NFL Nation: Lance Briggs

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman drew laughs Monday attempting to repeat the word “trepidation” in response to whether he feels any regarding the defense, as the club prepares to open the regular season against Buffalo.

While the defense performed average to below average most of the preseason, Trestman remains unconcerned about the unit’s ability to get the job done once the season kicks off.

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesCoach Marc Trestman is hoping that the Bears' defense can build cohesion in the coming weeks.
“I don’t feel that word trepi, trepi … what was it again?” Trestman asked, smiling. “Trepidation? If it’s more than three syllables, I’m out of business. I don’t feel that trepidation. The whole defense wasn’t together at one time during [the preseason]. We’re going to have to come together. It’s going to be a process working together, getting to know each other, how each other works. But the talent level’s there.”

The Bears revamped the defensive line by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, in addition to drafting defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. The club also signed several players to compete for two open spots at safety, and used its first-round pick to select rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller.

But throughout the preseason, the entire group hasn’t performed together. Allen played in only the club’s second preseason outing against the Jaguars after missing the opener due to family reasons and exhibition contest No. 3 due to a bruised shoulder. Safety Chris Conte didn’t make his preseason debut until Aug. 22.

The Bears held out all the starters on defense for the preseason finale at Cleveland.

“There's always concern, but I think we're going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It's a full game. We're not going to just play a quarter here, two quarters here. We're going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we're at. It's still hard to tell [how good we can be] because we were missing Jared Allen some games. We finally are going to get everybody back together and play a whole game. We played one quarter, two quarters here, and Seattle was a tough test for us. It lets us know that we still have some work to do and we've got to get it together and work hard this week and see what we have for Buffalo.”

Trestman declined to name the starters at safety, saying, “We’ll talk more about that on Wednesday,” while Conte hasn’t yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion on Aug. 22. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Lance Briggs missed Monday’s workout with Trestman saying his absence was excused.

“We think the talent level is in a place right now where we’ve got a chance to go out each and every week, get better and improve,” Trestman said. “That’s what we’re going to try and do as we work through this week of practice and the start of the season.”
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Linebacker Khaseem Greene admittedly struggled to acclimate himself to the speed of the NFL game last season when a shoulder injury to Lance Briggs thrust the rookie into the starting lineup for four games.

Greene
But with a year of experience under his belt, Greene has quietly pieced together an impressive camp, and even spent Monday’s practice next to Jon Bostic on first-team nickel with Briggs taking a veteran’s day off.

“It’s slowed down a lot for me this year,” Greene said. “I’m seeing stuff quicker. I’m being able to just be a natural football player and just use my instincts to react. The game definitely has slowed down. It’s fun now. I’m not overthinking it.

“The older guys always say that it will slow down once you get a grasp of the playbook and learn how to start studying opponents. Guys say those skills come with age and from the experience of doing it. I feel like from last year to this year, I’ve made a big jump as far as the game slowing down. I’m now able to read and react.”

The jury is still out regarding the number of linebackers the Bears plan to keep on the 53-man roster. With Briggs and Bostic already locks to make the team, the remaining linebacker spots are between D.J. Williams, Shea McClellin, Jordan Senn, Christian Jones, Jerry Franklin and Greene.

It will be interesting to see which players are pushed out if the Bears decide to keep six at the position.

Williams and McClellin appear safe if they stay healthy, but the picture is cloudy after the top four.

Greene figures to be intriguing because he has value on special teams where he recorded two tackles last year, in addition to defense. Senn is a core special-teamer, but isn’t considered much of a contributor at linebacker. The 6-foot-3 Jones, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Florida State, had a rough game versus the Eagles, but performed well the first couple weeks of camp. Perhaps the potential upside of Jones proves too irresistible to resist if the rookie can be trusted on special teams. And Franklin, who also received increased reps in Monday's practice, played in 13 games over two seasons with the Bears, recording eight tackles.

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.

Bears Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • The Bears cut practice 30 minutes short, and perhaps that spurred extra effort from the players on Friday as it was easily the club’s most spirited workout of training camp. The defense outplayed the offense by far, and at the end of a tight red zone drill, Bears coach Marc Trestman made sure to congratulate the unit for its strong performance. The defense fit well against the run, but on passing downs the front four pressured Jay Cutler on numerous occasions, forcing him to throw the ball away multiple times. “Today in the tight red zone, the defense amped it up,” Trestman said. “We had some contested throws, knockdowns, some real good plays defensively.”
  • Veteran defensive end Trevor Scott hasn’t received much publicity throughout camp, but he’s proven deserving over the first several days of camp. In addition to size and physicality, Scott showcases a plethora of pass-rushing moves on a day-to-day basis that could make him a contributor to the rotation up front. One staffer called Scott “the real deal so far” at camp. A seventh-year veteran, Scott played four years in Oakland before joining the New England Patriots and later Tampa Bay. He’s logged 16.5 sacks over six NFL seasons.
  • One good way to get an idea of how the 53-man roster will shake out is to pay attention to special teams as this is the facet of the game that often determines some of the final spots. The first-team kickoff return unit on Friday consisted of Danny McCray, Jonathan Bostic, Jordan Senn, Khaseem Greene, Brock Vereen, Tony Fiammetta, Scott, Matthew Mulligan, Dante Rosario, Josh Bellamy and Eric Weems.
  • Some of the stars from inside drills pitting offensive linemen against defensive linemen in one-on-one matchups included David Bass, Nate Collins, Will Sutton, and Ego Ferguson. Despite Sutton’s reputation as a finesse rusher, he bull-rushed Ryan Groy to get into the backfield. Ferguson, meanwhile, appears to possess plenty of strength, but enhances it by rushing with solid leverage.
  • Veteran linebacker Lance Briggs broke up two Cutler passes during team drills. Briggs’ second breakup resulted in a McCray interception. The INT represented the first all training camp by a safety working with the first-team defense.
  • The Bears held out Charles Tillman and Alshon Jeffery from practice with Trestman calling their inactivity a “coach’s decision.” Chris Conte (shoulder), Craig Steltz (groin) and Kyle Long remain out. Long will return to the practice field Saturday at Soldier Field. Center Roberto Garza was also excused from practice for personal reasons.
  • Chicago holds its annual Family Fest workout Saturday at 6:45 p.m. CT at Soldier Field.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- For all the changes made on the defensive side of the ball, the key to the unit’s overall success might hinge on the health of 12-year veteran linebacker Lance Briggs.

The linchpin of the defense, Briggs started strong in 2013, but ended up appearing in a career-low nine games because of a shoulder injury that kept him on the inactive list for two straight months.

 One of the best linebackers in franchise history, Briggs was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls from 2005-2011 where he developed the reputation as one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the league.

At 33-years old, can Briggs still elevate his game to a Pro Bowl level?

“I don’t know. I’ve lost a couple of steps,” Briggs said with a smile on Thursday. “Now sometimes I have to fall into a tackle. If I’m lucky, a tackle will fall, and I’ll put my hand on him and get credit for it. That’s where I’m at in [this] stage of my career.”

The Bears believe otherwise. The organization feels Briggs is the best striker on the defense and will look to the 12-year veteran to help lead a revamped unit that includes other proven older players such as Jared Allen, Charles Tillman, D.J. Williams, Tim Jennings and Jeremiah Ratliff.

“If [Lance] is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we’re going to be a much better football team all around,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “What he can do ripples through the entire team.”

Of course, there is the issue of Briggs’ expiring contract.

Briggs
 In the past, Briggs has gone public in expressing his displeasure with contract negotiations. He famously predicted he would never play another down for the Bears after the club slapped Briggs with the franchise tag in 2007. Briggs eventually signed a six-year extension in March, 2008 that the club later re-worked in 2012 to include another year and more guaranteed money.

However, Briggs said on Thursday he does not plan to make his contract a talking point this season.

“I’m not talking about a contract. I’m talking about playing football,” Briggs said. “I just want to play football. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m just appreciative.

“In a matter of one day, I learned that the coach that I’d been coached by for the last years was going to gone, and that whole staff was going to be gone. Everybody that I was used to everyday was going to be gone. The guy who I shared a room with for 10 years was going to be gone. A lot of the guys that I had built relationships with were gone. There’s some new guys coming in and filling up those numbers and those lockers. That’s life. That’s the way it is. It’s business.”

Briggs later reiterated that he wants to finish his career in Chicago.

“The only time I might not retire as a Bear was the time when I said I’d never put on a Bears’ uniform again,” Briggs said. “And I haven’t said that again since that time. So, of course [I want to retire as a Bear].

“I’m a Bear. I’m a true Bear. This is Year 12. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears and my heart to the city and playing for this team. When it’s all said and done, I’ll retire a Bear.”
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
12/20/13
2:59
PM ET
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.

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