Chicago Sun-Times

July 2009 Archives

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears now have only two open spots on the 80-man roster after punter Richmond McGee signed a one-year contract this afternoon. He will be on the field when the Bears practice for the first time this summer in 90 minutes.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--All eyes will be on quarterback Jay Cutler this afternoon when he takes the practice field for the first time but there are some other new additions who will be playing key roles.

We turn it over to you--which newcomer (besides Cutler) are you most interested in checking out as the season kicks off?


BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Danieal Manning has been to the coach's office plenty of times, so when Lovie Smith called him a week-and-a-half ago and told him to come on in to Halas Hall, he didn't think anything of it.

He's still beaming after the news he received that day. The second-round draft pick has been moved back to free safety, the position he broke into the league at as a rookie starter in the 2006 Super Bowl season. He'll be there with the first team when the Bears take the practice field at 3 p.m. at Olivet Nazarene University. Manning has started 28 games at free safety over the last three seasons and is the most athletic member of the secondary.

The plan is for him to wear two hats on defense. He'll play free safety in the base package and move to the nickel in the sub package when Craig Steltz will come on the field and be the free safety.

"I was ecstatic,'' Manning said. "I was really excited about it. I said, `I'm ready to do it.' I have taken a liking to nickel so much. I never even thought about going back to safety but when he told me, it was just great. I was trying to take nickel to another level. Now, I get to do both.''

The key for Manning is being assignment. He has to be instinctive, though, and that means being able to play without thinking about it too much. He's suffered the occasional lapse in the past and when that happens at safety, there is no other line of defense. Still, when Manning is on the field his speed and range allow him to clean up the mistakes of others.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears made their second roster move of the day when they announced this morning that guard Dennis Conley has been released.


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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Joey LaRocque made it through his physical fine on Thursday but he will not make it to the practice field this afternoon.

The Bears released the linebacker this morning according to a source close to the player, a move that will enhance his chances to catch on elsewhere with the Bears having a crowded scene at the position.

A seventh-round pick from Oregon State in 2008, LaRocque was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster in Week 3 last season and played in 14 games on special teams. He made nine tackles and was a core member of the unit. A lower back injury prevented him from participating in the offseason program, but he was cleared after arriving at camp and said he felt good.

The Bears have nine linebackers on the training camp roster now starting with projected starters Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa. Behind them are Hunter Hillenmeyer, Jamar Williams, Nick Roach, fifth-round pick Marcus Freeman and undrafted free agents Kevin Malast and Mike Rivera. The team will likely keep six or seven linebackers on the 53-man roster, and having appeared in 14 games, LaRocque is no longer practice squad eligible per NFL rules that mandate players cannot have appeared in more than nine regular-season games.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The countdown has ended.

The most anticipated training camp in the nine years we've been on the beat (that doesn't say a lot, but there is far more buzz now than in 2007 after the Super Bowl) has finally arrived. Let's jump into a couple of issues real quick. I'll be Tweeting throughout the day, follow me at BradBiggs, and expect some blog updates here and there. Remember, you can also find the Twitter feed on the right hand side of the blog.

Issue 1: Devin Hester wants Jay Cutler to get in his face and get on players.

"We want that,'' Hester said. "That's what we need. At the end of the day, it's not about the coaches, it's about the players. And whenever you get a guy like that that steps up as far as Olin Kreutz, Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher, those types of guys--they're the ones that need to be coaching. They're the key guys and that's who the players are going to look up to and we're going to listen to them. At the end of the day we're out there playing with them. You can't hear the coaches on the field [during games], so when those guys step up and get on a player, it really helps our team and that's what bonds the players and brings us to a family, a unit. Whenever you get a quarterback like Jay, when he gets in his groove and then when he starts speaking up and feels a little more confident, that's when our offense is going to start clicking.''

Our spin: Makes sense. Cutler is going to be a take charge quarterback and this is a young and inexperienced wide receiving corps that needs the quarterback to grab it by the horns from time to time. It's good to hear Hester saying this.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--There was plenty of football and non-football issues to tackle as players reported throughout the day.

You get the sense everyone involved cannot wait to get started Friday afternoon. This is the only weekend the team will be practicing at Olivet Nazarene University as the Bears have Family Day at Soldier Field on Aug. 8, play at Buffalo on Aug. 15 and will break camp before the next weekend.

This is what defensive end Alex Brown said when I asked him at the end of OTA's how he felt the Bears had improved in comparison to other teams around the league:

"I don't know what everybody else has but I tell you what, I like the team we have now,'' Brown said. "I'll tell you that. We're going to be pretty good. We've got to come play and teams change from year to year and people tend to look at what happened the previous year and say, `OK, the strength of your schedule isn't very good or it is.' The teams we have coming in, they're going to be good teams. We're going to have to come ready to play, but we're going to have a good chance to win all of them.

"Everybody knows when everything kind of started changing but you come out and you see guys playing together and see how hard guys are working and over the past 10 weeks just to see how much we've grown, not just as a D-line or a defense but as a team, you see it. We've got to dodge the injury bug. If we can do that and if we can get Tommie [Harris] back healthy, we'll be damn hard to beat, I'll tell you that.''

If Minnesota coach Brad Childress didn't have enough drama over, say, the last three months with the Brett Favre saga, how about a little "he said, he said he was a naughty word?"

Thanks to our good friends in the Minneapolis media, we have Childress' take on the bizarre story over the last 34 hours or so after Bobby Wade, the ex-Bear, went on KFAN radio in Minnesota and said Brian Urlacher used a word we don't use on this here blog to describe his new teammate Jay Cutler.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Lovie Smith is adamant that Michael Vick deserves a second chance in the NFL after missing two seasons and spending nearly two years in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring.

"I think Mike deserves a second chance, I'll say that again,'' Smith said in his kickoff press conference to training camp Thursday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University. ``Like everyone in society after they have paid their debt to society on any type of crime, you deserve a second chance.''

Too bad for Vick, Smith doesn't see a need on the Bears' roster, which stands one shy of the limit at 79 after the retirement of safety Glenn Earl earlier this week. Vick is seeking a new home after commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated him earlier this week. Vick is cleared to participate in all of training camp, play in the final two games of preseason and participate in regular-season games by Week 6 at the latest. The sooner Vick finds a new home, the quicker he will be able to reacclimate himself to life as a quarterback in the league, learning a new offense, new teammates and new surroundings that will certainly be a circus from the start.

"As far as we're concerned, we like the team we have right now,'' Smith said. "So if you're asking me about whether we're looking for receivers or are we going to trade guys, we like this team. I don't think we need to add anything else at this time.''

I've checked into the fine digs here at Olivet Nazarene University and some players, including offensive linemen Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza, are already on the scene. The rookie bus has pulled up. Some of the players like to show up early and get in an afternoon of golf.

Quick tip to those traveling to camp from the north. You might want to try exit 322 in Manteno instead of going to exit 315. Exit 315 and head west for about a mile. Turn left on US-45 and it will lead straight into town and the campus will be on the left. There is some construction going on near exit 315 and on Armour Road. You can avoid it by using this route.

Lovie Smith is scheduled to talk in an hour. That press conference will be carried live on Comcast. Check back for updates throughout the rest of the day.

I've spent four weeks here analyzing some of the things I'll be looking when when the whistle blows at 3 p.m. Friday and the Bears get rolling with their first practice of the season. Now it's time to turn over some space to the trained eye of Tom Thayer, who lists his occupation on his IRS paperwork every April as a "football describer.''

Thayer, the color analyst for WBBM-780 AM, will be at training camp and will offer daily updates for the Bears' flagship station. Here is what Thayer offered:

"There are three things I will be looking at and one of them is the free agents, the newcomers, [Jay] Cutler, Pisa [Tinoisamoa], [Orlando] Pace, big Frank [Omiyale], [Kevin] Shaffer, [Josh] Bullocks, these guys that came in. I want to start looking at those guys and see if they really are what they are, if they're going to fit in, what they're going to do to the team and how they're changing it. Then, I have a key selection of veterans who have been here already who are on the roster who I really want to pay attention to to see if they re-emerge, if they're playing like they did last year, if they're not involved in the betterment of the football team the way they should be due to their position on the roster and with the team and all that. My guys here are [Nathan] Vasher, [Brian] Urlacher, Tommie [Harris], Kevin Jones, Wale [Ogunleye], Nick Roach.

"And then [Johnny] Knox, [Juaquin] Iglesias and D.J. Moore are some rookies I want to watch. I think Moore may have a place. He is one of the three guys of the rooks I am looking at who may need to come in and just provide interest. Just to see if they can help in any way. There is a specific group and positioning of players that I am interested in looking at first. Then I think if you are looking at a position specifically, I still have concerns about the safety position. I like Kevin Payne but there is a battle for all other interior defensive back positions. Payne is only going to be pushed by himself. He is a guy who has to stay healthy. You can go out there and Kevin Payne can show flashes of brilliance and then he can pop his head in there and come out, get dinged, and you're back to square one. My only issue with Kevin Payne is durability.''

The game of he said, he said is just that, a game.

That is what Bears spokesperson Scott Hagel said this afternoon in the wake of Bobby Wade's comments on KFAN in Minneapolis this morning. The former Bears wide receiver met up with Brian Urlacher in Las Vegas this past weekend, and according to Wade, Urlacher hurled a not-so-nice term in the direction of new quarterback Jay Cutler. A term that isn't fit for radio but happens to be on the station's podcast.

"It's all nonsense,'' Hagel said when asked if the team would comment on the matter. "I've talked to everybody [but Wade]. There is absolutely no truth to any of it.''

Bobby Wade was always an outspoken player when he was in a Bears uniform.

The wide receiver, who has been with the Minnesota Vikings for the last two seasons, remains that way today. He still has guys he considers friends in the Bears locker room, and he was roommates with linebacker Lance Briggs in college at Arizona and while they were with the Bears.

He's probably caught their attention now. Probably not in a good way. Pro Football Talk reported that Wade spouted off about his former team and its new quarterback in a big way this morning on KFAN in Minneapolis when visiting with host Paul Allen, who happens to be the play-by-play voice of the Vikings. According to Wade, he was recently in Las Vegas with middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. It's what Wade says that came out of the mouth of Urlacher that is surprising.

"Jay Cutler is a good player,'' Wade said. "Obviously, it's a much different environment from going from Denver to play in Chicago. Chicago is a tough club to play for. What is so funny, I actually saw Brian Urlacher this past weekend in Las Vegas and we had a long conversation.

"I don't want to get him in trouble, but it wasn't what [the Bears] expected. Pretty much [Urlacher] said Jay Cutler was a [deleted] for the most part.''

That sent the radio show up in a roar and the word Wade used was deleted on the air by using what is known as a dump button. The entire conversation is on the podcast, however.

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Here's a new twist on an old problem.

The Bears are spinning the revolving door at safety before the action gets going this season.

Never ones to give away their depth chart before training camp, the Bears are changing ways. The story really doesn't change though, as the club announced on its Web site this morning that Danieal Manning is on the move again. Manning will open training camp in Friday's 3 p.m. practice at free safety, a position he spent exactly zero time at during the offseason program. Kevin Payne will be the starter at strong safety with Craig Steltz challenging him. Manning will slide to the nickel cornerback role he played last season in passing situations. In the nickel package, Steltz will be at free safety.

"Danieal is getting more of the concept of this defense and his overall football knowledge has improved a lot," coach Lovie Smith announced. "Sometimes it takes players a while before they really get it and I think Danieal has gotten it where it all makes sense to him, and that's why we're putting him in this role right now."

Manning was last seen at free safety in the season finale a year ago. With Mike Brown injured, Manning got the start at Houston where the Bears squandered a 10-point lead and lost to the Texans, surrendering more than 450 yards in the process. One big chunk came on Andre Johnson's uncontested touchdown when Manning blew coverage. It was a coverage mistake Manning made as a rookie in Super Bowl XLI that led to a secondary shakeup in 2007. That's been the one consistent thing under Smith, who has changed quarterbacks, safeties and position coaches on defense rapidly. The Bears have changed starting free safeties 16 times since Smith was hired in 2004, and swapped out starting strong safeties 14 times.

It's been the constant moving of Manning, the second round pick from 2006, that has stunted his growth. He's gone from safety to cornerback to safety to nickel cornerback and now back to safety.

"I've heard people talk about the different positions Danieal has played," Smith said on the Web site. "But that only helps you. He knows exactly what it feels like to play [corner, safety and nickel]. He's played every position in the secondary. That's helped his football knowledge and is going to make him a better free safety."

Comcast SportsNet plans to carry Lovie Smith's press conference from training camp on Thursday live as it happens beginning at 2 p.m.

If you're following the blog of Richmond McGee, the logical next logical step is for the Bears to have the free-agent punter take the roster spot created by the retirement of Glenn Earl.

The veteran safety Earl, a Naperville North and Notre Dame product, informed the team he plans to retire on Tuesday, and an official announcement will likely come today. Earl's departure drops the Bears' roster to 79 players, giving them one open slot. Although cornerbacks Charles Tillman will be placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) on Friday, it's the active PUP list teams can use in training camp. That will not create an additional roster spot.

Instead of bringing in an additional defensive back (the Bears have eight cornerbacks not counting Tillman and six safeties without Earl), the Bears could sign McGee. He believes the Bears are going to, at least at some point in the very near future.

"Nothing is official until I sign next month,'' McGee wrote on his blog. "But they are offering me a one-year contract.''

We're going to reach into the mailbag for some Four Down Territory before camp gets going. There aren't any major issues hanging in the balance. A year ago, you had Brian Urlacher's contract getting done just before camp and Devin Hester seeking a new contract. In the past, there was a Thomas Jones stakeout to see if he was going to show up. First-round picks have been far from signed at this point in previous years. All is quiet now. The Bears are just getting ready for football. Here we go.

Q: I read your preview for the wide receivers and you don't seem to be giving them much of a chance. Why? I see a talented group of young wide receivers and there's no reason to believe they can't flourish. Eddie Royal was a second-round pick. Brandon Marshall was a fourth-round pick. Shouldn't these guys get a chance with Jay Cutler?

Michael, Parts Unknown

A: The Bears found a talented and productive wide receiver in the third round of the 2004 draft when they selected Bernard Berrian out of Fresno State. Otherwise, the club's track record at the position under general manager Jerry Angelo is a series of misses, some bigger than others. It happens to be one of the more difficult positions to evaluate for the draft, and as Angelo has pointed out previously, the majority of the true No. 1 wideouts in the league are, guess what, first-round picks. The Bears haven't tried a wide receiver in the first round since David Terrell in 2001, and that was two months before Angelo came aboard. We're not suggesting the Bears will be unable to find help from their rookies and unproven players at the position, we're simply pointing out that after Devin Hester and Rashied Davis, that is the only thing the Bears have to lean on. If they try enough players, one of them might work. Bringing in a veteran with marginal and eroding talent would prevent a possible talent from blossoming. All of these players have a different tool box and it will be interesting to see which one(s) step forward in the three weeks of camp.


Q: Is there a veteran on the roster that will be in jeopardy of being cut? Maybe a surprise cut that could be coming?

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A: I don't know if there are any major surprises coming. Sure, there will be some healthy competition for spots at the back end of the roster, but this team is pretty well set. There is not going to be a lot of turnover in the starting lineups and that's usually where you get your surprise cuts. There aren't any players carrying bad contracts that the team will want to unload. Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer will be in a tough spot, particularly if he's still hampered in his recovery from offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia. If healthy, he deserves an opportunity to be on the roster. Running back Adrian Peterson could be pushed for a spot as it's expected the Bears will at least consider going with three running backs. Even though Rashied Davis is the only wide receiver other than Devin Hester with real NFL experience, he'll probably need to perform well. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has become Mike Brown without the long history of production the former safety had. He'll be pushed and he has to stay healthy. No one is guaranteeing jobs for tight end Michael Gaines or safety Josh Bullocks. None of these strike as potential surprise cuts. All could have a role on the 2009 team.


Two days before players will report to training camp veteran safety Glenn Earl has informed the Bears of his intention to retire from the NFL.

Earl considered his future over the course of the past week before making it official Tuesday.

"He's decided to hang it up," Earl's agent Craig Domann said. "He's been dealing with some injuries since he came out of Notre Dame. I think he felt like it was time to move on."

Earl's most recent major injury came in 2006 2007 during preseason when Bears running back Cedric Benson ran him over in a game at Houston. Earl suffered a torn Lisfranc ligament.

The fine reporters in Minnesota can stand down now.

On alert for the arrival of Brett Favre since the New York Jets removed him from the reserve/retired list on April 28, the waiting game came to an end this afternoon when Favre told Vikings coach Brad Childress that he just couldn't take the daily grind.

"I just think it was a rare opportunity to explore a Hall of Fame quarterback who had background in the NFC and in this division," Childress told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He knows our system inside out ... This doesn't change anything about how I feel about our football team."

Charles Tillman declared himself fine for the regular season today on the team's Web site, but the Bears said he will be "sidelined indefinitely'' following back surgery two weeks ago.

The club revealed that Tillman's surgery, performed by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles, removed a piece of disc fragment from his lower back. He was informed at the time that it would be six to 12 weeks for him to return, meaning he's now at four to 10 weeks to getting back on the field.

"I'll be fine for the season," Tillman said. "There's no need to panic. When I panic, then you can panic. But I'm not panicking, so we're good.

"[Things] happen. I'm just glad it happened now versus in the season. But I'm all right. I'm always optimistic.''

Tillman was optimistic at the end of the offseason program about returning from shoulder surgery that took place Jan. 14. He also missed time in June with a hyperextended knee.

We have a full edition of Four Down Territory scheduled for Wednesday, but we'll dip into the mailbag now with a question that has popped in from several e-mailers this morning.

Q: Is Jerry Angelo going to make an effort to sign a veteran cornerback now that Charles Tillman is out for at least all of training camp? It can't hurt to add some depth and let someone learn the system during training camp.

Charles, Apopka, Fla.

A: It's certainly not a bad idea but I think you've got to consider a couple of issues on this matter. First, Tillman didn't have surgery yesterday. The procedure was two weeks ago so if the Bears were going to make a move, it's fair to consider that there is at least a chance they would have already done so. Second, the club brought in some veterans for a look in the spring. First, Ken Lucas paid a visit before ultimately returning to his first home in the NFL in Seattle. Then, Rod Hood came in during OTA's before promptly signing with Cleveland. By failing to sign either one of those players, or engage them in contract negotiations, I would venture to guess the decision was made that the Bears would be better off going with the young players they have. Now, would that decision be different right now? Let's just say no one was expecting Tillman to have back surgery after he had shoulder surgery and then missed time with a hyperextended knee.

The Bears' eighth summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is going to be like never before starting Friday with the arrival of the Jay Cutler Tour.

What if they added Michael Vick to the mix?

That might just turn the campus upside down for a few weeks. My colleague Mike Mulligan explores just that issue in today's edition of the Sun-Times. He points out that if general manager Jerry Angelo was truly fixated with the quarterback position, then is it enough to add Cutler? Does he really want Caleb Hanie or Brett Basanez one snap away from being thrust into the spotlight? It's a question that teams have to be asking themselves everywhere this week. What can Vick do for us?

"There are people who never will forgive Vick and protesters who are sure to follow him to whatever NFL city he eventually lands,'' Mulligan writes. "Why would the Bears or any NFL team open itself up to such scrutiny? Cynical as it sounds, in the Bears' case, the scrutiny would help. It would be a welcome diversion to Jay Cutler fever, offer a storyline to pursue, another name to acknowledge, a different circus to follow."

From a football standpoint, the question with Vick is where is his talent level at after sitting out for two seasons and how quickly could he learn an offense to be effective, even if it was in just a part-time hybrid Wildcat role? As part of his conditional return to the game, commissioner Roger Goodell has cleared him to participate in training camp, play in the final two weeks of the preseason and participate in all team activities with the exception of games. Goodell will consider a full reinstatement by Week 6 at the latest. That means Vick could be on the playing field before even then if all goes well.

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Charles Tillman will be placed on the physically unable to perform list Friday at training camp when he fails his physical.

That makes the focus for the Bears during three weeks at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., finding a contingency plan in the event Tillman has not recovered from back surgery in time for the Sept. 13 season opener at Green Bay.

Tillman underwent surgery performed by Dr. Robert Watkins two weeks ago in Los Angeles. He was given a timetable of six to 12 weeks for a return to the field. Six weeks would put Tillman back on the field right around the final preseason game Sept. 3 vs. Cleveland, but teams are so hesitant to use starters in those games that it might be surprising to see him on the field then. The outside range for a return would mean Tillman would miss at least the first three regular-season games. He'll have to be removed from the PUP list before the Sept. 5 roster cutdown to 53 or else he would wind up missing a minimum of six weeks of the regular season. The Bears don't anticipate that happening, but then again they didn't think he'd be hobbled with a back issue after undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery on Jan. 14.

In fact, it's the third ailment Tillman has dealt with since playing the bulk of last season with injuries to both shoulders. He was cleared for a return from shoulder surgery in June but then was forced to deal with a hyperextended knee. This turns the team's hope that Nathan Vasher returns to form at right cornerback into a need. Zack Bowman got plenty of reps at left corner with Tillman sidelined during the spring. He performed well but that was without pads on. The fifth-round pick from 2008 appeared in one game last season before a torn biceps muscle ended his season.

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Saving the biggest puzzle for last, we conclude our position-by-position training camp previews with, what else, the wide receivers.

Projected starters: Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami; Earl Bennett, 6-0, 204, 2nd season, Vanderbilt

Others

Devin Aromashodu, 6-2, 201, 3rd season, Auburn
John Broussard, 6-1, 181, 2nd season, San Jose State
Rashied Davis, 5-9, 187, 5th season, San Jose State
Juaquin Iglesias, 6-1, 205, Rookie, Oklahoma
Derek Kinder, 6-1, 202, Rookie, Pittsburgh
Johnny Knox, 6-0, 185, Rookie, Abilene Christian
Eric Peterman, 6-1, 202, Rookie Northwestern
Brandon Rideau, 6-3, 198, 3rd season, Kansas

Projected depth chart

WR: Hester, Davis, Knox
WR: Bennett, Iglesias, Rideau

2009 salary cap numbers

Devin Aromashodu $465,200
Earl Bennett $595,409
John Broussard $390,200
Rashied Davis $1,581,666
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Juaquin Iglesias $554,900
Derek Kinder $319,416
Johnny Knox $361,060
Eric Peterman $310,666
Brandon Rideau $465,200

Number of wide receivers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of wide receivers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6

The skinny: From general manager Jerry Angelo on down the Bears know they don't have this position where it needs to be. Angelo acknowledged the Bears would have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver had they not traded the pick to acquire Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to trade for Anquan Boldin when the draft began. Finally, the Bears did enough snooping around on Plaxico Burress to earn their Jr. Inspector Clouseau badge. Think right about now Burress wishes now he'd done his couple months in the pokey? It looks highly unlikely that Burress will help Cutler and the Bears this season and that puts the onus on Cutler to make some of these players better. Ideally, the Bears would be in a situation where they would only keep five receivers on the roster, but if Iglesias (third round) and Knox (fifth round) earn roster spots, as expected, they'll probably need to try to cover for the inexperience with numbers. Say what you want, and we're not demeaning any of the players at this position, but it's a quantity over quality matter here. Quite frankly, that could help Rideau in his bid to win a job.



So how much better can Cutler make the Bears' receivers? There is certainly something to a quarterback making a wide receiver better but he's not the difference between Eddie Royal's 91 catches as a rookie last season in Denver and Bennett's 0 catches as a rookie last season. Cutler isn't going to clone Brandon Marshall in the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms, either. He can make the receivers better and that starts with them developing a trust and a rapport. Cutler has to know what the receiver is going to do before he does it. That comes with reps, lots of them.

How many wins is Jay Cutler worth?

With expectations for this Bears' season at an all-time high for late July, at least in the last decade, that is a question that is central to a lot of what is being discussed. Bears fans are banking on 10 or more. Now that the offseason is winding to a close (Buffalo opened its training camp Saturday), we can get down to business on the field.

In the New York Times' Fifth Down Blog, Brian Burke tackled just that issue this morning. Seems like the New York Times likes covering Cutler and the Bears these days, probably a good indication of the national focus that is going to be on the team this season. Burke is a guest blogger there who has his own site, Advanced NFL Stats. Burke looks at how much better the Bears should be with Cutler as the trigger man compared to Kyle Orton. To do so, he focused on a statistic called Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. Basically, it's yards per attempt with a penalty for interceptions.

"YPA is a great stat in a lot of ways. It beats total passing yards because teams far behind in the second half can easily generate lots of total yardage in "trash time." But interceptions are a critical part of the equation, so I like Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AdjYPA), which is YPA adjusted by a 45-yard penalty for each interception. A 45-yard adjustment is the accepted statistical equivalent for an interception. AdjYPA certainly doesn't factor in everything, but it encapsulates most of passing performance into one handy number."

Cutler's YPA was 7.3 last season, 10th in the league and a full yard better than the league average. Orton checked in at 6.39. To put Orton's number in perspective, Rex Grossman was at 6.65 during 2006 and prior to that the Bears had a string of quarterbacks averaging under 6.0. The last Bears' quarterback to average more than 7.0? Erik Kramer in 1998. Too bad he couldn't play the entire season.

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We come to our second to final position-by-position breakdown as we close in on packing our bags and heading to Bourbonnais, Ill., and the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. This morning we target special teams.

Projected starters: K Robbie Gould, 6-0, 185, 5th season, Penn State; P Brad Maynard, 6-1, 188, 13th season, Ball State; LS Pat Mannelly, 6-5, 265, 12th season, Duke; KR Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian; PR Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami.

2009 salary cap numbers

Robbie Gould $2,905,200
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Pat Mannelly $962,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Brad Maynard $1,392,280

Number of specialists on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of specialists on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: The Bears didn't get the kind of electric scores they grew accustomed to from Hester, but they still scored on special teams in 2008. Manning ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, Brandon Lloyd and Garrett Wolfe both scored on blocked punts and Zack Bowman scored on a muffed punt. Alex Brown also blocked a 38-yard field goal try by Green Bay's Mason Crosby in the Week 16 meeting with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bears went on to win in overtime. So, it's not like Dave Toub's unit was without major contributions. No one can pinpoint exactly why Hester lost his edge in the return game. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoffs where he saw about every gimmick imaginable and was worse on punts, averaging only 6.2 yards. There are a handful of theories, all of them probably valid in part. The biggest reason is pretty simple--Hester got a lot more work on offense and that took away from his return game. The stats certainly support that thinking. Hester was on the field for 631 offensive snaps last season vs. 226 in 2007. He had 121 special teams snaps in 2008 vs. 182 in 2007. Another key factor to consider is the turnover the Bears had on special teams. Playing without Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo for the first time, Hester's return units lacked the mojo they had enjoyed previously. Ayanbadejo wasn't just a tremendous player, he was a leader and knew when the group needed an infusion of energy.

Still, special teams remained solid and wound up finishing eighth in the composite rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News after back-to-back No. 1 finishes. Manning would have been the NFC's Pro Bowl return man if he would have been promoted before the Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. He led the league in kickoff returns at 29.7 yards, and his success may lead opponents to approach him differently this time around. The coverage teams were solid but not as good as they have been in the past.

We've spent plenty of time here the last three-plus weeks discussing the big stories that lie ahead in training camp and how things will shake out. Let's mix it up this morning and go a different direction. Here is a list of eight players not expected to be in the starting lineup but worth watching during training camp and preseason. Some of them will need to perform well and against odds to land a spot on the 53-man roster. We chose only players who have never started a game in the NFL. A look:

Safety Al Afalava. The Bears went into the draft knowing they needed a free safety but with their draft position, they didn't identify any that would fill their need in what was considered a weak class. They wound up grabbing Afalava in the sixth round, and he's a strong safety although the Bears have said he can play both positions. He's a serious hitter and should provide some exciting moments late in some preseason games that are otherwise not exciting. It could be an uphill battle to make the roster and just being a thumper won't get it done for him. He needs to show instincts first. Missing the bulk of the offseason program because of the rules for schools like Oregon State that are on the quarter system didn't help him.

Cornerback Zack Bowman. He's got to be a candidate for the most improved player from last summer to now. Remember, Bowman didn't make the 53-man roster last September and started on the practice squad before getting a promotion. He did well for himself in shorts and a helmet this spring and needs to build off that momentum. The biggest challenge for the fifth-round draft pick from 2008 will be staying healthy. He's got to stay on the field.

Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert. The real hit-or-miss nature of the Bears' drafts over the last five seasons makes you wonder about the current class of rookies. First-round pick Jay Cutler should look great. Ditto third-round pick Jay Cutler. The rest of the bunch is unknown and you might as well start with Gilbert, who was drafted to come in and help out a problem area for the defense on the line last season. They don't need him to be on the all-rookie team, and he doesn't have to start, but some meaningful contributions would help bolster the front seven.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie. All eyes will be on Cutler but Hanie's basically blank resume is going to make it imperative that he perform well in preseason. The Bears aren't going to panic if it looks sketchy behind Cutler, who has never missed an NFL start, but seeing some solid outings out of Hanie will make them feel pretty good about a potential No. 2 for a few seasons. You can be young and ineffective and hold down a job as a No. 3 a team is looking to develop. The backup needs to be able to come in and get a team through a game.

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Continuing with our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the safeties.

Projected starters: SS Kevin Payne, 6-0, 212, 3rd season, Louisiana-Monroe; FS Craig Steltz, 6-1, 210, 2nd season, LSU

Others

Al Afalava 5-11, 212, Rookie, Oregon State
Josh Bullocks 6-0, 207, 5th season, Nebraska
Dahna Deleston 6-0, 211, Rookie, Connecticut
Glenn Earl 6-1, 212, 5th season, Notre Dame
* Corey Graham 6-0, 198, 3rd season, New Hampshire

* Graham was listed in the cornerback preview also. The Bears list him on their Web site as a safety but that move might not be permanent at this point.

Projected depth chart

SS: Payne, Bullocks
FS: Steltz, Graham, Bullocks

2009 salary cap numbers

Al Afalava $335,150
Josh Bullocks $1,200,000
Dahna Deleston $311,666
Glenn Earl $540,200
Corey Graham $502,575
Kevin Payne $502,700
Craig Steltz $501,676

Number of safeties on the roster at the start of the 2008 season:
5 (counting Danieal Manning)

Projected number of safeties on 2009 roster at start of the season: 4 (counting Graham but excluding Manning, who is listed with cornerbacks)

The skinny:
Safety might be the position where you find the most legitimate and real competition for a starting job going on in camp, certainly on the defensive side of the ball. Nothing is locked down here but Payne will probably emerge as the strong safety and he played well there at times last season. The switch with Mike Brown in midseason when Payne was shifted to free safety didn't play to his strengths. Payne is a physical player who had offseason shoulder surgery a year after missing most of his rookie season with a broken arm, so he needs to stay on the field to create a longterm future for himself. Remember, it was the addition of Payne in the 2007 draft that was the leading factor in the team trading Chris Harris away to Carolina. Payne has a decent nose for the ball and does well when he has it in his hands, a product of his early days in college when he was a running back.

What will happen with Steltz? He's been labeled strictly a strong safety by some in the organization but it was the fourth-round pick from 2008 who spent a lot of time at free safety during the offseason program. Steltz doesn't have the range you'd like there, but he's intelligent and is a strong communicator and those attributes right there might given him an edge. We're interested to see how it plays out in the opening days of camp and who goes where. Of course, how they open in July isn't always how they open in September. Remember, the Bears moved the secondary all around before the final preseason game last year, promoting Payne, benching Brandon McGowan and in doing so taking Danieal Manning out of the nickel role.

The 2010 NFL draft has already become anticlimactic for Bears fans.

The first day of it, any way.

In a move to squeeze every possible prime time minute out of the draft, the league has made the draft a three-day event and will kick things off on Thursday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m. with the first round taking place that evening. With the Denver Broncos already owning the Bears' first-round pick as the final part of the bounty they paid for Jay Cutler, it might be a slow evening.

Rounds two and three will be held on Friday starting at 5:30 p.m., and the rounds four through seven will begin starting Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

"We continue to look for ways to make the draft more accessible to more fans," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "Moving the first round to prime time on Thursday night will make the first round of the draft available to fans on what is typically the most-watched night of television."

The league estimates that the evening action will conclude at 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.

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A week before players are due to report to training camp, Rod Marinelli says that Tommie Harris is ready to go.

The new defensive line coach and assistant head coach chatted with Thomas George at NFL.com and said Harris was not 100 percent last season when missed one game by injury and didn't consistently play at the dominant level the team had been accustomed to seeing at the center of the defense. Harris had five sacks, one behind team leader Alex Brown, and nine tackles for loss, third on the defense. But statistics are never the best measure for Harris' performance. It's about him being a disruptive force on the line, one that commands a double team often. When he's doing that, those around him are much better.

"Tommie is strong, motivated, bright, perfect for the system," Marinelli said. "He was banged up last year. He seems pretty healthy. He's done it. This group is going to compete. It is exciting to see them come together."

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Continuing with our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the tight ends.

Projected starter: Desmond Clark, 6-3, 249, 11th season, Wake Forest OR Greg Olsen, 6-5, 255, 3rd season, Miami

Others

Kellen Davis 6-7, 262, 2nd season, Michigan State
Michael Gaines 6-2, 267, 6th season, Central Florida
Fontel Mines 6-4, 244, 1st season, Virginia

Projected depth chart

Clark or Olsen, Gaines, Davis

2009 salary cap numbers

Desmond Clark $2,173,946
Kellen Davis $432,188
Michael Gaines $1,162,600
Fontel Mines $315,200
Greg Olsen $1,501,450

Number of tight ends on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of tight ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3 or 4

The skinny: Olsen has been Jay Cutler's unofficial sightseeing partner in his introduction to Chicago and he might just become his best friend on the field. The former first-round draft pick was second behind only running back Matt Forte on the team in receptions and led the club with five touchdown catches, scoring three of them in the final four weeks of the year when he had 20 of his 54 catches. That kind of production down the stretch--five grabs a game--is closer to what the Bears have in mind for this season. His 54 catches in 2008 ranked 10th among tight ends in the league and to join the elite at the position he'll need to add 20. He's also going to have to improve on his yards per catch. Of the 10 tight ends with more grabs than Olsen, eight had a greater YPC than his of 10.6. The only players below Olsen were Washington's Chris Cooley (83 catches, 10.2 YPC) and Tennessee's Bo Scaife (58 catches, 9.7 YPC). If you recall, Scaife caught 10 passes vs. the Bears on Nov. 9.

But Olsen is hardly the only part of the show. Clark made 16 starts last season while Olsen had seven, all coming when the offense opened in a double tight end formation. Clark is a superior run blocker and that fact alone may keep him in the starting lineup. He remains a productive outlet receiver but isn't going to stretch the defense and create the kind of matchup problems that Olsen presents vs. linebackers and defensive backs. That is what becomes interesting, how do teams choose to cover Olsen? We broke down playing time at the position earlier in the offseason and even though Clark was the full-time starter it didn't make anything more than a marginal difference. He was on the field 78.16 percent of the time compared to 76.68 for Olsen.

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Returning to our position-by-position breakdowns as we close in on being a week away from the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we focus on the cornerbacks.

Projected starters: LCB Charles Tillman, 6-1, 198, 7th season, Louisiana-Lafayette; Nathan Vasher, 5-10, 187, 6th season, Texas.

Others

Zack Bowman, 6-1, 193, 2nd season, Nebraska
Rudy Burgess, 5-10, 185, 1st season, Arizona State
*Corey Graham, 6-0, 198, 3rd season, New Hampshire
Marcus Hamilton, 5-11, 185, 2nd season, Virginia
Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian
Trumaine McBride, 5-9, 181, 3rd season, Ole Miss
D.J. Moore, 5-9, 183, Rookie, Vanderbilt
Woodny Turenne, 6-0, 184, Rookie, Louisville

* Graham will be listed in the safety preview also. The Bears list him on their Web site as a safety but that move might not be permanent at this point.

Projected depth chart

LCB: Tillman, Bowman or Graham
RCB: Vasher, Bowman or Graham, Moore
NICKEL: Manning

2009 salary cap numbers

Zack Bowman $315,200
Rudy Burgess $315,200
Corey Graham $502,575
Marcus Hamilton $390,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Trumaine McBride $479,012
D.J. Moore $426,688
Charles Tillman $4,716,666
Woodny Turenne $310,333
Nathan Vasher $4,866,666

Number of cornerbacks on the roster at the start of the 2008 season:
5 (including Manning, who the Bears list as a safety)

Projected number of cornerbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6 (including Manning and Graham)

The skinny: What could have been the beginning of turnover at the position looks to be halted by the re-emergence of Vasher during the offseason program. While Ricky Manning Jr. fell into the coaching staff's dog house a year before and was never seen again, Vasher has worked himself out of it. At least that is the way it looks right now. The veteran and former Pro Bowl performer lined up with the first team throughout the offseason program, and we're reminded of what general manager Jerry Angelo told us after the draft: "I feel he will come back strong. I felt like last year he was ready. During this time last year, during training camp, I thought he did really well. He got off to a poor start of the season in terms of making plays, lack of, I don't know what that did to his psyche one way or the other. We just didn't see the same swagger, the same ballhawk that we know and came to love when you talk about Nate. Do I feel that he has that? Yes. I don't see any diminishing of his skills and I feel this guy is a great competitor and his back is to the wall. I expect him to come out and give us really good football and we're going to see the guy we paid. I have a lot of confidence in Nate. Saying all that, he's got to go out and do it. He's got to do that and he knows that.''

We were flipping through a few baseball games earlier this evening when the United Football League sent out a press release, oh, about the time Jayson Werth was circling the bases in Philadelphia following his three-run home run. The upstart league announced that quarterback JP Losman has been signed to play for the Las Vegas franchise.

"The United Football League is providing me with the opportunity to play the sport I love at a high level and for that, I am extremely grateful," Losman said. "There are many players just like me who possess the skills to compete at the highest levels and just need the playing time to showcase their talents. The United Football League is filling that void and giving more players the opportunity to play. I am excited to get back out onto the field and represent Las Vegas during the league's first season."

That removes one experienced quarterback from the list of players the Bears could consider if they go shopping. That probably will not happen unless Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez bomb out in training camp and preseason. Hanie is in position to become the No. 2 behind Jay Cutler and the Bears--coach Lovie Smith included--really haven't wavered off that. Smith said back at the scouting combine that he was comfortable with the players the Bears had at the time. We've written it before here, Hanie's physical tools probably make him a better athletic match to a guy like Cutler than Kyle Orton. We're not saying Hanie is going to become Cutler, but like Cutler he has some ability to scramble and keep plays alive in the pocket. Hanie also throws a pretty good deep ball.

Brian Griese, the ex-Bear, remains the most attractive option on the open market. His agent Ralph Cindrich told us last week that Griese hopes to remain in the game but he wants to play. Presumably, that means he wants to be in position to play and being behind Cutler might be like being behind John Elway. Griese did that for a year in Denver. It got him a Super Bowl ring.

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The Bears supplied this picture of what the practice jersey sponsor patch for NorthShore University HealthSystem will look like.

The patches will be placed on the left chest of the jerseys. These will not be worn in preseason games, but will be used year-round in practices. They will be unveiled for the first time July 31 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.

The club struck a three-year agreement with the health care firm.

Just in time to get their practice jerseys sewn up before reporting to Olivet Nazarene University for training camp, the Bears have struck a sponsorship deal with NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Part of the contract calls for the Bears to wear a sponsorship patch on their practice jerseys. So, get your cameras ready for the new look starting July 31 in Bourbonnais, Ill.

We reached out to KC Joyner to go over some of the run blocking metrics he completed after film review of the Bears. The numbers showed that right guard Roberto Garza was not only the Bears' most efficient run blocker last season, he was one of the best guards in the game, ranking ahead of the three Pro Bowlers Joyner has final numbers for--Chris Snee, Leonard Davis and Alan Faneca.

"If you ask me about the 22 teams I've run the numbers on so far, he is probably the second most surprising,'' said Joyner, who will publish the results and more in Scientific Football 2009. "[New York Jets center] Nick Mangold is probably the most surprising. I knew Mangold was good but he is head and shoulders above any other center and will probably be the highest ranked POA lineman [94.3 percent] when I am done in another two weeks.

"The last time I did this, in 2005, Garza was in the low 80's and for him to be [at 88.3] is a little surprising in that he's ahead of these Pro Bowl guards. I love doing the numbers, watching the tape and then running the numbers. In most cases the numbers agree with what you say in scouting, `This player is this and that.' Usually, the metrics follow what you're seeing in scouting. Whenever the two disagree, I lean on the metrics more than scouting. You can see a player have one bad play and in the back of your mind, `He stinks.' The metrics don't care. The one bad play will be registered and then `Let's see the other 150 he had.'''

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Wanna get away?

That's the snappy slogan used by one airline, and the answer more NFL teams are giving is, "No, thanks."

ESPN.com's Mike Sando
breaks down the number of organizations that head elsewhere for training camp and finds that the Bears, who will be packing their bags for Bourbonnais, Ill., next week, are in the minority. Seventeen teams will remain at their home facility this summer. That ties the high for the last 10 years. According to the report, only four teams remained at home for training camp back in 2000, and that figure was in single-digits until 2003.

The advantages of staying at home are obvious. Players and coaches get to use the facility they're accustomed to working in for the entire season. Coaches, and in some cases players, can sleep in their own bed each night.

Some coaches talk about the camaraderie that is built during training camp, but as much control as clubs have over their players during the offseason these days, that's not such a big deal any more.

The Bears will be training at Olivet Nazarene University for the eighth consecutive summer, and the school and franchise have reached an agreement for 2010. This is after a 17-year run at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

Coach Lovie Smith has said he would prefer to remain at Halas Hall. But while some teams can host fans at their facilities, that's probably not a logistical option for the Bears at Halas Hall. Going away allows head groundskeeper Ken Mrock to ensure the teams two practice fields in Lake Forest are in optimum condition for use starting in late August. The Bears have the use of five practice fields at ONU, including Ward Field. Buffalo gets things going first on Saturday.

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Some observers speculated that Roberto Garza's standing as the right guard was in jeopardy after the Bears signed Frank Omiyale to a contract just hours into free agency.

That's proven not to be the case--Omiyale is the favorite to lock down the left guard job when training camp opens. Just today another observer produced evidence that helps explain why Garza isn't going anywhere. KC Joyner, author and publisher of The Football Scientist, was kind of enough to share with us his run blocking metrics after just completing film analysis of the Bears. He's halfway through the NFC North (having also completed a review of the Detroit Lions) and Joyner has already knocked out the AFC East, NFC West, NFC East, AFC North and AFC South, meaning he's nearly three-fourths of the way through the league with just the AFC West and NFC South remaining after he polishes off Green Bay and Minnesota.

What do his findings show? Not only was Garza the best lineman for the Bears last season, he was among the best right guards in football. His numbers are superior to some Pro Bowl guards. Before we jump into the numbers, let's try to make sense of them.

Joyner's system, which will be published in Scientific Football 2009 a little later on this summer, is based on what he calls the Point of Attack (or POA). It tracks how often a blocker is at the POA where a running play is directed. We'll let him describe it:

"It is not based on the location of the block but rather specifically tracks which blockers were actually at the point of attack. A POA block is considered to be successful (i.e. a POA win) if the blocker created a lane through which the runner could go.


"If the blocker is beaten at the POA, I segment those losses into five categories: Gap stuff (blocker gets stopped at POA); Defeated block (defender gets past blocker at POA); Pushed into backfield/POA (blocker gets moved into backfield/POA and negatively impacts runner's progress); Penetration (defender gets past blocker and makes contact with ballcarrier in backfield); Stringout (defender strings run to outside out). The last formula takes into account run penalties. An offensive penalty (i.e. holding, illegal use of hands, etc.) counts as a POA loss and a defensive penalty as a POA win."

Joyner considers an 80 percent net POA winning percentage to be acceptable. He charts the number of yards gained/lost on each POA run for a lineman. The chart below shows that not only did Garza do well last season, so did Josh Beekman, who will be in competition with Omiyale at left guard.

Lineman POA attempts Yards Avg. POA Pct.

RG Roberto Garza 205 960 4.7 88.3
LG Josh Beekman 175 834 4.8 85.7
RT John Tait 104 443 4.3 84.6
C Olin Kreutz 168 726 4.3 81.5
LT John St. Clair 112 459 4.1 79.5

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Getting back to our position-by-position breakdowns as we move closer to the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we move to the offensive line.

Projected starters: LT Orlando Pace, 6-7, 325, 13th season, Ohio State; LG Frank Omiyale, 6-4, 315, 5th season, Tennessee Tech; C Olin Kreutz, 6-2, 292, 12th season, Washington; RG Roberto Garza, 6-2, 310, 9th season, Texas A&M-Kingsville; RT Chris Williams, 6-6, 315, 2nd season, Vanderbilt.

Others

Johan Asiata, 6-4, 300, Rookie, UNLV
Cody Balogh, 6-6, 303, 1st season, Montana
Josh Beekman, 6-2, 310, 3rd season, Boston College
Dan Buenning, 6-4, 300, 5th season, Wisconsin
Dennis Conley, 6-2, 300, Rookie, Hampton
Lance Louis, 6-3, 305, Rookie, San Diego State
Tyler Reed, 6-5, 305, 1st season, Penn State
Kevin Shaffer, 6-5, 318, 8th season, Tulsa

Projected depth chart

LT: Pace, Shaffer
LG: Omiyale, Beekman
C: Kreutz, Beekman or Buenning
RG: Garza, Beekman
RT: Williams, Shaffer

2009 salary cap numbers

Johan Asiata $311,666
Cody Balogh $315,200
Josh Beekman $563,325
Dan Buenning $905,200
Dennis Conley $311,000
Roberto Garza $1,565,000
Olin Kreutz $4,133,333
Lance Louis $320,495
Frank Omiyale $4,950,000
Orlando Pace $5,333,333
Tyler Reed $317,280
Kevin Shaffer $2,383,333
Chris Williams $2,149,700

Number of offensive linemen on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 9

Projected number of offensive linemen on 2009 roster at start of the season: 8

The skinny: The Bears are reshaping their offensive line for the second consecutive year after using the same five (Tait-Brown-Kreutz-Garza-Miller) for the three previous seasons. They're set to open with their third left tackle, Pace, and third right tackle, Williams, in as many seasons. Nothing is official but Omiyale, the newcomer in free agency, is expected to supplant Beekman at left guard giving the front a new look at 60 percent of the positions. Line coach Harry Hiestand has done a credible job with what he's been given, which for most of his tenure has been a veteran group with a handful of castoffs from other cities. Hiestand didn't break stride last season when Williams was lost on the second day of training camp, forcing him to play John St. Clair at left tackle when the plan was for the veteran to be at left guard. Now, general manager Jerry Angelo is hopeful that his medical risk will pan out in a big way.

Ultimately, right tackle is not where the club projects Williams, the first-round draft pick from 2008, to be. But the hope is the team can squeeze a couple of Ruben Brown-type years out of Pace. He missed 25 games over the last three seasons in St. Louis, but Pace started 14 games last season. One NFC scout said he still looks solid as a pass blocker and the issue for the former No. 1 overall pick is run blocking. Pace was in good condition during the offseason program and it could be that a change of scenery and escaping a struggling franchise will reinvigorate him. The Bears have covered themselves in the event that injuries happen as they have Shaffer in a swing tackle role, not to mention Omiyale, who can play outside. That type of flexibility on the line will be an asset and there is little doubt right now the team will go with eight linemen to open the season. That was the plan last year until Williams had back surgery in August. In choosing to keep him on the 53-man roster, the Bears forced themselves to keep a ninth lineman. Omiyale should provide a little more bulk inside in replacing Beekman, and that was one of the stated goals early in the offseason. Kreutz remains the anchor of the group and with the Bears certain to face fewer eight-man fronts with Jay Cutler at quarterback, it will be interesting to see if the perception of him changes. Some have suggested the six-time Pro Bowl performer has been in decline but with Cutler and Matt Forte able to better keep opponents honest, the Bears' run blocking might look different.

Who says you need a Pro Bowl wide receiver to win the Super Bowl?

Not Rick Gosselin, that is for sure.

The veteran Dallas Morning News' scribe did an interesting breakdown of Super Bowl winners from 1991 to present and how the makeup of offenses has changed. History proves you don't need an elite receiver to win the Big Game, not anymore any way. It's good news for the Bears, right? They have nine wideouts on their roster right now and two of them have more than seven career catches--Devin Hester and Rashied Davis. The other seven--Devin Aromashodu (7), John Broussard (4), Earl Bennett (0), Juaquin Iglesias (0), Johnny Knox (0), Derek Kinder (0) and Eric Peterman (0)--have 11 combined receptions. Yes, more than half of the receivers on the roster have not caught a pass in the NFL making position coach Darryl Drake's job about as important as anyone's entering this season.

"Neither of the last two Super Bowl champions - Pittsburgh in 2008 or the New York Giants in 2007 - had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that season. Neither had a Pro Bowl quarterback, for that matter. The Steelers finished 17th in the NFL in passing and the Giants were 21st.


"When the New England Patriots won back-to-back titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, their top wideouts failed to crack the NFL's top 30 in receiving those seasons. Deion Branch finished 42nd in 2003 and David Givens 40th in 2004. Baltimore's top wideout in its 2000 championship season was Qadry Ismail, who finished 68th in the NFL.


"Only two NFL champions in the 2000 decade lined up a Pro Bowl wide receiver in their Super Bowl seasons - Troy Brown for the Patriots in 2001 and Marvin Harrison for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. The rest preferred quantity over quality on the flank."

Gosselin provides a chart comparing the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 2000 through 2008 to the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 1991 through 1999. Five wideouts from the 1991 to 1999 group made Pro Bowls. Two in the more recent group were selected, including Harrison for Indianapolis in 2006, the year the Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

There are some key points made in this story but the question right now is not if the Bears have an elite wide receiver for new quarterback Jay Cutler. The burning question is whether or not the Bears have enough wide receivers worthy of regular playing time in the NFL? I doesn't matter if you have Cutler or Kyle Orton at quarterback, you're not going to make a living pushing the ball downfield to tight ends and running backs.

What can a dominant receiver mean in the postseason? Consider Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, whose four-game postseason run included 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Hester was the only Bears wide receiver with more yards in 2008, and the Bears haven't had a wideout score that many times since Marty Booker had eight touchdowns in 2001.

Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes was the third wide receiver to claim Super Bowl MVP honors in the last five years. You might not need a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but you have to have one who can perform big on the sport's grandest stage. It's been 12 years since a running back was named Super Bowl MVP.


*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen likes the addition of strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the Bears' defense, but the thing that jumps out from this read is his assessment of new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"I doubt they'll disappoint with new D-line coach Rod Marinelli, who's gotten rave reviews from former players I've talked to as well as Bears GM Jerry Angelo. "The best teaching coach in the league," I've heard more than once.''

The Bears injected a little youth into the line with third-round pick Jarron Gilbert and fourth-round selection Henry Melton, but otherwise they're hoping to rediscover their swagger of 2005 and 2006 with virtually the same personnel. Some have questioned the ability of Marinelli to come in, wave a magic wand and make it happen. Bowen and other league insiders believe Marinelli can make it happen, and everyone knows the hard work Marinelli has ahead for the linemen. We've written it before, we'll write it again, pay attention to the individual D-line drills in training camp.

*** It seems that the last month or so has been one projection followed by one list followed by another projection. Well, here's another list ... this time ESPN's John Clayton puts together the top five general manager-coach combinations in the NFL. He ranks Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith fourth.

"Lovie Smith-Jerry Angelo, Chicago Bears: This one might surprise some because Angelo isn't a vocal general manager and the Bears, as a team, usually slip under the radar. They stay in contention most years in the NFC North, and made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Angelo made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, who could take the Bears to 11 wins. In the meantime, Smith has taken over the play-calling duties on defense and expects an improved, more aggressive unit this fall."


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Going over the Bears' 80-man roster right now, one position of need really jumps out at you. We're not covering any new ground when we write that they are banking on considerable production from multiple unproven players at wide receiver in 2009. Donald Driver beat us to the punch on that already.

Earl Bennett is a projected starter with zero NFL catches. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are being counted on and the Bears are hoping they don't require a "redshirt year'' that some in the organization say Bennett had. Then you have starter Devin Hester and veteran slot receiver Rashied Davis. Brandon Rideau could also figure in the mix and he has virtually no NFL experience.

But if Lovie Smith could make one personnel move right now, import one player to his roster, would it be a receiver? Maybe. But think back to five years ago when Smith was first on the scene. The Bears went to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University and before they got out of there Smith made up his mind, he needed a pass rusher to make his defense go. We've heard Smith say it every year as the draft approaches, he can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback.

Well, the price for an elite pass rusher just went up. A lot. All of a sudden you've got multiple pass rushers (Dwight Freeney's $72 million contract is standing up just fine) making more money than some top passers, a trend that is sure to change and maybe before the Bears get around to doing a deal for Jay Cutler. Consider the joy among edge rushers this week:

*** Terrell Suggs beat the deadline that comes with the franchise tag to sign a longterm contract in Baltimore. He bagged $63 million over six seasons, the same money Matt Cassel got in Kansas City this week. According to reports, Suggs will receive $38 million guaranteed and his total bonus money in the first two years of the deal is $33.1 million, just shy of the $34 million in bonus money Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning had in his contract.

The Bears may have gotten together with officials from Lewis University about a potential change of venues for future training camps, but for the near future they will be at Olivet Nazarene University.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the Bears and the Bourbonnais, Ill., school have come to terms on an agreement for the organization to return there in 2010 for camp. The parties are expected to sign a contract soon. Next year was an option year and both sides have elected to extend their arrangement.

While most other NFL teams are slowly reeling in the remainder of their draft classes with signings that are becoming more plentiful by the day, the Bears have had that business wrapped up for more than a month. The season is fast approaching and the Bears' first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is two weeks from today. We've already put in our request for an 80-degree day with full sunshine and a light breeze. Individual game tickets go on sale a week from Saturday on July 25 at noon via Ticketmaster phone and Internet outlets.

As our 30-day countdown to camp marches on with little news, we're going to jump around with a few different items this morning. But first, we have a little news.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene have reached an agreement for the team to leave camp following practice on Aug. 20. The contract between the club and the school allowed the Bears to occupy campus through Aug. 21 but school officials asked the team to leave a day earlier to allow them time to prepare for the arrival of the student body of 2,500 beginning Aug. 22. That means the Bears will be at another location for their Aug. 21 walk through in advance of their second preseason game Aug. 22 at Soldier Field vs. the New York Giants. For a complete training camp schedule, go here.

*** KC Joyner was able to sidestep much of the Jay Cutler firestorm he's been at the center of recently in another chat on ESPN.com. It's Joyner's opinion that this could be a better team than the one that went to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.

"Wouldn't you know it, I only get one question in and a Cutler comment gets posted. I'll say this about the Bears - they get a lot of turnovers and have the next Brian Westbrook in their backfield. They went to the Super Bowl with less talent than what they have now. Cutler will hurt them at times but many teams have won with QBs that have high bad decision rates, so they have at least a 50/50 shot at the division."

That is high praise for running back Matt Forte that we detailed here. No one seems up in arms with that comparison by Joyner. By the way, later on in his Thursday chat he clarified that he has Minnesota as the favorite to claim the NFC North, but called them a 51/49 favorite over the Bears.

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We didn't stumble across Donald Driver's assessment of the Bears' wide receivers until a big headline was plastered across ProFootballTalk.com, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came across something that position coach Darryl Drake might want to print out and stick in his training camp bag. Now.

Driver, talking to Sirius NFL Radio, was very complimentary of the Bears' acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler, and had nice things to say about the offensive line, running back Matt Forte and the defense. But the wideouts ... what wideouts?

"I think Chicago did a great job, and Lovie Smith went out there and got Jay Cutler to lead this team, but one thing they don't have is they don't have the receiver group," Driver said. "They have the running back, they have the offensive line and they have a great defense. But you're going to have to need receivers to make plays down the field, and they don't have that right now. So I can see on our end we have all of that on our offense. And then you go back to look at Minnesota. Minnesota has a great running game, but they just don't have the top-of-the-line quarterback that they need. So I'm hoping my guy [Brett Favre] doesn't go over there, but if he does then I wish the best for him."

The way the Bears' wideouts played against Green Bay last season, Driver may have let them off easy. Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson did a public mugging of the wide receivers in the first meeting. The Bears managed to lose 37-3 and in the process they completed four passes to wide receivers. Yes, they lost by five touchdowns (minus one extra point) and couldn't get five passes to the biggest playmakers on offense.

Brandon Lloyd has two receptions for 17 yards.

Rashied Davis had one receptions for 36 yards.

Devin Hester had one reception for seven yards.

Four catches. 60 yards.

Granted, that was the week Kyle Orton came back a week too early from an ankle injury but Orton wasn't the only player struggling at Lambeau Field.

The biggest moves the Bears made on defense, or at least the ones getting the most attention, were the changes on the coaching staff. Rod Marinelli's addition as the defensive line coach will create some storylines during training camp, and I think a lot of people are interested to watch the drill work he does with his players on the side. Lovie Smith's role as play caller will come more into focus when the season begins.

But we bounced the two biggest personnel changes on defense off Bill Barnwell when we spoke to the managing editor of Football Outsiders about the upcoming season. Their mean projection gives the Bears a 49 percent chance to have 11 or more victories, and that was the highest figure for any NFC club. It can all be found in the Football Outsiders Almanac, which will be available on Amazon.com in a few weeks and can be ordered in PDF format from their Web site.

First, we asked Barnwell about the addition of linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, who is projected to be the starter on the strong side after signing a one-year contract. St. Louis cut the veteran loose after the Rams failed in their bid to trade him. He became the first rookie in Rams' franchise history to lead the defense in tackles when he played the position for Smith and Bob Babich in 2003.

"It really depends on Tinoisamoa and how he fits into their scheme and how quickly he catches up on things,'' Barnwell said. "I understand he's had experience in the system in the past. He was playing for the Rams. The Rams didn't have a great defense last season. You look at his run numbers and they were atrocious. He made a lot of tackles but they were seven or eight yards from the line of scrimmage, they were coming well down the field. The defense wasn't good and his numbers were not very good. You have to put the scheme in context. It's not like baseball where if a guy is going to hit 40 home runs in one city he's going to hit 40 home runs in another city. He could be better this season.''

What Football Outsiders does is study each play and they look at a statistic they call the "stop rate" and average yards for running plays when the linebacker was credited with making the tackle. It's not a perfect system but they have other stats, one of which is called "defeats," defined as the total number of plays they stop the offense from gaining first down on third or fourth down, or make a play behind the line of scrimmage or create a turnover.

Tinoisamoa, who played weak side in St. Louis last season, was credited with 48 stops, 32 fewer than Lance Briggs. Tinoisamoa ranked 93rd out of 99 total linebackers vs. the run. But as Barnwell pointed out, these statistics are drawing from small sample sizes and they can change from year to year. Switch teams and defenses and it is not going to be the same. Tinoisamoa will have more talent around him this season and it's reasonable to expect he'll be a different player. Of course, the Bears thought Adam Archuleta was coming to a more talented defense when he left Washington for the Bears. That didn't work out so well for Archuleta or the Bears.

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We turn to the linebackers as we get back to our position-by-position previews and breakdowns.

Projected starters: MLB Brian Urlacher, 6-4, 258, 10th season, New Mexico; WLB Lance Briggs, 6-1, 242, 7th season, Arizona; SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, 6-1, 230, 7th season, Hawaii.

Others

Marcus Freeman, 6-1, 239, Rookie, Ohio State
Hunter Hillenmeyer, 6-4, 238, 7th season, Vanderbilt
Joey LaRocque, 6-2, 228, 2nd season, Oregon State
Kevin Malast, 6-2, 233, Rookie, Rutgers
Mike Rivera, 6-2, 245, Rookie, Kansas
Nick Roach, 6-1, 234, 3rd season, Northwestern
Jamar Williams, 6-0, 237, 4th season, Arizona State

Projected depth chart

MLB: Urlacher, Hillenmeyer
WLB: Briggs, Williams, Freeman
SLB: Tinoisamoa, Roach

2009 salary cap numbers

Lance Briggs $6,766,666
Marcus Freeman $355,425
Hunter Hillenmeyer $1,550,000
Joey LaRocque $390,200
Kevin Malast $311,666
Mike Rivera $311,666
Nick Roach $465,200
Pisa Tinoisamoa $1,501,560
Brian Urlacher $10,185,511
Jamar Williams $643,950

Number of linebackers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of linebackers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6 or 7

The skinny: The Bears went into the 2008 season able to trumpet the fact that their starting linebacking corps was entering its fifth consecutive year in tact. Not many teams can talk about having that kind of stability in the middle of their defense, and the Bears can't anymore. Hillenmeyer was replaced by Roach on the strong side during the middle of last season and while nothing has been awarded at this point, all signs point to the newcomer Tinoisamoa winning that job in training camp. That puts Roach out of a starting position and perhaps in line for a major role on special teams, and Hillenmeyer in a spot where he'll have to fight and claw to make the roster. But the strong-side backer has always been the sidekick for the Bears. The strong-side linebacker was on the field 63 percent of the time for the Bears last season (down from 69.2 percent in 2007). The stars are at the other spots where Briggs was selected to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive year. In franchise history only Mike Singletary (10), Dick Butkus (8) and Bill George (8) have been chosen to more consecutive all-star games from the position. Briggs led the defense in tackles for the second time in his career and had a personal best three interceptions. He plays with great range and is a big reason why the Bears ranked third in the league in pass defense vs. tight ends according to Football Outsiders.

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The one who got away from Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos got paid.

No, Jay Cutler didn't get a new contract.

But Matt Cassel cashed in on Tuesday as he received a $63 million, six-year contract, providing him with more security than the $14.65 million, one-year deal he had after being designated with the franchise tag by the New England Patriots before they traded him. It was the Broncos who hoped to write that new contract, and their failed bid to land Cassel was the launching point for Cutler's departure from Denver.

Cassel will receive $28 million guaranteed and will earn more than $40 million over the first three seasons. With his contract averaging about $10 million per season, he's close to the middle of the pack for quarterback pay. Get used to the big numbers because the Bears will be floating them soon. With more than $17.5 million in available salary cap room, the Bears would like to put a big chunk of that to work this fall with an extension for Cutler, who is signed through 2011 and has a $12 million roster bonus due in that final year of the contract.

Would signing a contract as soon as possible be the best move for Cutler?

He was adamant money wasn't the reason he wanted out of Denver. The Bears are invested in him for the long haul. They didn't swap two first-round picks and Kyle Orton to get Cutler and see how he performs. They've got to be comfortable tacking five new years on to his contract right now. Doing so before the fall deadline to re-negotiate a contract and have money applied to this year's cap makes sense for two reasons:

1. It lets the Bears apply a portion of the deal to this year's cap. There really aren't any other players in line for large extensions. This, of course, assumes a CBA extension is reached and the cap remains relevant.

2. It lets the Bears get Cutler under contract for longer before quarterback deals explode.

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The not so encouraging list of available quarterbacks grew by one on Monday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the inevitable and cut ties with ex-Bear Brian Griese, reducing to four the number of signal callers they have on their roster.

Griese instantly becomes the best option for the Bears should they choose to bring in a veteran quarterback. At this point, less than three weeks from training camp, it appears they are confident casting their lot with Caleb Hanie as the backup to Jay Cutler. Brett Basanez is also in the mix but from the looks of things during the offseason program, Hanie will be in position to be the No. 2. The Bears are carrying just three quarterbacks to camp and that's not a problem because when they've had a fourth QB in the past he's done a lot of standing around.

"He wants to play,'' Griese's agent Ralph Cindrich said by text message.

KC Joyner received such a spirited response from Bears and Jay Cutler followers last week in his online chat at ESPN.com that he's back with more analysis, this time on the New York Times' blog The FIfth Down.

Joyner's comment that Cutler "will make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman'' has sparked controversy here and in plenty of other places, including ProFootballTalk.com. Joyner says that Cutler is a risk taker who will win some games for the Bears with his aggressive approach and lose some for them as well. Cue the fireworks.

"I understand that fan scrutiny comes with the territory, so I don't mind that, but what I don't understand is why those fans are treating Cutler differently than they did either Grossman or Kyle Orton. Grossman was on fire during the first part of Chicago's Super Bowl season, and yet as soon as he had the bad game against Miami, it seemed the entire city turned on him. It didn't go that much differently for Orton. He had a tremendous start to the 2008 season, but when he struggled down the stretch, the populace seemed to say goodbye and good riddance without much of a second thought."

Joyner points out that while Cutler passed for more than 4,500 yards in Denver last season, he was second in the league with 616 attempts and his yards per attempt on vertical throws was 9.8 yards, 20th in the league. The stat that has readers here most agitated is the bad decision rate of 4.6 percent with Joyner defining a bad decision as one that leads to a turnover or a near turnover. Presumably (we're interested in learning more about this), it doesn't include a ball that goes off a wide receiver's shoulder pads and bounces 10 feet to the nearest defender before being intercepted. The bottom line is we don't have those numbers in front of us other than the 4.6 percent rate for Cutler was worst in the league.

One of the common replies, at least here, to all of this has been that Cutler played with one of the worst defenses imaginable on an 8-8 Broncos team and had to keep chucking the ball to try to keep his team in games. (Every quarterback is going to make more mistakes when they are playing from behind). Denver's defense was 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. The good folks at Football Outsiders ranked the defense 31st in the league, so we can agree it was sufficiently lousy.

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Missing: The Bears' pass rush.

If found, please bring to the Weber Center on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University by midnight July 30, you know, so the defense can have its identity back in time for training camp.

The disappearance of the Bears' pass rush, particularly from its front four, was an issue that could not be solved last season when the team registered 28 sacks, the lowest total in five seasons under Lovie Smith. Since expanding to the 16-game schedule in 1978, the Bears have had less than 28 sacks just once, in 2003.

The lack of a pass rush has been conveniently placed at the feet of defensive tackle Tommie Harris by some and that's entirely unfair. No, Harris didn't make it to the Pro Bowl last season but to finger him as the reason for the rush being stuck in rush hour wouldn't be accurate.

Football Outsiders provides an interesting graphic in their Football Outsiders Almanac, and on the surface at least it places the blame elsewhere. Consider this information from Football Outsiders on the distribution of sacks for the Bears over the last three seasons:

Year Pass Attempts DE sacks DT sacks LB/DB sacks Total QB hits per pass

2006 581 25.5 10.5 4 40 14.8 percent

2007 541 18.5 9.5 12 40 13.6 percent

2008 622 12 10.5 4.5 28* 12.4 percent

* On their official statistics the Bears had one sack awarded to "group."

Harris made five sacks last season, tying him for second on the defense, one behind Alex Brown. Harris made a career-high eight sacks in 2007 and had five in 2006. His sack totals--and the numbers produced by the defensive tackles--have remained consistent over the three-year period.

The difference between 28 sacks in 2008 and 40 sacks in 2006? How about Mark Anderson? The defensive end made one sack last season. He had 12 in 2006. Those 11 missing sacks would have given the Bears 39 last season.

"Besides the presence of Mark Anderson at the bottom?'' Football Outsiders managing editor Bill Barnwell said when asked what struck him in his evaluation of the Bears' defensive line. "That jumps out to me. Otherwise, probably Alex Brown's pass-rushing numbers. Not just the sacks, but we also track hits and hurries."

In statistics detailed in Football Outsiders Almanac, Brown was credited with 11 hits and 11 hurries. Combined with six sacks, that means he affected the quarterback 28 times, three more than the next closest Bear, Adewale Ogunleye (5 sacks, 4 hits, 16 hurries). Brown's 11 hits tied for 17th in the league. Anderson had one sack, four hits and six hurries. Harris had five hits and seven hurries.

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The game of baseball lends itself to endless statistical analysis. You could just talk numbers from now until Tuesday's all-star game about the struggles of the Cubs without even mentioning the sideshows that have dominated the season to this point on the North Side. There is a statistical explanation or trend for everything.

Football isn't broken down in quite the same way, or at least it has not been in the mainstream. But the good folks at Football Outsiders are doing all they can to introduce some new tools for examining the game. Just this past week they released the Football Outsiders Almanac in PDF format. The actual book should be available in a few weeks on Amazon.com. This is the same publication that previously was Pro Football Prospectus.

If you put stock in their work you can call your travel agent. Football Outsiders projects the Bears to win the NFC this season. That's right, they have the Bears returning to Miami three years after losing Super Bowl XLI there.

"We have them with the highest projected record of any team in the NFC,'' managing editor Bill Barnwell said. "Thanks to improvements along the offensive line and a defense that we expect to be much healthier."

The addition of Jay Cutler has a little bit to do with their forecast as well. We've done a little light reading through the 517-page book and it's loaded with some very interesting analysis, some of which we will touch on right here and more of which we'll get into later this week and as we get closer to training camp. The PDF version of the book is available on their Web site here if you want to check it out yourself.

The statistic at the center of almost everything Football Outsiders does is DVOA--Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. It's not quite as simple as yards per carry or even the often misleading passer rating. What DVOA does is put yardage gained into better perspective. An eight-yard pass on third-and-10 isn't very helpful. It's going to lead to a punt. But a one-yard run on third-and-one is effective, right? A one-yard one on third-and-one vs. the Williams Wall or the Pittsburgh Steelers is more impressive, too, than say an identical outcome vs. Detroit. DVOA evaluates every single play during the NFL season and strips out plays such as Hail Mary passes, kneel downs, spikes, and every play is studied after adjusting for down, distance, situation on the field and the quality of the opponent. So every third-and-one play across the entire league is analyzed. Every third-and-12 is studied. Every snap for all 32 teams goes under the microscope. The DVOA is the percentage vs. the league average. So a 10 percent DVOA is pretty good. A running back with a 10 percent DVOA is doing 10 percent better than the league average. On defense, a negative DVOA means a team is allowing fewer yards than the league average.

So where do the Bears stack up? Well, it's been since 1995 that they had a positive DVOA on offense. Erik Kramer's big season when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns hasn't been replicated since. In fact, no Bears' passer has come close. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had a 17.7 percent DVOA that year as an offense, which is tremendous production. Last year, they were minus-4.3 percent, similar to the minus-4.2 percent they registered during the Super Bowl season of 2006. The worst during their 14-year stretch in which they had just the one positive season (1995) came during the Terry Shea Experiment of 2004 when the Bears were at minus-36.5 percent, worst in the league.

Defensively, the Bears fared much better last season than their total defense ranking of 21st, which measures just yards allowed. When Lovie Smith says there is more to defense than yards allowed, perhaps he has his DVOA in mind. The Bears' DVOA on defense in 2008 was minus-6.8 percent, which ranked seventh. That was one spot better than where they were in 2007. Football Outsiders' system had the Bears as the second-ranked defense in the league in 2006 at minus-19.7 percent and tops in 2005 when they were minus-21.5 percent. The lowest they have finished under Smith was ninth in 2004. We'll get into a few reasons why the DVOA was solid last season a little later on.

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Our daily countdown to training camp is being thrown off schedule just a little bit by some more company-imposed breaks, and Saturday is one of those days. So we'll post another countdown to training camp right now and get back to it on Sunday when we're welcome in the office again.

Once again, Jay Cutler dominated the conversation in an online chat hosted by KC Joyner. Talking football for an hour on ESPN.com on Thursday, Joyner got hit from many angles on Cutler. As you might imagine, he stuck to his theory that Cutler will win some games for the Bears but he will also lose some because of his risk taking. If you want to take a look at the entire chat, it's right here. Joyner watches as much tape as anybody doing statistical analysis out there.

"I've said it many times and I'll say it again, Cutler will make Bears fans remember Rex Grossman,'' Joyner said. "He'll make just as many crazy passes but won't suffer the Grossman fate because Chicago's fan base is so in love with him that they will forgive the nutty throws he makes in ways that they never forgave Grossman."

Think it could be so? Grossman came under fire during 2006 even when the Bears were winning. Could the same thing happen to Cutler? Our bet would be that he will have an extended honeymoon.

So, one chat follower responded, "That's the craziest assumption I've ever heard in my life. If Cutler is as bad as Grossman, you'll get promoted and Jay will be run out of town with JA [Jerry Angelo], Lovie [Smith] and company.''

Responded Joyner: "It's funny. Whenever I say Cutler will remind Bears fans of Grossman, they get all up in arms. All Grossman did was take Chicago to their first Super Bowl in years and the Bears fans couldn't run him out of the starting spot quick enough. They'll win with Cutler but man will they grit their teeth when he blows a game or two with his over the top risk taking.

"You know what really bothers me about Cutler? The idea that fans can't comment on him in a non-emotional manner. Every Bears fan thinks he is the next coming of Jim McMahon. When I point out that he has performance issues and that Grossman had those same issues, they just go overboard instead of saying, `Hey, that's a good point, can he improve in that area?'

"I'm basing my Cutler comments on three seasons of Denver tape breakdowns. He's a huge risk-taker and that equates to about 1 in 20 of his passes being an [interception] or near [interception] because of a mistake on his part. He'll win games in the Windy City and when he does, I'll hear it from Bears fans. I just want to hear from those same fans when his risk-taking costs the team a big game and I'll all but guarantee that will happen.''

If that wasn't enough Bears chatter for a one-hour session, Joyner was also asked about running back Matt Forte.

"Forte will be this generation's Brian Westbrook,'' Joyner said. "He'll have a great year no matter who is behind center for Chicago."

That stopped us for a minute and got us thinking. Typically, Forte has been compared to other tall running backs, Eddie George is the first that comes to mind. Running backs Tim Spencer, who coached George at Ohio State, has even drawn the parallels. We've heard people use Marcus Allen and Eric Dickerson as comparables also but think linking a second-year back to Hall of Famers is a little premature, maybe a lot premature. But Westbrook has been a dominant force in Philadelphia for some time. He's been an integral part of the Eagles' offense since coming into the league in 2002, and he topped 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2007.

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It's been a while since we went through the mailbag so we'll knock out more than four questions this morning in Four Down Territory as we take a little break from the position-by-position previews that have been running in our 30-day countdown to Bourbonnais. Here we go.

Q: What about a contract extension for Danieal Manning? He's slated to have an uncanny season at kick returner which means, of course, that the Bears will need the extra money to give him an extension and convert him to wide receiver.

Mike, Parts Unknown

A: Looks like we have a jokester here. Is that Manning switch right after Brian Urlacher is moved to free safety and Chris Zorich is re-signed to play middle linebacker? It's a good question when it comes to Manning. Not sure what he is going to have to do to have an "uncanny" season. Manning would have made the Pro Bowl last season if he had replaced Devin Hester as the kickoff returner about a month prior to the move that was made in Week 11. He averaged 29.7 yards per return, the club's highest total in nearly 35 years, and became only the fifth player in franchise history to top 1,000 yards for a season. Now, consider first that Manning didn't see all of the gimmicks (bloops, squibs, sky kicks, you name it) that Hester did when he was the primary kickoff returner. Opponents will likely pay more attention to Manning this coming season but special teams coordinator Dave Toub is quick to adjust and his schemes have proven the test of time. Defensively, Manning was on the field one-third of the time in 2008, getting 370 snaps out of the 1,111 total. He seemed to make progress as a nickel back, particularly in the second half of the season. Manning was in that role during the spring until a hamstring injury, one of many suffered on the roster, sidelined him and Corey Graham took his place for the last two weeks of OTA's. It looks like Manning will remain in that role entering training camp but if Nathan Vasher nails down the right cornerback job and Craig Steltz winds up being the free safety, the coaching staff might give Graham more of a look at nickel, where he played one game last season. Is there a possibility the club re-signs Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract? Sure. He probably should have been on the list of players we made. But a kickoff returner who does or does not double as a nickel corner isn't going to get a huge contract.


Q: You didn't mention Lance Louis in your preview of the fullbacks. Is there a reason why? Didn't the Bears say he could play tight end as well as fullback when they selected him?

Oscar T., Chicago

A: There is a somewhat popular notion that Lance Louis will reprise the role of William Perry and do some heavy duty work in the backfield. We don't see it happening. We don't see Louis playing any tight end, either. The Bears don't have a spot at tight end for him with Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Michael Gaines. They don't need a project at the position because they already have one in Davis. Louis, who was issued No. 60, which is an ineligible number, is going to have a hard time making the roster as a seventh-round pick. He'd have an even more difficult time making the 45-man gameday roster, and it's unlikely he'd be active for a possible gimmick play involving him lining up at an eligible position.


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We'll get in one more positional breakdown before we switch gears from this analysis for a few days and get into some other material we hope you find interesting, including Four Down Territory on Friday. Up this morning are the fullbacks.

Projected starter: Jason McKie, 5-11, 247, 8th year, Temple

Others

Jason Davis, 5-10, 242, 2nd year, Illinois
Will Ta'ufo'ou, 5-11, 247, Rookie, Cal

Projected depth chart

McKie

2009 salary cap numbers

Jason Davis $390,200
Jason McKie $995,000
Will Ta'ufo'ou $311,666

Number of fullbacks on 2008 roster at start of the season: 1

Projected number of fullbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 1

The skinny: The Bears got a pretty good look at another player in Davis when a quad muscle injury knocked McKie out after 11 games. McKie has been a pretty durable performer appearing in 15 or more games in three of the last five seasons. A torn pectoral muscle kept him out for half of the year in 2005. He's a dependable player who has become a bit of a threat in the red zone, rushing for two touchdowns last season and catching another pass for a score to give him seven touchdowns over the last three seasons. Davis proved to be a nice find when he joined the practice squad at the start of the season and the Bears were lucky to get him back after the brief mid-season stint he had in Oakland. He's got the talent to play in the league but is in a numbers crunch after tight end Michael Gaines was signed. The Bears talked with Gaines about using him as an H-back on occasion and lining him up in the backfield and that kind of versatility could put the squeeze on Davis and lead the Bears to keep just one fullback on the 53-man roster as they did at the start of last season. Gaines could get them through a game in an emergency if something happened to McKie. Of course, second year tight end Kellen Davis also figures into the equation. If the Bears only keep three tight ends, it increases the chance that an extra running back or fullback make the roster. Kellen Davis has draft status, though, and Jason Davis does not. Given the addition of Jay Cutler at quarterback and the trend last season with offensive coordinator Ron Turner and the fullback position, we're also inclined to believe that only one fullback will make the roster. The Bears relied less on the fullback in 2008, with playing time dropping to 34.88 percent of the plays down from 41.15 percent in 2007. The drop was due in large part to the expansion of double tight end formations. Ta'ufo'ou was an interesting guy going into the draft but his stock dipped and he would up being signed as an undrafted free agent. He might not be the listed height of 5-11 and faces a real uphill battle to crack the roster.

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We flip back to the defense today in our position-by-position previews and take a look at the defensive tackles on the roster. Four Down Territory is coming Friday when we take a break from position previews so get your questions in. Here we go.

Projected starters: Tommie Harris, 6-3, 295, 6th year, Oklahoma; Anthony Adams, 6-0, 310, 7th year, Penn State

Others

Dusty Dvoracek, 6-3, 303, 4th year, Oklahoma
Jarron Gilbert, 6-5, 285, R, San Jose State
Marcus Harrison, 6-3, 312, 2nd year, Arkansas
Israel Idonije, 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba
Matt Toeaina, 6-2, 308, 2nd year, Oregon

Projected depth chart

UT: Harris, Idonije, Gilbert
NT: Adams, Harrison

2009 salary cap numbers

Anthony Adams $1,087,500
Dusty Dvoracek $723,825
Jarron Gilbert $641,500
Tommie Harris $9,090,000
Marcus Harrison $553,851
Israel Idonije $3,488,533
Matt Toeaina $465,200

Number of defensive tackles on 2008 roster at start of the season: 5/6 (6 if you counted Idonije as a tackle)

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 5

The skinny: This is the position that will draw a lot of attention heading into the season. The Bears believe in building from the line back and that philosophy was evident when the team used its first draft pick on Gilbert back in April. It was not the greatest need, in fact it was far from it, but the organization is committed to collecting quality linemen. Now all Gilbert has to do is be known for more than jumping out of a pool, but more on him later on. Harris is the motor that drives the front seven and he was brought along with care during the offseason. It made sense. Nothing Harris could have done on the final day of minicamp in March or during some of the OTA's in May and June was going to translate on the field in September when it counts. He has a balky left knee and the team is playing it smart. It's all about getting quality snaps out of Harris when it matters. He was on the field for 623 plays last season spread across 14 games. That's a good number for him this season over 16 games. If the Bears get a solid rotation going they will not have to lean on Harris as much and perhaps will be able to preserve him for the stretch run. That figure of 623 was easily tops for interior lineman. The wild card guy here in the bunch is Harrison. He showed sparks during his rookie season when he had five QB hits, two sacks, two passes defended and three tackles for loss, but he also disappeared on occasion. Harrison has a knee issue that lingers with him. Remember, he had an ACL reconstruction entering his final year of school. He's bulked up or ballooned up depending on how you look at it, and that's probably for more action at nose tackle although he'll probably see time at both spots. If he can step forward--some had a first-round grade on him but the knee issue and the drug bust dropped him to the third round--the Bears will be very much improved. But don't forget Adams. He's been the most consistent performer on the interior for two seasons. Lost behind Dvoracek for the first half of the season, he emerged and you had to scratch your head wondering what took him so long to get on the field. He's stout vs. the run and he adds more of an interior pass rush than Dvoracek, who wore down as the season went along. Dvoracek has finished the season on injured reserve each of his three seasons and he's all the way back from a biceps injury. He could be hard pressed to make the roster. The Bears kept nine linemen going into the 2008 season and Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson, Henry Melton, Idonije, Adams, Gilbert, Harris and Harrison figure to have roster spots the way we break it down. Injuries could happen and we could be wrong. Both have happened before and both will happen again. There's not a person we've encountered who doesn't really like Dvoracek but he will have to have a big camp and preseason most likely. Gilbert is an interesting guy because he's a little light and who knows if he eventually winds up outside, maybe at left end. But he'll get to learn from Harris and that's a good place to start, especially if Harrison is going to be worked more at nose. Idonije will probably play all four spots on the line before the season is over. Picking a spot for him is tough because he's so versatile. Toeaina is in a tough position just like Dvoracek. Some people really like him as a run stuffer but there will only be so many spots under new line coach Rod Marinelli, the man charged with getting the most out of this unit. Notice we're not diving into the whole subject of whether or not Marinelli can be a savior.

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Back to offense as we make our way through the positions on our way to training camp. Let's look at what the Bears have at running back. Fullback will follow later in the week.

Projected starter: Matt Forte, 6-2, 218 pounds, 2nd year, Tulane

Others

Kevin Jones, 6-0, 225, 6th year, Virginia Tech
Adrian Peterson, 5-10, 212, 7th year, Georgia Southern
Garrett Wolfe, 5-7, 185, 3rd year, Northern Illinois

Projected depth chart

Forte, Jones, Wolfe, Peterson

2009 salary cap numbers

Matt Forte $773,533
Kevin Jones $1,750,000
Adrian Peterson $770,000
Garrett Wolfe $620,825

Number of running backs on 2008 roster at start of the season:
4

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3 or 4

The skinny: The Bears return the same bunch from 2008 with the hope that it will be even more productive. Forte had the most impressive rookie season in franchise history and now that Jones is 1 1/2 years removed from his ACL reconstruction, the belief is he will become a substantial contributor on offense. Jones also knows the offense now and the Bears outbid Buffalo for his services, the first of two players the Bears beat the Bills to this offseason. They later plucked linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa off the street despite overtures from Buffalo. Forte led all NFL running backs in receptions last season and while that's impressive, it's not exactly the sign of a healthy offense. Our bet is the Bears hope Forte doesn't lead the team in receptions again this season. He needs to improve his yards per carry of 3.9, and with a re-tooled offensive line and a new quarterback in Jay Cutler, there's ample reason to believe that can and will happen. He was fourth in the league with 316 carries last season and he simply dominated the playing time at the position. Forte was on the field for nearly 84 percent of the offensive snaps last season, a remarkable figure. The Bears have said they want to spread the action out more this season, and there's no doubt Jones is hoping they do just that. Forte needs to improve in short-yardage situations. He's an upright runner and that makes him an easier target. That takes care of the top two. There will be an interesting competition for the No. 3 job and it will not be settled by their play in the backfield alone. Wolfe and Peterson are both mainstays on special teams and Wolfe led the team with 21 tackles last season despite playing in only 13 games. Durability is going to be a concern with him at his size and Peterson wasn't as good as he has been in the past. Making this a numbers crunch is the presence of tight end Michael Gaines. If Gaines and second-year tight end Kellen Davis both make the roster, the squeeze figures to happen right here. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has yet to find a role for Wolfe on offense even though the team has stated it would like to do just that. Peterson is what he is, a guy who can come off the bench and pick up what is blocked for him. Keep an eye on how they're being used in training camp and preseason. Four tight ends would likely spell only three running backs and then the Bears would likely find a back for the practice squad.

The upside: The upside would be Forte repeats with another 1,200-yard season and Jones tops 500 yards as a guy who gets close to one-third of the playing time.

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Final results are in because, well, we decided it was time to close the polls on our question that started our countdown to training camp last Wednesday.

The question was posed -- We're in July! It's football season! What is the Bears' biggest issue heading into camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.?

More than 1,400 votes later (I'm pretty sure there are more than 1,400 of you out there to vote), the No. 1 concern (among the five responses we created) was how the defensive line will turn around under new coach Rod Marinelli.

Here is how voting broke down:

1. It starts in the trenches and this team will not get any better defensively unless Rod Marinelli does indeed possess the magic touch with that line. 35% (493 votes)

2. Jay Cutler is a great addition, but it's about the defense. Can Lovie Smith the Play Caller turn around this unit that has struggled at times for two seasons? 32% (444 votes)

3. Umm, exactly who is going to line up at free safety? I'm not sure the team addressed this position during an eventful offseason. 19% (267 votes)

4. Umm, Jay Cutler is going to throw the ball to who? I'm not sure the team can count on its wide receivers. 10% (144 votes)

5. It starts in the trenches and from the looks of things the offensive line will have three new starters. Don't overlook the obvious. 4% (59 votes)

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Switching to defense for our second positional breakdown in our daily countdown to training camp, we'll examine the roster at defensive end.

Projected starters: Alex Brown, 6-3, 260 pounds, 8th year, Florida; Adewale Ogunleye, 6-4, 260, 8th year, Indiana

Others

Mark Anderson 6-4, 255, 4th year, Alabama
Ervin Baldwin 6-2, 260, 2nd year, Michigan State
Joe Clermond 6-2, 250, 1st year, Pitt
Israel Idonije 6-6, 270, 6th year, Manitoba **** listed on Bears official roster as a DT
Henry Melton 6-3, 260, Rookie, Texas

Projected depth chart

Right end: Brown, Anderson
Left end: Ogunleye, Idonije****

2009 salary cap numbers

Mark Anderson $1,054,339
Ervin Baldwin $390,200
Alex Brown $2,882,514
Joe Clermond $315,200
Israel Idonije $3,448,533
Henry Melton $437,808
Adewale Ogunleye $6,464,056

Number of defensive ends on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3/4 (Idonije was listed as a DL at the start of the 2008 season)

Projected number of defensive ends on 2009 roster at start of the season:
5 (including Idonije)

The skinny: Basically you're looking at the same group from 2008 with the addition of Melton, a fourth-round pick out of Texas who is a project. The Bears have to get more production from this unit in terms of the pass rush. Idonije looked to be headed back outside as he dropped weight, but every time you turned around during the offseason program, there he was lined up at defensive tackle. There were a handful of players on the inside who were rested--most notably Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison--and that was probably a big reason for Idonije's whereabouts. It's probably fair to say at this point that he'll play both spots and that could spell trouble for a tackle when it comes time to make final cuts. Ogunleye is entering the final year of his contract and knows that a strong season will position him for a pay day. Brown could be in line to hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his career and the hope is new line coach Rod Marinelli has the same kind of effect on Mark Anderson that the team believes Jay Cutler will on the team's wide receivers. The Bears used a strict three-man rotation at defensive end last season, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Ogunleye (878), Brown (853) and Anderson (490) combined for 2,221 snaps in 2008. There were 1,111 total snaps so some two-man combination of those three players was on the field for all but one play over the course of the entire season. That's why we're not sure where Idonije and Melton will fit in. Obviously, if Melton shows some strong pass-rushing capabilities, they'll make time for him to get on the field. Stay tuned here.

In our daily countdown to training camp, we'll cover all the positions, one day at a time. Why not start with what will be the most watched position in camp, quarterback?

Projected starter: Jay Cutler, 6-3, 233 pounds, 4th year, Vanderbilt

Others

Brett Basanez, 6-1, 208, 2nd year, Northwestern
Caleb Hanie, 6-2, 225, 2nd year, Colorado State

Projected depth chart: Cutler, Hanie, Basanez

2009 salary cap numbers

Basanez $402,280
Cutler $1,560,000
Hanie $391,866

Number of quarterbacks on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3

Projected number of quarterbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: Cutler is the most anticipated quarterback the Bears have had since the arrival of Jim McMahon more than a quarter-century ago. He possesses one of the most talented arms in the entire league and is being counted on to dramatically improve the production of a wide receivers corps that many still doubt. Cutler can make every throw on the field--he'll dazzle you with his arm strength at training camp--and should benefit from the presence of running back Matt Forte. One knock on Cutler has been his decision making. Sometimes he counts on his arm too much to slide the ball into spots it shouldn't go. But the Bears don't want to curb his aggressive nature. That is one of his strengths, after all. An awful lot has been made of the backup position with two unproven players in Hanie and Basanez but what's left out there to pursue? The bet is that Hanie will be every bit as good as a player on the discard pile right now. Basanez is a dink and dunk passer who will know the system inside out but can't make all the throws. Keep an eye on Hanie. He throws a nice deep ball.

Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.

We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.

1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.

ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.

2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.

ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.

3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.

ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.

4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.

5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.

We have covered it here before but it's worth going over again.

One of the reasons the Bears are in such a good position with the salary cap this season (and in prior years) is because they manage to do a pretty good job of limiting their dead cap space. That's cap space that is eaten up by players no longer on the roster. Make a slew of a bad decisions with draft picks, free agents or both and teams can pile up some dead cap space in a hurry. The trade of Kyle Orton to Denver gave the Bears $700,000 in dead cap space for 2009.

According to the most recent figures, the Bears are carrying $6,535,640 in dead cap space. That might sound like a lot but consider that it is just 4.8 percent of the total pie which is more than $135.9 million. That number will go up. The Bears have 80 players under contract right now and as they work toward a final 53-man roster, players will be released that add money to that but as best as we can tell there aren't any players in jeopardy of losing their job that would add a big number to that figure.

Players with the highest dead space on the roster:

There is more than a $20 bill in Jerry Angelo's pocket.

The general manager likes to joke that he doesn't have money burning a hole in his wallet, and often references having an Andy Jackson in his pocket. That may be the case but the Bears have much more than that remaining in room under the 2009 salary cap.

A check on Wednesday afternoon of the most recent figures indicates that the Bears remain $17.67 million under their adjusted salary-cap figure of $135.9 million. That means the organization has committed 86.99 percent of its cap to this point and there is plenty of room left over for spending.

More and more it seems unlikely Plaxico Burress will be sitting down to the table to enjoy a piece of that (salary cap) pie. During our company-imposed vacation, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reported that commissioner Roger Goodell could come down hard on Burress and make it difficult for him to be on the field in 2009. Burress has reportedly turned down plea deals that would have landed him in the poky for a short amount of time, so short that he could have already done his time and be out on the street. Now, the case is trudging along through the New York court system. Goodell wants accountability from players and when Burress, who had a hole in his leg from his unlicensed hand gun, does all he can to avoid that accountability, it might not bode well for him when it comes time to hear from the league.

Burress' agent Drew Rosenhaus is doing all he can to drum up business, reporting recently that five teams are now interested in Burress. Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have come out and said you can count them out. There was a report out of New York that the Jets may have cooled on the idea. If the Bears are not in play, Rosenhaus' list just got trimmed in half, at least.

So, let's take a look at where that $17.67 million could go. Remember, general manager Jerry Angelo and president Ted Phillips said that although streamlining was going on in the organization, the football budget would not be affected by the economy.

1. Jay Cutler. We wrote here previously that the Bears will look to do something long term with Cutler, perhaps during the season. They'll need to make that move in October probably in order to take advantage of the cap room and apply money to this season. It makes perfect sense. Yes, Cutler remains under contract for three more seasons. But he has a $12 million roster bonus in 2012 that the team would probably like to avoid. Forget the idea of waiting to see how Cutler performs. They got him for the long haul and they're going to invest in him for the long haul. But quarterback deals take time to put together. Why not start during training camp?

Five teams will line up at the start of September with a quarterback who has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.

Twenty-seven teams will begin the journey with a quarterback searching for the path to a title.

Clifton Brown of the Sporting News recently looked at the quarterbacks without a Super Bowl ring and which one has the best chance to get fitted for one at the end of the year.

His front runners?

Kerry Collins, who played in Super Bowl XXXV and lost, Joe Flacco and Donovan McNabb, who has a Super Bowl loss in XXXIX.

Knocking at the door?

Jake Delhomme, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo.

Others to watch?

Drew Brees
, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan.

Collins, Flacco, McNabb, Delhomme, Rivers and Ryan all were in the playoffs last season. Romo has playoff experience and Brees has been to an NFC Championship Game. That makes Cutler the only one of the bunch who has yet to gain playoff experience. He's yet to have a winning season, in fact, but the Bears feel strongly they will be competing in January and some view them as the favorite in the NFC North. It's an interesting list and we found it a little striking that only five current starters have a ring.

That list:

Tom Brady 3
Ben Roethlisberger 2
Eli Manning 1
Peyton Manning 1
Kurt Warner 1

The most recent Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks to not be playing?

Brad Johnson, Super Bowl XXXVII
Trent Dilfer, Super Bowl XXXV
John Elway, Super Bowls XXXIII, XXXII


Welcome to our countdown to training camp.

The Bears will report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., in 29 days. The beginning of the 2009 season and the first training camp practice is 30 days away.

We've been away for a little bit--some of the vacation was of the unpaid variety and not by choice--but we're back. We'll cover all the angles here every day leading up to the most anticipated camp we've seen in nine years. Yes, we're saying there is more buzz about camp this summer than two years ago when the Bears were coming off their appearance in Super Bowl XLI. If you can imagine it, we'll probably tackle it right here in the next 30 days, starting with a poll. Go ahead and weigh in on what the most critical issue facing the Bears is heading to camp. We'll assess the options in the poll next week. We'll also visit with a Four Down Territory next week, so fire away with your questions.

Now to the voting station.

Time for a look at some interesting numbers that Jason La Canfora, new to NFL.com, came up with. He took a look at the real dollar figures in the NFL over the last five seasons. Not the salary cap but committed cash, the actual amount of money teams paid players. We all know teams can spend well above and beyond the cap each season when large bonus payments (spread over multiple seasons) come into play. Right here, La Canfora breaks it down and has the Bears 21st in the league in spending at $495.57 million from 2004 through 2008. That is more than $70 million less than the biggest spender on the list--Jerry Jones.

Here is now the NFC North breaks down:

5. Minnesota $526.87 million

15. Detroit $505.04 million

21. Bears $495.57 million

30. Green Bay $457.16 million

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

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