Chicago Sun-Times

May 2009 Archives

The post made here on Friday before the contract signing party commenced at Halas Hall generated quite a bit of buzz.

Football Scientist author KC Joyner made a case that Jay Cutler was too mistake prone and that ultimately that would limit his success with the Bears. The majority of responses were negative and the general consensus was figures lie and liars figure. We feel compelled to study all sides of an issue and another study by Joyner has been brought to our attention that perhaps will better explain his opinion that is shaped by statistics.

Back in mid-March when the Cutler trade winds were blowing, Joyner analyzed his performance vs. that of Brett Favre in New York. The Jets were rumored to be one of the teams pursuing Cutler and Joyner took their 2008 numbers and put them side-by-side in a blog post for the New York Times. Everyone knows Favre fizzled down the stretch, ultimately leading to his departure and the exits of others, including coach Eric Mangini. The results here might surprise you.

Joyner points out that both quarterbacks worked with solid receivers and also had quality pass-catching tight ends. He calls both quarterbacks "vertically inclined." His study measured the yards per attempt for each quarterback at different depth levels (how far the ball was thrown downfield). Here is how they matched up:

Short passes (0-9 yards) - Cutler 6.2, Favre 5.8

Medium passes (10-19 yards) - Cutler 8.8, Favre 9.5

Deep passes (20-29 yards) - Cutler 11.2, Favre 9.6

Bomb passes (30+ yards) - Cutler 11.9, Favre 9.1

Overall YPA - Cutler 7.3, Favre 6.5

Vertical passes (medium, deep and bomb combined totals) - Cutler 9.8, Favre 9.5

With the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the fold on Friday, the Bears now have 80 players on their roster. Currently, only 78 of those players count against the 80-man limit because third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias do not officially count against the maximum until they are under contract. But the signing of seven draft picks and acquisition of Tinoisamoa took the Bears up to the limit as the remaining draft selections are expected to be signed soon.

That means to add another player the Bears will have to release someone. It's possible a few moves could shake out in the coming weeks. The team is expected to add a training camp leg by signing another punter to take some of the workload off veteran Brad Maynard. If the Bears were to target a veteran wide receiver, they would have to create room. The addition of Tinoisamoa gives the club 10 linebackers and it's unlikely they would take that many to Bourbonnais, Ill. At the end we've included how the Bears have constructed their 80-man roster.

*** The timing of Tinoisamoa's deal puts him in position to attend the remaining OTA's on the schedule. The Bears will resume the voluntary workouts Monday at Halas Hall and they will have four a week for three weeks before breaking for summer.

*** Signing seven draft picks in one day puts the Bears far ahead of every other team in that department. Entering Friday, San Francisco had been most successful in getting rookie deals done. The Niners had signed four draft picks.

pisa529.jpg

Lovie Smith has a lot of faith in the play caller for his defense this season and the unit just added another part as linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa agreed to terms with the Bears on a one-year deal.

It's the biggest news on a busy Friday at Halas Hall when the team announced defensive lineman Israel Idonije has signed a two-year extension and seven of the team's nine draft picks have come to terms on four-year contracts.

While most of the focus this offseason has been on Jay Cutler and the revamped offense, the Bears will need to make significant strides on defense to compete in the NFC and Tinoisamoa could provide a boost in that regard. He's expected to be the frontrunner for the starting job on the strong side where Nick Roach and Hunter Hillenmeyer were expected to compete for the spot.

Tinoisamoa visited Halas Hall on May 20 and seemed at ease chatting with players and coaches alike on the field during an OTA practice. He passed a physical that day. He visited New England on Tuesday but the Patriots quickly moved to sign another linebakcer, Paris Lenon. There had been talk of a visit to Philadelphia but that never materialized and contract talks ramped up today.

He led St. Louis in tackles in four of the last six season, including during his rookie year in 2003 when he played for Smith and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich. He's expected to be a two-down linebacker for the Bears, which last season meant being on the field about 63 percent of the time. Tinoisamoa chose the Bears over the Buffalo Bills, who he visited first after his release from St. Louis on May 8. Tinoisamoa had a relationship there as he knew Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell from his time in St. Louis.

If Tinoisamoa can improve the Bears against the run so the defense doesn't have to stack the line of scrimmage with as many eight-man fronts, his addition will be a success. The Bears were solid vs. the run last season but often times compromised the pass defense to stop it. When they didn't stack the box, they were overrun at times, like the 37-3 loss at Green Bay when the Packers rushed for 200 yards.

It's unknown how his addition will impact the rest of the roster. The Bears are expected to keep six linebackers on the 53-man roster or seven if they find a compelling reason to help special teams. Roach would figure to become a central figure for Dave Toub's special teams unit. FIfth-round pick Marcus Freeman is expected to make the team. That's five linebackers with the inclusion of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and that puts Hillenmeyer in a battle to make the team. He is due to earn $1.5 million this season and is still recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. He will need to be healthy in time for training camp to prove his value as a reserve at multiple positions. Jamar Williams and Joey LaRocque were both core members of special teams last season.

Add defensive end Henry Melton to the list of draft picks the Bears have come to terms with today.

The fourth-round draft pick has agreed to a four-year deal and becomes the seventh draft pick to reach terms with the Bears and contract negotiator Cliff Stein today. The Bears easily led the league in draft picks signed. The only remaining picks are defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias.

Earlier, the team announced it had reached agreements with D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Marcus Freeman, Al Afalava, Lance Louis and Derek Kinder.

Israel Idonije would have been in position to reap greater financial rewards had he played out his contract this season and entered free agency.

Since establishing himself with the Bears he's never been unrestricted. Idonije was a restricted free agent when the Buffalo Bills signed him to an $8.2 million, four-year offer sheet in 2006. The Bears matched it and that deal expires after this year with him set to make $1.75 million in base salary for 2009. But instead of focusing on what could be ahead for him in March, Idonije looked to get a deal done now. He signed a $7 million, two-year extension that includes $3 million in guaranteed money, a deal brokered by agent Drew Rosenhaus.

It provides Idonije with a level of security and for the Bears it locks down a player who can play three spots on the line effectively while also being a major special teams contributor.

The Bears and contract negotiator Cliff Stein are one player and one day ahead of themselves from last year.

The Bears announced the signing of five draft picks on May 30 a year ago and did one better in announcing the signing of six draft picks this morning--D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Marcus Freeman, Al Afalava, Lance Louis and Derek Kinder. That leaves the top three picks to go--defensive linemen Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias.

The six players all received four-year contracts. The base value of the annual salaries for each player is $1.75 million.

2009 $310,000
2010 $395,000
2011 $480,000
2012 $565,000

izzy529.jpg

The Bears are planning to move Israel Idonije outside to defensive end but just last week during an OTA there he was lined up as a starter at tackle.

No, the move has not been called off. Rather, Idonije remains valuable because of his versatility and that was one of the main factors that had to play into the club's decision to give him a two-year extension Friday worth $7 million. Although the plan is to play him at end this season, he will no doubt be called upon to take his turn inside and that was the case last week with Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison sidelined.

Idonije, whose position switch we detailed here 2 1/2 months ago, will get $3 million guaranteed in the new contract that keeps him in place through 2011. The Bears knew prior to the scouting combine that Idonije was hoping to get a new contract.

"It was a smooth deal,'' agent Drew Rosenhaus said. "Going into the season Izzy is projected to be one of the team's top backups and this deal enables him to stay in Chicago where he loves the organization. It's a short-term contract and should he develop into a starter there is flexibility for him.''

With Idonije dropping weight for the move outside, he will likely take on an expanded role on special teams. He got away from that some last season, particularly on coverage teams. He was on the field for 50 percent of the special teams plays last season after participating in 64 percent of them in 2007. His tackles dropped from eight to four, and he had double-digit special teams tackles as recently as 2006.

Israel Idonije's two-year extension that the Bears announced today is worth $7 million in new money.

Idonije was due to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He was on the books to earn $1.75 million in 2009. Here is what we have of the breakdown to this point:

2009

$2 million in guaranteed bonuses
$1.75 million base salary

2010

$2.5 million base salary ($1 million guaranteed)

2011

$2.5 million base salary

So, $3 million of the $7 million is guaranteed. Check back soon for more information.

With nearly $21 million in available cap room, the Bears put some of it to use Friday when they extended the contract of defensive lineman Israel Idonije for two seasons.

The deal carries through the 2011 season and is worth $7 million in new money. Idonije, who was set to earn $1.75 million this season, will get $3 million guaranteed in the deal. It wasn't the only business the Bears got done at Halas Hall Friday morning. The club also announced the signing of six of its nine draft picks.

The draft picks signed are: D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, Marcus Freeman, Al Afalava, Lance Louis and Derek Kinder.

Check back soon for more information.

cutler529.jpg

Most are in agreement expectation levels for Jay Cutler in his first season as Bears quarterback are at third-and-long or fourth-and-forever by now. It is going to be challenging for him to meet them, in his first season anyway.

"Anytime a team wants to make a trade like that and give up what they gave up, it's going to be a lot of pressure, a lot of high expectations,'' Cutler said last week after an OTA. "I welcome it. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a good challenge.''

The Bears don't need Cutler to replace John Elway. They need him to be Elway. They've never had that quarterback in franchise history and much is being expected of him even though little has been done with the exception of some new and moving parts on the offensive line. Now that the Bears have their quarterback, they can go out and build around him.

One analyst who is tempering enthusiasm is KC Joyner, who publishes The Football Scientist. No one tackles more game tape than Joyner and he's not convinced Cutler is going to do more than make the Bears' receivers better alternatives in fantasy football.

"Regarding Cutler, I've said many times and I'll say it again, he'll make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman quite fondly,'' Joyner said Thursday in an online chat on ESPN.com.

He bases this opinion on what he calls the "bad decision rate" Cutler has in comparison to other quarterbacks. Joyner finds that Cutler is even more of a risk taker than Grossman was. One gunslinger has been replaced by another, a guy who just happens to be carrying a bigger gun.

"His bad decision rate is 5 percent,'' Joyner said. "That means one out of every 20 passes he throws is either an interception or a near interception because of a mistake he made. A high YPA [yards per attempt] can offset a high bad decision rate but the upper limit for offsetting tends to be around somewhere between 3 and 4 percent. Cutler has got to stop making so many mistakes, period.''

Cutler threw 18 interceptions last season in Denver. Only Brett Favre, after a disastrous stretch at season's end, had more with 22. His yards per attempt average was 7.3, which ranked 10th. The thinking is that now without Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal to throw to, Cutler could wind up pressing.

Hester528.jpg


We got an e-mail question Thursday evening asking about the production of Devin Hester, who made strides on the field as a wide receiver last season but saw a drop off in his production as a return man, ultimately relinquishing kickoff return duties to Danieal Manning.

"How much more did Hester play as a wide receiver in 2008 vs. 2007? I think the Bears took away from his explosive ability on special teams by taking his focus off of it. He was the most valuable player on the team. Now he's just another guy as a wide receiver and nothing distinguishes him as a returner. David N., Chicago"

That has been a popular question all offseason, and it's a subject we tackled with special teams coordinator Dave Toub at the OTA last week. First, let's take a look at the playing time numbers for Hester over the last two seasons in combination with his statistics:

2008

Offense--631 snaps

51 receptions, 665 yards, 13.0 avg., 3 TD
6 rushes, 61 yards, 10.2 avg.

Special teams--121 snaps

31 kickoff returns, 679 yards, 21.9 avg., 51 long
32 punt returns, 14 fair catches, 198 yards, 6.2 avg., 25 long

2007

Offense--226 snaps

20 receptions, 288 yards, 15.0 avg., 2 TD
7 rushes, minus-10 yards, minus-1.4 avg.

Special teams--182 snaps

43 kickoff returns, 934 yards, 21.7 avg., 2 TD
42 punt returns, 6 fair catches, 651 yards, 15.5 avg., 4 TD

Hester528.jpg


After discussing two remaining options at wide receiver on Wednesday night in Plaxico Burress and Matt Jones, let's take a final look back on the wide receiver corps of 2008 and its production.

Matt Forte
led all NFL running backs in receptions and Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen proved to be a solid combination in the passing game but the Bears struggled to get consistent production from their wideouts. The problem was more acute down the stretch when Kyle Orton was playing with an ankle injury. How much that factored in the lack of production by the wide receivers is anyone's guess. But five times over the final eight games the wide receivers combined for five receptions or less. What that means is the Bears were not having much success pushing the ball downfield and as offensive coordinator Ron Turner says, it's difficult to consistently mount 70- and 80-yard drives without big plays.

Week 10 Tennessee--5 receptions by wide receivers
Week 11 at Green Bay--4
Week 13 at Minnesota--5
Week 15 New Orleans--5
Week 16 Green Bay--3

Here is how the playing time broke down during the season followed by the statistics:

Rashied Davis 667 of 1,012 plays, 65.9 percent
Devin Hester 631 of 1,012 plays, 62.4 percent
Marty Booker 376 of 1,012 plays, 37.2 percent
Brandon Lloyd 376 of 1,012 plays, 37.2 percent
Earl Bennett 16 of 1,012 plays, 1.6 percent
Brandon Rideau 11 of 1,012 plays, 1.1 percent

Hester 51 catches, 665 yards, 5 TD
Davis 35 catches, 445 yards, 2 TD
Lloyd 26 catches, 364 yards, 2 TD
Booker 14 catches, 211 yards, 2 TD

plax527.jpg


The Bears didn't make any attempts to deny their interest in upgrading the wide receiver corps going into the draft and in the days following it.

General manager Jerry Angelo said the club likely would have used its first-round pick on a receiver had it not packaged it to get quarterback Jay Cutler. Angelo said the team thought there would be someone potentially special available where they were selecting. With Cutler on board, Angelo then offered his second-round pick to Arizona for Anquan Boldin. Maybe the Cardinals were not that serious about trading the disgruntled star. They reportedly didn't even engage the Bears in talks after the offer.

So as comfortable as Angelo, Ron Turner, Lovie Smith and Cutler himself have said they are with the current cast of Bears' receivers, the team hasn't been shy when it comes to seeking an upgrade. If the Bears are still looking around for help, two free agents remain available and on the surface one is more interesting than the other. Agent Drew Rosenhaus announced earlier today via his Twitter account that a third team has inquired about the services of Plaxico Burress.


"Good news for Plaxico as a 3rd team has just expressed serious interest in signing him. I won't identify any of the teams at their request."

Could the Bears be one of those three teams?



Burress has legal issues in New York but reportedly could make some progress on that thorny matter next month. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already been linked to Burress, but he's not going to do any team any good from jail. Burress potentially faces 3 1/2 years in the joint for carrying an unregistered firearm in Manhattan last year, the gun that blew a hole in his leg. There seems to be some thinking that Burress will be able to avoid jail time, or perhaps avoid serving jail time during the season. Of course, that does not address any punishment that will be handed down by the NFL for violation of the league's personal conduct policy, but Burress could very well be in play for 2009. Multiple reports have shot down a report in Wednesday's Miami Herald that he could wind up with the Miami Dolphins.

Then there is the case of ex-Jacksonville wide receiver Matt Jones, who ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported will avoid further suspension from the league for his off-field misdeeds. Jones made 65 catches for 761 yards last season but the Jaguars, badly in need of receiver help, cut him loose. He was busted last summer for possession of cocaine.

And then there were two.

Unless a new suitor comes into play for Pisa Tinoisamoa, it looks like the veteran linebacker will choose between the Bears and Buffalo Bills.

Tinoisamoa visited New England on Tuesday but the Patriots' interest appeared to be cursory as they went ahead and signed Paris Lenon to fill a void at inside linebacker.

According to two NFL sources, no visit is in the works for Tinoisamoa in Philadelphia, which looked to be a curious match to begin with at least from our point of view. Word out of St. Louis was that new coach Steve Spagnuolo cut him loose because he wasn't a fit for the system. Just so happens the Rams will be running the defense Spagnuolo learned in Philly and then took to the New York Giants.

The Bears continue to play the waiting game for linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who was released nearly three weeks ago by the St. Louis Rams. He's still very much in play a day after the New England Patriots brought him in for a visit Tuesday and then went in another direction, signing Paris Lenon to fill a void at inside linebacker.

Tinoisamoa has also visited the Buffalo Bills and may use a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles to explore a real opportunity or drum up more more interest at a time when few teams are out shopping on the open market. Being so late to the game in free agency is why a one-year contract makes sense for Tinoisamoa. He had three years remaining on a $24.7 million, five-year extension, and was due to make $3.25 million this season.

St. Louis attempted for some time to trade Tinoisamoa and the fact that it couldn't find a taker means getting that kind of money for one season might be a challenge for him. The Bears aren't in a rush to get a deal done but ideally would like to have him in place before Monday so he can attend the bulk of the OTA sessions which resume then and run for three weeks.

Pisa Tinoisamoa headed East but that trip did not take him to Philadelphia.

The free-agent linebacker visited the New England Patriots today as the Tribune reported earlier. Tinoisamoa is one of two linebackers the team brought has brought in recently. The Patriots also checked out Paris Lenon, who played middle linebacker in Detroit for Rod Marinelli, according to an NFL source.

The Pats are the third team Tinoisamoa has visited and it remains possible that he will visit the Eagles. He could choose between those four teams in the next week. It's not believed that the Bears have made a contract offer to Tinoisamoa, who was released by St. Louis on May 8 after the Rams were unable to trade him. Tinoisamoa became the first rookie in Rams' franchise history to lead the team in tackles in 2003 playing under Lovie Smith and Bob Babich.

gilbert526.jpg

The Bears were not first out of the gates to sign a draft pick this year but that doesn't mean they do not have a chance to be the first one to the finish line.

A handful of teams have already signed picks from the 2009 draft to contracts after the Bears were the first to do so on at least a few occasions over the last five years. If history is a good indicator, contract negotiator Cliff Stein could finalize multiple deals this week and league sources indicate that Stein is in negotiations with several agents. Marc Lillibridge, who represents wide receiver Johnny Knox (fifth round), attended the OTA last Thursday.

The Bears announced the signing of five of their 12 draft picks last year on May 30. Sources say Stein's goal is to have this year's picks finalized by mid-June, which gives him about three weeks to reach his unofficial goal.

The Bears have a total of nine picks to sign this year and with no selection in the first or second rounds, it should be straight forward and simple. All nine draft picks are expected to receive four-year contracts, a policy the Bears first implemented in 2003 in a contract with safety Todd Johnson.

The minimum salaries for all players will be:

2009 $310,000


2010 $395,000

2011 $480,000

2012 $565,000

corners.jpg


The Bears have kicked the tires of two veteran cornerbacks now and both have signed elsewhere after news this morning out of Cleveland that Rod Hood is expected to sign with the Browns.

Prior to the draft, the club brought in Ken Lucas after he was cut loose in Carolina. Eventually, he returned to his former home in Seattle.

From the looks of things the Bears at least investigated Hood, who looked like a fit as a veteran with plenty of starting experience and good size at 5-11, 198 pounds, because Corey Graham is being shifted to free safety. Hood could have instantly provided an insurance policy as a No. 3 cornerback and worked behind Danieal Manning as the nickel back at a position where there is no such thing as too much insurance.

It will be interesting to see if the Bears continue to take a look at the market for available corners because while their depth chart shows plenty of bodies at the position, there are some legitimate health concerns with half of the bunch. We'll elaborate shortly. Ex-Bear Ricky Manning Jr. remains on the open market. While picking up his game tickets at a Tampa hotel days prior to the Super Bowl, Manning said he would not rule out a return to the Bears, and despite a rocky ending with the Bears, he left on classy terms. That seems unlikely. Chris McAlister is on the street. He is still rehabbing a knee injury and although reports indicate he'll be cleared for a return to football activities by late June, is he someone a team could count on going into the season? Bringing in someone with injury issues to back players with injury issues might just clutter the training room. McAlister also had run-ins last season with Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Aaron Glenn, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Ty Law and another ex-Bear, R.W. McQuarters, are some other corners with high mileage that are available.

Maybe none of them are tempting. Maybe there is one out there the Bears will take a good look at. As we wrote last week, just remember back to Chris Thompson vs. Steve Smith in the 2005 playoff loss to Carolina for a refresher on what a thinned out depth chart at cornerback can look like on a bad day. Some have blamed the last-second loss at Atlanta in 2008, at least partially, on Marcus Hamilton's poor play covering Michael Jenkins. Wherever you want to lay the blame--and in this case there were plenty of choices--the Bears were dealing with inexperienced cornerback play.

The Bears will not be landing veteran cornerback Rod Hood.

His agent Joel Segal said last week that his client would have a new team some time this week, and he does. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Hood will sign a contract to play for the Cleveland Browns.

Hood visited the Bears last Thursday, just one of a handful of teams that pursued him in the last month after he was cut loose by the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals. Detroit and St. Louis were also believed to be in the mix, and Hood had visited Cleveland's rival in Cincinnati.

pisa526.jpg

The Bears are not believed to have offered contracts to free agents Pisa Tinoisamoa or Rod Hood last week, but decisions could be looming for them this week.

It was originally reported that Tinoisamoa, who first visited the Buffalo Bills, would also take a trip to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Daily News has disputed that, and right now the former St. Louis Ram has the Bills and Bears to choose between. The linebacker would likely shoot to the top of the depth chart quickly on the strong side for the Bears. He starred as a rookie in St. Louis under Lovie Smith and Bob Babich.

Hood has drawn more interest. He reportedly has a contract offer from the Rams and has also has been pursued by Cleveland and Detroit. He would provide the Bears with an experienced third option at cornerback now that Corey Graham has been shifted to safety. Hood has good size at 5-11, 198 pounds, and that makes him an attractive option. His agent Joel Segal said he expects his client to have a new teams some time this week.

The Bears might not have a deadline to get these moves done but would no doubt like to have the players on board by the end of the week. That's, of course, if the team plans to pursue them with contracts offers. Veteran players are off this week while the coaches work with rookies at Halas Hall. Getting Tinoisamoa and/or Hood signed by the end of the week would put them in position to participate in OTA's that start again on Monday. The newcomer(s) would have 12 OTA sessions to get a crash course on the defense before the break before training camp.

We'll check back with more during the day.

beekman.jpg

The offensive line had a new look when the Bears opened the doors at Halas Hall for their OTA on Wednesday.

Orlando Pace looked to be in the kind of top shape the team advertised when they signed him within minutes of trading for Jay Cutler on April 2. He was installed at left tackle, the spot manned by John St. Clair last season and John Tait for the three seasons prior to that. Chris Williams, the 2008 first-round pick, is getting more comfortable at right tackle. But the makeover might not be done yet. Most expect Frank Omiyale, who the team signed hours into the free agency period, will claim the left guard job sooner or later. Sooner could be by the start of training camp. But Josh Beekman has not relinquished anything yet.

"It is a competition,'' Beekman said. "Frank is a great guy and he is a competitor. He is going to make the Bears better. If he beats me out, he makes the Bears better. If I win my spot back, hopefully I make the Bears better. Competition breeds success. They brought him in and Frank is a hard worker."

Beekman was a fourth-round pick from Boston College in 2007. He wasn't used as a rookie and it looked like St. Clair would eventually land the left guard job last summer until Williams went down with back surgery. Beekman stepped in after Terrence Metcalf underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and he didn't look back. He was on the field for all but five snaps during the season as the Bears were one of just six clubs to have all five offensive linemen start 16 games.

The knock on Beekman coming out of school was he was undersized. The club lists him at 6-2, 310 pounds. He said he's been working with strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones to increase his lean mass, but the Bears have started their goal to get bigger on the line and Omiyale is listed at 6-4, 310. Ultimately, the decision could weigh on the size of a contract. Omiyale signed a four-year deal worth as much as $14 million and he will collect $6.3 million of the $11.5 million base value this season. The thinking by some is Beekman could eventually take over for veteran center Olin Kreutz, but he's signed through 2010 and could look to play beyond that. Beekman will be a free agent (provided there is a CBA extension) following the '10 season.

Lots of good information came out of the OTA on Wednesday at Halas Hall. The Bears wrapped up things with another practice this afternoon that was closed to the media. Let's get right into the mailbag.

Q: The Bears seem to have many question marks entering the season including: How will Jay Cutler adjust to the Bears and will he have enough to back him up should he get injured? Will the receivers step up? Will the offensive tackles stay healthy? Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup? Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback? Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots? I feel most of these things have a pretty good chance of happening. My question then is this: Could you rank these question marks from most to least likely to happen this year?

Nik B., Indianapolis

A: There may be some question marks but certainly this team looks much better than it did in January. It's interesting because there was no buzz or enthusiasm when the team gathered for minicamp in mid-March. When minicamp is within six weeks or so of the Super Bowl, that's understandable. There was real electricity to the OTA on Wednesday, the kind of vibe you're used to getting in training camp. Let's take a look at these issues.

1. Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback?

This is far and away the most legitimate and biggest concern on your list. The Bears struggled generating any pressure with the front four last season and that led them to blitz more than any team in the league. They're banking on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli providing a major upgrade. Without an improved pass rush, this defense will struggle to crack the top half of the league.

2. Will the receivers step up?

The team's optimism is based on the success Cutler had with young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver. Keep in mind the tight ends and running back Matt Forte will play a big role in the passing game as a whole. But, yes, they have to get greatly increased production from the wide receivers.

3. Will the offensive tackles stay healthy?

That's a fair question but a lot of teams are going to be in a bind if one of their tackles goes down, especially the left tackle. Orlando Pace has battled injuries the last three seasons but he played in 14 games last year. Chris Williams will have to play a full season to prove his back is not an issue. The good news for the Bears is they have a veteran backup in place in Kevin Shaffer and some view Frank Omiyale's best position as tackle. So there are alternatives on the roster.

4. Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots?

Charles Tillman remains sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He will be full go well before training camp. This unit should be OK. For the defense to improve, it has to generate a pass rush.

5. Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup?

We wrote on Wednesday that Jones looked fluid running around. Remember, he was still working his way back from ACL reconstruction at this time a year ago. He could be poised to carry the ball 100 times this season.

6. Will [Cutler] have enough to back him up should he get injured?

What team is in good position if it's starter goes down? It would have made sense to us if the team had pursued Byron Leftwich when he was available but we don't see any names out there right now that make us exclaim, `Yeah, if Cutler goes down the Bears are in good hands with fill-in-the-blank.'' At this point, we're convinced a developed Hanie could be as successful (or unsuccessful) as most of the available options and just might be better.


If the unveiling of new quarterback Jay Cutler on Wednesday at the team's first OTA of the offseason didn't get you in the mood for some football, then how about the training camp schedule for the organization's eighth summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Players must report to camp 10 weeks from today and the first practice will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 31. It will be the first of 16 practices open to the public at the school.

Here is the schedule:


JULY

Day Date Practice Time

Friday, July 31, 3 p.m. practice

AUGUST

Day Date Practice Time

Saturday, August 1, 7 p.m. practice

Sunday, August 2, 3 p.m. practice

Monday, August 3, Noon practice

Tuesday, August 4, 3 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 5, Noon practice

Thursday, August 6, 7 p.m. practice

Friday, August 7, 3 p.m. practice

Saturday, August 8, Noon practice at Soldier Field

Sunday, August 9, OFF DAY

Monday, August 10, Noon practice

Tuesday, August 11, 7 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 12, 3 p.m. practice

Thursday, August 13, 3 p.m. practice

Friday, August 14, Travel to Buffalo

Saturday, August 15, BEARS AT BILLS

Sunday, August 16, OFF DAY

Monday, August 17, 3 p.m. practice

Tuesday, August 18, 3 p.m. practice

Wednesday, August 19, 7 p.m. practice

Thursday, August 20, 3 p.m. practice

Friday, August 21, BREAK CAMP

woodny.jpg

Emptying out the notebook for everything that is leftover from Wednesday's opening OTA:

*** If there was one undrafted college free agent that stood out now that the veterans are in the mix it was Louisville cornerback Woodny Turenne. By no stretch is it going to be easy for Turenne to make the final 53-man roster, and basing any odds after one OTA is impossible, but he made some plays. Turenne made a nice move to jump in front of a Caleb Hanie pass intended for Juaquin Iglesias and pick it off. He also had some plays on the ball.

With the long hair coming out of the back of his helmet, he looks like Al Harris running around out there. That can't be a bad thing. Turenne has good size at 6-1, 182 pounds, and he's shown decent speed and most importantly instincts. There are eight cornerbacks on the roster, although that number drops to seven with Corey Graham now at free safety. The Bears are going to kick the tires on veteran Rod Hood, who will be at practice today, a workout closed to media. Adding Hood makes sense because he be a third veteran corner.

Turenne was a junior college transfer and played well at times in school, suffering a broken clavicle at the end of last season. He was not invited to the combine and didn't have a particularly good pro day so that dropped him to the undrafted ranks where the Bears scooped him up as a free agent. The key for him moving forward will be to continue to show up every opportunity he gets. If he can prove to have some worth on special teams, even better.

*** If we didn't mention it Wednesday, looks like the Zack Bowman to safety movement has ended. He was back at left cornerback filling in for Charles Tillman (shoulder). With Graham going to safety it's fair to assume Bowman will remain at cornerback.

*** Here is how the second team offensive line stacked up--LT Cody Balogh, LG Frank Omiyale, C Tyler Reed, RG Dan Buenning, RT Kevin Shaffer. Buenning worked in practice as a backup center for most of the second half of last season. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has suggested he'll be in position to compete with Roberto Garza at right guard. The Bears have expressed their confidence in Garza however.

Wednesday's OTA revealed that defensive tackle Tommie Harris remained where he was when the media was last allowed in to watch veteran players work--on the sideline. Harris finished up the final day of the three-day minicamp in March observing and that is where he was again with the action going on around him. It's probably a preventative measure with Harris' balky left knee. It's only going to take so much grinding and what good is grinding in May? Maybe only a little better than grinding in March, and that's not saying much.

Fellow tackle Marcus Harrison, who had an ACL injury before his final season at Arkansas, was also sidelined with a brace on his knee. No word on when those guys will return to action, and if the Bears had deep concern they'd probably have already ventured into free agency to see what is available.

But the competition that's been waiting at strong-side linebacker will continue to wait until Hunter Hillenmeyer returns. The veteran, who was excused from minicamp two months ago because of injury and to attend the NFLPA annual meeting, is still out. He is recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia. It's unknown when he will get back on the field. If the Bears sign Pisa Tinoisamoa, it might be too late. The free agent visited practice and would be considered the immediate frontrunner at the position if the Bears reel him in. In that situation, Hillenmeyer could be forced to make the roster as a backup middle linebacker and special teams contributor. He's never been outstanding on special teams.

coreyg520.jpg

The Bears launched into their latest effort to create a free safety on Wednesday when Corey Graham was officially moved to the position.

New defensive backs coach Jon Hoke pointed out that Graham has some history to draw on in making the switch from cornerback. He played free safety as a senior in high school and then spent two games there during his career at New Hampshire. That's only a little more history than say Chris Chandler's experience as a Bears quarterback in the earlier portions of this decade. Hey, he did hit Dez White for that 76-yard bomb of a touchdown in the 2002 game at Carolina.

"I was pretty good at it, to be honest,'' Graham said, recalling the good ol' days. "So I've just got to get back used to it. I think the more reps I get, the better I'll get at it.''

Graham seems like a logical fit when you consider he's got the range and coverage skills the Bears have lacked at free safety for some time. That won't be an issue and the club essentially operated with two strong safeties last season using the departed Mike Brown and Kevin Payne.

Then we came on something else that might have caught the Bears' attention when considering this switch--Graham was far and away the most involved defensive player when it came to plays made per snap on the field. Sure, there was reason to have concern with some of his work filling in for Nathan Vasher at right cornerback last season, but Graham always seemed to be involved. These numbers support that. Take a look at the club's top six leading tacklers from 2008:

WLB Lance Briggs--136 tackles, 1,108 snaps


SS/FS Kevin Payne--129 tackles, 1,101 snaps

MLB Brian Urlacher--107 tackles, 1,110 snaps

FS/SS Mike Brown--101 tackles, 924 snaps

CB Corey Graham--93 tackles, 714 snaps

CB Charles Tillman--91 tackles, 948 snaps

rex.jpg

A tip of the cap to the Sun-Times' Kevin Allen, who reached agent Drew Rosenhaus by text message. Rosenhaus denies swirling reports that the next stop for former Bears' first-round draft pick Rex Grossman is the United Football League.

"Rex will be playing in the NFL this season," Rosenhaus said in a text message today. "We have not considered any other leagues. He will be on a NFL roster by the start of training camps."

The UFL has private workouts upcoming for players as it prepares for its inaugural season. Grossman has yet to land with a team and switched to Rosenhaus more than a month ago. Initially, the agent said he expected to land Grossman before the draft. He's been shopping Grossman for the veteran minimum since the get go according to multiple league sources.

After we broke down the competition at strong-side linebacker between Hunter Hillenmeyer and Nick Roach this morning, we got an e-mail from Bill T., who suggested it was unfair to judge Hillenmeyer's numbers just based on statistics from the 2008 season.

We did disclose at the beginning of the breakdown that we were working with a small sample size. Hillenmeyer was inactive for three games last season, missing two following hand surgery in the middle of the season, and sitting out the finale with what is believed to have been an ankle injury. He made six starts before Roach was promoted ahead of him.

The veteran Hillenmeyer, who is signed for three more seasons, is scheduled to earn $1.5 million this season. His cap number is only $1.55 million because the Bears put his bonus money in a roster bonus when they signed him to a five-year extension in 2006.

rodhood.jpg

The Bears could have even more competition for veteran cornerback Rod Hood.

That is after news came out of San Francisco today that veteran cornerback Walt Harris, the first-round pick of the Bears in 1996, will likely miss the entire season after tearing an ACL in an offseason workout on Tuesday. The 49ers could be in the market for a corner and likely know Hood well after he started 30 games for NFC West rival Arizona the last two seasons.

Hood visited the Detroit Lions on Monday and has reportedly received a contract offer from St. Louis. Cleveland is also believed to be interested but Cincinnati, another team he has visited, is out of the picture. Hood was released April 28 when the defending NFC champion Cardinals also let Edgerrin James and Travis LaBoy. He was scheduled to earn $3 million this season and was relegated to a No. 3 role after the club signed Bryant McFadden in free agency.

"Rod is looking for a team with a strong chance to win,'' said agent Joel Segal, who expects to have a deal in place for his client within a week.

Hood will not get $3 million annually from the Bears, and he might have a better shot at working his way into a starting job elsewhere. The Bears lined up Nathan Vasher at right cornerback at the first OTA on Wednesday and had Zack Bowman at left cornerback filling in for Charles Tillman, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery in January.

pisa520.jpg

Jay Cutler had one pitch on Wednesday at Halas Hall and it will still get some work to get used to apparently.

While the world coming out of Halas Hall the past few weeks has been that the wide receivers have been catching everything in sight, that wasn't the case at the first OTA of the offseason as passes were routinely dropped. Yes, Cutler's fastball arrives with more heat than what the Bears are accustomed to seeing, but it's not like this workout was the first time the team has been around him. If there are push-ups to be done for the drops, the Bears will have a strong group of wide receivers soon.

"It takes a little time to adjust,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "They know they better get their head around and get their hands up because that ball's going to be there."

Overall, the energy level was high with a lot more excitement than the team had say in March at the mandatory minicamp. Most of Cutler's work was done underneath and he said it was good to work against defensive players. Plenty of national media came in for the unveiling of Cutler and all of the focus was on him.

"No, no, not yet,'' Cutler said when asked if it's his team now. "This is a defensive-kind of run team with Brian [Urlacher] and Lance [Briggs] and some of those guys and Olin [Kreutz] offensively. That's going to come in time. You can't rush things like that. You've got to kind of take things in stride and get guys to trust you and have confidence in you and hopefully by Game 1 they're all behind me."

A few notes:

*** Pisa Tinoisamoa, pictured above watching practice today by the Sun-Times' Al Podgorski, visited with plenty of coaches and players alike during practice before going into meetings with coaches and front office personnel after practice. He will be given a physical during his visit.

*** Josh Beekman worked with the starters at left guard but acknowledged he's in a full-fledged competition with Frank Omiyale for the starting job.

*** Craig Steltz lined up with the starters at free safety and Kevin Payne was next to him at strong safety. Ultimately, Steltz will probably push Payne for the starting job.

Pisa Tinoisamoa was the scheduled guest at the Bears' first OTA of the offseason today and they'll have another one at Halas Hall on Thursday.

Veteran cornerback Rod Hood is scheduled to make a visit, news first reported on profootballtalk.com. He has repotedly been offered a contract by the St. Louis Rams and is also drawing interest from Cleveland and Detroit. Hood was cut loose by the Arizona Cardinals after starting 30 games for them over the last two seasons.

coreyg.jpg

There is a newcomer to the mix at free safety and it would not be a surprise if he quickly becomes a favorite to lock down the job.

As Lovie Smith suggested at the end of the rookie minicamp earlier this month, Corey Graham will get a look at the position.

He has been lining up at free safety at the start of today's first OTA at Halas Hall. The move signals another significant development. It means the Bears have confidence that former Pro Bowl right cornerback Nathan Vasher will rebound to form or rookie fourth-round pick D.J. Moore will quickly be ready for the job.

Graham made nine starts at right cornerback last season after injuries derailed Vasher for a second consecutive season. Graham finished fifth on the team in tackles with 93, two ahead of left cornerback Charles Tillman, and had one interception and six pass deflections. The position has been under scrutiny all offseason as the Bears look to move forward from the Mike Brown era. The Bears drafted Oregon State's Al Afalava in the sixth round but most project him as a strong safety and that is where the Bears will start him. Asked specifically about free safety at the conclusion of the rookie minicamp, Smith rattled off the names of every safety on the roster. Then he said, "Look at other players. We have Corey Graham.''

"We have a lot of different options,'' Smith added. ``You can print [Tillman] is ruled out. But the rest of it, you know, it will work itself out. We're trying to get as many athletes as we can and give ourselves as many options as possible. We're going to be fine.''

Graham to safety is something the Bears experimented with briefly at the end of his rookie season in 2007 when injuries had wiped out the depth chart. He's been solid in run support as a cornerback and that is certainly a big responsibility at safety. What the Bears have really lacked for some time is a player with range and Graham would provide that. Also in the mix will be free-agent pickup Josh Bullocks. Even if Afalava is an option, his transition will have to wait for training camp. He will miss the bulk of OTA's because he is not allowed to show up until after Oregon State's graduation--June 13. The Bears will have four OTA dates between then and the conclusion of the voluntary offseason workout program June 18.

hunterh.jpg

If the Bears wind up signing free-agent linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who will visit Halas Hall today, there is little doubt he will be installed as the starter at strong-side linebacker.

That's figured to be one of the few positions where the organization is going to have wide-open competition for a job come training camp. Nick Roach was promoted over veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer during the middle of last season and that alone probably gives him a leg up on the job right now.

But Tinoisamoa has long been someone Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich have admired. Babich was a rookie position coach in the NFL when Tinoisamoa led the St. Louis Rams in tackles as a rookie second-round pick in 2003. After arriving from St. Louis, Smith and Babich both spoke highly of the player on a regular basis. Now there is an opportunity for a reunion, although Buffalo and Philadelphia are also pursuing the player.

Let's take a closer look at Roach and Hillenmeyer and how their competition sizes up right now because it's unknown if the Bears are prepared to offer Tinoisamoa a contract. Remember, they moved fast when tight end Michael Gaines came for a free-agent visit last week. Tinoisamoa will be in an upbeat atmosphere as the first OTA practice is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. He will be able to watch at practice like the rest of us where fifth-round pick Marcus Freeman and veteran Jamar Williams fit into the scheme. There are some questions to be answered at linebacker.

2008 playing time breakdown

Hunter Hillenmeyer--269 of 1,111 snaps, 24.2 percent

23 tackles, 10 solos, 1 sack, 2 pass defended

Nick Roach--431 of 1,111 snaps, 38.8 percent

40 tackles, 25 solos, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit, 1 pass defended

The sample size is not the best to evaluate, and Hillenmeyer was dealing with injuries last season, but the numbers suggest Roach has the ability to make more plays on his own. While Roach made a tackle every 10.8 plays, Hillenmeyer had one every 11.7 plays. There's a broader difference when you look at solo tackles. Roach had 2.5 times as many with a solo every 17 plays. Hillenmeyer made one every 27 plays. Roach has better range and that could explain why. But don't forget the team called Hillenmeyer, who turns 29 this season, it's most "assignment sound" defender not long ago.

pisatino.jpg

Lovie Smith has a standard answer when it comes to the Bears checking out players on the open market--they're always considering moves to make the team better.

To that end their next move is getting reacquainted with Pisa Tinoisamoa.

While linebacker does not look like a need area, the veteran began his successful career in St. Louis playing for Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich. The Bears are interested enough to have him in for a visit to Halas Hall Wednesday, according to an NFL source. That trip that coincides with the first OTA of the offseason.

Tinoisamoa was released by the Rams on May 8 despite leading the team in tackles for four of his six seasons, including last year when he had a team-high 135 playing on the weak side. He wasn't deemed to be a fit for new coach Steve Spagnuolo's scheme and St. Louis tried unsuccessfully to trade him.

Tinoisamoa played weak-side linebacker the last few seasons for the Rams but broke into the league as a second-round pick from Hawaii playing on the strong side for Smith. He became the only rookie in franchise history to lead the team in tackles that season. He was moved to the weak side the next season after Smith departed for the Bears, but returned to play the strong side again in 2005.

One reason cited for his departure in St. Louis was his size. Listed at 6-1, 240 pounds, reports stated he played closer to 225 pounds last season. Smith generally looks for undersized linebackers in his scheme, and the addition of Tinoisamoa would create even more competition at strong-side linebacker where Nick Roach is expected to battle Hunter Hillenmeyer for the starting job. Hillenmeyer was the starter for the first seven games before Roach replaced him. Right now, it stands to be one of the few true position battles in training camp. Adding Tinoisamoa would give Smith even more depth at the club's position of strength.

A week after the Bears added Michael Gaines as strong competition to make the 53-man roster we've been able to take a look at the numbers in his one-year contract.

Gaines figures to compete for a job as the third tight end or perhaps as a reserve tight end/fullback. If he stuck in that role as a hybrid fullback/tight end, the Bears might only keep three running backs leaving veteran Adrian Peterson and the younger Garrett Wolfe in a battle for the third spot. That, however, will be analysis for another day.

Gaines, who will be on display Wednesday at the first OTA of the offseason, will have to make the 53-man roster in order to have a shot at the bulk of the money in this contract that is worth a maximum of $1,162,600, not the $1.25 million we previously reported. Our apologies for the bad numbers. Let's break down the real numbers:

cutler519.jpg

Bears president Ted Phillips and general manager Jerry Angelo were clear about one thing at the start of the offseason--any tightening of the belt at Halas Hall in the wake of the economic downturn was not going to have an effect on the football budget and how they do business.

Phillips made the point in February when discussing the organization's decision to freeze ticket prices at Soldier Field. Angelo echoed those sentiments later that month at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Fast forward to mid-May and the Bears have $20.8 million remaining under the salary cap according to figures obtained by the Sun-Times on Monday. That makes them one of six teams in the league with more than $20 million available. It was announced last week that a final adjustment to the salary camp for 2009 raised it to $127.997 million. The Bears' adjusted cap for this season is $135.9 million, the result of a number of factors, including the Marcus Hamilton likely-to-be-earned incentive that gave the club a credit from last season.

Here are the top six in terms of available space:

Tampa Bay $37 million
Kansas City $31.8 million
Green Bay $29.4 million
San Francisco $26.4 million
Philadelphia $23.1 million
Bears $20.8 million

So, the question is what do to with the money? Angelo recently joked that it's not like he has a $20 bill burning a hole through his pocket. He was asked directly about the possibility of some extensions on Sunday at the team's fan expo.

"I think we were unprecedented in terms of all the people we did extensions with,'' Angelo said of last year. ``So in part that made fewer players come up, but those that do well, we'll definitely do what we've always done in the past. I've always said this, 'They take care of their business and business takes care of itself.'''

The Bears were so pro-active in signing players who were coming out of contract last year that there really are not that many to choose from. We detailed the list of free-agents-to-be in discussing the ramifications of an uncapped year here.

Ruben Brown doesn't know Orlando Pace but knows the situation he is in coming to a new team as a decorated veteran who spent his entire career in one city where he was beloved.

There is a big adjustment to be made, but as Brown proved it's not too late for Pace to get back to the top. You have to think the Bears' success in recycling Brown and another veteran in Fred Miller weighed in the decision to sign Pace to a three-year contract on April 2. They've done well with veteran linemen with a little gas left in the tank and no one has served as a better example than Brown, who was 32 when he joined the Bears in 2004 after nine seasons and seven trips to the Pro Bowl with the Buffalo Bills.

"Orlando can be back on top if he is willing to sacrifice himself,'' Brown said. "When I first got to Chicago you saw where I was. I was playing on the third team on the right side. I'd never been there before. If he is willing to sacrifice himself to the new environment and become a part of it, I think you could see glimpses of what he was and he could see himself finishing his career off with another Super Bowl. It's up to him.''

rubenBrown.png

Another year removed from his playing career, Ruben Brown is even more amazed at the fan support he receives in Chicago.

That's why he called it a no brainer to continue his charitable motorcycle run for a fourth year. Ruben Brown's Motorcycle Run to benefit the Salvation Army will be held May 31. It's one of three he is holding this year with similar events planned in Buffalo and his hometown of Lynchburg, Va. All of the details can be found here at rubensrun.com.


The event will begin at 9 a.m. at Woodstock Harley Davidson and the last bike out will be at 11:30 a.m. The festivities will conclude at Sideouts in Island Lake with appearances by current and former players and music by Wayne Baker Brooks. Gates open at 1 p.m. at Sideouts.

"I'm still totally surprised at the support I get in Chicago,'' Brown said Tuesday morning. "The fans and people have always been so warm to me and this is really important to me to keep this going because the Salvation Army has had to make cutbacks and there are programs they have that are really good for the kids. That's what this is about. There is a stay-fit program, Keep It Fit, and that's right up my alley. I want to try to push that to all the kids.''

hanie518.jpg

We teased a blog post on backup quarterbacks earlier today when we wrote about Jay Cutler picking up the offense and it didn't take long to receive this e-mail.

It's from Ed. We will leave Ed's last name out of it. As he points out, he didn't want to be shredded by some of the more animated regulars on here.

I have a question regarding your teaser at the bottom of your latest entry, but I wanted to ask you directly so I don't flame the board. Why not bring back a veteran QB who is familiar with this offense? Rex Grossman. Obviously, there wouldn't be a learning curve for picking up this offense. He has game experience under the system. And he might be able to succeed in a limited capacity with a revamped (bigger) offensive line. Plus, the Bears wouldn't need to sign him to a long term deal. Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks,

Ed

We're pretty sure you're not alone on that one, Ed. In the minority? Perhaps. Alone. No way. We're not going to do any Rex bashing and we never have. We've written it before and I believe it--fans grabbed hold of Grossman and used him as the symbol for everything that was wrong with the position from an organizational standpoint. Ultimately, his demise as a former first-round pick had as much to do with the franchise as anything else.

We've also written before that Grossman should have ventured out in search of a new opportunity a year ago. He waited and now he finds himself without a job. New agent Drew Rosenhaus has been trying to find him work at the veteran minimum for more than a month. There just aren't many jobs available out there right now and it could take an injury this summer or a trip to the United Football League for him to get a chance. Hey, there will be a franchise in Orlando, a hot bed for Gators fans.

I doubt seriously the Bears would consider Rex Part II. Yes, he knows the system. We get all of that. But the book on Grossman effectively closed when Kyle Orton was named the starting quarterback at the end of training camp last summer. You can argue the merits of finding someone with experience--there aren't many quarterbacks still available that have any--and knowledge of your system all day. The Bears deemed Grossman wasn't a fit for them.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post ... we've detailed what is going on at wide receiver and safety, and will surely do so again soon, but the issue at backup quarterback needs to be answered soon. Should the Bears attempt to locate a veteran quarterback as a backup?

There are pros and cons to it with Caleb Hanie, an undrafted free agent from last season, and Brett Basanez currently behind Cutler on the depth chart. General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have not ruled out the possibility, but to this point they haven't made a move.

cutler518.jpg

All eyes will be on Jay Cutler when the Bears begin the next phase of the offseason program with OTA's on Wednesday at Halas Hall.

It is the first of 14 scheduled OTA's (organized team activities) that will carry through mid-June before a six-week break leading into training camp. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner expects Cutler to have nearly all of the playbook down before his summer break. That means when the team reaches Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., it will be refining most things on the field, not learning them.

"He'll have almost all of it,'' Turner said. ``It will not hold us back at all when we get to training camp. He'll have already gotten nearly everything. Once you get in the season you always add things by game plan and all that but as far as the basics of the playbook, it will all be in.''

Turner went back to the very basics with Cutler after he was acquired on April 2. They began drilling almost daily at Halas Hall. Some days they watched game tape to see how Turner likes to call plays in the flow of the game and what the thought process was behind the decisions. Sometimes they watched situational cut-ups. For instance, they would devote two hours to reviewing all of the pressures they saw in a certain formation. Turner sought feedback from Cutler and found there was quite a bit of carryover to what the quarterback brought with him from Denver.

"As far as how we adjust protections and concepts and things like that,'' Turner said, ``There were some similarities. It's not like we're going from German to Spanish.''

Jay Cutler does not have Eddie Royal to throw to after switching teams but that might be OK.

NFL.com's Pat Kirwan, in a segment on CBSSports.com, suggests that third-round pick Juaquin Iglesias could make the kind of impact as a rookie that Royal did in his first season last year with the Denver Broncos.

That's asking a lot. Royal started 15 games and made 91 receptions for 980 yards with five touchdowns. With Brandon Marshall suspended for the season opener, Royal made nine catches in the first game and never looked back. The quarterback and wide receiver made a connection early and clicked.

izzyi.jpg


Plenty of football lies ahead. The team's fan expo is scheduled for Sunday at Soldier Field and the first OTA will be held on Wednesday at Halas Hall. Let's get right to the mailbag. We've received several questions recently about defensive lineman Israel Idonije and we'll address two.

Q: My question is about Israel Idonije. It seems like every year he gets moved from tackle to end and then back again the next year. I understand a key to the 3-4 defense is finding the rare player with the attributes to play defensive end. Typically they are players that are too small to be a nose tackle but are bigger than a typical rush end in a 4-3. Doesn't that describe Idonije? Apparently players like Idonije are so rare that Kansas City used the third pick in the draft to grab Tyson Jackson even though some would call it a reach. Jackson is listed at 6-4, 294 pounds and Idonije is nearly identical at 6-6, 297. Wouldn't Idonije be better served by playing in a 3-4 defense? Doesn't he have some trade value? I know he's a big contributor on special teams but isn't the defensive line crowded with the addition of the new draft picks? If idonije was a good fit for the Bears wouldn't he have settled into a position by now?

Chris F., Homer Glen, IL

A: You make some interesting points but we would suggest that a quality nose tackle in the 3-4 is probably the most rare thing. The whole concept of the 3-4 is to tie up the blockers with three down linemen so the four linebackers can make plays. That starts with a tackle who can command double teams and create pileups in the middle of the field on every snap. I am not going to dispute that Idonije has value. There were a couple of games where he really stood out last season. He had a sack, QB hit and four tackles against Philadelphia. He had 1 1/2 sacks, a QB hit and a pass deflection against Jacksonville. There were other moments too. But there were times last season when Idonije wasn't as noticeable, and his playing time dipped over the final third of the year. Idonije has been a career role player for the Bears and for him to have real trade value, some team would have to view him as a starter and a top starter for them. I am sure the Bears would listen to offers but I also know that they believe strongly that you can never have too many defensive linemen, particularly versatile ones like Idonije. He can play all four spots on the line, even the nose in a pinch, and guys like that are hard to find and make life easier on coaches come Sunday.

tharris.jpg

Our friend Kevin Siefert over at ESPN. com had a couple of interesting items on Wednesday that we do not want to overlook. First, as part of a series that included one selection from each division, he named Bears' defensive tackle Tommie Harris as the veteran player on the hot seat in the NFC North.

We think it's an interesting selection and probably a pretty good one. We can't think of a veteran in a critical spot in Detroit other than maybe left tackle Jeff Backus. Seifert points out that Green Bay left tackle Chad Clifton is another potential choice considering the rebuilding taking place on that line. Sticking with that theme, it's probably fair to say the Vikings need a bounce back season from left tackle Bryant McKinnie, but is he on the hot seat?

Harris makes sense for all of the reasons that are outlined. The Bears expected great things from him when they signed him to a $40 million, four-year extension last summer, one that looks more like a $34 million, four-year extension now given the requirements for the de-escalating roster bonus in 2012. Still, there are big things expected of Harris and he didn't exactly deliver in 2008 when he said offseason distractions were an issue at times. The Bears have to generate a pass rush with the front four to effectively run Lovie Smith's scheme and that starts with Harris.

The Bears need a focused Harris and just as important a healthy Harris. The fear is they might not ever get the latter even if the team says he's checked out medically. Harris was held out of the end of the team's minicamp in March. He's never going to be full go on the practice field any longer. It makes us wonder seriously about a key thing general manager Jerry Angelo said about the draft. Let's go back to April 22 and review:

"Last year we made a conscious decision and we talked about it as an organization and [college scouting director] Greg [Gabriel] and I spent a lot of time on this too, but yes, we are looking at that and we are going to be more disciplined in our approach to taking players with medical concerns, and I want to emphasize that. ... We have to do a good job of being more disciplined because we've had some issues.''

Knowing what the Bears do now about Harris and his balky left knee, we wonder if the Bears would do the contract they over again. Perhaps the approach Angelo discussed when referring to the draft carries over to contracts for current players and free agents.

We're not suggesting Harris' knee is to a point where he will not be an effective player. Everyone expects he is capable of returning to dominant Pro Bowl form. But he'll have to be monitored and he's simply not going to be on the field all of the time.

mholmgren.jpg

Mike Holmgren was largely credited with helping develop a young Brett Favre in Green Bay more than 15 years ago. Now, Holmgren is asked to weigh in on an old Favre, the one who is or isn't contemplating a 2009 return with the Minnesota Vikings depending on, well, the day or you who believe.

Holmgren weighed in on a current young quarterback with a strong arm in Jay Cutler on Thursday when he visited with Waddle & Silvy on WMVP-AM 1000. Holmgren and his Seattle Seahawks faced Cutler on Dec. 3, 2006, in Cutler's first NFL start. He threw two touchdowns, was intercepted twice and was sacked three times in a 23-20 loss.

"We played against Jay in Denver, it may have been his first start,'' Holmgren said. "He was a little wild, but he has really good ability. He can really throw it. And I didn't begin to comment on how he's developed and things like that because, but he went to the Pro Bowl. And he's a young quarterback. And I know this, those guys are hard to find. They really are.

"If you have one then you have to cultivate it and build up a trust and ride that horse all the way. And it surprised me a little bit, to be honest. I think it's a wonderful thing for the Bears. I think the Bears have always been a difficult team to play, and their defense has always been very, very strong. And they've always had some question marks over the years at quarterback, and this seems to have solved that problem. I expect it to be a very good thing for Chicago."

desmith.jpg

DeMaurice Smith is in a position where he needs to meet his constituents as fast as he begins to work on their behalf in the most challenging time for the NFL Players Association in two decades.

To that end, the executive director, a surprise choice less than two months ago to follow the late Gene Upshaw, made a stop at Halas Hall on Thursday. He wants to learn from the players while educating them on the unknown that lies ahead after owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement, setting the sides up for a potential uncapped year in 2010 and lockout in 2011.

``Where I start is where the players start,'' said Smith, who met with owner Michael McCaskey before visiting with players. ``What are we negotiating about? What's the issue? If the deal was not good for [owners], explain to us why. If the owners had to opt out because of financial concerns, it seems to me the best way to negotiate, and frankly I don't know anyone's negotiating style that doesn't start with, `What are we negotiating about? What are the facts? What are the issues? What is the proof?'

``So for us, like any other negotiating point over a business matter, the players are interested in, `OK, what is the profit margin for the teams? How much money did they make last year? What is the average rate of return per team, per game? How much does the average team make per playoff game? What is the five-year rate of return for the cost of investment of teams given the money and operating income that is generated? What is the operating income per team for the last 10 years?'

``I represent a group of players who are now being asked to negotiate, being forced to negotiate over the issue.''

Upshaw was emphatic that if an uncapped year arrived, the players would never again agree to a salary cap system that, in theory, allows the teams in smaller markets to compete on the same level playing field as the teams in larger markets. Smith emphatically stated he has the same position.

The immediate future doesn't necessarily favor players in an uncapped system. First, while the salary cap is $127 million this season, as significant is a minimum. Teams must spend 86.4 percent of that amount or $109.7 million. In an uncapped year there is also no floor. Teams cans spend as little as they want.

drew_rosenhaus.jpg

Drew Rosenhaus has gotten around to talking up some of his Bears' clients on is Twitter account.

He's made it clear that defensive ends Adewale Ogunleye and Israel Idonije would be open to contract extensions with the Bears.

"This is the last year of Adewale Ogunleye's contract. At some point he would like to ink an extension and finish his career with the Bears."
"Defensive Lineman Israel Idonije is also in a contract year and we have reached out to the Bears to extend his deal."

Rosenhaus let the Bears know early in the offseason that Idonije would like a contract extension. He will turn 29 in November and has been a versatile performer for the team but does not have a starting role. Ogunleye turns 32 before the season and they are just two of the ends coming out of contract after this season.

cutler512.jpg

Let's get right to the mail.

Q: My question concerns the Green Bay Packers' implementation of the 3-4 defense. Under Lovie Smith's tenure, the Chicago Bears' record vs. teams that run the 3-4 is 2-6. Here are the results:

2004: Houston Texans (coached by Dom Capers) 24 v. BEARS 5
2005: Cleveland Browns 20 v. BEARS 10; BEARS 17 v. San Francisco 49ers 9; Pittsburgh Steelers 21 v. BEARS 9
2006: BEARS 41 v. San Francisco 49ers 10; New England Patriots 17 v. BEARS 13
2007: San Diego Chargers 14 v. BEARS 3; Dallas Cowboys 34 v. BEARS 10
2008: no opponents

Dom Capers (an associate of 3-4 students Bill Cowher and Dick LeBeau) has taken three separate basement dwelling defensive units and flipped them into formidable forces in his first year on the job. The 3-4 defense can can prove to be exotic, dynamic and perplexing all within the same possession. What are your thoughts on Capers and his history? Any insights on how the Bears prepare themselves for the Packers new defense?

Jim A., Parts Unknown

A: To take your well made point a step further, the Bears are 0-6 vs. teams that implement the 3-4 defense that are not in San Francisco. I think the 49ers were running more of a hybrid 3-4 there at the time, however, because of some personnel shortages. At any rate, Capers' success has been well documented and Dan Pompei recently put together a nice story in the Tribune about it. There is a lot of work that goes into switching a defense and the key is acquiring the personnel. The Packers believe they are off to a good start after landing tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews in the draft. I don't know what to say about that 2004 game with Houston, though. That meeting came at the end of a disastrous offensive season for the Bears. If you recall, Chad Hutchinson was the quarterback at the time. I think the one thing the Bears have going for themselves in this situation is new quarterback Jay Cutler. He comes from the AFC where the 3-4 has been more prevalent and he's played twice a season against one of the better 3-4 defenses in the league in San Diego.

Michael Gaines' deal with the Bears can be worth as much as $1.25 million if he hits the bonuses and incentives in the one-year contract.

Gaines will receive the minimum in base pay for the veteran at $620,000, but he can trigger the other money in the contract.

It's a prove-it deal for the tight end, who could also be used on occasion as a blocker coming out of the backfield.

The Bears have signed Michael Gaines to a one-year contract, and he is in position to challenge immediately to be the third tight end on the roster.

The veteran made a visit to Halas Hall on Monday and didn't leave until he had a contract in hand. Gaines is considered a strong blocker and he'll compete with Kellen Davis, the fifth-round pick from last season, for a job.

He's not going to waste any time.

"I'll be back in there at Halas Hall tomorrow morning,'' Gaines said on his way back to his home in Detroit. "Honestly, I can't believe it happened. It's just a privilege to be joining an organization with so much history."

pking.jpg

Peter King doesn't like the Bears' acquisition of Jay Cutler.

He loves it.

Weighing in this morning in his Monday Morning Quarterback segment for Sports Illustrated, King lists the Bears fourth in his post-free agency, post-draft power rankings.

Fourth.

That's a major step up in class for a team that has not reached the playoffs the last two seasons and has struggled with consistency on defense. The Bears missed the playoffs last season because they couldn't hold big leads in several games, and couldn't come up with key plays in some big games down the stretch--see Minnesota and Houston as examples. Few people doubt that Cutler is going to energize the Bears' offense, but it's pretty much the same characters on defense, one that slumped again in 2008 and led to a shakeup on the coaching staff.

But King points out that the Bears did well in three key statistical categories--yards per rush, turnovers and yards per pass. The Bears were also pretty solid on third down, ranking fifth in the league. But as the old saying goes, figures lie and liars figure. The defense may not have given up the big runs or the big passes, but it couldn't get off the field at critical times and you cannot come up with a single statistic to mask what was an abysmal pass rush. The Bears blitzed more than any team in the league, a lot of them run blitzes to help out a front that couldn't stop the run on its own. The Bears succeeded vs. the run because they stacked an eighth defender in the box. They struggled stopping the pass because of it. They didn't give up the deep ball often because that is what the Tampa Two stops. They did get picked apart by short passing attacks.

pisat.jpg


We are one-third of the way into May and I don't know if I can recall a year when there has been this much football news hopping at this time of the year. There are some intriguing roster options out there. Let's get right to the mailbag and see if we can sort some issues out.

Q: was released Friday and I know the Bears and Lovie Smith wouldn't mind a productive veteran to round out their linebacker group. Is there any chance Chicago would go for him? Lovie is familiar with him from his days in St. Louis and he led the Rams in tackles last year. Does he play Hunter Hillenmeyer's or is it Nick Roach's spot? Or are the Bears trying to figure out if they're still a draft-driven team?

Sean Q, Arcata, Calif.

A: I don't think there is any question Tinoisamoa will be of interest to the Bears. As Smith likes to say, they're always exploring ways to make themselves a better football team. Given Tinoisamoa's track record with not just Smith but with defensive coordinator Bob Babich as well, he is someone that will surely come up in conversation at Halas Hall. It was somewhat of a surprise move that the Rams let him go last week after he led the team in tackles for four of six seasons but new coach Steve Spagnuolo is seeking bigger linebackers for his system. As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out, Tinoisamoa is listed at 6-1, 240 pounds, but he played at closer to 220 pounds last season. That didn't stop him from leading the team with 135 tackles. Tinoisamoa, who turns 28 in July, became the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in tackles in 2003, Smith's final season in St. Louis when Babich was with him as linebackers coach. He made 121 tackles and added three interceptions and two sacks. He did so playing strong-side linebacker.

FIrst-round pick Peria Jerry limped off the practice field in Atlanta on Saturday.

The day before, New Orleans linebacker Stanley Arnoux, a fourth-round pick from Wake Forest who Aaron Curry called the best player on their college team, ruptured an Achilles tendon in a minicamp practice.

Last weekend, New England linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, a third-round pick, blew out an ACL in minicamp.

Injuries happen in the offseason and no team knows better than the Bears. The good news coming out of Atlanta this morning is that Falcons coach Mike Smith called Jerry's injury a mild sprain. Remember though, that is what the Bears said second-round pick Dan Bazuin had in 2007 in a rookie minicamp. As it turned out, he had a knee injury that led to two surgeries and ultimately cost him his entire rookie season. Bazuin still wasn't the same player at the end of training camp last summer and wound up being cut. Arnoux and McKenzie will get to experience being rookies all over again next season. They're both done for the year.

Draft picks take part in rookie minicamps and portions of the offseason program without having contracts. They sign agreements with their teams that they will be given fair contracts in the event they are injured. That's not a big deal--it happens everywhere. The point worth making is that the offseason isn't without its share of bumps and bruises, some of them serious.

atterberry.JPG

Do not be surprised if the Bears make a move to bring back punter Zac Atterberry.

They have been looking for a punter to bring to training camp and Atterberry was released Thursday by the Washington Redskins. He's a name that is sure to come up in conversations at Halas Hall based on how the team felt about him last season. Atterberry won a roster spot in a tryout of sorts last spring and went to training camp where he performed well.

Special teams coordinator Dave Toub liked him enough, or trusted him enough that Atterberry was brought back to the practice squad on Oct. 7. That wasn't to see how Atterberry had been in the six-plus weeks since he had been cut at the end of preseason. The Bears were concerned an undisclosed injury might prevent Brad Maynard from playing that week at Atlanta. The veteran turned out to be fine and Atterberry was let go after four days.

Now that we're nearly two weeks removed from the draft, that can only mean one thing.

Training camp is right around the corner.

Cliff Stein will be cranking out contracts for the Bears' nine draft picks soon.

The Bears set a date of July 4 for when they wanted to have all of their rookie contracts completed in 2007. It's well detailed in Drew and Jason Rosenhaus' 2008 book Next Question. The Rosenhaus brothers go into great detail about the background behind the contract they negotiated for tight end Greg Olsen, the Bears' top pick in '07. More on that below.

Without first- or second-round picks, Stein's work as the Bears' contract negotiator should be less complicated this time around. One agent we spoke to earlier this week said he would not be surprised if the Bears have their business wrapped up by mid-June. Stein had 11 of the team's 12 draft picks under contract by July 8 last year. Only first-round pick Chris Williams lasted until July 23.

The team's top pick this season is defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, who is represented by Frank Bauer, the same man who represents Lovie Smith, Ron Turner and Bob Babich. Gilbert wouldn't be late to training camp if he was the No. 1 overall pick. The player selected in Gilbert's slot in 2008--the fourth pick of the third round--was Carolina cornerback Charles Godfrey. He signed a four-year contract with a signing bonus of $854,200. That represented a 3.5 percent bump over the $825,000 signing bonus Quincy Black, the Tampa Bay linebacker, received in the same spot in 2007. If there is a similar 3.5 percent increase this season, Gilbert's signing bonus will be right near $884,000. If the increase is three percent, the bonus will be closer to $879,800. The difference is an appearance fee at an auto dealership.

Wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias was also drafted in the third round, the 35th choice of the round. Atlanta safety Thomas DeCoud was in the same spot last year and received a $598,000 signing bonus. Working off that, Iglesias will be in line for a signing bonus of around $618,900, again if there is an increase of 3.5 percent.

Michael Gaines, the tight end who was cut loose last week by the Detroit Lions, will visit the Bears on Monday, according to a league source.

Gaines was released after Detroit drafted Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew in the first round and then took Maryland's Dan Gronkowski in round seven. He visited the New York Jets on Wednesday and left without receiving a contract offer.

The Bears have certainly made a big enough stir in these parts by trading for quarterback Jay Cutler and overhauling the offensive line in free agency.

Sometimes we're only keeping our eyes on our own backyard though.

How does that offseason stack up to what has happened elsewhere? ESPN's John Clayton breaks it down here by reviewing the top 10 offseasons. These are not the top 10 teams, but his top 10 most impressive offseasons. You might be surprised where he has the Bears ranked--fifth overall.

m_forte.jpg


The Bears continue to say the plan is to reduce the workload for running back Matt Forte this season after he was fourth in the league with 316 carries last season, averaging 19.8 per game. It was not just the carries--Forte was on the field a lot. He averaged being on the sideline less than 10 plays per game, a pretty remarkable number for a rookie. More on the playing time statistics in a little bit.

Veteran Kevin Jones said more playing time was not the primary factor in his decision to turn down an offer from the Buffalo Bills and return, but it did come up in the conversation.

"We definitely want him to be more involved and we told him that,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "He's a good football player. Last year he came in and he was coming off that knee and he came into camp and he wasn't in the best of shape. His knee wasn't 100 percent. Now, he's a year removed from knee surgery, he's had a year in our system. He's looking great out here. He looks totally different. He's quicker. He looks more confident in himself and in our offense. He looks really good."

gaines2.jpg

There is not much debating the fact that the New York Jets are in greater need of a tight end than the Bears.

But free agent Michael Gaines left the Jets' facility on Wednesday without a contract offer and could be heading to Halas Hall later today. Gaines traveled back to Detroit after his visit with the Jets, who essentially have Dustin Keller and not much else for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to work with.

If the Jets are slow playing things with Gaines, it could be to the benefit of the Bears. Gaines figures to be a guy who could quickly challenge Kellen Davis, the fifth-round pick last season from Michigan State, for a roster spot. Although he was active for 16 games last season, Davis was on the field for just 40 offensive snaps. In replacing Israel Idonije in some key spots on special teams, Davis' contributions were marginal. He made three total special teams tackles.

What the Bears would be seeking in Gaines is a better blocker. He's 6-4, 277 pounds, and while he has decent hands and moves well for a big man, he's known as an in-line blocker. Essentially, Gaines is an extra guard if he's on the field. Certainly the Bears can get a thorough scouting report on him from defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who was with Gaines in Detroit.

It's a move the Bears should consider because they need to get better in short-yardage situations. Here is a look at how the Bears did last season and how the Lions performed in the same situations. Yes, we know Gaines wasn't the reason for the success or failure of each play, but it's an interesting comparison when you consider the Bears had a strong young back in Matt Forte and the Lions were one of the worst outfits ever assembled.

Third-and-one


Bears 17-for-25, 68.0 percent
Lions 13-for-19, 68.4 percent

Third-and-two

Bears 8-for-19, 42.1 percent
Lions 8-for-11, 72.7 percent

Fourth-and-one

Bears 6-for-10, 60 percent (all 10 attempts were rushing)
Lions 3-for-5, 60 percent (2-for-3 when attempts were rushing)


jaroster.jpg

We published a Q&A with general manager Jerry Angelo in today's edition of the Sun-Times and as the case often is with things like this, not quite all of it made it into the newspaper. The beauty of our space here is that it's unlimited.

Maybe the most interesting thing Angelo touched on, or at least something we found interesting, was how he viewed the construction of the roster.

There have been a couple sayings around this team for some time.

One is the Bears are a draft-driven organization.

The other is the Bears get off the bus running.

Is it possible both will fall by the wayside after the trade for Jay Cutler? With a player they believe can be a franchise quarterback, are the Bears going to continue to beat the silly line about getting off the bus running? This team was 24th in the league in rushing last season.

It doesn't sound like Angelo is going to be calling the Bears draft driven any longer, not after peddling his first-round pick this year and his first-round pick next year for Cutler. Truth is, the roster doesn't support his statement either. More on that in a little bit.

Angelo started talking about the construction of the roster after being asked if he has been too conservative.

"How do you define conservative?'' he said. "What do you have to do to not be conservative? What we have always done here, the art of this business, every team has decisions to make each and every year and there are always going to be some big decisions. That is very difficult to do and what you don't want to do is miss big. So we have a very pragmatic approach to making decisions. We don't do things knee jerk, we don't do things based on perception. We do things based on how it is going to impact us now and going forward. Nothing great probably looked good early. So being conservative in this business, in a of of ways, is a good thing. Because the one thing you don't want to do is make decisions based on emotion because when you do that, then you become desperate. There are a lot of casualties in this business from desperate thinking. If conservatism isn't going out there and doing some things where people say, `Wow, what was he thinking?' then yes we are conservative and I don't have any problem with that.

"I feel this, we built this team many different ways. We've done it through the draft, we've done it through the free agency system, we've done it through trades. When you look at our roster over my tenure here, we probably have done it every which way you can do it. We really have. There are some teams that really abide by the draft. There are some teams that really look at free agency. I think we have had a good mesh of both in how we've done this and in a sound way. In terms of free agency, we've had a pretty good track record in terms of our free-agent signings and that's not easy to do. There is probably as big of a bust ratio when you bring in free agents as the draft. I think we've done a pretty good job of meshing the two and we've always looked at every avenue, the Arena League, NFL Europe, I don't know any more we can do. Is that to say we've been great at everything? No, I'm not saying we've been great at everything but we've explored everything and I think we've been pretty good at most things. Whatever we feel like we have to do to win now and keep an eye on the future, I think we've done a pretty good job.

gaines.jpg


The Bears did not get a tight end in the draft but that does not mean they are not looking around for one.

According to Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bears are showing interest in veteran Michael Gaines. He could be making a visit to Halas Hall soon.

Gaines, a sixth-year pro from Central Florida, was released last week by the Detroit Lions after they spent a first-round draft pick on Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew. Detroit also selected Maryland's Dan Gronkowski.

golsen.jpg

On Tuesday, we took a close look at how the playing time was divided on the defensive line last season in order to get an idea where rookies Jarron Gilbert and Henry Melton might fit in this season.

Today, we're going to examine a personnel change made in 2008 on offense and how it could impact the roster and more this coming season. Specifically, how did the playing time shake out at tight end and fullback over the past two seasons?

As part of Four Down Territory last month, a reader asked if Greg Olsen could potentially supplant veteran Desmond Clark as the starter this season even though Clark is considered a more well-rounded player as a blocker. Clark started 16 games last season and Olsen made seven starts as the club leaned heavily on double tight end formations. More on that in a little bit.

"Who starts doesn't really matter,'' coach Lovie Smith said. "Both guys played last year. Last year, we considered Greg a starter. It's like you have a third receiver who is a starter. I feel like we had 13 starters on the offense. Defense, the nickel is like a starter. Greg is one of the guys.''

Smith is on the money. We've reviewed statistics from last season and although Clark started nine more games, their playing time was nearly identical. Let's look at how close it actually was:

cgraham.jpg


Let's get right to it.

Q: I am glad to learn that the Bears are considering Corey Graham to be the free safety this coming season because I have long felt Charles Tillman or Graham would be the best option on the roster. Why has it taken the team so long to reach this possible conclusion? Sometimes these things seem so obvious.

Phil S., Concord, N.H.

A: This isn't a revelation the coaching staff just arrived at, the possibility that Graham could fill a role at free safety. Steve Wilks, the defensive backs coach, said during training camp summer that the idea of trying Graham at safety and nickel back had been kicked around in meetings. Graham was actually introduced to safety during December 2007 when injuries were once again making a mess of the safety position. Well, injuries and the ill-conceived effort to revive Adam Archuleta's career. The Bears were short on bodies at the position at the end of the season. But how was the team going to get Graham up and running at safety last season? Remember, Tillman missed the bulk of training camp to be with his family as his daughter went through serious health issues. The Bears had to operate with what they had and that meant using Graham at left cornerback. He showed real strides from his rookie season. It was Trumaine McBride, who was drafted two rounds after Graham in 2007, who started as a rookie that season. But Graham moved ahead of him on the depth chart in training camp and made the kind of strides necessary for him to replace Nathan Vasher when injuries struck early in the season. We've given an awful lot of attention to the safety position--and for good reason--but issues at cornerback can be far more troubling. That's why the move of Graham to free safety will not be a possibility unless the team feels comfortable in Vasher or rookie D.J. Moore manning the job at right cornerback. There is going to be plenty of time to sort this out. OTA's begin two weeks from today on May 20, and this could easily carry into training camp and preseason but the hope would be the coaching staff would have an idea what the starting lineup will look like by then. It just seemed awkward going into the third preseason last summer when Brandon McGowan was benched and they started shifting parts around in the secondary.


tbrice.jpg


If the Bears are a possibility for Simeon Rice in his world, then he might want to connect with Jerry Angelo.

It doesn't look like the Chicago kid will be coming home, not to play for the Bears any way.

In his bi-weekly visit with the team's Web site, Angelo said the club will not be pursuing the one-time dominant pass rusher.

"At this point, I doubt we'd be pursuing Simeon as an alternative,'' Angelo said. "He was a great player and I really respect what he did for Tampa. I thought he was the missing link that put them over the top during their Super Bowl year.''

jaysox.jpg


If we had any photo doctoring skills at all, we'd get a picture of Jay Cutler in a Cubs jersey throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field and put him in a Sox jersey. But we don't possess those talents, so we'll just let you know this way that Cutler is scheduled to take the mound on the South Side.

The White Sox announced that the new Bears quarterback will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday night before their game with the Texas Rangers at U.S. Cellular Field.

*** Former Whitney Young star Russell Maryland is teaming together with Bears tight end Greg Olsen to support a scholarship fundraiser for their school--the University of Miami.

Maryland will be honored at a dinner May 28 at the Metropolitan Club at Sears Tower in the 11th annual Chicago Scholarship Classic. Olsen is scheduled to appear along with Miami head coach Randy Shannon, other members of his staff and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Ted Hendricks. The event will be emceed by Bryan Dolgin of WMVP AM-1000. He is a 1997 graduate of the school. A golf outing will follow May 29 at Oakbrook Country Club in Oak Brook at 1 p.m.

For more information and tickets visit www.chicago-canes.org.

Tyrell Fenroy's stay with the Bears lasted all of about a week.

The Bears released the running back Tuesday afternoon.

The undrafted free agent from Louisiana-Lafayette was one of nine players the team signed to a contract shortly after the draft. The Bears now have 69 players under contract and 78 on the roster. The nine draft picks do not count against the 80-man roster limit until they have signed. So, in theory the Bears could add 11 free agents at this point.

adeogun.jpg


When the Bears used two of their first three draft picks on defensive linemen, one of the first questions we had was where are they going to carve out some playing time?

As coaches like to say, that will sort itself out. That is the refrain that signals competition is on the way, the one thing that sorts out players and pecking order more than anything else.

Tackle Jarron Gilbert and end Henry Melton have been added to the mix and all of the linemen from 2008 are back this season.

"They're big, athletic guys,'' new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said of the draft picks. "They have speed, and they bend very well. In terms of just the size and movement they show, we're very happy with them."

Israel Idonije has been bounced outside to end again but none of the players have left. They're all in the mix for 2009 so it is going to be an interesting situation. The Bears carried 10 linemen on the roster at times last season. They opened with nine but expanded when they promoted end Ervin Baldwin from the practice squad in November to prevent losing him to Kansas City. They went back to nine after tackle Dusty Dvoracek landed on injured reserve in December for the third consecutive season.

So adding Gilbert, the third-round pick from San Jose State, and Melton, the fourth-round pick from Texas, to the roster the Bears now have 13 players for what should be nine or 10 slots. That includes postseason addition Joe Clermond, who was a camp body last summer and spent some time on the practice squad. Clermond and Baldwin, a seventh-round pick a year ago, face an uphill battle. The Bears look locked into keeping five ends--Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Idonije and Melton--and that means the remaining cuts will have to come from the interior. Matt Toeaina has had a role as a well-liked backup but simply hasn't been given any real opportunities.

But beyond the roster spots, let's take a close look at playing time by evaluating the number of snaps that were shared on the line last season:

srice.jpg


Simeon Rice has been on the comeback trail since the scouting combine and is still seeking a team to, well, make his comeback official.

Profootballtalk.com unearthed a radio interview Rice did last week with WQYK-1010 AM in Tampa where the former Illinois star mentioned the Bears as one the possibilities for his services.

"I'm going to play this year,'' said Rice, who has 122 career sacks. "I've got about two weeks. I have a chip that is so big on my shoulder it couldn't even get inside the building I left it by the car.

"I called my boy Raheem [Morris, the Bucs coach] up. This is the place I want to play. I've got the Bears, I've got other other teams that are talking to me, but I want to finish out with the team I love. I love Tampa Bay. I love being a Buccaneer. It's not a money situation. It aint the money. My motivation is going out there on top, going out there and claiming my crown back and saying, `OK, I reign supreme. That's my love jones.''

willt.jpg


Things have slowed down a little with the conclusion of rookie minicamp but the mail is still being delivered. We'll make it Five Down Territory for today after a long weekend. Let's get right to it.

Q: So I'm starting to come down from draft overload and I looked up a few things on this fullback Will Ta'ufo'ou the Bears signed. People seem to be pretty high on him. Does this kid have a shot to unseat Jason McKie?

James T., Charleston, Ill.

A: You might be aiming a little high to begin with. Let's focus on Ta'ufo'ou's chances to make the 53-man roster, first. He's an interesting guy who got a decent amount of publicity before the draft as the blocking back at Cal the last two seasons for Jahvid Best and Justin Forsett. Only two fullbacks ended up being drafted according to NFL.com and that left Ta'ufo'ou looking for an opportunity. A league source said he turned down more lucrative free-agent offers elsewhere because of the possible opportunity the Bears offered. The Bears remain happy with the veteran McKie, who started eight games last season but missed the final five with a bad quad pull. He's been banged up a little bit the past two seasons but there are not plans in the works to replace him as far as we know. Don't forget Jason Davis is on the roster also. He started three games while McKie was sidelined and played for offensive coordinator Ron Turner at Illinois, so he's familiar with the offense. To make the roster, Ta'ufo'ou is at least going to have to leap frog Davis. We say "at least'' because there is no guarantee the Bears will keep two fullbacks on the roster. They've gone with one at times, and they have done so recently because they lean heavily on double tight-end formations, which provide them with some able blockers. One thing Ta'ufo'ou has working against him is his size. He was listed at 5-11, 253 pounds in school, and after watching him in minicamp over the weekend, he might not be that big. Not according to this eye test, any way. So that is going to be an issue. Ta'ufo'ou was productive in college, he's considered a good leader and strong worker, so we'll see what happens. It's a position with a lot of injuries and anything can happen. At this point, we don't see McKie being beat out but there is a long way to go.


natevash.jpg


When Lovie Smith said Sunday that Corey Graham is a potential candidate to become the team's starting free safety, he made it clear the team feels good about its options at right cornerback because this much is sure--the Bears are not going to rob from the cornerback position to fill another need.

There is a reason why cornerbacks get drafted higher and are paid more than safeties--they're more important. Sure, the two in Tampa Two refers to the safeties but even in this scheme they are not more important than the cornerbacks. According to NFL.com, D.J. Moore was the 20th cornerback selected in the draft at No. 119 overall. That's one corner every six picks. In that same span seven safeties were chosen.

Moore, obviously, is one of the options for the team at right cornerback. But the fourth-round pick isn't at the top of the list. The leading candidate--if Graham moves to safety--is veteran Nathan Vasher. It's been assumed that Graham and Vasher will vie for the starting job at right cornerback but Smith said the Bears are intent on getting the four best defensive backs on the field. That could involve a position switch for Graham, who made nine starts last season, eight in place of Vasher and one for Charles Tillman.

"We have a lot of different options,'' Smith said. "[Tillman] is ruled out. But the rest of it, it will work itself out. We're trying to get as many athletes as we can and give ourselves as many options as possible. We're going to be fine.''

mbrown.jpg


While the Bears held their mandatory veteran minicamp just as soon as possible, most teams have just gotten into the swing of things.

Arizona, Carolina, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Washington all held mandatory full-team minicamps over the weekend.

Meanwhile, veteran safety Mike Brown remains without a team. It's not by choice at this point. Multiple league sources said Brown plans to continue his playing career and one source said he wants to prove that he's still able to perform at the top of his game. The problem he faces right now is the later it gets, and the more teams that go through minicamps and proceed into their offseason programs, the more difficult it is going to be to find work. Teams want to get players up to speed on their schemes and playbook in the spring so they can hit the field running in training camp.

Some thought Brown would land a job quickly after the draft after teams assessed what was on their roster and where they needed to fill holes with a secondary venture into the free-agent market. That has not happened. Whether or not teams have expressed interest in Brown, we don't know, but he could surely be had for the league minimum at this point. Few players signed in May are going to get much different.

Safety Al Afalava is the only draft pick that will miss significant time in OTA's, which begin May 20, because of the league's rule that rookies cannot participate in anything beyond one minicamp until after May 16 if they have a degree or their school has already held its commencement ceremonies.

The sixth-round pick is from Oregon State and graduation day is not until June 13. That means Afalava would be eligible to participate in the final week of OTA's. There are two in May--on the 20th and 21st--and then they resume June 1 with four per week for three weeks.

"I am going to ask them for some homework," Afalava said. "Whatever they give me, I am going to do my best. I love to study football and I catch on fast, but it's the NFL and hopefully I don't get too behind."

The Bears wrapped up rookie minicamp this afternoon and a team spokesman said there were no immediate plans to sign any of the 25 tryout players, not today any way.

Coach Lovie Smith said it was something that would be discussed but if the Bears have not acted yet it's pretty clear no one blew them away.

The numbers right now allow them to do about anything they want.

The club lists 79 players on its roster but only players under contract counts against the 80-man limit. That means you can subtract the nine draft picks to get to 70 players under contract. Therefore, the Bears could sign 10 additional players. However, once draft picks sign, they immediately count against the 80-man limit.

cpatt.jpg


The Bears will wrap up their three-day rookie minicamp this afternoon at Halas Hall after which the Bears might extend contract offers to a few of the 25 tryout players.

It might be tough for any of the three quarterbacks to get one. It's not so much Jay Cutler that is in their way but an inexperienced depth chart behind the new starter. Northwestern's C.J. Bacher, Missouri's Chase Patton and Florida State's Drew Weatherford have been splitting time. Blocking their way are Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez. Hanie, the undrafted free agent from last season, has yet to appear in an NFL game. Basanez threw 11 passes in 2006. The Bears might be hesitant to add a third inexperienced passer to their depth chart and they only carried three quarterbacks to training camp last summer. When they took a fourth quarterback--Florida's Chris Leak--to Bourbonnais, Ill., in 2007 he pretty much just stood around. There wasn't enough work to go around.

Patton is battling a lack of experience as well trying to become the next Matt Cassel--a career college backup who hits it big. At 6-5, 220 pounds, he has the kind of size the NFL is looking for and the strongest arm of the bunch. But he played behind Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel and threw only 31 passers over the last two seasons.

marcus.jpg


Marcus Freeman hasn't gotten to know Lance Briggs yet but they already have something in common besides both being listed at weak side linebacker.

Freeman is a guy who most thought would go much higher in the draft than he did, falling to fifth round and 154th overall where the Bears deemed him a "value pick'' as finding a backup for their perennial Pro Bowl performer wasn't a priority. Briggs used his draft snub--he went in the third round and felt he should have been a first-round pick--as motivation to prove to those who passed on him they were wrong all en route to the riches of a second NFL contract.

"My first interview was with the Bears at the Senior Bowl,'' Freeman said after practice Saturday afternoon. "The scout Jeff [Shiver] told me I reminded him of Briggs. That's just a huge compliment to me putting me in the same mold as an All-Pro like him.''

Had Freeman come out last year after his junior season, he might have been a second-round selection. Ankle injuries marred his senior season but the Bears focused on the player he was as a healthy underclassman.

"I enjoyed my time last season and I am enjoying my time in the NFL now,'' he said. "The money comes, the money goes. As long as you're happy, everything is good.''

It's difficult to tell much from rookie minicamp.

The Bears had nine draft picks running around with nine undrafted free agents and 25 tryout players. General manager Jerry Angelo said after the draft that it was realistic for six draft picks to make the 53-man roster but that all nine had the qualities and attributes that made them a real possibility.

If an undrafted free agent makes the roster, it probably won't be more than one. So of the 43 players hustling through drills for the first time as part of a professional football team, maybe seven will be there come September. Here are a few observations:

*** Wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias looks the part. He has good size and catches the ball well with his hands. But if skill position players don't stand out in 7-on-7 drills and drills vs. air, well, then you have a real problem on your hands.

*** Cornerback D.J. Moore broke on the ball well and was praised by coach Lovie Smith afterward.

The Bears are not the only team in the NFC North getting to work this weekend.

All four teams in the division will host a rookie minicamp. The Bears just happen to be the only one going to work without a first-round draft pick.

In Detroit, No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford will throw his first pass wearing the new Lions' helmet. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, also a first-round pick, will likely catch one of those passes.

In Minnesota, the Vikings will get their first look at dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin.

In Green Bay, the Packers will be able to slide tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, both first rounders, into their new 3-4 scheme.

Twitter updates

Categories

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2009 is the previous archive.

June 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.