Chicago Sun-Times

March 2011 Archives

Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod has overtaken Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi as the favorite to be selected by the Bears at No. 29 overall in the April 28-30 NFL draft, according to a compilation of mock drafts.

After compiling data for 57 mock drafts, Sherrod leads Carimi 8-7. Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget and Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo are next with six apiece. Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, mammoth Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder and Villanova tackle Ben Ijalana each have four votes.

The biggest concern about the 6-foot-5 1/2, 312-pound Sherrod is that he may not be athletic enough to play left tackle or powerful enough to play on the right side, making him more of a swing tackle, although there are concerns about every draft eligible player this time of year.

With Mike Tice coaching the offensive line, the Bears may be able to develop a project like Solder, who may have the most upside of any tackle prospect, into a dominating player.

It's not unanimous that the Bears will take an offensive lineman or defensive tackle, although most mock drafts have them doing just that. Others players that that have been mentioned falling to them in the first round include Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin, Miami cornerback Brandon Harris, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith and UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers.

At the NFL Owners' meetings in New Orleans earlier this month, Lovie Smith acknowledged what others have been insisting for months and years: The Bears could use a bigger receiver, someone that can compliment Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett.

Smith also said size may not be the determining factor if they do choose a receiver.

"That's a fair question," The Bears coach said when asked if he would prefer a bigger body at that position. "Most of our guys, Johnny [Knox] --- Earl [Bennett is] a little bigger --- they are smaller receivers. So to just add a little bit different flavor wouldn't be a bad idea. But as much as anything though, we're just trying to add a guy that can play ball. A big guy, that doesn't fill all your needs, just adding a big guy. I thought our guys did a good job of blocking. You still want to be able to run the ball. You could make the case for always having a bigger guy to be able to block a little bit more. It's more of that than anything else."

The problem is, there aren't many highly rated big receivers in the 2011 draft class.

Georgia receiver A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones are both 6-foot-4 and are almost assured of being the top two receivers taken, which means they could be long gone by the time the Bears are on the clock unless they decide to trade up.

At 6-foot-4 1/2, Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin may be another option.

Bears receiver Devin Hester regained his mojo as a return specialist last offseason.

But Hester's production as a receiver took a big step backward.

After making improvements in three consecutive seasons, Hester's receiving yardage dropped by 282 from 2009 to 2010. Hester, who had 475 receiving yards, also had 17 fewer catches.

"He didn't get into the mix as much as he probably would have liked. I liked what he was able to do in the return game. I just think it's hard sometimes balancing the both of them," Smith said. "I just know he's a dangerous guy with his hands on the ball. It's up to us to try to find more ways to give him the football."

Asked if he'd like Hester to play fewer offensive snaps, Smith said, "You know, the snap part, I would like to see us find a way to get him the ball more maybe in certain situations.

The goal, Smith said, would to take "away some of his reps and be able to get him involved more on the ones he's out there."

Hester was the primary punt returner last season, but Danieal Manning was the primary kickoff returner. With Manning not under contract, the Bears may have to consider other options. One would be to call upon Johnny Knox, who was a Pro Bowl kick returner as a rookie in 2009. But the team may not be inclined to ask him to handle that on a full-time basis.

With the new kickoff rule -- which means more touchbacks -- perhaps the Bears could consider splitting that duty between Hester and Knox. The latter averaged 29 yards per kickoff in 2009, while Hester averaged 35.6 on 12 returns in 2010.

Where Will Chris Williams line up?

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Chris Williams, the 14th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, is still looking for position to call home.

He's started at left and right tackle, and also at left guard. Once again, Bears coach Lovie Smith would like to lock him into a position this offseason but that didn't quite work out last year.

Now, it appears the Bears are going to play it by ear, based on what moves they make this offseason.

"Chris has moved [all] over the field so much," Smith said. "So for us, one of the offseason projects is just really working and trying to figure out exactly where to play him and try to get him there and see where he can go from there."

So, I asked, how did Williams play at guard in 2010?

"I'm not trying to run away from the question, but he made progress. We liked some of the things he was able to do," Smith said. "Chris would be the first one to tell you there were other times when the play wasn't as good as it needed to be.

"But when you move like that in mid season it's still hard. I'm going to say he did some good things last year. I'm anxious to see Chris go through an entire season healthy and hopefully have him in the same spot. That's the plan. But we don't know for sure what the group will look like."

The current linemen, at least, do have some position flexibility. Frank Omiyale has played guard and tackle, and Roberto Garza can play guard or center. Meanwhile, the Bears believe J'Marcus Webb can play left or right tackle.

Smith added that's one of the "exciting" parts of the offseason.

"Putting those pieces together to try to get that best group," he said.

Naturally, the Bears will have an opportunity to add some talent to the offensive line via the draft and free agency.

In January, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz lamented tight end Greg Olsen's statistics in the passing game "are not what they could, and probably should be."

Last week, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo suggested Olsen will have a "more prominent" role in Martz's offense next season.

"I thought he did a lot of good things, last year. But I think you'll see a lot more things, more consistently, because of the familiarity that our coaches have with him," Angelo said.

Angelo noted how many wondered about Olsen's role in Martz's offense, which previously hadn't highlighted a tight end. While his numbers dropped from 2009, Olsen came up with big plays and stretched opposing defenses.

"We felt good, because of the fact that we know the person, we know how important football is [to him], and he's got talent, and any good coach or system I've been around always finds a way to accentuate to the best players, and I felt we did that," Angelo said. "I expect him to make a big jump as well, next year. No reason to believe he won't."

Bears excited about Henry Melton

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Bears defensive lineman Henry Melton finished with 13 tackles, and he didn't start any games.

But the former fourth-round pick has endeared himself to his coaches, and he appears in line to take the starting spot vacated by Tommie Harris. Melton is currently 294 pounds, and he's capable of adding more weight, if necessary. But the Bears want to keep his explosiveness, which he flashed in collecting 2 1/2 sacks and forcing one fumble.

"I think Henry Melton is a talented athlete," Bears coach Lovie Smith said at the NFL owners meeting. "His upside is... we saw some special plays from him in a limited role, and I'm excited about him getting some more reps. Probably inside. He's a guy who can go up, as far as weight is concerned.

"We have options with Henry. I think he's going to be one of those guys we're going to be talking about. I don't want to get too high on that hasn't done a lot, but he's definitely one of those guys with a lot of potential."

At this point, without the draft and free agency, Melton would start alongside Matt Toeaina, who started 10 games and notched two sacks. Anthony Adams is an unrestricted free agent, and the team would like to bring him back -- at the right price, of course.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said the plan is for Melton to "hopefully be the starter." But, the Bears could still draft a defensive tackle with the 29th overall pick, because this year's rookie class is so deep at the position.

"He kept getting a little better, a little better, so the arrow is going up," Angelo said. "Physically speaking, he's got everything you want, in terms of size, speed, toughness. That's not in question. Now, its just matter of learning the position, and that will come with repetition of more play."

The autopsy report from Dave Duerson's suicide provides sobering details of the how the former Bears' safety spent the last moments of his life.

Documents were found on the dining room table of his Sunny Isles, Fla., apartment where he was found on Feb. 17. Two framed certificates, medals, more documents and a folded American flag were found in a second bedroom. In the master bedroom, Duerson's nude body was found under a green sheet pulled up to his neck. The autopsy report released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Department states that a .38 Special revolver was found under the sheet near his left hand with a spent round in the cylinder.

Three football helmets from different teams, a football statue and three football trophies were found in the walk-in closet in the master bedroom.

The 50-year-old had suffered major personal and professional setbacks in recent years. The autopsy report confirmed that Duerson had complained of memory loss, an inability to spell and had texted family members asking that his brain be donated to a brain bank to be studied for possible damage resulting from repeated blows to the head suffered during his football career.

Todd McShay is glad he's not Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo.

In his latest mock draft, the ESPN draft analyst said he struggled with what the Bears should do with the 29th overall pick because he's not sure the left tackle they so desperately need or a three-technique defensive tackle who can replace departed veteran Tommie Harris will be available.

For that reason, the Bears could be a wildcard at the end of the first round of the NFL Draft on April 28. McShay has said he wouldn't be surprised if the Bears took a player at a position that wasn't an obvious need. He could also see them moving up to get a lineman like Florida's Mike Pouncey or trading out of the first round to get more picks on Day 2.

Michael McCaskey delivers "beautiful" speech today

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On the final day of the league's meeting today, Bears chairman Michael McCaskey received two ovations from fellow owners and executives.

After NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged McCaskey, who is passing the chairmanship of the Bears to his brother George, Michael McCaskey delivered a four-minute speech that moved his peers.

"He's always been very passionate about the game," Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said. "Not only himself, but his family, and the great history of the McCaskeys.

"But what was so impressive today was him story-telling about his grandfather. I'll tell you, I was just loving the story. I told him afterwards, 'That was beautiful.' "

Michael McCaskey recalled how his grandfather, George Halas, explained how the league was built.

It was awesome to hear from someone who was told that by his grandfather," Snyder said. "He's great, and we wish him well."

Rex Ryan again sticks up for his father

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NEW ORLEANS - Rex Ryan is still fuming nearly a month after he defended his father to the Sun-Times.
Ryan, the New York Jets head coach, defended his father Buddy Ryan after the late Dave Duerson claimed the former Bears defensive coordinator and Philadelphia Eagles head coach called him a derogatory word for African Americans.
"I thought it was ridiculous. Absurd. There's no way in hell that happened - no way in hell that happened," Rex Ryan said, according to the New York Post.
"Look out our history as a family," Ryan said, according to the Post. "My dad was one of the first guys with an African-American as a quarterback. My twin brother was, like, the first white coach at a historically black university, [spending] five years at Tennessee State. It's crazy. My brother and I both worked for African-American coaches in college football. There isn't a prejudiced bone in our body or my dad's body. That's why I know it's crazy and ridiculous."
Asked if it stains his father's career, Rex Ryan said, "There's no way in hell it's a stain on his career.
"My dad is a great person. Maybe there's a different agenda there. You can say a lot of things about my dad and me, but that's the most ridiculous comment I've ever heard."
In an interview for an oral project about Americans turning 50, Duerson told Rob Trucks that Ryan called him a derogatory word for African Americans in their first conversation at Halas Hall.
"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 told Trucks, according to the website "He said, "Well, you won't be here too long, because I don't like smart [derogatory word for African Americans]."
After I read him that comment, Ryan immediately 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."

Jerry Angelo responds to kickoff rule change

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NEW ORLEANS - NFL owners passed a new rule that moves kickoffs from the 30- to 35-yard, something Bears coach Lovie Smith was adamantly against.
Smith was not available for comment.
But Bears general manager Jerry Angelo offered a diplomatic answer.
"Were disappointed that it went in the direction it went, given our situation. But it's not necessarily about the Chicago Bears. It's about the National Football League," Angelo said, "and we understand, that given the information we've been given the last two days, why they did what they did, and we're very comfortable.
"We'll make some adjustments, but it's still going to be a part of the game. I'm very confident that our coaches will do that."
A league source said seven teams, including the Bears, voted against that rule change. 

Lovie Smith talks about Caleb Hanie

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NEW ORLEANS - Bears coach Lovie Smith said he's comfortable with Caleb Hanie as his No. 2 quarterback but would not rule out adding another player at the position.
"There's a lot of things that come into play. If there's another quarterback that we feel like fits what we're trying to do - whether that's a veteran or a college quarterback right now - you cross that later on," Smith said. "We're not actually there yet.
"We just know that we love Jay Cutler as our starter, and we really like Caleb Hanie."
Smith explained why Hanie was the third-string quarterback for most of the season, behind veteran Todd Collins, who struggled in each of his appearances.
"It's based on what you've seen over a period of time. It's based on the classroom, the game, and practice. There are a lot of factors, that come into play," Smith said, noting that neither player got many looks because starter Jay Cutler took the bulk of the snaps at the position.
"And to me, whether it's two or three, that doesn't really matter an awful lot, because, eventually, if two can't do it, three will get his opportunity right away, which happened," Smith said. "Now, you don't have to wonder about a veteran player."
Smith said he had no problem with the NFC title game, when Collins played two series and failed to complete any of his four pass attempts. Hanie then entered the game late in the third quarter then rallied the Bears in a 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"I liked the way it played out in the last game. We got a chance to see our veteran quarterback in Todd - didn't think he was getting the job done - and went to Caleb," Smith said. "We had the ball at the end of the game, to at least tie the game. So, I have no problem with how it worked out."
Hanie finished 13 of 20 for 153 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. 

NEW ORLEANS - Bears coach Lovie Smith didn't mask his disdain of potential changes to kickoff returns.
 "First off, I can't believe we're really talking about [that]," Smith said. "The most exciting play in football; you would think we would want to keep that in. We would work as hard as we could to try to make it safer, whatever way that is.
"But to eliminate that, to me, is kind of tearing up the fiber of the game, a little bit. Yeah, we have a great returner. But that's a big part of the game."
Smith said his biggest issue is moving the ball to the 35-yard line, which would lead to more touchbacks. In fact, Smith said he wouldn't have as much of an issue with eliminating the running starts or even the wedge.
"The part that we're not OK is moving the ball up to the 35-yard line. The rest of it, we could live with," Smith said.
Smith said he doesn't like the idea of making kickers a more important part of the game.
"Why would we do something to put more emphasis on the kicker? Nothing against the kicker," Smith said, "but why would we do something for that, as opposed to the returner?"
"Our fans are probably more interested in coming there to see Devin Hester run a ball back as opposed to seeing a kicker kicking it out of the end zone, with no action," Smith said separately.
Smith said he's not convinced player safety will be improved by tweaking kickoffs. He noted that his club has only had one injury - an ankle sprain - in the last couple of seasons on kickoff returns and coverage.
"I'm all for making the game safer. But, this seems like it's more than that," he said. "Before long, we'll start putting the ball on the 20-yard line and starting the game that way, and eliminating the play. That's what you're doing, a little bit."

NEW ORLEANS - Bears coach Lovie Smith may have concerns at several positions but starting quarterback isn't among them.
On Tuesday morning, during a breakfast at the NFL owners meeting, Smith reiterated his belief in quarterback Jay Cutler's talent and toughness.
"When I'm worrying about our football team, quarterback isn't one of the positions that I'm spending a whole lot [on]," Smith said. "I feel pretty good about the play we're going to get at that position."
Smith addressed all the attention Cutler endured, after he left the NFC title game early in the third quarter with a Grade II MCL tear. On Twitter, during the game, other current NFL players called Cutler out and others later criticized the team's handling of the entire situation, including the fact that the Bears didn't rule him out in the third quarter, when he didn't return.
"It's a championship game, What should be your priority?" Smith said.
When a reporter said, "Winning," Smith said, "Yeah, and not worrying about what information you all [reporters] are getting.
"It's about our football team."
Asked about questions on whether the club manufactured the injury or that it wasn't serious enough to sideline Cutler, Smith said, "That's an insult, almost to the point where I'm tired of talking about.
"There's nothing to the story. For people to search for stuff like that; shame on them, who is even trying to do that. The people that know Jay, know us, for them to even try to accuse us of something like that is..."
Smith didn't finish his thought, although it was clear the point he was making.
The club followed the usual protocol for handling an injured player, Smith said, with Cutler undergoing evaluation during half time.
"At the time, though, for me personally, I didn't know he would be able to come back," Smith said. "So when we came out there right away, you saw we were getting Todd [Collins] ready.
"To me the story should have been, how tough a player Jay Cutler really is. He was hurt, but he just wouldn't take that. He still tried to go back out there and help his team win."
Smith then questioned Fox, which broadcast the NFC title game, for its presentation of Cutler after the injury.
"To me, for the network, to choose those pictures, it's wrong too," Smith said. "On the sideline, you can portray a player whatever way you like. You can look at any player that's injured, and you can pick a snap shot of him and he's not going to be [excited or animated]."
He then pointed to the Super Bowl and Packers' players Donald Driver and Charles Woodson, who didn't finish the game.
"[Woodson] walked off, and he was standing on the sideline," Smiths aid. "Donald Driver walked off, and he stood on the sideline. But we're not questioning them. I never question them. Totally off base for that to happen."
Smith said he talked to Cutler before his charitable trip to Kenya.
"His spirits are high, he's in a good mood, and he's excited about everything," Smith said.
And as far as any concerns about Cutler's mechanics, Smith said they're overblown.
"Everybody is going to be working on fundamentals. Jay doesn't need to work on it anymore than anyone else does. But that's what you do in the offseason," Smith said.
"Jay has the best quarterback tutor in the game working with him, in Mike Martz, and Shane Day. So I feel pretty good about that."

What follows are excerpts from a question and answer session with Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo from the NFL Owners' meetings in New Orleans. The questions were asked by Sean Jensen and Michael Wright of


"I don't think it's going to negate the kickoff. We're still going to have our returns in Chicago. We've got two seasons. When the weather gets a little cooler, the ball gets a little heavier. I still foresee us getting a lot of returns in the kickoffs.

"We had to adapt. Player safety is our number one concern, it always has been. The Commissioner has said it. We've said it as an organization.

"I don't think it's going to be as big a deal."

"Hey, I would definitely elect the rule to stay the way it is. But, given the big picture, we get it, and everyone has to make change, given the big picture."

There's a chance the Bears could not select a receiver during the April 28-30 NFL draft or sign one during free agency and still land the prototypical No. 1 receiving threat they so desperately need.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly announced receiver Michael Floyd has been suspended indefinitely after he was arrested for driving under the influence in South Bend, Ind., early Sunday morning. It was his second alcohol-related arrest in 14 months, paving the way for him to enter the supplemental draft at some later date.

The Bears dipped into the supplemental draft last year when they surrendered a seventh-round pick in the upcoming April draft to select running back Harvey Unga, the all-time leading rusher in BYU history. If they are serious about upgrading their talent at receiver --- and Floyd is a major talent, folks --- they'll consider doing it again.

At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, Floyd is Notre Dame's all-time leader in touchdown receptions despite missing nine games during his first three seasons because of injuries. Floyd had decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior year. With his eligibility in question, however, it may make more sense for him to go the supplemental route if the opportunity presents itself.

Floyd was a blue-chip recruit for the Irish and was a game-changer as a freshman and sophomore while catching passes from Jimmy Clausen. Inexperience at quarterback and the program's switch to Kelly's spread offense meant his numbers went down last season but he still took over games at times.

Floyd only received a third-round grade from the Draft Advisory Committee, which played a role in his decision to return to Notre Dame. Others believe he could be the third best receiver in the draft if he had declared himself eligible. Toss me in the latter category. I watched every game Floyd played for his first two seasons and think he would be an ideal fit for the Bears.

Selecting him in the supplemental draft could also mean the Bears get him for a bargain price. Most teams considered Unga a middle-round pick, for example, but the Bears picked him up in exchange for a seventh-rounder. If they could land Floyd for a second-or third-round pick or lower it would be a no-brainer as long as the Bears were convinced Floyd's run-ins with the law are behind him.

Jerry Angelo downplays kickoff rule change on Bears

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Heading into the NFL owners meeting Monday morning, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo expressed concern about kickoff rule changes that would affect "one of the most exciting plays in football."

But in the afternoon, after listening to members of the NFL's Competition Committee, Angelo didn't seem as bothered about the impact to one of the strengths of his club.

"I don't think it's going to negate the kickoff," Angelo said. "We're still going to have our returns in Chicago. We got two seasons. When the weather gets a little cooler, the ball gets a little heavier. I still foresee us getting a lot of returns in the kickoffs."

Early Monday evening, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said the competition committee would consider some tweaks to the kickoff rules, after input from coaches earlier in the day. Last week, the changes included moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line from the 30 and bringing touchbacks to the 25 instead of the 20. Also, wedge blocks would completely be eliminated.

A vote is still expected Tuesday.

"Player safety is our number one concern; it always has been," Angelo said. "The Commissioner has said it. We've said it as an organization."
But Angelo said the Bears are in favor of the status quo on that issue.

"Hey, I would definitely elect the rule to stay the way it is. But, given the big picture, we get it, and everyone has to make change, given the big picture," he said.

"We're all playing by the same rules. We have maybe the greatest kick returner that's ever played the game. But, it's still about the game," Angelo said, "and that's what we're fixed on. We'll see how it goes tomorrow, but I'm still confident that the play isn't going to be taken away."

The NFL's competition committee will present to owners later today numerous rules changes, including several geared toward eliminating injuries on kickoff returns.

But Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said his team's opposition to those changes go beyond the obvious.

"It's not just because of Devin Hester," Angelo told the Sun-Times. "It's because it's one of the most exciting plays in football."

Angelo is right, of course. But the plays also lead to many injuries. Among the changes: moving the kickoff up to the 35-yard line from the 30 and bringing a touchback to the 25 instead of the 20. Wedge blocks would be eliminated altogether.

"The injury rate on kickoffs remains a concern for us," said Rich McKay, the Atlanta Falcons president who is the chair of the competition committee.

Arguably the best returner in NFL history, Hester didn't sound to enthusiastic about the proposed changes. On Twitter Sunday, Hester wrote, "I see the NFL is trying to take the kickoff game out.

"They already punt out of bounds. What's next?''

With a lockout in effect, Bears president Ted Phillips said his team's continuity will give them a "competitive" edge when football resumes, bolstering that key pieces are in place, including at quarterback.

"I'm a big supporter of Jay Cutler. He is our quarterback," Phillips told the Sun-Times Sunday. "He wants to be great, and we think he made great strides in his second year [with the Bears], and we think he's going to make even more strides, being with Mike Martz again, for 2011."

Phillips then called Cutler a "great talent" that's "only going to get better."

"The whole organization is behind him, 100 percent," Phillips said.

Phillips said he maintains optimism as owners and players try to work out a new collective bargaining agreement. But, Phillips said his team's continuity will give them an advantage over many other teams.

"I think it's huge, and with the labor uncertainty we have now, that's why we've preached, internally, to cover all bases and be ready because you never know when the deal is going to get done, and we're going to have a competitive edge whenever it ends," Phillips said. "We're focused on the 2011 season, and everyone is back. It's a tremendous help [to have continuity]. A tremendous help."

Asked if the club would consider trading Cutler, Phillips said, "I mean, no one is untradeable, in the grand scheme of things.

"But, we couldn't be happier with Jay as our QB... He's our guy. Our organization has never wavered in saying, 'Jay's our quarterback, and we're excited to have him.' "

Q: It seems like the Bears, fairly quietly, have made some extensive changes in the parts of the organization that finds and evaluates players. What (non-labor related) differences can we expect this year in how the team approaches the draft and free agency? --- MSBearsFan

A: Scouts are the foundation of every player-personnel department. With the exception of former college scouting director Greg Gabriel being replaced by director of player personnel Tim Ruskell, the scouting staff remains the same. I asked general manager this very question during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. Here was his answer: "It's not nuclear Neil. It's the same. We'll do some things a little bit differently, we had a change, we looked at the bottom part of the draft and how we wanted to evaluate it differently this year so we made some changes that way. We'll do the business as usual [when] we come to the Combine in terms of our interviews. Most of it will be junior-oriented because we really have no exposure to them in the all-star games or during their collegiate careers. But nothing. What we try to do is just do what we do better. I feel very confident in the formula that we use. We're in the projection business. It's never easy but I feel good that we have a good base to operate and good continuity with our scouts, and the bulk of a lot of what we go on are based on what they do and say."

The new instant replay rule that the competition committee will propose to NFL owners next week would not have made a difference on one of the most controversial plays of the Bears' season.

In the third quarter of a 17-14 loss to the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field on Oct. 24, quarterback Jay Cutler was ruled to have been stopped for no gain before fumbling on the goal line although replays appeared to indicate that Cutler had broken the plane before losing the ball. Bears coach Lovie Smith did not issue a challenge.

The new instant replay proposal would recommend all scoring plays be reviewable by replay officials, similar to rules currently in place during the final two minutes of each half and overtime. Because Cutler was not ruled to have scored on the play, the new overtime rule would not apply.

"That includes any form of scoring, not a play that is ruled no score but a play that is ruled a score," competition committee chairman Rick McKay said.

What officials ruled was not a touchdown in the Bears' 2010 season-opening victory against the Detroit Lions won't be a touchdown in 2011, either.

"Would Calvin Johnson's be a catch under 2011 rules? Our answer would be no," competition committee chairman Rich McKay said during a Wednesday conference call.

Player safety was the focus of the NFL's competition committee meetings in Naples, Fla., according to McKay and NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.

The competition committee will make several proposals at next week's owners' meetings in New Orleans, including possible suspensions for hits on defenseless players, unnecessary hits to the head and neck area and illegal helmet hits.

The league cracked down on such hits last year, fining players more than ever before, but there were no suspensions.

You can ask me when the lockout will end and I'll tell you the truth: I have no clue.

Or we can make the first offseason Q&A a labor-free zone if you prefer.

Shoot me some Bears' related questions. I'll give you my best answers.

Lockout or no lockout, it's time to talk football.

The competition committee will not amend the rule that prevented Calvin Johnson's apparent game-winning touchdown against the Bears in the season opener, according to separate reports.

The rule, which requires receivers to maintain possession throughout the catch, resulted in Johnson's 25-yard touchdown catch with 18 seconds left being overturned on review.

"That play will still be incomplete," Giants president and competition committee member John Mara told "Newsday," via NFL Network is also reporting that the rule will stand despite sparking debate for days and weeks afterwards.

If you'll recall, Johnson controlled the ball when he went down in the end zone, and had two feet and his left hand inbounds. His right hand lost control of the ball when it hit the ground.

"If you read the rule, it's not a catch," Mara said told the paper. "The reason it's not a catch is you've got to control the ball when you hit the ground. It makes it easier to officiate. It's a bright line that you can draw."

Bears will offer full refund for games missed

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Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand sent a letter to season ticket holders, lamenting the league's current situation and informing them that they would get a refund, with interest, for any games missed.

I'm told the Bears will also refund ticket holders for any games missed but that they will not provide interest.

Is it a big deal?

Doesn't sound like it.

The interest paid is expected to be minimal, likely from the time the NFL announces cancellations and the refunds are delivered. Say what you want about the U.S. Postal Service, but I'm pretty certain that won't take very long, probably a couple weeks, at most.

In the letter, Lewand wrote: "We are sorry the CBA expiration has created some uncertainty during this offseason.

"We understand and respect that what is most important to you and to all of our fans is that we play football in 2011."

The following is a statement from Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips:

"We're disappointed in the need to take this step, but it is necessary for the long- term health of our league. Ultimately we believe an agreement will be reached at the bargaining table. As an individual club, our team focus is on our preparation for the 2011 season and we want Bears fans to know we are going to continue to do everything we can within the League rules to prepare for a championship season. Our immediate focus is on preparing for the draft. We also continue to evaluate our team and will be ready to take advantage of all avenues to improve our team once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

"Some aspects of this offseason may look different, but our commitment to winning remains the same. We need to build off the success we had in 2010. We are committed to our fan base and appreciate their patience throughout this process. We will do our best to create opportunities for Bears fans to ask questions and keep them informed of what is happening with their team and the labor discussions. We still plan to host fan events this offseason starting with our "Ultimate Weekend" which includes our Draft Party and Bears Expo at Soldier Field.

"A deal will get done and we expect to play football in 2011. Our goal remains the same as we prepare to play, bringing a Super Bowl title back to Chicago."

Bears kicker Robbie Gould is the team's NFLPA player representative. Just chatted with him about the union's decision to decertify and the league's decision to lock out the players.

SJ: Did what transpired today surprise players?
RG: As the Bears player rep, I find that the National Football League obviously wanted this to happen, in the sense that they hired Bob Batterman two years, and if you follow his track record, their plan was to lock us out.
I don't think they've given us proposals in which we could find a common ground to stand on. There was no meeting in the middle. So we'll leave it in the hands of the people that it should be, in the courts. Hopefully, a deal will get done from there.

SJ: What is next?
RG: It's just an unfortunate situation. We didn't want to get to this situation. We wanted to play. But the owners brought us to this point.

SJ: So what do you tell teammates?
RG: Guys will continue working out, and doing what their normal [offseason] routine will be. But you have to see what happens down the road.

SJ: Have you communicated with your teammates yet?
RG: I have not. I know if they see and hear decertification, they know what it means. I'll send an email tomorrow.

SJ: So radio silence with the team?
RG: They're not allowed to [call]. With no CBA and us decertifying, no GM or coaches can reach out, and we can't call them.

Hunter Hillenmeyer feels "compelled to speak out"

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Former Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer attended one day of mediation here in Washington, and he served as the team's player representative.

In a blog for NBC Chicago tonight, Hillenmeyer didn't mince words in ripping the NFL, in particular lead negotiator Jeff Pash.

Hillenmeyer insisted he didn't want to lie, mislead or speculate on anything.

"While my natural bias in these negotiations, as a player who has been actively involved in these proceedings, will affect my perspective, I hope to offer fans, more than anything, the most accurate depiction I can of how things are actually developing.

"When I watch Jeff Pash, head negotiator for the NFL and ownership, go on national television and poison any atmosphere of mutual best interest that has existed to this point, I feel compelled to speak out. That man is, at best, intentionally shrouding the real interactions that took place in negotiations and, at worst, lying through the camera to millions of hardworking NFL fans."

Hillenmeyer said he's read every detail of the assorted proposals from the NFLPA.

"Until this week, the NFL made no meaningful counterproposals to its original stance from months and months ago," Hillenmeyer wrote. "We, the NFLPA, were negotiating with a brick wall. For Mr. Pash to depict the ultimate failure by both sides to reach an agreement as a coup d'état by the players is just irresponsible."

Here is the full column:

AFL-CIO stands behind players

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Here's a statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka today:

"Unfortunately, the NFL and its 32 team owners, who have enjoyed the fruits of a 9 billion dollar industry in a devastating economy for working families, could not reach a fair deal with the men who risk their health and safety to play professional football. In light of this unfortunate situation, the players have decided to renounce the NFLPA's status as their exclusive bargaining unit. Working people stand shoulder to shoulder with the players and their right to protect themselves and their families through anti-trust laws that prohibit illegal and greedy corporate behavior."

The NFL Players has renounced its status as the exclusive bargaining representatives of NFL players, triggering chaos and casting doubt on a new CBA that will be in place before the 2011 season.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith walked out of the Federal Mediation building around 4:40, briefly addressed reporters then headed back to the union's headquarters a few blocks away, leaving owners with one final request for 10 years worth of financial information.

The owners declined, and the NFLPA decertified, kicking off some serious mudslinging from both sides.

Here are some comments from both sides:

* NFL general counsel Jeff Pash: "As you know we've been here for the better part of three weeks, fully engaged and fully committed to this process. I said yesterday that an agreement could be reached if there was a shared commitment on both sides. I was disappointed and all of us were disappointed that at the very time we were face-to-face with the union and its executive committee, they had already made the decision to
decertify their union."

* NFLPA attorney Jim Quinn: "I was just watching a news conference that Mr. Pash was giving. And I hate to say this, but he has not told the truth to our players or our fans. He has, in a word, lied to them about what happened today, and what's happened over the last two weeks and the last two years. It included elements we've rejected at least three or four times, again and again, the same rehashed proposals. They wanted the players to give them a $5 billion gift. $5 billion, without showing us a single document to prove that they are, in any way, in financial distress."

* NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "As you know, the union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify. We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They've decided to pursue another strategy and that is their choice. But we will be prepared to negotiate an agreement and get something done that is fair to the players and fair to the clubs."

* Smith: "The players proposed slowing down this cap and taking less money, without a shred of financial information. So for them to say our path was always decertification and that we did not engage in good faith negotiation and that we did not budge flies in the face of reason, flies in the face of facts and is simply untrue."

De Smith comments to Jarrett Payton

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NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith took a break from negotiations today to appear on The Jarrett Payton Show on He's also on Twitter at @paytonsun.

Here's what Smith said: "There is nothing that I would like more for us to be unified in standing together but its times like this were the measure becomes how strong are the players. Are the players going to hang together? Do they players of today have respect and love for the players who played this game before? Do the players today believe and understand the sacrifices of the players who came before us?"

Payton, the son of the late Walter Payton, was in D.C. yesterday, speaking at Capitol Hill and also visited the NFLPA headquarters.

Labor Negotiations Morning Update

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Moments before 10 a.m., NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith stopped in front of the Federal Mediation building and offered his condolences to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

"This morning, our thoughts an prayers are with the folks in Japan," he said. "There are some things that keep and make sure all things are in perspective, so we're going to head inside today and try get some work done. But our thoughts and prayers are for peoiple who are digging out right now and people who are preparing for the worst.

"We'll talk to you guys a little bit later."

Smith didn't take any questions.

The NFLPA contingent was over 18 strong and included New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who took to Twitter this morning.

"The NFL brought this fight to us - they want $1 billion back, we just want financial information to back up that request," Brees wrote on Twitter. "They refuse to give that information to us. They think we should just trust them. Would you?"

"We have a responsibility to our players - past, present, and future, to advance this league forward, not take 3 steps back," Brees wrote. "I am very sorry that you as fans have to endure this. Football is more than just a game for all of us. We will keep fighting."

Nine of the 10 members of the NFL's labor committee arrived for the meeting today, with the current extension set to expire this afternoon. The only one missing was New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is abroad.

The owners and the league's officials didn't have much to say.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said there would be an update in an hour or two, which didn't make any sense. And NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said, "We're going to do our best."

WASHINGTON -- NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith was driving to his Maryland home, when he heard NFL executive vice president/ general counsel Jeff Pash address reporters outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters.

Pash's comments compelled Smith to turn around and defend the union.

Around 6:42 p.m., Pash addressed reporters for five minutes.

"It's a process. It's not an event. And things can come together quickly, and things can fall apart quickly. All I can say is, we're committed to the process. It's not glamorous, it's not easy," Pash said. "But we will work at it as hard and as long as it takes. We really do believe in the value of collective bargaining, we really do believe in our relationship with the players association and, I've said it many times, if both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done. I don't know if both sides have an equal commitment."

Asked if the NFL has a commitment, Pash said, "Obviously, we have the commitment. No question about it.

Then asked if he's suggesting the NFLPA does not, Pash said, "I'm not suggesting anything about the other side.

"I'm saying if there's an equal commitment on both sides, there's a deal to be made."

Soaked by heavy rains, Smith made a nearly three-minute statement to reporters but didn't take any questions.

"I think it's important that everyone and all of our fans understand and know the commitment of our players to this process," Smith said, noting that his side was summoned to the federal building at 9 a.m. but opted to leave around 6 p.m., when it was clear owners would not be meeting with them.

"I understand that there's probably some things that Jeff Pash has to say," Smith said. "But this is the truth. We know that as early as March of 2009, from the discovery in the television case, that the National Football League, engaged in a strategy to get $4 billion of television money to lock out our fans lock out our players, even if the games weren't played."

Smith then pointed to a document from the NFL that, according to him, "talks about how they were going go about securing television money, and I quote, 'for cash during a lockout.' "

Smith then implored reporters to "stick to the facts," before concluding by adding that they would return Friday morning "because we want football to continue."

NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith was driving to his Maryland home, when he heard NFL executive vice president/ general counsel Jeff Pash address reporters outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters.

Pash's comments compelled Smith to turn around and defend the union.

Around 6:42 p.m., Pash addressed reporters for five minutes.

"It's a process. It's not an event. And things can come together quickly, and things can fall apart quickly. All I can say is, we're committed to the process. It's not glamorous, it's not easy," Pash said. "But we will work at it as hard and as long as it takes. We really do believe in the value of collective bargaining, we really do believe in our relationship with the players association and, I've said it many times, if both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done. I don't know if both sides have an equal commitment."

Asked if the NFL has a commitment, Pash said, "Obviously, we have the commitment. No question about it.

Then asked if he's suggesting the NFLPA does not, Pash said, "I'm not suggesting anything about the other side.

"I'm saying if there's an equal commitment on both sides, there's a deal to be made."

Soaked by heavy rains, Smith made a nearly three-minute statement to reporters but didn't take any questions.

"I think it's important that everyone and all of our fans understand and know the commitment of our players to this process," Smith said, noting that his side was summoned to the federal building at 9 a.m. but opted to leave around 6 p.m., when it was clear owners would not be meeting with them.

"I understand that there's probably some things that Jeff Pash has to say," Smith said. "But this is the truth. We know that as early as March of 2009, from the discovery in the television case, that the National Football League, engaged in a strategy to get $4 billion of television money to lock out our fans lock out our players, even if the games weren't played."

Smith then pointed to a document from the NFL that, according to him, "talks about how they were going go about securing television money, and I quote, 'for cash during a lockout.' "

Smith then implored reporters to "stick to the facts," before concluding by adding that they would return Friday morning "because we want football to continue."

NFL and players union continue to close financial gap

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The $1 billion a year NFL owners wanted is now down to $700 million, according to Pro Football Talk.

That's an encouraging development as the 5 p.m. Friday deadline approaches on the current extension between the league and the NFL Players Association. Things were looking bad Wednesday, when NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Sports Illustrated that an 18-game schedule was off the table, as far as he was concerned.

Meanwhile, CBS is reporting that some owners are willing to fully open their books but others are not. A partial look, in my opinion, probably won't suffice.

Opening up the proverbial books is a complicated issue, and both sides have valid points for their current positions. The NFLPA wants proof for why owners want $1 billion a year. And owners don't want to reveal all of their numbers, including ones that could be scrutinized by employees, fans and even government agencies, including the IRS.

I'm posted up outside the Federal Mediation building in D.C. I will Tweet (@skjensen) and blog updates.

If Mike Tice doesn't have a good feel for offensive line prospects Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt heading into the draft it will be his own fault.

Not only did Carimi and Moffitt attend Wisconsin, where Tice's son Nathan is a backup quarterback, but Tice was responsible for putting them through their paces during Wisconsin's pro day on Wednesday.

Bears' offensive coordinator Mike Martz was also in attendance.

Many consider Carimi to be the best offensive-tackle prospect in the class of 2011, Carimi included. The 6-foot-7, 315-pounder has repeatedly said that he's the most NFL ready tackle prospect available. Carimi played well against top competition and his feet are quick enough to play left tackle.

Moffitt could also be a candidate for the Bears later in the draft. At 6-foot-4, 314 pounds, he can play any of the interior line positions.

Has there ever been a time in Bears history where there has been less news to report?

Teams are not allowed to make roster moves during the extended negotiating window between NFL owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement. When it comes to the talks now taking place in Washington D.C., there is a news embargo, although Yahoo's Mike Silver and Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter have been filing stories with interesting inside dope.

It's never too early for looking ahead to the draft, however.

While the overwhelming majority of NFL coaches will be forced to accept pay cuts in the event of a labor stoppage, Bears assistants have been assured their pay won't be docked unless a lockout forces NFL games to be canceled, team president Ted Phillips said Friday.

''I've told them exactly what we're going to do in the event a lockout occurs,'' Phillips said. ''We're having no layoffs, no furloughs, no pay cuts until we actually miss games.''

The Bears have tendered one-year contract offers to free-agent cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, safety Danieal Manning and linebacker Nick Roach.

The team has also offered one-year deals to exclusive free agents Kahlil Bell, a running back, and guard/center Edwin Williams.

It was only a matter of time before Jim McMahon was asked about BYU basketball player Brandon Davies being suspended from the team for having premarital sex with his girlfriend, which is a violation of the honor code of the private university affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

"That doesn't surprise me ... ," the former BYU and Bears quarterback told Miami radio station WQAM. "It's been going on for years there. That's part of their code I guess, but I know it happens. I know it's been happening for years, but some guys get caught, some guys don't."

Current Bears' running back Harvey Unga, who was selected in last year's supplemental draft, was kicked off the football team last year for the same reason. In his case, he had premarital sex with with fiance Keilani Moeaki, a former Wheaton-Warrenville South basketball standout who played on the women's basketball team. Moeaki voluntarily withdrew from the school. They have since married.

"I mean they're college kids, man, they're going to do things," McMahon said during an interview. "You know sometimes people will tell on you and sometimes they won't."

McMahon said he was aware of the honor code when he starred for the Cougars before being drafted by the Bears.

"They explain it to you," he said. "They say 'Oh we have this honor code. People will probably talk to you about the religion and this and that.' They said 'All you have to do is tell them I'm not interested.' But I have to say I'm not interested for five years before I get out. It was everyday you get hounded by it."

McMahon chaffed under BYU's stringent rules and said those that enforce the rules don't always abide by them.

"Well I saw a lot of hypocrisy when I was there and that's what turned me off about it," McMahon told WQAM. "Guys in administration, higher ups, sneaking off for coffee, these kinds of things that are supposedly illegal too yet some people get away with it and some don't."

The Sun-Times has confirmed an report that Julius Peppers has restructured his contract to create more salary cap room for his team next season.

Peppers was due a $10.5 million roster bonus next season as part of his original six-year, $91.5 million free-agent contract he signed last year. Instead of paying the roster bonus, the team will pay that money in a signing bonus that can be prorated over the five remaining years of his contract, saving the Bears approximately $8 million next season.

That's significant when you consider what the Bears could do with that money in free agency. The likelihood that Peppers isn't the only Bears' player who will have his deal re-negotiated this offseason makes you wonder how active the Bears plan to be when ---- if? --- free agency begins.

We still where the salary cap will be set. That will all be determined by ongoing talks between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement.

We do know the Bears need a receiver, help along the offensive line and at defensive tackle. There is lots of talent available at receiver, especially when you consider the Carolina Panthers might be interested in trading former Bear killer Steve Smith in the right deal.

It's sometimes hard to know who might become a free agent and who might not given the uncertainty surrounding the new CBA, but Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Steve Breaston are interesting possibilities, however remote.

Devin Aromashodu is so focused on ongoing negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between players and owners in Washington D.C. that he was unable to confirm or deny a report claiming the Bears will not tender a contract to the receiver for next season, making it unlikely that he will remain with the team.

Not that this is a surprise. Aromashodu's spiral from star in the making to out of the picture has well documented.

"I'm just trying to wait and see what happens with the CBA," Aromashodu said from his hometown of Miami. "I honestly wasn't even thinking about it but was just worrying about whether we were going to have a season next year. They can do whatever they like and it won't matter if we don't have a season next year."

I was convinced Aromashodu was going to have a breakout season after he caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games of the 2009 season. He was targeted by quarterback Jay Cutler 10 times while catching five passes for 71 yards in the 2010 season opener against the Lions. It was during that game that his career with the Bears took a hairpin turn.

Aromashodu short-armed some balls in that game after absorbing big blows. He dropped some others and was essentially benched. He only caught five more passes the rest of the season.

The Bears have already signed Canadian Football League standout Andy Fantuz, who at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, could fill the team's need for a physical receiver.

Tommie Harris said goodbye to the Bears and Chicago by taking out a full-page add in the Sun-Times. Here's the text of the ad that appeared in Thursday's editions:

My wide-ranging interview with Mike Martz at the NFL combine resulted in two different pieces. In Monday's editions, he talked about the controversy surrounding Jay Cutler's knee injury and his decision to use Todd Collins --- and not Caleb Hanie --- as Cutler's primary backup in the NFC Championship Game.

In Wednesday's paper, his thoughts on the offensive line, the receiving corps --- Devin Hester in particular --- and tight end Greg Olsen were published.

Finally, here's what he had to say about the improvement he expects next season.

"You had a whole new staff on offense and an offense that is not easy to learn," he said. "Once you learn it it's easy but the initial shock of it can overwhelm guys --- coaches too. Once they get it it's like algebra, you can figure anything out based on what you know. It's really neat that way. It's not rote memorization. When you call a play you don't just call a play you tell everybody what to do. That's unusual. We fought it a little bit early. It seemed like they were overwhelmed. Then it was like, 'OK, that's what it is.' Then things started to go much faster for them."

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