Chicago Sun-Times

May 2010 Archives

ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha is a great writer and an old friend who got Brian Urlacher to talk about his future, which was a subject the Bears middle linebacker didn't want to broach during a recent minicamp.

"I'd like to think I could play as long as I wanted," Urlacher said. "But I also know that there aren't many players who get to make that call."

Urlacher also admits this will be the most critical season of his career. Great read. Here's the link: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=chadiha_jeffri&id=5229286

Bears waive Wilson

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The team announced it had waived defensive end Lawrence Wilson. Wilson, who played high school basketball with Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in Ohio, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State.

Bears sign Wright

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For the fifth consecutive year, the Bears are the first NFL team to sign all of it's draft picks.

The Bears just beat a stated goal to agents of their draft picks, to have all of them signed by May 28. Naturally, safety Major Wright was the last to sign late this afternoon. Wright was the Bears top pick this year.

Wright signed a four-year deal that included $845,000 in guarantees. As they often do, the Bears will give Wright a chance to trigger a $1.3 million escalator in his fourth season if he meets a playing time minimum in just one season. All told, Wright can make $3.36 million.

The Bears are always proactive. But they became the first team in league history to sign all their picks (five in all) in May. While they didn't have a first- or second-round pick, they still had a tight rookie pool to work with.

Trent Green told the "Waddle and Silvy Show" (AM-1000) that the Bears gauged his interest in possibly coming out of retirement and being considered among the candidates to be Jay Cutler's backup but that he wasn't the only quarterback the team was interesting in signing.

Questions for readers: Would you prefer that we post the stories we write for the paper here? Do you go to the main Sun-Times sports page to read about the Bears or do you just check the blog?

Anyway, this appeared in Wednesday's editions. I thought it was interesting. Hopefully, you will as well.

Bears chairman Mike McCaskey said holding the 2014 Super Bowl in New York will be a boon for the NFL.

So much for the Bears signing guard Justin Smiley when he gets released by the Dolphins.

Miami traded the veteran to Jacksonville, according to ESPN and ProFootballTalk.com. He will have to pass a physical before the trade becomes official, and given his shoulder problems that may not be a given.

The Bears are comfortable standing pat along the offensive line but had some interest in Smiley.

Smiley spent two seasons with the Dolphins after spending his first four NFL seasons in San Francisco.

The Bears signed veteran linebacker Brian Iwuh and released tight end Kevin Brock. Terms were not disclosed.

After signing with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2006, Iwuh appeared in 58 games and ranks third in Jacksonville team history with 61 special teams tackles. Last year, he had a career-high 38 tackles as well as 17 stops on special teams, which was second on the team.

Brock logged time on the Bears practice squad last year after stops with the Panthers, Jets and Steelers.


If Soldier Field ends up feeling like home for rookie quarterback Dan LeFevour maybe it's because a family member runs the place.

Soldier Field general manager Tim LeFevour is the former Central Michigan Star's second cousin.

"We were never real close," Tim said. "There's a big age difference. But I've caught some of his games. I caught the game when they played at Northern [Illinois]." I'm looking forward to [him playing with the Bears]."

Here are some observations and not-so-deep thoughts from Sunday's session.

Minicamp reflections

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It's hard to read too much into what takes place during a minicamp in late May, two moths before training camp.

But here are some of my thoughts after three days and five practices in shorts:

* Offensive players are excited about learning Mike Martz's offense. Jay Cutler, Greg Olsen, Devin Hester, Matt Forte and Devin Aromashodu are among the players who expressed confidence in the new system, and their respective roles in them. That's essential if the offense is going to make a significant jump from 23rd in the NFL.

* Julius Peppers jumps out on a field of oversized men. It's always easy to spot the 6-foot-7, 283-pound defensive end. And he's such a smooth athlete with great burst. I don't see how he doesn't dramatically improve any defense.

* Cutler is working hard at throwing to spots, but it's evident he's got the physical tools to do it. There was quite a bit of wind at times this weekend, and Cutler threw a lot of laser passes on the practice field. All things considered, he seemed to do a decent job, since he has to relay the play calls (which I'm told is a mouthful), oversee all the motions, make the read then make the throw.

* Johnny Knox could get yards by the dozen on hooks and comebacks, as my colleague Neil Hayes pointed out today. That was one of the more consistent plays, as Knox would sprint down the left side, with a cornerback shadowing him, then put on the brakes and turn and catch the ball.

* Martz has big plans for Devin Hester. It wouldn't be fair to the Bears, to divulge the numerous ways in which he was used this weekend. But those of us who were here can attest that Hester will be like Waldo on a football field. The challenge for defenses will be to find him and account for him.

* Don't sleep on Craig Steltz as a possible starting safety, as I pointed out in a Q&A late last month. He doesn't get mentioned a lot, but he certainly didn't hurt himself over the last three days. He fired up his defensive teammates by picking off a Caleb Hanie pass for Earl Bennett on a deep cross today. He also had a nice pass break-up earlier in the day. Didn't help that Chris Harris flat dropped a Cutler pass for Hester a few plays earlier, drawing the wrath of coaches and teammates.

* Zackary Bowman doesn't lack confidence or skills. The cornerback was one of the most vocal players this weekend, and he said he picked off three passes, one of them today.

* New offensive line coach Mike Tice did a lot of shuffling with his players this weekend. But I consistently saw Johan Asiata at left guard. Also, Lance Louis always seemed to be at right guard, and Josh Beekman was filling in for Olin Kreutz at center. I'm sure Tice will take a hard look at the film to see if Asiata has the athleticism and smarts for the job.

* This isn't a reason to panic, but I don't recall any rookies really turning any head this weekend. Third-round pick Major Wright was relatively quiet, and I saw cornerback Josh Moore give up a few pass plays but nothing too alarming. I don't recall seeing Corey Wootton much, and Dan LeFevour got very few meaningful snaps. But, I do recall a few nice passes for him. He looks like he might be able to adapt to Martz's offense -- down the road.

Bears mailbag answers

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Got an email looking for the Q&A answers. We published them online Friday morning. But here they are, as well.

Q: Every year during the combine and draft a huge deal is made of 40-yard dash times - but then I never hear about times for veterans. Do the Bears time veterans to see if they've lost speed? Last year I wonder if Matt Forte bulked up a little before the season but then lost some speed.
Gary P.

A: A player's 40-yard time is very important during the combine. In fact, many rookies - or their agents - spend thousands so they can shave precious hundredths of seconds off their time. A receiver or running back needs to run in at least the 4.4 range, for instance, to have any chance to be taken in the first two rounds.
But most teams don't check 40 times after the combine. The Bears are among those teams, I'm told, that don't bother.

Q: If Nick Roach, Hunter Hillenmeyer, and Pisa Tinoisamoa all perform equally well during training camp and in the pre-season, who do you think will enter the season as the starting strong side linebacker?
Mr. Cox

A: Great job spelling everyone's name right, Mr. Cox. All things being equal, I would think Tinoisamoa has the edge because he's started 85 games, including in St. Louis, when head coach Lovie Smith was the defensive coordinator. He's athletic, and he's versatile.
Roach (24 starts) did a fine job last season, as well, and it'll be his job to lose.

Q: Do you think (J'Marcus) Webb has a chance to start at left guard between (Chris Williams) and good ole' Olin (Kreutz)? Mike Tice talked about his strength and the lack of a good push in the interior contributed to the decrease in Forte's rushing yards.
808Bears

A: No, I don't think he's ready to make a push for the starting job. He's raw, and he's the sort of project Tice loves to get his hands on.
Another reader asked if Lance Louis could get the left guard job. He's obviously plenty athletic (he was a tight end in college), but he too may need some more time to develop. In addition, the Bears may view Louis more as a right guard.
Josh Beekman and Johan Asiata could have the inside track at left guard, but I also wouldn't rule out a veteran. Justin Smiley, I believe, would definitely be someone the Bears check out, when he's eventually released by the Miami Dolphins.

Q: We drafted Major Wright to play free safety and got Chris Harris back to play strong safety. Are the coaches stupid enough to play Harris at free safety and Danieal Manning at strong? I mean we all know how they love to shuffle players into spots they are not suited for. Major and Harris needs to start and if they need to get Manning on the field then put him at nickel. I still think they could get some value and trade him as a return specialist. With Knox and Hester, Manning won't be returning kicks either. So why not trade him?
Tom K.

A: Tom, don't hold back. Geez. The safety positions in the Tampa Two are relatively interchangeable. But, it seems the Bears do want Manning at strong and Chris at free. But, I believe the Bears are going to give everyone a chance to make a push for the starting spots. Guys like Al Afalava, Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz will get a shot, which is why they traded Kevin Payne to the St. Louis Rams.
Sure, it might be great to be able to deal Manning. But it's hard to get good value for a versatile player like him, who doesn't hasn't asserted himself at one particular position.

Q: Since the Bears have made no significant moves on the offensive line how can you expect an improved offense and who is available or will be available soon to help?
Deputydawg

A: What do you mean? They drafted Webb in the seventh round!
As I mentioned earlier, I do think the Bears will explore veterans who are released in the next month and a half. But, in the meantime, they want to see what they have in-house. They want to see where Asiata is at, and they'll give veterans like Beekman and perhaps even Kevin Shaffer a chance to compete for playing time. They believe Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale can be effective tackles and that Kreutz still has quality snaps in him.
In addition, they believe in Mike Tice, who is known for his teaching and motivating skills.

Q: I really liked Alex Brown and wish they kept him, but he wasn't a sack machine. Do you think that we can expect either (Mark) Anderson, or (Israel Idonije) being the starter and have the same type of production with six sacks, maybe more? I mean six sacks is an average season for average players in my opinion
Shaun

A: I think the Bears would be disappointed if both Anderson and Idonije both don't have six sacks. If Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers play up to their abilities, then whoever is in the other two spots on the d-line will have plenty of chances to make plays.

Q: Do you think the Bears should trade Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Devin Hester, for Calvin Johnson? The Bears offense would be much better and the Bears would not lose too much on defense.
Terrance

A: Very interesting question, Terrance. Calvin Johnson - in my mind - is one of the top three or four receivers in the NFL, so I can certainly see why you would want him. But, the Lions would never go for that trade. On paper, it seems fair because they would get two Pro Bowl linebackers and a versatile receiver/ returner. But they have young players they believe in, and they wouldn't want to get rid of Johnson, who has only flashed his potential.
Besides, I disagree with your point that the Bears defense wouldn't lose that much on defense. Briggs and Urlacher are two of the top players, and they don't currently have the personnel to fill the potential void.

Q: This really has nothing to do with football but, the "C" the Cincinnati Reds use as their logo looks just like the Bears "C". Isn't that a copyright infringement? Wouldn't the Bears have rights to it because they are older?
Timothy M.

A: There's been a "long-standing history of both clubs using marks in ways that would not cause confusion between the two teams," according to a league spokesman.

Q: Who is the early favorite for the dreaded "medical red shirt" season? I would think smart money is on Webb.
Chris

That's a fair guess, given how raw he is. But, I think you'd also have to look at cornerback Joshua Moore and defensive end Corey Wootton. The Bears have expressed optimism about Wootton, but you have to be somewhat skeptical if he'll be 100 percent by training camp.

Q: Who do you see making the roster at the WR position? Hester, Knox, Aromashodu, and Bennett seem to be locks. That leaves Davis and Iglesias and possibly Barnes to fight out that last spot. I can't see them keeping six wide receivers on the roster.
Zach

A: To be honest, I think it's wide open. I think your read on the top four is solid, but I do think the other two spots are open. Rashied Davis might actually be a solid fit for Martz's offense, but he'll really have to earn a spot to beat out Juaquin Iglesias, who was a third-round pick last year. The Bears don't want to waste such a high pick.
It is not uncommon, though, for a team to have six receivers on their roster, especially since Hester and Knox are return specialists. But Barnes has to make quite a case to make that happen. That's assuming the Bears don't add another veteran before the season starts.

Q: Speaking of the Saints, what are the chances of Mike Martz taking a look at their playbook and using some of the stuff they have for Reggie Bush with Devin Hester? Not the running plays per se, but more specifically those swing passes that gets Reggie out in the flat alone with everyone on the defense winding up chasing him to the endzone.
Jon S.

A: Jon, I think you are definitely on the money with that. Martz did an excellent job of lining Marshall Faulk everywhere and just getting him the ball, so he could use his elusiveness and speed to get around defenders. I thought that was something the Bears didn't do enough of last year.
Given their investment in Hester, I'm sure the Bears will do everything possible to empower him to make them all look good.

Linebacker Nick Roach did not practice on Saturday and will not practice Sunday because of a sore hamstring.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz continued to rave about quarterback Jay Cutler and downplayed all the interest in their relationship.

"This just tickles me. I love the Jay watch, kind of thing," he said. "It's crazy.

"He's everything you want as a coach. He's all about winning, and perfection, and he wants to be a great player and he wants to be on a great team," Martz said. "For me, there's no flaws. I don't know what the issues have been in the past, I don't really care what they are. There are certainly are no issues here."

Martz said the two have connected.

"I think the world of him, both as a player and as a man," Martz said.

Meanwhile, Martz also said Cutler has looked smooth anticipating throws, something the quarterback hadn't done as much in the past.

"I guess normally it's an adjustment. But if it was for him (new), it didn't take him very long because he's gotten it right away," Martz said of Cutler.

Basanez officially still on team but...

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Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez is technically still a member of the Bears.

But don't expect that to last very long.

According to a league source, Basanez was waived/ injured because he hurt his wrist (not sure which one).

He cleared waivers, and he was technically placed on the Bears' injured reserve, and he'll remain on there until he gets healthy.

This is done to protect players so teams don't abandon them while injured. Teams are on the hook, in terms of bills and medical services, until the player is healthy.

Again, though, don't expect Basanez around Halas Hall.

Basanez was made expendable after the Bears selected Dan LeFevour of Downers Growve in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie are the team's top two quarterbacks.

Martz: "Aromashodu has stepped up quite a bit"

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New Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has made clear that he likes his receivers. But when asked a general question about the group today, Martz singled out Devin Aromashodu.

Asked if his high opinion of the receivers hasn't changed, Martz said, "It hasn't changed at all.

"Aromashodu has stepped up quite a bit -- significantly -- and we've moved him in to a role now where we're trying to see what he can do, and get him the ball a little bit more," Martz said. "Our two starters are terrific players. We're giving each guy an opportunity to move up and be counted on."

Martz didn't spell out the two starters. But Devin Hester and Johnny Knox have largely filled those roles during the first three practices. And even when Earl Bennett is full speed, he would appear to be the fourth receiver, most likely handling the slot.

That leaves Juaquin Iglesias, a third-round pick last year, to battle Rashied Davis for the fifth spot. Martz alluded to backups knowing multiple spots, which means Iglesias needs to get up to speed quickly. Davis, meanwhile, is one of the team's more versatile players, both as a receiver and special teamer.

For his part, Aromashodu downplayed Martz's comments about him.

"It's not bad," the receiver said. "t's a good thing because we got a real good offense, and a good offensive coordinator with a nice track record, so hopefully he can make us all better, as a group."

Aromashodu, who has spent time with four other NFL clubs, is being tabbed as a potential breakout player. He finished last season with 22 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games.

Whether he starts or not, he has grand goals, too.

"I expect to come out every game and put up some good numbers," he said. "That's what I expect of myself. I'm going to take my skills to the next level. That's the next level, to play like a starter, so that's what I feel I am."

Forte driven to "get back on top"

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Bears running back Matt Forte feels great, and he isn't bothered by the addition of veteran Chester Taylor.

"He's an easy guy to get along with," Forte said of Taylor, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings. "He's real cool. We're here to help each other out. This is a team. We both play for the Bears.

"It's not me versus the Chester."

Forte, though, is just optimistic because he feels healthy after persevering through all 16 games in 2009, despite hamstring and knee injuries.

"I feel a lot better," said Forte, who took the early snaps with the first-stringers. "I did some speed training, to get my burst back."

Forte admitted it "was tough" to hear all the criticism last season, when his numbers dipped from a very good rookie campaign.

"But you let it go in one ear and out the other," he said. "I got to go out there and work to try and get back on top."

Harris feels great, feels confident

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Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris only participated in one of two practices Friday as the club opened it's mini-camp.

But Harris said he feels "great."

"We're just taking advantage of the time that we have," Harris said. "The Super Bowl isn't won at mini-camp. It feels good just to be out here."

The key for his unit, Harris said, will be health.

"I'm very excited for our unit. As long as we stay healthy, w should do a lot of good things," he said. "Everything is looking good right now."

Count Bears receiver Devin Hester among those expecting big things from the new offense under Mike Martz.

While the Bears don't have a single receiver who has topped 1,000 yards in a single season, Hester projected that four or five receivers would thrive in 2010.

Asked if Martz will take advantage of his versatility, Hester said, "He's going to utilize all the receivers.

"Like I said, we're going to have four or five receivers that are going to succeed, and just kill this league, if we get this offense down pat and do the things we're coached to do.

"Four or five guys are going to really shock the world this year."

Hester said they are now in a position to make plays.

"Now, it's all up to us," he said.

But Hester said Martz is expecting the players to learn a lot.

"He's throwing a lot, everything he's got," Hester said. "We're all picking it up. It's an exciting offense.

"Once we all get it, it's hard to stop."

Besides, Martz has history on his side.

"If you look at the St. Louis Rams, those guys were successful for four or five years with coach Martz," Hester said. " It's not going to happen overnight. We're not going to come out here in a week and know the whole playbook. We got some growing to do, and we're going to make sure we dig deep down inside and put a little extra focus into studying the playbook and get it down before the season starts."

Former and current Bears coaches weighed in on the Brian Urlacher-Gale Sayers controversy Friday.

Brian Urlacher made a leaping interception of a Jay Cutler pass. Julius Peppers lined up at right and left end and pressured quarterbacks several times, even knocking the ball out of Cutler's hand once. Rookie safety Major Wright, a noted big hitter in college, had to be reminded that the Bears first minicamp practice was a non-contact affair.

In the second practice, Cutler completed a bomb to Devin Hester against the first-team defense.

To his credit, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't look lost in his first mini-camp practice. And when he wasn't taking snaps, Cutler was next to new offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Both men are trying to look forward, not backward, which might explain why Martz didn't review film of the 2009 season with his new starting quarterback.

"We just started the new stuff. We definitely talked about last year, and what happened, and what didn't happen, and what should have happened, and all that stuff. We've been down that road. We've talked about it," Cutler said. "But, right now, our eyes are forward, just moving on."

Here are other highlights from Cutler's post-practice press conference.

On if he watched film of Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger running Martz's offense: "We've watched a lot of that stuff. And whenever it's clicking, it's very, very, very hard to stop. It's very unpredictable. Guys in a lot of different spots. That's one of Mike's strengths, being able to dissect defenses and find the weaknesses, and he's able to expose you in a hurry."

On Martz's play-calling: "We got a good idea, but Mike does a great job of mixing things up and keeping defensives off balanced, and putting guys in match ups where they can win. So it's exciting."

On throwing to spots: "It's going well so far. It is a little bit different. It's a high-paced, high-octane offense. Guys are flying around, and quarterbacks have to make quick decisions. And you have to be really accurate with the ball. It puts a lot on the quarterback, it puts a lot on the receivers. But it's going well. The guys are picking it up and receptive to it."

On working with Martz: "It's been a real joy, working with Mike. He's like a lot of the other great coaches I've had. Very, very smart. Knows how to interact with players, especially quarterbacks. Knows how to give you a lot of information but not overloading you. We've been meeting every day, one on one. Talk through plays, talk through football."

On the first practice: "It went well. It's something to build on."

On his receivers: "It's the same guys, just a little bit older, little bit wiser."

On the role of tight ends, who caught a lot of balls this morning: "They caught a few balls out there today. That's just all speculation. Nobody knows what we're going to do offensively. We're still kind of molding that, to the guys we have, and see who can pick it up and who can't, and see who fits the system. But right now, all the guys are doing great. We're going to spread it around and get everyone touches."

On if he's talked to Warner yet: "Yeah, I'm going to. He's reached out. We've exchanged a text or two, but I'll probably wait until after the summer, until I can digest everything and really great my own take on it and then talk to him. But everything that everyone has said about the system that has been in it and been successful is that they love it and I can see why. It's very quarterback friendly, and it puts you in a position to be very good."

On Martz being open to his quarterbacks: "Everything he does is to put a quarterback in a good position to be a successful. He's not going to call plays, he's not going to install stuff that is very stressful for the quarterback or something they can't get done. Everything that we've done, he's made sure I'm comfortable it. If not, then we adjust it, or find some medium ground to make it work."

On how complicated the new offense is: "Anytime you get a new system, it's going to be complicated. It's different from everything everyone is used to. It's just a different system. It's not more complicated. It's not harder. When it is rolling, and Mike does a great job of keeping defenses off-balance."

Brian Urlacher is upset because Gale Sayers answered a question about the Bears honestly.

Olsen proud to help 'Canes in Chicago

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Bears tight end Greg Olsen couldn't have been happier with his decision to go to the University of Miami.

While there on a scholarship, Olsen starred for the Hurricanes and earned a criminology degree.

And he also met Kara, whom he married in March.

Given all those reasons, Olsen said it's easy to lend his support to the University of Miami Alumni Association of Chicago's scholarship classic next week.

"I'm just trying to give back for the opportunities they gave to me," he said. "They gave me a scholarship to come play there, one of the top teams in the country, and believed in me and developed me and helped me get drafted."

"Anyway I can help support them and give other kids opportunities..."

Olsen, Miami head coach Randy Shannon, and Walter Payton's son, Jarrett, will be among the notable guests to attend a dinner to honor Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, a Hurricane alum, next Thursday at the Metropolitan Club.

Then, on Friday, there will be a golf outing at Oakbrook Country Club. Last year's events raised $45,000 for scholarship funds earmarked for Chicago-area students who want to attend the University of Miami.

"It's a cool event," Olsen said. "It's rare, Miami being a small school, to have that presence in Chicago."

In three NFL seasons, Olsen never had a chance to play Reed. Last season, in December, the Bears played in Baltimore but Reed was sidelined with an injury.

But, Olsen knows all about Reed, a six-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection.

"He's kind of a legend down there, to all us young kids coming in," Olsen said of Reed. "It's a school that's proud of the players it produces. It's well documented the guys who come back and train.

"He was a guy, when I was a young kid playing, he would come back in the off-season and work out with us. We all knew what he did while at Miami, but also a potential Hall of Fame career. The best safety of his time, and one of the best ever."

Olsen said Reed's uniqueness lies in his versatility.

"He's just someone you have to account for. Most safeties are a ball guy or a box guy, run support. He's the whole package," Olsen said.

For those interested in tickets to the dinner or golf outing, visit www.chicago-canes.org.

Olsen "optimistic" about playing under Martz

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Bears tight end Greg Olsen has been mum for most of the off-season. But, he chatted with me for a bit Thursday. Here are some highlights of my talk with him.

On how he feels about his role in Mike Martz's offense: "The question that immediately arose was, 'Where do tight ends fit in?' I was right there; I wasn't naïve. I know he's one of the best coordinators (in the NFL). For me, the track record wasn't there. But I feel positive and optimistic, after conversations with him and what we've done on the field, that I'll continue to have a big role in our offense like I have had the last couple of years.

"I don't see that changing."

On if he ever asked to be traded: "In this process, never once did I say publicly or privately that I didn't want to be in Chicago. If it were up to me, I'd play my entire career with the Bears. Obviously, there's a lot more that goes into it than that. I've enjoyed my first three years here. I've gotten better each year, and I want to be staple in this offense for years to come.

"I have a lot of respect for the organization. It's one of the original teams. It's a prestigious organization. It's in one of the top sports markets. It makes it more fun when people care."

"Each week, there's a lot of interest in our games. As players, we appreciate that."

On how he feels about the perception that he's not a good blocker: "That's the way it goes. I think a lot of people paint that image, and don't know what they're talking about. It's very easy to draw those assumptions. It makes for good articles and radio.

"Am I the best blocking guy I the league? No. But the last two years, I was an every down tight end. It didn't matter what the play was. I did it all. This conception that all I do is run around and catch the ball is ignorant."

On his versatility: "I take pride in that I've lined up in a lot of different positions, out of the backfield. Split out wide. Slot. I feel there's not a lot of guys who can do that."

Projecting Wright's rookie deal

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While other teams wait, the Bears continue their push to get all their rookies signed by the end of the month.

Only the team's top pick, third-rounder Major Wright, and quarterback Dan LeFevour are unsigned.

My guess (an educated one, I would like to think) is that Wright will sign a four-year deal that includes guarantees around $644,000, a respectable bump from the $625,000 the Dallas Cowboys gave Robert Brewster (third round, 75th overall pick) last year. That's if the Bears and Wright's agent (Mitch Frankel) structure the deal in a straightforward manner.

If they get fancy (don't want to bore you -- or myself -- with technical terms), then Wright could be in line for more money because the Bears like to structure deals so rookies can earn more money in the last year of the deal, usually based on playing time.

The Bears signed a former Northwestern player and released another Wednesday.

The first thing everybody has to remember is that it doesn't mean anything. It's unlikely that history will look back on a May minicamp as a springboard to the Super Bowl or a trapdoor to the kind of season that could get general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith fired.

It will be interesting, however, to see the new coaches and players acquired to resurrect the Bears on the field at the same time when a mandatory minicamp opens Friday morning with the first of two practices. Two-a-days continue Saturday before the full-team workouts end after a lone practice Sunday.

All workouts at Halas Hall are open to the media but not the public. Here are four thoughts heading into a weekend of football in May:

Danieal Manning signed his one-year tender with the Bears. He was the team's last restricted free agent to do so. The deal is for one year and worth $1.176 million.

Wootton expected to sign contract today

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The Bears have already signed two draft picks, and they may notch another today.

Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton is believed to be nearing a four-year agreement with the Bears. The 11th pick in the fourth round last year (Mike Goodson) got $492,000 in guarantees.

UPDATE: Wootton got $507,000 in guarantees.

Questions, please

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I've been slacking the last two weeks, as Neil has handled the Q&A. But I'm ready this week.

Send your questions here, and I will answer a bunch.

Fifth-round pick signs deal

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Josh Moore, the Bears fifth-round pick, has signed a four-year deal that includes $198,000 in guaranteed money.

A cornerback from Kansas State, Moore was selected to provide depth and help the special teams.

Moore is the second of the team's draft picks to sign.

NFL Matchup in jeopardy

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When I went to the NFL Films headquarters in January, I was surprised that the respected NFL Matchup show had a presence there, despite being broadcast on ESPN.

But as NFL Films president Steve Sabol explained to me, "The common thing is football.

"It's all football, and whether it's on ESPN or the NFL Network, or Fox... My allegiance is to the game itself."

But as Sports Illustrated reported earlier today, the long-running NFL Matchup show needs help from ESPN. The NFL won't seek sponsors for the 2010 season, which means it's now up to ESPN to take over the show.

It would be a travesty if that doesn't happen because the NFL Matchup show is refreshingly different from so much of everything else on television. Executive producer Greg Cosell and analysts Ron Jaworski, Sal Paolantonio and Merrill Hoge base their opinions on film study. I saw the process in person, when I went to NFL Films to review the Bears' 2009 season.

For about 90 minutes, I watched Jaworski and Cosell study the championship games, and they highlighted several key match-ups. They projected several keys to the game, which actually proved significant.

There's obviously a lot of NFL programming, but I've always enjoyed the Matchup show because it's not just a bunch of talking heads. Hopefully, we'll all be enjoying it for seasons to come.

SI's King down on the Bears

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The Bears have been one of the most active teams this off-season, yet they've fallen far in the eyes of Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

Before the 2009 season, King picked the Bears to win the NFC. Now, King has ranked the Bears... 25th out of the league's 32 teams... one spot behind the Detroit Lions.

Here's what King wrote about the Bears: "The Mike Martz-Jay Cutler marriage could work, or it could explode. The defense will be solid, assuming Julius Peppers comes to play, but he can't solve everything on a unit that allowed 375 points last year."

King, though, does note that he ranked the New Orleans Saints 24th last season and that he isn't confident in his list.

"I stink at this," he writes. "In fact, my recommendation if you really want to find out what's going to happen in the NFL this year is to take a bye on this column."

But King is one of the most respected NFL writers around, so his insight can't be totally dismissed.

He has the Green Bay Packers ranked No. 1, highlighting the maturation of Aaron Rodgers, and the San Diego Chargers No. 2.

He has the Minnesota Vikings on the playoff bubble at No. 13 because -- whether Brett Favre returns or not -- they have "an offensive line in decline."

Check out his entire column at http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/peter_king/05/16/ranking/index.html?eref=sihp

Some of you were none too pleased with a recent entry I posted about an analysis by Pro Football Focus about the elusiveness of running backs.

Well, their latest analysis isn't as subjective. PFF has crunched the numbers on zero and negative yardages runs by NFL running backs, and Matt Forte and Chester Taylor didn't fare too well.

Of 62 backs who met the qualifying minimum, Taylor ranked 59th and Forte ranked 45th. The two combined for 81 runs for no gains on 361 attempts, or 22.4 percent of all their carries.

By contrast, Oakland's Michael Bush led the league with just 11.4 percent of his runs with no gain. Shonn Green of the New York Jets was second (13.5 %), Tashard Choice of the Dallas Cowboys (13.9), Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints (14.2) and Fred Jackson of the Buffalo Bills (14.3) rounded out the top five.

What's interesting is that Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk were sixth and seventh, respectively, although neither fared well in PFF's Elusive Rating list. But PFF said that was because of the superiority of the New England Patriots run blocking.

On the flip side, despite having PFF's worst-rated run blocking unit, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson still ranked ninth in the Elusive Rating. But 23.8 percent of his runs last season were for no gain or worse, which was the ninth-poorest percentage in the NFL.

It is important to note, though, that the 2009 season was the exception rather than the run for Taylor. It was only the second time in his career he averaged under four yards per carry for a season. In his previous three seasons with the Vikings, including 2006 when he had 1,216 rushing yards, Taylor averaged nearly 4.4 yards per carry.


It doesn't appear as if the front-office shakeup is going to change the Bears' recent trend of signing their draft picks early.

The weekly Q & A

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Here is this week's Q&A

Jerry Azumah will host the Second Annual Chance of a Lifetime Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament and Casino Night on May 19 on the fourth floor of the Hotel Sax in Chicago from 5:30 to 11 p.m.

Brian Cushing's loss is Lance Briggs' gain.

Questions?

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It's that time of week.

Dirt or rubber?

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You're supposed to take a stand when you write a column.

Dolphins guard Justin Smiley is one player the general manager Jerry Angelo may be interested signing if and when he is released by the Dolphins.

The guys at Pro Football Focus came up with another interesting study, this time determining the "Elusive Rating" for running backs.

Per usual, they developed a formula, taking into yards after contact and forced missed tackles, which basically means that a defender blew a chance to make a routine play.

They note that Tennessee's Chris Johnson, who topped 2,000 rushing yards, also notched 1,071 of those rushing yards after contact. As remarkable as that is, Johnson isn't rated by PFF as the league's most elusive.

Justin Forsett of the Seattle Seahawks was No. 1 with a rating of 70.19. Carolina's Jonathan Stewart was second with a rating of 67.66, followed by Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints), Fred Jackson (Buffalo Bills) and Ronnie Brown (Miami Dolphins).

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson was ninth.

How did the Bears backs do?

Matt Forte was 32nd, with a rating of 24.67. And Chester Taylor was rated dead last (or 63rd) of the qualifying players with a rating of 8.03.

Here is PFF's breakdown of the Vikings' duo of Peterson and Taylor in 2009.

"The load-sharing dynamic in the Vikings' backfield last season was an interesting one, with Peterson doing much of the dirty work, and Chester Taylor being responsible largely for the third-down duties, in part because of his ability as a pass receiver and his shifty nature after the catch," Sam Monson of PFF wrote. "It might surprise some (it certainly surprised us) to see Taylor rank dead last of all runners who qualified in Elusive Rating, with a score of just 8.03.

"By contrast, Peterson was able to fight his way to a score of 48.60, good enough for ninth overall. Perhaps the inability of Taylor to get any more than was available factored into Minnesota's decision to allow him to leave in free agency, and their aggressive trade up in the draft to secure Toby Gerhart, whose game tape is all about gaining more yards than should feasibly be there."

Q: Since Martz envisions Devin Hester as a slot receiver, who is the true No. 1 receiver now on the team? --- Rick Maldonado

Jerry Angelo discusses his new role in the front-office and whether the team will sign a veteran backup for Jay Cutler in his bi-monthly interview with Larry Mayer at ChicagoBears.com.

One of the greatest Bears of all time is less than impressed with the current state of his former team.

Questions?

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The coaching staff is set. The front office is set, although the Bears may still hire a pro scout to help new guy Tim Ruskell. The roster is pretty well set, too, even if the team could add another contributor or two before training camp opens in Bourbonnais.

Lovie Smith said 12 players that participated in last year's rookie minicamp wound up making the team. There may not be half as many of the participants in the minicamp that wrapped up Sunday.

Let's set the over-under at five because it's a good bet all the draft picks will make it.

Veteran McCown states his case to join Bears

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Josh McCown is 30 years old, and he hasn't started a game since 2007. So he doesn't exactly have a ton of options, which is why he's lobbying for a chance to back up starting Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

"I understand right now there's not anybody beating down my door to be a starter," McCown told ESPNChicago.com. "So understanding that, where do you go to be in a great situation where you are a backup? For me, in Mike Martz's offense and where I'm at in my career, I feel comfortable with [coming to Chicago]. The fact that Jay is there doesn't affect me at all, and probably gets me more excited because you get to work with a guy that talented, and hopefully help the coaches get the best out of him.

"The commitment they have to Jay, there's nothing you can do coming in to get on the field. So for me, my motivation would be to come in and help him be the best he can be, but also get myself ready so if anything happens to Jay, I would be able to help the team win games."

That McCown worked with Mike Martz in Detroit in 2006 certainly doesn't hurt him.

"Early on [in Detroit] it was tough because Mike was very hard and very demanding on younger quarterbacks, and the volume of the system was very demanding for me," McCown told ESPNChicago.com. "When we started to install things, you started to see the system take shape and how everything was coming to fruition and man, it was fun."

Bears sign undrafted rookie Spicer

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The Bears just announced that defensive tackle Averell Spicer has been signed after this past weekend's rookie mini-camp.

Mike Martz continues to rave about Jay Cutler. He said backup Caleb Hanie has "unusual skills" and was impressed by sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour during a three-day minicamp that concluded on Sunday at Halas Hall.

But the first-year offensive coordinator said the Bears could still use a veteran backup.

Not much to report today, actually, but I did have an interesting conversation with Mike Tice, who doesn't believe the Bears need to add a veteran offensive linemen.

That led to the following story:

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