Chicago Sun-Times

June 2011 Archives

Players and owners aren't the only ones who will lose if the lockout ends up wiping out preseason or regular season games. In a story I wrote for today's edition, Jerry Roper, head of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, estimated that the cancellation of one exhibition game at Soldier Field would cost the city at least $3 million.

Here's the link

What I'm wondering is how missed games will impact readers of this blog, and not just economically. How will it impact you personally beyond having nine hours to fill every Sunday and Monday night?

An actual sign of progress on the labor front

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There's been a lot of speculation on dates, locations and meetings, as the owners and players work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

But a real tangible sign of progress came today, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell accepted an invitation from NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and addressed the incoming rookie class.

This doesn't mean a deal is necessarily imminent. But, it was a gesture of goodwill from both Smith and Goodell.

While lawyers are meeting in the Twin Cities, Smith and Goodell jetted to Florida, for the Business of Football Symposium for rookies. They were expected to fly back to the Twin Cities today to rejoin discussions toward a new deal.

"We're continuing to work hard," Smith told reporters today. "Both of us felt that it was important to come down for this event. Obviously, what we are doing on the business of football on a macro scale is about getting a fair deal done and trying to get back to the game and business of football as quickly as possible.

"This event was important to ensure that our young men appreciated how important we think these few days are. I'm thrilled that Roger could come down with us and talk to the rookies in a very good, direct way."

Goodell called it a "great opportunity" to visit with the rookies.

"They obviously have lots of questions. We answered the questions as best we could. But you all know that we're under certain restrictions," he said. "We're taking a break because we felt it was important to be down here with the players. We both have great respect, obviously, for the players. This is an important few days. We're going to get back to work."

Neither fielded questions from reporters.

"I get the same thing everybody else gets," he said. "I watch NFL Network and ESPN and watch the clicker on the bottom and that's really all I get. Every once in a while I'll get an e-mail from Robbie. He does a good job of trying to keep us updated. But there's not a lot of information getting out right now because they are trying to keep everyone close to the vest, so I'm getting the same thing you guys are getting but it looks better. I know that much."

Urlacher said he's been working out in Arizona and Chicago in preparation for what will be his 12th NFL season. The cancellation of organized team activities, minicamps and the offseason conditioning program have allowed him to spend extra time with his kids and improve his golf game.

"We're a veteran team," he said. "We'll come in in shape. Guys will be ready to go and knowing what to do. I don't think much is going to change for us those first couple days we ease into it and then we get going in there with pads and stuff every day after that so I don't see much changing for us. ..."

Although the offense has been holding informal workouts at an undisclosed location, Urlacher said Jay Cutler's unit could be impacted more by the lockout than he and his defensive mates.

"I would think they are going to be behind quite a bit when we do get rolling and [start] getting stuff going, but luckily for us we've been in our system defensively for seven or eight years now and offensively it has been at least a year so that's good."

Urlacher has no beef with how Cutler performed last season and expects him to be a better his second year under offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

He also said he doesn't believe the gap between the Packers and Bears is too big to leap.

"Every game we played with them last year came down to the wire," he said. "A few plays here and there and it goes our way but they made those plays last year and hopefully this year we'll make those plays. That's just the way most games are in the NFL and whoever makes those key plays is going to win the game ... Talent-wise, athletically and coaching-wise we stack up well with everyone in our conference."

By NEIL HAYES
nhayes@suntimes.com

Major Wright issued an apology after his likeness was used on a promotion that included the world's largest gathering of porn stars, even if the general manager of the South Beach, Fla., nightclub advertising the event claims it was all a misunderstanding.

"I authorized my name and likeness to be used in conjunction with other NFL players at a party I believed to be hosted by other NFL players," Wright said in a statement released by his agent, Mitch Frankel. "I had no knowledge and never would have given authority for my name or likeness to be associated with Exotica Expo 2011."

As first reported by WLS-Channel 7, Wright appeared in an on-line ad for last month's Exxxotica Expo 2011 while wearing a Bears uniform, which is a violation of NFL licensing rules if done without the league permission. Club Play general manager Lia Ames said the flier promoted three separate and unrelated club events occurring on the same night.

Ames said Wednesday she personally apologized to Wright for any misunderstanding. She also said the popular club, which relies on promotional materials to draw customers, will avoid potentially misleading promotions in the future.

Meanwhile, Frankel said Wright never gave the club permission to use his likeness while
wearing an NFL uniform.

"In this case, the flier encompasses all the events to show people all the attractions that are at the club -- whatever interests you you can come for," Ames said. "It doesn't mean the NFL players came for the porn stars."

Former Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the first round of April's NFL Draft, also appeared in the ad. Wright and Liuget are both from the Miami area. Liuget and the other players appearing in the ad issued similar apologies.

The Exxxotica Expo is scheduled to continue next month in Rosemont.

"I am deeply disappointed that my name and likeness was manipulated by the promoters of this event," Wright said in the statement. "The use of my picture in a Chicago Bear uniform was never discussed or approved. It is unfortunate that this incident has occurred and I would like to let the Bears organization, our fans, my teammates, family and friends know that I am truly sorry. I have learned a valuable lesson and will use more prudent judgement with people I associated myself with in the future."

Here's the statement Bears safety Major Wright released through his agent, Mitch Frankel.


"I want to set the record straight in reference to news reports on my involvement at an event that took place on May 20 in Miami, Fla., at Club Play. I authorized my name and likeness to be used in conjunction with other NFL players at a party I believed to be hosted by other NFL players. I had no knowledge and never would have given authority for my name or likeness to be associated with Exotica Expo 2011. I am deeply disappointed that my name and likeness was manipulated by the promoters of this event. The use of my picture in a Chicago Bear uniform was never discussed or approved. It is unfortunate that this incident has occurred and I would like to let the Bears organization, our fans, my teammates, family and friends know that I am truly sorry. I have learned a valuable lesson and will use more prudent judgement with people I associated myself with in the future."

Major Wright could have a major problem after being one of five NFL players to appear in an advertisement promoting the world's largest gathering of porn stars.

In a story first reported by WLS-Channel 7, the second-year Bears safety appeared in an ad for last month's Exxxotica Expo 2011 in Miami while wearing a Bears uniform, which is likely a violation of league rules, an NFL spokesperson told WLS-Channel 7. The league is investigating.

The love and sex expo is scheduled to open next month at the convention center in Rosemont.

Former Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the first round of April's NFL Draft, was among the draftees that also appeared in the ad. Wright and Liuget are both from the Miami area.

The original ad for the Miami show promoted Wright as an official host of the tour's launch party, which featured porn stars and NFL players.

It's the image of Wright wearing his white, No. 27 jersey that bothers the Bears. "This is an improper use of team marks and the Chicago Bears are not associated with this ad," team spokesperson Jim Christman told WLS-Channel 7. Christman went on to say that "many times players themselves are unaware of the violation and companies simply pull images and make ads not realizing they are in violation."

The link to the Sun-Times story that had a edited version of the ad can be found here

More praise for Hanie

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Praise of Caleb Hanie in the wake of his performance in relief of Jay Cutler in the NFC Championship Game continues.

So, why is it that it sometimes feels as if Hanie is more appreciated more outside Halas Hall?

Bucky Brooks ranks Caleb Hanie among the up-and-coming backup quarterbacks in the NFL, continuing a trend. Here's what the NFL.com analyst wrote:

Devin Hester ranked No. 32 on the NFL Network's Top 100 players, which was way to high for Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

The rankings were the result of 415 NFL players being polled.

Here's what King wrote about Hester in his Monday Morning Quarterback column at cnnsi.com: "Way too high for me. Outstanding punt returner, but I can't put a guy in my top 100 who, in two seasons as a full-time starter for the Bears, has 97 catches for a pedestrian 12.7-yard average. Antonio Gates is my 32nd-ranked player. He's a tight end. Average per catch in the last two years: 15.0."

A locked-out version of the offseason Bears Q&A produced a wide array of questions on topics including Olin Kreutz's future, where the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers may be vulnerable and which second-year players have the best chance of having breakout seasons when the labor impasse is finally resolved.

Q: My chief concern is that the Bears are not as good as last year suggested. They had a cohesive team with no starters injured reserve. To me, was an anomaly. When injuries occur, roster weaknesses are evidenced. I believe it could be argued that an 8-8 team can win 11 games with no season-ending injuries to starters. I think depth is the real Achilles heel to this team. Thoughts? --- Tom

A: That the Bears were injury free late in the season, which is virtually unheard of, was one example of how much good fortune fell their way last season. While I also questioned the Bears depth heading into the season, I was encouraged by how Henry Melton, D.J. Moore, Kellen Davis, Tim Jennings, Matt Toeaina, J'Marcus Webb, Corey Wootton, Major Wright and others performed, which bodes well moving forward. That said, the Bears depth wasn't tested like the Packers was last season and remains somewhat of a question.

Leave your questions here for a lockout version of the weekly Q&A.

Watching Plaxico Burress walk out of New York's Oneida Correctional Facility on Monday reminded me of how good he would look in a Bears uniform.

After serving two years on a gun charge, the former Giants receiver is looking to resurrect his career. He should be highly motivated, which lessens the risk for teams. The successful rehabilitation of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick may make teams such as the Bears more willing to give Burress a second chance.

"He's learned an awful lot," agent Drew Rosenhaus told reporters Monday. "He knows that he obviously made a mistake and certainly the maturation from being in this type of environment for so many months to reflect on your life and the things you might do differently. To miss two NFL seasons in the prime of your career, to not be with your family, most importantly, to lose out on millions and millions of dollars -- these are things that have forced him certainly to evaluate his life and we all would become a better person."

Although Bears general manager Jerry Angelo often downplays the importance of a bigger receiver, the sputtering Bears offense could use somebody with Burresses' skill set. The Bears don't have a proven receiver on the roster over 6-foot. At 6-5, 232, Burress has --- or at least had --- the type of height and body control that could make life easier for Jay Cutler.

"We're looking at the position," Angelo said before passing on a receiver in the draft. "We'd like to get the big receiver like everybody. So much has been made about the No. 1 receiver. It's hard to find a No. 1 receiver. We've looked at the position hard this year. I don't anticipate that we, collectively as a group, see anybody that's going to fit that definition. But we do like the [rookie] receiver group given how they complement what we have. We looked at it in depth. It's not a great group, but there are some players there that we like that we feel can come in and help us."

The Bears have been hesitant to reach for players with character issues, and for good reason, although Angelo seem to leave the door cracked in that regard.

"Again, we're not looking for best friends or neighbors," Angelo said before the draft. "We're looking for guys who get it, to come in here with good attitudes, good work ethics, and are very passionate about football. If they have those things in common, I personally can get along with him, especially if he has talent."

Before the draft, Angelo said having a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver isn't a requirement for a Super Bowl winner.

"I don't think the Giants have ever had a Pro Bowl receiver, at least in the last 20 years," he said. "They've always had a pretty good offense. I know when we were in Tampa, I know our offense wasn't stellar. But I don't want to overrate the position. We certainly like our receiver corps. We certainly want to build on it. But that's not the end all."

While that may be technically true, the Giants had Burress when they won the Super Bowl. They had Amani Toomer, who played at a very high level for 13 years. They currently have Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks.

The Bears have some promising players at the position, no question. Pro Football Focus recently revealed that Earl Bennett did not drop a single pass last season, making him one of the surest-handed receivers in the league. Johnny Knox finished just shy of 1,000 receiving yards in 2010 and Devin Hester remains a home run threat.

The problem is, at least in my opinion, the Bears receivers are too much alike. They do need a bigger target for Cutler, especially in third-down situations. CFL star Andy Fantuz might be the guy. At 6-6, 220 he doesn't have great speed but has great hands. If they can get him for the right price, adding Burress to the mix would make sense as well.

"I wouldn't rule out any team, I wouldn't rule out the Giants, I wouldn't rule out any club," Rosenhaus said. "I really won't talk about specific teams because I don't want to hurt his position. As far as the Giants, my personal opinion is he wouldn't rule them out. I certainly wouldn't.

"We are going to be open to all 32 teams," Rosenhaus added. "Ultimately this will be Plax's decision, not mine. I am here to help him pick the best spot and get the very best contract. And that is what we will do."


The NFL Network polled 415 NFL players and asked them to rank the league's best players from one to 100.

Where does Brian Urlacher rank?

The Bears middle linebacker came in at No. 49, one spot above Patriots receiver Wes Welker and one below Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey.

Only the 41st through 50th players have been released this week. You can find Nos. 100 through 50 at NFL.com.


The father of Bears defensive end Julius Peppers has been charged with felony cocaine possession, according to the Associated Press and various other news outlets.

The North Carolina Bureau of Investigation announced Thursday that George Thomas Kurney, 50, had been arrested following a joint state-local investigation. As a result of the arrest, Kurney has been fired from his job as a sherriff's deputy in Nash County, N.C., a position he had held for 10 years. Kurney was later released on $1,000 bond.

Kurney could not be reached for comment. Messages left for Peppers were not immediately returned.

Sorry for the delay in posting new material folks, but never before in all my years covering the league have things been so quiet. Usually, late June and early July are the quietest. That's when rosters are set and everybody heads off on vacation before training camp. This entire offseason has been eerily quiet because of the lockout.

Players you would normally talk to are keeping quiet because they may not be as up on all the labor issues as they should be and they don't want to expose themselves. Then there's the fact that with no free agency, there have been fewer things to ask them about.

"The media is getting desperate to write about anything," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said last week at a free health screening for students and their parents in downtown Chicago.

That's because people like you are still hungry for news, prompting all sorts of charts and lists being produced by football writers. NFL.com senior analyst Pat Kirwan (via ChicagoBears.com) offers the latest example when he breaks down the most underrated players in the league and ranks Bears' running back Matt Forte, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Redskins receiver Santana Moss among them.

Here's what Kirwan wrote about Forte:

"Forte is an all-around back who lives in the shadows of greats like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Michael Turner. To appreciate Forte, you really have to look at the total yardage picture and not just the rushing totals. Over the past three years, Forte has gained 4,731 total yards with 25 touchdowns. Steven Jackson has 4,783 yards and 18 touchdowns over the same period of time. Turner has 4,102 yards and 39 scores. Jamaal Charles has 3,981 yards and 17 TDs. Darren McFadden only has 3,050 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"Point being, Forte is every bit the weapon other backs are around the league. However, for some reason, he isn't on the tip of anyone's tongue when the great runners are discussed."

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

May 2011 is the previous archive.

July 2011 is the next archive.

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