Chicago Sun-Times

June 2009 Archives

Mike Brown has found a new home.

The veteran safety has agreed to terms on a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, according to the Kansas City Star.

Brown made a free-agent visit to the Chiefs at the beginning of the month when it looked like a deal would fall into place quickly before the team's minicamp. That didn't happen and he wound up making a trip to see Cleveland also.

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If anyone is ready for a break from the grind of a long offseason you would figure it might be coach Lovie Smith.

The Bears went headlong into revamping their defense in early January. Smith officially announced he was taking over the unit and put the assistants through boot camp on the dry erase board in the basement at Halas Hall. It was just the beginning of an exciting but long 5 1/2 months.

Yet there Smith stood Wednesday afternoon following the final OTA practice as energetic as ever. He didn't look ready for training camp. He looked ready for the start of the regular season. So, coach, looking forward to some time away now?

"You never get that far away from it,'' Smith said. "I am having a blast being involved a little bit more like that. I have time throughout, there are certain periods when I am looking at the offense, seeing it, getting a chance to go and watch all of the individual things. That part of it, I am excited.

"But that's not going to be why we're gonna come back. We're going to come back because of what our assistant coaches, defensively, what they've done. Jon Hoke, Rod [Marinelli], Bob [Babich], Gill Byrd, what they have been doing with their individual groups."

*** We wouldn't read too much into Corey Graham playing nickel the past two weeks, not with a tight hamstring sidelining Danieal Manning. But Graham did play nickel for two games last season and it is another option for him to get on the field. If Craig Steltz continues to run with the first team at free safety and Nathan Vasher reclaims his job at right cornerback, that will eliminate two options for Graham.

We have gotten a look at how the Bears constructed the contracts for third-round picks Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias and interestingly the deals are put together in similar fashion to how teams usually write contracts for second-round picks.

Both Gilbert and Iglesias, who signed their four-year contracts last week, received signing bonuses and not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBE) that are guaranteed against the last year of the deal, 2012. What happened was the Bears were under allocated when it came to the rookie pool. When the league last raised the minimum salaries it did not adjust the rookie pool accordingly, making it difficult (impossible in some cases) to squeeze in all the picks while giving the annual bump in pay.

The Bears' rookie pool, essentially a salary cap within the salary cap, was $3,497,111. After signing seven of their nine draft picks there simply wasn't enough rookie pool left for Gilbert and Iglesias to both get proper signing bonuses. So instead of putting the squeeze on one player, the Bears found a way to make it as fair as possible. The NLTBE, in this instance, is earned by playing time and the higher the draft pick, the better chance he has of being on the field to trigger the one-time payment. In theory, any way.

Here is how it broke down:

Jarron Gilbert, $740,000 signing bonus, $146,500 NLTBE, total bonus money $886,500

Juaquin Iglesias, $500,000 signing bonus, $119,900 NLTBE, total bonus money $619,900

Both players have escalators in the final year of the deal and with the base salaries Gilbert's contract is worth $2,636,500 and Iglesias' totals $2,369,900.

Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz spent Wednesday running with the first team at safety. That could be one of the more compelling positions to watch come training camp, but coach Lovie Smith said the voluntary offseason program has helped answer some questions. Steltz, no question, has been one of the bigger climbers this offseason. The belief is his instincts and smarts will help make up for a lack of range at free safety.

"It's clearer,'' Smith said, of the position. "There are lot of positions that will go down to training camp. We're excited about where we right now, but we have to get there and then we'll really know. The next part of the evaluation process is to see the guys in pads, then in the preseason games.

"I like our preseason schedule, the teams that we have to play to get ready. A team like Buffalo that can run and pass, a similar offense. The next week a physical team like the Giants coming in. The third game of course is normally the game that everyone looks at, and to go on the road playing of course in a prime-time game, all of that is getting us ready for of course the Packers.''

*** Corey Graham was not in the mix at safety. He's been playing nickel cornerback since Danieal Manning was "nicked'' last week. Graham has gotten work at nickel, safety and cornerback this offseason. Graham played nickel for two games last season.

"You're just trying to find a way to play no matter where it is--safety, corner or nickel,'' Graham said. "It doesn't really matter to me. I just want to get out on the field and try to help out.''

*** Staying in the secondary, Charles Tillman was out as he continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery. Zack Bowman got work at left corner with the starters, and Smith singled him out for his work the past few months. Proving he can stay healthy moving forward will be the key.

The player who stood out Wednesday was Trumaine McBride, who was with the second team at right corner. McBride picked off a pass that went off the hands of Devin Hester and then broke up passes to Michael Gaines and Adrian Peterson on the next two snaps. Three snaps and three plays on the ball.

*** Caleb Hanie has clearly taken control of whatever competition there is to be the backup quarterback. He's edged ahead of Brett Basanez. Hanie throws a good deep ball and that was evident on his pass to Juaquin Iglesias on the final play of the workout.

Jay Cutler is ready to roll with the wide receivers he has on the roster right now.

Really, what else could the Bears' new quarterback say Wednesday afternoon when the team completed its offseason program. Players will show up Thursday, but the final day is usually reserved for a bowling outing. There will not be any more work on the field.

"I'm 100 percent comfortable [with the wide receivers],'' Cutler said. "I think we added some depth with some younger guys and then some of the older veterans are stepping up and playing well. So I think we've got more than enough to compete.''

It's easy to link Cutler with his former teammate Brandon Marshall, who has made it public he would like to be traded out of Denver. The Bears would seem more likely to pursue a guy like Plaxico Burress. With the Broncos already holding the Bears' first-round pick in 2010, the Bears don't have a lot of ammunition to trade. Then, they would have to hand Marshall the contract he's seeking that has him upset in the first place. Marshall has had more off-field trouble than Burress, who faces gun charges in New York.

"I haven't talked to Brandon Marshall,'' Cutler said. "He's a great player, Brandon is, and I played with him for three years, put up a lot big numbers with him, and wherever he ends up, obviously he's going to be successful. Whether or not it's here, that's up to the guys upstairs, but as of right now, I'm 100 percent happy with what we've got."

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Lovie Smith said the Bears have not ruled out pursuing free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress, but he believes the team can win with what it has right now.

The team ended its 10-week offseason program on Wednesday afternoon at Halas Hall. The session concluded with the two-minute drill for the second team. Caleb Hanie hit third-round pick Juaquin Iglesias for a deep touchdown pass. Perhaps Smith and management feel good enough about the inexperienced crew of wide receivers on the roster to go forward without making a play for Burress, who his handlers say will not face a trial on gun charges in New York until after the season.

"Plaxico Burress is a good football player,'' Smith said. "Of course, we all know that. We keep all of our options open. We're constantly evaluating all players that are out there. I feel good about our team that we have right now. I feel good about the receivers we have right now.

"The door is never closed on anyone that is available. We've said that every time any player that has been available has been out there. We're saying the same thing right now. It's not like we're aggressively going after him. We evaluate everyone that we think can make our team better. We think we're a strong football team without adding anyone. We would like to improve on every position but right now we feel like we can win with this group.''

Smith said the Bears have had no discussions about Brandon Marshall, who announced earlier this week that he would like to be traded out of Denver like former teammate Jay Cutler was.

Burress faces up to 3 1/2 years in prison for carrying an unlicensed handgun into a Manhattan night club last November. He accidentally shot a hole in his leg. The Bears are one of three teams known to have contacted agent Drew Rosenhaus about the player. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the others. Rosenhaus said earlier this week that a fourth team has reached out to him.

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With Kyle Orton's perceived top target looking more like he wants to play elsewhere, the Denver Broncos brought in a guy who looked like he was on his way to being Orton's top target last season.

Denver reeled in Brandon Lloyd, signing him to a contract Monday afternoon. He's no replacement for Pro Bowl performer Brandon Marshall, but he gives the Broncos someone Orton is familiar with heading toward training camp. Lloyd jumped out last summer in the preseason game at Seattle when Orton went to him repeatedly in the two-minute offense. They continued to work well together through the first four games of the regular season when Lloyd was easily the club's leading receiver. But a minor knee injury in Week 4 put him on the shelf and whatever chemistry they had together fizzled before Lloyd returned six weeks later. It came as a surprise to no one when Lloyd exited at the end of the season after his one-year deal expired.

What also didn't come as a surprise was the report out of Denver earlier today that Marshall told Broncos owner Pat Bowlen "I think I'd like to be traded."

Sound familiar? Star player wants out of the Mile High City? Unlike Jay Cutler, Marshall's beef is over money. He boycotted the team's mandatory minicamp over the weekend, and has been a no-show for voluntary OTA's. It's not that Marshall would have been on the field. He is still recovering from April 1 surgery to his hip.

When there is news of a disgruntled star wide receiver, the idea that he could come to the Bears isn't far behind. It will be that way from now until the Bears land a No. 1 wide receiver. In fact, the idea of Marshall has been floating around since, oh, about a half-hour after the Bears dealt for Cutler on April 2. If you think Cutler has a rapport with Earl Bennett, that's nothing compared to how he worked with Marshall. The Broncos would be hard-pressed to justify dealing Marshall, but no one thought they were actually going to cut ties with Cutler. You don't have to read between the lines with coach Josh McDaniels. He wants Marshall.

"All we can say about this is we're going to do everything we can to reconcile the situation so that Brandon returns to the field," McDaniels said. "Until then, we're going to concentrate on the players that are here."

Marshall is set to enter his fourth year in the league and the final year of his contract. That doesn't mean he's destined to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. First, if there is no CBA extension, Marshall will be a restricted free agent in 2010. Second, the Broncos would be foolish not to place the franchise tag on him if he is headed toward the open market. Julius Peppers wanted out of Carolina. That doesn't mean the Panthers wanted to see him go. They tagged him. Denver isn't going to let Marshall walk away for nothing.

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Drew Rosenhaus has dedicated six Twitter posts already today to Plaxico Burress. The PR machine is in overdrive. He's trying to hammer home the point that Burress will be available for the entire 2009 football season after he appeared briefly in New York court this morning and had his case adjourned until Sept. 23.

Burress' lawyer Benjamin Brafman said outside court that a trial for his client likely wouldn't take place until 2010 and that several teams were trying to sign Burress.

"We are also confident that the NFL will not have grounds to discipline Plex until after the adjudication of his case after this season,'' Rosenhaus wrote.

That's the other wild card in the matter. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could choose to suspend Burress at any time for violation of the league's personal conduct policy. In the past, suspensions for first-time offenders like Burress have come after the court system has laid down its ruling. But the league reserves the right to do whatever it chooses, and that uncertainty might make teams think twice about Burress right now.

One league insider suggested Burress had the opportunity to wrap up the entire process already, and choosing to delay it has made him less attractive. The point was he's going to show up with baggage as it is. If there is a court case and potential jail time hanging over his head, he's going to show up with twice as much baggage. Here's one report that interest by the New York Jets in Burress has cooled.

Still, you cannot discount Burress' ability and the Bears' need for help. General manager Jerry Angelo said he would have drafted a wide receiver in the first round had he not traded for quarterback Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to deal his second-round pick to Arizona for Anquan Boldin. Angelo has identified the need and nothing that has taken place in OTA's for three weeks has changed that need.

Burress would give the Bears a wide receiver who can operate outside the numbers and provide a proven big-play threat for Cutler. The Bears drafted Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox and Derek Kinder. At best, two of them will be complementary targets. Cutler has quickly developed a rapport with tight end Greg Olsen and he may become a go-top target. A productive tight end can't be substituted for a No. 1 wide receiver.

If the varied opinions on the Bears' acquisition of Jay Cutler has bothered the quarterback, he certainly didn't show it Saturday when he made his first Chicago appearance for his foundation working with kids with diabetes.

"I think every quarterback in the NFL has a lot of pressure,'' Cutler said. ''Anywhere you go you're going to have pressure. Obviously, Chicago has great fans and great tradition. They expect a lot. And, I expect a lot out of myself. It's going to be a fun year.''

Tony Dungy, Mike Ditka and Rodney Harrison have all questioned Cutler to some degree in recent weeks, and the quarterback had not visited with media since last month.

''I'm fine with everything they said,'' Cutler said. ''I haven't played a game here. I'm yet to step on the field and throw a pass. There is a lot of stuff out there and there is a lot of questions. They are all good questions. I think once the season gets going we'll have some answers to some of those. But I'm enjoying it here. I'm having a great time. I'm having a great time with the Chicago Bears. I'm looking forward to the season.''

Cutler went from La Rabida Children's Hospital on the South Side to Soldier Field, but not for football. He and tight end Greg Olsen took in the Kenny Chesney concert. Cutler has one more week of practice at Halas Hall. The Bears will wrap up their offseason program on Thursday. Cutler is expected to collect a $100,000 roster bonus for attending at least 90 percent of the voluntary workout program.

Officials at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., are fully aware the Bears have had discussions with Lewis University about relocating training camp.

"If there was a much better opportunity all the way around for the Chicago Bears, we would trust they would be looking out for the best interest of their team and investigating,'' ONU spokesman Gary Griffin said. "We didn't feel that was a slap in the face to Olivet at all.

"My counterpart Brian McCaskey gave us a professional courtesy, gave us a heads up as to the meeting so we were aware of it. We view that as the Bears doing due diligence in taking care of their franchise.''

The Sun-Times reported earlier today that the Bears have a meeting with Lewis University next week. Griffin suggested a meeting between team officials and the school in Romeoville has already taken place. Lewis and the Village of Romeoville first reached out to the Bears. Team spokesman Scott Hagel called the talks "informal and they will remain that way.''

The Bears and ONU are entering the final year of a two-year contract this summer. There is an option year for 2010. Training camp is scheduled to begin July 31. Laws prohibit ONU from doing more than two-year contracts with the football team because the school uses community bonds to help finance some property, Griffin said. When the Bears spent their summers in Platteville, Wis., they signed three-year contracts with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

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Rex Grossman is on the verge of signing a contract and it isn't to play in the United Football League.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus announced on his Twitter account that Grossman will visit the Houston Texans tonight. Provided he passes a physical--there's no reason to believe he will not--Grossman is expected to sign a one-year contract on Friday.

It's been a long process for the Bears' former first-round draft pick. He watched as less experienced quarterbacks were scooped up on the free-agent market, including Dan Orlovsky, who went from Detroit to Houston earlier this offseason. Grossman and Orlovsky will be behind starter Matt Schaub along with Alex Brink.

Now that the Bears have gotten negotiations done with all of their draft picks they can get to business of a different sort--considering a new training camp home.

Our colleague Mike Mulligan details here how the Bears are considering ending their stay at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., in the near future.

Specifically, team officials will meet with representatives from Lewis University in Romeoville next week.

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We have received questions throughout the offseason about the status of right guard Roberto Garza. The latest comes from Alan T. in Chicago:

"If Josh Beekman and Frank Omiyale are in competition for the left guard job, what's going on at right guard? Is anyone pushing Roberto Garza for his job?''

Maybe we can shed some light on this issue. Besides Omiyale's brief appearance at right tackle in March when the coaching staff didn't have enough offensive linemen to run a full minicamp (talk about a scheduling snafu), he's been used strictly at left guard from everything we've seen.

Recently, Beekman and Omiyale have started splitting time at left guard although no decision is imminent on that position. Most expect Omiyale to win that spot, and his contract would certainly indicate the Bears believe he will be in the lineup. Omiyale is getting more than half of the $11.5 million base value in his four-year contract this season.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said in March that Dan Buenning, acquired via trade from Tampa Bay at the start of last season, could compete with Garza at right guard. We have not seen Buenning with the first team in drills to this point. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but we haven't seen it. Turner emphasized the coaching staff was happy with Garza's performance.

It's difficult to judge individual offensive line play with statistics, but here are some interesting numbers we've looked at courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau. They seem to support Garza.

By the time training camp comes around the Bears will have a real good idea what their emergency punter list looks like for this season.

The team brought in two punters for a workout on Tuesday during the OTA at Halas Hall.

The Bears got a look at veteran Derrick Frost, who played in 12 games last season with Green Bay, and Richmond McGee, who spent last summer on Philadelphia's roster. Previously, Frost played three seasons in Washington and one year in Cleveland. Although he was primarily a punter at Texas, McGee handled some kicking duties as well and was a member of the Longhorns' national championship team. His versatility could be a plus in camp.

"A few teams have been calling about Derrick,'' his agent Bob Lattinville said. "I think since he's a known commodity he's a guy that will get picked up now.''

Frost had his best season in 2006 for the Redskins when he averaged 42.9 yards per punt and had a net of 38.9. McGee worked out earlier this offseason for the Buffalo Bills.

We took a look at the breakdown of playing time on special teams on Monday, and today we're going to tackle how the playing time was divided in the secondary last season. Obviously, the big piece the Bears are trying to replace is veteran safety Mike Brown, who is expected to visit the Cleveland Browns after a free-agent trip to Kansas City last week.

Corey Graham has been shifted from cornerback to safety, and Craig Steltz and Josh Bullocks are also in the mix. Graham ranked fourth in playing time in the secondary last season, so he has ample experience on the field for a player entering his third season.

Here is the breakdown:

TOTAL DEFENSIVE PLAYS: 1,111

SS/FS Kevin Payne 1,101 of 1,111, 99.1 percent, 16/16 starts/games
CB Charles Tillman 948 of 1,111, 85.3 percent, 15/15 starts/games
FS/SS Mike Brown 924 of 1,111, 83.2 percent, 15/15 starts/games
CB Corey Graham 714 of 1,111, 64.3 percent, 9/16 starts/games
CB Nathan Vasher 438 of 1,111, 39.4 percent, 7/8 starts/games
CB/S Danieal Manning 370 of 1,111 33.3 percent, 1/14 starts/games
S Craig Steltz, 141 of 1,111, 12.7 percent, 0/11 starts/games
CB Trumaine McBride, 93 of 1,111, 8.4 percent, 1/16 starts/games
CB Marcus Hamilton, 46 of 1,111, 4.1 percent, 0/8 starts/games
CB Zack Bowman, 20 of 1,111, 1.8 percent, 0/1 starts/games

The possibility exists the Bears will see Mike Brown not once this season but twice.

That does not mean Brown is headed to an NFC North rival. Bill Williamson at ESPN.com reports that the ex-Bear is making a free-agent visit to Cleveland a week after he made his first known trip to Kansas City. The Bears host Cleveland in the preseason finale and again in the regular season.

Brown, 31, plans to continue his career this season and interest is just now growing for him. The Chiefs took a look at him and the timing looked right for a signing there as they had their mandatory veteran minicamp over the weekend, but he went unsigned. Brown could join ex-Bear John St. Clair with the Browns and new coach Eric Mangini.

Throughout his career with the Bears, Brown was known as the unquestioned leader of the defense. It was after the 2005 loss at Cleveland that Brown assessed the team's 1-3 start and said "we suck." The team then embarked on an eight-game winning streat.

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It's wide receiver fever today. Catch it! Let's get right to the mailbag.

Q: Huge Bears fan from New Zealand. Probably the only one in New Zealand so your columns are much appreciated. My question is of course about the wide receiver position. I think the Bears will do fine with what they have but why not improve? What about Matt Jones? The Bears don't have great height at the position and it is known that the coaches love speed. Matt Jones is a monster and ran a 4.37 at his combine in 2005 (even though he might not play as quick in pads). Getting named the beast at the combine shows he has talent. No problem with his hands and he had 65 receptions last year while missing four games. He has experience and is a No. 1 receiver. He would give Devin Hester and the other young receivers time to develop. Also he is 26 and has to be the best option apart from Anquan Boldin. However, I know the Bears probably say they equally value a clean record which is maybe why they haven't touched him. But he has been cleared of any game suspensions and only a fine by the NFL. Will this lead to more interest? I think improving is more important than getting someone with some bad history. A 26-year-old, 6-6 receiver with experience. Why not?

Michael S., New Zealand

A: While Jones has recently been in Arkansas working through a court-mandated program, he's spent much of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Florida. Jones is said to be in terrific shape and the hope is that he will have multiple offers to choose between. Obviously, the Bears would be a team he'd probably be interested in joining when you consider the depth chart, Jay Cutler and, well, the depth chart. But the later it gets, the less chance there is the Bears get involved with Jones, who learned recently that the NFL will not be imposing any more sanctions against him. You make a good point that he might not play as fast as he timed several years ago. While he was very productive last season in Jacksonville, which has a run-oriented attack, Jones was a possession receiver. We pointed out the work done recently by our friend Eric Edholm over at Pro Football Weekly. He noted that of Jones' 166 career receptions, three have gone for more than 39 yards. However, few consider Jones to be a true No. 1 receiver. While we think Jones would provide an upgrade instantly for the Bears, the Bears believe rookie Juaquin Iglesias can be a productive possession receiver. Perhaps that is a role they have in mind for Earl Bennett as well. If they go outside for a receiver at this point, chances are greater it will be Burress. Unlike Jones, Burress has a whole tangle of issues to sort through, including court issues and then a likely suspension imposed by the league. Stay tuned.


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Of the top 12 participants on special teams last season, it's probably fair to say only four are guaranteed to have roster spots in 2009. That's life on the bottom-third of the roster, where annual turnover mixes things up. The good news for special teams coordinator Dave Toub is that only one of the 12 players is guaranteed to be gone--linebacker Darrell McClover, whose contract expired. He remains a free agent. The better news for Toub is that he might get more out of defensive lineman Israel Idonije and linebacker Nick Roach.

Idonije saw his playing time on special teams drop from 63 percent in 2007 to 50 percent last season after bulking up. He's dropping to between 265 pounds and 270 pounds and will probably be called on more by Toub. Roach was eighth in special teams snaps with 224 but if Pisa Tinoisamoa wins the starting job on the strong side as expected, Roach would be freed up for more use by Toub. Perhaps he could be molded into another Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former captain and three-time Pro Bowl special teams player.

Linebacker Jamar Williams easily led the team in special teams participation but he's drawn some attention the last few weeks for his work on the field in the offseason program. That work will go a long way toward securing a roster spot for Williams, but that's no guarantee given the logjam the club has at the position now.

The Bears' special teams unit was eighth last season in the composite ranking system used by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. That came on the heels of consecutive first-place finishes. It was the team's fourth top-10 finish under Toub, who joined the staff in Lovie Smith's first season in 2004. Much of the reason given for the drop last year was the turnover and loss of Ayanbadejo. Losing special teams players is something that happens every year in every city. It's far too early to tell how the 53-man roster is going to shake out, but Toub figures to be in pretty good shape. The Bears consistently draft linebackers and defensive backs to stock special teams, and having an established system in place breeds familiarity if not success.

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Need proof the NFL is a year-round business? We've got plenty of football news moving toward mid-June with training camp less than eight weeks away. We're going to get to a Four Down Territory Q&A on Monday, so if you have any last-minute questions to submit, get them in. Let's cover seven issues here in a hurry-up offense:

1. General manager Jerry Angelo addressed the health of former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris last week on the team's Web site. Harris has done occasional on-field work in the voluntary offseason workout program. When media was allowed at Halas Hall last Wednesday, Harris participated in positional drills.

"There's no major concern with him,'' Angelo said. "He's going to be up and going at some point here in the OTA's. We feel good about where he's at medically. There's nothing to be alarmed about. This is the offseason. We want to make sure that we take care of our players to the best of our ability and we're always going to err on the side of caution in the offseason. He's got an issue with his knee; we know that. He has to be smart about it, which he is. We've got to be smart about it, which we are. Is his knee pristine? No. it's not. But it's not something that he can't perform well with. We've been real smart about how to bring Tommie along in terms of his training program. He's not the only player. There are customized programs for most of our players because we don't want the wear and tear to happen during the offseason. We just want to be smart about how we bring our players along. We don't want to waste any mileage that players have in the offseason. The wear and tear comes during the season, not the offseason. The offseason is dedicated to conditioning, strengthening and training our players within our offensive and defensive schemes."

OUR SPIN: Look for Harris' work in training camp to be monitored closely and he could see limited action in preseason too. In the past, coach Lovie Smith has kept him off artificial surfaces in preseason and the Bears open the preseason at Buffalo, which uses an AstroPlay field at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bears are counting on big things from Harris after paying him a $6.67 million roster bonus and they're going to preserve him for when it matters most. The next big payoff in Harris' deal is a $2.5 million roster bonus due June 1, 2010. The club would like his balky left knee to be no worse for the wear then. We wrote it here a while back, don't look for players with questionable injury concerns to land rich deals from the Bears again, not after Angelo's comments about closely scrutinizing medical records when it comes to draft picks.


2. ESPN's Sal Paolontonio
reports that the lawyer for wide receiver Plaxico Burress is maneuvering behind the scenes in efforts to reach a plea deal before Burress' next court appearance in New York on June 15.

"Three teams are believed to be serious enough about considering Burress for the 2009 season that they have contacted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to inquire about his legal status: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets."

OUR SPIN: The Jets and Bucs both had interest in landing quarterback Jay Cutler. Could the Bears beat them to the quarterback and the wide receiver? Obviously, Burress' legal situation needs to be ironed out before anyone is going to offer him a contract, but that process could happen sooner rather than later. He's still likely to face a suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell. How many games Burress would get is anyone's guess. Ex-Bear Tank Johnson received an eight-game suspension following the 2006 season after the raid on his Gurnee home. There was a provision in that suspension that allowed Johnson to be re-instated after six games. Remember, though, Johnson had a previous weapons arrest during his Bears' career. He was busted outside a downtown nightclub for having a weapon in his vehicle.


The Bears passed up the rest of the league last Friday when they reached terms with seven of their nine draft picks. Contract negotiator Cliff Stein let it be known that his goal was to have all of the players under contract by mid-June and the Bears have about 10 days to make that happen.

Stein was the subject of a recent piece on ESPN.com by Len Pasquarelli right here. It outlined part of the philosophy in what the Bears do in keeping their rookie contracts uniform. Starting in 2003 with safety Todd Johnson, the Bears began signing all draft picks from the third round on down to four-year deals. At the time, they were permitted to sign second-round picks to five-year deals. Now, it's four-year deals for second-round picks on down. It's a good read and covers some of the ground we've hit on here.

After agent Frank Bauer's visit to Halas Hall earlier this week, defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, the club's first third-round pick, is believed to be close to a deal. Bauer represents Gilbert as well as the power brokers on the coaching staff--Lovie Smith, Ron Turner, Bob Babich and Rod Marinelli. The Bears also have to sign wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, the second pick from the third round.

All nine draft picks will receive four-year contracts with the following base salaries:

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

That makes for a base value of $1.75 million.

Pisa Tinoisamoa made it pretty clear when he talked about joining the Bears after practice on Wednesday at Halas Hall--he wanted to get to a winning organization after the St. Louis Rams cut him loose a month ago. The Rams won just five games over the last two seasons combined, and along with his familiarity with the coaching staff of the Bears, he saw it as an opportunity to join a team with realistic playoff aspirations.

"Just the chance to be on a winning team is worth it to me,'' Tinoisamoa said. "I've been fortunate to get paid in this league and that was good, but I still had to go home a loser. I'd give all the money back if I could win again.

"The opportunity to win again. I miss that so much. I want to get back to that. I feel like I've been putting in so much work for so long, I feel like I deserve a good chance to win and a good chance at the championship."

A week after the Bears completed a whirlwind of contracts at Halas Hall, we've been able to take a look at some of the numbers.

Here is the contract for defensive lineman Israel Idonije, who was going to be a free agent after this season. Idonije's base salary going into 2009 was already going to be $1.75 million. A look at the numbers:

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The Bears are adamant their corps of wide receivers is going to turn out to be far more productive than anyone expects even if they don't venture out into free agency and make a move for someone with proven credentials like Plaxico Burress.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner quickly turned the conversation to what his team does have, not what it doesn't have when asked about the prospect of pursuing Burress.

"I don't even want to get into that,'' Turner said. "I'm excited about the guys we have right now. I think our group of receivers can be a lot better than what people think. I'm excited about where we are going offensively. We just need to come out and try to get better every day."

The reservation being held for this group is that there is so little experience that it's impossible to count on anything. Just ask general manager Jerry Angelo how rookie wide receivers pan out in their first season. Four of the Bears' 10 wide receivers are rookies, and three of them are draft picks. Seven of the wideouts have never started. Here is a look at the roster, career starts and career receptions:

Rashied Davis 15 career starts, 74 receptions
Devin Hester 8 career starts, 71 receptions
Devin Aromashodu 1 career start, 7 receptions
John Broussard 0 career starts, 4 receptions
Earl Bennett 0 career starts, 0 receptions
Brandon Rideau 0 career starts, 0 receptions
Juaquin Iglesias, rookie
Johnny Knox, rookie
Derek Kinder, rookie
Eric Peterman, rookie

With just 24 career starts at the position, it looks like the Bears are in need of help, at least from the outside looking in. On the inside, Brandon Rideau is doing everything he can to prove he's a big target who can be a productive player in his third season with the organization. Rideau, who spent much of the last two seasons on the practice squad, stands out at 6-3, 198 pounds. He's the biggest target at the position.

He was upset to not make the 53-man roster at the end of the summer last season. After all, Rideau felt he had shown everything he needed to, leading the NFL in touchdowns in preseason with three. Of course, nearly all of his production came in the final minutes against third-stringers who weren't long for their teams' rosters.

"He couldn't control [when he was playing],'' Turner said. "But he's taking care of what he controls and that's his opportunities. He's getting opportunities and so far he's making the most of them."

Rideau was promoted to the active roster in the second half of the season and dressed for two games but saw little action. Quietly, he is getting time with the first team during the voluntary offseason program. The more work he gets with the starters, the better his chances are of seeing time there in training camp. The Bears will keep five wide receivers, six if someone states a strong case to make the final roster. With Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Rashied Davis and rookie draft picks Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox, they have five likely candidates. Right now, two months from camp, Rideau figures to be the guy who will have to force Angelo to consider keeping a sixth.

The Bears have lost players to injuries during the voluntary offseason workout program the past few years, but there is no concern Matt Forte's hamstring strain is serious.

With only a few minutes remaining in Wednesday's OTA session at Halas Hall, Forte left the field with a slight limp. He did not participate in Thursday's session, and he could be held out the next two weeks but it will only be as a precautionary measure. Multiple sources said Forte is fine and one added, ``I saw him today and if there was a limp it was just a slight hitch. He's fine.''

The Bears gave Forte an MRI, but again that was a precautionary measure. If any player gets hurt, he gets every appropriate test. The Bears have eight OTA sessions remaining over the next two weeks and if a player has any health concern, he's held out. The Bears been taking it easy with defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison, who both have knee issues. Forte's durability has been proven over the last two seasons. Forte made 677 carries in his senior season at Tulane and last year as a rookie.

Anticipation is growing for fans to get their first look at Jay Cutler on the training camp practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University next month.

The quarterback will not be the only newcomer on display. Left tackle Orlando Pace looks to be in terrific shape. Frank Omiyale has gotten first-team reps at left guard. New linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa plans to be flying around making plays. And the Bears could have some new threads, too.

Team spokesman Scott Hagel said the Bears are exploring the possibility of adding a sponsorship patch to practice jerseys, a move first made by the Tennessee Titans at least a year ago. The NFL tackled the issue at the owners meetings in March and the league granted approval for teams to use patches measuring 3.5 inches by 4.5 inches on practice jerseys only. The Bears will likely approach companies they already partner with to explore the issue before then considering outside opportunities.

Hagel also said there is a possibility the team would look into a partnership with the Illinois Lottery. Last month, the NFL allowed its teams to make deals with state lotteries where in essence a team's logo would be put on scratch-off tickets. The New England Patriots and Washington Redskins have already signed up in Massachusetts and Virginia. It's a fine line for the league because it remains staunchly opposed to gambling on the outcome of NFL games.


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One safety with Chicago ties is expected to announce his retirement today.

Another will look for a new place to continue his career.

Rodney Harrison, the Markham native and former star at Marian Catholic, is expected to reveal on a conference call that he will move from the secondary to the broadcast end of the business. Meanwhile, ex-Bear Mike Brown will make a free-agent visit to the Kansas City Chiefs today, a league source told the Sun-Times.

One of the most popular players in post-Super Bowl XX franchise history, the Bears bid goodbye to Brown after this past season when his contract expired. Five years younger than Harrison at 31, Brown is looking to catch on with the Chiefs, who have been re-tooling their defense but lack depth in the secondary. A contract offer is possible and the timing would be ideal as Kansas City's mandatory minicamp is this weekend. Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard are the projected starters but Brown could push them for a job immediately.

Whether he was in San Diego or New England, Harrison was considered a leader, and no one questioned Brown's unquestioned status as the leader and pulse of the Bears' defense for most of the past decade. The only time Brown didn't lead was when he was sidelined by injury, something that happened more than anyone cared for over the last five seasons. Brown missed 44 regular-season games from 2004 to 2008, but was so indispensible when he was on the field that the Bears kept going back to him. A calf muscle injury cut last season short for him by one game.

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The Bears have been able to find a quarterback, left tackle, left guard and strong-side linebacker with more ease than their search for a camp leg.

That hunt will continue today at Halas Hall as three punters will be in for a workout during the OTA. One of them is a familiar face--Zac Atterberry. He was the camp leg the Bears used last summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and he performed well during the preseason. If familiarity is worth anything, perhaps he will have an edge over Louie Sakoda and Sean Douglas.

Atterberry averaged 41.5 yards on 10 punts during preseason and his net average of 39.5 ranked 11th in the league. The Bears trusted him enough that they brought him back on the practice squad in the week leading up to the Oct. 12 game at Atlanta because there was concern Brad Maynard would be out with an injury. Maynard turned out to be fine and Atterberry went on his way. Since, Atterberry has spent time on Washington's roster and he had a workout with Indianapolis last month.

Beating out the 13-year Maynard isn't the easiest way to make an NFL roster.

"Where I am at right now, I just need Zac in a camp,'' agent Rob Sheets said. ``Whether it's in Chicago, Indy, Washington or Tuscaloosa, I need him in an NFL camp and let the cards fall where they may. Zac's good enough to play in this league.''

Pisa Tinoisamoa's reintroduction to Lovie Smith's defense began today at Halas Hall.

Tinoisamoa arrived to put his name to the one-year contract he agreed to on Friday, and he will participate in the OTA which begins a little later this morning.

He's in time to be involved in the bulk of the OTA's, which is the culmination of the voluntary offseason program. Three weeks should be enough time for Tinoisamoa to get the calls down and fit into a scheme very similar to the one he played in as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2003.

Fact or fiction? Jay Cutler had no running game last season in Denver.

Reading through comments left here over the last few days, it looks like the widely held opinion is that the Broncos were running in the slow lane in 2008, you know, when Cutler wasn't chucking it.

"Cutler had arguably the least effective running attack in the league."

"Cutler had NO running game."

"His running game was putrid."

"Denver had no running game. ..."

The Broncos' running game might have failed them in crunch time and you probably needed a program to sort out the backfield as a total of eight running backs were placed on injured reserve. But to say Denver had no running game would be fiction.

In fact, the Broncos had a much more successful rushing attack than the Bears did last season when Matt Forte rushed for a franchise rookie record 1,238 yards. Sure, it's easy to twist a lot of statistics any way you want, but these are pretty back and white.

Denver ranked 12th in the league rushing, finishing with 1,862 yards.

The Bears were 24th with 1,673 yards.

Denver was tied for second in the league averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

The Bears were tied for 26th in YPC at 3.9.

We documented here how poor the Bears were in short-yardage rushing situations last season. It includes a breakdown of the Broncos and they were more efficient.

Spin away. Just don't say Cutler didn't have a running game to work with last season. What he didn't have was a consistent running back to work with as injuries decimated the position. Forte had 72.8 percent of the Bears' carries. Here is how the Broncos broke down:

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