NFL Nation: Martellus Bennett

In the lead-up to Super Bowl XLIX, some current and former Chicago Bears made the rounds for interviews, discussing subjects ranging from the actual game to junior-high crushes.

“Mike & Mike” caught up with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to discuss Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, among other subjects, while tight end Martellus Bennett appeared on “The Herd with Colin Cowherd,” where he reminisced about playing the clarinet in junior high.

Urlacher, who faced Lynch four times -- including the postseason -- from 2010-12 compared the Seahawks running back to Ricky Williams. Lynch averaged 3.4 yards per attempt in those four matchups against Urlacher, and he never rushed for more than 87 yards in a game.

“Ricky Williams, in my opinion, was one of the better guys in the league,” Urlacher said. “He didn’t have the balance that Marshawn has. Marshawn, he’s hard to tackle. I only played against him a couple of times. We did OK against him in Chicago when I was there. But he’s a different guy now. He’s not the same player he was back then. He’s clicking on all cylinders.”

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What makes Lynch such a dominant player?

“Obviously, you look at how strong he is. He doesn’t put the ball on the ground, No. 1. He takes care of the football; catches it well,” Urlacher said. “He does everything you want a guy to do. That offense, they want to run the football, which is good because he’s a powerful guy. With that little zone-read, man, it’s hard because if you get him one-on-one, he’s gonna make a guy miss.”

Shifting to the New England Patriots, Urlacher called Gronkowski “a terrible matchup problem.”

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
“He’s physical. The one game I played against him I think he pushed off on me for a touchdown. Offensive guys can get away with that. But he’s so good at using his body. He’s got great hands,” Urlacher said. “That catch he made against the Colts with a deflated football. ... I think it was in the second half. It was a full football. But the guy’s got great hands; big, physical guy, fast. You watch him catch the ball and guys can’t tackle him. The run he had against, I want to say Indy the first time they played, when he jumped over the guy in the end zone, he has no regard for his body. He’s a matchup problem for any defensive coordinator. Who do you put on him? Do you put a linebacker [on him]? No, he’s not gonna run on him. Do you put a safety [on him]? Probably undersized, unless it’s Kam Chancellor, then you have a little bit better chance.”

Urlacher also dished on Seattle’s defense and where it stands among some of the other great defensive units in NFL history.

“I think they’re already in that breath,” Urlacher said. “When you look at what they’ve done statistically over the last couple of years, and it’s rarely been done in the NFL. So I think they’re already in that category. If they beat [Tom] Brady, they solidify it, in my opinion.”

Bennett
Bennett, meanwhile, discussed more lighthearted topics during his time on the interview circuit. Bennett divulged that as an eighth-grader growing up in Texas, he was a member of his school’s band.

“So I learned to play the clarinet because they had this one pretty girl named Amanda,” Bennett said. “She was pretty good. But she ended up being second chair to me because I was first chair, which is big-time in band. If you’re first chair, that means like being first team. Second chair is like being almost as good as the first chair.”

So what happened with Amanda?

“We didn’t have a relationship. It was one of those things,” Bennett said. “She was Korean, and I was a 6-7 black guy in eighth grade. I don’t think her parents liked me as much.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett was named to the Pro Bowl on Monday as a replacement for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is unable to participate due to his club advancing to the Super Bowl.

Bennett becomes the franchise’s first tight end since Hall of Famer Mike Ditka received Pro Bowl recognition after the 1965 season, and marks the first time the seven-year veteran was named to the league’s annual all-star game.

Bennett led all tight ends in the NFL with a career-high 90 receptions, finished third at his position in receiving yards (916) and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (six), setting career highs in all three of those statistical categories.

Bennett set a single-season franchise record for receptions for tight ends and joined guard Kyle Long among the club’s Pro Bowlers.
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 20-14 loss to the Detroit Lions:

Martellus Bennett
Martellus Bennett mentioned he didn't "think the passion is always there" for some players after his club's loss on Dec. 15 to the New Orleans Saints, but after a defeat to the Lions on Sunday, the Bears tight end commended the effort of teammates.

"I felt guys brought it a little bit more today," Bennett said. "Overall, I think everybody's playing hard. Guys are playing hard until the end of the game. That's all you can ask for, your teammates to come out and give everything they've got, and try to do the most they can. I felt like all three phases, that's what guys were doing."

Dry-erase message: With no postseason to play for, the message left on the team's dry-erase board in the locker room said, "Play for the guy next to you."

Strange scene: The lockers of Bennett, Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen are all in a row, and in that order. Interestingly, a large crowd on one side gathered near Bennett's locker, while Clausen conducted a postgame interview with WBBM. In the middle, Cutler's locker sat empty, and there was no sign of the benched quarterback in the locker room after the game.

CHICAGO -- A black Vanderbilt cap pulled low over his brow, Jay Cutler plopped down at the podium, took three questions and bailed before the entire media corps had even descended from the locker room to where the Chicago Bears hold press conferences.

Too bad Cutler wasn't as successful escaping the New Orleans Saints in Monday night's 31-15 shellacking in which he tossed three interceptions, suffered seven sacks and finished with a season-low passer rating of 55.8. For a man receiving $22.5 million in 2014 as part of a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million, the production isn't matching up to the salary.

"Just trying to get better for these next two games," Cutler said. "Just going out and trying to get a good performance offensively."

Cutler failed in that endeavor against New Orleans' 31st-ranked defense, a group that forced the quarterback to extend his NFL lead for turnovers (24) as he tossed two of his three interceptions during a first half in which he generated a passer rating of 14.9.

[+] EnlargeCutler
Matt Marton/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seven times on Monday night.
Both Cutler and Bears coach Marc Trestman downplayed the possibility that the quarterback's performance was negatively impacted by the drama permeating the team during the week of preparation. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, during a team meeting last Monday, reportedly tearfully apologized to Cutler and the offense for criticizing the quarterback to an NFL Network reporter after a Dec. 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Kromer revealed he was the anonymous source in the NFL Network report, which stated the organization was feeling buyer's remorse regarding its high-priced quarterback. While Kromer admitted to criticizing Cutler, he denied any other involvement in the report.

"No, I don't think so," Cutler said when asked if the distractions at Halas Hall during the week had a negative impact. "Just have to look at the film. I have to play better. We'll take a look tomorrow and see exactly what slowed us down."

Trestman said the activity at Halas Hall had no impact on the team during the week. "Excellent work during the week, energy, meetings were good," he said. "Absolutely none."

So what happened, then?

The Bears brought aboard Trestman in January 2013 because of his ability to coax the best from quarterbacks. He'd gained a reputation for helping signal-callers such as Steve Young and Rich Gannon improve. In nearly two complete seasons under Trestman, Cutler owns a 10-15 record.

What's worse is that the promise Cutler flashed during his first year working with Trestman sparked general manager Phil Emery to lock up the quarterback with a long-term deal that more and more is appearing to look like an albatross. On top of his NFL-high salary this year, Cutler is scheduled to receive $15.5 million fully guaranteed in 2015.

Such monstrous figures limit Chicago's ability to add more quality players, which wouldn't be as significant an issue if the quarterback were performing at the level of his salary.

As of Dec. 10, five teams around the NFL had at least 14 percent of their salary caps allocated to the quarterback position, with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the way at 16 percent, followed by the New York Giants (15.9), St. Louis Rams (15.1), Chicago (14.4) and New Orleans (14.4). Obviously, three of those teams have quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings. Even Denver and Green Bay -- teams with Super Bowl-winning signal-callers -- have smaller percentages of their overall caps allocated to the quarterback position than Chicago.

Like Cutler and Trestman, players in the locker room Monday night downplayed the impact of Kromer's confession and apology -- for an act that constitutes a breach of trust -- on the offense's performance against the Saints. The Bears were just 2-of-12 on third-down attempts and lost the total yardage battle 443-278.

"Not at all," right tackle Jordan Mills said when asked about the Kromer situation impacting the offense. "People make mistakes. We're not perfect. That had nothing to do with our focus this week. [Kromer] apologized for it, and we moved on from it. He was sincere about it. But Coach Kromer cares about all of us and he knows we're not perfect, that he's not perfect. None of that affected us. We just need to be more consistent."

Tight end Martellus Bennett likened the offense's struggles to walking through a dark room, arms outstretched, fingers trailing the walls in search of a light switch.

"You can put anything on paper, but when you show up, the game is played on grass," Bennett said. "I think there are some positions on the team that need to step up the leadership and things like that. Overall, I just feel like we need passion to come from certain places, and I don't think the passion is always there. Overall, it just hasn't been there."

So, who's missing the passion?

"Several people," Bennett said. "But I don't really get into the name thing. They know who they are."

Brandon Marshall rests injured ankle

November, 12, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears rested seven players on Wednesday, including wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who injured his ankle in the fourth quarter of Week 10’s defeat in Green Bay.

Marshall told ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy” Show on Monday that he expects to play this weekend versus the Minnesota Vikings.

The five-time Pro Bowler has battled ankle problems for much of the year.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs), guard Eben Britton (illness), offensive tackle Jordan Mills (ribs), wide receiver Josh Morgan (shoulder), cornerback Tim Jennings (knee), and defensive end Cornelius Washington (illness) also missed Wednesday’s session held inside the Walter Payton Center.

Bears coach Marc Trestman listed Mills and second-year wide receiver Marquess Wilson as “day to day.”

Wilson practiced on Wednesday and is a candidate to be elevated off short-term injured reserve in Week 11, after the club released veteran wideout Santonio Holmes on Tuesday.

Meantime, linebacker Darryl Sharpton practiced on a limited basis due to a hamstring injury. Sharpton was inactive last week against the Packers.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears held out Martellus Bennett from Friday’s practice due to a rib injury, and the club officially listed the tight end as questionable on the final injury report headed into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

“We’ll see. We really don’t know right now,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “He’s been inside getting treatment. We’re hopeful he’ll play.”

Bennett
Bennett suffered the injury during practice on Wednesday when “he twisted a little bit,” according to Trestman, who called the incident “kind of awkward on the practice field.”

If Bennett isn’t able to play against the Packers, the Bears will utilize veteran Dante Rosario in the starting lineup.

“These things happen,” Trestman said. “We’ve got a lot of faith in Dante and the things that he can do. We know the value that Marty has. We’re not underestimating that at all. We’re going to do the best we can. We’re not going to make excuses.”

Bennett currently ranks second among NFL tight ends in catches (47) and second on the team. He is also second on the team in receiving yardage (563) and is tied for the team lead with five touchdown receptions.

Bennett comes off a six-catch performance against the New England Patriots.

In other injury news, the Bears officially declared left guard Matt Slauson (torn pectoral muscle) out for Sunday along with linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring).

Linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs) are probable, along with cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand), safety Danny McCray (knee) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot).
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears added tight end Martellus Bennett to their short list of injuries heading into Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

Bennett was limited for Thursday’s practice inside the Walter Payton Center due to rib soreness, but his status for Sunday’s game isn’t in jeopardy. The team conducted practice at its indoor facility Thursday because of high winds posing a potential safety threat for the video staff filming practice from lifts.

“So we did that today and we went inside, did a two-minute period today to start practice,” Trestman said Thursday. “It was a competitive two-minute, and then we worked on third down and here we are. So we had a good, brisk workout today. Very competitive. Guys worked extremely hard today as they always do.”

The team held out guard Eben Britton (appendectomy) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring).

Full participants for the workout Thursday included linebackers Jon Bostic (back) and Lance Briggs (ribs), cornerback Kyle Fuller (hand), safety Danny McCray (knee) and right tackle Jordan Mills (foot).

Midseason report: Chicago Bears

November, 5, 2014
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Fresh off a 51-23 throttling at the hands of the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery conducted a dual press conference at Halas Hall, where they expressed disappointment over the team’s inconsistent performances through the first half of the season, while stressing the need to remain unified.

“We’re a 3-5 football team, and that’s what our record states,” Emery said. “The NFL’s about winning games, and we deserve the criticism we have and should have from that record. I’m extremely disappointed in where we’re at as a football team right now, and that disappointment starts with being extremely disappointed for our fans. They, like us, held high optimism for the start of our season and where we would be at that midpoint, and we’ve let them down in that regard. We understand and share their frustrations and clearly understand our failures at this point.”

But what will the Bears do to turn things around for the second half? Trestman believes a long, hard critical self-evaluation is in order.

“We’ve got a chance to look back and really take a systematic look at the issues that we’ve had and come up with some bona fide solutions at this present time because that’s the best we can do,” he said. “We weren’t able to get it done the way we wanted to get it done over the first eight weeks of the season. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no consistency there. There’s moments of very good play, of solid play across the board, and there’s moments of very, very poor play, like we’ve seen over the last couple weeks.”

Midseason MVP: Running back Matt Forte is certainly worthy, given his consistency over the first eight games (1,052 all-purpose yards). But defensive end Willie Young receives the nod here. A reserve behind high-priced free-agent acquisitions Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, Young outperformed his counterparts at the position through the first half of the season and is tied for eighth in the NFL with a team-high seven sacks. Young ranks third on the team in tackles (32), a testament to his high-motor style which allows the fifth-year veteran to make plays from sideline to sideline on a consistent basis.

Biggest disappointment: After a surprisingly productive 2013 campaign which seemed to quiet many doubters, quarterback Jay Cutler received a seven-year deal worth $126.7 million and the high expectations that accompany such an investment. Cutler produced respectable numbers (67.2 completion percentage, 95.8 passer rating) through the first half of the season, but continues to display his penchant for making game-changing mistakes. Cutler turned the ball over on multiple occasions in each of the team’s five losses, leading to 44 points by opponents despite the expectation he would finally soar in Year 2 playing in Trestman’s offense. The staff and front office continue to show unwavering support for Cutler. If Emery is second-guessing the team’s investment in Cutler, he certainly hasn’t shown it.

Best moment: Uncertainty permeated the atmosphere in the 90 minutes prior to the Week 2 opening of Levi’s Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers with questions regarding the availability of receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as both were questionable due to ankle and hamstring injuries. After putting the receivers through strenuous pregame workouts, the Bears made the late decision to start Jeffery and Marshall. The move paid huge dividends as Marshall caught three touchdown passes to lead the Bears -- who trailed 20-7 going into the fourth quarter -- to a 28-20 upset of the 49ers. Rookie Kyle Fuller helped in Chicago outscoring the 49ers 21-0 in the final 15 minutes as he picked off a pair of passes to provide the Bears' offense with short fields.

Worst moment: Marshall’s impassioned speech -- which could be heard by reporters outside the locker room prior to team officials opening the doors -- and scathing postgame comments following Chicago’s 27-14 loss at home to the Miami Dolphins caused mixed reactions among the team. Marshall called the team’s performances and 3-4 record at the time “unacceptable.” And while some players agreed with the receiver’s comments, others reacted indifferently. Ultimately, Marshall’s locker room speech and comments could have galvanized the Bears, but appear to have done more harm than good considering the beatdown the club took the following game at New England.

Key to the second half: Offensively, the problems run deep as Cutler needs to significantly reduce the turnovers while the staff needs to help out as much as possible on the play-calling end. Trestman talked about the offense’s need to strike a better balance with the pass/run ratio, which obviously would expose Cutler to fewer chances to commit turnovers, while keeping teams guessing. In the passing game, the Bears need to incorporate more weapons instead of relying so heavily on Marshall and Jeffery. Given Martellus Bennett's skill set, there’s no doubt the Bears could use him similar to the way the Patriots attacked the club’s defense with Rob Gronkowski. Defensively, the Bears need to find a way to maintain a level of consistency despite utilizing inexperienced players due to injuries. Injuries were a legitimate excuse for the defense last year, but won’t fly any more given all the depth the team obtained in the offseason, not to mention its stated goal prior to the season of developing every defender on the roster, regardless of stature.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

October, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 51-23 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The margin of error continues to shrink for the Bears, who fell yet another game further behind in the NFC North race with Sunday's stomping at the hands of the Patriots. The Bears have lost four of their last five outings, and what's worse is they entered Sunday's game already two games behind the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. Good thing the Bears receive Week 9 off to rest and regroup.

Stock watch: It's time Bears coach Marc Trestman takes a larger share in the accountability, and from this vantage point, his stock is falling dramatically. Sure, the turnovers committed by Jay Cutler that played a major role in the Bears losing four games going into Sunday weren't the coach's fault. But Trestman certainly is responsible for preparing his team, and the Bears weren't ready to play in this contest.

After the team's emotional loss to the Miami Dolphins, Trestman insisted throughout the week that his team had moved past all the negativity coming out of it. As the man responsible for regrouping the team and helping it to navigate through difficulties, Trestman doesn't seem to be getting the job done. At this point, there should be real concern as to whether the team is beginning to tune out Trestman because it certainly didn't respond to the challenge posed by the Patriots.

Bennett comes alive: We hadn't heard in a while from tight end Martellus Bennett, who hadn't caught a touchdown pass since Week 3 against the New York Jets. After essentially destroying the team's opening drive with a holding penalty, Bennett was one of the few bright spots on offense, catching six passes for 95 yards and a difficult 20-yard touchdown he yanked down just as he fell to the turf. Bennett hauled in six of the seven passes thrown his way.

Game ball: Matt Forte continues to serve as the club's only consistently dependable option on offense. He averaged 6 yards per attempt through the first three quarters, in which he rushed for 96 yards, and caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Forte put together just his second 100-yard rushing performance (114) of the season.

What's next: The Bears don't play next week. They will take time off while the coaching staff does a critical self-evaluation of the Bears in all phases, and there's a good chance plenty of changes will be made schematically when the team finally heads back to Halas Hall for practice. The Bears won't play again until Nov. 9 at Green Bay.
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CHICAGO -- Nine seconds remained before the end of the first half Sunday, and the Chicago Bears held possession at the Green Bay Packers' 9.

But instead of walking away with momentum and a 24-21 advantage at intermission, the Bears strolled to the locker room behind four points, after Martellus Bennett's second-effort stretch failed to yield a touchdown as time expired.

Did the Bears mismanage the clock at the end of the first half? That's one of many questions being asked in the wake of Chicago's 38-17 loss at Soldier Field to the Packers.

"We had nine seconds left, and we called a play where everybody is headed to the end zone," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "I don't know if Marty [Bennett] flattened his route working to get open. I thought we made the right call. We had plenty of time. It was really an excellent play defensive to make that stop at the 1-yard line as it was called. Clearly with nine seconds left, we were going to take a shot in the end zone. We had the play we wanted. We just came up short."

Jay Cutler moved the Bears from their own 20 to the Green Bay 9 in five plays with the bulk of the yardage on the drive coming on a pair of completions to Bennett for 53 yards. With no timeouts and nine seconds left in the half, Trestman called for a route that featured four vertical receivers.

But with little room to maneuver in the red zone, Bennett flattened out his route to get behind the linebackers. Upon making the catch, Bennett tried to stretch out the ball to break the plane of the end zone for the touchdown.

But Packers rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix held back Bennett, who outweighs the safety by 57 pounds.

"Four verticals, we're on the 9," Cutler said. "He's gonna bend it around that backer. You feel like he's gonna catch it and land in the end zone. If we go back, obviously [we'd] work outside and throw it away. I liked the call. I liked the throw. I thought the defender made a heck of a play. You see the replay. It looked like he had the ball over the goal line. But we didn't get that one either. Three points there didn't win or lose us the ballgame."

Trestman said the Bears discussed ways they could preserve some time for their offense after the team's failed onside kick attempt which gave Green Bay possession at its 39 with 3:46 left in the half. The Packers scored in just two minutes and 47 seconds on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb from Aaron Rodgers to go up 21-17 after the extra-point kick.

Chicago's ensuing drive began with 1:03 remaining in the first half.

"We talked about calling timeouts in the previous possession," Trestman said. "We did do that. I can't give you specifics, and there are reasons why we didn't. But we did have that discussion to try to save a little bit more time. There was a first down, and a second and one, if I'm not mistaken. I'm going to go through the whole litany, certainly. But we were in a position and in a discussion about how we were going to save time on the last drive, and we didn't get it done."

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

September, 22, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 27-19 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: This is the “backbone” building Marc Trestman always talks about. Two road wins in a row should build confidence for the club before it hosts the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, followed by back-to-back outings at the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. A 2-1 start with two of the first three games on the road is a major win for the Bears. Remember, after the loss in the season opener to the Buffalo Bills, there was the thought Chicago might start 0-3. That’s a distant memory now.

Stock watch: Interestingly, in the locker room at Halas Hall just Saturday, Martellus Bennett joked (or was he joking after all?) the Jets would focus so much on outside targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery that he’d be free to make plays down the middle. Bennett caught 15 passes in the first two games for a pair of touchdowns, and tacked on two more TDs against the Jets. Bennett is one of 10 tight ends in the NFL since the start of the 2012 season to gain more than 1,000 yards receiving and haul in 10 scoring receptions.

Points off takeaways: The Bears entered Monday having scored 21 points off five takeaways, which tied for third in the NFL headed into Week 3 matchups. Chicago generated two more takeaways in the first half, leading to 14 points. Ryan Mundy scored the first TD 32 seconds into the game, when he picked off Geno Smith's screen pass to Chris Johnson and returned it 45 yards. Recent addition Ahmad Dixon pounced on Jalen Saunders' fumble at the New York 40 to set up the second score off a takeaway.

Interestingly, both the Bears’ TDs in the first half came from former New York Giants Mundy and Bennett.

In all, the Bears have gobbled up eight takeaways.

Game ball: Mundy set the tone for Chicago’s defense less than a minute into the game with his pick-six. Ever since the Bears brought him aboard, I’ve looked for reasons to doubt him. That comes to an end now. Mundy is better than we’ve given him credit for, and his virtually mistake-free play was desperately needed on the back end.

What’s next: The Bears will take the day off on Tuesday. Some of the injured players will come in for treatment, but the team won’t convene at Halas Hall again until Wednesday to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against NFC North rival Green Bay.
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Chicago Bears' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

Martellus Bennett
Bennett on INTs: Tight end Martellus Bennett took responsibility for the first of Jay Cutler's two interceptions but claims to not know what happened on the second INT, which led to Buffalo taking a 20-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Both passes were intended for Bennett, with the second being picked off by defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

"I don't know what happened on that s---," Bennett said. "The fat guy got a pick."

Jeffery appears to be fine: Alshon Jeffery missed the fourth quarter and overtime due to a hamstring injury, but Bears coach Marc Trestman said, "Alshon was prepared to go in there at specific times. I'll just leave it at that." Jeffery was seen in the locker room after the game, and he didn't appear to be walking with a limp or any type of discomfort. Trestman said he didn't know the extent of Jeffery's injury.

Garza and Slauson hobbled: Center Roberto Garza conducted postgame interviews with a walking boot lying on the floor in front of his locker while left guard Matt Slauson walked with a limp on the way out of the locker room. Both players missed the entire second half and said they will receive MRI exams Monday morning.

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

September, 7, 2014
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 23-20 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field:

What it means: One loss typically isn’t cause for concern. But when you start the season playing four out of five on the road with the division-rival Green Bay Packers sandwiched in the middle, it’s easy to see how the Bears put themselves in a hole that will be difficult to climb out of considering next week’s matchup is on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.

Stock watch: Tight end Martellus Bennett caught eight passes for 70 yards and a touchdown and bailed Jay Cutler out of a couple of sticky situations when the quarterback was under duress. In Bennett, Cutler has a sure-handed 6-foot-6 security blanket the quarterback can find on crossing routes when under pressure.

Drive killers: Chicago gave up 10 points due to turnovers on back-to-back possessions to help the Bills seize a 17-7 lead at intermission. First, Brandon Marshall fumbled after a 14-yard reception. Leodis McKelvin stripped it loose and Preston Brown recovered, romping 30 yards to the Chicago 46. The turnover destroyed a promising Bears drive that started at the 14 and allowed the Bills to go up 10-7 on Dan Carpenter's 50-yard field goal with 8:07 left before intermission.

Chicago turned it over again the very next possession, with Cutler throwing an interception to Corey Graham on a pass intended for Bennett. Graham returned the pick 41 yards to the Chicago 17, and an Alshon Jeffery hands-to-the-face penalty tacked on an additional 10 yards. Buffalo scored on the next play on a C.J. Spiller 7-yard reception from EJ Manuel.

Game ball: Marshall caught a team-high eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown and showed plenty of grit and toughness doing it. Marshall suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury on the final play of the third quarter making a 7-yard reception. As the quarter changed, he left the field to have trainers tape up the injured ankle. Marshall re-entered the game and limped off again after failing to haul in a third-down pass from Cutler. He returned to the sideline to undergo another tape job from the athletic trainers before coming back and finishing the game.

Three other starters in center Roberto Garza, left guard Matt Slauson and Jeffery also left due to injuries. Marshall was the only one to return.

What’s next: The Bears head back to Halas Hall on Monday to evaluate Sunday’s performance before taking Tuesday off. The club begins preparation Wednesday for next Sunday's matchup against the 49ers.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Lovie Smith finished 10-6 in his final season with the Chicago Bears before being fired. Marc Trestman comes in and leads the Bears to an 8-8 record in 2013. Yet expectations soar here on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University, where crowds for training camp practices routinely swell to 10,000.

It’s easy to see why. For a fan base accustomed to hard-nosed defense and shaky-at-best offense, Trestman flipped the script in 2013, taking Chicago’s attack to new heights with a major assist from general manager Phil Emery’s shrewd personnel moves.

The Bears broke record after record on offense last season, and the defense stumbled to historic lows.

If Trestman and Emery could basically work a miracle on offense in just one season, why can’t they do it on the other side of the ball in 2014?

“[I] feel very good about the competitive depth and the fights for positions that we're going to have,” Emery said. “Out of the three camps, I would say this camp has the best competitive level among the roster from 1 to 90.”

Emery achieved that by loading up on defenders: acquiring a mix of players poised to hit the sweet spot of their careers in Lamarr Houston and Willie YoungJared Allen, and drafting potential stars such as first-round pick Kyle Fuller. The Bears bolstered those moves with an overhaul of the scheme and additions to the defensive coaching staff.

“We started [with], ‘What could we do to get this team better?’” Trestman said. “I sat down with Phil [Emery], and we began to lay out a road map together on how we were going to rebuild this football team, and here we are at a stage where I don’t think there’s a player in our meeting room who doesn’t feel like there’s hope and high expectations. Now, it’s time to go to work.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJay Cutler is more comfortable in coach Marc Trestman's system, and all of his offensive weapons are healthy and ready to go.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jay Cutler’s grasp of the offense is firmer in Year 2 of Trestman’s system, and his performance this year at camp is significantly different from in 2013. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said Cutler is his own problem solver and is making on-field adjustments so instinctively that he doesn’t need guidance from the staff. In his first camp under Trestman, Cutler misfired routinely, and there were concerns about whether he’d be effective in the regular season. After one particularly bad session in 2013, Trestman gathered Cutler and the other quarterbacks in the middle of the field in what could be described as a turning point. That’s not happening this year at camp as Cutler has become a bona fide field general.

2. Brandon Marshall is Brandon Marshall. He wasn’t at camp in 2013. He was coming off hip surgery that hindered his season preparation. Fully healthy now with an offseason to condition, Marshall is ready to go -- and with full comprehension of the offensive system. Throw in Alshon Jeffery’s ascension and you have the makings of something lethal on offense. The duo has certainly looked that way at camp as both routinely make so many eye-popping plays that Cutler could almost throw it up blindly and one of them would come down with the ball.

3. There’s a nastiness on defense and intense focus reminiscent of the units put on the field in Smith’s heyday. Practicing against one of the best offenses in the league, the defense should be losing more than it does at training camp. But this group routinely bests the offense, with dominating play by the front seven as a hallmark. Chalk it up to a combination of personnel additions and a culture shift brought about by an overhaul of the scheme and the acquisition of no-nonsense, get-in-your-face coaches such as Paul Pasqualoni, Reggie Herring and Clint Hurtt.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mundy
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears brought Ryan Mundy in to compete at safety, but the position, at least in camp, continues to look shaky.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The defensive line makes plays at training camp. The corners and linebackers make plays. But you rarely see the safeties making an impact. That could be a result of a lack of chemistry because, with both spots up for grabs, the Bears are using several combinations at the position involving players such as Ryan Mundy, rookie Brock Vereen, Danny McCray, Adrian Wilson and M.D. Jennings. Horrid play at this position in 2013 contributed significantly to the defense’s demise, and we haven’t seen many indications at camp that the Bears will turn that around in 2014.

2. Protecting Cutler could become an issue if some of the injuries suffered by the team's offensive linemen linger. Guard Kyle Long (ankle) and tackle Jordan Mills (foot) missed the preseason opener, and the latter was seen wearing a walking boot when the club returned to training camp after that game. Reserve center Brian de la Puente is expected to miss time to a knee injury, and reserve guard/tackle Eben Britton still hasn’t returned from a strained hamstring suffered earlier at camp.

3. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009. So naturally, you’d think at some point in 2014 the Bears will have to turn to the backup quarterback. The problem is the candidates vying for the No. 2 job -- Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen -- have done little to inspire confidence the way Josh McCown did last year at training camp. For the most part, Palmer and Clausen have been merely average at camp, misfiring on occasion and making mistakes typical of players acclimating themselves to a scheme. The duo needs to pick it up or the Bears could wind up looking outside the current roster for a suitable No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Chris Conte says he’s the best athlete in Chicago’s secondary. He needs to prove it, which he'll finally have a chance to do now that he's off the physically unable to perform list. Conte certainly possesses the athleticism to be a playmaker on the back end, provided he regains his confidence. But time is running out for Conte to make a real push for one of the two open jobs at safety. What Conte has going for him right now is that none of the safeties vying for the starting jobs is making plays at camp.
  • The Bears hired martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the defensive linemen hand fighting techniques as part of the scheme overhaul that requires the front four players to be technicians with their hands. It’ll be interesting to see how the results manifest themselves on the field. Every day after practice at camp, several defensive linemen -- and even some defensive backs -- work intricate hand fighting moves with Kim for several minutes. The players say the moves become almost natural once routinely put into practice on the field. We’ll see whether Kim’s assistance plays a role in the front four anchoring a run defense that finished last in 2013.
  • Zach Miller and Matthew Mulligan are pushing Dante Rosario hard for the No. 2 job at tight end. Miller is more of a move tight end, and Mulligan is a classic in-line blocker who shows some impressive skills as a receiver. The two have received extra reps because of Martellus Bennett's suspension.
CHICAGO -- With Martellus Bennett serving an indefinite suspension, reserve tight end Zach Miller took full advantage of the extra repetitions, catching six passes for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Chicago Bears soared past the Philadelphia Eagles 34-28 on the strength of strong play from their quarterbacks.


Chicago's top three signal callers combined for 339 yards and four touchdowns.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chicago Bears' first preseason game of the year:
  • Considering Jay Cutler hasn't played an entire 16-game season since 2009, Chicago's competition for the No. 2 quarterback is vitally important. Both candidates made strong cases with Jimmy Clausen coming out with a slight edge. After Cutler performed sharply in two possessions (9 of 13 for 85 yards and a TD for a passer rating of 112.7), Jordan Palmer entered the game with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Palmer started 3 for 3 for 39 yards before throwing an interception to Nate Allen on his fourth attempt. Palmer completed 8 of 11 for 104 yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 94.9.

    Clausen, meanwhile, passed for 150 yards and two TDs for a passer rating of 134.6. Clausen's first scoring strike came on a 73-yard bomb to Chris Williams. He later hit Micheal Spurlock for a 22-yard touchdown, before finding Rosario for the conversion.

    Clausen may lead the No. 2 QB derby right now, but don't expect coach Marc Trestman to make a decision about the backup until later in the preseason.
  • Chicago's revamped defense put together a strong showing in the three possessions the starters played. Ryan Mundy and Sherrick McManis contributed interceptions as the defense held Philadelphia's first-team offense to 55 yards and 0-for-2 on third-down conversions. Remember, the Bears ranked last against the rush last season. But their starters limited Philadelphia's starting offense to 11 yards on four attempts. The front four generated plenty of pressure in the passing game, too. Mundy's interceptoin with 13:26 left in the first quarter came from a rushed Foles throw due to heavy pressure from Lamarr Houston.
  • Mundy and Danny McCray came out with the starters at safety, while Adrian Wilson and rookie Brock Vereen worked with the second team.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller received an extended look in his NFL debut. Although the starting defense played just three possessions, Fuller stayed in the entire first half and contributed three tackles.
  • Center Brian De La Puente suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter. The severity wasn't immediately known. De La Puente left the field under his own power, but shortly after the team announced he'd be out for the game. Williams suffered a hamstring injury on his touchdown reception and was unable to finish the game.
  • Non-participants Friday included Chris Conte and Craig Steltz, who remain on the physically unable to perform list. Tim Jennings (quadriceps) and Isaiah Frey (hamstring) were also held out along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Kyle Long (ankle), Jordan Mills (foot) and Bennett (suspension).

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