NFL Nation: Shea McClellin

Allen practices, Marshall sits

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Chicago Bears defensive end Jared Allen (lower back) practiced without restrictions on Friday, but wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle) remained sidelined for a second consecutive day.

 Marshall and Allen are both expected to play Monday night versus the New York Jets.

Besides Marshall, six other Bears were held out of Friday’s practice: defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff
(concussion), linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), defensive end Trevor Scott (foot), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quad), center Roberto Garza (ankle) and left guard Matt Slauson (ankle).

McClellin’s situation took a turn for the worse. The linebacker had limited in participation in practice on Thursday, but he sat out the entire workout on Friday.

According to head coach Marc Trestman, McClellin suffered the hand injury in practice this week, not during the 28-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.

In other health news, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and safety Chris Conte (shoulder) were both limited for the second straight practice, while receiver Josh Morgan (groin) had full participation. Morgan should be available to face the Jets.

W2W4: Chicago Bears

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
12:00
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The Chicago Bears (1-0) host the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) in preseason game No. 2 at Soldier Field. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.

1. Backup quarterback battle: Jordan Palmer received first crack at the No. 2 job in the preseason opener, but in this matchup, the plan is for the Bears to go with Jimmy Clausen once Jay Cutler is finished for the night. Palmer played fairly well in the preseason opener, but Clausen stole the show when he came in, finishing with two touchdown passes and a passer rating of 134.6. If Clausen performs similarly against the Jaguars, it’s likely the Bears take away all the suspense in this battle and name him the No. 2. Remember, Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009, which makes the backup quarterback job important.

2. Linebacker play: Collectively, the group played poorly in the opener against the Eagles. But in its defense, the team was matched up against a high-octane, no-huddle offense that featured plenty of zone-read concepts that the Bears hadn’t game-planned for. Specifically, Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin need to play better. Considering he started nine games as a rookie, Bostic should be poised to take a major step in his development, but we haven’t yet see that. McClellin is making the transition from defensive end, and the staff remains confident he’ll progress enough that the team would feel confident about making him the starter on the strong side.

3. Zach Miller’s bid for the No. 2 tight end job: Incumbent Dante Rosario missed practice Tuesday with soreness in his calf, and if he’s held out of this matchup, Miller basically will receive the opportunity to solidify what appears to be a stranglehold on that No. 2 tight end spot. Miller caught six passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns in his preseason debut, and has since been given more repetitions with the starters when the offense goes to two-tight-end sets. Another strong showing by Miller in this game could outright win him the job, and he needs to take advantage. So far, Miller has taken advantage of every opportunity he’s been given. This game should be no different for him.
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.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Shea McClellin produced a lackluster debut at linebacker Friday during the Chicago Bears' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the staff remains optimistic about his transition.

McClellin
A first-round pick drafted to play defensive end in 2012, McClellin moved to linebacker in the offseason after two pedestrian seasons as a pass-rusher. Against the Eagles, McClellin struggled in his first live outing at linebacker.

He missed tackles, struggled to shed blocks, and took bad pursuit angles. But those struggles weren’t exclusive to McClellin, though, as pretty much every player at the position experienced an up-and-down evening. McClellin just happens to fall under the microscope more often because of his first-round pedigree.

"It’s one of those things where he’s working at it," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "We see him do it at practice. He looks very instinctive at practice. We saw him make sudden movements and quick decisions in the game. I think he’s already doing that to a certain extent. We just have to get better."

Perhaps the most important component of that process is placing McClellin into as many live-game situations as possible so he can become more comfortable playing the position. Believe it or not, against Philadelphia, the Bears drew a difficult assignment given the first-team defense faced the Eagles’ potent no-huddle offense, which features plenty of zone-read concepts, in a situation in which the club hadn’t game-planned for the opposition.

Such a scenario makes for a chaotic opening few series, but once the defense settled in, McClellin started to improve, and he finished the game with two stops. The truth is the staff isn’t looking for McClellin to light it up immediately, because it knows firsthand the challenge the linebacker is facing in making the transition from defensive end.

What the staff hopes to see from McClellin are gradual steps toward becoming the starter on the strong side.

"The bottom line is that Shea has shown enough out here to believe he has linebacker instincts," linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "I think he’s gonna be fine," Herring added. "He’s committed. He works hard. To be honest with you, there are times out there when he moves better than all of them. He changes directions, instincts, breaking on the ball, it’s a process. Y’all be patient. We’ll know after the first game, second game, where we’re at with him. Right now, he’s on schedule. He needs to play more games. He needs more at-bats, and I really believe that he’ll come and be a solid player for us. That’s my prediction."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Shea McClellin acknowledged after practice during Chicago Bears organized team activities Tuesday that his "first two years [in the NFL] weren't the greatest," but is hopeful a position switch to linebacker might lead to better results.

"I'm excited about the switch," McClellin said. "They told me they wanted me to play linebacker and I was fine with it. I think it's a good fit for me, so I'm going to try to show what I can do."

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin; David Bakhtiari
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShea McClellin, drafted by the Bears in 2012, says he thinks "linebacker is a natural fit for me."
Selected with the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft, McClellin joined the Bears hoping to make a mark solely as a pass-rushing defensive end after taking on a variety of roles in college at Boise State, where he racked up 20.5 sacks in 49 games. McClellin's monstrous production in college didn't transfer over to the NFL game. In two unremarkable seasons in Chicago, McClellin has posted 6.5 sacks and 36 tackles, leading to the position switch.

McClellin said he "anticipated they probably would" ask him to move to linebacker.

"My first two years weren't the greatest, but I think linebacker is a natural fit for me," McClellin said. "I think it's what I should be doing. As a player, you're going to do what they tell you to, and I was fine with playing D-end. They wanted me to rush the passer, and I think one of my strengths is rushing the passer. I was fine with it."

Wearing jersey No. 50, McClellin participated in Tuesday's workout operating mostly from the Sam position because starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams didn't attend the OTA session. With Williams out, Jonathan Bostic was forced to play middle linebacker while McClellin slid outside to Sam.

McClellin took in a few repetitions at middle linebacker with the second team. But he's expected to compete with Bostic during training camp for the starting job on the strong side. For the most part, McClellin looked natural Tuesday as a linebacker, and teammates believe he can successfully transition into his new role.

"Trying to rush off the edge and then go back to linebacker, that's a transition guys have got to make," defensive end Jared Allen said. "You see that so much throughout this league, and the cool part is that he's athletic enough to do it. I've watched guys go from middle linebacker to fullback. It's one of those things: the more you can do in this league, the longer you'll be around. Obviously, they feel he has worth coming back off the edge. For me, if I had to go to linebacker, I'd be cut, that's not happening: I'm a one position type of guy."

In the meeting rooms, McClellin sits next to perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs and has said the veteran players at the position have helped tremendously at easing the transition.

"He picks up things really fast. Being that he was in the defense before there's a lot of things and a lot of calls he's already familiar with," Briggs said. "He's an athletic linebacker and an athletic linebacker can play in this league. He's got speed. He's smart. Shea, size-wise, he could play Mike. Right now he's playing Sam. But I'm sure coach is probably going to move him around to see where his best fit is."

In preparation for the new role at linebacker, McClellin moved to California, where he spent 12 weeks in the offseason training with performance coach Scot Prohaska. McClellin lost 11 pounds and reduced his body fat by eight percent. When the team reported to Halas Hall for the start of the offseason program back in April, McClellin weighed 252 pounds and possessed 10 percent body fat.

The change prompted general manager Phil Emery to quip: "He looks like an extra from a Dolph Lundgren movie, doesn't he? He's looking good, looking trim and fit."

McClellin said the team wants him to stay between 245 and 250 pounds as a linebacker after playing last season at approximately 260 pounds as a defensive end. In a sense, for McClellin moving to linebacker is akin to returning home.

"Yeah, it's very natural," McClellin said. "The instincts are there and I've just got to work on the concepts, the routes, and it's good to have some guys out here to go against instead of just going against air. [I've] still got a lot to work on. I think I've got a lot to prove. I'm just gonna go out there and do the best I can."

Four Downs: Should Bears trade 14th pick?

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
11:30
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Phil EmeryBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGeneral manager Phil Emery will turn to the draft to help fix the Bears' defense.
With an aging defense full of question marks, the Bears have plenty of needs as they head into May's NFL draft.

At the scouting combine, general manager Phil Emery seemed to hint that he'd be open to dealing their first-round pick, repeatedly mentioning the depth of offensive playmakers at the top of the draft, not an area of need for the Bears.

So if you were Emery, would you make a deal to acquire more picks? Our panel weighs in on that and more in an offseason edition of Four Downs:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should trade their 14th pick for more picks later in the draft.


SportsNation

Should the Bears trade down in the draft to get more picks?

  •  
    63%
  •  
    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,507)

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are open for business. The problem is most teams are in the same boat. In a perfect world, a team would always find a way to move back in the draft and stockpile additional picks. Think how valuable those extra draft choices would be this year as general manager Phil Emery attempts to rebuild the defense. But it takes two teams (at the minimum) to pull off a trade. The Bears would love to listen to offers for No. 14 if any come their way.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears aren't one player away on defense. Not that I advocate playing a ton of rookies, but the team needs depth and it needs depth at a good price. If they can get two picks in the top three rounds, preferably including a lower first-round one, for the 14th, go for it. That's why general manager Phil Emery shamelessly touted all of the offensive weapons available at that spot while speaking to reporters at the combine. The Bears' rare stability on offense gives them room to maneuver in the draft.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Henry Melton is more likely to return to the Bears than Charles Tillman.


[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsAfter 11 seasons with the Bears, Charles Tillman will test the free agent market.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. This is tough one. I think both are 50/50 to return. I almost wonder if Melton, because of his age, will receive better offers in free agency than most of us expect, even though he is coming off an ACL injury. There is no reason for the Bears to overpay to keep Melton. None. In my opinion, Tillman is still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He'll have options, but with his age and recent injuries, the Bears could still be in position to bring him back, if Tillman wants to continue playing in Chicago. That's the big question. Does Tillman really want to stick around and play for the new regime? Free-agent cornerbacks were paid about $4.5 million annually last year. If the price is around the same next month, I believe the Bears might be inclined to go that high to keep Tillman. That's why I feel of the two, Tillman has a better shot to continue his career with the Bears.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Tillman wants to test the free-agent market and at his age, this will likely be the last full payday he will see. I hope he gets paid in full. Tillman will go down as an all-time great, the epitome of the Bears defense during this era. He'll be signing autographs, cutting ribbons on car dealerships, and eating free at steakhouses until he's old and gray. But unless he's willing to sign cheap, and why would he, he's not coming back. Melton, meanwhile, is damaged goods after tearing his ACL last season. He'll come at a lower cost and give the Bears the heft they were missing in the front when he and Nate Collins went down. The Bears will likely draft a young lineman with their first pick and a vet like Melton will help ease him in.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should draft a quarterback in the middle rounds.


[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIf the Bears are looking for a quarterback in the middle rounds, Alabama's A.J. McCarron could be an option.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Why not? Even if the Bears do re-sign Josh McCown in free agency, the team will eventually need to add a young quarterback to the roster. Let's face it, Jay Cutler is playing on a three-year deal. Whatever happens beyond 2016 is entirely dependent on Cutler's performance and health. But there are no guarantees. McCown, if he returns, will turn 35 years old in July. The Bears need to keep an eye on the future. Now, the Bears won't draft a quarterback just for the sake of drafting a quarterback. You can't force it. But if a quarterback the Bears covet is available in the middle rounds (Alabama's A.J. McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's Aaron Murray, etc), the club should seriously consider addressing the position. Head coach Marc Trestman knows what he is looking for at the quarterback position. Give it to him, if the right guy remains on the board on the second or third day of the draft.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There's a groupthink about this idea, that the Bears have to draft a quarterback for Trestman to develop. I disagree, though I certainly wouldn't criticize if they found an undervalued QB late in the draft. Well, until I see him throw, that is. My take: Unless the Bears get a bundle for that 14th pick, I think draft picks this season are too precious to spend on a quarterback project when you have a starter set for the next few years. Armed with his new extension, Jay Cutler is essentially signed for three years, though I'm guessing he's in Chicago for another four. While this draft is being touted for good quarterbacks, there will be more next year and the year after that. The Bears should be looking at current sophomores and juniors and plan to draft one next season. This season, they should be trying to lock up McCown for another year or two, and if that doesn't work out, another veteran.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Shea McClellin will be a much better NFL linebacker than defensive end.


[+] EnlargeMcClellin
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesShea McClellin will transition from defensive end to linebacker in 2014.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I believe McClellin has a better shot to succeed in a two-point stance. McClellin is a great athlete. Let's not forget that important fact. Football is about putting players in the best possible position. I cannot guarantee that McClellin will thrive at linebacker. But I'll take my chances with McClellin rushing the quarterback with a running start versus a tight end, as opposed to having him operate at defensive end with his hand on the ground against an offensive tackle. New skill development coach Joe Kim will work hard with McClellin to enhance his pass-rushing skills. That's the plan, at least. The organization wants McClellin to turn into a really good football player. He seems to have the right attitude. We know he has certain talents. Now the Bears have to unlock the potential. Linebacker gives them the best shot to do just that. If he fails, he fails. But it won't be for a lack on effort on McClellin or the Bears' parts.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. We have no idea how he'll play this unfamiliar position. Is he quick enough to play linebacker? Can he shed blocks? Let's say he starts at strong-side linebacker. Teams will game plan to attack him, and if his defensive linemen can't dominate their opponents, he's going to be hung out to dry. This move signifies the Bears' last-ditch effort to salvage the first-round draft pick. It's not a no-brainer move aimed to sending him to the Pro Bowl. Now, maybe he picks up the change quickly and has a nice career. But I'm guessing his linebacking tenure looks a lot like his defensive end time, a few good plays, and some tantalizing potential, overshadowed by disappointment.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

INDIANAPOLIS -- Publicly acknowledging the failure of former first-round pick Shea McClellin as a defensive end on Thursday at the NFL combine, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery announced the rising third-year player will move to linebacker.

Interestingly, McClellin -- who played strongside linebacker and middle linebacker in college at Boise State -- will compete for starting jobs at both those positions with 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, who started nine games last season as a rookie in the middle for the Bears.

“I think he’s very excited [about switching positions]. Obviously at Boise, he played Mike, he played Sam, he played with his hand on the ground,” Emery said. “So versatility is his strength. I’ll say this: generally, we’ll take calculated risks, which we did with Shea. When we swing, we’re gonna swing on the high side of athleticism, and that’s why we’re still excited about him being able to contribute at a high level.”

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHigh on his athleticism, the Bears are confident that Shea McClellin can make an impact at linebacker.
In speaking to new linebackers coach Reggie Herring, Bears coach Marc Trestman gained confidence in McClellin’s ability to successfully transition to 4-3 linebacker, despite spending his first two years as a defensive end. During the evaluation process leading up to the 2012 draft, Herring believed McClellin possessed the skill set to play linebacker in the NFL, and relayed those thoughts recently to Trestman.

“And that was great to hear, and great to know,” Trestman said. “So he’s excited about working with him and certainly he is as big of an expert as we have on this staff in terms of the ability of developing a linebacker. So we are excited about it.”

The plan, according to Trestman, is for McClellin to start off competing with Bostic on the strong side, but he’ll also play in the middle. Bostic’s move to the outside stems from the team’s belief that his skill set would be better utilized at that position.

At middle linebacker, Bostic sometimes struggled to fight off blocks by offensive linemen (which came from both directions as the result of him playing in the middle), and even admitted that in the NFL blockers “get up on you” faster than he anticipated. Because of Bostic’s speed and explosive burst, however, Emery thinks he could contribute more on the outside. The team thinks that, eventually, Bostic will take over on the weak side for Lance Briggs.

“This is what we envision: Shea is going to move to linebacker, but Shea will be used in multiple roles, wherever his skills will take him,” Emery said. “He is a perfect candidate to be on the field all downs in some capacity, whether that is blitzing, rushing, playing against the run in run personnel. But he is going to have to compete for his job. Competition right now is Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and it’s Shea. Obviously, we feel that Lance Briggs is our weak[side] starter. If we add back a D.J. Williams or another player, that player will be involved in that competitive mix. It’s best person wins those two spots. We’re excited about the competition.”

Given the team’s evaluation of McClellin’s physical attributes, it appears the Bears envision a Swiss Army knife-type of role for the former defensive end. When the team used a first-round pick to select McClellin in 2012 to play defensive end, two personnel men revealed to ESPN.com that he wasn’t a first-round talent on their teams' draft boards.

Still, the Bears held high hopes for McClellin, who racked up 20.5 sacks at Boise State, 33 tackles for lost yardage and four interceptions.

McClellin played 14 games as a rookie and contributed seven tackles and 2.5 sacks, and followed that up with 29 tackles last season and just four sacks.

Emery admits defensive end might not have been the best place for McClellin, but said the situation “taught me to keep picking guys that have versatility because none of us are gonna be perfect. If you swing and miss on a player, you hope that they have the skill set, that they’re still competing and contributing in a positive way, which Shea did. In terms of pure defensive ends, [it taught me to] probably make sure they’re a little bit longer, and a little bit heavier.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A.J. Hawk's hit on Chicago Bears receiver Marquess Wilson in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s game didn’t cost the Green Bay Packers anything on the field, but it cost Hawk $15,780 in the form of a fine from the NFL.

Although it went unpenalized by referee Clete Blakeman’s crew, the NFL deemed that Hawk struck a defenseless player using the crowd of his helmet after Wilson caught a short pass over the middle.

Had the penalty been called, the Bears would have been at the Packers’ 23-yard line. Instead, from the Packers’ 38, the Bears were called for an illegal formation penalty, lost 5-yards on a second-down run and ended up punting.

Bears defensive end Shea McClellin was not penalized for his unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter.
Here’s a look at five things to keep an eye on for Sunday’s regular-season finale between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers:

Rush defense: This team has given up 80 runs for gains of 10 yards or more, including 18 for 20-plus yards and the Bears haven’t shown any sign of things changing for the better. So what do they do?

“It’s not so much now knowing where to fit. It’s when you get there, are you able to shed the block? Are you able to finish on the ball? Are you able to make the tackle? Are you able to get there quickly enough? That’s also part of it, too," defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "So, we have to play faster. We have to eliminate the hesitation, and continue to coach through and work through that as players. That’s pretty much what it is.”

If the Bears find a way to shut down the run, they can limit Aaron Rodgers’ effectiveness by making the Packers more of a one-dimensional team. But if Green Bay is allowed to run at will, look for Rodgers to be deadly with the play-action passing game.

Protection: The early deficit the Bears faced against the Philadelphia Eagles caused undue stress on the offensive line because they were forced to pass almost exclusively in an attempt to mount a comeback. So the Bears' defense can definitely help out the offense by not letting the Packers seize a big lead early. But for the offense to produce at the level the team needs for a victory, the offensive line needs to protect quarterback Jay Cutler much better than it did against the Eagles.

“Anytime things don’t happen right, it’s one guy on each play,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer explained. “So if four guys do it right and one guy doesn’t, then the play doesn’t work and you have to be at least sufficient on the play. You don’t have to be great on every play, but you have to be at least sufficient, and that wasn’t happening. There was a poor performance by one guy on each play, and early on, that’s going to kill you. After that, it settled down a little bit, but it can’t settle down when you’re throwing the ball 20 straight times. It’s tough on them.”

The Packers will bring plenty of exotic pressure packages to confuse Chicago’s offensive line. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers have rushed five defenders or more 43 percent of the time on first down against Cutler. Interestingly, the rest of the NFL has brought five on first down just 29 percent of the time on Cutler.

Cutler: The quarterback obviously needs to do his part, too. The fact remains that Cutler has been horrible in games against the Packers. Including the NFC Championship Game after the 2010 regular season, Cutler has thrown eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions against the Packers, while throwing for 33 TDs and 16 INTs against the rest of the NFC North, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But in a game like this with everything on the line, Cutler needs to forget about past futility and focus on the present, which he appears to be doing.

“We can’t make this game more than it is,” Cutler said. “Every game is a different story. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out. We could go out there and have to punt the first couple drives and then get it going. We could start out hot. We’ve just got to stay in it for all four quarters: offense, defense, special teams all doing their jobs.”

Cutler needs to do his better than everybody else on offense for the Bears to come out of this one on top.

Rushing attack: After three consecutive 100-yard outings, Forte rushed for just 29 yards last week against the Eagles because the Bears handed off to him just nine times. It’s important in this game to establish the ground game early because that chews up clock and keeps Green Bay’s offense off the field. Besides that, the Packers enter the contest ranked 26th against the run. That means Forte has a good chance on Sunday to carry the offense.

“Yeah, when we got down 21-0 [against Philadelphia], obviously we had to do everything we could to score quickly and try to get the ball downfield,” Kromer said. “So he was eliminated a little bit.”

Forte can be the eliminator this week, in that he can take away some Green Bay possessions if the Bears focus on running the offense through the running back. The last time the teams met, Forte rushed for 125 yards on 24 attempts.

It’s no coincidence the Bears held time of possession for 6 minutes and 18 seconds longer than Green Bay.

How the defense handles Aaron Rodgers: Sitting back and playing coverage against Rodgers is a recipe for disaster because the quarterback is adept at taking what the defense gives. So the Bears need to come up with a mix of pressures and coverages to keep Rodgers off rhythm.

The Bears found a way to get to Rodgers in the first game between the teams with defensive end Shea McClellin knocking the quarterback out with a broken collarbone. Chicago needs to find a way to get to him again. With that injury, it’s likely Rodgers will be worried enough about suffering re-injury that it could affect the way he plays if the Bears dial up some pressure.
Aaron RodgersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesIn his first game back from injury, the Packers have to find a way to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his feet.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone has healed to the point where the Green Bay Packers feel comfortable putting their franchise quarterback back on the field.

On Thursday, when he announced Rodgers would start Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Chicago Bears, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said: “It’s time to play football.”

But neither McCarthy nor Rodgers would discuss the medical specifics of what led them to this decision when only a week earlier, it was not time.

Even if team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie was able to assure them that Rodgers was no more susceptible to the injury than he was before -- and even that was not known -- the Packers would rather not find out how much punishment the quarterback’s collarbone can withstand. In order for that to happen, those charged with protecting Rodgers -- his offensive line, tight ends, running backs and even McCarthy with his play calling -- will need to be on high alert in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

“No question, there’s definitely an added urgency to keeping Aaron clean in the pocket,” said Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, whose players are often charged with picking up blitzing defenders. “There’s no question. I don’t think we need to coach our guys any differently. Their responsibilities or who they have, that’s all game-planned during the week and prepped on their part, but yeah, I’m sure they’re feeling a little more pressure to keep him clean, which is understandable, obviously.”

Despite the rules designed to protect quarterbacks, Rodgers doesn’t play in a bubble. He’s going to get hit. Perhaps the better question is what kind of hits can he take and what kind would be most problematic for his collarbone?

Surprising as it may be, a blindside hit -- like the kind backup quarterback Matt Flynn took from Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore in the Dec. 8 game at Lambeau Field -- might not be the most dangerous. Sure, Flynn had no time to brace himself for Moore because he didn’t see him, but the fact that Moore didn’t drive him into the ground with all of his force made the hit less dangerous.

“The most vulnerable situation is when there’s compression, such as with [Rodgers’] first injury,” said ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell, a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. “That doesn’t mean he couldn’t absorb that, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

Rodgers broke his left collarbone on Nov. 4 when Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked him and then landed on Rodgers with all of his body weight. According to Bell, the combination of Rodgers landing on the ground with one shoulder and McClellin’s weight on his other likely caused his collarbone to buckle.

Protecting Rodgers in the pocket is one thing, but he also likes to get outside and make improvisational plays. He was rolling out to his right when McClellin hit him.

“He can make plays with his feet, he can make throws that most quarterbacks in this league can’t make,” Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. “Sometimes, you look at some of his throws, you’re like, ‘Where the hell is he throwing the ball?’ And it’s a catch somehow. He’s a special player and we’re happy to have him back.”

The task now is keeping him healthy. Maybe McCarthy will do that by using a variety of quick throws and three-step drops rather than five- and seven-step drops that could leave Rodgers more vulnerable to getting hit.

Rodgers was sacked 18 times in the first seven-plus games of the season. His’ replacements -- Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Flynn -- were sacked 24 times in seven-plus games.

“I’m sure that Aaron’s going to get hit; he’s going to get knocked down at some point,” Van Pelt said. “That’s just the way the football game goes. But those guys I’m sure have a little added urgency to keep him clean.”

At other times while he was recovering from his injury, Rodgers said there are things the equipment and medical staffs can do to add protection to his collarbone area. But on Thursday, he would not say whether he would use any.

Protecting Rodgers from dangerous hits is critical, but it’s also important for Rodgers to take a hit so that he knows his collarbone can withstand it.

“I’m sure that every guy that comes back when they first step onto the field there’s some emotional hurdles that they need to get over,” Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “But I think that’s everyone, and I think that’s all injuries. But other than that, it’s up to the athlete to get through that.”

Rodgers' return has two-fold impact

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
5:35
PM ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As quarterback Aaron Rodgers' passes zipped around the Don Hutson Center on Thursday, Green Bay Packers' receivers seemed to have an extra inch or two to their vertical jumps and their offensive linemen appeared to hold their blocks for a second or two longer.

OK, maybe not.

But things felt -- and looked -- different at practice on Thursday.

Can Rodgers' return from his Nov. 4 broken collarbone have that big of an impact?

"That's why you pay him so much money because he makes everyone else better," Packers receiver James Jones said. "If he was just a one-man show and only made himself better, he probably wouldn't be a $100 million man, but he makes this team a thousand times better."

From his rocket arm and improvisational skills outside the pocket to his ability to read defenses and make the right adjustments at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers can do things that few other quarterbacks can. Certainly not Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn -- the trio of backups that combined to go 2-5-1 in games Rodgers did not start or finish.

Time and again since Rodgers broke his left collarbone when Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked him in the first quarter of the Week 9 game at Lambeau Field, numerous teammates have referred to Rodgers as not only the best quarterback in the NFL but also as the best player in the league.

When you're a player of that caliber, teammates don't just play with you, they play for you.

"I think one of Aaron's strengths is he brings out the best in those around him in a lot of different ways," Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. "And that's a special quality that he has."

As big of an impact as Rodgers has on the X's and O's of football, his influence on his teammates psyche may be just as important, although more difficult to measure.

Not that receivers such as Jones or Jordy Nelson weren't selling out to catch passes from Flynn the past month. Not that offensive linemen David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton weren't pass protecting as well as they could. But players like Rodgers have a way of elevating the play of those around them.

It may not be something they even realize or can measure but deep down in their subconscious, it's there.

That said, the Packers have to be careful not to take on the attitude that Rodgers' return will cure everything. Perhaps that's why when coach Mike McCarthy announced in Thursday's morning's team meeting the Packers are preparing for Rodgers to start Sunday's game against the Bears, there was no cheering or hooting and hollering.

"Aaron even let us know that," Jones said. "Just cause he's back, it don't guarantee nothing. We've got to go out there and play. He's got to play at a high level, we've got to play at a high level, and we've got to win a game."

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In front of a semicircle of camera operators and reporters surrounding his locker on Thursday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers answered five minutes worth of questions about his collarbone injury.

The queries came rapid-fire:

What was your level of pain this week?

Are you holding out hope to play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys?

When will you have another scan?

How frustrating has this process been?

Are you surprised by the day-to-day coverage of your injury?

On and on it went until every possible way to ask him when he will be back on the field had been exhausted.

But not one of the questioners asked anything about how well Rodgers thinks he will perform whenever he returns -- whether it's this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers or in 2014.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Tom Lynn/Getty ImagesMike McCarthy isn't worried about rust with Aaron Rodgers. "The thing you appreciate is my man can throw the football," McCarthy said. "He throws the heck out of it."
Perhaps that's because everyone just expects Rodgers to return to his pre-injury form. Through seven games, Rodgers had led the Packers to a 5-2 record. He had the NFL's fourth-highest passer rating (108.0), the fourth-best touchdown-to-interception ratio (15-to-4), the fifth-highest completion percentage (67.1 percent) and the most yards per pass attempt (8.8).

Before Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked Rodgers and put him into the ground left-shoulder first on Nov. 4, Rodgers had been doing the things he had always done.

But is it reasonable to expect that to continue after the longest layoff of his career as a starter, which dates to the beginning of the 2008 season?

Before this injury, Rodgers had missed only two starts -- one in 2010 because of a concussion and one in 2011 when he was rested in a meaningless Week 17 game.

“We've been around long enough that, when he comes back, we expect him to be the way he's been,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said Thursday, standing across the locker room from where the masses were waiting for Rodgers. “I don't think the situation is, ‘How is he going to play?' It's, ‘What can he take as far as hits?'

“Any player with a broken bone, yeah, you might be able to do some stuff, but until you take that blow, there's only one way to find out. We have to make sure that all the scans are right, and him and the doctors will take care of that.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy put it a little more succinctly after watching Rodgers practice on Thursday.

“He's Aaron Rodgers,” McCarthy said. “The thing you appreciate is my man can throw the football. He throws the heck out of it. It's good to have him out there.”

Rodgers said Thursday that he would need to practice more on Friday in order to play against the Cowboys.

But that's likely for medical purposes and to become familiar with the game plan -- not because Rodgers needs the work.

“You know, in teams reps I haven't seen any rust,” Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “He's been working in the individuals with us for a few weeks now, so I haven't seen any at this point.

“He's been in the offense forever, and the offense is built around him, and we don't anticipate any problems if he were to go.”

Perhaps that's why it's not even worth questioning.
Here are five things to keep an eye on Monday night when the Chicago Bears host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field:

Pass rush: The Bears tied a season high with five sacks last week against Minnesota, and Julius Peppers produced his best performance of the season (2.5 sacks). Chicago racked up the sacks with aggressive and creative calls, and new addition Jeremiah Ratliff also contributed to the group in 23 snaps of action. He’ll play more Monday night against the Cowboys.

“I feel good. I feel stronger. I feel more balanced,” Ratliff said. “Everything’s holding up,and there haven’t been any complications. So I’m good.”

Obviously, the Bears need to dial up the heat even more against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who has a penchant for making mistakes in the face of pressure.

Look for Ratliff to start inside next to Stephen Paea with Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside at the end positions.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/James D SmithStopping Dez Bryant will be key -- he had more than 100 yards against the Bears in the last meeting.
Run D: Believe it or not, the Bears fit the run well despite Adrian Peterson's reeling off 211 yards. The problem was that the Bears struggled to make tackles. That can’t happen against Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. Dallas wants to try to establish the run early, but if it can’t, the Cowboys won’t hesitate to resort to a pass-happy attack.

That’s a good thing because it’ll mean the Cowboys have become one-dimensional.

“We’re to the point now where we’re there to make the play,” Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We just have to finish. We’re not talking about missed fits as much now as we were talking about maybe a couple of weeks ago. Now, we have to be more physical at the point of attack; get off blocks. We have to make tackles. There may have been some improvements here and there, but not enough where I would say we’ve improved in that area.”

Bears CBs vs. Dez Bryant:Bryant caught eight passes for 105 yards against the Bears on Monday night football last season, and he’s sure to make some plays in this contest. The key is for the Bears to limit the back-breakers, the plays that sway the momentum and become game-defining moments.

Chicago’s safeties also need to chip in against Bryant.

“We need all the guys to do their jobs and realize Dez Bryant is an explosive player. So of course, we’re going to keep our eye on him,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “We’re going to have to take away what they like to do so much whether we match [me] with him. If that give us a good chance to win, then I’ll be all for it.”

Short yardage:The Bears average nearly 400 yards per game on offense, but in short-yardage situation the club is horrid. Against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears failed to convert three third-and-1 situations, and on the season, the Bears own a 42 percent conversion rate on third and 1.

“It’s a physical element, but it’s also a mental element. You’ve got to be assignment-right. Our mistakes have not been a question of effort or being outmanned or anything like that,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Ours have been simply the three or four times we haven’t gotten it done, whether it’s goal line or short yardage, we’ve just got to do a better job in making sure we’re blocking the right guys. We’re going to get out-physicalled at times; teams do. But we feel it’s more just making sure that assignment wise, we’re sharp. All five guys plus our tight ends, our backs all have to be doing the right thing and we haven’t gotten it done. It’s difficult to make a yard in this league like that, and we’ve got to do a better job.”

Bears WRs: Alshon Jeffery is coming of a franchise single-game record 249 yards receiving, and Brandon Marshall is one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers. So the duo should generate big numbers for the offense, provided the line protects quarterback Josh McCown adequately.

Dallas ranks No. 31 in the NFL in pass defense at (294.9) yards per games. So Chicago’s sixth-ranked passing attack should be able to light up the Cowboys. Marshall needs 10 yards receiving to make him and Jeffery the club's first receiving duo to gain 1,000 yards each in a season since 1995.

Marshall said he doesn’t like the matchup against Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, but the Bears will look for ways to free up the receiver by lining him up in different places.

“They’re good players,” McCown said of Dallas’ cornerbacks. “Both of them are bigger guys, good cover guys, good man-coverage guys for sure and talented. We always feel good about our matchups, but this week especially. These guys are good players and they’ve been causing turnovers, so we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

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