Chicago Sun-Times

December 2009 Archives

Lovie Smith reiterated that he has an offensive coordinator in Ron Turner when he was asked about the possibility of ousted Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis filling that role.

Neil Hayes reported today that Weis would have interest in the Bears' play-calling gig if it were to become available. As Mike Mulligan wrote last month when we shared the news that Mike Martz has told a league source he would like to work with Jay Cutler, that's what happens at this time of year. Coaches looking for work smell blood in the water and the rumor mill cranks up.

There's a good fit for Weis. His son Charlie Jr. could finish up high school in South Bend, Ind., next year. One of the first things a coordinator is going to look for is a quarterback, and the Bears have a former Pro Bowl performer in Jay Cutler. Weis certainly had success in New England with Tom Brady.

"You would like for me to comment on Charlie Weis, something that Charlie said?'' Smith said. "I can't comment on that. I don't know anything about that. We have an offensive coordinator in place right now. I can comment on that.''

Then, Smith was asked how Weis would do in a second tour in the league.

"No idea how he would do,'' he said. "He was a good coordinator back when he was in the NFL, that's about all can say.''

Smith declined to comment on the Martz report last month prior to the story coming out.

That is what Brian Urlacher was talking about, right?

When he thinks identity and he thinks Bears' football, 38 carries and 18 passes is what he has in mind, isn't it?

Never mind, temporarily, that they were not particularly good when it came to executing in today's 17-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The Bears (5-7) entered on a four-game losing streak and they had lost six of seven. They needed a victory any way they could get it, and a win over the hapless Rams (1-11) will qualify.

Coach Lovie Smith talked about Bear weather, the cliche that is this time of the year, and referenced needed to run the ball. For the first week of December, I'd venture to say it was about as nice as you can expect it to be on a newly re-sodded field. But the Bears wanted to get their running game going against St. Louis' lousy run defense. Matt Forte finished with 91 yards on 24 carries, lost a fumble and danced around near the goalline. Kahlil Bell had 35 yards on 11 carries, so the rookie was less effective in his first extended look. The Bears totaled 120 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry against a defense that was allowing opponents to gain 4.75 yards per carry.

Cutler pushed the ball downfield early in the game. He hit Devin Hester for a 48-yard gain on the first play of the second possession. Then a shot to Johnny Knox in the end zone drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty to set up Forte's one-yard touchdown run.

Move to the Bears' third drive and on the third play Cutler hit Earl Bennett coming across the deep middle and he raced for 71 yards. Cutler was at his best throwing the ball downfield. That's what has been amiss in this offense of late. That is what the Bears seemingly could have worked more on in a game against an inferior opponent.

"Part of it was the way our defense was playing,'' Cutler said. "We didn't feel like we had to make big plays or throw the ball down the field.''

The defense did a pretty decent job. It held the Rams to three Josh Brown field goals, and the Rams converted only 2-of-14 third downs. But they still had the ball on the Bears' side of the field with a chance to score a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final minute and force overtime. So as much as the Bears believed they were in control, St. Louis was two plays away from overtime at the end.

The Bears won the game playing like they did when they had their old identity. Don't they need to be playing to their new identity, though, the one they haven't quite found yet? Urlacher might needed to be reminded that the Bears aren't going to be winning a lot of games with defense this season. The defense isn't very good, and there were some faces missing today.

Now for 10 quick (and some random) reactions coming out of the game:

General manager Jerry Angelo said that the Bears have red flags now that they have lost six of seven games entering this afternoon's meeting with the St. Louis Rams.

But he's not panicking at this point, and vowed to fix the mess the 4-7 club has fallen into during a season that began with such huge expectations.

Speaking with WBBM play-by-play voice Jeff Joniak on the station's pregame show, Angelo addressed some of the issues plaguing the team. He was not asked about the status of coach Lovie Smith, who is 20-23 since losing Super Bowl XLI.

"We do have red flags,'' Angelo said in the interview. "Those flags were made by us. There will be some inventory like there is at the end of the year, there will be plenty enough time for that. Right now, I want to focus on the now, this afternoon, playing good football. We're paid to win. We have 16 games. We want to win each one of those games so we want to stay focused on the season."

"[Things] are exceptionally rough and we're all disappointed given the fact that we had high expectations. There is still a glimmer of hope and we'll always play on that as long as there is. We're in a poor state right now, obviously, we need a win badly. That doesn't ever lose our focus in terms of what we have to do now."

Asked what his message to fans would be, Angelo said not to lose hope.

"I have been in this league a long, long time. Believe me, I will never live without hope,'' he said. "There might be situations that look hopeless but it certainly is not that way internally. We will come out of this better for it. I promise you that. Sometimes things don't work out according to plan. Doesn't mean the plan was bad. The plan was solid. It just didn't work. We'll go back and we'll re-visit the things that didn't work, fix the things that didn't work, and when you do that you will be better for it.

"Can I sit here and tell you exactly what? I can't do that right now. There will be time to do it. I promise this to our fans, and I know this in my heart of hearts, we will be better through this ordeal. I do promise you that, and there will always be hope. It will not be false hope."

Kevin Payne will return to his natural position of strong safety and Al Afalava will play free safety today for the Bears, who will face St. Louis running back Steve Jackson, as expected.

The Bears made the following players inactive:

WR Juaquin Iglesias
S Craig Steltz
CB D.J. Moore
LB Lance Briggs
DT Matt Toeaina
LT Orlando Pace
TE Desmond Clark
DE Gaines Adams

That means rookie guard Lance Louis is active for the first time this season. Adams is down for the second time since being acquired in a mid-October trade. Chris Williams will start at left tackle and Kevin Shaffer is the right tackle.

For the Rams, Adam Goldberg will start at right tackle for rookie Jason Smith, who is out with a concussion.

Inactive are:

QB Marc Bulger
RB Chris Ogbonnaya
CB Danny Gorrer
FB Mike Karney
LB Dominic Douglas
G Roger Allen
G Mark Setterstrom
RT Jason Smith

Expectations are that St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson will play today.

Jackson is questionable for the game with a back issue after sitting out practice all week. He missed all last week with spasms and still played.

Jackson, the second-leading rusher in the NFL on a moribund offense, has yet to take the field, although there are some players warming up already.

Check back later on for full details on the inactives.

Linebacker Lance Briggs (left knee) and left tackle Orlando Pace (groin) will be listed as doubtful for Sunday's game vs. St. Louis, but neither will play.

Cornerback Charles Tillman (concussion), tight end Desmond Clark (neck) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) are expected to be listed as questionable. It's interesting that Harris is questionable. He was llimited in practice on Wednesday, but had full participation on Thursday. Still, he will probably play.

We'll check in later with the official injury report.

The Bears are making a move at the position they've changed more than any other under Lovie Smith.

No, Jay Cutler isn't headed to the bench for Caleb Hanie.

The Bears are going to do a safety dance. Again. Danieal Manning is headed to the bench this week against St. Louis and Kevin Payne will start in his place. Manning will probably return to his role as the nickel back, meaning Corey Graham will probably be the odd man out. Manning has had some issues in coverage recently. He was out of position on DeSean Jackson's long touchdown catch two weeks ago. He remains the most athletic member of the secondary, but it hasn't translated into lots of plays.

The move could be a creation of the Bears' desire to shut down the Rams' Steven Jackson, who enters second in the league in rushing. Jackson hasn't practiced for the last two days because of a back issue, but he's expected to play. His production has been terrific, especially when you consider the issues St. Louis (1-10) faces on offense. The Rams have trailed all season--they rarely play with the lead--and yet their passing offense ranks 22nd. Whether it's Marc Bulger or Kyle Boller, who will start this week, they are struggling to move the ball through the air. The speedy Donnie Avery is the only wide receiver who was on the roster at the start of the season, amazing turnover when you consider it.

Charles Tillman said that he experienced "extreme dizziness'' when he was hit in the back of the helmet in Sunday's loss at Minnesota.

That is what led the Bears to say he suffered a mild concussion. Tillman returned to the practice field this afternoon at Halas Hall and had full participation, making him likely to start Sunday's game vs. St. Louis unless there is an unforeseen setback.

"Really, it was just a hard hit to the back of my head, a big bump,'' he said. "I saw like a bright flash, dizziness more than anything. I was completely conscious. I knew what was going on the whole time. Just more less just dizziness. I was completely aware of my surroundings. I knew I was in Minnesota. I knew I was in the Metrodome. I knew I was in a football game."

The NFL released new guidelines for players returning to action from concussions on Wednesday, and Tillman passed all the levels of tests. Concussions have been at the forefront for the league, which had to appear on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee in late October. Quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger sat out with concussions last week. Running backs Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook have been sidelined. Running back Jamal Lewis was placed on inured reserve on Wednesday with post-concussion symptoms.

Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive end Alex Brown returned to practice today while St. Louis running back Steve Jackson was held out again with a back issue. Still, he's expected to start Sunday.


LB Lance Briggs, knee--DNP, DNP,
DE Alex Brown, calf--DNP, FULL,
LT Orlando Pace, groin--DNP, DNP,
CB Charles Tillman, concussion--DNP, FULL,
TE Desmond Clark, neck--LIM, LIM,
DT Tommie Harris, knee--LIM, FULL,


QB Marc Bulger, knee--OUT
C Jason Brown, knee--DNP, LIM,
RB Steven Jackson, back--DNP, DNP,
FB Mike Karney, neck--DNP, DNP,
RT Jason Smith, concussion--DNP, DNP,
LB James Laurinaitis, shoulder--LIM, LIM,
G Richie Incognito, foot--LIM, LIM,

The Bears have fallen off on the field since their appearance in Super Bowl XLI, but that hasn't made them any less of a draw in prime time.

The Sports Business Journal broke down the numbers for prime time audiences on a team-by-team basis since 2006 on NBC and ESPN, detailing the activity for Sunday and Monday night time slots. The Bears came in fourth place, averaging 16.316 million for their 14 prime-time games in that period, according to the report.

They trailed only Dallas (19.152 millions), Indianapolis (16.664 million) and the New York Giants (16.599 million). Interestingly, the Cowboys top the list despite having not won a playoff game in 13 seasons. It's a real testament to the star appeal of the team that wears a star on the side of its helmet.

Charles Tillman, who left Sunday's blowout in Minnesota with a concussion, is back on the snowy practice field this afternoon, four days after suffering the head injury.

That means Tillman passed with flying colors the stricter guidelines handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday. It was the second lopsided loss that Tillman has pulled himself out of this season. He left the Arizona game with a shoulder injury, and there were at least two games that he didn't finish in 2008. But he usually returns to play the next week.

As expected, defensive end Alex Brown returned from his calf injury, and is also practicing. He has played in a team-high 122 consecutive games. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee) is also a full go.

Chris Williams was told on Wednesday he will be the starting left tackle on Sunday.

Apparently no one has said anything to Kevin Shaffer, but he is the man who is expected to line up at right tackle Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field as Orlando Pace will be sidelined for a little while with a groin muscle injury.

"If that's the case it's something I've been working for all year, starting with training camp and everything and right tackle's my position, I've been at for the last couple years, so that'd be great,'' Shaffer said. "I don't know what the situation is, I really don't. I know today I practiced with the ones, but what it is in the future I don't know.''

The Bears essentially swapped John St. Clair to the Cleveland Browns in free agency for Shaffer, who was released after he refused a pay cut. He had started 79 of the last 80 regular-season games for the Browns and Atlanta Falcons before arriving, and played the last two seasons in Cleveland as the right tackle. Before Pace was signed, it looked like the Bears would line up Shaffer at right tackle and Williams at left tackle.

Jarron Gilbert is ready to go.

That is what Bears general manager Jerry Angelo announced earlier today on the team's Web site.

The rookie third-round draft pick from San Jose State, who was the team's top pick after the Jay Cutler trade and after Angelo traded down and out of the second round, has been active for only two of the 11 games so far. He didn't get on the field in one of the two that he dressed for, but the team is confident he has made strides on the practice field.

"When we drafted Jarron Gilbert, we drafted the value of his position. We did not draft a need,'' Angelo said. "Because of that, he's having to wait his turn. There are [players] ahead of him. You normally dress seven defensive linemen, but we've been dressing eight, so it's hard to get him active. He's ready to go. I'm anxious to see him. The coaches feel he's ready to play and deserves to play. It's just a matter of numbers on game day."

The Bears held a high level meeting at Halas Hall last week after a report was made that the club had extended back channel feelers to Bill Cowher to gauge his interest in potentially coming on board in 2010. Eventually, the brass in the building decided the best response for the club to have was no response at all, so the organization has remained silent on the issue.

Someone has spoken up now. ESPN's John Clayton went the other way and said it wasn't accurate in an appearance on WMVP-1000 this afternoon.

"Literally, about two minutes ago I was just talking to someone about this in the Bill Cowher camp,'' Clayton said. "And that is 100 percent inaccurate. No reaching out to Bill Cowher and no reaching out to Bill Cowher representatives, friends or anything of that nature. And Bill has made it known that he doesn't want to affect any current coach, whether it is an interim coach or a head coach, who is under a contract until the end of the season because he wants to be true to all the coaches that are currently coaching.

"There is no contact or illusion of a contact. Nut I will tell you this factually, he is interested in two jobs: one being the Chicago Bears, and the other being the Houston Texans. Both would have to open for that to happen but he is interested. But in the end there hasn't happened anything that would give him any indication that he would be contacted."

The Bears will have to follow a stricter NFL policy regarding concussions before cornerback Charles Tillman can return to the practice field or consider playing in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams.

Tillman was knocked out of Sunday's loss at Minnesota with what coach Lovie Smith has repeatedly called a "mild concussion.'' He did not practice today, and was seen driving out of the facility in the late morning.

Commissioner Roger Goodell notified teams today of an expanded return-to-play mandate for players who suffer concussions that takes effect immediately. The stricter guidelines was created by the league's medical committee on concussions in conjunction with the NFL Players Association.

The new statement reads:

"Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant. A critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury. Accordingly, players are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion."

Ron Turner heard a little something about it, and talked to Brian Urlacher on Tuesday, but can't comment on the remarks by the middle linebacker that the Bears have lost their identity on offense. Would you have expected much different?

"I hate the way our identity has changed,'' Urlacher told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports. "We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

Urlacher made some other comments to Silver, like questioning a run call in the fourth quarter when the Bears were being lambasted at Minnesota. There's certainly a lot of truth in what he said, but airing it in a public fashion with the Bears 4-7 and having lost six of their last seven games only makes it appear, at least from the outside looking in, that things are coming apart at Halas Hall.

"I can't comment on that because I didn't see. I heard that he said something, I haven't seen it, I haven't read it, I'm not exactly sure what he said,'' said Turner. "I talked to Brian yesterday. I think he's got a lot of confidence in us, he's a team guy and again whatever he said, he said, but yeah, do we want to run the ball more? Yeah, there's no question about it, we want to run the ball more and better, and I have to give our guys a chance to do that, and sometimes the game dictates what you do and where you go, and that's kind of been the case this year a little bit."

Matt Forte claimed he had no idea what Brian Urlacher said to Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports over the weekend when the linebacker was critical of the Bears' running game, and said the Bears have lost their identity on offense.

"We've got to do a lot of things,'' Forte said. "We've got to make people miss, we've got to block people, we've got to do a lot of things. It's not one particular thing that is hampering the offense. We're hurting ourselves most of the time.

"Urlacher has his own opinion. If I couldn't make anybody miss, I probably wouldn't be playing pro football.''

Forte. who set a franchise rookie record with 1,238 yards rushing last season, has only 543 yards and three rushing touchdowns through 11 games.

"It's frustrating,'' he said. "But you can't harp on being frustrated because it carries over into other games. Then, you'll be focused on being frustrated instead of being out there and trying to do things right on the field.

"When you don't get rushing opportunities as a running back, you have to try to impact somewhere else.''

Tight end Desmond Clark returned to practice in a limited basis today after missing the last two games with a neck injury. Here is the official injury report:


LB Lance Briggs, knee--DNP,
DE Alex Brown, calf--DNP,
LT Orlando Pace, groin--DNP,
CB Charles Tillman, concussion--DNP,
TE Desmond Clark, neck--LIM,
DT Tommie Harris, knee--LIM,


QB Marc Bulger, knee--OUT
C Jason Brown, knee--DNP,
RB Steven Jackson, back--DNP,
FB Mike Karney, neck--DNP,
RT Jason Smith, concussion--DNP,
LB James Laurinaitis, shoulder--LIM,
G Richie Incognito, foot--LIM,

Jay Cutler said he has spoken with Brian Urlacher since the linebacker shared his thoughts on lots of things related to the Bears with Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, but was clear that Urlacher didn't owe him an apology for anything.

Urlacher was critical of the Bears' identity as a football team, and specifically an offense.

"Look, I love Jay, and I understand he's a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him," Urlacher told Silver. "But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

Said Cutler: "He doesn't have to apologize to me. I talked to him. I understand what he's talking about. It's frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody in that locker room. So I know where he's coming from."

The left tackle of the future is the left tackle for now as Chris Williams will be moved to that position for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams with veteran Orlando Pace expected to miss with a groin muscle injury.

That's the spot the Bears were going to play the first-round pick from Vanderbilt at last season before he went down with a back injury on the second day of training camp and eventually required surgery. Frank Omiyale is expected to remain at left guard and veteran Kevin Shaffer will play right tackle.

Lots of questions came in today and I am going to get to as many as I can. Here we go.

Q: I don't understand how the Bears can give Lovie Smith another year after three non-playoff seasons just because he has two years left on his deal. If he is facing a playoffs or else 2010, why not make the move now when some of the best coaches in the sport are out on the market? And if they are worried about the 2011 lockout, would they actually bring him back to fulfill the final year if he misses the playoffs again? It is going to be very difficult to bring in a big offensive coordinator under Lovie given his tenuous status. And given how stubborn Lovie has been in sticking with his schemes and gameplans, that's another year of trying to bring in personnel to fit his Cover 2 defense. Who do you think would be a better fit for the Bears: Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan? Cowher probably brings a better front office team and his personality and style would be a big hit in this town yet Shanahan is an Illinois native who would provide an elite offensive mentor for Cutler but has struggled in building a defense when he has the personnel control.

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: I don't have an explanation for every move that has been made at Halas Hall in the past. Dave Wannstedt went 4-12 in 1997 and returned the next season to, you know, go 4-12 all over again. I agree with you that it might make it tough for Smith to find a top offensive coordinator if he is under a win-or-else mandate, but Mike Martz could be available and I've already covered the ties there and Martz's stated desire to work with Cutler. Bringing back Smith might make it difficult for the Bears in 2010, but there are still five games remaining and I am interested to see how they fare with little left to play for than pride. I don't see the McCaskeys shooting for the moon with Cowher or Shanahan or another top guy. General manager Jerry Angelo has said on the record that the franchise is not going to set the bar for pay at positions. Do you think they are going to set the bar for pay with a coach? Do you think they're going to show Angelo the door with four years left on his contract? I don't. That's like saying, "Jerry, Arizona or Florida, where do you want us to pay for you to live for the next four years?" Cowher might demand complete control. Ditto Shanahan. I'm just going off past history--the best indicator for future results--when I say it's unlikely. Does anyone know something I don't about this situation? Shanahan is a popular choice but he wasn't super involved with Cutler in Denver. Jeremy Bates and Mike Heimerdinger did a lot of the work with Cutler. Shanahan also hasn't won much of anything since John Elway retired. Remember back in April when I wrote about Cutler needing to do a better job with ball security and the masses coming out and blaming his 18 interceptions on one of the worst defenses the NFL had seen in, oh, a decade? That was Shanahan's defense. However, I think if Gary Kubiak gets the axe in Houston, Shanahan could instantly become an even better candidate for any job because he could get the old gang together again. Many of Kubiak's people were also with Shanahan in Denver previously. The Bears might aim for lesser name coaches, but I'm not going to speculate on possible names right now because that is all it would be, total speculation. Let's allow this thing to play out here. Smith is the coach. He's got a deal through 2011. And who cares that Shanahan is from Illinois? That's as tiring to me as the idea that the Bears should seek a coach with past ties to the organization. That's neither here nor there, ever.

The Bears must be ready to finally put Pisa Tinoisamoa on injured reserve.

The team will sign free-agent linebacker Cato June to a one-year contract, and it will need to clear a spot to add the veteran. That means Tinoisamoa will finally head to injured reserve after being lost for the season with a knee injury Oct. 18 at Atlanta.

June was the leading tackler for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, the year they defeated the Bears in the Super Bowl, and his history in the NFL is as a linebacker in the Tampa Two. While he played the weak side for the Colts, he was a strong-side linebacker in Tampa Bay last season and the positions are considered interchangeable.

I will be dipping into the mailbag later this afternoon or tonight for Four Down Territory. Go ahead and send your questions in and I will get to as many as possible. Thanks.

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