take my steps, take my appropriate drop and step up and go through all my reads. It's a good problem to have, but it's still something I have to get used to with these new guys."

It wasn't a problem last season, when the offensive line included guys like J'Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis and Chris Spencer.

When protection goes bad, quarterbacks can often feel pressure that's not there. At its worst, it can result in phantom sacks -- when the quarterback crumples simply expecting to get hit. Cutler seems to be moving as far away from that stage as he ever has.

"I think we do a good job of protecting me early in the game so I can get that trust level and can feel protected in there," Cutler said. "But the more I watch film, and the more I'm (playing) with these guys, they are doing everything they can to protect me, and I just have to do my job back there and deliver the ball for them because they're fighting their (tails) off."

As rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills hold their own on the right side, they are also gaining a respect for the guy they are protecting.

"He's so cool," Long said about Cutler following Sunday's 31-30 victory over the Vikings. "I wish I was as cool as Jay Cutler. I was all fired up, and Jay, his heart was going two beats a minute like nothing was going on. He does a great job. He's our leader on the offensive side of the ball and we'll follow him to the promised land. Today it was the end zone."

The typically unfazed Cutler said it's all in a day's work.

"I've got to have a sense of calm in the huddle," Cutler said. "If I was going crazy and all frantic, the guys will do the same. As long as I'm calm and have everything under control, that will perpetuate to the rest of the guys and they will be calm as well."

Underrated tackles held up well

September, 12, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Whatever angst the Green Bay Packers had about their starting tackles should have been eased somewhat after their performance in Sunday’s season opener at San Francisco.

Although it wasn’t a flawless performance and there were issues in the running game, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari and second-year right tackle Don Barclay held up well, especially considering their pedigree.

Bakhtiari was at least partially responsible for both of Aldon Smith's sacks, but otherwise was solid in his debut. Meanwhile, Barclay, in just his seventh career start, showed significant improvement over last season.

A study of all 64 opening-day tackles showed that the Packers trotted out one of the most unheralded combinations in the league. Bakhtiari was a fourth-round pick, while Barclay was undrafted.

Only two other teams had both of their Week 1 starting tackles taken in the fourth round of the draft or lower. They were: the Chicago Bears (Jermon Bushrod, fourth round; Jordan Mills, fifth round), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Demar Dotson, undrafted; Donald Penn, undrafted).

Based on Week 1 starting lineups, 28 of the 64 starting tackles were first-round picks. Another 13 were drafted in the second round. That accounts for 64.0 percent of the opening-day starting tackles. Only 15 were drafted in the fifth round or later (or were undrafted).

“I know that when you get players that are doing a good job, that’s a tribute to them, not where they were picked,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “It doesn’t matter to me where they were picked as long as they can play.”

Bakhtiari was one of only six rookies who started at tackle in Week 1. Four of them -- Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs, Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars, D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers and Justin Pugh of the New York Giants -- were first-round picks. Of the six, only the Bears’ Mills was drafted lower than Bakhtiari.

Of course, the Packers didn’t envision a Bakhtiari-Barclay starting tackle combination. Like many teams in the NFL, they used high draft picks on tackles. In 2010, they took Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 overall. A year later, they picked Derek Sherrod at No. 32. Together, they were supposed to be the starting tackle combination for the foreseeable future. But Sherrod still hasn’t recovered from the broken leg he suffered as a rookie and remains on the physically unable to perform list, and Bulaga was lost for the season to a knee injury on Aug. 5.

Tackles are often the key to pass protection, and other than Smith’s two sacks, one of which came when Bakhtiari whiffed on a cut block, the Packers kept Aaron Rodgers fairly clean against the 49ers. The running game, however, was another story. The Packers had only 63 yards rushing against the 49ers.

“Didn’t notice them that much, so that was good,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the starting tackles. “They both played well. They got after it, and they were playing against excellent players, and they moved their front four around at times to get different defenders on them, and they reacted well.”

Fisher not among top rookies so far

September, 12, 2013
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has an interesting article rating the top 20 rookies Insider from last week's games. Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher is not among them.

Fisher looked like the weak link of the offensive line in the win over Jacksonville, though he certainly didn't have a horrible game. He was pushed back on a bull rush by Jason Babin on one of Alex Smith's first pass attempts, but settled down and handled himself decently from that point forward.

Still, Chiefs fans might like to think the first overall pick in the draft is at least going to be among the top 20 rookies, and when it's all said and done Fisher might get there. It's just one game.

Four offensive linemen made Kiper's list: Chicago's Jordan Mills, San Diego's D.J. Fluker, Detroit's Larry Warford and Philadelphia's Lane Johnson. It's interesting to note that the second pick in the draft, Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel, also didn't make the list.




Sunday, 2/2