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.
3. Jamar Williams has turned in the most impressive play we've seen during OTA's with a leaping interception in the middle of the field and his efforts have not gone unnoticed with Angelo singling him out in his chat with the team's Web site.
"We've always liked Jamar. I think he's a three-down player. He's bright, he's athletic, he's fast and he's tough. There's nothing not to like about him. What we're seeing now is what we saw when he was in college and what we drafted."
OUR SPIN: Even if Williams continues to impress he's going to be hard-pressed to see the field this season. The longtime heir apparent to Lance Briggs, Williams has never gotten an opportunity and is just one of a group of mid-round picks at the position that have not gotten into the system. Angelo seemingly drafted to eventually replace Briggs for years--Leon Joe (4th round, 2004), Rod Wilson (7th round, 2005), Williams (4th round, 2006) and Mike Okwo (3rd round, 2007). The club used a fifth-round pick on Ohio State's Marcus Freeman this year and he's being worked as a reserve on the weak side. In fact, Williams finds himself in a situation where he will have to compete to make the roster as Hunter Hillenmeyer and Joey LaRocque are all in a log jam. Earning $1.5 million this season, Pisa Tinoisamoa figures to start on the strong side and Nick Roach was viewed as a better option than Williams last season. While Williams was on defense for only 12 snaps in 2008, he far and away led the team in special teams snaps with 417. That was 96 more than the next closest player. Truthfully, Williams probably could have been better in that role. He was second on the team with 15 special teams tackles and tied for third with 11 solos. Provided a new CBA is ironed out between owners and the NFLPA, Williams will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
4. Matt Forte's left hamstring checked out fine after an MRI last week.
OUR SPIN: The worst hamstring injury we've seen in eight seasons covering the Bears was when fullback Bryan Johnson went down during training camp drills in 2006. It was like he had been shot. Johnson was carted off the field and eventually required surgery. Forte, who walked off the field with a slight limp, has an injury that is on the opposite end of the hamstring spectrum but the Bears are much more interested in seeing him on the field in August than June. There's no point in him going through drills in OTA's over the next two weeks. From our position, it's a good place to get Garrett Wolfe more involved. The Bears have to find a way to utilize him some this season. It's possible the club signs a running back for training camp. Right now, there are four on the roster--Forte, Kevin Jones, Wolfe and Adrian Peterson.
5. Ex-Bear Mike Brown made a free-agent visit to Kansas City on Wednesday. The Chiefs wrap up their mandatory veteran minicamp today and there's been no more news on Brown.
OUR SPIN: It's too hard to speculate why Brown and the Chiefs were not a match last week because the timing was perfect. Obviously, his health is an issue and if Kansas City was interested in signing him there's no question a physical was in order. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for Brown, who a source says is serious about continuing his career at 31. Brown is held in high regard by two defensive coordinators in other cities--San Diego's Ron Rivera and Washington's Greg Blache. No, the Bears are not an option for him.
6. Tony Dungy had some questions about Jay Cutler last week and he wasn't the only recent retiree to raise some questions. Add Rodney Harrison, safety-turned-analyst, to that list. The Markham native was on WMVP-AM 1000 with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman last week:
"[The Bears] are getting a very very talented guy that has a lot of physical tools, but I don't know necessarily if you're getting the leader that you may want,'' Harrison said. "There's a lot of guys out there that are physically dominant that can throw the ball. He can make all the throws, I have a lot of confidence in his physical ability. The one question mark, can he go in and prove that he can be that consistent leader of that team, good, bad or indifferent. That's really gonna promote him to be in the next upper echelon of quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I hope Chicago isn't gonna put all the pressure on this kid like he's gonna automatically take these guys to the Super Bowl. He's not the saving grace, he's one more piece to the puzzle, but he has a lot to prove, particularly from the mental side and the leadership side.
"Cuter has to be a leader, he has to go out there and perform at a consistent level he can't turn the ball over, he can't put like he did in Denver when the thought about trading him. If you think about Josh McDaniels, it makes a lot of sense a guy that you're familiar with. Why wouldn't you want to trade for Matt Cassel, a guy that knows your system and possibly if you can get rid of Jay Cutler and get Matt Cassel, I don't see why Cutler was so upset. It amazes me. He understands this is a business, sometimes you're gonna get traded. Some of the best players to play the game have gotten traded. So he took it personally and I thought that was a very immature move by Jay Cutler wanting out of Denver. I thought that was a good fit for him. He's gonna find out and I have nothing against Chicago but he doesn't quite have the weapons on the offensive side that he had in Denver, particularly at the wide receiver spot."
And when Harrison was asked about the possibility of the Bears adding Burress to the mix with Devin Hester ...
"Well the unique part about it is you can double team and you can give the young tight end, [Greg] Olsen a guy I'm a huge fan of, I think he 's a guy you can line up outside, you can line up in the slot. He kind of reminds me of Jeremy Shockey/Dallas Clark. My first suggestion for the Bears is spread your offense out. I hate coming out with the two back, the fullback and the tailback, I just think it closes the offense in. It's easier to defend, especially when you don't have the quarterback that can get the ball down the field. Now they have a quarterback that can get it down the field. But do they have the deep threat other than Hester? If you get a guy like Burress, with Hester and Olsen, you spread out the offense and you let this kid be a gunslinger and that's what he is. Let him throw the ball 30-35 times a game and incorporate running the ball 20-25 times a game and you look up and the Bears end up 11-5, win the division and make the playoffs."
OUR SPIN: Any questions raised about Cutler are far better than the questions the Bears are accustomed to fielding about their quarterback(s) in June.
7. Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen weighs in on the Burress situation:
"There isn't an option [on the Bears' roster] right now at wide receiver who can exploit defenders and go up and get the football outside the numbers."
OUR SPIN: Bowen nails it. Burress would bring baggage but can the Bears go into the season with the depth chart as is?