Chicago Sun-Times

April 2011 Archives

Mike Martz gets a developmental quarterback

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From Neil Hayes, who doesn't know how to use a computer very well:

Based on offensive coordinator Mike Martz's strong recommendation, the Bears took Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle in the fifth round (160th overall).

Enderle was a four-year starter in Idaho's pro-style offense and is said to be intelligent and competitive as well as heavy-footed.

He's a project, a developmental quarterback not unlike Dan LeFevour. The Bears selected LeFevour in the sixth round last season before cutting him at the end of training camp. That Martz thought so highly of Enderle was the deciding factor in the Bears selecting a quarterback instead of a linebacker, cornerback, receiver or a player at some other position of greater need.

"Martz went out and worked him out this year and he really fell for the kid in terms of the intangibles," player personnel director Tim Ruskell said.

Enderle completed 56.7 percent of his passes last season for 3,314 yards with 22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, which Ruskell believes is more attributable to the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder losing the key playmakers that made him more successful as a junior, when he completed 61.5 of his passes with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

"It was awesome when he came out," Enderle said of Martz. "You could tell he had so much football knowledge. He started to tweak with my drop and some other things I was doing just when he was out here."

Here's my question: What's to prevent what happened to LeFevour from happening again?

LeFevour was locked in as the third-string quarterback heading into training camp last summer. Based on his performance during offseason minicamps and early in training camp, he wasn't somebody who would see the field. Then came an injury to backup Caleb Hanie, which meant LeFevour was forced into backup duty long before he was ready.

The Bears responded by signing veteran Todd Collins, resulting in LeFevour being cut late in training camp. He was signed by the Bengals.

The Bears went to training camp with three quarterbacks last season but will likely take four to Bourbonnais this season --- Jay Cutler, Hanie, Matt Gutierrez and Enderle. Ruskell said he and the coaching staff are comfortable with Hanie being the primary backup next season and Martz was intrigued by what he saw from Gutierrez during his brief stint in training camp and wanted to see more.

If Hanie were to get hurt again, their wouldn't be as great a need for a veteran because the more experienced Gutierrez could take over the backup role.

"He's done a good job over the years with guys who maybe weren't at their highest tier," Ruskell said of Martz. "He's done a good job finding these guys and developing these guys. That factored into the decision."

Gabe Carimi met with the media on Saturday morning at Halas Hall. The Wisconsin offensive tackle apologized for growing up a Packers fan.

"I've sinned and repented, so I'm good now," he joked. "I've seen the light."

Carimi believes he will fit in perfectly with offensive line coach Mike Tice and the Bears.

"Improvement is the only way to go," he said. "I have a hunger to try to succeed at whatever I do. That's the objective; to be the best Bear offensive lineman I can be."

George McCaskey, who will soon take over the chairmanship of the Bears, downplayed the botched trade with the Baltimore Ravens.

On Thursday, the Bears were talking to the Ravens about moving up from No. 29 to 26, in order to select offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. But time elapsed, and the Kansas City Chiefs jumped ahead of the Ravens.

"We spoke to the Ravens about it, and we spoke to the league about it," McCaskey said. "We made a mistake. We apologized for it. The bottom line, as I understand it, the Ravens got the player they were wanting and we got the player we were wanting."

Asked if he would have been willing to give up the fourth-round pick if the Ravens didn't get the player they wanted (cornerback Jimmy Smith), McCaskey said, "One of the reasons I got out of the legal business is, I was constantly being asked to assess hypotheticals that didn't apply to real life.

"We had a real-life situation in front of us, and we did the best we could under the circumstances. Hopefully, the Ravens understand that."

They apparently don't.

"I'm disappointed in the Bears," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told th Baltimore Sun. "It is in my opinion a deviation from their great legacy. They concluded that their heartfelt and admirable apology was sufficient for our loss. All of us at the Ravens strongly disagree."

The NFL "suggested" the Bears give the Ravens a pick, but the Bears declined. They then traded that pick on Friday to move up in the second round and select defensive tackle Steve Paea.

Here's my take: it's awfully ironic that the Ravens are so insistent on this, since they were on the other side of this same situation in 2003. They were talking to the Minnesota Vikings about moving up to seventh overall. But, time elapsed, and the Vikings didn't get their pick in until No. 9.

There were questions about who the Vikings actually wanted, but they ended up with Kevin Williams, a defensive tackle who has been a six-time Pro Bowl selection.

Also, it's incumbent on the team that is on the clock, to turn in a pick or confirm a trade with the league in their allotted time.

Kevin Byrne, a senior vice president with the Ravens, broke down what happened Thursday night on the team's website.

With about two minutes left, general manager Ozzie Newsome was talking to the Bears and the NFL.

"Someone in the draft room called out: "Oz, Kansas City is ready to pick," Byrne wrote. "They won't take Smith," Joe Hortiz, our director of college scouting, said loudly."

It would seem then, that the Ravens could have informed their employee in New York to turn in the card, which was already prepared with Smith's name on it, to the NFL.

The league continues to investigate Thursday night's botched trade with the Ravens.

"We're looking into it," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reiterated Friday night.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo accepted responsibility for the mix up, leading to speculation that the Bears would have to surrender the fourth-round pick originally included in the deal or some other form of compensation.

ESPN reported that commissioner Roger Goodell recommended the Bears compensate the Ravens in some way. Angelo, who apologize to Newsome on Thursday night, declined. Later, he shipped that same fourth-rounder to the Redskins to move up in the second round to select Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea on Friday.

"They have rules when you do something wrong, not when you make mistakes," Angelo said. "A mistake was made. No rule was broken. Let's make that clear here. I think we made the proper amends on our part. Certainly, there was no intent."

The Bears selected California safety Chris Conte in the third round (93rd overall).

Conte was a cornerback early in his college career before moving to safety and helping transform Cal's defense in his final collegiate season. Not only did he peak late in his career, but his best game came against the best team on the schedule. Conte played a key role in Cal's defense holding then No. 1-Oregon's prolific offense to a season low in yards and points in a 15-13 loss.

Conte shadowed prolific and dynamic Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas and proved himself as an effective open-field tackler.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo projects Conte as a free safety in the pros, which is a position that he claims is nearly extinct.

"I don't know if [former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety John Lynch] would get drafted anymore," Angelo said. "You don't go out looking for John Lynch's today. Its hard to find a guy who can tackle and has good cover skills and he has to be fast now, too. We just felt because he's so hard to find let's not look a gift horse in the mouth."

Bears trade up for Paea

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The Bears traded up in the second round and grabbed Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea.

General manager Jerry Angelo traded up from 62 to 53, giving the Washington Redskins a fourth-round pick (127 overall) for the chance to select the 6-foot-1, 306-pound tackle.

More to come ...

The U.S. Court of Appeals has handed the NFL its first victory, albeit a modest one.

Two on a three-judge panel approved a temporary stay, effectively putting back in place the owners' lockout of players.

After some delays, which representatives of the players insisted was in contempt of court, the NFL fully opened up its facilities to players on Friday morning. But at about 5:45 p.m., the U.S. Court of Appeals notified both parties of the temporary stay.

In arguably the country's most conservative high court, two Bush-appointed judges (Steve Colloton and William Benton) favored the temporary stay while one Clinton-appointee (Kermit Bye) dissented.

Judge Bye, however, didn't mask his displeasure with the decision.

"I am unaware of a general practice in this circuit of resolving requests for stays pending appeal in non-emergency situations in a two-step process," he wrote. "The NFL has not persuaded me this is the type of emergency situation which justifies the grant of a temporary stay of the district court's order pending our decision on a motion for a stay itself."

He noted that he had granted such a request on behalf of an immigrant who was about to be removed from the country before the government had responded to a formal request.

"Another situation in which a temporary stay, pending review of a motion for a stay itself, may be appropriate is in a death penalty case where an execution date has been set and is imminent," he wrote.

Judge Bye said the NFL can "easily re-establish its lockout."

"The NFL is certainly not in the same emergency position as an immigrant about to be removed, or an individual about to be executed, who cannot so easily reverse the consequences of initially allowing a district court's order to take effect," he wrote.

"Because I believe we should limit our reliance on Eighth Circuit Rule 27A(b)(4) to true emergency situations, I disagree with the panel's decision to enter a temporary stay based on the circumstances involved in this case."

Finally, Judge Bye also wrote that the NFL undermined a key point by, within a day of Judge Nelson's court denying a stay, put into effect "post-injunction operations which would allow the players to have access to club and workout facilities, receive playbooks, meet with coaches, and so forth."

But Judge Bye didn't seem too concerned, hinting that they would make a quick ruling.
"Because I expect our court will be resolving the actual request for a stay in short order, I see little practical need for granting an emergency temporary stay in this non-emergency situation," he said.

If there was one offensive line coach who had an opportunity to learn everything about former Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, it was Mike Tice of the Bears.

Tice's son Nathan is a quarterback at Wisconsin.

"I know a lot about him in fact," Tice said. "His mom and my wife tailgate together. There's a lot of familiarity there."

Tice said the four-year starter for the Badgers was the Bears' fourth-ranked offensive lineman. He was especially impressed with how he performed against Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Carimi played left tackle at Wisconsin but could play either tackle position or guard in the NFL.

"We do want to keep our options open," Tice said. "As you know, I've been known to move guys around a little bit. We want to get through the rest of the draft and figure out what we're going to do with some of our players who are free agents. "I think he's an outside player, personally, and we'll make sure the day he comes into the building the spot we put him at is the spot he's going to play for the next 10 years. We'll work through all that."

If the Bears end up surrendering the fourth-round pick the Ravens thought they had secured via trade during Thursday night's first round, it could be costly.

Fourth-round picks drafted by Angelo since he arrived in Chicago include defensive end Alex Brown, safety Todd Johnson, defensive tackle Ian Scott, cornerback Nathan Vasher, linebacker Leon Joe, quarterback Kyle Orton, linebacker Jamar Williams, guard Josh Beekman, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback D.J. Moore and defensive end Corey Wootton.

Those players have participated in 568 NFL games while making 323 starts.


Ravens senior vice president Kevin Byrne wrote a compelling account of what went down inside Baltimore's draft room when general manager Ozzie Newsome was trying to consummate a deal with Bears general manager Jerry Angelo that would've sent the Ravens' 27th pick to Chicago for the Bears' spot at No. 29 and their fourth-round pick.

As everybody now knows, the deal never went down. Angelo accepted the blame, admitting late Thursday night that he "dropped the ball."

This is pure speculation, but I can't help but wonder if having an extra strong voice in the draft room resulted in this fiasco. Angelo has been running war rooms for more than two decades and shouldn't make this kind of mistake. First-year player personnel director Tim Ruskell's last gig was as a general manager in Seattle. I'm not making accusations here, but wonder if this was a classic case of too many cooks.

The good news is, the Bears and Ravens both got the players they wanted in Gabe Carimi and Jimmy Smith.

Anyway, here's the complete story.

Halas Hall was among the NFL training facilities open to players starting at 7 a.m. CST Friday morning, and several players took advantage.

Kicker and union-rep (Can he still be called that since union decertified?) Robbie Gould was among them, as was tight end Greg Olsen. Receiver Johnny Knox, center Edwin Williams and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina also made an appearance.

The Bears will begin their offseason conditioning program on May 9, will hold a rookie minicamp May 6-8 and a full-squad minicamp June 3-5 at Halas Hall.

NFL spokesman says league looking into trade snafu

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The Baltimore Ravens want compensation for the botched trade with the Bears, and the league is investigating.
We're looking into it," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said this morning.

The Ravens believed they had a deal with the Bears to give up their 26th overall pick for No.29 and a fourth rounder.

Bears GM Jerry Angelo accepted responsibility for the mix up

Bears coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo wouldn't commit to a position for Gabe Carimi, the 29th overall selection in the NFL Draft.

But this is my expectation: Carimi will play right tackle, and J'Marcus Webb will get to play left tackle, which he played at West Texas A&M.

One of the pre-Combine knocks on Carimi is that he may not be athletic enough to play left tackle in the NFL. But at the Combine, Carimi did a very solid 29 reps on the bench press, a 31 1/2 inch vertical leap, and his best 40-time was a 5.18. Only six offensive tackles had a faster time than him, including Nate Solder, who ran a Combine-best 4.96.

Still, this is clear: Carimi isn't the athlete that Webb is.

Webb will embrace the opportunity to swing back to what he considers his natural position, and Carimi will embrace the opportunity to start at right tackle.

So what happens to the rest of the linemen?

Well, there will be a lot of competition to play guard.

The Bears still need to re-sign Olin Kreutz, who is an unrestricted free agent. With Webb entering his second season and Carimi entering his first, that signing is even more mandatory than before. Kreutz's leadership is a must for the unit, especially with the possibility that only he will be starting at the same spot as he did in 2010.

Chris Williams, the 14th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, is currently at left guard. But Frank Omiyale, who had a lot of ups and downs at left tackle, has numerous starts at that position. Roberto Garza has long manned the post at right guard.

But, the Bears are expected to open up the competition at guard to players like Lance Louis, Johan Asiata and Edwin Williams.

May the best men win.

But more than anything, there is one thing that should be welcomed by the Bears: Carimi will bring a hard-nosed approach to the unit. The Bears have several "athletes" but they don't have enough attitude. Carimi is in the Kreutz mold, someone who will try to drill his opponent into the ground.

So Carimi thinks he's "NFL ready." Smith wouldn't pin a timetable on where and when he'll play, but the Bears certainly would be disappointed if he's not starting from Day One.

Here's what ESPN's Jon Gruden has to say about Gabe Carimi in the days leading up to the draft: "Carimi reminds me of a John Runyon type at Wisconsin. He might end up playing on the right side. He could eventually kick inside and he could be just a mauler. He can cream you, if you ask me." 

Here's what ESPN analyst Todd McShay had to say about the 2011 NFL tackle class: "Anthony Constanzo is the most NFL ready and consistent. Gabe Carimi is right behind him."

With their primary objective of improving the offensive line out of the way, Jerry Angelo can focus on filling his team's other needs during Day 2 of the draft on Friday. That means the Bears general manager will be looking for defensive tackles, linebackers, receivers and perhaps another offensive lineman or two.

Gabe Carimi's teammate at Wisconsin, guard John Moffitt, would be a welcome addition, as would Georgia guard Clint Boling and Penn State center Stephen Wisniewski, among others.

"It will be a challenge tomorrow, much more than today," Angelo said. "Today we knew there would be a lot of quality players on the board. Tomorrow is going to be much tougher than it was today, certainly. There are players we like very much but not the numbers. In any draft you have to have some luck. No matter how much you work or how much time you put into it, some people have to fall to you. We had a little luck today with our first-round pick."

Defensive tackles Marvin Austin of North Carolina, Stephen Paea of Oregon State and South Florida's Terrell McClain remain undrafted. Receivers include Boise State's Titus Young, Kentucky's Randall Cobb and Maryland's Torrey Smith.

"One of the primary game plans was go get an offensive lineman and then hopefully we'll have some options," said Angelo, who also admitted his was one of the most challenging drafts of his career. "We'll re-group tomorrow morning, re-strategize and go over the board one more time. We'll have options. We're not fixated on any one position. We're really fixed on taking players we like that we feel comfortable with and we feel can come in and help our football team win. We're not basing it on perception or trying to be cute. You can't do that in this draft."

Linebackers capable of playing in the Bears' 4-3 defense are plentiful and include former Simeon High and Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, who has the kind of speed the Bears covet at that position.

Bears attempted to move up to get Gabe Carimi

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Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he talked to several clubs with picks ahead of him, but he was very close to a deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

The Bears were going to give the Ravens the 29th overall pick and its fourth-rounder (127th overall) to move up to the 26th slot, presumably to move ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs, who were rumored to be interested in an offensive lineman.

But, the Bears didn't finalize the deal, and the Ravens missed their selection and ended up picking 27th. The Chiefs selected Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin and the Ravens selected Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith.

"It was our fault," Angelo said. "[The Ravens] did everything according to the rules.

"It worked out. We got our player."

So did the Ravens, although general manager Ozzie Newsome lamented the snafu with the Bears.

"Everyone was poised," he said at a press conference. "I was on the phone with the other team. [A Ravens official] was on the phone with Jimmy Smith. Once that agreement was made, then they have to call the league."

Newsome informed NFL personnel executive Joel Bussert that a trade had been worked out. Only one problem.

"The other team never got confirmation with the league," Newsome said.

Angelo confirmed the Bears were trying to move up to get Carimi.

"We dropped the ball," he said. "I dropped the ball. What's been done can't be undone."

The Bears were actively looking to trade up from No. 29 because Carimi was still available in the high 20s.

"We tried several times, and talked to other people," Angelo said. "But it didn't work out."

So when Carimi was available at 29, the Bears didn't have much of a discussion on who they were going to take.

"It was pretty easy about that time," Angelo said. "It was a pretty obvious pick for us."

Newsome, among the league's most respected talent evaluators, had a trade fall through in 2003, when he was trying to consummate a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Current Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice was the Vikings head coach at the time. The Vikings had the seventh pick, and they ended up selecting ninth.

It didn't work out too bad for them; the Vikings landed defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl selection.

UPDATE: The Ravens are not letting this go, appealing to the league that the Bears owe them a draft pick, presumably the 4th rounder. If the league makes a ruling, one would expect it to happen Friday or Saturday, before that pick comes up. I don't recall a precedent, so I'm not sure the Ravens will get their way.

Bears select OT Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin

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The Bears selected offensive tackle Gabe Carimi with its 29th pick in the NFL Draft.

The Bears reportedly talked to the Baltimore Ravens about moving up to the 26th spot, but the deal fell through. The Ravens then missed their pick, and the Kansas City Chiefs selected.

Still, the Bears landed what many believed was the one position they needed to address. Carimi said at the NFL Combine he was the best offensive tackle in this year's draft class.

He'll get a chance to prove it; Bears need him to make an impact right away.

The Bears announced Thursday that they will begin their offseason conditioning program on May 9, will hold a rookie minicamp May 6-8 and a full-squad minicamp June 3-5 at Halas Hall.

The announcements came after the league office sent a memo to teams instructing them to open their doors to players and resume operations on Friday morning.

It is still not known when the new league year will begin, which means teams cannot sign free agents, rookie free agents or trade players. Coaches are allowed to talk to players currently under contract, however, and players can workout at team facilities as well as undergo medical exams and participate in film study.

The annoucements by the team and the league are pending a decision by The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which could grant the NFL's request of a stay, which could mean the lockout would continue.

A look at the workout bonuses of Bears players

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If you're going to be at either of Chicago's major airports this weekend, there's a good chance you could run into one of your favorite Bear.

Barring a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Bears plan to host players for workouts starting Monday morning, and many of them have an incentive to come.

Usually, players get the full amount, if they hit a certain percentage of the workouts, allowing for some flexibility. So, quarterback Jay Cutler for instance, won't lose $500,000 if he doesn't show up Monday.

Interestingly, only two players don't have a workout bonus in their contract: kicker Robbie Gould and running back Matt Forte. That's especially interesting, since Gould showed up to workout on Tuesday. But that's probably because he's the players rep for the club.

Everyone else has at least $7,280, an encouragement because Bears coach Lovie Smith likes having his players around.

Here's a closer look:

* Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher have $500,000 workout bonuses

* Lance Briggs, Devin Hester and Frank Omiyale can make up to $250,000.

* Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, Brandon Manumaleuna, Tim Jennings and Chris Harris can make up to $100,000.

* Roberto Garza can make $75,000.

* Matt Toeaina can make $55,000.

* Charles Tillman can make $50,000.

* Chester Taylor can make $25,000.

* Greg Olsen can make $8,120.

It appears Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is getting married.

Although the quarterback hasn't said anything, his girlfriend Kristin Cavallari said she got engaged on her verified Twitter account.

The actress wrote: "I can finally tell everyone that IM ENGAGED!!!!!!"

People magazine first reported the news earlier this week.

Last week, Cavallari wrote that she was going to Cabo "with my man."

She never specifically said Cutler in either tweet, but the two have been dating for a while and recently went on a two-week trip to Africa with the non-profit OneKid OneWorld.

Cavallari, who grew up in Barrington, starred on a show called The Hills.

You guys never cease to surprise me, so I figure I'll also post a link, where you can check out her rock.

The Bears have been waiting for a response from the league before deciding whether to open their doors to players. Apparently, they have their answer after the league issued a memo stating that --- barring an appeals court ruling in their favor today --- NFL teams will be allowed into team facilities on Friday.

"We -- just moments ago -- notified our clubs that we think it's appropriate under the circumstances to take additional steps in response to the injunction," Aiello told "ProFootballTalk Live". "So the facilities will open tomorrow at 8 a.m. Eastern time. In the meantime, clubs are free immediately to start contacting players and let them know when the facilities will be open for use."

That means, according to an NFL statement, players can go to their facilities for medical exams, film study and to meet with coaches. Teams can also start scheduling organized team activities.

The league year has yet to officially begin, however, which means trading players and signing free agents can't happen today.

"Judge Nelson said it was up to us to determine how to proceed, and we think in light of the fact that the first round of the draft is tonight, clubs are fully focused on that," Aiello said. "The best way to proceed is for the veterans to start working out at facilities tomorrow, and then we'll set up the process of starting the league year, which would include player trades and player signings. . . . No player transactions until we start the league year."

If the appeals court issues a stay, all bets are off.

OK, you've seen my mock draft. Now, who do you think the Bears should take at No. 29?

My only criteria is that you be realistic. You can't say "Cam Newton," "Patrick Peterson" or "Tyron Smith," for example, because they'll be long gone by then --- although with this draft, you never know. It's also acceptable to list a handful of players with the idea that you would select whichever prospect happened to be available late in the first round.

It's also acceptable to predict that the Bears will trade up or out of the first round, the latter of which is a real possibility, at least in my opinion.

Let's hear from you. Anybody who nails it will receive kudos here Friday.

At every turn, regardless of the judge, NFL owners continue to lose its legal battle against its players.

No wonder, then, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others on the league side keep highlighting negotiating instead of litigating.

It's easy to get caught up in the ebb and flow of this back and forth and lose focus of the big picture. Is it a surprise, in any way, that Judge Susan Nelson on Wednesday night essentially backed the 89-page ruling she filed Monday?

She made clear Wednesday that she meant that the lockout should be lifted and business should resume as usual. But one sentence is wrought with legalese.

"In fact, nothing in this Court's Order obligates the NFL to even enter into any contract with the Players," Nelson wrote.

Before that, Nelson writes that players "cannot force any onerous contract terms on the NFL," which means the league still has some level of power. But to ignore her ruling -- to lift the lockout -- the league continue its "allegedly illegal behavior."

So what's the punishment? That's not exactly clear.

At least temporarily, the league can officially continue its lockout of players, but they need the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis to provide some momentum.

The NFL's motion to expedite the appeal will be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals this morning. An update will be posted on the court's website later today.

http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/

Putting together a mock draft is always an exercise in futility, but never more so than this year. Anybody who tells you he has a feel for what will
transpire tonight is deluded.

The NFL's unprecedented offseason of uncertainty continues tonight, when the Carolina Panthers are on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. First-year coach Ron Rivera might take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator also might play it safe and select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

Because there is little talent disparity at the top of the draft, the rest of the top 10 might be just as unpredictable.

''Every draft is exciting, but this one is even more so because of the setting we're in,'' said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. ''This draft is wide-open and completely unpredictable.''

If Rivera is still unsure about which direction he will go in, imagine how Bears general manager Jerry Angelo must feel about holding the 29th overall choice.

Though teams aren't allowed to trade players because of the labor impasse, some predict more draft-pick trades than ever, especially late in the first round, where several teams might want to trade up to choose from a second tier of quarterbacks. For that and other reasons, don't be surprised if Angelo drops into the second round for additional picks.

Because needs have not been filled via free agency, teams also might reach for players more than they would during a normal draft, adding another element of unpredictability.

Given all that, here's one man's mock draft, for what it's worth.

While the Bears might address their need for a center in the draft, they also have some in-house ideas, including one out-of-the-box possibility that might surprise.

The Bears have confidence Edwin Williams can do the job if veteran Olin Kreutz, an unrestricted free agent, doesn't return, which remains a possibility. There even have been discussions about moving Chris Williams to center, which would be a stunning admission for a team that drafted Williams 14th overall in 2008 to be the left tackle of the future.

On the other hand, the 6-6, 315-pound Williams would provide the added bulk offensive line coach Mike Tice is looking for. Because his strength is his intelligence, he could make the line calls required of a center. The lack of aggressiveness he has displayed at guard and tackle would be less of a concern at center, where he would be required to make fewer one-on-one blocks.

It wouldn't be an ideal situation -- not by a long shot. But after playing Williams at right tackle, left tackle and left guard with disappointing results, it might be the Bears' last chance to find him a long-term position where he can be effective.

During his rookie season, Bears offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb did more listening than talking, endearing himself to his teammates and coaches.

But on Tuesday, Webb delivered a thoughtful and reverent speech in accepting the Brian Piccolo award at Halas Hall.

"I stand here humbled by the Brian Piccolo Award," Webb said quietly. "This award embodies the ideals of what a Chicago Bears player should strive to be. I'm not sure I'll be able to measure up to such a man. But I certainly do promise to inspire others through my hard work and dedication."

Webb, in fact, reached out to Piccolo's widow, Joy, the first time any player has ever done that. The award is named in honor of Brian Piccolo, who died from embryonal cell carcinoma in 1970 at the age of 26, and is given to a player who exemplifies courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and a sense of humor.

"That may have been the best speech by a player I have ever heard, for the Piccolo award," Bears president Ted Phillips said. "He did a great job. It obviously meant a lot to him."

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams was voted the veteran winner by his teammates. He distinguished himself because he plays the unglamorous position of nose tackle.

"You're going to get double-teamed, and your primary job is to stay in the crack and occupy a couple of guys, to allow the Brian Urlachers to be themselves," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Adams' job. "Anthony is an unselfish player."

Added defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, "I mean this with all due respect: He's an overachiever.

"That means you're striving to be better, every single day."

A free agent, Adams sure sounded like a player who wants to come back to the Bears.

"It was a great experience this year. We were one game away," he said. "I'm sorry I'm talking about Green Bay, but I just hate having this bad taste in my mouth."

Adams then said he "can't wait" to play the Packers next season.

As for Webb, he rose from seventh-round pick into a fixture at right tackle.

"[Webb] easily made the most progress of any player I've witnessed in my time in the NFL," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "From where he began as a starter and where he finished is truly remarkable."

Webb is anxious to get back to work.

"It drives me insane. I'm trying to get healthy, eat right and do my job. And right now, we're stuck at home, working out and watching cartoons all day," he said. "What's up with that? I want to get back to what I do best."

Citing a league source, ProFootballTalk.com is reporting that TCU offensive lineman Marcus Cannon has been treated for treatable non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Some have predicted that Cannon might be someone the Bears would be interested in to help their offensive line. Although he played tackle at TCU, some scouts believe he projects as a guard in the NFL.

The news of his condition breaking two days before the draft will likely hurt his draft stock, although PFT reports that he should complete chemotherapy within 12-24 weeks.

Bears president Ted Phillips and Cliff Stein, the team's senior director of football administration and general counsel, were the team employees who interacted with the players who arrived for workouts today at Halas Hall.

"Everyone is looking for some clarification," Phillips said. "I think the players are, the clubs are, and hopefully we'll get some clarification from the courts soon. Then we'll go from there."

Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, defensive end Israel Idonije and kicker Robbie Gould showed up, allowed past the security gate then greeted at the main entrance at the team's headquarters by Phillips and/ or Stein. But, they were informed that the building was not open for use by players.

" 'Until we get some clarification, you're welcome in,' " Phillips recalled telling them. " 'But we're not opening the building for business yet.' "

Gould, who is the team's NFLPA player representative, specifically asked if he could work out.

"The locker room was locked," he said. "They said there would not be any workouts until clarifications are done.

"It's not a big deal. It really isn't."

Phillips said there are no "hard feelings."

"It's never been about the team versus the players. We love the players," he said. "They're what makes the game great, and we're hoping that as soon as both sides can get a collective bargaining agreement worked out, then we'll be able to get back to playing football, which is what both sides want."

With Jay Cutler already well on his way to fully recovering from the knee injury that sidelined him during the NFC Championship game, and Caleb Hanie's stock on the rise after he led the team on two scoring drives in that same game, you'd think the Bears would be set at quarterback.

They have even signed Matt Gutierrez, who impressed offensive coordinator Mike Martz during his brief stint with the team during last year's training camp, to be the third stringer.

But that won't stop Jerry Angelo from looking hard at quarterbacks in the 2011 draft, which starts Thursday. The Bears' general manager said teams have to always be on the lookout for quarterback talent regardless of how set they may appear to be at the position.

"It can never be a luxury position," he said. "We know that. We're looking hard again this year. We really want to develop our own. I really thought we had a good plan last year. The thing that really impacted that plan from coming to fruition [was] Caleb Hanie got hurt at a bad time. He got hurt early in the preseason and was going to miss the whole preseason. With a new staff having to come in, now they really can't evaluate him. He can't develop. What do you do? You can't take a sixth-round draft pick and go into the season saying that he's gonna be the backup. That's not fair to the football team and/or him. So we went out and we got the veteran. That's just what you have to do. But our goal, our plan --- I speak for our coaches as well --- is to develop our own players. We feel real good about that. Mike Martz's track record in doing that has been very good and there's no reason we can't do that. So that will be our goal again this year."

The former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board said NFL owners couldn't ask for a better court to hear its appeal.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals [for The Eighth Circuit] in St. Louis is probably the most conservative court in the country," said William Gould, currently a professor at Stanford University. "When I was chairman of the NLRB [from 1994 to 1998], a number of our orders against employers were reversed there.

"This is the best court for the owners to be in."

Asked why, Gould said, "Philosophically, they're hostile to the rights of unions and workers to engage in union activity, and, in this case, not to engage in union activity."

The NFL is trying to regroup, after Federal Judge Susan Nelson lifted the league's lockout in a decidedly pro-players, ruling Monday.

"The irreparable harm to the players outweighs any harm an injunction would cause the NFL," she wrote.

The league didn't find much to be satisfied with in her 89-page ruling.

"She exhibited considerable skepticism of the owners' arguments, so she accepted virtually every argument that the players made," Gould said. "It's obviously a sweeping victory, at this stage, for the players, and gives them enormous leverage if the order is affirmed."

But that's the key question: while the lockout is technically lifted will it become officially lifted after the court of appeals has its say?

Gould said the owners will argue that lifting the lockout then resuming it will create chaos.
If the owners lose before the appeals court, the players will have significant leverage moving forward. But if they win, the NFL's lockout could threaten regular season games.

"If the owners are successful, I would think this is going to go on for a considerable period of time [in courts], and games could be cancelled," Gould said. "But if the players are successful, well, then they'll we'll have football."

Late Monday afternoon, Judge Susan Nelson issued her ruling and lifted the NFL's lockout of players.

But the NFL issued the following statement: "We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes.

"We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will
inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal."

The owners surely aren't surprised by this decision. But they also must be rattled, nonetheless, because it's a clear victory for the players.

A statement from the players is being developed as we speak.

A couple points to consider:

* There are still a lot of moving parts to this, including the National Labor Relations Board's ruling. Judge Nelson, for her part, believes the NLRB will side with the players on that, too.

* Technically, free agency can start immediately, and players can return to team facilities to work out. But, the reality is, no rules have been set, so the league's appeal tomorrow will provide more clarity on how things will proceed.

DeAngelo Hall: "Jay is definitely a clown"

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DeAngelo Hall, the Washington Redskins cornerback who loves to talk, dissed Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in a recent interview on 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C.

It appears the interviewer first called Cutler "a clown." But Hall didn't defend him.

"Jay is definitely a clown," Hall told the radio station, per Sports Radio Interviews. "I played against the kid one other time, and it was when I first went to Oakland, first game of the season we played on a Monday night.

"And [Mike] Shanahan was actually coaching. He's played against Al Davis so long, he knows what we're going to be in -- man under, it ain't no help, just go out and play football no matter what they come out in. You can tell Shanahan was scheming us up -- max protection, double/triple move. And Eddie Royal had caught a couple balls against me that game. And I tell you what, I don't know if Jay was like 'I'm going to keep going at him, I don't care what's going on.'

And the first half, I didn't have an interception, a pass breakup or nothing, and then to come out in the second half against those guys and get four interceptions. Man, I've never had more than two in a game, so to go out and get four in a half, I was like 'man, this is unreal!' I'm on the sideline like 'wow, this is pretty amazing!'"

Hall was all class in the inteview. He poked fun at the size of Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd's son's head.

"He's 12 years old and he's 5'10″- the dude is taller than me -- but the head is still there," Hall said.

For the full transcript, click here http://sportsradiointerviews.com/2011/04/25/deangelo-hall-nfl-lockout-newswashington-redskins/

When the Bears' needs heading into the 2011 NFL draft are listed, offensive line, defensive tackle and receiver are most frequently mentioned. What about linebacker?

The Bears only have two linebackers currently under contract. Granted, they are Pro Bowl performers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, but the team's depth at the position is non-existent.

Fortunately for general manager Jerry Angelo, so many teams switching to a 3-4 defenses makes it easier to draft quality linebackers in the middle-to-late rounds.

"The 3-4 teams are helping us with our linebackers," Angelo said. "Probably the guys we like are not on half the boards in the league, and that will help us. Like in the old days, 3-4 teams could get their pass rushers in the fifth, sixth round, and sometimes in free agency, because nobody was playing that scheme. In part, it has helped us defensively. There are more linebackers for us, that we can get later, if we choose to go in that direction, and even in free agency.

"From my vantage point, that's probably the most fertile position on the board for us, in the mid-to-later rounds and to free agency. We'll be able to find players to come in here with the traits that we're looking for. Obviously, once we get them into camp, that will determine the quality of player. But we do like the numbers of players [at the position]."

Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo frequently quotes personnel men he's learned from in the past, including former Raiders and Packers talent guru Ron Wolf, who he believes is deserving of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The lesson he and player personnel director Tim Ruskell are focusing on as the 2011 draft approaches is from another NFL legend, Bill Parcells.

"Parcells made the statement a long time ago when I was with New York," Angelo said during a pre-draft press conference at Halas Hall on Thursday. "He said, 'You know what I like about this draft, Jerry? Every guy that we drafted, we like. You guys like him and we like him.'

"That kind of stuck with me. That's very important because for the player to be successful, he's got to have a feel-good from everybody. It can't just be from the scouts or one coach or the averages are working against you."

After numerous meetings, Bears scouts were dismissed to take a break and head back home.

With the draft a week away, the Bears plan for the NFL Draft is largely in place.

"For the most part, we feel pretty good about our preparation and where we stand going into this draft," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said.

Team player personnel director Tim Ruskell said there are four to six players, based on grades, that could be available with the 29th overall pick.

Asked if his team would trade down, Angelo said, "If there are enough players on our board, and it makes sense, then it's something we could consider seriously.

"We're always going to be flexible. Trading down is easier to do."

Meanwhile, Angelo said they are open to four positions with that top pick, although he later expanded his answer to six. My guess is, those top four positions are offensive tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback.

But Angelo warned that the odds of hitting a "home run" aren't as high, given that they're at the end of the first round.

Still, his goals are the same as always.

"We want to come out of this with four starters. That's our goal every year," he said.

Angelo said the draft is deep at defensive tackle, and Marvin Austin of North Carolina is a player some draft analysts have projected to wind up with the Bears. But Austin has been dogged with questions about his character.

Angelo said head coach Lovie Smith and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli visited with him and that other team representatives also helped in doing due diligence on the player.

Mock drafts are being produced every 15 seconds this time of year, proving that it's never too early for meaningless prognostications. With that in mind, I've broken down the 2011 schedule and predict the Bears will finish 10-6 next season -- if the lockout ever ends.

Frankly, I'm a little more optimistic than I thought I would be, thanks largely to the problems the Vikings could have getting their new quarterback up to speed during the lockout and the Bears facing AFC West opponents next season.

Anyway, Here's what I think. Let me know what you think.

I'd heard the remarkable story of Charles Tillman's daughter, Tiana, who received a heart transplant when she was six months old. And I'd attended one of Tillman's events for his Cornerstone Foundation.

But it was powerful television watching Tillman and his wife Jackie meet the mother, who donated her son's heart after she was informed he wouldn't survive.

Tillman said he started to write a letter to the mother, who's name is Magali, but it took him a year to finish it.

"In my words, thank you isn't enough," Tillman said. "I've thought about this day ever since it happened."

It's a moving piece and you can check it out here.

The Bears will play four prime-time games in 2011, which include two "Monday NIght Football" games and two Sunday Night prime-time affairs. Here's their schedule, as released by the NFL Tuesday evening.

Sept. 11: Falcons at Bears, 12 noon

Sept. 18: Bears at Saints, 12 noon

Sept. 25: Packers at Bears, 3:15, p.m.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the Packers will host the Saints in the 2011 NFL opener.

I thought the Bears were a likely choice to square off against the defending Super Bowl Champions, especially considering the intrigue that would swirl around Jay Cutler's first start since leaving the NFC Championship game loss at halftime with a knee injury.

Instead, it will be a matchup of the past two Super Bowl Champions, according to the Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn, not to mention two of the league's top quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

After scheduling the Bears to play in the Hall of Fame Game as well as the American Bowl series in London against the Buccaneers, maybe the schedule makers decided to give them a break.

If the lockout has ended, the Saints and Packers will open the season on Thursday, Sept. 8.

It's official. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Bears at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 23 at 12 noon (CST), the team and the league announced Monday.

It will be the first time the Bears have played in London since a preseason game in 1986, when they were reigning Super Bowl champions.

"To return to London to play an NFL game - this is going to be fun," Bears chairman Michael McCaskey said in a statement released by the team. "I remember how enthusiastic the fans were in 1986 when we played in Wembley Stadium and defeated the Dallas Cowboys. London fans were so welcoming and blended their traditions of singing soccer songs with the NFL-style of presenting games.  Of course the Chicago Bears are very pleased to have been named the 'Team of the Year' by UK fans following the 2010 season. So we are looking forward to facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October and playing in person before our terrific fans in the UK and Europe."

The NFL will release it's full regular-season schedule Tuesday.

The league has already announced the preseason schedule, which has the Bears participating in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7, the day after former defensive end Richard Dent is inducted. That means the Bears will play a fifth preseason game as well as traveling "across the pond" in the regular season.

Add it all up and it's shaping up to be a grueling travel schedule in 2011.

Don't buy your plane tickets yet. The release also said the game would be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa if the current labor situation isn't resolved by Aug. 1.

Where the highest rated offensive tackles in the 2011 draft class deserve to be chosen depends on which expert you talk to. ESPN's Todd McShay said earlier this week that he didn't think any of the four top-tier tackles --- Anthony Castonzo, Tyron Smith, Gabe Carimi and Nate Solder --- will be available when the Bears pick at No. 29.

NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt isn't sure Castonzo or Carimi deserve to be Top 20 picks.

It's possible they are both right, although Brandt's assessment may offer more hope of one of the two players tumbling to the Bears, unlikely as that may be.

"Right now I've got Castonzo in my 11-20 category," Brandt said. "He's going to be a good football player. When you start for four years like he did at Boston College, that tells you something. He did a good job at left [tackle] at the Senior Bowl, but right now I'm not sure I don't have him a little to high and he should be in the 21-30 category."

Jay Cutler's Fun Run in Naperville

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Longtime Naperville mayor George Pradel mentioned but downplayed the presence of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler at Sunday's event for a local non-profit.

"Jay Cutler's here today," Pradel told attendees, "but that's not the main focus.

"It's for the kids."

Just the way Cutler wanted it.

Event organizers made it abundantly clear to reporters and adults that Cutler wouldn't be commenting at the benefit for NCO Youth & Family Services, held at the Calamos Investments campus in Naperville. And when the emcee asked Cutler to address everyone after the awards presentation, Cutler politely declined.

"He was here for the kids," said NCO executive director Ron Hume.

Connected to the event by his six-year-old cousin, Cutler didn't just make a cursory appearance.

He joined 300-plus kids in a one-mile run.

In fact, he was delayed at the start, when a young girl tripped at the slightly elevated starting line, causing a domino effect with a handful of children. While dozens of kids sprinted off, several of them flanked around Cutler for the entire run, which he completed in about 10 minutes and 12 seconds.

Sans gloves and a hat, Cutler donned shorts and the long-sleeve purple shirt provided to him by NCO. Afterwards, he signed bibs, jerseys, footballs and hats for every child that participated in all the races.

The autograph signing went without incident, except for one girl who, after getting his signature, yelled, "Go Packers," as she walked jogged away.

"I think everything went great. It was a slam-dunk," Hume said. "The kids really enjoyed it."

But Cutler's morning didn't end there.

He headed to Cornerstone, a special group home for 13- to 17-year-old young men, who come from very challenged backgrounds, many of them neglected and abused. NCO provides around-the-clock care for them - up to eight at a time - and Cutler headed to the home to visit with them and encourage them.

He played basketball with the young men as well as catch.

"He threw some ropes, because they wanted to see what it was to catch an NFL pass," said David Braner, the vice president of NCO's board of directors. "The ball went through their hands, and out of their hands."

Cutler also talked with them and signed personalized footballs for each one.

"That means an awful lot to us," Hume said. "The kids at Cornerstone don't get a lot of special things happen in their lives, so this gives them something special. They need to know they're worthy of having special things happen for them."


Barring something unforeseen, the Bears will have to move up from No. 29 overall in the first round of the April 28 NFL draft to select a top-tier offensive tackle, according to Todd McShay.

If they can't land one of the top four prospects, and are still determined to fill perhaps the team's most pressing need, they will likely end up reaching, according to the ESPN draft analyst.

"There's a chance," McShay said when asked if the Bears could land a tackle late in the first round who could start as a rookie. "They're in a tricky spot. They really are. When you look at their needs and the type of players they are looking for, there's a chance if they don't make a move up nobody is going to be there that they're in love with.

"That doesn't mean you can't take a player at a position that isn't one of those top needs. It will be interesting to see."

Gatorade is a doing a pretty cool web series called, "Everything to Prove," which focuses on some of the biggest stars of the incoming rookie class, including Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph.

It's a real -- and refreshing -- behind the scenes look at what these athletes have to do, to make the transition from NCAA to NFL football, and how they handle criticisms and challenges.

Among the athletes are Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, AJ Green, Julio Jones, Cameron Heyward, Stephen Paea and Mark Herzlich.

Rudolph had to show at his Pro Day last week how far he's come, from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

"They wanted to see that I'm healthy," Rudolph said of NFL coaches and scouts. "They heard that my hamstring is 100-percent, but they actually wanted to see it for themselves. They wanted to see me getting out of breaks, running, and being explosive off the line like I used to be....Now it's time to get back to that elite level I was at before I got hurt."

Rudolph said he enjoyed working with Gatorade and NFL Films on the project.

"I loved the fact that people were going to get to see my story and see the things that I went through with my hamstring and my rehab to get to where I am today," he said. "It's definitely been a great experience."

Check out the videos at NFL.com/EverythingToProve

 The NFL Network's Charley Casserly said the Bears may not be as interested in using a first-round pick to better protect quarterback Jay Cutler as many people assume.

"As much as the critics will argue they need an offensive lineman I'm not sure that's something that's at the top of their list," the former executive for the Redskins and Texans said Wednesday. "You might see a good defensive player fall to them, whether it's a guy like [Purdue defensive end Ryan} Kerrigan as an outside pass rusher, maybe somebody along those lines."

The Bears may have to trade up from No. 29 to get one of the top-tier offensive tackles even though Casserly said getting one may be as good as getting another.

"Those offensive tackles are so grouped together I'm not so sure that whoever you get --- if you've got three or four of them there together --- the fourth guy might be as good as the first guy in three or four years," he said. "You can just throw them all in a hat."

Like other draft analysts, Casserly said he wouldn't be surprised if the Bears took a defensive tackle in the first round.

"Corey Liuget from Illinois is a terrific player," Casserly said. "Maybe he's a guy that slips down there. Doubtful, but maybe he would. It would be a heck of a pick for them if he drops that far but I don't think he'll make it."

Jay Cutler hosting charity dinner in his hometown

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The Jay Cutler Foundation is hosting a charity dinner in the quarterback's hometown of Santa Claus, IN, next month.

The May 14 evening event will feature Grammy nominated country singer David Nail at Santa's Lodge in Cutler's hometown.

Cutler said last week he was excited about the event, which will benefit his foundation.

Tickets include, dinner, dessert, beer and wine as well Nail's performance. Check out http://jaycutlerfoundation.eventbrite.com/ for more information.

The Bears are reportedly heading back to London for the first time since 1986.

WMVP (AM 1000) was the first to report that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will "host" the Bears at Wembley Stadium sometime during the 2011 season. ESPN's Adam Schefter and WDAE in Tampa are also reporting that the Bears will return to London for the first time since defeating the Dallas Cowboys 17-6 in the inaugural American Bowl game.

Last year the Bears celebrated the 25th anniversary of their last Super Bowl championship. Later this year, the Bears can commemorate the 25th anniversary of four Bears players recreating the iconic Beatles "Abbey Road" album cover.

The NFL has released it's preseason schedule. Whether the scheduled games will be played remains to be seen.

Assuming the NFL's labor stoppage is settled, the Bears and Rams will kick off the NFL's preseason by meeting in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, at 7 p.m. (CST) on Aug. 7, the day after former Bears' defensive end Richard Dent and ex-Rams' running back Marshall Faulk are inducted.

Teams participating in the Hall of Fame game are typically allowed to start training camp one week earlier than other teams.

Ticket prices range from $50-$70. Ticket buyers will receive refunds if the game is not played as scheduled.

"We've had an opportunity to play in the Hall of Fame Game before," Bears coach Lovie Smith said earlier this month. "We enjoyed that experience. This past time was the third time for me to be in that game. Whatever the schedule says I'm excited about."

The Bears will play a second nationally televised preseason game when they meet the New York Giants on "Monday Night Football" on Aug. 22 at New Meadowlands Stadium, which should serve as a measuring stick for the team's offensive line. The Giants set an NFL record by sacking Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in the first half of a 17-3 loss last season.

The Buffalo Bills will visit Soldier Field on Aug. 11-14 while the Bears will visit the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 25-28. The team's preseason finale will come against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 1-4. Exact dates and times have not been announced.

Former Bears' quarterback Jim McMahon believes his former team didn't do Jay Cutler any favors in the NFC Championship Game.

McMahon told ESPN Radio, via ProFootballTalk.com, that the team should have protected Cutler by releasing a statement explaining the extent of the knee injury that sidelined him in the second half.

"I think they just handled it poorly," McMahon said. "Somebody should have come out and said, hey, he hurt his knee. But nobody said anything. . . . I think if they handled it better, people would have realized what was going on."

McMahon also said that he is convinced he suffered brain damage while taking repeated blows to the head during his career, he believes the league is overzealous while trying to protect quarterbacks.

"I think it's a joke," he said. "I think it takes away from what the defensive guys have been taught their whole life. It's a violent game and guys are going to get hurt sometimes. Some of the calls that some quarterbacks get I think are ridiculous. Other guys get pounded and don't get a flag. As long as they're consistent I think everybody would be happy, but they're not consistent with it."

Jay Cutler ready to "start grinding away"

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler largely avoided the spotlight, after his team's 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game at Soldier Field.

But his desire didn't keep him out of the headlines, as numerous current and former players took aim at him, because he didn't finish the championship game. There was no shortage of critics, among them Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders.

And despite the best efforts of Bears players and coaches, the perception of Cutler took a beating.

So why did he wait until Thursday to talk?

I didn't specifically ask Cutler that, when I spoke to him. But the sense I get is that Cutler was ready for an extended break.

Let's not forget how hectic the last two offseasons have been for him. In 2009, Cutler was traded from the Denver Broncos to the Bears in April. He had to get a crash-course in a new offense, one that didn't boast a line nearly as talented as the one he had in Denver. Then, after a disappointing 7-9 season, the Bears fired Ron Turner and hired Mike Martz.

After weeks of inactivity, the NFL and the NFL Players Association were in a St. Paul court room, where Judge Susan Nelson peppered each side with questions and wondered why they weren't still in mediation.

Reports suggest that Nelson had overwhelmingly more questions for NFL attorney David Boies but too much can't be read into that, at this point.

Nelson said she would need a few weeks to make a ruling but, in the meantime, suggested that both sides continue mediation.

The NFL and the players are trying to figure out how to split up $9 billion, and the league imposed a lock out after the union decertified March 11.

"All of these players are being affected every day by being locked out," James Quinn, a lawyer for the players, said in court, according to the Associated Press.

Interestingly, Boies told Nelson that she did not have the jurisdiction to issue the injunction while the National Labor Relations Board is considering an unfair labor complaint.

"This should be done at the mediation table," Nelson said, "not by not paying the players.''

Added Boies, "We're prepared to go back to the mediation table and not in a lawsuit, the same table the players walked out on."

Matt Maiocco of Comcast Sports-Bay Area completed an exhaustive study of the last five NFL drafts and ranks teams from 1-to-32 based on how well they did during that span.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Packers and Saints --- the last two Super Bowl winners -- are Nos. 1 and 2. It's also no surprise that the Bills are 32nd.

Where do the Bears rank? Higher than you might think. Maiocco has them in the middle of the pack at No. 16, behind the Chargers and in front of the Titans. Here's the complete story.

It's no secret the Bears could use an offensive tackle. The question is, can they find someone who can step in and play right away without moving up from No. 29.

Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so. The ESPN draft analyst said the Bears could fill their three biggest needs --- offensive tackle, defensive tackle and a center/guard --- in the first three rounds.

"I think they can," Kiper Jr. said when I asked if they could land an impact offensive tackle without moving up in the first round. "If they went with a Nate Solder or a Derrick Sherrod where they are picking, Solder being from Colorado and Sherrod from Mississippi State, they could help their offensive line there and wait until the late second round and take maybe a Marvin Austin [from North Carolina], who would fit their scheme very well. If Marvin Austin would've played this year he would've been a late first-round pick. He could be gone by then but if he's there he could be a guy who could certainly be in the mix. Allen Bailey, a kid out of Miami, if you move him inside [to defensive tackle] in their scheme he could fit what they are looking for. He wasn't productive at defensive end this year and could move inside. Then maybe in the third round take a look at a Stefen Wisniewski or one of those versatile center/guard types. That's what they need as well, like John Moffitt from Wisconsin and Rodney Hudson from Florida State. There are a lot of those center/guard combo guys they could look for at that point in the draft."

Sports Illustrated recently conducted a poll to determine what fans think about the current labor standoff. The survey of 314 random NFL fans found that 53 percent expect teams to play a full season without replacement players in 2011. If replacement players were used, 63 percent said they would watch anyway.

College football would be the biggest winner, with 57.3 percent of fans saying they would pay more attention to the college game compared to 45.3 percent who said they would watch more baseball and 37.3 percent choosing to spend more time following the NBA.

Fans would miss watching games with friends and family most (41.8), followed by watching a particular team (40.7). Only 5.2 percent said fantasy football is what they would miss most.


ESPN surveyed eight of the network's NFL writers to find out who they thought deserved to be ranked among the league's Top 10 coaches.

Did Lovie Smith make the list?

Last year's NFC North championship and NFC title game appearance no doubt raised his stock. The Bears' coach was ranked eighth in the power rankings.

Bill Belichick was the unanimous No. 1 pick.

Here's the list:

1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

2. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

3. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles

4. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

5. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints

6. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants

7. Rex Ryan, New York Jets

8. Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears

9. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons

10t. M. Shanahan, Washington Redskins

10t. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

Bears' coach Lovie Smith said he would be more concerned about how the lockout is impacting his team's offseason preparations if he didn't have an established coaching staff and veteran players.

"It's very important," Smith said. "We do have a veteran group, a lot of great leaders. The lockout or whatever you want to call it is hurting a lot of the teams that are just getting started but we have a veteran staff and a veteran team. It's not like we have to be out telling the guys what they need to be doing. They are professionals. They know we will eventually have a season and they need to be ready to go once we're told it's time to go back to work. We feel pretty good about that."

Smith and other Bears officials were at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines on Tuesday to present defensive tackle Anthony Adams with the Ed Block Courage Award. The award is named after the former head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts and is intended to raise awareness and prevent child abuse. The award is given to a player on every team --- as voted on by his teammates --- who exemplifies sportsmanship and courage.

"It's an award that exemplifies courage and loyalty, great sense of humor, all those things that I guess I have, so it's an honor to get nominated as an Ed Block Courage Award winner," Adams said.

Expect Bears coaches and scouts to be one hand when Notre Dame holds its Pro Day on Thursday in South Bend.

Michael Floyd is the player that would be the best fit for the Bears if he can prove he can pull his life together. The rangy, athletic receiver has yet to decide whether to declare himself eligible for the supplemental draft after he was suspended indefinitely from the team last month after being cited for drunken driving. Authorities said Floyd's blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit.

It was the third alcohol-related incident since 2009 for Floyd, who announced in January that he would return for his senior season. Despite playing only two full seasons at Notre Dame, Floyd owns the school record for touchdown catches (28), is second in catches (171) and third in receiving yards (2,539).

Recently, when I was at EFT Performance in Highland Park, a player I didn't recognized jumped out at me.

He was a smooth athlete, and I even thought he might have been a big receiver. But the player was Jacquian Williams, an outside linebacker from South Florida. You could tell he was explosive, which was confirmed at the South Florida Pro Day, when he ran a 4.53 and 4.72 in the 40-yard dash. But he also had a 36 1/2 inch vertical leap.

The Bears will host more than a dozen incoming rookies at Halas Hall later this month, and I would expect Williams to be in that group, or make a separate visit on his own.

That's because it's evident the Bears need some depth at the position, and team brass was at the South Florida Pro Day in force. Personnel executives Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell worked together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for several years, and Bears coach Lovie Smith often vacations in the area.

But Williams appeared to be one of the winners from that Pro Day. The big name, of course, was Terrell McClain, who is considered one of the more highly-rated defensive linemen. There was video of Bears defensive line coach Rod Marinelli working him out.

But Williams also turned some heads.

He came to South Florida as a junior college transfer, and he was named a team captain for his final season. Former USF head coach Jim Leavitt called him the "fastest linebacker" to ever play at the school.

He finished second-team All-BIG EAST, and he led the team with 71 tackles, including 11 for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and one interception.

USF coach Skip Holtz called him "his hero," according to the St. Petersburg Times.

"He's an incredibly unselfish young man. I don't know that I've ever been around anybody as committed as he is, with the heart he has," Holtz told the paper. "I hope my son grows up to be like Jacquian Williams. I feel that strongly about him as a young man."

Williams isn't projected to be a high draft pick, so he could be had in the later rounds.

At the NFL owners meeting in New Orleans, Smith about his depth at linebacker.

Specifically, I noted how fortunate his team has been because stud linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been, for the most part, durable and performed at elite levels.

Many of the other players in the unit -- because of the large investment in Briggs and Urlacher -- have been cost-effective veterans or low-round draft picks. I asked Smith if he would like to add some youth at the position.

"You do. It's a good question," Smith said. "Brian and Lance have played a few years, and we'd like to get some younger players into the mix, at all of our positions. So, yes, that's the case. And this year, you look, we don't have a lot of linebackers signed. We have to bring some players in. But I like the play of our backups."

I would guess he's talking about players Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh, and maybe even Rod Wilson. But Pisa Tinoisamoa will be unrestricted, and he's always been a Smith favorite.

But, with Briggs and Urlacher in their 30s, the Bears need some young players who can learn from these standouts. Williams can play on special teams, and he almost certainly would play outside linebacker, more specifically Briggs' spot.

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