Chicago Sun-Times

February 2011 Archives

Hillenmeyer says goodbye

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Hunter Hillenmeyer issued the following release via e-mail after his contract was terminated.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Bears organization. I do not leave this franchise bitter or feeling slighted by anyone in the building. In truth, I've known this day was coming since I landed on IR back in September. In that conversation with [Bears' coach] Lovie [Smith], he acknowledged that having been made aware of my history, and the number of concussions I had sustained on his watch, that he could not be a part of forcing me back out on the field.
"While at the time I was frustrated with such an abrupt end to my season, I have sought out and continue to seek the medical opinions of the best doctors in country as it relates to brain health and concussions. I am yet to find one that thinks it is a good idea to continue playing football. In hindsight, that makes me grateful that Lovie cared enough about me specifically, but really any player, to take that decision away as it pertains to a medical issue.

"Barring some unforeseen turn of events, I don't think there was a set of circumstances where I would have been cleared to play next season anyway. The more we pull back the curtain on the long-term effects of head injury, the scarier it gets for players in my position, who have multiple diagnosed concussions and countless more 'dings' and headaches. On one hand, I feel lucky to have been relatively candid about my symptoms compared to some colleagues who do everything they can to conceal their struggles. I can only thank the Bears organization, from the trainers and the doctors up to Lovie and [general manager] Jerry [Angelo], for trying to be proactive in the way concussions are handled. On the other hand, any player who tells you they aren't affected by the tragic stories like Dave Duerson's, that seem to be popping up all too often, are lying.

"I'd like to thank [linebackers'] coach [Bob] Babich, my linebacker coach for most of my eight years here, for playing as integral a role as anyone in my development as a player. It's been an honor to play for such a professional staff and with such outstanding teammates. We had a very special group in our linebacker room. While I was always like Ringo of the Beatles, next to such a talented pair, I think we have had the best and deepest linebacking corps in the NFL for a long time. As long as Lance [Briggs] and Brian [Urlacher] are out there together, expect the Bear's defense to remain elite.

"While I won't be filing any retirement papers tomorrow, if I've played my last football game, I'm glad it was with the Bears. Even though I was drafted elsewhere, I have absolutely loved my time as Bear. I love the city, I love the culture; the fans here make it especially easy to feel very at home in Chicago. I think guys like me who spend all of their career here don't realize how good they've got it. It's been a great ride nonetheless."

Tommie Harris says release is "bittersweet"

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Tommie Harris knew this day was coming.

On Monday, the Bears released Harris, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who was the 14th overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.

"I kind of knew. It's nothing personal," he said. "I want to thank the McCaskeys. I want to tell my fans I love them, and I'm going to miss the city and my teammates. I think it's one of the best locker rooms in the NFL."

Asked if he was disappointed by the decision, Harris said, "I'm not disappointed at all.

"I'm ready to start all over. But it's one of those bittersweet deals."

Asked if the Bears asked him to take a pay cut, Harris said, "My race was finished.

"It was done with the Bears."

Once one of the league's most dominant defensive tackles, Harris hasn't reached the Pro Bowl since 2007, largely because of injuries. But Harris said he started to feel better toward the end of the 2010 season.

"I think my best football is ahead of me. I haven't hit my prime yet," said Harris, 27. "I didn't start feeling good until the end of the season."

As for Bears coach Lovie Smith, Harris had nothing but positive comments.

"We ended well," Harris said. "I respected him."

Harris said teams have already expressed an interest in him, and he may find a new NFL home sooner than later, presumably before a new CBA is worked out.

The Bears announced Monday that they have terminated the contracts for defensive tackle Tommie Harris, linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and tackle Kevin Shaffer.

Harris has struggled to return to form since the Super Bowl season in 2006, which ended early for him when he suffered a severe hamstring injury midseason.

He lost his starting job for much of the 2010 season before earning it back again. He finished his seventh season with the Bears with 18 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries.

''I learned that it's not what you go through, it's how you go through it that will determine the outcome," Harris said leading up the NFC Championship game when asked what he learned this season. "You can either get in a situation where you can fold if things aren't going the way you wanted or you can work harder to get out of that situation. And I learned how to persevere through that.''

If the Bears had kept Harris, he would've been owed $3 million in bonuses before training camp began.

"The NFL is no different from corporate America but people try to make it different because you have all these athletes," Harris said late in the season. "It's the same thing in business. If you're not performing you're going to be demoted or fired. That's what's going on everywhere in America so it doesn't make it harsher because you're an athlete."

Hillenmeyer spent the season on injured reserve after suffering a concussion during training camp. The veteran linebacker, who played well while replacing the injured Brian Urlacher in 2007, was still balancing his desire to play with long-term health concerns associated with concussions late last season.

Shaffer had been the team's swing tackle but struggled in a starting role in Game 2 against Dallas and was replaced.

None of the moves was a major surprise, although coach Lovie Smith said gave no indication that Harris, a three-time Pro Bowler, might be released so soon when he spoke with the media on Friday.

"Every player that's on our roster right now fits in our plan," he said when asked if Harris wa part of the team's plans moving forward. "Every day I've been on the job Tommie's been there. All those things will take care of themselves. But Tommie has a contract with us. It's a little hard for me to talk about players that don't have a contract. Tommie has a contract with us."

ESPN Chicago is reporting that safety Danieal Manning rejected an offer from the Bears that would've paid him $6 million over three seasons, with $2 million guaranteed. As a result, the team gave him an "original pick" restricted free agent tender, which means the Bears would receive a second-round draft pick from another team if that team signed the safety and kick returner to an offer sheet and the Bears failed to match it.

Complicating all these types of offseason moves is the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement at midnight on March 3, which will likely prompt owners to lockout players. Because nobody knows what rules teams will be working under when a new agreement is reached the designation could be meaningless.

Although rebuilding the offensive line remains the top priority this offseason, adding talent to the interior defensive line may be priority No. 2, which means Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget could be enticing to the Bears if he's still around when they make their first-round pick at No. 29.

The 6-foot-2, 298-pounder has all the traits of a dominant 3-technique tackle who can replace Tommie Harris.

"He's got everything you look for in a player at that position," one scout said. "He can be disruptive with his speed and also has the strength to push blockers back."

Liuget wasn't on most scout's radar until he decided to forgo his senior year and declared himself eligible for the draft. Since then, he has been steadily moving up the board. Another scout said he has been more and more impressed with Liuget while watching tape of his 2010 season.

Harris is scheduled to make $3 million in roster bonuses before he reports to training camp and could be released. With defensive tackle Anthony Adams also preparing to become an unrestricted free agent and 2008 third-round pick Marcus Harrison playing only sparingly last season, the Bears are thin at the tackle position.

Martez Wilson said the Bears were one of three teams that have interviewed him at the combine so far. That's fine with the former Illinois linebacker, who would mind doing what fellow Simeon graduate Derrick Rose is doing --- playing for his hometown team.

"If I could that would be great to play for a team I grew up rooting for but no matter who drafts me I'll be happy," he said.

Wilson is ranked among the top inside linebackers in 2011 draft class after leading the Illini with 112 tackles last season.

"If I do everything well that I need to do here and continue to improve even after the combine and impress scouts, impress coaches and general managers, I think my chances are very high," Wilson said when asked if he could be a first-round pick. "I'm confident in myself and I'll be working very hard. The sky is the limit."

Kyle Rudolph missed much of his junior season with a hamstring injury before finally undergoing surgery. While the former Notre Dame tight end insists that his hamstring is now 100 percent, his overall conditioning has suffered and he has decided not to to participate in workouts at the NFL Combine, although he's interviewing with teams and undergoing medical examinations.

Despite the injury, he's considered by many to be the top tight end prospect in the 2011 draft.

"My greatest strength is just to be a complete tight end, a tight end who can hold the point and block at the line scrimmage as well as a tight end who can get down field and catch balls," he said. "I'm a tight end who can play on all down."

Rudolph says he stays in close touch with former Notre Dame tight ends John Carlson, now with the Seahawks, and the Dolphins' Anthony Fasano.

"Every time I visited Notre Dame I was stuck with John," he said. "I was at his hip and everything I did I followed John. It's a great compliment whenever anybody compares me to John Carlson because he was so successful at Notre Dame and has been successful in the NFL, and he does it the right way. He's a good guy, he keeps his nose clean and he does things the right way.

Mikel Leshoure believes the NFL success of former Illini running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Pierre Thomas can only benefit him.

"I don't think it's any added pressure or anything like that to me," LeShoure said. "I feel like if I continue to do what I'm doing and what I have done at the collegiate level, I'll be just fine. But for those guys to have the success that they did at the NFL is a plus to Illinois football and the running backs that came out of there."

When it comes to pure statistics, Leshoure's collegiate resume is even more impressive than the two running backs he will be measured against in the NFL. His 330 yards against Northwestern established a new Illini single-game rushing record and his 1,697 rushing yards last season broke Mendenhall's season record.

His success was enough to convince him to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft after his junior year.

"That game we had something to prove," he said of the Illini's 48-27 win over Northwestern at Wrigley Field. "Our coach came in that Monday of practice and told us a little quote that was said by the head coach of Northwestern. He called some of our guys a bunch of thugs and all of us would've gone to their school but weren't academically eligible to do so. That fired us up. You could look in my guys' eyes, my teammates before that game started and you could tell that we all wanted it. We proved it that game."

Leshoure has been working out with Michael Johnson performance in McKinney Texas in preparation for the draft. The former Centennial High-Champaign standout is ranked as high as the No. 2 running back overall by some experts.

"I definitely had other options as far as which schools I wanted to go to," he said when asked about his choice of colleges. "Unfortunately, I didn't take any other official visits which I wish I would've done. It may have changed my decision. But I was happy with the decision I made. I was happy with my teammates, with the coaching staff. If I could go back and do it again, I would do everything the same."

Bears tight end Desmond Clark said he's disappointed that policy in Polk County, Florida, have seized then publicized one of his rental properties with troubled tenants.

"People know who I am and what I stand for and if the city wants to play hardball because I had bad tenants, then that's fine," Clark said via text. "I've been trying to help them help me for the last year and a half to get the bad tenants out.

"Does anything think I want that going on in one of my many rental properties?"

According to a report in Bay 9 News, police seized Clark's rental property in Lakeland, Fla. Police officer Adrian Rodriguez told Bay 9 News that drug dealers and prostitutes were regular guests at the rental home.

"This has been a thorn in our side, I want to say, for at least, the very least, four years," Rodriguez told the television station.

Police have contacted Clark and his landlord brother, Ralph Wilson, several times, according to the report. Notices were also sent via certified mail.

"I'm disappointed with the city after all I try to do to better this community to let something like this grow to where it's at now," Clark said. "I would think that they know would know me better. Politics as usual. I guess they are trying to get some kind o recognition or publicity by putting my name out there.

"My character speaks for itself."

Here is the report from Bay 9 News via Pro Football Talk:

Due to the police action, Clark will not be able to regain the right to rent the home for a year.

The case should serve as a warning to other absent landlords, the report said.

Jerry Angelo met with Chicago-area reporters in his hotel suite in Indianapolis on Friday. The Bears' general manager, along with the coaching and scouting staffs, are in town for the NFL Combine, where they are preparing to draft a player in the first round for the first time in three years.

Angelo wouldn't get into specifics about players on the current roster because many of those in-house discussions and decisions won't happen until next week, but he touched on a variety of subjects during an 18-minute question-and-answer session, including whether he would prefer former first round pick Chris Williams to play guard or tackle in the future.

"I really don't care where we have Chris personally," Angelo said. "I just want to make sure that everything plays itself out as we go through these periods of allocating players, that we get the five best players on the field. Anybody who's in this business and understands personnel, it's every bit about the continuity and the five players playing together. It's as critical as the talent of the five players themselves.

"I'm not underscoring talent; that's very important. What the goal is is get your five talented players playing at the same time. That's what we want to do. Does that mean Chris is a tackle or a guard? We can't determine that yet. Do I have a preference? Not really, only because he's been exposed to the guard position so we've seen some things, just like Frank Omiyale. We've created some versatility on the offensive line."

Bears announce increased ticket prices

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After three years without a hike, the Bears announced Friday that ticket prices are increasing across the board for the 2011 season.

In addition, invoices to season ticket holders are scheduled to be delivered and paid in full by April 7.

Season ticket holders will be refunded for any games cancelled due to a potential lockout.

Non-club seat increases range from $5 to $15. Club seats will be raised from $10 to $30 per ticket. Non-club ticket prices now range from $74 to $140 and account for approximately 85 percent of the seating at Soldier Field. Club seats range from $265 to $530.

The Bears 2011 home schedule includes games against the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and the three NFC North rivals.

When Friday's press conference ended, Lovie Smith went out into a hallway and I asked him how important Olin Kreutz is to the offensive line moving forward.

The 13-year veteran is an unrestricted free agent. Although he is obviously on the downside of his career, he played a critical role in the offensive line turning things around last season. Although the Bears like Edwin Williams, and veteran Roberto Garza can play center in a pinch, there isn't a center with any real experience on the roster, which would lead you to believe that Kreutz will be back for at least a transition year or two.

In fact, given all that, Kreutz will likely have some leverage heading into negotiations.

"Every day I've been here, Olin Kreutz has been here," Smith said. "I believe in him. He's the anchor of our team, our team leader. Not offense, defense, special teams. Our team leader. So he's very important to what we do. I know he's without a contract right now, but I think Olin knows that he's wanted and that's not really even a question."

Then Lovie looked at me and asked: "Are you married?"

I nodded. For 18 years, in fact.

"And your wife knows that she's wanted, right? Mine does," he continued. "Olin knows that he's wanted."

Bears' coach Lovie Smith spoke to the media at the NFL combine on Friday. There was no major news to come out of his press conference but he addressed several topics.

Among them:

Smith said he has not talked to quarterback Jay Cutler since the loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship game but assumes his injured knee is healing. He also reiterated previous statements when asked about Cutler's toughness.

"There's no question about Jay's toughness or anything like that," he said. "For guys to even challenge that or question that don't know what they're talking about, don't know him. He's as tough as any quarterback in the league."

On the two-year extension he signed that will keep him with the team through 2013: "I'm in position to be here and of course get that extension because of what the staff has done. They all did a great job. But we're all excited about this next step. Jerry [Angelo] and I worked together well, not just during our time here in Chicago but in Tampa also. We feel like we have a good combination going and we look forward to taking the next step."

Lovie has new agent --- his son

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Lovie Smith has long been represented by agent Frank Bauer, whose client list includes many of the league's top coaches.

No more.

Matthew Smith, a second-year law student at Loyola, negotiated the two-year extension his dad signed with the Bears.

"I wanted a guy who could spend all his time with one client so that's what I did," Smith joked.

Smith emphasized that the decision was no reflection on Bauer.

"He's a top agent like everybody else," Smith said of Matthew. "He's going into sports law. I couldn't be more pleased with what my agent did."

Lovie Smith receives two-year extension through 2013

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Bears general manager Jerry Angelo insisted coach Lovie Smith would get an extension, and the club announced it this morning.

Smith agreed to a two-year extension that keeps him with the Bears through 2013, when Angelo's current contract is set to expire.

"I'm excited for coach Smith and his family," Bears kicker and NFL Players Association representative Robbie Gould said. "His extension is well deserved."

Heading into the 2010 season, Smith was widely believed to be on the proverbial hot seat, because the Bears hadn't reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons after winning the NFC. But the Bears were a surprise team in 2010, winning the NFC North and reaching the NFC title game.

Smith has led the Bears to three NFC North titles. In addition, his 66 wins are third-most in franchise history, training George Halas and Mike Ditka.

The team didn't announce terms of the deal. But Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy recently signed a deal that averaged $5 million a year. Smith's last extension paid him an average of $5.5 million a season.

Even if he accepted a deal for that amount, Smith would remain among the league's highest-paid coaches. Washington's Mike Shanahan is believed to make $7 million a year, and New England's Bill Belichick, Seattle's Pete Carroll and Philadelphia's Andy Reid are among those making at least $6 million a year.

The general consensus about offensive tackles in the 2011 draft class is that there may not be a high-end talent in the group but there's enough depth to ensure that the Bears should get a potential long-term anchor at No. 29.

Just don't tell that to Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. The 6-foot-7, 314-pounder is convinced he's ready to make an impact.

"I know I can play right away," Carimi said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Thursday. "That's my best asset. I'm a draft-ready tackle.''

What makes him so confident?

"Because of the players I've gone against four potential first-round players this year," he said. "I have a better resume of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more (pro) ready.

"I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there.

"That's why I'm the No. 1 tackle out there.''

The four potential first-round pass rushers Carimi went up against this season are Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Wisconsin's J.J Watt.

Other tackles that could be possibilities for the Bears include Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, USC's Tyron Smith, Colorado's Nate Solder and TCU's Marcus Cannon and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod.

"It's a good offensive line year," Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said. "Certainly, the tackle class looks really strong. They weighed in today. A lot of guys looked really in great shape. You could tell they were taking it seriously. They were getting themselves in a good spot. It's a really talented offensive line [class], especially at the offensive tackle spot. There will be a lot of guys selected in the first couple days, and deservedly so. The tape is as good as they look physically. Obviously, that's encouraging for every club because we want to keep quarterbacks healthy."

Castonzo, who hails from Lake Zurich and grew up a Bears fan, is rated No. 1 overall by one draft publication.

"I said I was going to be a Bears fan until the day I get drafted," he said. "Then I'm a fan of whoever drafts me. They (Chicago) talked to me (at Senior Bowl). A bunch of teams talked to me. I've had contact with a lot of teams."

There has been a lot of attention on the 1985 Bears of late. First came the 25th anniversary of the Bears last Super Bowl championship. Richard Dent was elected to the Hall of Fame. Then Dave Duerson committed suicide.

One thing that is often overlooked is the success many of those players have had in the coaching ranks. Leslie Frazier is now the head coach of the Vikings and Ron Rivera recently landed his first head coaching gig with the Carolina Panthers. Mike Singletary and Jeff Fisher have also been head coaches in the league.

Then there are the Ryan boys. Buddy Ryan's kids were also frequently around Halas Hall and training camp that year. Rex is now head coach of the New York Jets. Rob is the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys.

"Having been around guys like coach Ditka and Buddy Ryan, I think was special," Rivera said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Thursday. "If you think about the guys that did go through there, all these guys that everybody says are like a coach on the field, and that kind of spoke to who we [were] as football players and who we are now as coaches."

Like many of his other teammates, Rivera said Duerson's death hit him hard.

"Dave was probably the one guy that you sat there and thought, 'Wow, he's got it together,'" Rivera said. "And then unfortunately some things unraveled and whatever happened it was a very unfortunate situation. It does hit hard. I've talked to a lot of my former teammates and we've had a chance to visit, and really it's still kind of shocking. It's surprising, it really is, and it's very disappointing because he's a guy that everybody really thought was one of those guys that had it all going."

Former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan insisted he did not call the late Dave Duerson a derogatory word for African Americans in their first chat at Halas Hall.

In an interview from November, published on the website, Duerson outlined to author Rob Trucks his first visit with Ryan after he was drafted by the Bears.

"He knew I'd gone to Notre Dame, and he asked me if I was one of those doctors or lawyers. I said, "Yes, sir,' " Duerson said. "He said, "Well, you won't be here too long, because I don't like smart [derogatory word for African Americans]."

Reached on his cell phone Thursday morning, Ryan said, "That's bull.

"I can't believe he said that about me, because I was a great fan of his. He played great football. He was a great player. He started for us as a rookie. I don't know why he would say that. That sounds terrible."

According to Trucks, Duerson said Ryan constantly reminded him he wasn't the coordinator's draft pick.

"That he did not want me there or something to that effect: "You won't be here too long because I'm trying my best to get you out of here." That kind of thing," Duerson said. "And so it was a very lonely feeling in that regard. It was not motivational at all. The guy simply hated my guts, without question."

Duerson added that Ryan expressed regret over his comment and treatment of him.

"He came as close to apologizing to me as he could a couple years ago when we saw each other at one of these card-signing events in Chicago. Of course, I would always go right up to him and extend my hand and say, "Hello," and I did, and this time he said, "Dave ..." He never called me Dave," Duerson recalled. "He would call me 22, or he would belt out my nickname. My nickname is "Double D," so he would call me "W D" or something like that. The closest he would come to calling me by my name was when he'd say, "W D." And then, two years ago, he said, "Dave." And he said, "This time can I have a hug?" And that was his way of saying, "I'm sorry."

Asked about his reaction to Duerson's death last Thursday, Ryan said, "It was a shock, because I saw him at the reunion, and he looked great."

On Nov. 27, for an oral project with Americans turning 50, writer Rob Trucks interviewed former Bears safety Dave Duerson.

In a fascinating and wide-ranging interview, Duerson told Trucks that he thought he would die at 42.

"You know, people would ask me about longevity and all that," Duerson told Trucks. "I would tell them I was going to die at 42. And I don't know what that was about, but, as it turned out, you know, I did suffer the greatest death, from my vantage point, two days before I turned 43. That was the death of my mom, you know, my absolute best friend, my biggest fan. But November 28th of '03, when I turned 43, I did realize I was likely going to make it to old age and so, from a mental perspective, I needed to get ready for things like a slowing gait and losing my step and failed health and all those types of things, whereas I'd always envisioned that I was going to go at the top of my game. I've always pictured my exit at like 75 or 80 miles an hour, and I just happen to, you know, fall asleep at the wheel or something [laughs]."

Duerson said when he turned 43, he thought, "Well, I'm still here." But his mother passed around that time, and a "redefining took place."

He talked about his high standards, and his upbringing. But, sadly, the interview will become controversial because of his perspective on his first interaction with Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan.

"He knew I'd gone to Notre Dame, and he asked me if I was one of those doctors or lawyers. I said, "Yes, sir,' " Duerson said. "He said, "Well, you won't be here too long, because I don't like smart [derogatory word for African Americans]."

This shouldn't come as a real surprise, but Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was among the biggest culprits for holding the ball too long, according to AOL's Fanhouse.

Cutler and Philadelphia's Michael Vick tied for third in the league with 19 sacks when holding the ball three seconds or longer. Baltimore Joe Flacco led the league with 25 sacks and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger was second with 20.

The results can be viewed here.

But the more telling stat is that Cutler was sacked an NFL-high 33 times when he had the ball three seconds or less. That, of course, is usually telling of poor pass protection and/ or receivers not getting open quick enough. Washington's Donovan McNabb was second with 28 sacks when he had the ball three seconds or less.

By contrast, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers was 13th with only 10 sacks when holding the ball three seconds or longer. That's something he's improved on over the last couple of seasons.

What will the Bears do with Greg Olsen?

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As the Bears scrutinize their offense and contemplate its future, the club needs to figure out how they view tight end Greg Olsen.

He enters the final year of his contract, which calls for him to make a modest $900,000, and Olsen's agent Drew Rosenhaus will surely push for a lucrative extension. The Bears have traditionally been proactive under general manager Jerry Angelo, but they may be more guarded this offseason and, perhaps, in the future.

The first task, though, is for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to weigh in on Olsen's role. Toward the end of the season, Martz was very complimentary of Olsen.

"Greg's numbers in the passing game are not what they could and probably should be for his abilities, but what we've done with him is he lines up at the line of scrimmage, and he's the point of attack," Martz said. ''But he's also lined up at fullback and has been a lead blocker. We line him up at wide receiver. He does so many things for us, and just by being able to do that flexibility, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense, though his numbers wouldn't indicate that.''

That sounds good.

But the reality is, Olsen's numbers dipped dramatically from 2009 to 2010. He had fewer catches (60 to 41), receiving yards (612 to 404) and receiving touchdowns (eight to five).

Bears not expected to cut back if there is a lockout

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As NFL teams develop ways to save money in the event of a lockout, the Bears are expected to take a business as usual approach.

Indications at Halas Hall are that the Bears will not be among the teams enforcing furloughs and pay reductions until the NFL and the NFL Players Association agrees on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current one expires at 11:59 p.m. EST March 3.

The New York Jets, for instance, are placing employees on furlough if a new labor deal isn't reached by the expiration. According to the Sports Business Journal, Jets employees in business operations will be required to take a one-week, unpaid leave of absence every month until a new deal is in place. Employees on the football side will be safe until after the NFL Draft in late April.

If no games are lost to a work stoppage, employees will be reimbursed, the Business Journal reported. The Jets relieved 30 employees of their jobs days after their playoff run ended last month but those eliminations were related to the new stadium sales effort.

"Although we fully expect an agreement to be reached, it just make sense to plan for the worst and this plan is about shared sacrifice across the organization to get through a period of uncertainty," said Matt Higgins, the Jets executive vice president of business operations. "Rather than a straight reduction in salary, furloughs enable us to cut back expenses but also give employees some off."

Some NFL coaches have contracts that include cuts if there is a lockout. But, the Bears are not believed to be among the teams utilizing that cost-saving measure, either.

With veteran Brad Maynard soon to become a free agent, the Bears signed punter Richmond McGee to a two-year contract Friday.

The former University of Texas punter spent parts of the last two seasons with the Bears after entering the league as a undrafted free agent with the Eagles in 2008.

Maynard has been one of the league's most consistent punters during his decade-long run with the Bears but had a league-worst average of 40.1 this season and was 29th in net average at 35.2.

Dave Duerson was a two-time all-American at Notre Dame and was voted team MVP as a senior. Later, he said on the school's board of trustees.

"Our hearts go out to the Duerson family and to all those who knew Dave," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. "In addition to being a great football player, Dave represented himself and the University in so many other ways as a team captain, as well as through his work with the Monogram Club and the Board of Trustees. You couldn't help but be impressed by him when you met Dave Duerson, and I think that was the reaction from anyone who was ever around him."

Statement from Duerson family

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The following statement from the Duerson family was posted on

"Our family asks that you please remember Dave as a good, kind and caring man," the Duerson family said in a statement. "He loved and cherished his family and friends and was extremely proud of his beloved Notre Dame and Chicago Bears. Please keep Dave and our family in your prayers."

RIP: Dave Duerson

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Former Bears' safety Dave Duerson was found dead in his Miami home on Thursday night, according to A cause of death has not been determined, according to the website.

The Bears made the Notre Dame All-American their third-round selection in the 1983 draft. He went on to become a key member of the team's 1985 Super Bowl championship team before winning another Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants before retiring after an 11-year career.

"When we brought him in out of Notre Dame we knew what we were getting," former Bears' coach Mike Ditka said. When Todd held out he stepped right in and took over the starter's job. With Gary [Fencik] back there we had two of the best safeties in the league."

Ditka also said Duerson attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the 1985 team late last year and had no apparent health problems.

Duerson, 50, ran a sausage company after his NFL career ended and also served as a trustee at Notre Dame before losing that position after a domestic disturbance.

Most recently he was hosting an Internet radio show.

"Unfortunately, he has had some financial problems," Ditka said. "I didn't know he was having those kinds of problems. I'm sure that was probably the biggest thing. That can put a lot of pressure on you when things are going bad financially and you're having family problems."

The Bears issued the following statement: "We are stunned and saddened to hear the tragic news regarding Dave Duerson. He was a great contributor to our team and the Chicago community. Today is a difficult day for all of us who loved Dave. We'll miss him. Our prayers are with his family."

The Bears signed offensive line coach Mike Tice a one-year contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2012 season, according to the team's website.

The Tennessee Titans recently asked for permission to interview Tice for their offensive coordinator vacancy. The Bears denied that request.

Running backs coach Tim Spencer, linebackers coach Bob Babich and secondary coach Jon Hoke also signed extensions, according to

"Chicago has been a great fit for [wife] Diane and me," Tice told the website. "I work with a bunch of great coaches and with players who are committed to putting in the work to be the best."

Bears deny Titans permission to interview Mike Tice

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The Bears on Monday denied the Tennessee Titans formal request seeking permission to speak to Mike Tice about their offensive coordinator vacancy, according to a source close to the situation.

But there were questions about how serious new Titans coach Mike Munchak was about Tice as his coordinator.

After the ouster of longtime coach Jeff Fisher, Munchak is now left scrambling to fill his coaching staff as teams are preparing for the NFL Combine. Munchak sent out several requests, knowing that many of them would be denied. Last week, the New York Jets denied the Titans permission to speak to assistant head coach/ offensive line coach Bill Callahan.

Tice, the Bears offensive line coach, is under contract through the 2011 season.

Tice will be leaned on heavily to provide insight on incoming rookies and to help the Bears upgrade the talent on his offensive line. A former NFL tight end, Tice has distinguished himself in identifying and developing offensive linemen, most notably with the Minnesota Vikings. His greatest find was Matt Birk, a sixth-round pick out of Harvard who developed into a six-time Pro Bowl center. Tice had to convince then Vikings coach Dennis Green to keep Birk on the 53-man roster during the 1998 season, to ensure he wasn't plucked away by another team.

Professionally, the move might have been a good one for Tice. He's never been an offensive coordinator. Personally, though, Tice is close to his son Nate, who is quarterback at the University of Wisconsin, and his daughter Adrienne, who lives in the Twin Cities.

Mike Martz spoke with Larry Mayer of and said everything you would expect him to say, such as:

"I think overall Jay made remarkable progress through the year," Martz said, referring to quarterback Jay Cutler, of course. "Anytime you take a veteran quarterback and give him a new system, it's always going to be a little difficult. We were all kind of feeling our way through the season. But I was very pleased."

The Bears' offensive coordinator told Mayer that he expects Cutler to benefit from having a year in the offense under his belt next season.

"There's no question that it's going to help him tons," Martz told Mayer. "We'll get better around him personnel-wise and we'll play better too. He understands his role better too and what we're asking him to do. He doesn't have to win the game [by himself]. He just has to lead this team."

Predictably, Martz focuses on Cutler's strengths and not his weaknesses. Nothing about his fundamentals, for example, were mentioned. Here's the link:

The Bears dilemma with Mike Tice

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On the one hand, Bears coach Lovie Smith has empowered his assistants to interview for other jobs, especially promotions. But on the other, the Bears are a difficult point in the offseason.

The NFL Combine is just 10 days away, and the Bears would have a difficult time replacing Tice, not only because of what he did in 2010 but because of who is out there to replace him.

Only a couple of jobs are unfilled, and the most high-profile ones are on the defensive side of the ball.

Staffs are largely settled, and they are collectively shifting their focus to evaluating their own rosters and looking ahead to the Combine.

Given the obvious issues to his position group, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Tice is one of the -- if not the most -- important assistant on Smith's staff right now. Tice also has a track record of identifying and developing young linemen, particularly in the later rounds.

Although the Bears have their full allotment of draft picks, the club surely would prefer to leave that first-round pick open to the best player available. While that could end up being an offensive lineman, the Bears would prefer to have options. Tice's input could help develop a strong contingency plan for players in the second- or even third-round.

But Tice has never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL, and he surely would be intrigued by that opportunity. He's done everything else, and the Titans certainly have some weapons for him to potentially work with. The most obvious is running back Chris Johnson, but the Titans also have something else that would appeal to him: some proven offensive linemen. The Titans have to figure out what to do at quarterback, but, given his background, Tice's insight into protections and run-blocking could actually make him an even stronger candidate.

But here's a twist. In addition to being appreciated in Chicago, Tice is close to his son Nate, who is quarterback at the University of Wisconsin. He's also only a short plane trip from the Twin Cities, where his daughter Adrienne lives.

So the Bears best solution may be to upgrade Tice's contract and, perhaps, offer him an upgraded title. But one complication is that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli currently also has the title of assistant head coach.

The Bears dilemma with Mike Tice

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On the one hand, Bears coach Lovie Smith has empowered his assistants to interview for other jobs, especially promotions. But on the other, the Bears are a difficult point in the offseason.

The NFL Combine is just 10 days away, and the Bears would have a difficult time replacing Tice, not only because of what he did in 2010 but because of who is out there to replace him.

Only a couple of jobs are unfilled, and the most high-profile ones are on the defensive side of the ball.

Staffs are largely settled, and they are collectively shifting their focus to evaluating their own rosters and looking ahead to the Combine.

Given the obvious issues to his position group, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Tice is one of the -- if not the most -- important assistant on Smith's staff right now. Tice also has a track record of identifying and developing young linemen, particularly in the later rounds.

Although the Bears have their full allotment of draft picks, the club surely would prefer to leave that first-round pick open to the best player available. While that could end up being an offensive lineman, the Bears would prefer to have options. Tice's input could help develop a strong contingency plan for players in the second- or even third-round.

But Tice has never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL, and he surely would be intrigued by that opportunity. He's done everything else, and the Titans certainly have some weapons for him to potentially work with. The most obvious is running back Chris Johnson, but the Titans also have something else that would appeal to him: some proven offensive linemen. The Titans have to figure out what to do at quarterback, but, given his background, Tice's insight into protections and run-blocking could actually make him an even stronger candidate.

But here's a twist. In addition to being appreciated in Chicago, Tice is close to his son Nate, who is quarterback at the University of Wisconsin. He's also only a short plane trip from the Twin Cities, where his daughter Adrienne lives.

So the Bears best solution may be to upgrade Tice's contract and, perhaps, offer him an upgraded title. But one complication is that defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli currently also has the title of assistant head coach.

Mike Tice could be on Titans radar

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As I pointed before the NFC title game, Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice could draw some interest, based on what he did this past season.

Now, a league source indicates that the Tennessee Titans are interested in him.

Bears coach Lovie Smith generally does not stand in the way of his assistants taking a promotion and Tice has never been a coordinator. When Mike Munchak was called upon to replace Jeff Fisher as Titans head coach, he relieved offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger of his duties. As a former offensive lineman and coach, Munchak certainly could recognize the job that Tice did with the Bears unit this past season.

But Tice is under contract to the Bears through the 2011 season, and he's proven an important part of the team's coaching staff. The Bears would have to give him permission to speak to the Titans.

The Titans were denied permission to speak to New York Jets assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan about the coordinator job on Thursday, ESPN reported.

NFL Network analyst Brian Billick called Tice's coaching performance in 2010 "one of the great coaching jobs I've ever seen."

"And it's flown under the radar," Billick told the Sun-Times. "With all the difficulties they had last year, for Mike to come in, size them up and say, 'I can do it with this group.' ''

Bears will not use franchise tag

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The Bears will not use their franchise tag on any player this offseason.

The deadline to use the tag is later this month, although much is in doubt with the current CBA set to expire March 4.

The franchise tag requires a team to pay a player a one-year salary that's equal to the average of the top five highest paid at the position. The Bears are one of the more proactive teams, in terms of re-signing and rewarded their own players.

But the Bears have used the franchise tag only once since 2001, on linebacker Lance Briggs in 2007.

The Bears have more than a dozen free agents but none who would merit the franchise tag.

Richard Dent has narrowed his list of candidates to present him at his Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Canton, Ohio, in August to two, and former coach Mike Ditka and ex-defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan didn't make the cut.

The Bears' all-time sack leader said either his daughter Mary or former Tennessee State coach Joe Gilliam Sr. will do the honor.

Dent was one of seven players selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2011 on Saturday.

"It's probably going to be (Gilliam Sr.) but I have to figure out something with my daughter," the ex-defensive end said during a press conference at Halas Hall on Wednesday.

The MVP of Super Bowl XX addressed several other topics during a 40-minute question-and-answer session:

On his long wait: "It's a relief because it has been some time but I always felt that you can't pluck a star from the sky. It can be cloudy but sooner or later you have to shine. This is my shining moment."

On practicing against Jimbo Covert: "Jimbo made my games easy. I knew I wasn't going to face a better guy than him in the National Football League."

On Covert's hall of fame credentials: "I played against all of them. No disrespect to any of them but Jimbo Covert was the best I ever faced. He was a guy who made me feel nervous. I was just glad he was on my team."

On the post-career honors he has garnered: "This is the first award from my career and, baby, it doesn't get better than this."

On spending the bulk of his career in the NFC Central: "Playing in the NFC Central, the old black-and-blue division, people really didn't throw the ball. ... It wasn't the NFC East where they threw the ball a lot or the NFC West where they threw the ball a lot. I could've gotten more opportunities but you have to take advantage of what's there."

Skokie native Rashard Mendenhall has costly fumble

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Rashard Mendenhall, who played at Niles West and Illinois, scored a touchdown and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.

But Mendenhall lost a fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, when the Steelers had the momentum. Mendenhall was drilled by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, and linebacker Desmond Bishop recovered and returned the ball to his team's 45-yard line. From there, the Packers needed eight plays to score a touchdown on an eight-yard catch by Greg Jennings.

"I just got hit and the ball came out," Mendenhall said. "It just happened and it should not have happened."

Added Bishop, "Any turnover in a game of this magnitude is always huge."

Refrigerator Perry is struggling

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ESPN has a sad update on former Bears defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry.

He admits that he's an alcoholic and chronicles some of his issues since he was so trumpeted after being an unlikely star on the famed 1985 Bears.

"Yeah, I admit to myself, yeah, I'm an alcoholic," Perry told ESPN. "It just keeps going, keeps going, keeps going and keeps going."

Read the rest of the entry from Pro Football Talk here.

Chris Harris and I have the Steelers. Who you got?

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Bears safety Chris Harris and I agree on something: the Pittsburgh Steelers will win a close game against the Green Bay Packers.

Here's his breakdown.

The Ricks (Telander and Morrissey) have the Packers, along with Mike Mulligan.

But Neil Hayes and Mark Potash are with me in picking the Steelers.

I'd love to see your picks and scores. *Neil will come up with a prize for anyone who gets the exact result and score.

* This may or may not be true.

Richard Dent into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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He's been forced to be patient, but Bears defensive end Richard Dent will be inducted into the Pro Football of Fame.

He will joined in the 2011 Class by Marshall Faulk, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter, Ed Sabol, Deion Sanders, and Shannon Sharpe.

An eighth round pick, Dent established himself as one of the league's best defensive ends ever. He finished his career with 137 1/2 sacks, behind only Reggie White and Bruce Smith.

Dent was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the MVP of Super Bowl XX, tallying two sacks and two forced fumbles.

The Bears have 27 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, more than any other NFL club.

Robbie Gould inspires Super Kid winner from Glen Ellyn

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Ava Childs of Glen Ellyn did her part, beating out more than 17,000 other young NFL fans to win this year's NFL Play 60 Super Kid award.

Unfortunately, when the 10-year-old landed in Dallas with her family, she wasn't joined by her favorite team and her favorite player. The Bears were defeated by the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game and kicker Robbie Gould couldn't make the trip because his flight was cancelled due to weather.

"It's really, really exciting," Childs said. "But I was a little disappointed that the Bears didn't make it."

Childs claimed the title of Super Kid by pledging to be active for at least 60 minutes a day and answering questions about the importance of fitness and health. She focused on how Gould inspires her to try and become the first female kicker in the NFL. Meanwhile, she's also outlined Gould's future: she wants him to be her coach.

"He stuck with his goal to be in the NFL, even after he was cut, and he's very polite in his interviews," Childs said.

Gould also made a surprise visit to her school, where he told all of her teachers and classmates about her and handed her a jersey.

"It was awesome," she said. "And he taught me how to kick a field goal, and my classmates, too.

"It was really fun."

Gould said he's flattered by Childs and all of his fans.

"It was fun to go out there and visit her school," Gould said. "It's always great to have young fans.

"You can relate to anybody, whether they're male or female. Everybody has a dream. I just want to make sure I'm a positive role model."

Gould, who was released by the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens before he signed with the Bears, has developed into one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Childs currently plays soccer, but she's been practicing her field goals. And although snow and ice limited her family's mobility, she still spent an hour in the hotel pool.
"I thought it was going to be warm, and we were hoping it would be so we could go in the outdoor pool," she said.

Her parents are proud of her, and they support her bid to become the NFL's first female kicker.

"She believes girls should be able to play any sports that boys can play," Laura Childs said of her daughter. "I think it's great. I do firmly believe that women should be able to play any sport."

Besides, Laura said, kicker isn't as dangerous as some other positions.

"It is one of the more feasible positions that are doable," Laura said. "They don't have 300-pound guys trying to tackle her [like a running back]."

The Bears hope they found the type of big, physical receiver than can compliment their existing receiving corps in Andy Fantuz, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound Canadian Football League veteran who was signed to a reserve/future contract Friday.

The Ontario native led the CFL with 1,380 receiving yards on 87 catches (15.9 ypc) and six touchdowns in 2010. Fantuz spent five seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2006-10) in the CFL, hauling in 276 receptions for 4,136 yards (15.0 ypc) and 23 touchdowns. Prior to the CFL, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver played at the University of Western Ontario.

The Bears have hired Mike Phair to replace Eric Washington as defensive line coach.

Phair has been a defensive assistant, assistant defensive line coach and assistant linebacker coach for the Seahawks after spending three years as one of the team's area scouts.

Before that, he worked in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scouting department.

Washington left the Bears after being named the Carolina Panthers' defensive line coach.

Amid questions that he didn't try hard enough to play through a knee injury, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler received a painkiller shot at halftime of the NFC title game, a source close to the situation told the Sun-Times.

It's believed Cutler injured his knee on the first play of the second quarter, when Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett landed on his left knee, as he attempted a short pass to running back Matt Forte. Cutler headed to the locker room for halftime ahead of his teammates, and doctors and trainers confirmed their initial, on-field assessment.

It's believed the team planned to shelve him for the remainder of the game, at that point. But that Cutler insisted on trying to play and received a painkiller injection to ease the pain.

He returned to the field a few minutes after the rest of his teammates, and he led the offense on the opening series of the second half. But on a handoff to Forte, Cutler's knee buckled, and he left the game for good after that three-and-out series.

On Monday morning, an MRI showed that Cutler suffered a Grade II MCL tear, an injury that typically sidelines athletes for three to six weeks.

Update on Bears Coaching Staff

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After winning the NFC North, Bears coach Lovie Smith said he hoped some of his assistant coaches would be in line for promotions.

Eric Washington headed to the Carolina Panthers, to become the defensive line coach. While it appears a lateral move, since he held the same title with the Bears, it's a promotion, in a sense, because Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli takes a hands on approach with defensive linemen.

In addition, Bears defensive backs coach Jon Hoke interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator job on Monday. But the Eagles are believed to be waiting to interview at least one Green Bay Packers defensive assistant for that vacancy. If he doesn't get the job, Hoke is likely to return to the Bears.

The Bears, though, are in relatively good shape. Smith, coordinators Rod Marinelli, Dave Toub and Mike Martz are all under contract through the 2011 season, and so is offensive line coach Mike Tice.

Meanwhile, it's believed the Bears are already closing in on a replacement for Washington, and it may become official within the next 10 days or so.

Ben Roethlisberger advice to Jay Cutler

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an interesting comment about Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

"Well, I don't know Jay very well but I would just tell him to just keep your head up," Roethlisberger said. "You know your body, you know what you're going through, you know all those things. People are going to attack you for whatever reason if he's hurt or not.

"I think he just needs to keep his head up and stay focused on what he needs to do to get healthy and get ready for another season because that's all he can do is to get ready for the next day and the next season."

Asked about players taking shots at Cutler, Roethlisberger said, "We talk so much about a fraternity, and especially quarterbacks, I don't think I ever have or I ever will talk negatively about a quarterback, just because you know what you go through and you know what they go through.

"So you kind of expect NFL players to feel the same way in general, but everyone is opinionated and you're allowed to have that opinion in this country, and that's what is awesome about the country. That's why I won't say anything about Jay because he's a quarterback and I know what he's going through and it's tough. Especially in a city that is passionate about sports, which Chicago obviously is, very passionate."

Between interviews with the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium, I visited with Brian Billick, who led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl and now serves as an analyst for the NFL Network.

I wanted to get his take on what's expected of franchise quarterbacks in the NFL. Here's what he told me.

"Those expectations make it tougher to be good because they're probably unrealistic," Billick said. "But that's the name of the game right now."

I then asked him about the importance of being media savvy.

"It certainly makes it easier," Billick said. "Now I look at a guy like Jay Cutler. Now I like Jay Cutler. I think he's a good young man, and he's quite a talent.

"But his life would become a lot easier, if he could learn to deal with his circumstance better than he does. That's not fair, it's not right."

Billick then proceeded to mention Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers as quarterbacks who have a "command presence."

"Each guy is true to his personality, but they know how to handle their situation," Billick said.

And does it matter?

"Unfortunately, it's not fair. The football purist will say, 'No, that doesn't matter.' Yeah, it does."

Et Tu, Bulaga?

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He was born in Barrington, and he attended high school in Woodstock. But Bryan Bulaga headed to the University of Iowa, and he was a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers.

So I asked him: What do you have against your home state?

"I didn't grow up a huge Bears fans," Bulaga told me. "I just didn't, and it wasn't something that was pushed on me by my family. We just liked football."

Did you like a particular NFL team?

"I liked the [San Francisco] 49ers. I liked Steve Young, and Jerry Rice," he said. "I liked rooting for the 49ers."

The 23rd overall pick of the Packers, Bulaga has mostly played at right tackle, and his performance has been inconsistent. One NFC scout told me that Bears seventh-round pick J'Marcus Webb has more upside than Bulaga.

But Bulaga is adjusting from playing left to right tackle, and he couldn't be more thrilled about where he's at.

"It's been fun. A lot of ups and downs, but I've enjoyed the heck out of it," he said.

Asked if he friends from home make fun of him about playing for the Packers, Bulaga said, "They could if they wanted.

"But not really. I mean, here we are right now. If you want to give me a hard time about it, you can try."

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