Chicago Sun-Times

August 2009 Archives

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The Bears might have been runnerup for the services of Rod Hood the first time around, but they look to be in position to land the veteran cornerback in time for the regular season.

Hood was released Monday by the Cleveland Browns and he expects to sign a contract with the Bears today a little more than three months after the team had him in on a free-agent visit. The team had also investigated Ken Lucas as a possibility.

``I like the Bears, I like coach Lovie [Smith] and I like all the coaches,'' Hood said. ``I had a good experience when I was there and I don't need to know why I didn't sign there the first time because I had a good feel for everything about them. I'm just glad they were still interested in me.''

Hood can provide insurance as starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman have yet to appear in a preseason game as they work their way back from injuries. The Bears have been going with former Pro Bowl performer Nathan Vasher and Trumaine McBride, and Vasher doesn't appear to be the same player any longer and McBride did not play well Sunday night at Denver, missing a couple tackles and being beat by ex-Bear Brandon Lloyd for a catch near the goalline.

``I've been a starter in this league but all I am looking for is an opportunity to go out there and compete,'' Hood said. ``Wherever they can use me, I am willing.''

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The Bears seem pretty content right now with their pairing of Kevin Payne and rookie Al Afalava at safety but there is an ex-Bear out there interested in helping. Tony Parrish signed a contract with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League and is trying to resurrect his career at 33 and after sitting out the last two seasons.

``I want people to notice me,'' Parrish said. ``I'm playing to get back in the NFL. I'm playing for the love of the game.''

It's certainly not for money. Parrish will make $35,000 in the fledgling UFL, which opens training camps next week. He left the Bears after the 2001 season and went on to become an Pro Bowl all-pro performer in San Francisco. He broke his ankle and fibula playing vs. the Bears in 2005 and wasn't the same the next season when he split time between the Niners and Dallas Cowboys.

``I've been really ready for more than a year now,'' he said. ``I wasn't the same after the broken leg but I'm back now. I still haven't quenched my thirst for football.''

The Bears had 11 starters headed to some form of free agency--unrestricted or restricted--when general manager Jerry Angelo was hired in June 2001. He literally had a few months to construct a plan for the future and one of the decisions made was to let Parrish leave as a UFA. The Bears had Mike Brown in his second season and believed him to be a building block for the future at the position, but while they were paired together, they were outstanding.

Agent Joel Segal landed Parrish a $12 million, five-year contract to sign with San Francisco in 2002. It was near top money at the time, and Parrish flourished there, making a Pro Bowl as he proved to have better coverage skills than anyone anticipated. Parrish cashed in but it's not money he's after, he wants to return to the game.

A day before first cuts were due, the Bears got down to 75 players by making four moves.

Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was waived/injured. Wide receiver John Broussard, punter Richmond McGee and long snapper J.J. Milan were placed on waivers. McGee performed well during training camp but wasn't going to unseat veteran Brad Maynard.

Final cuts to 53 are due on Saturday. Teams can begin establishing an eight-man practice squad on Sunday.

The backdrop for Sunday's tuneup for the regular season at Denver is going to be all things Cutler.

Cutler and Josh McDaniels. Cutler and Pat Bowlen. Cutler and his former teammates. Cutler and the Broncos fans. And you have to figure NBC will sprinkle in a liberal dose of Brandon Marshall and how-not-to-behave. But beyond these juicy storylines there are plenty of football items that need to be followed. Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo already have a good idea, a very good idea how the 53-man roster is going to shake out. But this is the game where players can confirm their appearance on that list or confirm that they will be elsewhere in 2009. Let's jump in with a look at six areas worth paying close attention to during the game. Go ahead and weigh in with your list as well.

1. Pass rush. Smith went out of his way to praise the pass rush last week against the New York Giants who were missing a handful of players, notably both starting guards. Denver has one of the best young offensive lines in the game, led by bookend tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris. Cutler was sacked only 11 times in Denver last season and that wasn't just a product of his athletic ability and pocket presence. He had an emerging line in front of him. Let's see how the Bears get after ex-Bear Kyle Orton in the first half.

2. Corner play. The plan is for Charles Tillman to come off of the physically unable to perform list by Friday, and Zack Bowman has been doing some stuff at practice for about a week now. They're projected to be the starters when the season opens Sept. 13 at Green Bay. Given their injury history, it's fair to believe the Bears are going to need more help at some point during the season. Nathan Vasher played better last time out against the Giants, and Trumaine McBride has managed to make himself a part of the equation. The defense needs one of these guys to be a reasonable option because they will likely be called on at some point during the season.

Lovie Smith announced after practice that Dusty Dvoracek had surgery this morning to repair a torn ACL. The team had said previously that he had a sprained MCL in his right knee and further tests were needed to evaluate the injury.

The Sun-Times reported earlier in the week that Dvoracek would miss the season with a torn ACL.

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Blue.

It's the color that every personnel man in the National Football League wants to see.

Blues are what define winning organizations. They are the difference between winning and losing on Sundays. Blues shines brightest in the biggest moments. Blues command the biggest paychecks. Blues are what the game is all about.

Mike Lombardi
at the National Football Post spent the last few weeks breaking down what blue players are on every roster in the league. First, let's let him describe what a blue is. He should know. He spent more than two decades in front offices in Oakland, Cleveland. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Denver.

"Player has abilities that can create mismatches vs. most opponents in the league. Is a featured player on the team and has impact on the outcome of the game. Not one player can take him out of the game. Each week he has a consistent level of performance. Plays at a championship level performance. He rates in the top ten at his position in the league."

Here is how he assessed the Bears:

Blue chip

Jay Cutler: He's a blue player, now he needs to be a blue winner.
Matt Forte: Does it all--run, catch, protect--very well.
Devin Hester: Not sure he's a blue player, but he's a blue playmaker.

Almost, but not blue

Brian Urlacher: If blockers get to him, he's blocked, so he's not a blue.
Lance Briggs: No one on the Bears' defense is a blue.

It's an interesting take. Certainly Urlacher has not been on top of his game the last two seasons, and Lombardi isn't the only trained eye to make that assessment. Briggs fails to make the cut also and he's been to four consecutive Pro Bowls. I took a look at the outside linebackers who were included on the list and I think it's easy to see what Lombardi was seeking. He wanted outside linebackers who get to the quarterback.

Here is his list of blues at the position:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
Joey Porter, Miami
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh
James Harrison, Pittsburgh
Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay

Danieal Manning and Zack Bowman were both on the practice field at the start of practice this afternoon, and that's a good sign as the secondary continues to slowly round itself back into form. Cornerback Charles Tillman was out playing catch with the quarterbacks before the session got started, but he hasn't been cleared for drills yet. We'll see how much work the others get done today when coach Lovie Smith speaks after practice.

Rookie defensive end Henry Melton was spotted with a walking boot on his right foot, and that's not a good sign with final cuts fast approaching. Melton really didn't do a whole lot in training camp, but he's incredibly athletic and the Bears admitted he was a project when they selected him in the fourth round from Texas. No word what the exact nature of his ankle injury is.

Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will undergo surgery on his right knee on Friday to determine if there's more to his injury than a sprained MCL. The Sun-Times reported he also has a torn ACL, and ESPNChicago.com confirmed that report on its own. The folks at Football Outsiders put together a chart looking at the most injured players of the last decade. Dvoracek, who has been sidelined for 35 of 48 regular-season games over the last three seasons, will rank as the most inured player of the decade if he misses 11 games this season. The way his teammates spoke of him earlier this week, it's apparent they have been told to expect him to miss the season.

It's a tough story because Dvoracek has been such a diligent worker and is so well respected by everyone in Halas Hall.

The Bears announced that Dusty Dvoracek will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Friday in an effort to determine with exactly is wrong with his right knee.

The defensive tackle was injured in the third quarter of Saturday's preseason victory over the New York Giants, and the Sun-Times reported that a source said he will miss the season with a torn ACL. Dvoracek disputed that report. All the Bears have acknowledged to this point is that Dvoracek has a sprained MCL, the type of injury that rarely requires surgery.

"Dvoracek has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL, but he may also have suffered a torn ACL. If that's indeed the case, it will be repaired during the procedure by team doctors Gordon Nuber and Mark Bowen, and cause Dvoracek to miss the entire season. If his ACL is intact, he will be available to play in 2009."


The Bears brought in some competition for special teams by adding a familiar face today.

Linebacker Darrell McClover was signed and he will be able to contribute immediately for Dave Toub's special teams unit after spending the last three seasons with the club.

McClover was the sixth linebacker the team kept on the roster to begin the season last year. He appeared in 10 games but was placed on injured reserve in late November with a pulled hamstring. He produced 14 tackles on special teams and added a blocked punt. McClover made 36 special teams tackles in 28 games for the Bears from 2006 to 2008. He's been out of work since his contract expired after last season.

That didn't take long.

Less than three week after news first broke of the $97.5 million, six-year contract extension that Eli Manning was to receive from the New York Giants, Philip Rivers has cashed in.

Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com reports that the San Diego Chargers and Rivers, linked forever to Manning because of the trade the 2004 first-round draft picks were involved in, have reached terms on a $92 million, six-year extension. Rivers is to receive a little less than $38.5 million guaranteed. That's about $3.5 million more guaranteed than Manning received.

It's impossible to say what the next domino to fall will be when it comes to huge quarterback contracts, but Jay Cutler just moved one step closer to the front of the line. Cutler was amused when talking about Manning's deal during training camp, and no doubt has to be thrilled with the landfall for his former arch rival in the AFC West, Rivers. Now, he'll be looking for his bite at the apple.

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Based on his past, it cannot come as a surprise to the Bears that Dusty Dvoracek will miss the 2009 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee Saturday night against the New York Giants.

That does not make it any easier for the team when it comes to a position where there is no such thing as too much depth, and it certainly can't lessen the blow for the affable and hard-working Dvoracek. A source close to the player confirmed the injury to the Sun-Times Sunday night.

Dvoracek finished on injured reserve in each of his first three seasons. He underwent foot surgery as a rookie in 2006 after the Bears selected him in the third round from Oklahoma, where he was teammates with Tommie Harris. He rebounded to win a starting job at the start of the next season following the departure of Tank Johnson but tore the ACL in his left knee in the season opener at San Diego. Dvoracek returned as a starter last season but couldn't make it through the season as he suffered a torn biceps in Week 13.


The offense certainly looked much better in the 17-3 victory over the New York Giants, and the Bears mounted a better pass rush but I am not sure if it was "relentless'' as Lovie Smith described it after the game. Here are some random thoughts before I re-watch the second half some time on Sunday.

1. The offense looked pretty good running a little no-huddle and that is a good way to combat a team with a strong defensive line like the Giants.

2. You would see if every now and then when you watched Denver play, but Cutler is really good on the run. Receivers are going to have to never give up on plays because they just aren't going to know what will happen.

3. Maybe more impressive than the 32-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte was the move he made to get outside to the left earlier in the drive on a 17-yard run. I wrote it last week and I will write it again, the Bears are being smart with him.

4. This was a spot where I was critical of cornerback Nathan Vasher after the Buffalo game. Need to note he made a nice open-field tackle on Ahmad Bradshaw in the second quarter, cutting the running back down low.

Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has been fined $7,500 by the league for a late hit on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last week.

Dvoracek was penalized 15 yards on the play, which was a 19-yard completion to wide receiver Felton Huggins on third-and-10. That turned it into a 34-yard gain for the Bills.

Afterward, Dvoracek said that referee Scott Green told him he was not fined for a late hit but for helmet-to-helmet contact with Fitzpatrick. Dvoracek was adamant it was not a late hit although replays on television seemed to show he took two steps before hitting Fitzpatrick.

A league spokesman said the fine was for "unnecessarily striking the quarterback late."

Ran down some final thoughts on training camp in the paper today. There is only so much space in the print edition and with 79 players on the roster, well, plenty of tidbits were left out. We'll take a look at some impressions on some other players here:

Devin Aromashodu: Wide receiver flashed some ability at times during camp but the Bears have a catch-22 when it comes to getting him action with the first team in preseason. They're only doing so much with three-wide packages and building chemistry between Jay Cutler and starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett is much more important.

Cody Balogh: Undrafted free agent from Montana last season is bigger and stronger than he was a year ago, and he's fit in well. He's got a good opportunity to get some solid game tape moving forward but with the addition of Kevin Shaffer he might be ticketed for a return to the practice squad.

Josh Beekman: Would be remiss in not mentioning that the arrow is pointing up for him. Probably projects as a center though because of his size.

Earl Bennett: Quietly had a solid camp. We'll see how that translates.

Alex Brown: The focus is on Tommie Harris and Mark Anderson returning to form but Brown might be better with Rod Marinelli on board. He did well rushing on Orlando Pace in camp.

Desmond Clark: Guy gets craftier as he gets older and still is smooth enough to run the seam route.

Rashied Davis: Got more work with the ones over the final week of camp.

Marcus Freeman: Will be looking for him in the second half on Saturday night. Didn't see a lot in training camp but it takes time for rookies to fit in, even on the practice field.

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We should get a pretty good indication of how the Bears feel about Nathan Vasher Saturday night when the Bears face the New York Giants in the second preseason game at Soldier Field.

Lovie Smith made it pretty clear earlier this week that he is waiting on Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman to emerge from the training room and be the starting cornerbacks this season, but that hasn't happened yet, and someone needs to hold down the fort while they're out. Vasher struggled last week at Buffalo, with at least two completions to wide receiver Lee Evans the result of some poor technique.

Smith has walked a fine line in calling out Vasher, but he's included his name in a group of players that need to step up their performances.

"We've had one game,'' Smith said. "With DB's you never know. Just think about it. The quarterback has an opportunity to hold the ball every play. So its tough on the defensive backs. We've seen Nate do some good things. Just like the rest of our football team didn't play as well as we probably would like to have played last week but there's a big challenge coming ahead this week.''

Tony Dungy didn't hesitate stepping out and questioning the leadership ability of Jay Cutler earlier this year, something he wasn't alone in doing, but now he's got a suggestion for the Bears.

Sign Marvin Harrison if you need a wide receiver.

Speaking earlier today on the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN-1000, Dungy said that the former all-pro can contribute this season.

"Yeah, Marvin can play the game,'' Dungy said. "Marvin can get open and catch the ball. Marvin's whole thing is precision. And he's the guy that needs work in a system, you know. I think he definitely can play and I would encourage Lovie to sign him if they had that opening."

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Looks like Frank Omiyale has nailed down the starting job at left guard.

That's not going to come as a surprise to anyone. Omiyale was projected to win the job when the Bears signed him to a free-agent deal just hours into the free agency period. But Josh Beekman has performed well in camp and this wasn't a runaway competition by any stretch of the imagination. Beekman is getting quite a bit of work now as a reserve center and he'll fill that role nicely.

*** Two days left in camp and what a quiet camp it has been. Sounds like an oxymoron because the crowds, with the arrival of Jay Cutler, have been bigger than ever. But other than Cutler, there just hasn't been a lot of noise. Bobby Wade got things stirred up for a few hours at the start of camp. Marcus Harrison was placed on the non-football injury list at the outset. Zack Bowman played well and then injured his hamstring. Danieal Manning has been out for some time. But there haven't been any big stories and, you know what, that's just the way Lovie Smith wants it to be every summer. Mission accomplished to this point.

*** Speaking of Harrison, he played more than any other interior lineman on Saturday night in Buffalo, and he played pretty well. The Bears were a little thin there with Tommie Harris sitting out and Matt Toeaina lost to a concussion during the game. Look for him to get a good look when the Giants come to town Saturday.

*** Strong safety Al Afalava had another good practice on Tuesday and it's just clicking for him. Sometimes rookies will flash and then they plateau just as quickly. He's still coming on and it could be interesting to see what happens when Manning returns healthy. The good thing is the Bears will have a little depth when Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman return because Corey Graham and Trumaine McBride will be in the mix.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Lovie Smith did not hand out a starting job on Monday afternoon after the Bears completed their first practice since Saturday's preseason opener, but the coach sure gave a strong indication that Zack Bowman will be in the starting lineup when the season opens Sept. 13 at Lambeau Field.

Bowman is sidelined with a pulled right hamstring right now, but he did some work on the side Monday, joining cornerback Charles Tillman, who is working his way back from back surgery. Smith made it sound like the team is biding its time right now, waiting for the pair to return.

"[Tillman and Bowman] don't have to come out here and prove to us that they can play," Smith said. "So we'll just do what we need to do. Everything we do in general is to set up our play for [Green Bay]. Yeah, we would like to have them out here practicing, but as long as we can get them back around in time, we'll be OK."

Asked if he was endorsing Bowman as a starter on the spot, Smith continued.

"I speak of Bowman based on what he's done since [offseason team activities], and he's played as well as any of the defensive backs. That's how I am looking at it.''

There is no disputing that in the first week of training camp Bowman made more plays than any one player has made in all of camp to this point. He's been out since Aug. 5, and the Bears are hopeful to get him some preseason action soon. They need to because he played in just one regular-season game last year after beginning the season on the practice squad. He suffered a ruptured biceps and his rookie campaign was done.

It doesn't bode well for veteran Nathan Vasher. The hope the team had for him entering camp appears to have faded. Vasher's in good shape, he's been working hard, but the results haven't appeared like anyone would like to see. He's making good money but will be needed when you consider the health risks associated with Tillman and Bowman at this point.

Meanwhile, Corey Graham worked primarily at the nickel in practice and he also got some occasional reps at left cornerback in place of Trumaine McBride. Graham said he is taking a liking to the nickel, and the Bears would be best served to get him comfortable there right now. Danieal Manning will be out for a while as he heals his hamstring injury. The Bears need someone they are comfortable with in that role in reserve, and training Graham will give them two options.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.--I'm going to hit a quick rundown of 10 points coming out of the Bears' 27-20 loss to Buffalo Saturday night in the preseason opener.

1. I thought my colleague Mike Mulligan said it best when he pointed out Tony Dungy and Mike Ditka have questioned the leadership ability of Jay Cutler, and the quarterback made the point worth pondering again in post-game remarks. Cutler was asked an innocuous question about what happened on the interception by Leodis McKelvin on an underthrown. Cutler appeared to throw off his back foot, and he pretty much implicated wide receiver Devin Hester.

"Devin is more of a go-get it guy, he is not really a back shoulder or jump up and get it [guy],'' Cutler said. "You learn from it. We made some mistakes. It's the first preseason game. Luckily enough, we have some time to correct them and keep going."

Say what you want about the quarterbacks that came before Cutler, and Kyle Orton's three-pick stinker Friday night in San Francisco said a lot on its own, but those guys never placed their receivers in front of the bus.

2. Great move by Lovie Smith to rest running back Matt Forte. There is no need for a running back to play in four exhibition games. Smith informed Forte at breakfast Saturday that he would not be playing. Forte hoped to get some action but LaDainian Tomlinson has gone entire preseasons without touching the ball.

3. If you're not worried about the Bears' secondary, you must not have watched the game. Trent Edwards was 10-for-10 and his replacement Ryan Fitzpatrick was 13-for-16. No, they didn't hit the Bears for much deep stuff, but nobody did last year and the Bears still finished 30th in the league in pass defense. Keep in mind, the Bills were without Terrell Owens. Buffalo systematically picked the secondary apart. Alex Brown did pick up a coverage sack, and Corey Graham looked smooth blitzing off the edge as the nickel back to get another sack. Here's what is scary about the defensive backfield right now, the Bears are counting on injured guys to come to the rescue. They're also counting on Nathan Vasher to bounce back. If they're playing blackjack here, it doesn't look like they're holding any face cards at this point.

4. Strong safety Al Afalava moved around pretty well. Looks like he is on the inside track for a starting job but that means Kevin Payne will be at free safety.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.--Reports of Frank Omiyale's struggles were, well, greatly premature.

The free-agent pickup will start at left guard tonight, the Bears just announced. He has been running with the first team for most of the last week of practice starting with the Family Day practice last Saturday at Soldier Field.

Omiyale will not be blocking for running back Matt Forte, though. The team announced that Kevin Jones will start at running back. Forte has not been ruled out, but it's expected that he will not play if he's not starting. The coaching staff wouldn't run Forte behind the backup line.

By this time Saturday night, Jay Cutler's work will be done in Buffalo.

The Bears are expected to play their starters into the second quarter and Lovie Smith might be eyeing about 20 snaps or so for the first unit. All eyes will be on the new quarterback in his debut, and it is an entirely different team with Cutler, not just a different offense.

"This might be the perfect fit,'' said retired Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, Friday morning on the Mully & Hanley Show on 670-AM. "Here you have a very talented quarterback that's coming to a place that plays great defense, I know because I've been there. I've had my nose bloodied a few times by that defense. So you would think this will be the match made in heaven. You got a guy that's going to make a bunch of plays on offense and in reality the greatest place to play quarterback is what? It's a place where you have a great defense. And you don't have to make it happen all the time yourself, but you certainly may think that. I would say Chicago made a heck of a move here and I think [pro personnel director] Bobby [DePaul] and and everybody else in the organization should be applauded.''

DePaul began his career in the NFL under Gibbs on his coaching staff in Washington 20 years ago. General manager Jerry Angelo identified DePaul as a point man for the Bears in the Cutler trade because of relationships he had with those in the Denver front office. Gibbs says DePaul is someone who has a future as a general manager.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Multiple league sources say that Michael Vick came into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Tuesday night but that has visit has nothing to do with the Bears.

Vick is believed to be in town to take part in some type of charity work related to the time he spent in federal prison for his role in a dog fighting ring.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Lovie Smith announced Tuesday night that Josh Beekman would start at left guard Saturday night ahead of Frank Omiyale per the depth chart the team had released.

The only problem was that depth chart had not been released.

It has now, and we hope the wait was good for you.

A couple points worth making:

*** Rod Marinelli has praised Mark Anderson for the strong camp he is having and that's evidenced here. Anderson is listed as the co-starter at both defensive end positions. Anderson was a flop the last time he was put in that role, and Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye are pretty well established. They might not give up their starting roles but it certainly shows the team is thinking big when it comes to Anderson.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Fontel Mines will miss the season, a source close to the player said, after an MRI revealed Tuesday that he tore the ACL in his left knee during a drill in practice Monday. Mines was running a route in the flat when he got tangled up with safety Craig Steltz and went to the ground.

``It's part of the game,'' he said. ``I have to live by that everything happens for a reason saying right now. It's tough. It's disappointing.''

The Bears signed long snapper J.J. Milan this morning as a precaution and to get a look at someone with Pat Mannelly sidelined with a minor hip injury.

Mannelly underwent an MRI and the results were positive so there is not concern that he will miss a prolonged period of time. He's going into his 12th season and the opportunity to look at someone like Milan, in training camp and even in a preseason game or two, would give special teams coordinator Dave Toub a good evaluation in the event he has an in-season emergency. Mannelly has missed only three games in his career, the last coming in 2002.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Tommie Harris unraveled the riddle Monday afternoon after sitting out another day of practice at Olivet Nazarene University.

He's all suited up with nothing to do on the sideline because he's coming off knee surgery and has a hamstring injury. Perhaps tired of dealing with inquiries wondering why he has not been on the field for a week, Harris revealed that he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his bothersome left knee in March. The procedure was done in order to see why it has continued to plague him, and the good news is he said they found on scar tissue. Harris originally had arthroscopic surgery on the knee in January 2008, six months before his $40 million, four-year contract extension.

"I had surgery in March so I didn't get a chance to do a lot of stuff that the teammates were doing, so they're far ahead of me so I'm really just starting to catch up,'' Harris said. "I would love to be out there, but I do so much in the weight room and all the training and all the other stuff that you guys don't see. The hardest thing is, knowing how political this business is, and having to wear pads and sit on the sideline acting like I'm going out there and different stuff like that, but it's a bit frustrating but I'm going to hang in there and just see how it plays out.

Now, Harris says he is on the sideline because he suffered a hamstring injury. That is the kind of thing that can happen when a knee isn't right--a player can then be plagued by muscle problems with the hamstring or quad. Lovie Smith had said Saturday that Harris would practice today.

"I have confidence in myself -- a lot, in my knee, my whole body. I've been playing on one leg and everything. I can play this game, I have confidence. It's a mentality, and that's the hardest thing to go out there and to know, to get your mind ready for a practice or different things that you're used to just going out and having fun. I'm just hanging in there.''

Israel Idonije filled in with the first team at the under tackle, and coach Lovie Smith was vague about a timetable for Harris. He made it clear he wants to wait until his former Pro Bowl performer is healthy, and they need him in September more than they need him in August. But with the pattern of rotating hamstring and knee injuries--remember he had hamstring surgery in December 2006--it's fair to wonder if Harris has the time to get his body right before the season.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--It's always interesting to get the take of outsiders when they swing into town for a visit to training camp.

Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports was in last week, and he's been covering the league for a long time, enjoying an extended run at Sports Illustrated before jumping into the Internet world.

Silver previews the Bears' season and draws the conclusion that while Jay Cutler mania ia gripping the campus of Olivet Nazarene University--we didn't need Silver to show up and tell us that--the defense will be the key to a playoff run for this outfit. Silver focuses on the shakeup on the coaching staff where Lovie Smith replaced his position coaches at all three levels of the defense, and ultimately put himself in charge of the whole thing by adding another hat as de facto defensive coordinator.

"Bears coach Lovie Smith obviously agreed, initiating a staff shakeup that resulted in his seizing control of the defense. It was a bold move, and it may turn out to be a career-defining one for a man who is far less secure than he was 30 months ago."

"At the start of the offseason Lovie told us, 'This is my defense. I'm gonna run it. If you want to point a finger, point it at me,' " recalls middle linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes), a six-time Pro Bowl selection. "I think it's great. Lovie's calling the plays, and that means we're gonna play fast, take the ball away, get to the quarterback and be physical."

Silver asked Smith point blank if he regretted running off former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera following the Super Bowl run in 2006. Rivera went to San Diego where he was the inside linebackers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator there during the middle of last season. He received some credit as the Chargers made a miraculous turn around to overpass Cutler and Denver and win the AFC West.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Training camp is more than half complete now and the Bears will release their first depth chart of the summer on Monday.

No bombshells are expected on there, but it's always interesting to get a look at how the coaching staff is stacking up the different positions. Remember, it can change quickly once the live action begins Saturday at Buffalo with the preseason opener.

The one position that is drawing maybe the most scrutiny right now is left guard where Frank Omiyale finally got his first reps with the starters on Saturday at Soldier Field. Josh Beekman, the incumbent, has been holding down the job. Smith was asked if Beekman's control on the spot during the vast majority of camp was because of something Beekman is doing, something Omiyale is not doing or just part of the plan.

"I would say it's the plan," Smith said. "You can't start moving guys around. We have done very little live, I'm talking about finishing plays and things like that. Both guys are getting good work right now and we'll let it play out. Once we start playing preseason games, to me that is when you get a legitimate depth chart. Until then, we're just working the guys in and going from there.''

*** Smith said that defensive tackle Tommie Harris will be practicing Monday when the team gets on the field at noon. Harris sat out Saturday's practice and was worked very little last week. Don't count on Harris to be on the field Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Smith has been hesitant to use Harris on artificial surfaces in preseason in the past. The Bills play on an AstroPlay field.

*** NFL officials, led by Chicago area native Tony Michalek, were in training camp last week. They were there to review some of the rules changes for the coming season, and the biggest ones are being made on special teams. Three- and four-man wedges on kickoff returns have been outlawed. Kicking teams can no longer bunch all of their players in the middle of the field. They have explained the Tom Brady rule where defenders cannot lunge at the quarterback and hit him with their helmet or shoulder or arm. How about this one? Officials say they are going to start cracking down on offensive pass interference. Score one for the cornerbacks.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Are the Bears content going into the season with two backups behind Jay Cutler who have attempted a total of 11 passes in the NFL?

Maybe.

But the team is not heading toward the regular season without at least exploring options. Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars were not the only team to miss out in the services of Andrew Walter last week after he was released in Oakland. Lombardi writes that "Chicago wanted to sign former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter.''

Walter is a big, strong-armed passer who has nine career starts with eight of them coming in 2006. His numbers were not pretty with the Raiders but he was playing on some bad teams. Walter chose to sign in New England where his competition for the backup job behind Tom Brady is Kevin O'Connell. Maybe seeing what being Brady's backup did for Matt Cassel pushed Walter in that direction. He turned down his college coach at Arizona State in Dirk Koetter by saying no to the Jaguars. Koetter is the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville and while the Jags' passing game struggled last season after a myriad of injuries on the offensive line, Koetter did quite well in 2007.

Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez have not done a lot to stand out a training camp that has been dominated by Cutler. Hanie has flashed his ability to keep plays alive with his legs, and Basanez has made the occasional throw. The test for them will come when preseason begins and Hanie is expected to receive plenty of work Saturday at Buffalo. Basanez is the only one with NFL game experience. He threw 11 passes at Carolina in 2006.

Stay tuned.


BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--A week into training camp, the Bears have found some help on the interior of the line.

A league source said that the club will sign Donovan Raiola this afternoon provided he passes his physical. Raiola was waived Tuesday by the Arizona Cardinals. Of course, the team thought it had an answer to some depth issues earlier in the week when it claimed Maurice Miller off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He arrived and failed his physical.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Did the NFL do in Twitter?

I don't know, but my efforts to tweet from the dorm room have been stifled by struggling technology. Perhaps the site will be up and chirping by the time this post is done.

Reports coming out of San Diego now are that Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers could begin talking about a new contract for him soon. Rivers is believed to have been waiting for Eli Manning to strike. Although Manning has a Super Bowl title to his credit, and that's what it is all about, Rivers' statistics over the course of their careers are far superior. Don't think for a second there is any reason other than that for his delay in getting to the bargaining table.

Wanted to Twitter a piece I did for the National Football Post this morning on Jay Cutler and what at some point will be his own negotiation for a contract extension. The Bears have never written the big-money deal for a quarterback before. Since general manager Jerry Angelo took over in 2001, no team has allocated less money to the position. Who did he have to pay? The team has someone to pay now but putting a gauge on that pay day right now is very difficult. When the team goes to a player, they are adamant that the integrity of the current contract be maintained. In other words, the player will get his money but the team isn't going to rip up the current contract and start all over.

The Bears have a history of approaching players during season to see if they can strike a deal and get ahead when it comes to the salary cap. If a deal is done by midseason, money can be applied to the current year's cap. With the Bears sitting on more than $20 million in cap room, doing a Cutler deal now would allow them to put a nice chunk in 2009. Assuming the CBA gets worked out--that looks like the assumption the Giants went under in doing Manning's deal--it's a smart move.

But it's no guarantee that the team and Cutler get to the bargaining table. If they don't, it's possible the Bears could target tight end Greg Olsen for an extension as I wrote here for the NFP. Olsen is entering the third year of his five-year contract and is clearly part of the long term future. Early restructures turn into win-wins. The player gets guaranteed money sooner than he would, and the team gets value moving forward.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Rashied Davis was upbeat about the future for his buddies in the Arena Football League when the it announced in December it was pulling the curtains on the 2009 season.

A year away would help the league strengthen its foundation and it would return strong as ever. It meant a lot to Davis, who began his professional career with the San Jose franchise and played there four seasons, earning offensive MVP honors for his team.

The Arena Football League is no more, and while it means fewer NFL prospects for teams to go out and scout, it means the loss of an opportunity for a lot of people who are still close to Davis.

"It tears at my heart,'' Davis said this morning. "That kind of sucks. What can you do?''

He's just one player to come from the indoor game and make a career playing in the NFL. Kurt Warner, the two-time NFL MVP, is the poster boy for those looking to go from the minor leagues to the top. Michael Lewis, a former Pro Bowl kick returner for the New Orleans Saints, was discovered in Arena ball. Wide receivers David Patten and Oronde Gadsden honed their games there. Stylez White, the defensive end that was known as Greg White when he was briefly with the Bears, took off in Arena ball and has had 13 sacks over the last two seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a training ground for more than a few players.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Talk about a happy meal.

If Jay Cutler caught wind of the word coming out of New York--Eli Manning is on the verge of locking down a $97.5 million contract extension that will make him the highest-paid quarterback in league history in terms of average annual pay--then his Wednesday morning got off to a great start.

Cutler was in the dining hall on the campus of Olivet Nazarene when the story hit. Manning will get a six-year extension that includes $35 million guaranteed. Pro Football Talk reports that when you factor in the $9.4 million Manning was already set to receive this season, the new pact will come out to $15.2 million annually for the Super Bowl XLIII XLII MVP.

The Bears waived guard Maurice Miller this afternoon after he failed his physical.

He was claimed on waivers Monday night.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison was removed from the non-football injury list and will practice for the first time when the Bears take the field in 45 minutes.

Harrison was placed on NFI last Friday when he arrived at training camp overweight at 322 pounds, and with a body-fat percentage that was unacceptable to the team. He failed his physical, and was put on NFI until he got in shape.

Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that Harrison was getting close, and the player said he hoped to be back on the field by Saturday. Well, that timetable moved up for him, and it's a good thing after he missed five practices over the first four days of camp.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears have not been here a week this summer and they've already ensured they will return to Olivet Nazarene University next summer for three weeks.

Team and university officials made it official this morning when they signed a contract to bring the team back in 2010 in the option year for the two-year agreement plus a mutual option that the sides originally agreed to before 2008.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears claimed guard Maurice Miller off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday night.

Miller will have to pass a physical today before joining the roster, and could be in uniform in time for the 3 p.m. practice.

The Bucs cut Miller, who went to Ole Miss, loose when they signed South Florida guard Ryan Schmidt. Tampa signed Miller as an undrafted free agent on April 30. He is 6-4, 327 pounds, and that would fit the Bears' desire to get bigger on the line.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears will get to see two members of their lost draft class from 2005 this season, starting with Kyle Orton in 26 days when they travel to Denver for the Cutler Bowl in the third preseason game. With NBC's ``Sunday Night Football'' crew handling the game, it's sure to get plenty of hype in the coming weeks.

Orton was the lone remaining member of the 2005 class until he was traded with a bounty of draft picks for Cutler on April 2. Five of the six players from that draft remain in the league, but the Bears are scheduled to see only one of them, and that person probably has the date circled on the calendar. Running back Cedric Benson will face his former team in Week 7 when the Bears head to Cincinnati. Benson is locked in as the Bengals' starting running back after signing a $7 million, two-year contract in the offseason. Cincinnati signed him off the discard pile in Week 5 last year after injuries ravaged its backfield, and the former No. 4 overall pick was thrown into the mix immediately.

He finished with career highs in carries (214) and yards (747) in two-thirds of the season and without the benefit of much of a passing game as Carson Palmer was injured. Benson cemented his future in the Queen City by rushing for 355 yards on 84 attempts in the final three games. Granted, two of those contests were against the 28th-ranked run defense (Cleveland) and the 30th-ranked run defense (Kansas City).

"I'm sure they know they made a mistake [releasing me]," Benson told me on Monday for the National Football Post, "after the way I finished last season. But I'm not worried about them. It's in the past and I've moved on. I had a career-high in touches and yards in a little more than half a season, more than I ever had in Chicago. That tells you the story right there."

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Kansas City Chiefs brought in one ex-Bears player Bobby Engram to join another in Mark Bradley this offseason.

And according to our friend Bill Williamson over at ESPN.com, ex-Bears wide receivers coach Todd Haley kicked the tires on yet another ex-Bears wide receiver this morning.

David Terrell.

The first-round pick from 2001 never amounted to much in a Bears' uniform and then his career flamed out in Denver.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--For all the readers who believe KC Joyner has nothing but gloom and doom predicted for the Bears this season, he's got a new post for you to digest.

Writing for the Fifth Down Blog at the New York Times, Joyner expands on what he's said in the past, that running back Matt Forte is the next Brian Westbrook. As we pointed out here before, Joyner's analysis shows that Roberto Garza was one of the more effective run-blocking guards in the league last season and Josh Beekman wasn't too far off.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Marcus Harrison continues to make progress on the side while on the non-football injury list and the defensive tackle is hopeful he'll be cleared for a return by Saturday when the Bears will practice at Soldier Field during Family Day.

Harrison has missed four practices and one mini-practice thus far with Anthony Adams and Dusty Dvoracek dividing the reps at nose tackle in his absence. Harrison reported to camp at 322, 10 pounds above the weight he said he played at last season. It's a combination of weight and body fat percentage that the team wants him to drop, especially after he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in May.

Some notes from the afternoon session:

The Bears are entering the most difficult days of training camp where their bodies are starting to feel fatigued after five weeks off. The session Monday afternoon probably reflected that somewhat, and quarterback Jay Cutler certainly was not as accurate as he has been, although he did lead the first offense into position for a 53-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the two-minute drills. Some quick notes from the workout:

Lance Briggs, Hunter Hillenmeyer and Matt Toeania all returned to work.

Jamar Williams did a nice job taking on fullback Jason Davis in inside run drills.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears' rare trade for a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jay Cutler came together when an unusual set of circumstances happened very quickly.

Namely, the Kansas City Chiefs with former New England front office man Scott Pioli beat the Denver Broncos with former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.

McDaniels badly wanted to bring Cassel with him to the Mile High City to run his new playbook. When he failed in his trade efforts and Cassel landed with Pioli and former Bears wide receivers coach Todd Haley in Kansas City, things disintegrated quickly with Cutler. Haley and the rest of the coaches in the AFC West just sat back and enjoyed the theater of the disgruntled as McJaygate, what they called the plot in Denver, unfolded over the course of five weeks.

Haley, speaking to me last week for an article in the National Football Post, knew how long the Bears' search for a quarterback lasted. He's willing to take an assist on the Bears' landing Cutler.

"Yeah, I'll take partial credit,'' Haley said of the Bears' once-in-a-generation trade to acquire a Pro Bowl quarterback in his mid-20s. "I pushed hard for Cassel. I didn't know him up close and personal, but I think he has a chance to be good.''

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears wrapped up Day 3 of practices on a perfect sun-splashed afternoon.

Jay Cutler lined up at wide receiver for the first time, spreading out wide in the Wildcat formation as Devin Hester had a running play. That delighted a crowd that officials estimated approached 11,000.

"You noticed that?'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``We ran it one play, but everyone seems to notice that. It seems like it's catching on in the league. We're all talking a lot about it. We have some guys that can do things like that, whether it's Devin Hester or Garrett Wolfe, we have some players that can play in that role. Jay Cutler's an athlete, too, so who knows? We may throw him a pass out there too.''

In his answer to the next question, which wasn't related to the Wildcat, Smith backed up and made a point to say the Bears would not be passing the ball to Cutler and that it was a bad joke. We've heard worse.

Free safety Josh Bullocks came up with an interception by breaking on a ball along the sideline that Brett Basanez intended for Rashied Davis. Earl Bennett caught a nice deep ball from Jay Cutler.

Nathan Vasher made a nice play from behind to knock the ball out of Hester's hands.

Defensive end Mark Anderson had his left ankle wrapped twice.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears don't have any major concerns when it comes to the hamstring muscle that Matt Forte pulled back in June during the third week of OTA's, but they're also being cautious.

That is why the running back was held out of inside run drills during practice Saturday night. He's been getting a lighter load as they work to bring him along slowly and smartly, and that's given the slimmed down Kevin Jones and Garrett Wolfe some more opportunities, as well as Adrian Peterson. Jones busted off a great move in the open field Saturday.

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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--It's only fitting to follow a post on Erik Kramer with one on the quarterback who won a playoff game for the Bears the season before Kramer set franchise records.

Steve Walsh led the Bears to an upset victory over Minnesota in the Metrodome in 1994. In the last 18 seasons, Walsh and Rex Grossman are the only quarterbacks to lead the team to victory in the postseason. Nowadays, Walsh is beginning his adventure as a high school football coach, having taking over a longtime successful program in West Palm Beach, Fla., at Cardinal Newman.

Hopefully his emotions will be more in check before games this fall. He recounts his pregame ritual of vomiting prior to games.

"It became a locker room joke," Walsh said. "After a while, as the season wore on, they were like, "Hey, did Steve throw up yet? OK, good.' "


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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Had a nice chat with Erik Kramer last week and we talked about the Bears' offense and Jay Cutler and the explosive offense he headed up back in 1995 in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's first stint with the organization.

Here is the entire conversation:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JAY CUTLER JOINING THE BEARS?

I went ahead and when Jay got traded to the Bears I went ahead and got film of every game he played last year. I've been watching it and as far as just his quarterbacking ability, the Bears have never had anybody close to him. That's as far as the things he can do on the field, the throws he can make, the way he moves around, he is a phenomenal athlete. He's a phenomenal athlete that is a great quarterback. There are not too many guys that move around the line of scrimmage at quarterback that are as good as he is as a quarterback. He's a true passer who happens to be an exceptional athlete.

ARE YOU STUDYING CUTLER JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE DOING THE PRESEASON BROADCASTS FOR FOX-32, OR IS IT FOR YOUR QUARTERBACK TRAINING?

Both. I train guys getting ready to come out of high school and train guys coming out of college, so I try to look at everything. In terms of the whole package, what you see on the field, to me he is as good as it gets. The one thing I would say is that his decision making sometimes could be a little bit better. Maybe that is something that comes through with age and experience. Part of it, I believe, is it's part of Jay's makeup. Guys that are that talented, I can only imagine what would be going through their head because I have never been that way. A guy like me had to rely on precise reads and placing the ball where it needed to be placed. A guy like Jay can get away with some throws where that is not necessarily the case. He can be a little late on some throws and still make them work. I would love to see Jay be a little more detailed in the way he reads things and be a little more disciplined in the way he moves from one receiver to the next. That's in looking at him on film, but I've got to tell you first that he is by far, he's in a present elite category. I can't think of a lot of guys out there who can do what he does. Now, I think the thing so far, when you look at Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and the guys that are in that group that have won Super Bowls, looking at them as quarterbacks, they're players that have supreme command of what they're doing out there. With Jay, it still remains to be seen but the Bears are working with an incredible piece of clay.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Before you know it, the Bears' quarterbacks might start staying away from Zack Bowman.

The cornerback made another big interception in Saturday's night practice, picking off Jay Cutler on a deep route for Devin Hester. Coach Lovie Smith has wound up talking about Bowman after two practices now, and that's always a good sign.

"My big thing is just going out there and being more consistent,'' Bowman said. ``I was backpedaling [on the interception] and I opened up, I saw Devin take off and I saw the ball in the air. I just tried to make the play.''

Bowman was asked about marking Hester that closely that far downfield.

"I'm fast, too, you know,'' Bowman said. ``He's just a little bit faster. I'm always going to be on the top of my game. He said I was lucky. I wasn't lucky. I was on top and I was ready to go.''

*** New tight end Michael Gaines lined up in the backfield some during inside rushing drills. That is something the Bears are considering doing with him and it would provide the team with roster flexibility in the event they only keep one fullback.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Quick trip to the mailbag before heading to the evening practice. There is an unbelievable line of people waiting to get into Ward Field already, an hour before practice.

Q: I know that we are talking spots 79 and 80, but with two players down (Charles Tillman and Marcus Harrison) the team has 75 healthy players (76 if Danieal Manning is back today). What should we look for in terms of filling out the roster?
 
Vic F., Parts Unknown

A: The quick answer here is not a lot. You're talking about the final two spots on an 80-man roster for a team that will be down to 53 in a little more than a month. Tillman's back injury and Harrison's out-of-shape issue have no impact on what direction the club will go in. The Bears already have enough cornerbacks on the roster and Danieal Manning is expected to return to practice tonight. We'll check in via Twitter on that later on.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Talk about football weather.

It's been alternating between drizzle and light rain this afternoon with a little bit of wind. Welcome to August.

The Bears will put on pads this evening for the first time, and it should be a good practice to watch. If you're planning on attending, you better show up early. There are only so many seats in the stadium and the rest are left to jockey for position around the outside of the track. Danieal Manning is expected to be in action so he'll get his first time at free safety this year. Josh Beekman started with the first team on Friday and our guess--just a guess--is that Frank Omiyale may see time with the ones at left guard this evening. Stay tuned.

*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen takes a look at tight end Greg Olsen and one way the Bears can deploy him more this season.

"When the Bears align Olson as a wide receiver, a safety will be put over him -- usually in off-coverage -- on Olson's outside shoulder, as his help will be toward the middle of the field. What this does for the Bears is allow Olson to run a multiple of inside breaking routes and use his big body to shield the defender from the football. We saw some of this last season in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's weekly game plans, but with Cutler now at quarterback, the ball will come out faster and it will be on target. Expect Olson to be Cutler's No.1 option in 2009."

*** Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson suffered a sprained MCL in practice this morning. No word how serious is is right now. Maybe the Bears can use an open roster spot to sign Brett Favre as a backup before the Vikings re-enter the picture for him. OK. We were just kidding.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Plenty of action from Fridays' first day of practice that we didn't get to in the print/online edition or in the blog previously. Let's take a look at some quotes from the day.

Lovie Smith on cornerback Zack Bowman, who made a couple plays in practice including securing a bobbled interception.

"Zack had a good offseason. I know he made a couple plays out there today, but that's what we've seen from him every time we've given him an opportunity,'' Smith said. "He's got a long ways to go. Again, all the things that happened so far, none of it's been in pads. We're anxious to see the guys in that next step. But with the opportunity Zack's had, he's made the most of it."

Our spin: Bowman has already become Corey Graham from a year ago. Graham capitalized on a good offseason and then produced when Charles Tillman missed time in training camp. The more Bowman impresses, the tougher it will become for Graham to get a look. At some point you would figure secondary coach Jon Hoke will want to get a look at him though.

Alex Brown on the first workout with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"It's tough,'' Brown said. "Sheesh. It was everything we thought it would be though. It was more upbeat than OTA's but we knew it would be that way, but we knew that coming in. It's nothing we didn't expect but what you can't really plan for is being off for a month and a week and coming back for football. You can work at it as much as you want, but it ain't the same. It was good out here. You're going to be tired on the first day."

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