NFL Nation: Lance Briggs

IRVING, Texas -- Rod Marinelli likes what he saw from his Dallas Cowboys defense in the spring.

The defensive coordinator liked that he has more players along the defensive line. He likes the linebackers’ “movement skills.” He likes how cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne can play man-to-man. He likes the growth J.J. Wilcox made at safety opposite Barry Church.

[+] EnlargeBarry Church and Morris Claiborne
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDallas defensive backs Barry Church and Morris Claiborne didn't have much to celebrate during 2013.
But there’s something else Marinelli likes about the group.

“I think there’s something to prove a little bit,” Marinelli said. “Not something to prove from last year, but there are some guys coming here off the street with something to prove. There are some guys in contract years with something to prove. There are some guys coming out saying, ‘I want to be a better player,’ who have something prove.

“You get that many guys wanting to prove something, then you can become better. Right now what I like is how hard they’re going after their craft.”

Last season was a mess for the Cowboys' defense. It has been referenced so many times this offseason that “32nd-ranked defense” has been tattooed on everybody. The Cowboys gave up 6,279 yards in 2013 a year after giving up a franchise-record 5,687 yards. Five quarterbacks had four-touchdown games against the Cowboys. Two times in a three-week span, they allowed more than 620 yards. The New Orleans Saints had 40 first downs.

“It definitely bothers us,” Church said. “I’m speaking for myself, but it definitely bothers me. But there’s nothing we can really say or prove different. We were 32nd in the league and we weren’t that good on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the only way we can counter that is by playing good and becoming one of the better teams in the league at taking the ball away and against the run and the pass.”

It’s not just the players. The tag falls on the coaches, too.

“Nobody wants to look at last year and take ownership of that, but we have to,” secondary coach Jerome Henderson said. “And we’ve got to get better from there, and we cannot let that happen again.”

Oh, and now the Cowboys have to show they can be better in 2014 without the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks, DeMarcus Ware, who was cut, last year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and their best playmaker, Sean Lee, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in organized team activities.

But the sense is that Marinelli likes it this way. He had ubertalented defenses with the Chicago Bears with guys like Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with guys like Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, John Lynch and Ronde Barber.

He doesn’t have an Urlacher, Sapp, Brooks, Briggs, Rice or Lynch with this group.

He has Henry Melton, whom he coached to the Pro Bowl with the Bears, trying to prove he can come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He has Bruce Carter trying to prove he is a big-time player in a contract year. He has Claiborne, a former sixth overall pick in the draft, trying to prove he is not a bust. He has Carr trying to prove he is worth the five-year, $50 million contract he received in 2012. He has George Selvie trying to prove he was not a one-year wonder after putting up seven sacks last season. He has Tyrone Crawford trying to prove he can come back from a torn Achilles.

He has low-cost free agents such as Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye trying to prove they can be prime-time players. He has Justin Durant trying to prove he can be a middle linebacker and Kyle Wilber trying to prove he can be a strongside linebacker. He has Rolando McClain trying to prove that a player who has retired twice in the past year has the desire to keep playing. He has DeMarcus Lawrence trying to prove that a second-rounder can make an impact as a rookie. He has Wilcox trying to prove he can play strong safety.

He has guys like Church and Scandrick trying to prove that they can put up solid seasons in back-to-back years.

So much to prove. So much to forget.

“The first thing you do is you take it as coaches and players and you take accountability for it,” Marinelli said. “And no excuses. Now we look forward. Now it’s about the expectations of this group and with expectations you have to execute. It’s that simple. That simple, yet that hard.”

Cowboys offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Dallas Cowboys' offseason moves.

Best move: The Cowboys could not make big splashes in free agency and their 8-8 record kept them in the middle of the pack in the draft as well, so the best move was not one regarding personnel. It was coaching. Elevating Rod Marinelli to defensive coordinator after the Cowboys finished last in the league in 2013 was their best move. With the Chicago Bears, Marinelli had a difference-making defense that could create turnovers at will. He also had Pro Bowl-quality players such as Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. He does not have that in bountiful supply in Dallas, unless Sean Lee can stay healthy or Henry Melton returns to form from injury.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellWill the Dallas Cowboys regret not re-signing DeMarcus Ware?
Riskiest move: DeMarcus Ware put up 119 sacks with the Cowboys from 2005-13, but the club believed it was time to move on after Ware had just six in 2013. A quadriceps injury forced Ware to miss the first three games of his career in 2013 and he was slowed by other maladies. The Cowboys did not make an attempt to offer Ware a reduced contract and simply cut him. Within 24 hours he was signed to a three-year deal by the Denver Broncos with $20 million guaranteed. For this 4-3 scheme to work, there must be an accomplished right defensive end. The Cowboys believed Ware’s time as a dominant pass-rusher was over but did not pick up his replacement until the second round of the draft, selecting DeMarcus Lawrence.

Most surprising move: With the 16th pick in the first round, the Cowboys had a chance to select Johnny Manziel to be Tony Romo’s eventual successor. It seemed to be a perfect marriage of the attention Jerry Jones seeks and the spotlight Johnny Football enjoys. Jones passed on Manziel, recommitting his faith in Romo, who signed a six-year, $108 million extension last season, and making a smart move in picking up Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He will be a Day 1 starter and give the Cowboys three first-round picks on their offensive line, which will help Romo and potentially help a defense if the Cowboys can control the clock.

Numbers game: The emphasis of the Cowboys’ offseason has been about the defense, but they have taken a quantity-over-quality look. They had some interest in Peppers and Jared Allen after releasing Ware, but only at a reduced rate. The Cowboys signed Melton, who is coming off an ACL injury, to a one-year deal with an option for three more years if he plays at a high level. They signed Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to low-risk deals. They kept Anthony Spencer, who is coming back from microfracture surgery, on a one-year deal. They even signed Amobi Okoye, who did not play last season due to personal medical issues, in hopes a reunion with Marinelli will rejuvenate him. The flashiest addition might be Lawrence, and it is difficult to expect rookies to hit the league running.
CHICAGO -- The left shoulder injury that knocked Bears linebacker Lance Briggs out of seven games last season will force the seven-time Pro Bowl selection to wear a harness under his shoulder pads next season.

Briggs told ESPN 1000's "Carmen and Jurko Show" on Monday that he is still recovering from the fractured shoulder he suffered while attempting to make a tackle in the Bears' 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins on Oct. 20.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLance Briggs missed seven games last season due to a fractured shoulder.
“My injury was very avoidable looking back at it,” Briggs said. "I stayed on that tackle on the wrong side or on that block on the wrong side. I should've stayed on the outside [of the ball carrier's body] and hammered the ball in. I saw the ball and I tried to play fast. But I went down, and I thought about the injury every day that I was on the sidelines.

"As far as my shoulder, I will have a strap and go out and play football. My left shoulder is getting stronger and we’ll continue to work on getting it stronger until the shoulder is 100 percent."

Briggs did return to action in Week 16 versus the Philadelphia Eagles, but he clearly wasn't himself after the long layoff. Briggs recorded only five tackles as the Eagles routed the Bears 54-11.

"I was not at my optimum weight at all," Briggs acknowledged. "I mean, the Eagles are tough for any defense because they run 60 to 80 plays per game. At that point, I really didn't think I was going to come back and play at all the rest of that year so I ended up just sucking it up and playing the last two games. In that last game against the Green Bay Packers (seven tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss), I was fine with my conditioning. But there wasn't a whole lot I could do for the two months that I was off. That's what happens, you know."

The Bears are counting on Briggs to have another Pro Bowl caliber season in 2014. Entering his 12th year with the Bears, Briggs is scheduled to earn $5.5 million and count $6.5 million against the team's salary cap. The expectation is for Briggs to anchor a defense that has already experienced substantial turnover in the offseason after a disastrous 2013 campaign.

"Defensively, we have a lot of holes and we are in the process of getting that stuff fixed," Briggs said. "We have a draft coming up and we're going to pick up more important players that are going to help us win. When next season rolls around, hopefully we’ll have those parts that can allow us to perform at a high level."
CHICAGO -- Veteran cornerback Charles Tillman's decision to return to the Chicago Bears on a one-year deal even surprised his closest friend on the team.

Tillman
Briggs
Seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs told ESPN 1000's "Carmen and Jurko Show" on Monday he was positive Tillman and Lovie Smith would reunite in Tampa when the cornerback made an official visit to the Bucs at the onset of free agency.

However, talks between Tillman and the Buccaneers went nowhere. Tillman left Tampa's facility without an offer and within 48 hours the two-time Pro Bowl defensive back had agreed to terms on a new one-year contract with the Bears.

"He called me pretty often during this whole time period just to get my opinion on things," Briggs said. "I would call him and see how he felt and when he told me he had a trip to Tampa and I saw Darrelle Revis had been released, I thought it was pretty much a sure thing. I actually sent him a text that I wished him well and tell Lovie I say hi. I thought it was over. Then the next day I wake up and I get texts on my phone that Peanut re-signed. I'm over here screaming and then I called him and we had a long talk about stuff. I'm just happy he's back.

"I'm probably the happiest man in Chicago."

But Briggs lamented the current situation of free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is visiting the Dallas Cowboys on Monday after making previous stops in Minnesota and Seattle. The Bears have never ruled out the idea of re-signing Melton, but it's clear the club is not going to set the market for the three-technique defensive tackle, who played in just three games last year before tearing his ACL. Melton received the franchise tag last offseason and counted $8,454,725 against the Bears' salary cap in 2013.

"Henry Melton is coming off of ACL surgery in a season where he got tagged," Briggs said. "He had no complaints about it. He said he was coming in to play. Remember years back when I got tagged and said I didn't want to play because there are no guarantees past this year and if I get hurt I'll lose money. I wanted a long-term deal. People were calling me selfish for not taking the money, but now you watch Henry Melton go down.

Henry is still on the board as far as free agency goes and he's going to lose money. Football is a business, and for us players, we always have to protect ourselves the best we can. For him, I hope he gets the best possible deal that he can on a good team that can make a run for a championship. He deserves it."

A look at Rod Marinelli's scheme

February, 11, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Since Rod Marinelli was named the Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator, I've been asked more than a few times if the defense will look different in 2014.

Since Marinelli worked with Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay for so long, the easy answer is no, it won't.

From 2010-12, Marinelli served as coordinator for the Chicago Bears after his stint as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He had incredibly successful defenses. They forced a ton of turnovers (59 fumbles, 65 interceptions), scored 13 touchdowns and, most importantly, allowed the fourth-fewest points (904).

In 2012, the Bears had four Pro Bowl players in cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton. They had a league-high 44 takeaways and finished in the top 10 in rush defense, pass defense and points allowed.

I wanted to get a feel for a Marinelli defense versus a Kiffin defense, so I watched two Bears games from 2012 against the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. The Bears intercepted Tony Romo five times and forced a sixth turnover in their 34-18 win at AT&T Stadium in Week 4. The Packers game came in Week 15 and Chicago did not have Brian Urlacher. The Packers won, 21-13.

[+] EnlargeRod Marinelli
AP Photo/James D. SmithThe Cowboys' defense under Rod Marinelli shouldn't differ much schematically from the one the Cowboys ran under Monte Kiffin.
Like Kiffin, Marinelli did not employ a dime defense (six defensive backs) in either game. He played a nickel defense when faced with three-wide-receiver sets or empty packages. He brought five or more on a pass rush just 17 times in 98 pass plays.

Here's the breakdown:

Green Bay

Three-man pressure: None.
Four-man pressure: 34
Five-man or more pressure: 9

Dallas

Three-man pressure: 1
Four-man pressure: 44
Five-man or more pressure: 8

The Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers three times. They got Tony Romo once. While the Bears showed A-gap pressures with Urlacher and Lance Briggs against the Cowboys, they never brought both of them up the middle. Twice they brought the cornerback off the slot for a blitz. Most of the time Briggs was the extra rusher. The only time the Bears brought six rushers in the game came on Tillman's pick-six of Romo after a miscommunication with Dez Bryant.

Against the Packers, Marinelli used some zone blitzes, dropping Peppers into coverage with the slot corner and Briggs or Nick Roach bringing the pressure. He was more willing to bring both linebackers on blitzes up the middle against the Packers. Most of the pressure packages came on third-and-long, however the one time he brought seven rushers against Rodgers came on third-and-5 and the Bears got a stop.

Chicago played mostly zone in the two games I watched, which might not make guys like Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne happy. Kiffin was reluctant to play man coverage at times and Carr and Claiborne never really earned trust to play it more.

Against the Cowboys, Marinelli allowed his cornerbacks to press more (12 times, including eight in the first half). He did not want Bryant and/or Miles Austin to get a head of steam going off the line of scrimmage, which helped put pressure on Romo almost from the outset.

Against the Packers, the Bears played only four snaps of press coverage, two in each half.

The key to the defense was the line play. That's nothing new. That's what helped the Seattle Seahawks win a Super Bowl. That's what helped the Bears lead the league in takeaways in 2012. For this defense to work, the front four must get pressure, as witnessed by the low total of blitzes.

The Bears could get pressure with or without playing games up front with twists and stunts. It wasn't necessarily sacks. Remember, Romo was sacked just once in the game, but the Bears took it to the Cowboys' offensive line by just being active. Rodgers also felt pressure, although not as much.

So I'll go back to the original question: Will the Cowboys' defense look different in 2014? Schematically, I'd say not so much. And that's OK. The key, as it always is, will be the players playing it better.

“There's a certain philosophy, a certain defense they believe in,” linebacker Sean Lee said, “but we obviously have to get great at that base [defense] if we want to be able to build off that. I think Coach Marinelli has had a ton of success in the past. He's a great coordinator and we're going to have to find a way to improve individually if we want to play well within this defense.”

How the Packers handle trash talking

January, 29, 2014
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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn't a fan of trash talking by his players, especially when it involves his team's biggest rival.

So when Packers tight end Jermichael Finley criticized Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher in 2012, it didn't sit well with McCarthy.

At the time, Urlacher had a hamstring injury and appeared unlikely to play against the Packers. Finley responded by saying he didn't think the Bears were losing too much without the aging Urlacher and added that "putting another guy in might help them a little."

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs didn't take too kindly to that comment and called Finley "an idiot."

None of it rose to the level of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who ripped San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game, but nevertheless the war of words between Finley and the Bears didn't sit well with McCarthy at the time.

"I'm not a proponent of that," McCarthy said during his weekly radio appearance on WMTJ Milwaukee in advance of that Packers-Bears game in 2012. "I would prefer it doesn't go that way.

"The game is about on the field. I understand the job of the media, the energy, the marketing aspect of making the game more interesting than it may be perceived to be, but this game has such great history, great players who have played in this game. That's what it's all about at the end of the day. That's what I want the game to be known for."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman offered no definitive statement on the future of embattled defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, but Trestman praised the way Tucker handled the injury-riddled defense on multiple occasions during Thursday’s 90-minute joint news conference with team general manager Phil Emery.

However, Trestman said a direct conversation between himself and Tucker still needs to take place before he can comment on the status of his coaching staff.

“I don’t want anybody to read into anything what we are doing,” Trestman said. “Everything is on the table. We’re going through a very thoughtful and methodical process here. Other than that, we’ve talked enough at these press conferences that I’m hopeful you won’t [draw conclusions on the staff]. We’re going to look at everything because we have an obligation to do that and what I can do to get this football team better.

"Everything is on the table. Again, we’re just three days into this. All we’ve done is looked at some tape. This is a process that’s going to involve not just myself, but all of our coaches. It’ll be a process where we’ve left everything on the table.”

The Bears finished 2013 ranked No. 30 in total defense and dead last in rushing defense and yards allowed per play. The defense was also tied for 30th in points allowed and ranked 26th in sacks per pass play.

But the group did suffer key injuries to cornerback Charles Tillman, linebacker Lance Briggs, defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins, middle linebacker D.J. Williams, nickel back Kelvin Hayden and defensive lineman Turk McBride. Veteran defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis also opted to retire on the eve of training camp, further depleting the Bears’ depth on the defensive line.

When relatively healthy, the Bears' defense put up respectable numbers over the first three games of the regular season, but their performance sharply regressed as the year wore on.

“I think it’s a real shame that Mel got the raw end of the deal,” Bears cornerback Tim Jennings said.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said on ESPN 1000’s “The Jay Cutler Show” on Monday that he believes Tucker will be the team’s defensive coordinator until “he lands a head coaching job” either in the NFL or college ranks.

Trestman said he and Emery work together when shaping the coaching staff, but Emery clarified that Trestman has final say on the matter.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears excused receiver Earl Bennett from Thursday’s workout at Halas Hall to deal what the team describes as a personal issue.

Bennett was also excused from a practice last week to deal the same matter.

Bennett
“The best I can do in respect to Earl, he’s got a family issue back home,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “It’s day-to-day, and we’re leaving it up to him how he wants to handle it. It’s a very personal issue. So I’ll leave it at that.”

Chicago started its session on Thursday outside before heavy snowfall forced the team to move inside the Walter Payton Center. Bennett and linebacker Lance Briggs (Briggs) were the only Bears listed on the injury report. Briggs participated fully in practice.

For the Green Bay Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews has been ruled out (thumb), while linebacker Brad Jones (ankle), running back Eddie Lacy (ankle) and tight end Ryan Taylor (illness) were held out of practice. Defensive end/linebacker Mike Neal (ankle), linebacker Nick Perry (foot) and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (knee) were limited.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) participated fully, and will start on Sunday.

In other Bears news, the team signed receiver Chris Williams from the Saints' practice squad and waived defensive tackle Christian Tupou. Williams entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2009 out of New Mexico State.

As a rookie, Williams spent time on the Browns' practice squad before signing in 2010 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Williams set a CFL record in 2012 with six return touchdowns, while gaining 1,117 yards on punt returns and catching 83 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – A season-ending injury to veteran D.J. Williams forced the Chicago Bears to install 2013 second-round pick Jon Bostic at middle linebacker, but the move could be temporary.

Bostic
Bears general manager Phil Emery said on ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy Show” on Friday that Bostic’s pure speed and ability to chase down plays from the back side makes him a candidate to possibly move to outside linebacker in the near future.

“He has made growth,” Emery said. “I think our fans have seen him make some dynamic plays. The guy can run; there is no way you can deny that. He can close space and he is a striker. I would say he’s second to Lance Briggs as being able to unload on you in space and knock you backwards. He loves football.

"He’s definitely had some problems this fall or fitting in terms of his gap responsibility at times. All the things that he is seeing now at the speed he’s seeing them are new to him. So that’s the normal rookie adjustment.

"He’s at middle linebacker; maybe in the future his best position might be at one of those outside spots where he is filling from the backside and able to use his unique talents to the best of his ability.”

Bostic, who recorded the second-fastest time among linebackers at the 2013 NFL combine, has 64.5 tackles, one sack, one interception and 3.5 tackles for loss in eight starts.

Decision for Sunday in Briggs' hands

December, 20, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Much like the Chicago Bears' path to the NFC North title, Lance Briggs controls his own destiny.

The decision to play Briggs on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles now rests solely in the hands of the seven-time Pro Bowler, after head coach Marc Trestman announced on Friday that Briggs has received the necessary medical clearance from team doctors to return to action for the first time since he fractured his shoulder on Oct. 10.

Trestman has been quoted on the record multiple times in the past couple of days saying he is “optimistic” that Briggs will be active against the Eagles, especially after the veteran linebacker had full participation in Friday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center.

[+] EnlargeLance Briggs
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhLinebacker Lance Briggs, who last played Oct. 20 at Washington, has medical clearance to test his injured shoulder Sunday night against Philadelphia.
But Trestman stopped short of guaranteeing that Briggs will take the field against Chip Kelly's high-powered offense.

Why?

Though the odds seem favorable that Briggs will test out the shoulder Sunday night, likely on a limited snap count, it’s hardly a slam dunk.

The average NFL fracture takes six weeks to heal. Briggs himself originally declared that he would miss only three-to-four around the time the injury occurred. But three-to-four weeks turned into eight weeks and seven missed games as Briggs experienced unexpected complications with the shoulder.

“Initially (I thought I’d be back sooner),” Briggs said on Thursday. “And then you get to the point where you get tested and your strength and everything isn’t where it’s supposed to be, or my bone is not healing the way it’s supposed to. There was some talk of going on IR, but that didn’t happen, and I’m here now. Now, I just want to play football.”

Whenever a player contemplates going on injured reserve, that means the injury, in his mind, is serious enough to where it affects his ability to perform up to par on the football field. The fact Briggs strongly considered shutting it down for the season should not be overlooked.

Then there is the fear of re-injuring the shoulder.

Let’s not be na´ve. Briggs is a business man. His contractual spats with the Bears have been highly publicized over the years. We all see the writing on the wall: the Bears are about to overhaul the defense in the offseason. Briggs, 33, is under contract with the Bears in 2014 for a total salary of $5.5 million, but the last thing any older veteran player wants is to enter an offseason hurt or in need of surgery.

The Bears aren’t exactly sentimental when it pertains to contract negotiations or shaping the future roster -- see Brian Urlacher.

So Briggs has plenty of motivation to ensure that his shoulder is completely healed when the offseason rolls around.

However, it’s obviously in the best interest of the Bears if Briggs plays on Sunday.

In the end, Briggs probably opts to knock off the rust and play a certain amount of snaps in Week 16.

But that decision could have far-reaching consequences.

Don’t think for a second Briggs is blind to that.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs continued to take first-team repetitions in practice Thursday, but neither he nor coach Marc Trestman shed any light on the veteran's potential availability for Sunday's game at Philadelphia.

"We'll find out," Briggs said. "We'll find out soon; as soon as the doctors clear me."

Briggs
Sidelined for the past eight weeks with a shoulder fracture suffered Oct. 20 at Washington, Briggs worked in a limited capacity both Wednesday and Thursday. Trestman said at this point he "can't answer" whether Briggs will be cleared on time to face the Eagles.

"I can tell you he's going to practice tomorrow again, and it looks like we're moving the right direction," Trestman said. "I stand by being optimistic. You've always got to be cautiously optimistic because you don't know what the next day is going to bring. Based on the first two days of practice, we're really hopeful he'll be able to play on Sunday night."

Given Briggs' long layoff, it's reasonable to question how much he'll be able to contribute against Philadelphia's fast-paced offense. In addition to his work Wednesday and Thursday, Briggs took repetitions a week prior in an attempt to work himself back into cardiovascular shape.

If cleared to play, Briggs sees Sunday as being a situation where he's going to "strap it on and see what happens."

"I've been playing football for a long time and it just so happens that we're going against a team that runs 80 plays a game offensively so that'll be interesting."

Can Briggs make a difference after so much time away?

"I don't know," Briggs said. "I like to think I'm a guy who's going to get in his gap and when the opportunity's there, try to make it. Hopefully I can help the team. I don't want to get out there and hurt us. But at this point right now, these last couple games, the defense has been playing better and better. We reached a lot of goals defensively this last game -- held them to 17 points, had takeaways, and held them in check rushing the ball. That's something to continue to build on."

For Briggs, the most challenging aspect of being out of the lineup is "just feeling helpless, not being able to do anything: not able to run, not able to lift, not able to do anything, just heal," he said, "Let your body heal itself and that's been kind of tough."

Even if Briggs is ready to come back and play, Trestman isn't sure how much the linebacker will be able to contribute in terms of the number of snaps. Chicago goes into Sunday's matchup ranked No. 32 against the run, while Philadelphia fields the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack (152.9 yards per game), led by running back LeSean McCoy.

"I think that if Lance has a chance to play, I think that lifts our football team," Trestman said. "How much he'll play? I don't know. But the type of player he is, whatever that might be, I think that lifts our football team to some degree on Sunday night. That can only be a good thing for our football team if he is cleared to play and he has the opportunity to play whatever amount of snaps that he's able to play."

The Philadelphia Eagles have found themselves in the middle of the NFC North race as much as the NFC East race over the past month. Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears is their third game in a row against an opponent from the North.

Two weeks ago, the Eagles and Bears helped each other out. Chicago defeated the Dallas Cowboys, pushing the Eagles into first place in the East. The Eagles beat the Detroit Lions, opening the door for the Bears in the North.

They won’t be helping each other this week. ESPN.com Bears reporter Michael C. Wright and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss some of the issues facing both teams.

Sheridan: Like the Eagles, the Bears survived this season when a backup quarterback took over and played unexpectedly well. Unlike the Eagles, who stayed with Nick Foles, Chicago went back to Jay Cutler and sent Josh McCown to the sideline. So, Michael, how is that scenario playing out in the locker room, on the field and among the fans?

Wright: The reaction is quite a bit different between the fans and the players, obviously. In the immediate aftermath of Cutler’s ankle injury on Nov. 10 against Detroit, Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team and the media that Cutler would be the starter again as soon as he was medically cleared to play. The coach never wavered on that declaration, and that was apparent even among the players during McCown’s incredible four-game run. In answering questions about McCown during that stretch, Trestman and the players seemed to temper the compliments regarding the backup, making it a point to state that Cutler was still the starter once he would be able to return to action. So within the locker room, the message was always that Cutler would return, but among the fan base, as McCown flourished, the call to make him the permanent starter grew louder regardless of what Trestman and the players said on the record. Cutler certainly helped himself by bouncing back from a bad start at Cleveland to throw for three touchdowns in a win, but there’s certainly a segment of the Chicago fan base still calling for McCown to be the man under center.

Phil, Chicago’s defense simply can’t stop the run, so LeSean McCoy is poised to have a pretty big game if the Eagles decide to feature him. What was the deal with McCoy running the ball just eight times against the Vikings?

Sheridan: That was one of the head-scratching strategies Chip Kelly deployed Sunday. It was like stepping into a time machine and watching an Andy Reid-coached game. Kelly’s explanation was simple enough: The Vikings were missing four cornerbacks and the Eagles thought they could exploit the inexperienced backups. Then, he said, the Eagles fell behind and had to throw, but McCoy had run for 217 yards the week before, mostly in the second half as the Eagles staged a comeback win. Ultimately, there is no explanation or excuse for eliminating a weapon as dangerous as McCoy from your offense. That’s supposed to be the defense’s job.

The Eagles did a better job against Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson in recent weeks than against the Vikings’ deeper, less star-studded receiving corps. How much more dangerous are the Bears now that Alshon Jeffery has emerged alongside Brandon Marshall? Is Jeffery even better at this point?

Wright: In the past, teams focused most of their game plan on shutting down Marshall. That involved double-teams and shading coverage over to his side. Teams are now finding they can’t do that anymore because if you double Marshall, you put Jeffery in one-on-one matchups that he’s going to win the majority of the time. The Bears say teams are now starting to mix it up against those receivers, which makes it important for Cutler to be able to quickly recognize the coverage and distribute the ball accordingly. I wouldn’t say Jeffery is the better receiver overall at this point, but I will say that he tracks the ball in the air better than anybody else on Chicago’s roster, which has allowed him to make some unbelievable grabs in contested situations. I’d say one player to watch is No. 3 receiver Earl Bennett. With all the focus on Marshall and Jeffery, the Bears have made it a point in recent weeks to involve Bennett more in the offense. Remember, Bennett played college football with Cutler at Vanderbilt, so there’s chemistry. Bennett has hauled in a touchdown in each of the past two games.

How will Philadelphia’s secondary look on Sunday? I know the Eagles are banged up, causing something of a musical-chairs effect in the secondary. At this point, do you know which guys the Eagles will have available to face Marshall, Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett?

Sheridan: We don’t know yet, Michael. The larger problem is that, even when everyone is healthy, the Eagles' secondary isn’t equipped to handle a receiving corps as deep and talented as the Bears’ is. The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense for a reason. During their five-game winning streak, they were able to give yards but minimize points allowed by forcing turnovers and playing well in the red zone. That formula fell apart in Minnesota. As for the injuries, the biggest loss would be nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who leads the team in interceptions and is a very good cover guy. It looks like rookie safety Earl Wolff will be back after missing four games with a knee injury, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be after missing that much time. If the Bears go three or four wide, the Eagles will be hard-pressed to match up with all those weapons. Their best hope would be to pressure Cutler, but they have struggled against guys who get the ball out as quickly as he does.

There’s a chance linebacker Lance Briggs returns Sunday night. What impact would that have on Chicago’s defense? Can the Bears clamp down on the Eagles or is this thing destined to be a shootout like their win over Dallas two weeks back?

Wright: I see this one being a shootout. I think Briggs will have an impact on the defense in terms of making sure the calls get in quickly and the defense is lined up correctly. Briggs should also be an upgrade over rookie Khaseem Greene, who has filled in on the weak side over the past seven games. But Briggs has been on the shelf for a month and a half, and there’s no way he’s in football shape yet. So you have to wonder how much he will actually be able to contribute from a physical standpoint. If Briggs plays like the Briggs we all know, then Chicago will have a much better shot at controlling Philadelphia’s rushing attack, but I’m not sure he’ll return as that guy. So let’s count on a shootout. The team with the defense that gets that one or two key stops down the stretch will be the team that comes out on top.

Early in the season, Philadelphia’s frenetic pace seemed to be the next new thing, the revolution. Now that the Eagles have basically an entire season under their belts, how have teams adjusted to their pace on offense? Is it still as big an advantage as it seemed to be early in the season?

Sheridan: It has been an effective tactic at times. The up-tempo approach is one of the reasons Foles replaced Michael Vick as the No. 1 quarterback. Vick is obviously a bigger threat in the read-option, but Foles is more comfortable with the pace Kelly likes. Hard to blame Vick, who had a career’s worth of offensive football to unlearn. But the pace can hurt the Eagles, too. When they have a couple of three-and-outs in a row, as they did against the Vikings, their defense is back on the field way too quickly. And when a team moves the ball as well as the Vikings did, the defense wears down. It was useless by the fourth quarter. The Eagles defense has been on the field for more plays than any team in the NFL. That is partly a side effect of Kelly’s up-tempo offense.

Chicago Bears announce inactives

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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CLEVELAND -- The Chicago Bears announced their list of inactives for Sunday’s game at Cleveland with no surprises as linebacker Lance Briggs was ruled out earlier in the week due to a fracture in his left shoulder.

Bears inactives included quarterback Jordan Palmer, safety Sean Cattouse, defensive tackle Christian Tupou, offensive lineman James Brown, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive end Cornelius Washington.

The Browns listed running back Willis McGahee among their inactives due to a concussion suffered last week against the New England Patriots. Chris Ogbonnaya fills in for McGahee, and the lineup change might help Chicago’s struggling rush defense, which currently ranks last in the NFL, surrendering 157 yards per game.

Other Browns inactives included quarterback Alex Tanney, offensive linemen Martin Wallace and Reid Fragel, in addition to tight ends Keavon Milton and Andre Smith.

Bears coach Marc Trestman expressed optimism about the prospect of Briggs returning to the starting lineup for the club’s Dec. 22 matchup at Philadelphia. Briggs hasn’t played in eight weeks since suffering the shoulder injury Oct. 20 at Washington. The original timetable for recovery was four to six weeks, and while Briggs hasn’t suffered any setbacks, the bone simply hasn’t healed as fast as the doctors expected.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman is “not optimistic” that seven-time Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs will return from a fractured shoulder to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

This would mark the seventh straight game Briggs has missed since he hurt the shoulder Oct. 20 in Washington.

Briggs
“Lance is still week-to-week,” Trestman said. “We’ll see where he is tomorrow with our trainers and see what they want to do with him.

"I’m not optimistic. We’ll know a little more today and tomorrow. He did some running last week. Will that be upgraded to limited work in practice? We won’t be in pads tomorrow. We’ll be in shells. He was not in shells last week. We’ll see what the trainers want to do and what he wants to do tomorrow.”

When asked what is preventing Briggs from returning to the field, Trestman responded, “the healing of the bone.”

Prior to 2013, Briggs had been a model of durability for the Bears, sitting out just four games due to injury in 10 NFL seasons. The defense has clearly suffered without Briggs, ranking No. 27 in total defense (381.5), No. 28 in points allowed (27.7) and No. 32 in run defense (157.0) going into Sunday’s road game in Cleveland.

“Where Lance is right now is kind of to be determined,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “I’m not quite certain at this point. But the focus is on the guys that are available. The guys that can help us right now.”

The Bears have started rookie fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene in place of Briggs the past six games, but while Tucker and the organization are high on the club’s younger linebackers, asking first-year players to fill the void left by Briggs is virtually impossible.

“Lance is a playmaker in the run game and the passing game,” Tucker said. “It’s not just the intangibles that he brings in terms of leadership and experience and things like that, in confidence. But he can actually make plays. He can win one-on-one. He can get off blocks. He can run sideline to sideline. He can win one-on-one on running backs on blitzes and things like that. He’s an excellent blitzer. In the pass game he’s quick, very instinctive. He’s quick to diagnose and because of ... his experience, there’s not a whole lot of plays he hasn’t seen at some point in time, so he’s quick to recognize those things.

Those are just some of the things he brings to the table.”

Bears release list of inactives

December, 9, 2013
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7:45
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears announced their list of inactives for Monday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, and as expected the team will be without quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.

Briggs
Cutler
Other Bears inactives included safety Sean Cattouse, defensive tackle Christian Tupou, offensie lineman James Brown, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott and rookie defensive end Cornelius Bennett.

The timetable for return for Cutler and Briggs remains uncertain. Cutler returned to the practice field last week, and took part in workouts on Thursday and Friday before the club held him out of Saturday’s session to rest him. Bears coach Marc Trestman said the quarterback didn’t suffer a setback that led to the club holding him out.

But Trestman also declined to give a definitive timeline for Cutler’s return. Cutler has missed the team’s last three games due to a high ankle sprain, while Briggs has missed five consecutive contests because of a fracture in his left shoulder. Trestman said that Cutler will be evaluated prior to Monday night’s game by team doctors, but the team won’t make a decision on how to proceed with the quarterback until Tuesday.

Briggs, meanwhile, was originally expected to miss four-to-six weeks with his injury. But the matchup against the Cowboys will mark the seventh week Briggs has been out of action.

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