Chicago Sun-Times

March 2010 Archives

Bears open 2010 preseason in San Diego

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The Bears will open their 2010 season on the road in San Diego, where they'll face former cornerback Nathan Vasher and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

The exact date hasn't been set but the game against the Chargers will take place between Aug. 12-15. Then, the Bears will host back-to-back home games against the Oakland Raiders (Aug. 19-22) and the Arizona Cardinals (Aug. 26-29).

The Bears will close the 2010 preseason in Cleveland (Sept. 2-5).

The Bears are 14-11 in the preseason under Lovie Smith.

Brown bids farewell to Bears' fans on Twitter?

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Alex Brown sure sounds like he's no longer a member of the Chicago Bears.

On his official Twitter page, Brown sent out what appeared to be a farewell message.

See for yourself:

"I am extremely grateful for my time as a Chicago Bear and I wish the Bears the best. I am glad that they gave me an opportunity to realize...

"...A dream I had (as) a child. I appreciate the fans but as we all know this is the nature of the business. Bear down!"

The Bears were shopping Brown, but the club's challenge was his $5 million base salary in 2010 and the distinct possibility that they would release him anyways.

Brown certainly will command interest but other clubs would rather try to negotiate with him as a free agent instead of potentially giving up a draft pick or a player.

Brown has been a durable and consistent performer. But he became expendable after the Bears signed Julius Peppers last month.

Del Rio praises Peppers

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Before becoming the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jack Del Rio was the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.

And in his first and only season there, in 2002, Del Rio worked with Julius Peppers, the second overall pick of the Panthers in the NFL draft.

Peppers wasted no time making an impact, registering 12.5 sacks for the Panthers' defense, which ranked second overall in the NFL.

"He's a tremendous young man," Del Rio said. "I think he's very gifted but it's more than that. I knew him to be a guy who competed every day. He was a proud athlete."

Peppers has been accused of being an underachiever and giving less than full effort on a consistent basis. But Del Rio said the defensive end's athleticism may work against him.

"He did things naturally," Del Rio said. "Sometimes, he did it so effortlessly that you may assume that he wasn't going hard.

"I thought that was a misnomer of him coming out of college (of North Carolina). I didn't see that."

Peppers is an effortless athlete, Del Rio said.

"When you really study him, some guys have to strain to run, and some guys can run. He's that type of athlete," Del Rio said. "I have a lot of respect for him. The Bears got a lot better, right there."

Keep in mind, Del Rio was a very solid player in his NFL career, earning one Pro Bowl selection as a middle linebacker. He was known for his toughness and relentless style.

Vasher signs two-year deal with Chargers

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The San Diego Chargers announced they have signed former Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher.

I'm told he signed a two-year deal worth about $4.5 million.

He was due to make $2.95 million from the Bears, until they released him earlier this month.

"We're adding a proven NFL player with experience in the league," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said, in a brief statement released on the team's Twitter site.

Meanwhile, the Bears signed exclusive-rights free agents Kahlil Bell, Tim Shaw and Matt Toeaina, they announced today.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said last week at the owners meeting that he expects close to a 100 percent attendance when the voluntary off-season workout program starts Monday at Halas Hall.

"It says quite a bit, too, about our team," Smith said. "They're voluntary workouts... but that says a lot, when you have pretty much a 100 percent of your players coming there."

Greg Olsen, Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers were among those at Halas Hall on Monday. But there are a handful of players who were not: Alex Brown, who is on the trade block, and restricted free agents defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Danieal Manning and linebacker Jamar Williams.

But numerous restricted players throughout the NFL are going to exercise one of the few tools they have to express their displeasure: their absence.

Vasher nearing deal with Chargers

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After being unceremoniously dumped by the Bears earlier this month, Nathan Vasher is hoping a reunion with a coach under whom he thrived will help him resuscitate his career.

Vasher is nearing a deal with the San Diego Chargers, according to a source close to the situation.

Ron Rivera, the former Bears defensive coordinator, is currently serving in that same capacity with the Chargers.

Vasher, a fourth-round pick of the Bears in 2004, had five interceptions as a rookie and a career-high eight interceptions in 2005. Rivera was the coordinator of the Bears both seasons.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Vasher would provide depth for the Chargers, especially after trading Antonio Cromartie to the New York Jets earlier in the off-season.

Vasher is also familiar with Steve Wilks, the Bears defensive backs coach from 2006 to 2008.

The Bears have talked to the Seattle Seahawks about acquiring guard Rob Sims, a restricted free agent.

But, contrary to a report in the Chicago Tribune, the Seahawks are not at all interested in trading Sims for defensive end Alex Brown, according to two sources close to the situation.

The Bears are hoping to trade Brown, who is due to make $5 million in 2010 and to turn 31 this summer, and the Seahawks have a need for a pass rusher, especially after trading Darryl Tapp to the Philadelphia Eagles and losing Cory Redding in free agency.

But the Seahawks are not interested in Brown at $5 million a season.

The Seahawks are believed to be far more interested in the draft pick.

Meanwhile, the Bears would only need to give the Seahawks a fourth-round pick if they sign Sims to an offer sheet. Sims is big and athletic, which is what new Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice likes, and he has 34 NFL starts under his belt.

According to one source, Sims is deemed expendable because new offensive line coach Alex Gibbs is more inclined to work with players with whom he's more familiar.

But Sims has been a solid player for the Seahawks, especially given that he's had different offensive line coaches in each of his four NFL seasons. The 26-year-old Sims may revel in working with Tice, one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the NFL.

How marketable is Brown?

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With his future with the Bears in doubt, the question for Alex Brown is where he would end up.

Brown's due at least $5 million in base salary in each of the next two seasons, a steep price for the Bears, who obviously believe they've got some younger, cheaper options behind him.

But Brown could be appealing to a team that believes it's a contender and needs a player like him.

What does he bring to the table?

Although he'll turn 31 in June, Brown has been very durable, he's been productive (averages 5.4 sacks per season), and he's a leader in the locker room.

Brown also has the ability to play in a 4-3 scheme, or a 3-4 scheme, given his athleticism.

He could be appealing, in fact, to tams that use the latter scheme. Within the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers just lost Aaron Kampman in free agency, to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Teams don't like to trade within their own division, but the Bears -- if they could create a market -- would clearly take the best deal, especially since they need more draft picks.

Mark Anderson is supposedly ready for another breakout season despite evidence to the contrary. Lovie Smith says he wants Israel Idonije to move to end, even if he's the one who moved the Bears' "Mr Inside and Mr Outside" to defensive tackle in the first place.

Have some questions about the Bears you want answered? Fire away. Give us your queries below, and our Bears writers Sean Jensen and Neil Hayes will give you the answers each week.

The Bears are actively shopping defensive end Alex Brown, according to two sources contacted by the Sun-Times on Friday morning.

The Bears need a safety. You know it, I know it and Lance Briggs knows it.

The updated draft order has been released by the NFL.

Rex Grossman said he still thinks he could be a starter in the NFL when he signed with the Redskins earlier this month.

Mike Shanahan had nothing but positive things to say about Jay Cutler during an interview on the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on WMVP (AM-1000) this morning.

Smith says Ogunleye done in Chicago

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The decision was among the hardest of his career, but Lovie Smith said the signing of Julius Peppers signals the end of Adewale Ogunleye's tenure with the Bears.

"That was a tough day. That was one of my harder days as a coach, for the Bears, because Adewale was a real man. He was there every day I've been there," Smith said of Ogunleye, whom the club traded for in 2004. "That was a tough call. He's family. He's a friend for life, and to call him and let him know we were going in a different direction. I know you have to do it, but that was personal right there."

Smith said he believes Ogunleye, though, will get another NFL job.

"He'll get on with someone else," he said, "and I still feel like he can play."

Ogunleye is 32 years old, and he had 6.5 sacks in 2009.

Coach Lovie Smith took exception with a reporter who suggested that, despite his team's additions, the Bears could have a hard time moving up in the NFC North standings in 2010.

While the Bears finished third in the division with a 7-9 record, they posted 3-3 record in the NFC North.

"We split with the division winner. The team that ended up in second place (Green Bay), we could have easily won both of those games. And we swept the other team (Detroit).

"I think we're close. At the end of the year, we played Minnesota as well as anyone," he said. "We're a better football team now. I think its safe to say, that we've improved more than any team in our division."

The Packers swept the Bears, winning the season opener at Lambeau Field 21-15 then winning at Solder Field 21-14.

Smith, though, wisely noted that the NFL draft is coming up, an important point since the Bears don't have a first- and second-round pick. Meanwhile, the other three teams in the division do, including the Lions who pick second overall.

There's a good chance the Cowboys will host the Bears in the second of three games scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, according to several reports.

Smith open to adding veteran quarterback

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ORLANDO -- Bears coach Lovie Smith said the team has discussed the possibility of adding a veteran quarterback to the roster.

During a wide-ranging interview at the annual NFC coach's breakfast at the NFL owners' meeting, Smith said the Bears opted against adding a third quarterback in 2009 after looking at the landscape.

Smith, though, noted that was an exception and highlighted several reasons a veteran could benefit the group, which currently includes starter Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie.

"It wouldn't be a bad thing if we end up with a veteran," Smith said, "and that has nothing to do with Caleb Hanie.

"We think Caleb is a heck of a football player. But, when you do go with two quarterbacks, it is a little scary each week. You never know."

Smith said a veteran could be a sounding board for Cutler and likened that player to a second coach.

"Probably more so than any other position, you can have even an older veteran around," he said, "because unless there's an injury, it's not like he's going to be physically beat up every day."

Here are some other highlights:

* Smith said Devin Hester will be a full-time receiver and also handle punt returns. So no kickoff returns for him.

* Smith said Brian Urlacher is healthy and said on two occasions that the middle linebacker is still "the face of the franchise."

* Smith said he expects "pretty much 100 percent" of his players to attend the start of the voluntary off-season conditioning program on Monday.

* Smith said he hasn't committed Julius Peppers to one side.

* Smith said he would like to "lock" Israel Idonije into defensive end more than tackle and "see how good he can be" (on the outside).

* Smith said he fully engaged tight end Greg Olsen when the team was looking to add an offensive coordinator and before they added tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

* Smith reinforced that the Bears will not become a pass-heavy team. "We're in Chicago. It's not going to change. We'll continue to run the football. We just want to be able to pass the football, too."

* Smith said Nick Roach will, at this point, get the initial looks at strongside linebacker, ahead of Hunter Hillenmeyer and Jamar Williams.

* Smith said he was on board with the team's decision to vote yes for the new overtime rule modification. "We voted for the rule, so that's what I liked. That's it," he said.

* Smith said the club felt it was time to give cornerback Nathan Vasher a chance at a fresh start. "You want to be fair with the veterans," he said. Time for the player and the team to move on, Smith said.

NFL owners approve OT rule change in postseason

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Despite their overtime success, the Bears were among the 28 teams that approved an overtime rule change for the postseason.

The rule now prohibits the team winning the coin flip in overtime from winning the game with a field goal on its initial possession. If they successfully kick a field goal, the other team would have an opportunity to possess the ball.

The Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens voted against the rule change. The rule needed 24 votes to pass.

New York Giants co-owner John Mara said he was not optimistic about the measure passing, when he arrived in Orlando because "we've been down this path before and have failed."

But he said the owners built some momentum and decided to vote Tuesday instead of Wednesday, a decision that irked some coaches, including Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints.

Mara jokingly said, "I think the feeling was, 'Let's get the vote done now before the coaches and everybody else can come in there and screw it up.' "

There's a possibility that owners may vote to extend the rule for the regular season as well, at their meeting in Dallas in May.

"Statistically, it needed to be changed," Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said. "It wasn't producing the fairest result, based on the effect of field goal accuracy, distance and drive start."

Kreutz on the mend

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Bears Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz is progressing well after having a bone spur near his Achilles tendon removed in late January.

Asked if the center would participate when the team's off-season workout program starts on the 29th, agent Mark Bartelstein said Kreutz is "good, and he will be participating as he continues his rehab." Bartelstein added Kreutz is "way ahead of schedule."

Kreutz, 32, didn't miss a start last season, but he played through pain. His last missed start was in Week 11 of the 2002 season.

Kreutz is a six-time Pro Bowl selection, the last instance after the 2006 season.

Smiths honorary chairs for diabetes benefit

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Bears coach Lovie Smith and his wife Maryanne recently served as the honorary chairs for the American Diabetes Association annual brunch at the Soldier Field United Club.

The event raises money for diabetes research, programs and advocacy.

Smith will be the featured speaker at By the Hand Club of Kids' annual Spring Benefit on April 8 at Soldier Field, and he is also also currently serving as the spokesperson for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

A new house is being constructed in Chicago and the Bears are actively supporting the cause. Bears Care, the charitable beneficiary of the Chicago Bears, donated $10,000 to fund a "Bears Room" at the new house.

Aaron Schatz of footballoutsiders.com used statistical analysis to reveal just how bad the Bears were in goal-line and short-yardage situations last season.

It's a great website, by the way. Check it out.

The Bears released cornerback Nathan Vasher, which is only a surprise because general manager Jerry Angelo indicated at the NFL Combine last month that the veteran would be with the roster when training camp opened.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Rex Grossman will play for his third team in three years next season after signing a one-year deal for the league minimum with the Redskins on Wednesday.

Skinny on Deon Grant

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The Bears have made several upgrades to their roster, but coach Lovie Smith and general Jerry Angelo haven't addressed one position they both stated they wanted to get better at.

Safety.

One who became available the other day is Deon Grant.

The Seattle Seahawks released him on Monday.

Word is, the new regime (coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider) wanted to dramatically change their roster, and they also didn't want to pay Grant his $4 million base salary for 2010.

Grant, 31, was a second-round pick in 2000. Remarkably, in the last 10 NFL seasons, he has started every single game.

He's had some issues playing in the box, where he was counted on more in run support as a strong safety for the Seahawks. He has forced just two fumbles his entire career.

But I'm told that Grant would be ideal for a Cover Two based defense like Chicago's.

Grant is also a bright player capable of getting his teammates lined up in the back end.

For his career, Grant has 26 interceptions and 74 pass break-ups.

Compete against Nick Roach in an NCAA Tournament pool. If you beat the Bears linebacker you'll receive a signed football. Win or lose, it will benefit a good cause.

What follows is a letter from Nick himself.

The retooling continued at Halas Hall on Tuesday as the Bears announced they had signed cornerback Tim Jennings to a two-year deal and released longtime fullback Jason McKie.

Bears defensive tackle Israel Idonije is rated the fourth-most productive pass rushing defensive tackle, according to the website Pro Football Focus.

The formula PFF developed doesn't necessarily determine best but rather the most effective, based on sacks, hits and pressures. Obviously, though, sacks got the highest value.

Among all defensive tackles and defensive ends in 3-4 schemes, Idonije was fourth, behind San Francisco's Justin Smith, Cleveland's Shaun Rogers and Tennessee's Tony Brown.

Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts was the highest-rated pass rusher, based on PFF's formula.

New Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was eighth among defensive ends, two spots above Minnesota's Jared Allen and three spots behind Minnesota's Ray Edwards.

http://www.profootballfocus.com/articles.php?tab=articles&arc=2010-01&id=92

Orlando Pace and Chris Williams were both ranked among the league's 10 worst offensive tackles in 2009, according to the website Pro Football Focus.

Although it's difficult to come up with a way to grade offensive linemen, PFF developed a formula that included sacks, hits and pressures an offensive lineman gave up. The lower the number, the better the linemen.

That Jake Long, the top pick in 2008 of the Miami Dolphins, is the top-rated left tackle isn't a surprise. Long is already a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

But the league's top-rated right tackle? Anthony Collins of the Cincinnati Bengals, a fourth-round pick in 2008 who started seven games in 2009 before being replaced in the lineup. Interestingly, his replacement, Dennis Roland, was ranked third by PFF, behind Pittsburgh's Willie Colon.

Pace was the fifth-worst left tackle while Williams was the eighth-worst right tackle, according to PFF.

PFF wrote that while Pace only gave up one sack, he gave up a pressure once every 10 pass plays.

In the NFC North, the only top-10 left tackle was Bryant McKinnie of the Minnesota Vikings, who was ranked 10th.

Vikings rookie Phil Loadholt was the seventh-rated right tackle.

Green Bay's Allen Barbre was the league's worst-rated right tackle.

Here is the link to PFF's full report.

http://www.profootballfocus.com/articles.php?tab=articles&arc=&id=122

To say the Kyle-Orton-for-Jay-Cutler trade has thus-far failed to live up to expectations in Chicago is an understatement.

Bears cornerback Zackary Bowman's base salary was $310,000 in 2009.

This week, Bowman actually topped that figure through the NFL's Performance Based Pay Distributions, which, through a formula, rewards low-salaried players who participate in a significant number of snaps. Playing 64 percent of the team's defensive snaps, Bowman, who started 12 games, earned $355,355 through the PBP system, the second-highest total in the league.

Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan, who started all 16 games, received $397,555.

For Bowman, that still doesn't seem just. A fifth-round pick in 2008, Bowman's total take is still nowhere close to Nathan Vasher, who started just two games but earned $2.95 million in base salary alone in 2009.

Holt still holding out hope

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Although Bears brass has indicated that they're happy with their depth at receiver, seven-time Pro Bowl receiver Torry Holt still is pushing for a reunion with former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz.

In fact, Holt suggested he would beat out some of the young, incumbent Bears receivers for playing time.

"If I come in as a vet, I'm going to challenge those guys for a starting spot, and probably more than likely, beat quite a few of them out for a position to play on that football team," Holt told ESPN Radio in Los Angeles Thursday, according to the website sportsradiointerviews.com. "So I guess that's something that they would have to evaluate."

The receivers currently under contract are Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Juaquin Iglesias. Both general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have expressed confidence in their young receivers. Angelo even suggested at the NFL combine that a veteran might deny a young receiver a chance to get important reps in practices and games.

"Our experience has been, and we learned this a couple years ago when we brought in Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker, is they are going to take reps. Whose reps are they going take? They are going to take younger guys' reps," Angelo said.

Interestingly, Holt even suggested that Martz, the Bears' new offensive coordinator, may even want him. That wouldn't be farfetched since Holt was one of the stars of his high-powered Rams offense. But Holt is 33 now, and he's scored three touchdowns in his last 31 games over the last two seasons.

"If you think of it, it would be a natural fit with coach Martz being there. I know the system, I was in the system for many years and had a lot of success within that system," Holt said. "So it sounds quite natural, but coach Martz doesn't make the final decision. Some of the other people in the organization are going to make the final decision."

Holt said he's made clear to Angelo and "that staff" that he would be interested in playing for the Bears.

Bears announce signing of Bullocks

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The Bears just issued a release, announcing the signing of restricted free agent safety Josh Bullocks.

Bullocks signed his one-year tender offer from the Bears. If Bullocks is signed away by another club, the Bears would receive a third-round pick.

Last season, Bullocks appeared in 12 games with four starts, finishing with 21 tackles. For his career, he has six interceptions, 28 pass break ups and four forced fumbles.

Maybe it's just me. But I was really fascinated that Bailey is the home of the Country Doctor Museum.

So I decided to spend the time and go on the tour.

It didn't look like much, basically like an average-sized house with a barn next to it.

But the museum actually tells the unique story of rural towns like Bailey.

I watched the five-minute video and went on the 45-minute tour and learned quite a bit.

What made it all the more impressive was to just put things into perspective. I wasn't born in the U.S., and, as a little boy, I benefited from alternative medicine. If not for the procedure, I might not have the use of my right leg.

Back in the day, in Bailey, many people knew one doctor for a lifetime. He traveled throughout the area, and he often bartered his expertise. For instance, in his official ledger, one doctor noted that he was going to receive a 17-pound turkey.

I saw the process of how pills were made to provide "cures" for everything from flatulence to freckles.

I also saw leeches and tools that you wouldn't want anywhere near you today.

Bears sign FB Williams

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The Bears signed fullback Eddie Williams, a seventh-round draft pick (221st overall) by the Redskins last season, to a one-year contract.

Peppers to wear No. 90

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Stories like this, folks, are proof that it's a slow news day ...

Julius Peppers made it clear after the Bears signed him to a lucrative contract on the first day of free agency that he wanted to wear No 90, which is the number he wore during his previous eight seasons with the Panthers. The only problem was that second-year defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert had been issued that number by the Bears.

Bears release Jones

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The Bears released running back Kevin Jones.

As we all know, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith could be gone if the Bears underachieve again next season.

Here's the surprise: Julius Peppers could follow them out the door.

No fluff in Peppers' deal

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Sometimes, contracts can be inflated.

But two league executives confirmed that the Bears did, in fact, give Julius Peppers a monster contract that makes him the league's highest-paid defensive player.

The six-year deal is worth $84 million, half of which is guaranteed. In addition, Peppers can earn another $7.5 million in incentives, making the maximum total $91.5 million.

On average, Peppers should be able to net an extra $350,000 to about $500,000 per year in incentives, while more lucrative ones like defensive player of the year and a Super Bowl victory would be more challenging.

His deal tops DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys and Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins.

The NFL Players Association website posted this Q and A with Bears running back Matt Forte. Khalil Garriott of the NFLPA conducted the interview.

The Bears could be in competition with another NFC North foe for veteran cornerback Lito Sheppard.

Briggs hosting "Dream" fundraiser April 12

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Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has a heart for underprivileged children, and his foundation is hosting the event at Lumen in Chicago on April 12.

"'A Reason to Dream' is a way that we can make a change in our community and give kids a reason to dream," Briggs said.

Briggs4kidz will feature other NFL players, including Jerry Azumah and Tim Shaw, as well as community VIPs.

Briggs4Kidz (www.lance-briggs.com/foundation) focuses on raising funds and providing guidance for poverty stricken youth. The foundation also helps children in Lance's hometown of Sacramento, as well as Phoenix.

General tickets purchased this month are $55 while VIP tickets are $155. They are available through his website.

Harris excited to have Peppers on board

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There were a lot of smiles at Halas Hall on Friday, when they introduced Julius Peppers as a Bear.

But one could argue that no one stands to benefit more from the signing than defensive tackle Tommie Harris.

Harris was already pumped up about this off-season, since he didn't need any surgeries. But he was thrilled when the club added Peppers.

"I'm just excited to have a player like that, a caliber player like that," Harris said. "We're getting ready to go to work.

"He's going to open up a lot more for me."

Harris mentioned the inside/ outside duo in Tampa, Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp.

"Those guys were unstoppable. You had to pick your poison," he said. "With all the guys we have, and to bring him, is great."

Harris said he's been working out, although he'll take a break to take a trip to Africa with a few former Oklahoma players, including Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

"I've already been in it," Harris said of the gym. "It's the difference from knowing what you want to do to actually being able to do it.

"Instead of saying I wish I could, I can actually do it. It's a big difference. It's the best I've felt in a long time."

Harris said he's excited about Brian Urlacher coming back. But he said the key is for everyone to stay healthy.

"We don't have no room talking about what we're going to do," he said. "We just need to do it."

Safety update

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Many of you are now blowing up my email, wondering when and how the Bears are going to address the safety position.

To you I say this: chill out.

The Bears addressed one of the toughest positions by securing Julius Peppers. The reality is, unlike some other positions, elite pass rushers who still produce in spite of double teams are sort of hard to find.

The Bears also got new offensive coordinator Mike Martz a new toy in running back Chester Taylor and a safety blanket in tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

Without a first and second round pick, I think the Bears realized they could only upgrade at defensive end through unrestricted free agency. But it is possible to unearth some gems at safety and guard with a third- or fourth-round pick.

In addition, the market for guards and safeties isn't anything like that of quarterbacks, receivers, cornerbacks and pass rushers, with the exception of a guy like Antrel Rolle, who was released on Friday.

There are some quality safeties available now. But I suspect teams, including the Bears, are waiting for the market to fall. Players -- and agents -- often over inflate the market.

Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Sean Jones (Philadelphia Eagles) are among the top unrestricted free agent safeties. Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis Colts) is clearly the top restricted free agent. The was a post on Pro Football Talk that there seems to be a buzz about Gerald Sensabaugh (Dallas Cowboys), who is also a restricted free agent.

I fully expect clubs are going to draw up some offer sheets for restricted free agent safeties, at some point.

I can assure you the Bears have placed a value on certain players they think fit their system. But, unlike Peppers, there isn't a guy they have to have, so they're going to exercise some patience and try to get a bargain.

UPDATE: Another outside possibility is O.J. Atogwe, of the St. Louis Rams. But Atogwe, who played under the franchise tender at $6.3 million last year, was given the lowest tender this year by the club.

Why?

Because Atogwe was among the players who paid the steepest price because of the uncapped year. Normally, the Rams would have had to let him become an unrestricted free agent or franchised him again at 120 percent of his 2009 base salary. But because he has five accrued NFL seasons, Atogwe could again be restricted by the Rams.

By placing the lowest tender on Atogwe, the Rams essentially are encouraging other clubs to help with negotiations and showing him his market value. Meanwhile, the Rams still have the right of first refusal.

Atogwe can talk to other teams about a contract until April 15. If an offer sheet is drawn up, then the Rams would have seven days to match.

That's expected to happen since Atogwe has 19 interceptions and 14 forced fumbles in five NFL seasons.

But, if he doesn't receive any offers, the Rams have until June 1 to increase his tender or else he would be an unrestricted free agent.

Forte "excited" about Taylor signing

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The agent for Bears running back Matt Forte said his client doesn't have any issues with the addition of Chester Taylor.

"Matt's excited," agent Adisa Bakari said. "Chester is a great running back. He's certainly helped the (Minnesota) Vikings for a number of years, and helped the (Baltimore) Ravens before that.

"Matt's primary focus is to help the Bears win a Super Bowl, and Chester is just another piece to that ever moving puzzle."

After breaking several team records and gaining 1,238 rushing yards as a rookie in 2008, Forte endured several injuries during the 2009 season, from a toe to a hamstring to a sprained MCL.

He played all 16 games, but he gained 929 and averaged 3.6 yards per run for a run offense that ranked 29th in the NFL.

Bakari said Forte is already working out.

"Matt's training vigorously each day, so he can be in tip-top shape," Bakari said.

Putting Peppers deal in perspective

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The Bears, indeed, did go "hog wild" on Friday, the first day of free agency.

The club committed more than $53 million in guarantees to secure three 30-year-old players.

But most of the money -- and the attention -- goes to defensive end Julius Peppers.

He signed a six-year, $91.5 million deal that includes $42 million in guarantees. In the first year, he'll make $20 million.

We'll see if the $91.5 million is real (the total compensation can easily be inflated, with absurdly high base salaries in the latter years). But if the $42 million in guarantees is legit, then Peppers actually topped defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

Last year, Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins on the first day of free agency. The deal could be worth as much as $115 million, based on incentives, and guaranteed him $41 million.

That Peppers topped that final number while committed to fewer seasons would be a victory.

Here are the terms of two other elite defensive ends.

Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts set the bar in 2007 with a six-year, $72 million deal that included $30 million in guarantees. At the time, the deal made Freeney the league's highest paid defensive player.

In 2008, Jared Allen signed a six-year, $72.36 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings that included $31 million in guarantees.

Although he's technically a linebacker, DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys signed a seven-year, $79 million contract that included $40 million in guarantees.

Here are some highlights from the press conference announcing the Bears had signed defensive ends Julius Peppers, running backs Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.

The Bears announced the signing of defensive end Julius Peppers to a six-year contract, running back Chester Taylor to a four-year contract and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (Ma-nu-ma-li'u-na) to a five-year contract.

Soon, Bears coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo will address reporters here at Halas Hall, then they'll be followed by the players.

Check back to this blog for updates and key quotes.

Peppers on Rod Marinelli: "I'm open to any suggestions, and any tips he has. I know the guys he has worked with. I've seen his resume. I know he can only help take my game to the next level."

Chester Taylor on Jay Cutler: "I believe he's a tough quarterback. He's the type of quarterback who won't go down. I kind of see a little Brett Favre in him."

Taylor excited about Bears

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Chester Taylor enjoyed his time with the Minnesota Vikings.

But he said he's ready for a new adventure with the Bears.

"Chicago has real talent," Taylor told the Sun-Times. "Every time we played them, they gave us trouble.

"I just wanted a fresh start. I wanted to come out here and get the opportunity to compete and play a lot more."

Taylor, though, made clear that he did not demand to be the starting running back ahead of incumbent Matt Forte.

"I didn't come here like that," he said. "He's a great player. I'll come in with the mindset that we're teammates, but we'll compete."

Besides, he said, depth is key at his position.

"Running backs go down a lot. You got to have two maybe three running backs," he said. "It's a long season."

Taylor said he enjoyed playing with Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and learning from Vikings running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.

"It was a good experience," he said of his four seasons with the Vikings.

But Taylor said Chicago was also appealing because it's not too far from his family in Detroit, and he's always enjoyed the city and fans.

"Other than football, I love the city," he said. "There's always something to do. Great food. Great restaurants.

"Every time we played them here, no matter how cold, the fans were always out here."

Meanwhile, with free agency just underway, Ken Sarnoff has been arguably the busiest agent thus far. Sarnoff landed his client, receiver Nate Burleson, a five-year, $25 million contract with the Detroit Lions. The deal reportedly included $11 million in guarantees. Then, he flew to Chicago to finalize Taylor's $12.5 million deal with the Bears. On Saturday, he'll take an early flight Detroit.

Sarnoff, though, had one happy client on Friday.

"I'm excited," Taylor said. "I was out of free agency real quick. It's great to have another job right now."

Bears announce 5 p.m. press conference

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The Bears just announced in an email that they have scheduled a press conference for 5:00 pm CT today at Halas Hall.

No other information was included in the release.

Perhaps they are unveiling a new uniform for the 2010 season?

Just a guess...

The Redskins are interested in signing ex-Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, a league source tells profootballtalk's Mike Florio.

Grossman backed up Matt Schaub in Houston last season. The Texans' offensive coordinator last season was Kyle Shanahan, who is now working with his father in Washington.

Taylor agrees to deal with Bears

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Chester Taylor has agreed to terms on a four-year contract worth $12.5 million, according to a league source.

Taylor will be guaranteed $7 million, an unprecedented amount for a running back who turns 31 in September.

But Taylor has only started one full NFL season, gaining 1,216 rushing yards in 2006, before Adrian Peterson took over as the Minnesota Vikings' No. 1 tailback.

Taylor, though, remained a valued part of the Vikings offense, and he completed his four-year, $14.1 million with the club.

The Bears signing of free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers is imminent, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

A separate source has told Sean Jensen of the Sun-Times that former Vikings running back Chester Taylor will also sign with the Bears today. A press conference announcing the signings of Peppers, Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna is expected to be held at Halas Hall later this afternoon.

The source said that although the Patriots and Eagles have also made offers for Peppers, the deal the Bears are offering is worth more per season and it would be a huge upset if Peppers left Halas Hall, where he is visiting today, without signing what is expected to be a six-year contract worth approximately $12-14 million per year with the first three years guaranteed. The source said the Eagles and Pats are offering deals that are closer to $10 million per year.

The Bears have agreed to terms with free-agent tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, the former Rams and Chargers tight end confirmed this morning during a radio interview on WMVP (AM 1000).

If the Bears really want Julius Peppers they may want to lock him inside Halas Hall today during his visit.

The debate shouldn't be centered on whether the Bears should or shouldn't trade Greg Olsen. The bigger question now that it appears that bruising tight end Brandon Manumaleuna is coming to Chicago is whether general manager Jerry Angelo can get a player of equal or greater value in return.

It may be a "good sign" that Peppers is visiting Chicago first, but agent Carl Carey is keeping his options open, like any good agent would.

Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna will join Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor at Halas Hall on Friday, according to multiple sources.

Prized defensive end Julius Peppers will visit with the Bears Friday, along with running back Chester Taylor.

"I can confirm that there will be a visit sometime Friday," agent Carl Carey said. "This is an exploratory visit that we're taking, to explore the possibility.

Numerous teams expressed interest in Peppers, Carey said. But the Bears made the strongest impression.

"It's a good sign that the Bears are getting the first visit," Carey said.


Antrel Rolle, who has reportedly been one of the Bears free-agent targets, will visit with the Giants on Friday morning, according to profootballtalk.com. The Florida Sun-Sentinel is also reporting that the Dolphins have offered the Arizona safety a five-year deal.

Chester Taylor to visit Bears

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Running back Chester Taylor is expected to visit with the Bears Friday, according to a league source.

Taylor spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, starting 15 games in 2006 and gaining 1,216 rushing yards.

But the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, believing they couldn't let him slide past them. But since then, Taylor has served as a valuable backup, particularly on third downs because of his ability to block, run and catch the ball.

Taylor would seem an ideal fit to complement Matt Forte in Mike Martz's offense, which highlights the running back position.

Taylor is one of the most coveted offensive unrestricted free agents. Although he will turn 31 in September, Taylor has minimal mileage.

In addition, Taylor's stock increased because the San Diego Chargers placed a first- and third-round tender on Darren Sproles.

What about Kampman?

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Aaron Kampman isn't getting nearly as much interest as Julius Peppers.

He's recovering from a knee injury, and he only managed 3.5 sacks in 2009.

But that's largely because he played outside linebacker in Green Bay's new 3-4.

Before that, he was one of the game's most dominant -- and productive -- defensive ends. He had 15.5 in 2006, 12.0 in 2007 and 9.5 in 2008.

Not too shabby.

Right now, it sounds like the Bears, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks may be interested in him.

A league source told me that Kampman's left knee is ahead of schedule.

Kampman is a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

With a little more than an hour left before the bell sounds opening the free-agent signing period, two developments could potentially impact the Bears pursuit of Julius Peppers and Chester Taylor.

Check out our free agency blog

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There's a lot of talk that free agency may not necessarily start with a bang tonight.

But, either way, Neil Hayes and I will be checking in with a lot of people and providing lots of updates.

We'll keep you updated on what we're hearing about Julius Peppers, Antrel Rolle, Chester Taylor and other players within the NFC North and even the entire league.

So make sure to keep coming back to our blog and following me on Twitter (skjensen)!

As expected, safety Antrel Rolle has been released by the Cardinals, according to the Arizona Republic.

Seahawks could be favorite to land Peppers

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The Bears are expected to make a big push to sign defensive end Julius Peppers when free agency starts tonight at 11:01 p.m. CST. But their greatest challenge may be the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks aren't afraid to spend money, and former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, unlike some of his peers, obviously doesn't have any cash flow issues.

New head coach Pete Carroll is believed to be high on Peppers, who could be a long-term foundation for the Seahawks. The Seahawks desperately need to improve their pass rush since Patrick Kerney has been a disappointment since registering 14.5 sacks in 2007, his first year with the club.

Word is, Peppers may command a deal that averages about $14 million a year and includes guarantees of up to $40 million.

The McCaskey family has approved about $30 million for free agency, so the Bears would have to get creative to land Peppers or free up some more money.

After Peppers, Aaron Kampman is regarded as the second-best defensive end available, followed by Kyle Vanden Bosch. But one league source told me that Kampman may be headed to Philadelphia.

So are the Bears putting all their eggs in one basket?

There's a drop-off from Peppers to Kampman and Vanden Bosch. But there's an even more dramatic drop after those two.

We won't have to wait long; there will be plenty of activity tonight.

Closing the gap on the Vikings

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As the Bears aim to return to the postseason, they've got to somehow keep pace with the two-time defending NFC champion Minnesota Vikings.

And I'm hearing Vikings ownership isn't going to let off the gas.

Although they've already committed $85 million to 2010 in base salaries alone, the Vikings are expected to continue to be aggressive in their effort to win their first Super Bowl.

Because they reached the NFC Championship, the Vikings cannot sign an unrestricted free agent until they lose one. But that should happen quickly as running back Chester Taylor is expected to sign elsewhere rather quickly.

Regardless, the Vikings inclination may be to look at restricted free agents.

In addition to Brett Favre, the Vikings have several other key 30-something starters, like defensive tackle Pat Williams, cornerback Antoine Winfield and linebacker Ben Leber.

While the Vikings got plenty of help from draft picks like Percy Harvin and Phil Loadholt in 2009, they may be inclined to bolster their lineup via restricted free agency, flush with talented and experienced players.

Besides, with one of the last picks in each round (30th in the first), the Vikings aren't losing a whole lot by parting with, say, a second-rounder, which, in essence, becomes a third.

The most obvious needs appear to be safety, cornerback and guard. Maybe even a center.

The Bears, 7-9 last season, are expected to take the opposite approach, looking to bolster their roster with at least one major unrestricted free agent.

I talked to a veteran scout who specializes in evaluating offensive and defensive linemen for the two columns that appeared in Wednesday's and Thursday's editions breaking down the Bears' offensive and defensive personnel. These guys always talk only on the condition of anonymity because they don't want to have their names attached to critical comments about another team's players but their opinions are always insightful.

I also asked this particular scout to break down the top three free-agent defensive ends. Here's his take:

Bears announce tenders

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The Bears tendered one-year offers to Mark Anderson, Josh Bullocks, Danieal Manning, Nick Roach and Jamar Williams.

The Bears have the opportunity to match all offers made to any of the five players or receive draft compensation.

The Bears also tendered one-year offers to the following three exclusive rights free agents: running back Kahlil Bell, linebacker Tim Shaw and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina. Other NFL clubs cannot extend offers to exclusive rights free agents.

The club did not announce the level of tenders for their restricted free agents. But Anderson and Roach received second-round tenders while the remaining players received original round tenders.

The Bears would receive third-round picks for Bullocks and Manning because they were originally second-round picks. The collective bargaining agreement mandates that a club upgrade the round of restricted free agent, meaning the Bears would have had to place a first-round tender on Manning and Bullocks.

By choosing not to -- and saving money -- the Bears would receive a third-round pick if clubs sign away those players.

The Bears would receive a fourth-round pick if Williams is signed away.

Olsen not on the trade block

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Citing friends of Greg Olsen, NBC Chicago reported that the Bears tight end was not happy about the hire of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz and that he "quietly sent his agent Drew Rosenhaus into trade request mode."

That's not the case, according to a source close to the situation.

The Bears are not actively shopping Olsen, although that could change if another club makes an overwhelming offer.

The source tells me that Martz is still trying to get a handle on the Bears offensive players, and he hasn't had time to get his arms around how he will utilize them.

Olsen obviously has heard all the talk about how tight ends have been used in Martz's offense. But, Martz also has never had a tight end with Olsen's athleticism -- at least one who wasn't distracted and disinterested (think Vernon Davis in San Francisco).

Like any young player, Olsen will have to continue to develop, especially as a blocker, and he'll have to win the trust of Martz.

But Martz also must show Olsen that he's open-minded about expanding the role of the tight end in his offense.

Signing Brandon Marshall will apparently require one thing the Bears don't have --- a first-round draft pick.

Roach may get second-round tender

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Bears linebacker Nick Roach is expected to get the second-round tender of $1.684 million.

Roach, who was not drafted out of Northwestern in 2007, has started 24 games for the Bears in the last two seasons, including 15 in 2009. He finished the year with 75 tackles, three forced fumbles and two sacks.

Defensive end Mark Anderson is expected to also get a second-round tender while safety Danieal Manning is slated to get what amounts to a third (see previous post).

Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com is reporting that the Panthers made three attempts to sign free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers and that the final offer was in neighborhood of $14 million per year.

This just in from Halas Hall: Ouch.

Jamar Williams likely to get original tender

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Bears linebacker Jamar Williams is expected to get an original tender, which means the club would get a fourth-round pick if he's signed away by another club.

Williams has played in all 16 games in each of the last three seasons, but he's made only three starts.

The former Arizona State star had 43 tackles in 2009.

Is Sharper serious?

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Darren Sharper, a key to the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl run, suggested that he's now open to play for the Bears on Monday.

But that begs the question: Has Sharper legitimately changed his tune or he is just trying to drum up interest?

I'm leaning toward the latter.

After the Saints upset the Indianapolis Colts, I asked Sharper if he planned to re-sign with the Saints or test free agency.

"Repeat, repeat," he told me. "We're going to win another one.

Asked if that meant he wasn't looking to leave, Sharper said, "I want to try to repeat.

"That's the next goal."

In addition, Sharper said before the Super Bowl that he was more of a "protector" in the Minnesota Vikings defense, which, like the Bears, is Cover Two based. He lamented that he didn't get as many opportunities to make plays and "trust my instincts."

In 48 games with the Vikings, in the Tampa Two defense, Sharper intercepted nine passes. in 14 games last season with the Saints, Sharper intercepted nine passes, returning three for touchdowns.

On ESPN Radio's The Waddle & Silvy Show in Chicago, Sharper said he's willing to play anywhere, although he talked up Bears coach Lovie Smith.

"Coach Lovie Smith, I have the utmost respect for him," Sharper said. "I've played against him for many years and seen how he's built that program in Chicago. I'm a firm believer in what he's doing up there. I love the Chicago fans. Wherever I go I want to go to a great fan base, and Chicago has one of the best fan bases in all of the NFL."

Sharper is 34 years old, and he needs interceptions to help his Pro Football Hall of Fame cause. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will empower Sharper to keep making plays.

At the end of the day, unless he gets an overwhelming offer from the Bears or anyone else, I think Sharper will return to New Orleans.

Bears release Pace and two others

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The Bears released offensive tackle Orlando Pace, along with guard Tyler Reed and tight end Fontel Mines.

Pace started the first 11 games but was benched for the remainder of the season. Pace, who signed a three-year deal, $15 million deal last year, didn't play anywhere close to the level that helped him earn seven Pro Bowl berths.

But don't feel bad for Pace: he earned $6.1 million in 2009.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said on Friday that Chris Williams would start at left tackle.

Manning may get a tender with a twist

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It appears the Bears may put a tender on safety Danieal Manning with a cost of his original draft pick.

And although Manning was a second-round pick, the Bears would only receive a third-round pick.

That's because of a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Bears may place a second-round tender on defensive end Mark Anderson, who was a fifth-round pick. The CBA mandates that a club upgrade the round of restricted free agent, meaning the Bears would have to place a first-round tender on Manning.

But by placing the original draft pick tender on Manning, the Bears would save over $500,000. The original tender amount is $1.176 million while the second-round tender is $1.759. A first-round tender jumps up to $2.521 million.

Manning has started 40 games for the Bears since being taken in the second-round of the 2006 NFL Draft. At this point, he's projected to have the inside track to starting at strong safety, with the presumption that the Bears land a more heralded free agent to play free safety.

Ryan Clark and Jermaine Phillips are among the unrestricted free agents projected to be available. But Antrel Rolle and Kerry Rhodes may be released by their respective teams. Indications are, however, that the Cardinals are trying to keep Rolle.

Mark Anderson could get second-round tender

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Bears defensive end Mark Anderson has a disappointing 4.5 sacks the last two seasons. But the Bears could try to lure other teams to pursue Anderson by placing a second-rounder tender on him.

As a rookie in 2006, Anderson collected 12 sacks as a situational pass rusher. That number is nothing to scoff at, and other teams could be interested in adding Anderson to their defensive line rotation.

A team with a lower second-round pick may consider that just reasonable enough to make a play for Anderson, and the Bears could opt to match or pass. If they declined to match, then the Bears would pick up a second-round pick, which is important since they currently are without one for April's draft.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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