Chicago Sun-Times

January 2009 Archives

TAMPA, Fla.--Richard Dent's disappointment today at missing the Pro Football Hall of Fame might linger for a little while.

But the Super Bowl XX MVP could be in good shape moving forward. It's a good sign that Dent made the cut from 15 to 10 for the second consecutive year. It was the fifth time in six years that he was among the final 15.

Two pass rushers have been selected in the last two classes--Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas this year and Andre Tippett and Fred Dean in 2008. What bolsters Dent's chances are the fact that there are not any more elite pass rushers coming on to the ballot in the coming seasons. Without more competition at defensive end, Dent could be aided. Of course, he needs to get one of the five modern-era slots and Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith will be slam dunks at this time next year. Some of the first-year eligible players in 2011 are also impressive.

TAMPA, Fla.--A long wait for Richard Dent will continue.

The defensive end, who spent the majority of his career with the Bears, was denied in his fifth bid as a finalist on the ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bruce Smith
was elected in his first year on the ballot as was cornerback/safety Rod Woodson, who spent the majority of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The others who will be inducted in ceremonies Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio, are Randall McDaniel, Derrick Thomas and Ralph Wilson Jr. Wide receiver Bob Hayes, a senior player, was also elected.

TAMPA, Fla.--NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at his state of the league address Friday that roughly three-quarters of the league will not raise ticket prices for 2009.

That leaves about eight teams that are increasing prices in a weakened economy. You're going to have to wait another week or two, at the most, to learn which side of the fence the Bears are going to be on.

"Everything has not been 100 percent formalized,'' team spokesman Scott Hagel said. ``We're going through budgeting right now and ticket prices are part of it.''

TAMPA, Fla.--Devin Hester ran a fly pattern through radio row Friday morning, pitching a new running shoe that will be released by his sponsor Under Armour on Saturday as the sporting apparel company launches a grass-roots advertising campaign.

Hester also talked some football and said the end of the season came at a time when he was just starting to hit stride as a wide receiver. Twenty-five of his 51 receptions came in the final six games as he and quarterback Kyle Orton started to find a connection, even if the deep ball remained elusive. He was still making plays downfield with a catch of 27 yards or more in four of those games. A case can be made he's at the position that needs the most overhaul on the roster, but it appears the arrow is still pointing up for him as a receiver.

TAMPA, Fla.--Super Sunday is two days away and all is quiet on the Bears' front as the organization works its way through organizational meetings.

It's been rainy here, the kind of weather where you're best holing up and throwing a movie in the DVD.

So we'll change it up here with a different topic, football movies. If your bootleg copy of Super Bowl XX isn't on the viewing list for the weekend, how about the best football movie of all-time?

There are a lot of good ones and certainly Brian's Song (the original) is worthy of being near the top of anyone's list. We reviewed a list found in an in-flight magazine on the way here in our aisle seat in row seven:

TAMPA, Fla.--Let the debate about the playing surface at Soldier Field continue.

The NFL Players Association released its 2008 Playing Surfaces Opinion Survey Thursday and once again the Bears' homefield did poorly.

The leaguewide survey conducted during team meetings between September and November named Soldier Field the fourth-worst grass playing field in the NFL, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami. The three best were Arizona, Tampa Bay and San Diego. It wasn't just road teams that were dogging the surface. Bears players chose Soldier Field as the worst grass surface in the league.

TAMPA, Fla.--We'll dig a little deeper into these franchise and transition tag numbers that were revealed today.

But first, they're unlikely to apply to the Bears. General manager Jerry Angelo is not going to place a tag on any players this offseason. The deadline for clubs to tag a player is Feb. 19.

Four Bears players popped up on the list of salaries used to determine the tag numbers. The franchise tag is the average of the top five cap figures in the league at a position and the transition tag is the average of the top 10.

TAMPA, Fla.--The NFL Players Association dug in its heels for a fight with owners over the collective bargaining agreement Thursday in its annual meeting.

More on the rhetoric later.

First, let's get down to the numbers that matter for the 2009 season, which will happen.

Here are the Franchise and Transition tag numbers for 2009:


Position Franchise Transition
Cornerback $9.957 million $8.374 million
Defensive end $8.991 million $7.777 million
Def. tackle $6.058 million $5.45 million
Linebacker $8.304 million $7.48 million
Off. lineman $8.451 million $7.744 million
Punter/kicker $2/483 million $2.264 million
Quarterback $14.651 million $12.44 million
Running back $6.621 million $5.925 million
Safety $6.342 million $5.13 million
Tight end $4.462 million $4.065 million
Wide receiver $9.884 million $8.393 million

TAMPA, Fla.--Lovie Smith will be partaking in some of the buildup for Super Bowl XLIII.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Smith will join his close friend Tony Dungy on stage Friday night in a gospel celebration at the University of South Florida.

It is the 10th year the event has been held, and the recently retired Dungy will receive an award.

"We dance, we sing, we praise and we go on for a long time," says event founder Melanie Few. "We're not going to let Snoop Dogg have all the fun. This is the happening party.''

Amen.

TAMPA, Fla.--Here is something to consider when it comes to two quarterbacks who will be on the open market when free agency kicks off Feb. 27: Both Byron Leftwich and Chris Simms are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon.

That means, at most, Condon is only going to be steering one player toward the Bears. Leftwich, the backup to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, thought he was going to be drafted by the Bears No. 4 overall in 2003 before they dealt that pick to the New York Jets for the No. 13 and No. 22 picks. Simms was another quarterback from that draft class that the Bears are known to have liked, but he lasted until late in the third round.

They will be in an unimpressive crop of available quarterbacks the Bears might consider to bring in. Simms' father, CBS analyst Phil Simms, said Wednesday afternoon that he didn't see Kyle Orton being unseated. If son thinks like father, it might not look like an attractive destination for Simms, who has thrown two passes since being injured in Week 3 of the 2006 season.

TAMPA, Fla.--It doesn't look like Bears rookie running back Matt Forte will be chosen as the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year, which will be announced Thursday. Forte is one of five finalists for the award along with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson and Houston running back Steve Slaton.

In fact, word is honors will belong to Flacco. A source said Flacco is flying in to Tampa and that's likely to collect hardware at the noon press conference announcing the winner. The winner was chosen by fan vote.

But Forte hasn't been forgotten during the week. Pittsburgh running back Mewelde Moore, who preceded Forte at Tulane, was asked about the Bears' star and whether or not they keep in touch.

TAMPA--Given the opportunity to suggest the Bears would be a good landing spot for his son Chris Simms, CBS analyst Phil Simms passed Wednesday afternoon.

Maybe it was the line he draws between being a commentator and a proud papa, but Simms was hardly excited about the possibility.

"I was told earlier today that there had been some talk [the Bears being a match for the free-agent quarterback] but I did not know that,'' Simms said. "If it's in Chicago, good. Wherever it is.''

While it's not a definite, there is a good chance the Bears will venture out into free agency and look for a quarterback with some experience to bring in. If they don't, it will be a sign of confidence in Caleb Hanie taking the next step. Simms, who the Bears had interest in last spring, and Pittsburgh backup Byron Leftwich are two candidates.

"You're asking the wrong guy," Simms said after announcing end-of-season awards for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. "I'm not what people say or think. When [my son] played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I couldn't have told you 10 people on the team. I know the league inside and out, but I don't get involved. I don't want to know.''

TAMPA--The Bachelor has a choice and he's picking Rex Grossman to be a winning quarterback in the NFL.

Somewhere else other than with the Bears.

Grossman's college teammate at Florida, Jesse Palmer, said he was a little surprised Grossman's career didn't continue on an upward path with the Bears, who drafted him in the first round in 2003.

TAMPA--When evaluating the season Devin Hester had, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said expectations needed to be reshaped. Hester's record-setting first two seasons had to be put in perspective with him working as a full-time receiver because, as Angelo pointed out, never has an elite returner doubled as a No. 1 wide receiver.

Deion Sanders is here to say it can be done and Hester is the man to do it.

"He could do it,'' Sanders said in between Super Bowl XLIIII media day sessions Tuesday morning at Raymond James Stadium. ``You get the right personnel to block for him, sure he can. When I returned punts it wasn't that I was so great, it was the 10 guys in front of me were great and they were blocking their butts off. That's what made me who I was as a returner. That's the same as Devin in his previous years.''

TAMPA--Ruben Brown is making the rounds on radio row this morning before Super Bowl media day kicks off at Raymond James Stadium, the circus that tops all other sports gatherings when it comes to high-wire acts and freak shows, and a little football too.

Brown, a nine-time Pro Bowl performer, is mulling over putting together a retirement party in Chicago in the coming months. He'd like to keep playing but will be 37 and doesn't think any team is going to want to bring him in. So, he's dabbling on the media side.

We asked Brown the question that is pressing from a Bears' angle--are the Bears really close at 9-7 with the same record as the NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals?

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is headed to El Paso, Texas, if he's not already there, for the Texas. vs. The Nation (or is it Universe?) all-star game.

Angelo skipped the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last week to avoid the flock of agents and job-seeking coaches who have turned it into a convention for all things not related to the draft.

New England coach Bill Belichick did attend for the first time in six years and, according to one league source, told associates he has no plans of going back after how little work he accomplished. Of course, Belichick's Patriots have been busy preparing for a game this time of season a few times the last several years. But that's how it goes in Mobile where agents are looking for an edge in the draft and free agency, and unemployed coaches are beating the bushes for work.

Angelo probably figures he can get more accomplished from his office at Halas Hall going over tape than being inundated by crowds.

We're entering what looks to be a pretty quiet time for the Bears. If the coaching staff and scouts have not returned from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., they will Saturday (the game will be televised at 6 p.m. on NFL Network). The next step in the offseason is the thorough organizational meetings that go over everything from top to bottom. This is where the coaches, scouts, and front office collaborate to shape the plans moving forward to free agency and the draft.

Four Down Territory is going to take a little bit of a break next week while we're in Tampa covering the Super Bowl, but we're going to monitor any Bears action that is going on. You can also track information on Twitter. If you're not already signed up, you can do so to get instant updates when we make them. It's free. Often times, we'll Twitter news as we're posting to the blog, delivering it to you on your mobile phone. You can also get updates sent directly to your IM. We don't expect a rash of updates soon, but as free agency and the draft approaches, we'll be active.

So, if you're interested, check out Twitter.com. Our handle is cst_bears.

On to Four Down Territory.

One more Four Down Territory on Friday, so shoot in your questions now. We're going to suspend the Q&A next week (we'll try to get one done) while we're covering Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. Don't worry, we'll resume in a big way after the season officially comes to an end.

Q: What is your opinion on the running back situation? Do the Bears bring back Kevin Jones or try to turn Garrett Wolfe into their own version of Darren Sproles? Jones was basically on the shelf all year and should be healthier than he was when he joined the roster. Do they draft a running back and cut Jones? Also, what's Roberto Garza's contract situation? I still think that while the line stayed together all year and played better than ANYONE expected, the Bears still need more interior push in the run game. I'm still sold on Olin Kreutz but I'm starting to wonder about Garza.

Ray, Connecticut

Jimbo Covert is running for office.

According to Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the former Pro Bowl left tackle for the Bears is one of five finalists to become the executive director of the NFL Players Association. Covert and other finalists interviewed for the job earlier this week in Dallas and a second round of interviews are forthcoming. A vote is expected to take place in March at the annual meeting in Hawaii.

Spent some time today profiling Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley, one of the hot assistants in the league right now, so we're running late with the mailbag once again. What else is new? Haley was the Bears' wide receivers coach from 2001-03 and under his watch Marty Booker became the first (and only) Bears receiver to reach the Pro Bowl since 1972. That story will be in Thursday's edition of the Sun-Times, and includes an interesting John Shoop nugget that may not be well known.

Moving forward, let's jump into Four Down Territory.

Q: What kind of buzz is there about Larry English, the defensive end from Northern Illinois?

Scott T., Aurora

A: There's more and more buzz every day about English, who prepped at Marmion Academy in Aurora. He's turned heads all week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and right now he's in the top five of a lot of lists at defensive end. English was the MAC MVP and defensive player of the year and produced 31 1/2 sacks during his career in DeKalb. The thing scouts are going to have to do is project him at the NFL level, something the Bears didn't do a very good job of with another MAC pass rusher in Dan Bazuin. English has good size at 6-3, 255 pounds and in the most recent mock draft by ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr., he had English going in the first round.

Here is what ESPN.com's Todd McShay had to say about English today:

"Northern Illinois OLB/DE Larry English continues to make a case for himself as one of the premier pass-rushers of the senior crop. English turned another strong performance during one-on-ones, showcasing a variety of pass-rush moves. He displays the ability to bend when coming off the edge, which makes it extremely hard for tackles to get their hands on and control him. He has also lined up at defensive tackle at times, using his explosive first step to disrupt a play in the backfield on one snap and surprisingly driving Oregon C Max Unger back into the pocket on the next play. That's not all either. Texas DE Brian Orakpo skipped Senior Bowl week and English has seized the opportunity to step into the spotlight and making a name for himself."

Sounds like he's turning in a terrific week in Mobile. Watch for him during the game Saturday.

Rod Marinelli issued a swift apology on Wednesday for his choice of words in brushing off three Detroit sportswriters on Monday at the Senior Bowl.

Approached in the bleachers in Mobile, Ala., Marinelli said, ``Goodbye, ladies,'' when making it clear to the reporters--all male--that he was not going to entertain their questions.

The Detroit Free Press wrote that the Association for Women in Sports Media contacted the NFL after learning of the incident and president Jenni Carlson expressed concern over Marinelli's words.

The mailman was a little delayed today but here we go:

Q: You seem to be locked into the idea that the Bears will sign a veteran quarterback of marginal talent to come in and wear a visor behind Kyle Orton after what may or may not be a half-hearted competition during training camp. The names Chris Simms, Byron Leftwich, J.P. Losman, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jeff Garcia and on and on and on do nothing for me. I'm accepting of the fact that Kurt Warner will probably re-up with Arizona. What about Matt Cassel? Why no Cassel discussion? Didn't Jerry Angelo say he wouldn't rule out anything?

Ivan M., Wicker Park

A: Fair questions, Ivan. Certainly Cassel has to be on the radar of every team out there seeking a quarterback solution. That rules out one team in the NFC North, Green Bay. All indications at this point are that New England will slap the franchise tag on Cassel, a $14 million proposition which means the Patriots will have $27 million tied up in him and Tom Brady alone under the 2009 cap. There's considerable speculation that New England will tag Cassel with the intent of trading him, likely for draft picks as the Patriots look to infuse their roster with some youth. There are a couple of things at play here, the most significant being Brady's health. He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee and has battled an infection as well. If Brady isn't going to be available in 2009, and we're not suggesting that is the case, then it would be difficult to see New England shipping off Cassel. Brady's status is a source of great debate these days.

Lloyd Lee, the ex-Bears linebackers coach, could be moving close to securing a new job.

He has interviewed for a position with the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jim Schwartz is working to put together his staff in Detroit and the staff in Tampa is being remolded after Raheem Norris was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach following the surprise firing of Jon Gruden.

Rod Marinelli was in no mood to chat it up with Detroit media when he arrived at the Senior Bowl on Monday.

As Tom Kowalski of Booth Newspapers and MLive.com reports, Marinelli referred to three Detroit reporters as "ladies" and basically motioned for them to hit the path. The three reporters who approached Marinelli were male. Kowalski was joined by Nick Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press and John Niyo of the Detroit News.

A shift in the division

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News came out of Green Bay on Monday that isn't directly Bears-related, but it will be an interesting storyline in the division moving into 2009.

Mike McCarthy announced a day after hiring Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator that the Packers would be switching to a 3-4 defense. That's a significant move because the personnel required to operate a 3-4 is vastly different from a 4-3.

PITTSBURGH--We had a couple of entertaining championship games over the weekend and it's good to hear that Baltimore running back Willis McGahee has been released from a local hospital after he was taken on a stretcher off the field Sunday night at Heinz Field. There are some compelling Chicago storylines coming out of Super Bowl XLIII, not the least of which is that a Chicago team is in the Big Game--the Chicago turned St. Louis turned Phoenix turned Arizona Cardinals.

But those are some issues we can tackle later on as the hype builds. For now, we'll jump into Four Down Territory with a trip through the mailbag.

Q: When you list the needs of the Bears, you consistently ignore quarterback. Given the recent comments of Jerry Angelo that seem like he's not looking for a ``game manager'' (which fits Kyle Orton perfectly), and that he's looking at all options, why wouldn't USC's Mark Sanchez make sense? Should the Lions go with Matthew Stafford or a left tackle with the first pick, couldn't Sanchez slide to the point where it would make sense for the Bears to trade up and nab him? Orton could still play out his contract year in 2009 with Sanchez waiting in the wings. Yes, I know, the Bears never trade up in Round 1 and, yes, I know the Bears have bigger immediate needs than quarterback, but I think the position demands attention. Like Angelo said, you win with your quarterback.

Dan M., Wheaton

Looks like there is going to be a reunion of sorts in San Diego for former Bears' assistant coaches.

Steve Wilks, the defensive backs who Lovie Smith fired on Dec. 30, interviewed in San Diego with the Chargers on Saturday and will meet with team officials at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to finalize a contract later today. It's also believed that Don Johnson, the defensive line coach for the Bears from 2005-06, will join the Chargers in some capacity. Johnson was surprisingly let go by Smith following Super Bowl XLI when defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was also run off. Rivera, of course, is calling the shots on defense for the Chargers after a midseason promotion.

Jerry Angelo has all but counted out Mike Brown before and the popular veteran safety returned to the Bears anyway.

Well, the general manager sounds like he's counting out Brown again. The difference this time is that Brown is no longer under contract to the club and will be an unrestricted free agent beginning Feb. 27. It was in his end-of-season address a year ago that Angelo said the Bears couldn't count on the often-injured leader. Yet he returned for a ninth season with the franchise. Getting to a 10th year will be more challenging.

"I don't see that right now,'' Angelo told the Tribune's Dan Pompei. "Given how it affects Danieal [Manning]. Allocation of money comes into play, too, in what we want to do at other positions. There could be a case where we want Mike back, but we can't afford to do it given what we want to do in other areas.''

PITTSBURGH--Rookie head coach John Harbaugh is one victory away from the Super Bowl and another opportunity to promote Dave Toub as a potential head-coaching candidate.

The 11-5 season by the Baltimore Ravens, and their two road playoff victories have already given Toub some momentum because of the coaching history the men share. They come from a special teams background that some have been reluctant to consider. Call it the Frank Gansz Effect. Gansz, one of the most widely respected special teams coaches in the league over the last 30 years, was promoted from that position to head coach in Kansas City. He promptly went 8-22-1 before being replaced by Marty Schottenheimer.

Some believe Gansz's struggles made owners less likely to consider special teams coaches. But Harbaugh was the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia for nine seasons before jumping over to the secondary in 2007. That propelled him to the job in Baltimore and has some league insiders believing that Toub will soon be considered. Of course, Toub worked under Harbaugh for the Eagles before joining Lovie Smith's staff in 2004.

The only way Julius Peppers is guaranteed to return to the Carolina Panthers is if they slap the franchise tag on him, a costly proposition that will run general manager Marty Hurney $17 million for 2009.

$17 million for one season.

Peppers wants no part of it. The defensive end announced through his agent Friday night that he has no desire to return to the Panthers.

"Julius is firm in his decision that he needs a change," agent Carl Carey told ESPN.com. "He feels that he can thrive in another system. While he has been selected to four Pro Bowls and designated as an All-Pro during his career, he feels that he has yet to develop to his full potential. This is the case of a great player who seeks to become an elite one."

Steve Wilks might not ever have another job interview like he did Friday.

The former Bears' defensive backs coach was in Tampa interviewing to replace Raheem Norris as their secondary coach, and Wilks was flying back to Chicago when the ax fell at One Buc Place and coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen were fired. Norris, who had been promoted to defensive coordinator, is expected to be the next Bucs coach and could extend an offer to Wilks.

But Wilks could be close to landing a job elsewhere. He will travel to San Diego today where he will interview with coach Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be the Chargers' defensive backs coach. San Diego has an opening after Bill Bradley was one of four assistants let go on Tuesday.

Time to reach into the mailbag one final time for the week. We'll get right to it.

Q: John Tait is entering the final year of his contract, John St. Clair is a free agent and Chris Williams didn't play as a rookie. The Bears can't think the offensive line is in good shape moving forward, can they? Tell me they're going to address this, please.

Fred W., Las Vegas

A: The Bears were one of only six teams this past season to have all five offensive linemen start 16 games, the first time the club has accomplished that since 2001. There were some key questions surrounding the line during training camp, ones that grew more pointed when Williams was lost for the first half of the season following back surgery. Terrence Metcalf was expected to start at left guard and then he was lost for the preseason after arthroscopic knee surgery. Through it all, the line stuck together and performed fairly well with St. Clair at left tackle on a permanent basis for the first time in his career. Take away two games against Jared Allen, and he was steady. Josh Beekman stepped in at left guard, Tait made the transition back to right tackle and Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza were fixtures.

RIchard Dent is one of the Bears' all-time draft finds, selected in the eighth round out of Tennessee State in 1983. The franchise's all-time sacks leader with 124 1/2, and the MVP of Super Bowl XX, doesn't think highly of the drafting that is going on these days at Halas Hall however.

Appearing on The Monty Show on Sporting News Radio, Dent criticized the drafting that has been done by the Bears in recent years, particularly the double first-round flops of Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman from 2003, the year Dent was an assistant on Dick Jauron's staff.

"The judging of talent is not great,'' Dent said. "When I look at, you know you bring in a quarterback and you give him 1,000 shots and now you say you want to compete and you've got a kid [Kyle Orton] that's playing well but you want someone to compete against him. Obviously, you know Rex came in, you got him in the first round with Michael Haynes and you lose two first rounders and we're not doing anything without draft picks.

You got a better sense of where Jerry Angelo was coming from when he discussed the Bears' quarterback position just after the season when you heard him talk this morning to Mully & Hanley on the Score. The general manager was as frank as he can be on the matter.

"That has been our Achilles' heel under my watch,'' he said. ``And that's something that I'm obviously sensitive to and want to make sure that we're staying focused on it.''

What's interesting here is that is about as candid as Angelo has ever been in regards to the shortcomings and utter failures the Bears have experienced at the position since he took over in 2001. Other than a first-round pick used on Rex Grossman in 2003, the Bears have tried to do it with late-round draft picks, castoffs and never-could-bes. It's been a maddening process, one he's escaped only for a first-half run by Orton this past year and a first-half stretch by Grossman in 2006. It hasn't been so much a hunt for a quarterback as it's been a wild goose chase or mission impossible.

Get this straight: If Tommie Harris does not return to form as a top defensive tackle, it's not because of a lingering left knee issue. General manager Jerry Angelo stated that the Bears are likely to pick up the $6.67 million roster bonus in Harris contract that is due Feb. 27, the first day of the league year, and the hope is the three-time Pro Bowler will again be a consistent, dominant force under new line coach Rod Marinelli.

Speaking with fellow Mully & Hanley (listen to the entire interview here) earlier this morning on the Score, 670-AM, Angelo didn't leave doubt the Bears will pick up the big bonus, part of the $40 million, four-year extension Harris signed last summer. The deal included only $10 million in guaranteed money and the Bears loaded more than $20 million of the deal into roster bonuses to provide protection moving forward and spread out the money for purposes of the salary cap.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo jumped on the air with Mully & Hanley this morning on the Score, 670-AM.

We'll break it down fully here soon, but here are some highlights:

1. He looks at Kyle Orton with the arrow pointing up. Orton started very well, injured his right ankle, and was inconsistent in the second half of the season. He wans the position "solifidied in terms of winning football week in and week out." Calls the QB position the Achilles heel under his watch.

2. Bears need to "look at every position on offense" but "you win because of the quarterback."

3. "We need to look at every option" when it comes to QB position.

Start the countdown to the 2009 NFL Draft.

Well, we don't have to do that, do we? Many of you have started the countdown to the draft already.

It is 100 days away. The Bears and most teams pulled out of Houston today after nearly a week at the East-West Shrine Game, evaluating the rosters. They'll regroup before heading to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl this weekend. That is where the premier senior prospects land. Then, all roads lead to Indianapolis where the combine will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time.

Sticking with the draft as a theme, we'll dive into today's version of Four Down Territory.

Q: What type of compensatory draft pick can the Bears expect to receive?

Multiple readers

A: The Bears appear to be in good shape this year after losing wide receiver Bernard Berrian, tight end John Gilmore and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo in free agency. Compensatory picks are awarded each March at the ends of rounds three through seven in the draft to the teams that suffer the most net losses in free agency.

The question I had on this matter was whether or not re-signing linebacker Lance Briggs would count against the Bears. After all, Briggs didn't return to the team until after he had entered the open market as a UFA. For the answer to that, we turned to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello:

Devin Hester had a forgettable season as a return man but that doesn't mean the Bears are coming out of 2008 empty-handed.

Danieal Manning has gotten some props.

While the Bears were shut out in the All-Pro balloting done by the Associated Press, the most widely used list, he earned first team All-NFL honors in balloting done by Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America.

Manning was chosen as the kickoff returner, the only Bear to make the list. When it came to all-conference teams, outside linebacker Lance Briggs joined Manning on the NFC squad selected by panelists.

You can find some real interesting analysis of player values over at RealGM.com where executive editor Christopher Reina has a system of ranking all players.

Reina e-mailed me last month when the Pro Bowl teams were announced to share his analysis with me. His system had Bears' rookie Matt Forte as the highest-ranked running back in the entire league, and he presented a case that Forte was snubbed. I disagreed with him at the time, and we exchanged our thoughts on the matter.

Now, his final rankings are out and they're worth taking a look at. Reina's system takes into account the percentage of a team's offense that each player is responsible for, and obviously Forte ranked highly. He led the league in this category, and here's a look at the top five backs:

Running back Team Pct. of Team's Offense Ranking in Reina's System

Matt Forte, Bears, 34.99, 1
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 33.97, 4
Clinton Portis, Washington, 31.66, 7
Michael Turner, Atlanta, 29.58, 6
Chris Johnson, Tennessee, 29.17, 9

If Charles Tillman didn't quite look himself at times last season, it's because he wasn't.

The Bears' left cornerback underwent surgery on his right shoulder Wednesday to repair torn ligaments he suffered in a Sept. 28 collision with Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek. Tillman wound up injuring his left shoulder two weeks later at Atlanta and missed the following game against Minnesota. The right shoulder was the issue and he played through pain for the final 11 games with the knowledge he needed surgery.

The combination of life's curveballs and some other work we'll get to later on has delayed us once again in getting to the mailbag until the second period of this Blackhawks game we were supposed to be attending tonight. Oh well. So, without any further delay, let's get to it.

Q: With Taylor Mays deciding to return to USC, the already shallow talent pool at safety may have just emptied out. Next to a pass rusher, which I think the Bears can address in Round 1, don't you think free safety is a huge need on this defense? Do you think the Bears will look to shore it up in free agency? Players like O.J. Atogwe or Jermaine Phillips would make a lot of sense for a porous last line of defense.

Dan, Wicker Park

A: It came as somewhat of a surprise that Mays is headed back to school. After talking with some scouts and agents, both were expecting him to come out after being a three-year starter for the Trojans. But one scout I spoke to specifically about Mays said he looked like Tarzan but didn't necessarily play like Ronnie Lott. He thought Mays needed to get better at tackling in the open field. Maybe that is something Mays will work on. For a look at underclassmen who have declared early, here's a relatively up-to-date list.

We finished going through the Warren Sapp interview with Mully & Hanley this morning on the Score, 670-AM. It was interesting to listen to because you can tell Sapp holds Tommie Harris in a special place because of the similar athletic traits they have. Harris first reached out to Sapp when he was playing at Oklahoma.

He used to call Sapp and pepper him with questions, trying to find out what made him tick, what tips he had for a hungry star in the making. It came full circle for Harris when he was fielding phone calls from Marcus Harrison. Harrison was playing at Arkansas when he first got to know Harris.

"I've got another job,'' Sapp said when asked if he would come to town for camp to work with Harris. "He is a friend. This kid reached out to me when he was at Oklahoma and I really want to see him do well. I know the system and he has all the tools. We're going to go to work on it. I can't be sitting around not doing anything all these years. There are a certain group of guys that really enjoy this thing and love this thing and he's one of them."

We're planning to get back to more of the compelling Warren Sapp interview later, but the good folks over at Pro Football Weekly have compiled a list of the top three draft needs for all 32 franchises.

It's worth a look and certainly a good conversation starter.

PFW ranks the Bears needs as follows:

Wide receiver
Defensive end
Offensive line

All three are valid areas of need. The struggles at wide receiver have been well documented here but Jerry Angelo has used only three picks in the first three rounds on receivers in seven drafts. That's more than a trend, that's a state of mind when it comes to the draft.

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Warren Sapp, the future Hall of Fame defensive tackle, has long credited Rod Marinelli with his success in the league. He joined Mully & Hanley this morning on the Score, 670-AM to talk about Marinelli and the Bears' prized defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

Here's part of the interview with more coming later:

WHAT ARE THE BEARS GETTING IN ROD MARINELLI?

WS: The architect of the one of the greatest pass rushes the NFL has ever known. We went on a string of 70 straight games with a sack. It was all of us. That was our little string. Him, it was all of us. We attacked quarterbacks like it was nobody's business. I just spoke to him the other day. He said, `Yeah, it's going to be fun again. Here we go.' He has a good group and he's excited. I spoke to him [Tuesday] night and said he was packing up and going to Chicago today. Look out Windy City, here comes the man.

Lovie Smith is under the weather. He was fighting a cold when he talked with reporters for 16 minutes in a teleconference Tuesday afternoon. You've seen the news sliced and diced every direction by now.

Here's a chance to read a transcript of the session and draw your own conclusions to his explanation of the Bears' moves two weeks into their offseason:

We're getting a late start on dipping into our mailbag today. The Jon Hoke hiring and Lovie Smith teleconference tied us up for the majority of the day. Typically, we want to get to the Q&A's a little earlier.

But before we do that, there are a couple links that are worth checking out in regards to the East-West Shrine Game, where Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and the scouting staff are for the week.

This gives a nice primer to set the week up down in Houston.

Here's a practice report that gives props to Jason Williams, the Chicago linebacker who had a fine career at Western Illinois. It's good stuff to get you in a combine and draft frame of mind.

Now to Four Down Territory.

Lovie Smith might not remember it, but Jon Hoke recalls first meeting him at Humble (Texas) High School outside of Houston.

Smith was working for Ohio State at the time and landed prized wide receiver David Boston for the Buckeyes. Hoke, who was hired Tuesday as the Bears' secondary coach, also recruited the Houston area at the time for Missouri.

The next stop in Hoke's career was at Florida, where he became defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier and that is when he got to know Smith. Members of the Gators staff would occasionally travel to Tampa to visit the Buccaneers coaches.

We stated Monday that we didn't want to lose focus of the quarterback this offseason, so we'll turn to Lovie Smith for comments on the position.

His teleconference this afternoon was the first time he has spoken publicly since general manager Jerry Angelo made his comments about the position two days after the regular-season ended. Smith was asked about Kyle Orton and the state-of-the-position:

Q: JERRY SAID ESTABLISHING COMPETITION FOR KYLE WAS A TOP PRIORITY. WHAT WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT AND WHERE KYLE STANDS?

LS: Well, first off, I don't think Jerry said that our No. 1 priority was that. Jerry talked about the quarterback position and he needed to see more from Kyle. You heard my statements, our statements, Ron [Turner], all of us around here, and Jerry's saying the same thing. We like what Kyle Orton was able to do this past year. Ten minutes after our last game, as I was asked about our quarterback position, I talked about Kyle Orton then. I'm saying the same thing now. I think our quarterback position is in the best shape it's been in going into the offseason.

Lovie Smith got the man he really wanted to join his defense on Saturday when Rod Marinelli agreed to join his coaching staff, and now he's got control of his defense back.

Smith will handle play-calling duties this coming season with Bob Babich remaining the defensive coordinator while returning to his roots as the linebackers coach. The staff was filled out Tuesday morning with the addition of Jon Hoke as secondary coach.

"I have been involved a little bit,'' Smith said this afternoon on a teleconference. "My involvement will be a lot more now. For some reason there are quite a few offensive coaches that [call plays]. There are not a lot of defensive guys. I think this is what will help us get back to where we need to be.''

Lovie Smith said he would essentially take over play-calling duties on defense, and that defensive coordinator Bob Babich would return to a more hands-on role as the linebackers coach, the position he held for his first three seasons on the staff.

More to come soon.

Bears coach Lovie Smith is holding a teleconference at this moment, addressing changes that have been made to his staff in the beginning of the offseason.

We will have a complete breakdown and analysis when it is over. Some key points already:

*** He said a nine-win team is going to the Super Bowl, proof the Bears are not far away after a 9-7 season.

*** Said he is excited about the additions to the staff, and said the offensive coaching staff will remain in tact.

*** Smith said Rod Marinelli will be the assistant head coach and work with the defensive line, as we know.

Bob Babich will continue to be the defensive coordinator, and he will also be the linebackers coach. That means the staff was completed today when Jon Hoke was named secondary coach.

The Bears added another piece to their coaching staff this morning, hiring Jon Hoke to be the secondary coach.

He's a former Bear, having played in 11 games in 1980, and was the defensive backs coach for the Houston Texans for the last seven seasons after spending three years as the defensive coordinator/secondary coach at Florida. He was also the assistant head coach of the Gators for two seasons.

"This is really good for me,'' Hoke said. "I think a lot of the organization and they have a good football team. I respect the head coach. There are some proven veterans in the secondary and some good young players and that mix is always a plus.''

Lovie Smith, who first came into the NFL as a member of Tony Dungy's staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, reacted to Dungy's retirement from the Indianapolis Colts on Monday.

"I'm happy for Tony and his family, but sad for our league because we are losing one of the all-time great coaches,'' Smith said in a release. "He is one of the modern-day pioneers of our game. His résumé includes achievements no other NFL head coach has accomplished, which I'm sure will lead to a spot in the Hall of Fame. And as great of a coach as he is, he's an even better person.

PITTSBURGH--Because Jerry Angelo is not going to lose sight of the quarterback position, we're going to keep it in focus this offseason and suggest you do the same.

But in evaluating the Bears' passing game, and the struggles over a long period of time, we need to cover all areas. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, an original member of Lovie Smith's 2004 staff, has taken some criticism for the lack of production at the position. There is no disputing the Bears have not put up big numbers at the receiver position. Marty Booker was the last to top 1,000 yards, and he did that in 2002. It's been an organizational concern long before Drake arrived too.

Don't blame the position coach, that's what three-time second team All-Pro Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said.

"Any criticism of him is not fair,'' Ward said. ``Look at the quarterback situation. They don't have a stable quarterback. I know the quarterback situation there and I don't care who you bring in to catch the ball. You could bring in the best receiver in the league. Look at Randy Moss going out to Oakland and what happened there. His stats went down. It wasn't based on Randy, it was based on the quarterback play.''

PITTSBURGH--There is a pretty cool display of the Immaculate Reception here in the terminal at the airport.

A pretty realistic looking Franco Harris mannequin (are there such things as football mannequins?) is outstretched to snare the ball before it hits the turf at Three Rivers Stadium. He's decked out in some old-school cleats and the uniform is vintage 1972. The throngs of Steeler fans heading out of town after Sunday's divisional round victory over San Diego are stopping to take their picture with Franco. His incredible catch (or non-catch?) came in the divisional playoffs against Oakland.

The Bears are just interested onlookers in these playoffs but that doesn't mean there are not plenty of issues to tackle. With that, we jump into Four Down Territory from the 'Burgh.

Q: Caleb Hanie looked great in the preseason I know that it was against third-string defenses but he was using third-string wide receivers. Why is he not getting any respect? He was hitting guys in stride. I think he deserves a chance. What are your thoughts?

Stephen B., Parts Unknown

PITTSBURGH--How is this for a 2009 schedule?

The Bears are the only team in the NFL that will play all four teams from the championship games next season.

They will host Arizona, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and travel to Baltimore, ensuring the Bears will face the Super Bowl XLIII champion. Unless Joe Flacco can become the first rookie to win four playoff games, it will be a home game against the defending champions.

But that is about as hard as the Bears' 2009 schedule gets. Get this: Thanks to some math by John Clayton over at ESPN, ESPN.com and every other four-letter media platform that he appears on, we've determined that the Bears have the NFL's easiest schedule for 2009. Although the Bears will have seven games vs. 2008 playoff teams (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Minnesota, counting the Vikings twice) they only have seven games against teams that finished above .500. It's the same seven opponents.

PITTSBURGH--Mock draft artists, sharpen your pencils.

The Bears were ensured of having the 18th pick in the first round of the NFL draft Sunday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers ended the San Diego Chargers' season with a 35-24 victory at Heinz Field.

San Diego will choose 16th in the first round and the wild card was their playoff run. Had the Chargers reached Super Bowl XLIII, they would have dropped to 31st or 32nd. Now, they'll hold ground and the Bears are no longer in position to move up to No. 17.

When the Bears nose-dived to 7-9 in 2007 following their appearance in the Super Bowl, injuries were cited as one of the primary reasons.

They were the eighth-most injured team in the league that season, according to research compiled by the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin.

Well, his new chart is out for 2008 and perhaps it comes as no surprise that they are on the other end of the chart. The Bears ranked as the 12th healthiest team in the league, according to Gosselin. Of the top 12, eight teams qualified for the playoffs. The Bears had just three starters land on injured reserve, and strong safety Mike Brown wasn't placed there until the final week of the season.

So there is encouraging news, the team managed to stay healthier.

We connected with the agent for new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, Frank Bauer, and he's excited about the situation.

Imagine that. Bauer also represents head coach Lovie Smith, offensive coordinator Ron Turner and defensive coordinator Bob Babich.

But Bauer has reason to be feeling good about this. It's a pairing that makes sense. The Bears got the best defensive line coach available to coach the scheme that he knows best.

Bauer said that Marinelli was specific in saying he did not want to be a defensive coordinator, a key reason why he dropped out of the running in Seattle. His goal was to return to his roots as a line coach and become a teacher again while holding the title of assistant head coach, something that will make Marinelli the second-highest paid Bears' coach behind Smith.

Business is business and family remains family.

The two will not mix for the Bears.

Rod Marinelli was hired as the defensive line coach and assistant head coach today, the same day his son-in-law Joe Barry took a job as the linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks.

There was some criticism of the Bears' interest in Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach, and some now that he has been hired today to handle that role and be the assistant head coach.

I'm not sure where the it comes from. Yes, Marinelli and the Detroit Lions reached an all-time NFL low this season by finishing 0-16. That was a mess that Matt Millen had just as much or more to do with than Marinelli. No one has propped up Marinelli as a head-coaching candidate in this league. No one advocated him being the Bears' defensive coordinator. Just because he failed as a head coach doesn't mean he cannot be a successful position coach again.

Marinelli had a 10-38 record in three seasons as the top man in Detroit.

Dick LeBeau was 12-33 as the head coach in Cincinnati from 2000-2002. He's done a pretty good job returning to his roots as an assistant and will lead Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense into play Sunday against San Diego at Heinz Field.

Just got off a plane in Pittsburgh to the news that Lovie Smith took care of his first priority of the offseason--landing Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach for the Bears.

Marinelli will also hold the title of assistant head coach.

The move came eight days after Marinelli visited Halas Hall. He also talked to the Seattle Seahawks about becoming their defensive coordinator, but that was ruled out and then he was left to choose between the Houston Texans, who wanted him as a line coach, and the Bears. He will be charged with re-working a group that underperformed at times last season. Specifically, the Bears need to get tackle Tommie Harris back to Pro Bowl form and the hope is Marinelli will be able to re-discover the success end Mark Anderson had as a rookie in 2006.

We went over the rosters of the teams participating in wild-card weekend to find players with ties to the Bears. We'll wrap up ex-Bears in the postseason here with a look at the players from the teams who had a first-round bye. Here is a look at the players from the teams that advanced from the wild-card round.

Carolina Panthers

Chris Harris. Twenty-nine of the Panthers' 53 players have never played in the postseason and Harris is one of the few with Super Bowl experience from his days with the Bears. The hard hitter has flourished in Carolina and punished his former team with a forced fumble in their Week 2 meeting in Charlotte, N.C. Adam Archuleta? Harris? Who would you rather have?

Muhsin Muhammad. The Inside the Bears staff was re-watching the regular-season meeting between Arizona and Carolina on Thursday, thank you NFL Network, and couldn't help but notice an uncovered Moose drop a touchdown in the end zone. It didn't cost the Panthers, who rallied from a 17-3 deficit to win the game. Muhammad's 65 receptions, 923 yards and five touchdowns would have been tops for the Bears and he was a complementary player to Steve Smith. The Bears got rid of Muhammad but they didn't replace him. They didn't come close.

Dante Wesley. Against the Cardinals' high-powered passing game, Wesley could see some time on defense. He's been a special teams standout for the Panthers, just like he was there before he came to the Bears and filled the same role.

Unless there is another stop on the Rod Marinelli NFL Tour, he will be choosing between the Bears and Houston Texans at any time.

Word out of Seattle is that Marinelli is no longer in consideration for the defensive coordinator position with the Seahawks. The National Football Post reported Thursday that Jim Mora had hired Casey "Gus'' Bradley for the job, although no official word has come on that. However, it's at least in line with what we're hearing from the Emerald City, that Marinelli is no longer in the works there.

For the kickoff edition of Four Down Territory, we'll tackle more than four questions. (It does get to Five Down Territory when you're a freshman at the University of Missouri and the Big 8 officials give Colorado five cracks at the goalline). The response was great and we appreciate all of the e-mails and posts to the blog. The plan is to break out a four question Q&A daily from Monday through Friday. Let's get started.

Q: With the Bears in desperate need of offensive playmakers, why don't they try to use Garrett Wolfe like the Jets use Leon Washington? I think Wolfe has some of the same types of skills as Washington. Ron Turner's lack of creativity concerns me.

Steve G., Parts Unknown

A: How about using Wolfe like Darren Sproles? That's an even more popular comparison after the diminutive San Diego Chargers running back rolled for 328 combined yards in the wild-card victory over Indianapolis. Sproles has 467 yards in his last two playoff games, 33 yards shy of Anthony Carter's playoff record of 500 combined yards in consecutive postseason games. He can take over first with 173 yards Sunday at Pittsburgh.

According to one former Bears quarterback, the Bears need to stick with their current quarterback.

That's what Kordell Stewart says. His advice to general manager Jerry Angelo is to stick it out with Kyle Orton and give him the opportunity to grow into the position and stabilize the position. The entire interview is available right here.

Visiting Friday morning with Sun-Timesmen Mully & Hanley on the The Score, 670-AM, Stewart said Angelo needs to put an end to what we on the Inside the Bears staff like to call the Quarterback Carousel. Of course, Angelo has already stepped out and called the quarterback position his No. 1 priority this offseason. Given the slim pickings available in free agency and considering the Bears' draft position at No. 18, chances are the expected move at the position will be the addition of a journeyman veteran to the mix.

You have to read all the way to the very bottom of the Associated Press' 2008 NFL All-Pro team to find a Bear.

That is because punter Brad Maynard was the only player who calls Halas Hall home to receive a vote from the national panel of national media members. He received one vote which was well-earned after what was arguably his finest season as a pro.

Maynard had 96 punts, second most in the league, and his net average of 38.1 was 11th. That's the second-highest net of his career. His 40 punts inside the 20 led the league and set a franchise mark, and he had only five touchbacks. Oakland's Shane Lechler received top honors.

The Bears' lone Pro Bowl representative, outside linebacker Lance Briggs, was shut out in balloting. Dallas' DeMarcus Ware collected 45 votes and Pittsburgh's James Harrison had 38 from the panel of 50 voters. Briggs was an All-Pro selection in 2005.

Perhaps the Bears will know early next week whether or not Lovie Smith will rejoin forces with longtime friend Rod Marinelli.

Marinelli met with the Houston Texans on Thursday and according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, that was about Marinelli becoming the defensive line coach on Gary Kubiak's staff. The Texans have three openings on the defensive side of the ball, including the coordinator position following the removal of Richard Smith, but Marinelli is reportedly not in the running for that gig.

You don't have to look beyond the production of the Bears' wide receivers this past season to know it's a problem area. A case can be made the position has not been in more disarray in the Lovie Smith era, and the Bears used four starters at the position in 2008 for the third time in five years under Smith.

Rashied Davis led the group with 12 starts followed by Devin Hester (eight), Marty Booker (five) and Brandon Lloyd (five). It was the first time one player did not make at least 15 starts, and the position is in need of an overhauling. General manager Jerry Angelo has made one impact free-agent signing at the position in bringing in Muhsin Muhammad before the 2005 season.

In the last five drafts Angelo has used three picks in the first three rounds on receivers--Bernard Berrian (third round, 2004), Mark Bradley (second round, 2005) and Earl Bennett (third round, 2008). Obviously, Bennett is the only one still on the roster and he didn't make a catch last season in 10 games, although most of his time was spent on special teams.

The point Angelo made in his end-of-season press conference was that wide receivers and running backs are secondary when it comes to the quarterback. There's some truth to that. A No. 1 wide receiver isn't going to be a No. 1 receiver if he doesn't have a quarterback who can get him the ball consistently every week. Larry Fitzgerald wouldn't have been Larry Fitzgerald last season in the Bears' offense.

With the opening of free agency 49 days away, we'll look at the crop of receivers who are available in free agency below. First, here is how the Bears have lined up in the starting lineup at the position since Smith took over:

There are a lot of moving parts this time of the year.

The Bears are making moves to their coaching staff, free agency begins seven weeks from today, and draft preparation has already cranked up.

We were going to wait until Monday to introduce a feature we're going to do (our best) to get to five days a week--Four Down Territory. But why wait through the weekend to get to some of the mounting questions that are filling up the in box? We'll do this through the draft and see how it goes from there.

Here is the deal ... we'll take four questions a day and do our best to answer them. It will be more manageable than a weekly Q&A and help us address some of the issues more quickly.

The Rod Marinelli NFL Tour continues.

The ex-Detroit Lions coach is meeting with the Houston Texans today, per the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans are the second team Marinelli has met with since coming to Halas Hall last Friday and talking with Lovie Smith about joining the Bears' staff. He was in Seattle on Monday and is a candidate to become the defensive coordinator there.

Let the countdown begin.

The NFL shopping season, otherwise known as free agency, begins in 50 days. It will kick off on Feb. 27 at midnight EST, so for the Bears the action will start at 11 p.m. on the 26th.

It's a little premature to start serious speculation about what interests the Bears will or will not have, but we might as well start with the quarterback position. Remember, that is Jerry Angelo's No. 1 offseason priority. Speculation that 37-year-old Kurt Warner could come to town seems farfetched.

For starters, the Arizona coaching staff has no desire to turn over the keys to the Cardinals' offense to former first-round pick Matt Leinart. Warner has a talented group of wide receivers in Arizona, something he will not find here, and the Bears passed on chances to get him when he left St. Louis and again when he left the New York Giants. In the end, Arizona and Warner should come to the realization that they're best for one another.

With linebackers coach Lloyd Lee becoming the third position coach to be removed from the Bears coaching staff in the week-and-a-half since the season-ending loss at Houston, coach Lovie Smith will have to replace as many position coaches as he ever has going into his fifth offseason in charge.

The Bears must find three position coaches on defense--one for the line, linebackers and secondary. If the dominos are not done falling yet at Halas Hall, the Bears could soon reach the most turnover they have had since the end of Smith's first season in 2004, the only other time he has replaced three position coaches. The only identified candidate that Smith is known to have met with is ex-Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who would likely have some role coaching the line if he comes on board.

Interestingly, entering his sixth season Smith is seeking his fourth position coach on the line, for the linebackers and in the secondary.

We have two charts to review the comings and goings:

Rod Marinelli may indeed wind up coming to the Bears in some capacity, one that would likely include him being in charge of the defensive line.

But contrary to a published report, no contract offer has been made to the deposed Detroit Lions coach by the Bears. Multiple sources with knowledge of the situation strongly denied any such offer has been made to Marinelli, who was at Halas Hall to meet with coach Lovie Smith last Friday. Marinelli interviewed for a job as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator on Monday.

No other teams are known to be in pursuit of Marinelli but that doesn't mean there is not more interest out there for him. His name has surfaced as a possibility for the defensive coordinator job in Green Bay where the Packers recently cleaned house. Linebackers coach Winston Moss remains and is a candidate and ex-San Francisco coach Mike Nolan could be in the mix there as well.

From the Colonel's point of view, the voting members for the Pro Football Hall of Fame have another opportunity to get is right.

The Colonel, Richard Dent, did one thing right when he was a member of the Bears--rush the passer--and he made the cut Tuesday to the final 17 candidates for enshrinement this year. Dent is the MVP of Super Bowl XX and is the franchise's all-time sacks leader with 124 1/2. He had a team record 17 1/2 in 1984 and then notched 17 the next season en route to the franchise's only Super Bowl victory.

The Bears continued to revamp their coaching staff on Tuesday, firing linebackers coach Lloyd Lee and bringing to three the number of coaches that have been let go by Lovie Smith.

Lee was promoted to the linebackers coach position a year ago after Hardy Nickerson left the team and now Smith is in search of a position coach for all three areas of the defense--the line, linebackers and secondary.

Lee was let go despite weak-side linebacker Lance Briggs being the most consistent player on the defense the entire season. He also helped bring along second-year player Nick Roach, who made nine starts on the strong side after taking over for Hunter Hillenmeyer.

Our good friend Kevin Seifert over at ESPN.com posted the 2009 unadjusted salary-cap figures for the four teams in the NFC North last night.

The Bears are last in the group at $17.4 million, but that right there is more than enough room to make any and all moves general manager Jerry Angelo has in mind for the offseason.

When you factor in what should be a credit of more than $9 million for cornerback Marcus Hamilton, the Bears should have more than $26 million in cap room under what is expected to be a $123 million cap ceiling. The cap used to be a much greater factor than it is now. You don't see cap casualties like you used to and nearly every team has ample flexibility. That the Bears have the least amount of money available in the division, per the Seifert report that is worth checking out, is proof enough.

If Lovie Smith and the Bears cannot lure Rod Marinelli to town, then what?

Multiple reports are that the former Detroit Lions coach is in Seattle where he will meet with newly promoted Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr. about joining his staff, possibly as the defensive coordinator. The Sun-Times first reported Friday that Marinelli was at Halas Hall to meet with Smith, who the agent for both men Frank Bauer described as "best friends." If Smith cannot get his best buddy to join him to help turn around a defensive line in need of repair, what does that say about the Bears' defensive situation?

Now it appears there are two positions for Lovie Smith to fill on his coaching staff. Our cohort Mike Mulligan reports that Brick Haley will accept an offer to become the defensive line coach at LSU making for a nice, tidy exit for him. A web site devoted to following athletics at the school also says Haley is in the door in Baton Rouge. An official announcement could come from the school later today.

The position might not be open long. Smith is expected to add former Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli to his staff. The two met Friday at Halas Hall and things could fall in place quickly.

Through no doing of their own, the Bears took a step toward moving up in the 2009 draft Saturday.

That is what the overtime win by the San Diego Chargers over the Indianapolis Colts meant. The Bears are tentatively slated to have the 18th pick in the first round, according to the NFL, but can move up to No. 17 if the Chargers go to the back of the line. San DIego won the AFC West with an 8-8 record and is currently selecting 16th, ahead of the cluster of four teams that finished 9-7, including the Bears.

Wild-card weekend kicks off this afternoon with the Atlanta Falcons at the Arizona Cardinals. We'll take a look at players with connections to the Bears in the games this weekend.

Atlanta

None.

Arizona

Mike Gandy. Third-round pick in 2001 was originally considered a guard when he was with the Bears. Went on to make six starts at left tackle to finish the 2002 season when injuries swept through the line. Made 14 starts at left tackle the following year and began 2004 at right guard before being let go midway through the season. Spent 2005 and 2006 in Buffalo with former Bears coach Dick Jauron before heading to the Cardinals last season. He'll have the tall task of blocking Falcons defensive end John Abraham.

Bryan Robinson. Starting nose tackle has continued his career into a 12th season. He was released before the start of the 2004 season. He spent the previous three seasons in Cincinnati and has not missed a game in more than three years.

Indianapolis

None.

San Diego

Ian Scott. The fourth-round pick from 2003 found a home in San Diego under defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. He did not dress for the final three games of the season and has been used in a reserve role.

Ousted defensive backs coach Steve Wilks is hopeful that he will land a gig coaching in the NFL for next season.

Wilks was let go Monday with one year remaining on his contract, the first in what could be a series of moves with the staff by coach Lovie Smith.

Wilks joined the Bears in 2006 after Perry Fewell departed for Buffalo. He can be credited with helping bring along cornerback Corey Graham, who emerged as a bright piece of the future in his second season after being a fifth-round pick from New Hampshire in 2007. He also worked with Trumaine McBride when the seventh-round pick was forced to start nine games in 2007 as a rookie.

Lovie Smith could complete the next move on his coaching staff by the end of the weekend but the agent for the men involved said nothing will happen that fast.

Rod Marinelli is in town today and will meet with Smith and team officials at Halas Hall. It's fully expected in league circles that he will join the Bears' staff although in what capacity and with what specific title is unknown.

"He's just visiting,'' Frank Bauer told the Sun-Times. ``Rod has a number of opportunities and he is seeing Lovie and they're sitting down and talking. It's a visit.''

The bowl season isn't over and we're already seeing mock draft machines get cranked up. Maybe it's that time of year. The NFL, after all, released the tentative order for the top 20 picks in the draft earlier this week and we know the Bears are slotted at No. 18 unless the San Diego Chargers reach the Super Bowl.

Todd McShay of ESPN takes a stab at the first round and the thing that makes his mock realistic is he includes draft-eligible underclassmen. Of course, the problem with that is there is no guarantee as to which underclassmen will come out early but a record number applied for an evaluation of their draft status for this year and the entire draft is expected to be loaded with juniors. In fact, McShay has juniors going with the top three picks, including Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford to the Detroit Lions with the No. 1 pick. In all, he has 20 of the top 32 picks being underclassmen.

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