Chicago Sun-Times

August 2011 Archives

Bears receive roster exemption for Harvey Unga

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Since making a solid appearance against the Buffalo Bills, Bears running back Harvey Unga has been excused from the team for personal reasons.

Now, according to a league source, the Bears will get a roster exemption for him.

With final cuts to 53 due Saturday, the Bears don't have to make a decision on Unga until he returns to the team.

Still, it seems Unga does not have a spot on the 53-man roster. Matt Forte and Marion Barber are locks, and Kahlil Bell is in an awfully strong position. Meanwhile, veteran Chester Taylor is counting the days until he's a former Bear. Via trade or release, Taylor will be gone by the weekend.

Unga, a seventh-round pick in the supplemental draft, is practice squad eligible, though.


Can the Bears find room for Dane Sanzenbacher?

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Like it is with a lot of NFL teams, the Bears' don't have enough depth for the last few cuts down to 53 -- the ones that will be decided in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns -- to make a big difference. Whether its keeping Mike Hass and cutting Joaquin Iglesias or vice-versa, moves to fill the final spots on the 53-man roster rarely prove costly or fruitful.

There are potential exceptions: Henry Melton edged out Jarron Gilbert for one of the last defensive line spots last year and is entrenched, at least for now, at defensive tackle. Matt Toeaina made the team as a ''bubble'' guy in 2008 and 2009 and is in the three-man rotation at tackle with Melton and Anthony Adams.

If there's a logjam anywhere on the roster it's at wide receiver, where the Bears might have to find room for undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher. Unless the Bears suddenly lose interest in Roy Williams or don't need Sam Hurd on special teams, they have five ''locks'' at wide receiver: Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Williams and Hurd. More often than not, they only keep five on the active roster.

With a seal of approval from offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is not expected to play in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Cutler is 26-of-43 for 341 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a 75.8 passer rating in three preseason games. But the Bears are happy with the progress he's made in the previous two games. Cutler was 12-of-21 for 171 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions and an 83.6 passer rating against the New York Giants; and he was 13-of-21 for 170 yards, no touchdowns and one interception and a 67.6 rating against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

Running back Chester Taylor took the blame for the ''misunderstanding'' that let to him leaving Bears training camp thinking he had been cut when in fact he still was on the team.

Taylor returned to practice Tuesday after missing Monday's practice, still hoping for a chance to stay with the Bears. ''I like it here in Chicago,'' he said. ''I'm going to continue playing and we'll see what happens.''

Unless Marion Barber's injury prevents him from playing in the Sept. 11 season opener, Taylor remains a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Barber clearly is No. 2 behind starter Matt Forte. And Kahlil Bell's production as a runner, receiver and four-phase special-teams player has pushed him ahead of Taylor.

Alex Brown is reminder of the questionable decision-making that marked the Bears' fall from the Super Bowl in 2007 to three consecutive non-playoff seasons. Twice the Bears rejected Brown in favor of Mark Anderson -- and twice they were wrong.

Maybe that's why Bears coach Lovie Smith, despite calling Brown "a lifelong friend," was cool to the idea of re-acquiring Brown after the New Orleans Saints suddenly cut the defensive end Tuesday. So much for the idea that you can never have enough defensive ends.

''Alex Brown is a lifetime friend," Smith said. "I was planning on pulling for him 15 games this season [all except the Saints game against the Bears on Sept. 18 in New Orleans]. But that's part of it. I don't know enough about it to respond to it. I try not to respond unless I have all the facts."

Jay Cutler says everything is progressing

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said he expects his receivers and offensive line to be ready for the Sept. 11 opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

"Yeah, they're getting there, just like everybody else on this team," Cutler said of his offensive line. "It doesn't happen overnight. So it's progress, and we're headed in the right direction."

Cutler said he isn't sure if he will play in the preseason finale at Soldier Field against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday.

"I haven't heard," he said. "I'm preparing like I'm going to, and we'll see what happens."

Despite missing most of the offseason workouts, the Bears offensive line has looked better this preseason than last.

"Guys have been in the system. They know what's expected," Cutler said. "[Mike] Martz is very demanding, but he also tells the guys exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it. So we've got a good core group of guys, who have been in the system, and they know what they're doing."


GRADE THE WHOLE PACKAGE, WHAT GRADE?
I'm not going to grade it. This is preseason. Games start counting when we play Atlanta, and we'll figure it out then.

Amobi Okoye may play both defensive end and tackle

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The Bears have been thrilled with the addition of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the 10th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.

In fact, the Bears like him so much that they may count on Okoye to provide some snaps at defensive end, too.

With Corey Wootton sidelined for a few more weeks, the Bears have more depth inside than outside. Currently, unheralded players Mario Addison, Nick Reed and Jake Laptad are behind starters Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. But, the Bears are expected to at least take a look at Okoye on the outside, as they approach Saturday's deadline to trim its roster to 53 players.

Another option, of course, is Henry Melton. But the Bears may call on him as a last resort, since he bulked up this past offseason and is still adjusting to the nuances of playing defensive tackle.

Addison and Reed need to come up big in Thursday's preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns.

Marion Barber calf injury not considered serious

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Bears running back Marion Barber didn't practice Monday, and his left calf had a black sleeve on it.

Since key players generally make a cursory appearance in the preseason finale, Barber likely won't play against the Cleveland Browns. But indications are, the Bears got encouraging news about Barber's calf injury.

The full extent of his injury isn't known. But, Bears defensive tackle Anthony Adams has missed practice since earlier this month with a calf injury. His, though, required a walking boot.

Against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Barber entered the game toward the end of the first quarter, catching one pass for eight yards and converting a third-and-1 by gaining two yards.

But he left the field, and he was ruled out for the remainder of the game around halftime.

Barber has established himself as the team's No. 2 running back after a strong training camp and preseason during which he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, the Bears also are hopeful about tight end Desmond Clark. He took a shot directly to the left knee from Titans safety Anthony Smith. Clark was clearly in pain, and he was taken off the field on a motorized cart.

Clark, though, later said on his Twitter account that the hit wasn't as bad as it looked and that he was confident he would return to the field "soon."

Chester Taylor still a Bear

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Chalk this up to one of the most bizarre stories in recent memory.

I was told this morning that the Bears had informed running back Chester Taylor that he would be released. Later on, his agent Ken Sarnoff posted this on his Twitter account: "Lovie Smith told Chester Taylor this morning that he Is being released.

"Chester thanks the Bears and their fans and wishes them well."

Around noon, the Bears announced five players they released, to get to the NFL maximum of 75 players. Taylor was not among them.

In the Bears locker room, running back Khalil Bell held court for a few minutes, although he made clear he didn't know anything about Taylor.

Now, at 1:10 p.m., Sarnoff just wrote: "Here's a first for me - the Bears just called me and said they have NOT released Chester.

"He did talk with Lovie though...misunderstanding?"

Bears set to release RB Chester Taylor

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The Bears have informed running back Chester Taylor that he will be released, according to a league source.

Taylor, surely, isn't shattered up about it.

"I don't wonder or doubt," Taylor said Saturday night in Nashville. "I'm just going to do what I do: practice and work hard. And whatever they do, they're going to do. I can't control it."

Taylor was disappointed that he dressed for Saturday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

"I practiced all week, thinking I'm going to play today. So, they could have gave me the heads up sooner," he said.

Taylor also said he didn't believe he got a chance to prove himself, considering his limited snaps in the other two preseason games.

On his Twitter account, Taylor's agent Ken Sarnoff wrote: "Lovie Smith told Chester Taylor this morning that he Is being released.

"Chester thanks the Bears and their fans and wishes them well."

Although Marion Barber left Saturday's game early with a calf injury, he had made a strong impression in training camp and in the two preseason games. Kahlil Bell has also produced, although he's important because he is important on special teams.

Taylor was signed to a four-year, $12 million contract last year that included $7 million in guarantees. But Taylor averaged a career-low 2.4 yards per carry.

Taylor was signed on the first day of free agency, alongside defensive end Julius Peppers and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. But, after just one season, two of those players are no longer on the roster.


Lovie Smith's take on Bears' 14-13 loss to Titans

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It's hard to react to anything that happens or doesn't happen in a preseason game without overreacting, so we'll let Lovie Smith handle the assessments of the Bears' 14-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night at LP Field in Nashville.

On the overall effort: ''We have to be pleased with some of the progress we made. We got better in most areas from the Monday night performance [a 41-13 loss to the Giants] we had.''

On the offense: ''We're moving the ball. The offensive line did a good job for the second week in a row of giving Jay protection. Running wise, we had the holes open, our running backs were able to get a few yards with it. [Matt Forte gained 74 yards on 17 carries; Kahlil Bell gained 48 yards on 11 carries in the second half].

Roy Williams catches two passes against Titans

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler didn't waste any time getting receiver Roy Williams involved Saturday night at LP Field.

On the first offensive snap, Cutler faked a hand off to running back Matt Forte then fired a pass for the right sideline for Williams.

The play gained 17 yards.

Then, on the very next play, Cutler launched a pass toward the middle of the field for Williams but the ball hit his hands and landed in the arms of Titans safety Michael Griffin.

"The second one, that's my fault," Williams said. "I still got to catch that one, but I felt like there should have been a flag somewhere in there. But, this is the NFL, so we got past that one and you just go to the next play."

Williams didn't play on the next series, but he insisted that wasn't punishment from receivers coach Darryl Drake.

"Don't look too far into it. Please, don't look too far into it," Williams said of Johnny Knox stepping in for him. "We were rotating the whole night.

"Tonight, everybody made plays, from 11 all the way down to 84."

Williams said the receivers played well, as a whole. Earl Bennett had a game-high 89 yards on six catches, while Williams was second on the Bears with 33 yards on two catches. Devin Hester had two catches for 31 yards, but he had at least one drop. Knox had one catch for 21 yards, while rookie Dane Sanzenbacher had two catches for 23 yards.

"It was a good day's work," Williams said. "Still not where it needs to be, but that's why you have preseason games and that's why you practice. We still have a long way to go, but I don't think we've arrived yet."

Chester Taylor talks about not playing Saturday night

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Based on the week, Bears running back Chester Taylor figured he'd play against the Tennessee Titans.

Yet he spent the evening, in uniform, watching the game as Matt Forte, Marion Barber, Kahlil Bell and even undrafted rookie Robert Hughes got snaps at his position.

"It's not like it's the regular season," Taylor said. "But I practiced all week, thinking I'm going to play today. So, they could have gave me the heads up sooner.

"But, I'm a professional, and I handled it."

Bears coach Lovie Smith downplayed Taylor's DNP.

"That meant that we wanted to take a look at someone else tonight, in particular Kahlil Bell," Smith said. "Kahlil hadn't gotten an opportunity to play that much. We wanted to get a good look at him and we were able to. And I think he did a good job of taking advantage of the carries he got."

Taylor signed a four-year, $12.5 million contract last year that guaranteed him $7 million. He's set to make $1.275 million this season, if he makes the final 53-man roster. But last season, he averaged a career-low 2.4 yards per carry, and the Bears signed Marion Barber, who has shined in training camp and in the preseason.

Taylor said all he can do is continue to work the same way he has been.

"There's nothing else I can do," he said. "I'm doing everything they ask me to do. So whatever happens, happens.

"I'm just going to do what I do: practice and work hard. And whatever they do, they're going to do. I can't control it."

There is a somewhat intriguing twist: Barber didn't finish the game with a calf injury, yet another reminder of the frailty of the position. The severity of Barber's injury, though, isn't known, although he was walking around the locker room without any help.

Tight end Kellen Davis (weak back), linebacker Lance Briggs (knee bruise) and wide receiver Sam Hurd will not play in Saturday night's exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. The other inactive players are running back Harvey Unga (personal reasons), defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) and defensive end Corey Wootton (knee).

Matt Spaeth will start at tight end in place of Davis. Brian Iwuh will start for Briggs, as he did last week.

The Bears also announced at cornerback Mike Holmes was waived/injured.

The Titans' inactives include wide receiver Kenny Britt (hamstring), defensive end Jason Jones (knee sprain), running back Chris Johnson (contract holdout) and backup running back Javon Ringer (hip).

The problem with, 'It's only preseason..."

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NASHVILLE -- Safety Chris Harris has been among the most vocal players, downplaying the significance of the preseason.

He makes some fair points on his blog

But last night, I watched a chunk of the second half of the Green Bay Packers-Indianapolis Colts game.

Let's establish what's important. First -- and above all else -- a team wants to get out of a preseason game healthy. Winning by a large margin but losing a key player, like the New York Giants did last week, isn't worth it. Not by a long shot.

Second, regardless of playing time, you want your starters to look sharp. Now, that doesn't always mean touchdown drives or, for a defense, forcing a three-and-out. But, they need to do some positive things, which are fairly obvious.

Lastly, you want your entire team to play as if there's something at stake, even if there's not.

That's what I saw last night from the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. Aaron Rodgers was long removed from the game, but they still wanted to win the game. Graham Harrell led the Packers to a terrific touchdown drive, and he tossed a two-point conversion to tie the game. Then, after an onside kick, they recovered, moved the ball again and set up a 50-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.

The Packers learned about some players last night -- I would guess the rookie tight end Ryan Taylor stood out -- and Crosby got some practice with an onside kick and a long field goal, with a game on the line.

Yes, these are glorified practices. But, whatever the Bears displayed last week against the Giants isn't acceptable. That's probably why Bears coach Lovie Smith was about as upset as I've seen him in my short time on the beat, after the game.

Win or lose, the Bears need a better overall effort tonight at LP Field against the Tennessee Titans.

Sure, the Bears were 0-4 in the preseason last year and won the NFC North. But, don't champions and competitors always want to win? Now that doesn't mean playing the starters deep into the fourth quarter, against a bunch of the other team's scrubs. And I do see the value in Dave Toub fielding a bunch of rookies in trying to evaluate what he has and living with the consequences. But, by and large, what I saw last week wasn't any near the level of intensity that I saw last night from the Packers, and that should definitely change.

DE Nick Reed making an impression

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Nick Reed isn't a former first-round pick, and he isn't one of the undrafted players.

Reed, a seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, is hoping to play in his second NFL season with the Bears.

After posting a sack and defending two passes as a rookie, Reed was cut by the Seahawks in September 2010.

Although he had a few options, Reed picked the Bears in January.

He knew new defensive line coach Mike Phair, he heard great things about defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and he watched the Bears defense shine last season.

"It was kind of an easy decision," he said.

Reed definitely stood out during training camp, giving all of the offensive tackles fits.

"I do my best every day and hope I make an impression," said Reed, who set the Oregon record with 29.5 sacks.

But, in two preseason games, Reed has just one tackle. And he was the first player to step after the starting defenders left the game against the New York Giants.

"They keep you guessing," Reed said. "But you got to be prepared."

Reed said he did all four phases of special teams with the Seahawks in 2009, and he's trying to work his way onto all four with the Bears.

As for competing for snaps, Reed said he doesn't worry too much.

"That's energy wasted worrying about the depth chart," he said. "All you can do is bring your best effort and attitude. Nothing else you can do."

Rod Marinelli talks about Monday night mess

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After his defense surrendered 41 points on Monday, Rod Marinelli had plenty of tape to evaluate on Tuesday.

"What you really look at is individual. You're still trying to evaluate people, your evaluating scheme. Bad practice, you want a good practice," said the Bears defensive coordinator. "That's what you're trying to get."

While the Bears escaped without any major injuries -- the New York Giants, meanwhile, lost starting cornerback Terrell Thomas -- they tackled poorly and gave up several big plays.

"The first I've always believed is, you go right back to your fundamentals, right back to your base. See what you have to correct, show it to them, and make sure you explain it to them correctly," Marinelli said. "'Then you make sure the drills are done right, and make sure the tempo and the pace is correct, then you get better."

Marinelli said the chief problem were angles.

"We kind of over shot the ball, a little bit," he said. "Really, they're a good cut back team. The backs aren't overly fast backs, but they are cut back guys. So that was a big part of it."

Darryl Drake sends strong message to Roy Williams

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Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake issued a strong message to Roy Williams recently.
If he doesn't get better, he's going to lose his starting spot.
Asked where Williams is at, in preparation for the season opener, Drake said, "Not where he needs to be, and he knows that.
"He and I have talked about that. And the good thing about it is, you got Johnny Knox who is fighting and working hard. And believe you and me, [Williams] also understands that Johnny is there, and Johnny is hungry, and Johnny wants his spot back. And if things don't start changing, then Johnny is going to be in there. Heard it straight from the horse's mouth."
Williams said earlier Wednesday that he was being sarcastic about his comments from last week regarding his physical fitness. But Drake didn't debunk the notion that Williams still isn't in game shape.
"I understand that Roy's got some things to do, as far as getting in shape, but that's not my fault, and that's not my concern," Drake said. "My concern is making sure, when we play Atlanta, we got the best guys out there, that is going to give us the best chance to win. And if Johnny Knox is that guy, then he needs to be out there."
These are strong words from Drake. But keep in mind that Drake coached Williams at Texas, and he knows how to push the receiver.
Drake is one of the team's more outspoken and publicly honest coaches, but he certainly made his comments with a goal in mind.
Regardless, Drake likes the way Knox has responded.
"I know a lot is being made about Johnny not being in there but this has helped Johnny. This has helped him to be a better student of the game. Johnny has improved tremendously. I'm very proud of what he's done, and he needs to continue to do that because there were some things he needed to do," Drake said. "But as long as he continues to make the strides he's making, he's going to be fine."
Williams suggested he didn't have any drops against the New York Giants Monday night, even though he clearly botched the first ball intended for him, which would have given the offense a first down on third and long.
Asked how many of the three passes intended for Williams should have been caught, Drake said, "The first one, for sure.
"Aaron Ross made a great play and knocked it out, but you can't let Aaron Ross knock that ball out. That's the bottom line. The ball hit him in the hands - it was a great throw - and he let the DB knock it out."
Drake explained that the details of the offense are evident on that play. He said if Williams were one or two steps over, Ross wouldn't have had a chance to make a play on the ball.
"That was the difference in the play, bang-bang," Drake said.
As for the slant, Drake said there was no way for Williams to make the play, suggesting that the cornerback held the receiver.
But Drake added that the receivers have to play through those things.

Bears' Roy Williams getting in shape quickly

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Bears wide receiver Roy Williams took the blame for giving the impression that he's not yet in football shape three weeks into training camp. But he still seemed slightly miffed that it's an issue after two preseason games without a catch.

''I'm fine, man. I'm fine,'' he said prior to practice Wednesday at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. ''I played a half. I'm good to go. I don't understand what the hell's going on [with that line of questioning]. But it's all good.''

Cutler bullish on Roy, Barber, Webb, o-line

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Though the Bears' offense appeared to struggle against the New York Giants on Saturday night, quarterback Jay Cutler was upbeat that concerns about the key issues -- like Roy Williams and the offensive line -- will be allayed by the Sept. 11 opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

The offensive line allowed just one sack against the Giants after giving up nine in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.

''I think we're definitely getting there,'' Cutler said. ''The Giants game was a huge confidence booster for not only the offensive line, but for me, and in their ability to protect me, and that's to do some of the stuff we want to do like seven-step drops and get rid of the ball quick and spread it out some. The more I work with them and they work with me, the more comfortable we're going to get.''

Matt Forte: Run game will be there

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Running back Matt Forte made a highlight-reel play against the New York Giants on Monday night when he took screen pass and cut across the width of the field for a 42-yard gain to the Giants 7-yard line.

But he didn't get much on the ground, gaining seven yards on four carries as the Bears were held to 81 yards on 26 carries overall (3.1 yards per carry), including 23 yards on eight carries in the first half.

''It'll come. We started slowly last year, too,'' Forte said. ''We've got a lot of work to do up front and a lot of stuff to figure out. We're getting better as at team right now.''

Even special teams has a lot of work to do

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Bears special teamer Craig Steltz wanted to wait until he sees the film to know exactly what went wrong with the Bears' special teams against the New York Giants on Monday night. But the naked eye is all you needed to know that it wasn't very good.

The Giants' Devin Thomas averaged 46.0 yards on three kickoff returns -- including a 73-yarder. The Bears allowed just one kickoff return of 50 or more yards last year (a 60-yarder by the Lions' Stefan Logan), but Thomas took one kick five-yards into the end zone to the Giants 28, and another kickoff four yards deep to the Bears 31.

''We just have to get off blocks and make tackles,'' Steltz said. ''As complex as the schemes are on special teams, a lot of it's very simple -- you have to get off blocks and make tackles.''

Roy Williams still remains catchless in preseason

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It wasn't fair to read too much into Roy Williams' preseason debut, considering he only played a couple of snaps.

But he played most of the first half against the New York Giants, and he was targeted early on. But he dropped two of the three passes for him, and he remains catchless in two preseason games.

The most costly was the first.

It appeared to be a 16-yard gain. But the Giants challenged the play, and the officials overturned it because he lost the ball as he was going down.

Despite all that, Bears coach Lovie Smith said the veteran receiver is progressing.

"Roy is getting better. He hasn't been in the system long - I'm talking about here with the Chicago Bears - and we've seen progress. Tonight, we didn't see a lot," Smith said. "But we see it behind the scenes, and eventually it'll show up on the field."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler noted Williams missed the first six days of training camp, due to the new CBA rules.

"We're trying to catch him up to speed and get him in shape and get him where he needs to be," Cutler said of Williams. "But the desire is there, the want to is there.

"He just needs a little more time with us, working him in there, and trying to get him involved early. But, overall, I think that whole group is coming along well."

Johnny Knox, meanwhile, caught two of three passes intended for him, including an impressive 20-yarder in which he jumped high in the air to snare a hard pass from Caleb Hanie on third and long. Knox also had a 45-yard kickoff return.

Quick reads from Bears' 41-13 loss to Giants

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I'm trying to rush out of the New Meadowlands Stadium, and get a little sleep before a morning flight back to Chi-town. But here are a few thoughts from tonight:

1) The Bears didn't get have any serious injuries.
That's significant, in light of the fact that the Giants lost arguably their top cornerback, Terrell Thomas. Another backup cornerback got hurt, too, so the Giants will be scrambling to bolster one of the game's most important positions. That's not an enviable position for any club in August.

2) The Bears offensive line did protect better.
In fact, you could argue that the lone sack of Jay Cutler was one he could have avoided, by rolling left and throwing the ball out of bounds. But, it's hard to argue the fact that he slid, as a linebacker was barreling toward him. The greater concern, though, is the fact that they could only muster 2.9 yards per carry in the first half, with the longest run once again coming from Marion Barber. Yes, the Bears can hang their hat on the explosive plays to Devin Hester and Matt Forte. But three-and-outs on three of the first four offensive drives, on the road, is just not a good recipe for a winning football team.

3) Where is the heat?
The Bears defense has racked up a whopping one sack in two preseason games. I swear to you that the defensive line has looked very good at training camp, but they obviously aren't producing anywhere at the same level in practice. And you can make fun of the offensive line all you want but that unit did play well against a very talented Giants defensive line. So what gives? Frankly, I'm puzzled. Other than Julius Peppers flashing something once in a while, the other defensive linemen just haven't done much to stand out. Only Nick Reed, among the undrafted players, made a few decent rushes.

4) Don't fret about the special teams.
Dave Toub definitely was experimenting with some different young players on Monday. And, by the look of it, they collectively didn't do too well. Robbie Gould wasn't banging it nine yards deep, because they are trying to evaluate their young players. It's the right thing to do. It should pay off in the regular season, if they can identify a player or two who can improve the unit.

5) Are the Bears going to be any better in short-yardage?
The good news: the Bears got into the red zone five times. The bad news: they only scored one touchdown, right at the end of the game. Marion Barber had a couple of short yardage chances, and he didn't convert either one. Earlier in his career, he was automatic in those situations. But, he struggled last season, which is one of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys dumped him. Barber has done many positive things so far but short yardage isn't among them.

Five things I'll be looking at Monday night

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Monday, the Bears return to the site of the offense's ugliest and scariest game of the entire 2010 season.

The offense looked completely inept, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz dialing up play calls as if Jay Cutler had spit in his Cheerios that morning. The Bears' running backs averaged a healthy five yards per run, but they only got seven carries. Meanwhile, Cutler dropped back 21 times and got sacked an NFL record nine times.

The Bears defense played spectacular, allowing the Giants to only score a field goal in the first half, before things started to fall apart late in the third quarter of an eventual 17-3 loss.

As they return to the New Meadowlands, the Bears enter what should be a very intriguing preseason game. Here are five things I'm looking at:

1) Can Jay Cutler walk off the field in one piece?
Technically, he finished the first half, but he didn't return in the third quarter because of a concussion. It was as if Cutler and center Olin Kreutz were the only two players representing the Bears offense because Giant defenders were racing to see who could level him first. Because it is the second preseason game, Cutler and the starting offense should play significantly more than the opener. But if he makes only a cursory appearance, it would be hard not to view that as an indictment of the o-line and assurance that changes -- including the addition of a veteran -- are imminent. The unit, though, surely doesn't have any momentum; they looked dreadful in the last public practice of training camp.

2) Will Kellen Davis or Roy Williams please stand up?
Anyone who closely watches the team knows what Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Cutler are capable of. But the two new major additions to the starting lineup are Williams and Davis. The former hasn't really distinguished himself in the last week of practice but maybe he was waiting to "turn it on" for the game. And, to be fair, he barely played in the preseason opener. As for Davis, he's made a bunch of plays in practice, but he needs to show that huge target radius in a game, even if its only in the preseason.


Tracking unheralded players can be difficult, when the roster limit is 90.

But it didn't take long before tight end Kyle Adams, an undrafted free agent from Purdue, impressed coach Lovie Smith.

"It was fairly quick," Smith said after Friday's practice. "Then every day, more and more."

Adams is expected to participate in all four phases of the special teams Monday night against the New York Giants, and he's also been given some snaps at fullback. That's a strong indication of the team's interest in him since it's not a given that a pure fullback (currently Eddie Williams is the No. 1 player at that position) makes the final 53-man roster.

"We talk about the more you can do," Smith said. "It's not just lip [service] with us.

"In all those areas we look for, he can do, and he's done well."

According to his Purdue bio, Adams was a co-captain last season and received the team's "Pit Bull Award" for exemplifying "tenacity and intense play."

He distinguished himself at the East-West Shrine game, according to the website NFL Draft Scout, and displayed "fluidity as a route-runner, soft hands and impressed with his effective blocking and play on special teams."

Undrafted rookie DE Mario Addison stands out

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Thanks to an active offseason, the Bears have a lot of depth along the defensive line. The club picked defensive tackle Stephen Paea in the second round of the NFL Draft, and they've added former first-round picks Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye.

But an undrafted rookie is turning heads and consistently making plays.

And he's from a smaller school with a reputation for developing pass rushers.

Undrafted rookie Mario Addison hails from Troy University, and he's hoping to be the latest pass rusher to come out of that Alabama school.

"One thing about Troy, we produce defensive ends," said Addison. "The coaches work with us, day after day, to make us rush men."

New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware both played at Troy.

Addison has distinguished himself with an explosive first step and his flexibility. With former Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton sidelined after a knee scope, Addison is competing to earn the extra snaps. He's mostly going up against Gholston, and he currently has the edge.

"When [Wootton] went down, I was like, 'Ah man. I hate to see good players go down.' But I know when he went down, coach was looking for somebody to step up," Addison said. "I said, 'This is my opportunity to show what I'm about, because I know coach would give me more reps, if he put me in that second spot, which he did."

Okoye had the only two sacks in the preseason opener against the Bills. But Addison was largely responsible for the first one, flushing the quarterback out of the pocket and toward the sideline, where Okoye was the nearest defender in pursuit.

Thursday Aug. 18 practice observations

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In a refreshing change, on a beautiful night, the Bears offense had a strong evening.

Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie routinely threw the ball to their own offensive teammates, and the offensive lines blocked well enough to allow the running backs to consistently get past the line of scrimmage.

But some of that success has to be taken with a grain of salt: defensive starters like Lance Briggs (knee bruise), Brian Urlacher (general soreness) and defensive tackle Anthony Adams (calf) didn't practice Thursday.

Here are some highs and lows:

THE HIGHS
* Caleb Hanie was definitely in a groove, making the short and long throws. He hooked up with undrafted rookie Kris Adams on several long passes down the left sideline.

* Undrafted rookie defensive end Mario Addison seemed to take advantage of his reps with the first- and second-strong defense. He got past starting left tackle J'Marcus Webb a couple of times, although none appeared to be for a sack.

* Receiver Johnny Knox continues to look explosive, both as a kickoff returner and a receiver. While he got a few snaps with the starters, Knox is still mostly with the twos -- something that makes Hanie very happy.

* Tight end Kellen Davis had a strong night, most notably towering high in the end zone for a touchdown from Jay Cutler.

THE LOWS
* Second-year cornerback Josh Moore had a rough night, giving up several explosive passes. He bit hard on a double move by Adams for a long touchdown.

* Receiver Roy Williams made several solid catches. But he juggled and eventually dropped a well-placed pass from Cutler in the middle of the field.

* As the Bears stagger to the end of training camp, the injury list is starting to get longer. Zack Bowman (concussion), Chester Taylor (sore knee), Devin Hester (soreness) and Desmond Clark (unknown).

PRACTICE BALLS GOES TO... Caleb Hanie. The Bears backup quarterback has been getting served humble pie from a coach and a certain diminutive columnist from my newspaper. But Hanie had what appeared to be his strongest practice yet on Thursday night, not throwing any interceptions and tossing several touchdown bombs.

Julius Peppers played on some special defensive lines with the Carolina Panthers. But he really likes the potential of his unit with the 2011 Bears.

"I think it could be a great one," he said. "If everybody continues to work and learn like we have been doing, I think the skies the limit for this group because we have so much depth and so many guys that can play."

While the Bears did lose Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the club is confident in the players they retained and are prepared to step into the spotlight. They re-signed veteran Anthony Adams, but they expect Henry Melton to make a name for himself, and they also are optimistic that Matt Toeaina will also become a force. In addition, they've been encouraged by the potential of rookie Stephen Paea and free-agents Amobi Okoye and Vernon Gholston, as well as undrafted rookies like Mario Addison.

And, of course, there's Peppers and Israel Idonije, who each had eight sacks apiece in 2010.

"I see a lot of guys that can play, that fill our system," Peppers said. "We have explosive and quick guys, that's what we try and have up front. We're not necessarily big guys, heavy guys, so I see all the guys that we have fit into the system."

On paper, the Bears defensive line does look good. But, it is hurt by the loss of Corey Wootton for a few more weeks, after a scope on his right knee Tuesday. With the depth, though, the Bears can probably ease him back and hope he returns to his training camp shape by October.

New Bears offensive lineman Chris Spencer took snaps with the starters Wednesday, but only after starting right guard Lance Louis got ill during practice.

Spencer stepped in at center, and Roberto Garza swung over to right guard.

"We kind of got lucky, a little bit. Lance is going to be OK," Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said. "It's nice to take a look, without turning it into a saga."

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said the offensive line was only responsible for three of the nine sacks allowed against the Buffalo Bills. But, the Bears expect the offensive line to take a step forward, against the New York Giants next Monday at the New Meadowlands.

"We should still be embarrassed by that," Tice said, referring to the Oct. 3 game in which quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked nine times on 21 drop backs in the first half of a 17-3 loss to the Giants. "Now, you have a chance to go in there and play better and redeem yourself, to some extent - I mean, it is a preseason game - but they're not going to be balls to the wall with blitzes and those sort of things.

"But it'll be a great challenge for us physically."

While he knows the move isn't permanent, Spencer said he enjoyed getting to work with the starters.

"It was good. Just get comfortable with the guys, and knowing what they're doing and letting them hear my voice and my calls," he said.

Spencer said he's getting very comfortable with the offense, and he's able to make all the calls without any help.

Undrafted rookies who are standing out at Bears camp

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There are more than 200 NFL veterans who are still looking for jobs.

And, a number of them can still provide quality starts.

But, as I've said often, it's a buyer's market, and the abbreviated offseason has actually hurt the veterans.

In a normal offseason, undrafted rookies are signed immediately after the NFL Draft, toward the end of April, and clubs have chances to watch them and work with them before training camp.

But this year, clubs now have to use the early portion of training camp to evaluate and unearth the potential diamonds in the rough.

The Bears have a couple they're eagerly watching.

In my opinion, the Bears are not done adding credible veterans. I still think they may add an offensive lineman, a linebacker or even a cornerback.

But as we enter the last few days of training camp here at Olivet Nazarene University, a handful of undrafted players have consistently distinguished themselves.

Let's take a closer look:

1) Dom DeCicco, linebacker, Pittsburgh -- Despite all the speculation about Lofa Tatupu, the Bears have been impressed with DeCicco, who is listed as Brian Urlacher's backup. A standout safety at Pittsburgh, he switched to linebacker, and he's stood out on defense and special teams, the latter which is crucial if he's going to make the final roster and claim the sixth linebacker spot. It's clear that DeCicco relishes contact, so he has the mentality to fit in on defense and special teams.

2) Mario Addison, defensive end, Troy -- A high school quarterback and running, Addison was switched to linebacker then defensive end during his collegiate career, which included a stint at Northeast Mississippi Community College. While he definitely stood out in Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, Addison has also made an impression in training camp, routinely beating linemen in drills. He's a good athlete, with a very nice first step. But, Pro Football Weekly write before the draft that he was not instinctive. "At times screams up the field and runs right past the ball," PFW said. "Marginal eyes and instincts... Very raw."

3) Dane Sanzenbacher, receiver, Ohio State -- The 5 foot 11 receiver has been the media darling of training camp. That's natural, given his position and the fact that he immediately got some quality reps because of minor injuries to Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett. Besides, he's a true slot receiver, which already makes him the backup to Bennett. New receiver Sam Hurd also shows an ability to play in that position, although he doesn't seem as ideal a fit. This could ultimately be a numbers game for Sanzenbacher. He's proven to be consistent and reliable. But, he needs to stand out on a game day, not just on the practice field.

4) Kris Adams, receiver, UTEP -- He's got a difficult battle, to make the final roster. But, Adams has made arguably more spectacular, highlight-reel catches than any other receiver on the roster. What I mean is, he's made a lot of acrobatic and deep catches. Fans at training camp have seen many of those. But, he also distinguished himself against the Bills, with a game-high three catches for 58 yards.

5) J.C. Brignone, center, Mississippi State -- Alex Linnekohl of Oregon State generated some pre-draft buzz. But Brignone stood out at the East-West Shrine game. Capable of playing center and guard, he's fierce and consistent, although he's not the most physically gifted athlete. Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice loves an unheralded project, and Brignone could be the one.

6) Spencer Lanning, punter, South Carolina -- He didn't get a chance to punt Saturday, against the Bills. But anyone who has attended training camp knows that Lanning has an NFL leg. And while the Bears have had him focus on punting, Lanning also has the capability to kickoff and even boot field goals. In my opinion, he would be an upgrade for at least four NFL teams, so I still think there's an outside chance the Bears might land a late-round pick to deal him.

A day after the coaches handed his usual second-string snaps to rookie Nathan Enderle, veteran Caleb Hanie didn't exactly bounce back the way he -- or anyone else with the organization, for that matter -- wanted.

"It's not going well, I wouldn't say," Hanie said of his training camp so far. "It's kind of middle of the road. I'm kind of just working through some stuff, I feel like. I feel like I'm still getting through it and getting timing back, rhythm back, and all that stuff."

On Tuesday night, Hanie was intercepted three times.

Hanie, though, didn't want to flesh all of those mistakes out.

"If I start talking about picks and stuff, I'm going to have to explain the whole offense to everybody. It's a very complex system and it's very much involved with timing and everything. What goes into an interception, there's a lot of different parts that go into that," he said. "So I'm not going to get into what happened on this play, what happened on that play."

Tuesday, Aug. 16 practice observations

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The evening got off to such a promising start for the Bears offense.

During one-on-one drills, the Bears quarterbacks were completing bombs to receivers. OK, it was mostly Jay Cutler, who hooked up with Johnny Knox and Dane Sanzenbacher on consecutive plays.

And with the brewing quarterback drama, Caleb Hanie resumed his role as Cutler's backup.

Unfortunately, Hanie had another rough night, throwing three interceptions. Cutler also was intercepted once.

"Tonight, a good job by our defense of taking the ball away. Not good by the offense with the amount of turnovers that we had," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "That happens sometimes when you have two good groups competing against each other."

Here are some highs and lows:

THE HIGHS

* Tight end Kellen Davis had a big night, making several nice catches during practice. He had one impressive leaping one along the sideline from Cutler.

* Spencer Lanning and Adam Podlesh were booming some punts tonight, during special teams.

* Major Wright picked off a Cutler pass that was deflected.

* Julius Peppers smoked J'Marcus Webb on one rush and seemed to get to Cutler after only four or five steps backward.

THE LOWS

* Webb had a rough night, in my opinion. Undrafted rookie Mario Addison got around him once with relative ease.

* Hanie had a rough, rough night. He was picked by Josh Moore, Craig Steltz and Corey Graham.

* Cornerback Zack Bowman, after telling reporters he did not have a concussion, actually has missed two practices BECAUSE of a mild concussion.

* D.J. Moore is a playmaker, and he wants to get more opportunities. But, he muffed a punt return.

PRACTICE BALL GOES TO... Kellen Davis. He looked terrific on the field, under the lights. His blocking has looked good, but he's looked even better as a pass catcher. He knows how to use his length, and he's got excellent speed for his size.

Earlier this evening, when I heard the Houston Texans lost another running back to injury, I immediately thought of Chester Taylor.

That's because I remember that Taylor makes his offseason home in Houston.

There's been a lot of focus on the Bears running back depth chart. Matt Forte is clearly No. 1, but Taylor is not so clearly the backup anymore. The Bears signed Marion Barber to a two-year contract, and he's definitely looked impressive in training camp, and he had 45 rushing yards on seven carries Saturday night.

In addition, Kahlil Bell played well, and he is something the other three are not: he's a core member of the special teams.

With Derrick Ward leaving Monday's game against the New York Jets, it's fair to wonder if the Texans are looking for running back help. Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster is hurt, along with Ben Tate and Steve Slaton.

Currently, the Texans two healthy backs are Chris Ogbonnaya and Javarris Williams. Ogbonnaya had 17 carries for 37 yards, including a touchdown, and he also caught six passes for 67 yards and one touchdown.

Taylor is due to make $1.25 million this season, and the Bears surely would have to consider taking a late-round draft pick for him.

Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice acknowledged the uneven performance by the o-line in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills last Saturday night, but said he will stick with the current unit in hopes of an improved effort next Monday against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.

Without naming names, Tice made it pretty clear that right guard Lance Louis and left tackle J'Marcus Webb need to make big improvements over their performances against the Bills.

''We had a handful of guys that played good, and I think those guys are evident,'' Tice said. ''We had a couple of guys that were on the cusp of playing winning football, but didn't. Then we had some guys that didn't play well.

''Not to call anyone out, I think everybody knows who those guys are. It was pretty evident. They're young. They need to improve this week. Normally from the first preseason game to the second, guys make a big jump. We're looking for that big jump. I thought they bounced back today at practice and practiced well.''

Nate Enderle runs second-team offense Monday

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None of the Bears quarterbacks played particularly well Saturday night in a 10-3 win over the Buffalo Bills.

But, the Bears coaching staff apparently wasn't too pleased with backup quarterback Caleb Hanie, who didn't take his usual snaps with the second-string offense.

Instead, rookie Nathan Enderle got those snaps.

When did he find out?

"When coach [Mike] Martz yelled out my name," Enderle said.

Asked if he got a heads up, Enderle said, "I just go in when they tell me to go in.

"So, I don't read too much into it."

But Hanie didn't look very happy, walking off the practice field. He was scheduled to appear on 670 The Score with starting quarterback Jay Cutler. But Cutler made the hour-long appearance with rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher instead.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said that, after the game, "your reps change a little bit, based on what you've done."

"We got Nathan Enderle a couple more reps today with the 2s," Smith said. "He did some good things in the game. He hadn't really gotten a lot of reps in practice right now."

Asked what it means in regards to Hanie, Smith said, "No, there's no punishment, there's no rewards.

"You look at how a guy played, and that determines what type of reps he gets the following week. As I said earlier, Nathan hasn't gotten hardly any reps in practice. He did a few things. We want to see what he can do when he gets a few more reps in practice.

"Caleb didn't play as well as I thought he did initially. But, again, first preseason game. All the guys will get better."

Enderle appreciated the extra work.

"It was nice," he said. "It's good to get the mental reps in, watching the other guys do it right. But, it's also nice to get in there and physically get the reps and see the things with my eyes."

For the game, Enderle completed seven of 10 passes for 110 yards, but he threw an interception and was sacked five times. His rating was 66.7.

Hanie was three for seven for 32 yards, and he was sacked three times. His rating was 56.8.

Marion Barber "just here to play football"

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New Bears running back Marion Barber doesn't like to talk to reporters.

Just ask my colleagues who covered the Dallas Cowboys or the University of Minnesota.

Barber has politely declined interview requests since signing with the Bears, but he added after Saturday's win over the Buffalo Bills that he would talk today.

Barber honored his promise.

There wasn't much, but here it is.

* On his transition to the Bears: "It feels good. Not really a big difference. Feels good to be here."

* On what he wanted to accomplish: "Man, I'm just here to play football. However they want to utilize me, I've got to be ready at all times."

* On being known as a hard-nosed runner: "No question. That's what I've been doing my whole career so it's not going to stop now."

* On importance of fresh start: "It's just all about playing football. I mean, fresh start - I'm just glad I'm here and going from there."

* On Bears as opposed to other clubs: "I'm just talking about right now. I'm just glad to be here and I'm going to continue to work."

* On Bears tradition: "I'm just here to play football. I don't think about the past. I just think about now and helping contribute to this football team."

Then Barber was gone. As he walked by Scott Hagel, the team's senior director of corporate communications, Barber said, "That's it for the year."

I don't think he was kidding...

Zack Bowman is "ready to go"

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Bears cornerback Zackary Bowman slammed hard into Buffalo Bills receiver Paul Hubbard in the third quarter.

Bowman took the worse end of it, needing some help off the field.

But, he said Monday that's he's fine.

"I don't know what it was. I'll tell you this: It was a bang-bang [play], and I laid on the ground for a second, got stable," he said. "I was fine. They were making sure that I was stable and stuff like that, but everything checked out good, so I should be ready to go."

Bowman said he did not have a concussion.

But, he said he was "kind of out of it" for about 15 seconds.

Uh, that doesn't sound good.

"But, shoot, I came to very quick and was very coherent," Bowman said. "I could read everything, answer all their questions, tell them everything, so I'm good."


Bears special teams coach Dave Toub has no issues with the new rule that pushes the kickoff spot up to the 35-yard line, even though it will impact his unit more than most.

But, as he tries to identify his players on special teams, Toub said the Bears received permission from the NFL before Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills to kickoff from the 30.

"That's why we did it," Toub said.

Asked when he realized they weren't allowed to do that, Toub said, "I guess it came down from New York.

"They got word that we can't kick from the 30, and we just went back to the 35 after that."

Toub said he doesn't need any clarification now.

"We thought we could do it. We thought we were clear with it. Talked to the officials before, and they were fine with it," Toub said. "We're trying to evaluate our kickoff team. You don't get any evaluation when you have touch backs.

"That's what preseason is for: evaluation, find out who can cover kicks. That's all we were trying to do."

If preseason is any indicator, one of the most exciting plays in football won't be as prevalent this NFL season, because of the rule change.

Meanwhile, Toub said receiver Johnny Knox will definitely replace Danieal Manning, who signed with the Houston Texans during the offseason.

"Certainly. That's why we don't have Danieal anymore," Toub said. "Johnny can certainly fill that role. He's a very good kick returner, as you saw."

Knox had a 70-yard kickoff return but the offense stalled and didn't even line up for a field goal attempt.

"He got everything he could get out of that return," Toub said.

Putting Amobi Okoye's performance in perspective

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Amobi Okoye looked like a top-10 player on Saturday night.

The former Houston Texans first-round pick had both of the Bears sacks, and he also had several other pressures.

But remember this: Okoye was facing backups of the Buffalo Bills, a club that went 4-12 last season.

That's not to dismiss his performance; Okoye should produce like that.

But he's used to facing very good players, since he has 58 NFL starts under his belt.

How good can Okoye be?

It's hard to say at this point, since he's also stood out at Bears training camp. But, again, he's generally not facing the starting offensive linemen.

But this is a start, and he's fired up about being a Bear and working with defensive line coach/ defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

"I can't wait until the regular season gets here," he said. "Being a Bear felt good. Real good."

Okoye talked about the "trial" of having the Texans tell him that they were shopping him before eventually releasing him altogether.


"It was a trial period for me, but that's the thing about football," he said. "Football is like no other sport. When you get knocked down, you have to get back up.

"That's what you have to do, and that's why I love the game."

Okoye, 24, couldn't be happier to work with Marinelli.

"Man, Rod is a great, great coach. There's a lot of things I've already gathered from him, through the two weeks that I've been here," he said. "I'm glad I have this opportunity."

But the defense still doesn't feel natural to him.

"I haven't even got it down all the way. I was in a system for four years," he said of the Texans. "I still have old habits with the old system. I would say I'm only probably halfway through, as far as the mentality you have to have to be in this system. I can't wait until I get it all down."

What not to look for in Bears' preseason opener

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As a football coach, Lovie Smith is the anti-fan. He never rushes to judgment. He's never pointedly critical. He rarely tips his hand on even the most inconsequential strategy or personnel issues. And when he watches the Bears play, he never drinks beer. We are impatient to a fault. He is patient to a fault.

It's maddening at times. But if there's ever a time where he sees things better than we do, it's the first exhibition game of the season. There might never be a greater disparity between the anticipation and the substance of any event in an NFL season. (The final preseason game is a shadow-boxing event, but even we know that.)

So when Lovie avoids specifics when asked what he's looking forward to seeing when the Bears play the Buffalo Bills at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Soldier Field, you can't blame him.

''As much as anything, just to see where we are,'' Smith said after practice Thursday at training camp in Bourbonnais. ''I mean, you never know. This is a new year. They'll tell us a lot. I just want to see where we can get a good evaluation of a game situation and start adjusting the depth chart from there.''

If Brian Urlacher gets injured, are the Bears really going to turn to ... Dom DeCicco?

Probably not. But DeCicco, an undrafted rookie from Pittsburgh, is listed as the No. 2 middle linebacker on the Bears' depth chart as they open the exhibition schedule a 7 p.m. tonight against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field.

That tells you just how thin the Bears are at linebacker behind starters Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach. Of the seven backup linebackers currently active, five of them are rookies and only Brian Iwuh has played in the NFL. And he's been primarily a special-teams contributor, with four NFL starts at linebacker.

Asked earlier this week if he was concerned about depth at linebacker, Briggs told it like it was: ''If we stay healthy, no,'' he said. ''If guys start going down, you're going to have to be concerned.''

Darryl Drake blasts newspaper story on Johnny Knox

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Ever-passionate Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake was irked by a Chicago Tribune story Thursday that cited sources indicating Johnny Knox will ask to be traded if he doesn't beat out newcomer Roy Williams for the starting ''X'' receiver job in the Bears' offense.

''I don't even know where this crap comes from,'' Drake said outside the mess hall at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. ''Johnny Knox never said one word [in the entire story]. "Nothing ever came out of his mouth.

''If you guys keep making this stuff up and bringing this stuff up, you're going to deal with me and it ain't going to be real nice.''

Aug. 10 practice observations

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The Bears had an eventful practice Wednesday night to say the least.

They did their first game-caliber hitting of training camp with a goal-line drill -- highlighted by, of all people, third-string linebacker Tressor Baptiste, an undrafted rookie who might have moved ahead of undrafted rookie Dom DeCicco into the No. 2 spot behind Brian Urlacher with a jarring hit on Marion Barber that drew a huge response from the crowd but an even bigger response from the players. Hard to believe some teams hit like that all the time in training camp.

Bears adjust to power outage at ONU

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Another bizarre chapter in an anything than normal training camp for the Bears.

At about 8:08 p.m. Wednesday, after more than an hour of practice, the lights went out on the practice field the Bears were working on at Olivet Nazarene University.

The special teams portion of practice continued, since there was still light. But team officials huddled with ONU officials to figure out what was happening.

ComEd had lost power to a large portion of the campus, including the lights the Bears and their fans were relying on Wednesday night.

Unwilling to lose anymore practice time in an already abbreviated training camp, the Bears called an audible, bussed the players to a nearby high school and resumed their session about an hour after the lights initially went out at ONU.

"Every once in a while, things like this happen. But as a team, this is a night we needed to get in," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Great weather. We missed a day, of course, a few days ago. But players came over, got a chance to work on FieldTurf, it was a good, lively practice; we got better tonight. That's what we wanted to do."

Added quarterback Jay Cutler, "It's been a weird series of events for us.

"So hopefully we can get back on track at the end of this week and have a good showing Saturday."

That's when the Bears will play the preseason opener at Soldier Field. Last Friday, of course, the team's schedule practice there, on Family Night, was cancelled because the grass wasn't safe enough for the players.

Asked about that and the storm that cut an hour from practice on Monday, Smith said, "It's not all bad.

"You want to put guys in different situations. As I said earlier, we're going to London. We'll have to get out o the routine. But, eventually, it's good to go through that, and then to see that we got a normal sized field and we're able to get the same work that we would have gotten in over there."

The Bears defense had a stronger showing on the FieldTurf than the offense, with safety Craig Steltz twice picking off quarterback Caleb Hanie. In fact, Hanie had five interceptions on the evening.

"Great night for the Bears," Smith said diplomatically. "That's the only way you can look at it. But you have to go through some of these situations. We do have a good defensive team, and that'll happen from time to time. But looking at it offensively, we have to protect the ball. It's as simple as that."

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out, the NFL does have a say in every playing surface that its teams play on.

In addition, a league source said the NFL officials is engaged in the field maintenance and management of Soldier Field, just like every other stadium. That, I'm told, is a constant line of communication that's open.

The Bears and the Chicago Park District determine the playing surface at Soldier Field. But, the NFL could weigh in on the debate, natural grass versus FieldTurf.

Here is what is written in the NFL Game Operations Manual:

"Each home club is responsible for having the playing surface of its stadium well maintained and suitable for NFL play. The League may require improvements to ensure compliance and such improvements will be at the Club's expense. Failure to maintain a playing field properly is considered a competitive issue and clubs that fail to do so may be subject to discipline."

In other words, the league has the final say on whether a field is suitable or not.

The manual also says: "It is prohibited for Clubs to change from one playing surface to another surface during the season without discussing the change with and obtaining the permission of the League office. This has been further clarified to include artificial turf to artificial turf, grass to artificial turf, and grass to grass. The NFL Game Operations department must be informed and permission must be granted prior to any change."

Mike Martz: Rookie WR Sanzenbacher 'has a chance'

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It's not easy for a rookie wide receiver to make an impact in the NFL, especially in Mike Martz's offense. But precise route running and versatility are two qualities that can make a big difference, which is why Dane Sanzenbacher, the undrafted rookie from Ohio State, might be more than a novelty at Bears training camp in Bourbonnais.

Sanzenbacher has impressed the Bears' coaching staff with his route running. And his ability to pick up the offense at several wide-receiver positions -- primarily split end and the slot -- without any offseason preparation is sure to earn him a serious look in the preseason.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz joined the chorus of his offensive players anticipating an improved performance in the second year of his offense with the Bears -- starting with quarterback Jay Cutler.

"We feel like we should be able to continue to improve from where we left off and make a quantum leap in some other areas,'' Martz said during is weekly press conference Wednesday at training camp in Bourbonnais.

''With the number of receivers we have and the quality there, I would think we'd be much better there. Kellen [Davis, the starting tight end] has stepped to the forefront and established himself not just as a blocker, but also a pretty dynamic receiver in practice. There are some things coming out of this that you get pretty excited about.''

Williams ahead of Knox on Bears' first depth chart

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There were no big surprises on the Bears' first "unofficial' depth chart of the preseason. Roy Williams is ahead of Johnny Knox at the ''X'' wide receiver spot. Rookie Gabe Carimi is the starter at right tackle. Chester Taylor is ahead of newcomer Marion Barber as the backup to running back Matt Forte.

Second-year defensive end Corey Wootton is listed as No. 2 behind Israel Idonje at left end and shares the No. 2 spot behind Julius Peppers with newcomer Vernon Gholston. Rookies Nathan Enderle and Trevor Vittatoe are listed behind Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie at quarterback.

Monday, Aug. 8 practice observations

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On Sunday, I packed my Gore-Tex jacket and an umbrella. It didn't rain.

On Monday, I headed out to practice with nothing. And it rained.

Up until then, just before 4 p.m., the practice was shaping up to be an interesting one.

I usually watch the defensive line versus the offensive line, but I tried to pay more attention to the receivers and cornerbacks today.

HIGHS

* Devin Hester had his way with Corey Graham on at least three plays in practice. Graham appeared to get frustrated that maybe Hester was too physical on a couple of shorter routes. But, Hester got Graham on a double move for a 50-yard touchdown from Cutler.

* Zack Bowman picked off a Cuter pass that was intended for rookie Dane Sanzenbacher.

* The offensive line again did a nice job, during a portion of practice when the focus is on running teh ball.

LOWS
* Rain and lightning ruined the final hour of practice, with players rushing off the field.

* Undrafted rookie Kris Adams hauled in a deep pass, as he has several times. But on that play, he was jammed, and the quarterback probably wouldn't have had that much time to get him the ball.

* Safety Chris Harris flat dropped a pass from Cutler.

Practice ball goes to... Sam Hurd. The new receiver, who will be a key part of the special teams, stood out in Monday's practice. Facing Charles Tillman, Hurd made a difficult down the field. Tillman was in very good position, but Hurd just made the play for a 25-plus yard gain. Later, he cut hard toward the post then cut outside. Tillman fell down, and Hurd made an easy catch.


McCaskey: Bears still like grass at Soldier Field

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Bears president George McCaskey apologized to Bears fans for the cancellation of the Bears' Family Fest last Friday at Soldier Field and said he was confident the playing field at the venerable lakefront stadium will be in fine shape for the team's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.

''I was there yesterday and spoke to Ken Mrock, our groundskeeper [and] John Nolan, the park district's groundskeeper,'' said McCaskey, speaking to reporters outside the mess hall at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. ''Both of them said they're very confident the field's going to be ready Saturday.''

McCaskey reiterated the organization's stance that natural grass is the best surface at Soldier Field because, he said, there are fewer injuries than on artificial surfaces.

Bears running back Harvey Unga, a seventh-round pick in the 2010 NFL Supplemental Draft, spent last season on the reserve/ injured list.

And he's already missed a chunk of training camp, after he had to return to Utah, because his wife gave birth to their second child.

Unga left on Monday and he returned Saturday. He was back on the practice field on Sunday.

"I feel as good as I can," Unga said. "I had a great offseason."

Unga said he was thankful to be able to return to be with his wife.

"I'm glad to be there with my wife and share that experience again," he said. "I miss them a lot but, I got to come back to work."

It's unclear what Unga's role will be.

At running back, the Bears have Matt Forte, Chester Taylor and the newly signed Marion Barber. The team also has two fullbacks on the roster, Will Ta'ufo'ou and Eddie Williams.

Unga was known as a power back at Brigham Young, but Barber has already proven himself in the NFL in that role.

"Like any other person on the team, I hope to get a shot and get a chance to make some plays and help the team out," Unga said. "Things happen, so I just try to help the team out and do whatever I can, wherever they put me."

Unga will have a chance to make an impression on special teams. He's also open to learning fullback, if that's what the team wants him to do.

Tice: Garza starting at center, line set -- for now

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Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice gave it to us straight -- or as straight as he could give it to us -- when he talked with reporters after the Bears practiced Sunday night at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

The highlights:

1. The starting center's job is Roberto Garza's to lose. It was assumed that free agent Chris Spencer would inherit the job vacated when captain Olin Kreutz could not come to contract terms. But not only is Spencer not being handed the starting job, he's not even competing for it, Tice said.

''I'm pleased Chris Spencer is coming along nicely and I think what we'll do right now as we get through that first game, we'll leave everybody be, evaluate that first game and see if we need to split some reps [between] Roberto or Spencer,'' Tice said. ''But right now the way things are going and how they're improving every day and [with] all the good things I've seen, I'm not really in the sense that I need to change anything right now.

Sunday, Aug. 7 practice observations

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There was a threat of rain, but it ended up being a really nice night at ONU.

The practice had a lot of high energy, although we're starting to see what happens after more than a week of practice. Players are getting nicked up and missing practice. Second-round pick Stephen Paea sat out, with a sleeve on his right leg, and receiver Johnny Knox is nursing a sore back. Defensive tackle Anthony Adams didn't finish practice, with his left leg wrapped.

The offense made its share of plays. But the evening belonged to the defense. The highlight was an outstretched interception by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who dropped back into coverage. He picked off a Jay Cutler pass intended for receiver Roy Williams.

Being a savvy veteran, Urlacher hauled in the ball and lateraled it to cornerback Tim Jennings.

D.J. Moore also made an impressive pick. Rookie safety Chris Conte tipped the ball, and Moore made a shoestring catch of a Caleb Hanie pass.

But, Cutler and Hanie also had plenty of highlights. Cutler connected with Devin Hester on another deep ball, he had a great sideline hook up with tight end Kellen Davis, and he tossed a pair of touchdowns to his former Vanderbilt teammate, Earl Bennett. Hanie, meanwhile, made a great deep throw that Onrea Jones, a first-year receiver out of Hampton, collected for a 30-plus yard gain.

"There's a lot of competition at some positions, most positions - defensive line, offensive line, receiver, secondary, so it should make for a great preseason schedule," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're excited about getting a chance to play Buffalo [on Saturday]."

THE HIGHS
* Against the first team defense, the Bears starting offensive line opened up some nice running lanes. It seemed, though, Chester Taylor was the one running through most of them.

* Rookie safety Chris Conte continues to make plays. It's hard not to notice. Meanwhile, Major Wright has been relatively quiet, so far. It's not alarming yet, because it's still very early, and Wright isn't a disaster out there.

* The Bears may have some real tough choices at running back. Matt Forte is looking as fit and explosive as ever, Marion Barber is running with authority, and Chester Taylor is consistently making plays during camp.

* Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina has often been paired with Julius Peppers in two-on-two drills against the offensive line. Peppers is Peppers, of course, but Toeaina has made left guard Chris Williams look pretty bad, too. Toeaina's always been known for his power, but he looks quicker now.

THE LOWS
* Other than Charles Tillman, I'm not seeing the other cornerbacks vying for the starting spot making a whole lot of plays. And I'm not just talking about interceptions. There's nothing wrong with some tipped passes.

* Andy Fantuz, a CFL star, looked like a sleeper to make the team when he was signed in the offseason. But he's hardly made an impression, and undrafted free agent Dane Sanzenbacher has clearly distinguished himself among unheralded receivers.

* Despite Mike Tice's assertion that his starting five is set, I'm still not convinced that the lineup is set. Roberto Garza has looked fine at center, but after they signed Chris Spencer, I would think he'd be a more natural fit at the position, since he's started so many games there. Garza could then swing back to right guard, to help rookie Gabe Carimi. And Lance Louis can push -- or push out -- Chris Williams at left guard.

GAME BALL goes to... Roberto Garza. He's a true pro, showing leadership and versatility. In practices, he's looked very solid. Olin Kreutz told me he was ready to take over the unit, and Garza seems to be handling that task just fine. Players like Chris Williams said Kreutz was irreplaceable. Still, with him officially with the New Orleans Saints, the Bears offensive line -- the most publicly criticized and targeted unit on the team -- has to move forward, and Garza seems to be doing a more than adequate job. Everywhere he goes, he's got a handful of the offensive linemen with him.

The Bears' "intent" to give running back Matt Forte a contract extension satisfied Forte enough to come to training camp, but left one significant hole: What happens if he gets hurt?

Forte has been in camp and has been running well in the first week of practices. But with less than a week before the first preseason game, the injury factor is looming larger. And the possibility exists that he would sit out the Bears' preseason opener Saturday against the Bills at Soldier Field, Forte said Sunday.

"It's our first preseason game, I've been out here at practice an I think I'm getting pretty well-prepared for the regular season,'' Forte said. ''Every time you step on the field, it's a risk. It's a risk when I step out on the practice field. It's even more risk in a preseason game. Guys are out there, trying to make the team, on the other teams. Sometimes you just want to be cautious about taking a chance out there.

Roy Williams trying to add life to the party

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Bears wide receiver Roy Williams has been careful to let his play do the talking so far (''I'm just one of 11 guys trying to make a play,'' he said.). But he still wants to have an impact on his fellow receivers, with a little help from Sam Hurd, his teammate in Dallas who also has joined the Bears.

''I'm trying to loosen these guys up,'' Williams said after the Bears practiced Saturday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. ''These guys don't talk as far as receivers go. Sam and I are coming in to put smiles on their faces and let them know they this game is fun. Have fun while you're playing. You're going to mess up. But when you mess up. It's all right. Just don't mess up tomorrow.''

George McCaskey comments on Friday event

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From Neil Hayes, who is in Canton, Ohio:

Bears chairman George McCaskey may have been in Canton, for Richard Dent's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but the playing surface at Soldier Field wasn't far from his mind.

The Bears family night practice at Soldier Field was cancelled Friday because the field was in such poor shape that it was deemed a safety risk. While McCaskey said the Bears and the park district grounds crew have a "good working relationship," he also said the organization will attempt to work even closer with the park district crew to make sure nothing like that happens again.

"We feel so bad for the fans," McCaskey said. "We're so sorry for those people who sat in traffic.

"We rely on the park district to make sure the field is playable. We need to make sure that's the case. It comes down to player safety."

Sat., Aug. 6 practice observations

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The Bears' mid-afternoon practice was as spirited as it could be on a steamy day in Bourbonnais Saturday -- exactly a week from their preseason lidlifter against the Buffalo Bills next Saturday at Soldier Field -- playing conditions pending, of course.

WR Johnny Knox did not practice because of a lower-back issue. He's day-to-day, but sounded as if being held out was just a precaution at this point.

Brian Urlacher calls Soldier Field snafu "a joke"

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Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has been a vocal critic of the turf at Soldier Field, and he didn't hold back after conditions prevented the club from practice there Friday night.

"A joke. I don't understand why you can't have your field ready," Urlacher said. "It sucks for the fans because I'm sure it was a pain in the butt to get down there with all the traffic but I think coach did the right thing not letting us practice on that stuff.

"We ended up having a late practice last night but it's too bad it had to be that way."

The Chicago Park District, which is responsible for the turf at Soldier Field, apologized for the mistake and will refund fans who paid the $8 entry fee. But, the Bears traveled north from Bourbonnais, where training camp is held, only to turn back around and return there for a late practice that ended around 10:30 p.m. Friday night.

Urlacher reiterated he thinks the Bears should play on Field Turf.

"I don't understand why they don't have Field Turf yet. We're a fast team," he said. "The injury issues aren't as bad as they used to be. They've gone down a lot in the past few years with the way they've made the turf. So I don't understand it.

"Use our speed. Let us get out there and run."

The upside to the Bears' Family Fest fiasco

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About the best spin you can put on the Bears' Family Fest debacle Friday night at Soldier Field is that the Bears almost certainly had a much better practice in Bourbonnais than they would have had at Soldier Field.

Those "fan-appreciation" events are great for public relations and should definitely be held every year. But the downside is that the practice that usually goes along with those events usually isn't very good or substantive.

As it turned out the opposite likely was the case. The Bears practiced privately at Olivet Nazarene University -- no fans or media -- upon returning to Bourbonnais after the Bears Family Fest was cancelled because of the poor field conditions. It must have been heaven for Jay Cutler. If all NFL teams could practice privately all season and only engage the public on Sundays, the Bears would gain more than most.

That said, it would have been a nice touch if the Bears would have allowed Larry Mayer from the Bears' web site attend practice, talk to Lovie Smith and a player or two afterwards and file a pool report for the media. When 10,000 people go downtown on a Friday night during Lollapalooza and pay $8 to watch your team go through the motions at practice, there's obviously a lot of interest in your team. After Friday night's disaster, showing your fans you care that they care is just good business.

Olin Kreutz turns down more money to join Saints

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Former Bears center Olin Kreutz has signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Kreutz will make close to $4 million in total, including incentives, although agent Mark Bartelstein said his client had more lucrative offers. Bartelstein said the Saints were "hampered" by it's salary cap position.

"This wasn't about the money," Bartelstein said. "There were two other teams that offered considerably more guaranteed money (than the Saints).

"People roll their eyes when a player says, 'It's not about the money.' But Olin is a different guy, and he's shown in the past it wasn't just about money. He thought this was the best place for him, at this point in his career, to win a Super Bowl."

Kreutz was excited to join the Saints because they welcomed him and they are projected to vie for the NFC title.

BOURBONNAIS -- The Bears unveiled some new weapons on Thursday, most notably receiver Roy Williams and running back Marion Barber.

But it was a familiar player who stood out: Devin Hester.

During the practice, Hester made an adjustment, noticing that a safety was out of position, and he beat cornerback Tim Jennings down the field and hauled in a pass from Jay Cutler for a 46-yard touchdown. On the sideline, receivers coach Daryl Drake excitedly pointed out how well Hester recognized and executed the play.

"Devin Hester is having an unbelievable - unbelievable - camp," Cutler said.

"Just so much more comfortable in the system," Cutler said of Hester later. "He's not thinking, and in this system, if you think, you're not going to be very effective. He's just out here, he's reacting, and he's running super fast. I'm happy. I think he's happy with where he's at right now."

Hester told the Sun-Times earlier in the week that he welcomed the arrival of Roy Williams. But he said he still believes he can be a major contributor to the Bears offense.

"I just want to make plays," he said. "I just need opportunities."

Cutler on-target again in Bears' practice

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You didn't have to wait to see the film to know that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is making progress in training camp.

Cutler completed 14-of-18 passes in the ''team'' portion of practice at training camp Thursday night at Olivet Nazarene University. He completed passes to nine receivers -- Earl Bennett (twice), Roy Williams (twice), Johnny Knox (twice), Devin Hester (twice), Matt Forte, Chester Taylor (twice), Dane Sanzenbacher, Kellen Davis and Eddie Williams.

He threw one interception -- a downfield pass that was deflected by wide receiver Sam Hurd and picked off by safety Craig Steltz.

Roy Williams shakes off rust in Bears debut

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Jay Cutler-to-Roy Williams didn't set off fireworks Thursday night. But it's early.

In his first practice since signing with the Bears after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys, Williams shook off some rust, made a few catches and just felt good to be out on a football field again. Especially in Mike Martz's offense.

''It felt good. It's fun. This is the best offense I've ever been a part of,'' said Williams, who is wearing jersey No. 11 with the Bears -- the same number once worn by Hall of Famer Link Lyman. ''This is real football here. A lot of conversions, a lot of reading the defense. It's what the NFL is all about.''

Lovie encouraged in Bears' first full practice

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Lovie Smith was upbeat after the Bears practiced with a full roster for the first time during this year's training camp Thursday night at Olivet Nazarene University.

''We started to look more like a football team tonight,'' Smith said. ''Of course, it was good to get some of our veterans who have been standing on the sideline back on the football field. But I like what a lot of them showed us tonight.''

Here's who caught Smith's naked eye Thursday night:

Aug. 4 practice observations

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A beautiful night for football attracted a nice crowd that included Rev. Jesse Jackson -- standing behind the fence with the rest of the fans --  at Bears training came at Olivet Nazarene University on Thursday.

With the NFL players ratifying the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, the 2011 NFL season officially began, and free agents signed since the lockout ended were finally able to participate in practice.

The crowd seemed to be looking for Roy Williams to put on a show. But the first pass to him in the 7-on-7 drill, from Jay Cutler, was broken up by Tim Jennings. Cutler seemed to miss Williams again -- a pass so far off the mark it might have been intended for Earl Bennett. But Cutler and Williams finally connected on a short buttonhook route in the flat against Jennings.

Jay Cutler press conference highlights

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was in a fine mood, perhaps because he was a like a little boy who got to play with some new toys.

Cutler had a chance to play some catch with receiver Roy Williams and watched as new running back Marion Barber made a strong first impression with his hard-hitting style.

"Just to get them out there and get them in the flow of the offense, and get a feel for the complete team we're going to have for the season. It was definitely nice," Cutler said.

Asked if it felt like this was the first day of camp, since many veterans couldn't practice until today, Cutler said, "You do, with some of the new guys and some of the teaching techniques.

"We had to go back to Day one and start over. The good about it, a lot of the guys have been in a system similar to this, so we shouldn't have to spend too much time catching them up."

Here are some other highlights of his press conference:

* On his impression of Roy Williams: "You know, he's going to be dynamic for us. He's going to be good. He's very steady, very consistent in his routes. You know where he's going to be. He knows the offense. I'm excited."

Major addition to starting defense Bears watching

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Is Major Wright ready for his close-up? The second-year safety from Florida played better in the second half of the season in a reserve role as a rookie last year. And that was enough for the Bears to give him a shot at the starting strong safety spot vacated by the departure of Danieal Manning, who signed a free-agent contract with the Houston Texans.

Wright had 31 tackles in 11 games last season, but 28 of them came in a six-game stretch from Week's 11-16.

''He played quite a bit last year,'' Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Thursday when asked what makes him confident that Wright will take the next step. ''And he's an excellent tackler. He's got good ball skills. Plays in space well. Usually that second year in our system is when guys make a big step. So we take these guys, take them all together and work with them and the cream will rise.''

Marinelli: 'I feel very good about these guys'

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Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli speaks softy and carries a very small stick when it comes to media interviews, especially in training camp. Its no wonder he and Lovie Smith get along so well. When it comes to evaluating their players publicly, the more they talk, the less they say.

So not surprisingly, there were no revelations when Marinelli met the media for the first time this season Thursday at Bears training camp in Bourbonnais. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher are really good players. Anthony Adams knows the system. Major Wright should be better in his second year in the system.

How good can Amobi Okoye or Vernon Gholston be? ''I just want to see him in practice,'' Marinelli said, ''see what he does well, understand the concepts of our defense -- how hard we're going to play, and the tempo. Then we'll kind of go from there.''

For what it's worth, Marinelli mentioned four players unprompted: defensive ends Israel Idonije, Peppers and Wootton and Urlacher.

Market developing for Olin Kreutz

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While Olin Kreutz told the Sun-Times Saturday he was "leaning more toward retirement," the longtime Bears center now appears to be leaning toward continuing his NFL career.

Kreutz's agent Mark Bartelstein said a "group of teams" have expressed an interest in Kreutz, who's main stipulation is that any club he joins would be a championship contender.

"As I said all along, if he gets a championship contending type team, he's going to be really interested," Bartelstein said, "and I think we're going to get that.

"There are teams that are inquiring at that level. Do I think something will happen? I think there's a good chance something will happen. It's definitely moving in that direction."

Bartelstein declined to comment on any of the clubs interested.
Kreutz said he's in excellent shape, after a rigorous offseason in which he was able to build instead of rehab.

"We trained together this whole offseason," Bears offensive lineman Roberto Garza said. "He looks and feels great."

Martz defends end-around call in NFC title game

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Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz leaned on the default response for bad play calls when finally asked about the Earl Bennett end-around that lost two yards and set up a fourth-down interception that sealed the Bears' fate in the NFC championship game in January: It was a good call, but bad execution.

If you were expecting to say, ''I sure wish I had that one to do over again. The good news is, I learn from my mistakes,'' or "It was a team breakdown -- a bad call and bad execution,'' you were in for a disappointment.

In case you wipe out Bears losses from your memory bank, here was the situation: The Bears trailed the Packers 21-14 and faced a third-and-three at the Green Bay 27 with 1:15 to play after calling a time out that wiped out an apparent first-down run by Matt Forte.

Martz 'stunned' by Jay Cutler's footwork

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler isn't ready to face the Atlanta Falcons, but he probably could make the first cut on Dancing With The Stars.

''Technically, his footwork and his drops, I was kind of stunned,'' offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. ''He's done an awful lot of work on his own this offseason. I was kind of giddy, to be honest with you. Watching him drop right now is textbook, and I didn't know how we were going to get him there. But he got there by himself.''

In the first few days of practice, Cutler is working out the kinks of a football-less offseason -- though even with a little rust it seems like he's right on the money whenever he throws to Earl Bennett. He was 12-for-20 in the team drill at practice Tuesday -- hitting Devin Hester (four times), Johnny Knox (three), Bennett (twice), Kellen Davis, Matt Forte and tight end Kyle Adams.

Martz 'happy' with progress of Bears' o-line

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Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz gave what in reality -- that is, relative to the general optimism of training camp -- was a tepid endorsement of the offensive line when he spoke to the media Tuesday at training camp.

With a group that worked just to get to an acceptable level in the second half last season and will be without center Olin Kreutz, Martz could hardly rave about the offensive line. It sounds like he's putting much of his faith in (1) offensive line coach Mike Tice; and (2) better use of his tight ends in the run game, especially short-yardage situations, than he had last season.

I'll give him this much: It's not blind optimism on either count. Tice is an excellent line coach with credentials; the tight-end thing just sounds like it makes a lot of sense. At least now it's clear what their role is.

It's probably worth noting that of the five likely starters on the offensive line, guard Chris Williams is the only one Martz DID NOT mention.

Former Bears DT Tommie Harris to join Colts

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Former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris isn't going to have to move very far.

Harris has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts, according to a league source.

Harris, the 14th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, was a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Bears.

One of the league's top defensive tackles, Harris was hampered with injuries and managed just four sacks in the last two seasons.

Harris visited the New England Patriots recently, but he's headed to the Colts, a club that runs a defense similar to the Bears.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz isn't ready to hand his starting center spot to Chris Spencer.

Currently, longtime starting guard Roberto Garza has been in the position that Olin Kreutz manned for so long. But Martz, who spoke glowingly of Garza, made clear Spencer won't have anything handed to him.

"Now that's up to Chris," Martz said. "I mean, we're very happy with Garza, too. We're not going to anoint anyone the starter over anyone. He may not make it. I don't know. He's got to come in and compete at that position.

"But he's a veteran who has played well. He's a good player. So, if he's not better than what we have, then he won't be the starter. Be very careful about anointing anyone the starter over anyone else. Like I said, we're happy with our starters now and the progress they are making and what they can eventually do. We're happy with that.

Martz said he's encouraged by what his current starting group can do, noting that moving J'Marcus Webb to the left side might help, because the second-year player seems more comfortable.

"He's very athletic," Martz said. "Now [Gabe] Carimi, as he comes in, is going to learn what's going on. But he's not intimidated by anything now. He's got that great work ethic. He's athletic. He's what we were looking for."

Martz said the loss of Kreutz was "unexpected," and added it "hurt all of us."

Martz indicated he would like to add at least one more veteran offensive lineman.

"I think we would all like to have a couple more veteran linemen. I don't think that's any different than any camp right now," he said. "I don't know if you can ever have enough quality offensive linemen, to do just what you talked about."

Who do you want to see and hear from?

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During training camp last year, I posted videos with short interviews with a handful of players.

Would you like that again? If so, who would you like, knowing that Jay Cutler would be a tough get? And what questions do you want me to ask?

I think it's best that they are short and sweet, with some football and some personal stuff.

Pass along your thoughts.

Rookie WR Sanzenbacher making good impression

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As an undrafted rookie free agent trying to make the team without any offseason workouts, Bears wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher has one one thing in mind when he comes to practice: ''Do something they're going to remember.''

The 5-11, 180-pound rookie from Ohio State is doing just that. Sanzenbacher earned reps with the first-team in Monday night's practice and will get more after catching everything that came his way.

''He's got a chance. He's a player,'' Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. ''You get an opportunity to make plays and that's what he does. He's steady. I've been impressed with what I've seen so far from him. We're going to keep giving him opportunities.''

So far, so good: Carimi looks like he belongs

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It was only the first day in pads, but Bears rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi looked like he belonged right where he was Monday night -- with the first team offense.

Carimi, the first-round draft pick out of Wisconsin who had been playing left tackle with the second unit in the first two days of practice, started at right tackle with the first team in the Bears' first full-contact practice and at least appeared to hold his own.

''First, he's a rookie coming in. You just want to see how they move,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ''So we just feel like right now we want to look at Gabe on the right side. He can play both, but keep everything in pencil.''

August 1 Practice Observations

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It was a muggy night here at ONU, under the lights. Several of the players complained coming off the field, including second-round pick Stephen Paea.

THE HIGHS
* The best play I saw tonight was by Jimmy Young, a 6 foot 1, undrafted rookie receiver out of TCU. He looked over one shoulder then the other and still made the catch. Very high degree of difficulty, and he didn't bobble it at all.

* Undrafted rookie receiver Dane Sanzenbacher out of Ohio State also made a handful of catches, looking very solid out there. He also took advantage of Roy Williams and Sam Hurd not being able to practice until Thursday, running with the starters when Johnny Knox had to get worked on briefly on the sideline.

* Nickel corner D.J. Moore picked off a pass from quarterback Matt Gutierrez. Moore made the catch look routine, which makes him such an exciting player, as he showcased often last year.

* Running back Matt Forte, who is cut up like a rock, showed his explosiveness down the left sideline. It wasn't full contact, but he definitely seemed to surprise safety Major WRight with his speed.

* Receiver Devin Hester hauled in a 50-plus yard touchdown. He made it look easy.

THE LOWS
* Cornerback Tim Jennings had a forgettable evening, giving up a handful of plays in a one-on-one drill. Jennings was also beaten on Hester's 50-yard touchdown. And he also dropped a pick.

* The equipment staff might want to fit rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi with some new cleats. He slipped several times during two-on-two blocking drills. Or maybe it's because Israel Idonije and Corey Wootton just overwhelmed him.

* Left guard Chris Williams, who is currently running with the starters, ended up on the ground on consecutive plays during two-on-twos.

* It was a bit frustrating, since so many key players can't practice until Thursday, due to the new CBA rules. So fans -- and reporters -- who showed up didn't get to check out receiver Roy Williams jump over defenders, Adam Podlesh drop a punt inside the five, or how Chris Spencer looks snapping the ball.

* Punter Spencer Lanning looked solid, and I erred in saying he was Podlesh on a Twitter posting.

Game ball goes to... the young kid. Dane Sanzenbacher. I'm sure he'll cry when we give him the award.

Amobi Okoye was the 10th overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

But Okoye hasn't flourished, as the Houston Texans had hoped, registering just 11 sacks in four seasons, and he was released.

Okoye knew where he wanted to play next.

"There are a lot of people I know here," Okoye said. "I always wanted to work with coach Rod [Marinelli] and he wanted to work with me too so it was an exciting opportunity for me."

Okoye also said that former Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris was a "big mentor," perhaps paying homage by picking No. 91.

"Being that Chicago also wanted me to come here, it only made sense to do it," he said.

Okoye signed a one-year deal with the Bears.

Bears still have $24 million in salary cap space

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After a flurry of veteran transactions -- including the trade of Greg Olsen, the release of Brandon Manumaleuna and the addition of players such as Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Amobi Okoye, Chris Spencer and Vernon Gholston -- the Bears are still $24 million under the salary cap of $120 million, according to two league sources.

Entering free agency, the Bears were among the top five teams in the league, in terms of space, with $34 million.

Despite the volume of players, the Bears handed out mostly modest, short-term deals. They also kept their own, signing starters like Anthony Adams and Nick Roach, and adding other key role players like punter Adam Podlesh, tight end Matt Spaeth and receiver Sam Hurd.

Although they have plenty of space, the Bears can use up much of it with an expected extension of running back Matt Forte soon and other extensions for players later in the season.

Players talk about the finality of Olin Kreutz

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The mood was somewhat somber here at ONU, as the players trickled in and out of the cafeteria.

While many stars often beeline past reporters, several of them stopped to comment on Olin Kreutz, who will not be returning for a 14th consecutive season with the Bears.

"It's sad," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "I learned a lot from Olin.

"I don't play o-line but just watching him as a rookie and watching the way he works, plays hurt, plays injured, never complains. He just practices and does his job. It's too bad we couldn't get it done."

That's the thing.

Usually, a team has an offensive and defensive leader. Sometimes, there's one on special teams.

At Halas Hall, though, there was one.

Urlacher is the unquestioned leader of the defense, but he was reverent when talking about Kreutz.

Asked who will fill Kreutz's leadership role, Urlacher said, "No one.

"No one's going to be like he was, I'll tell you that much. It's going to be a lot of guys who will have to do it. We'll get it done somehow."

Among offensive linemen, Roberto Garza would appear to take over the group.

"I'm the old guy now, you know?" said Garza, 32. "I've been here the longest and been around a great leader. Tough to fill his shoes, but you've got to step in to the role that's asked."

But several players said there's no shortage of leadership on the Bears, noting it's a veteran team. But what about a need for a vocal one?

"That stuff doesn't really mean to much to me," Urlacher said. "The rah-rah guys; we've never had any guys like that, who run around, yapping their mouths all the time. We just have guys who go out there and do their jobs."

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher echoed the general sentiment of his teammates regarding the team's decision to not bring back center Olin Kreutz: He'll miss him. He wishes he was in camp. He respects everything he stood for. But the team will get over it.

''It's sad. I learned a lot from Olin,'' Urlacher said as he left the mess hall Monday at Bears' training camp in Boubonnais. ''I don't play o-line but just watching him as a rookie and watching the way he works, plays hurt, plays injured, never complains. He just practices and does his job. It's too bad we couldn't get it done.''

Matt Forte's agent in Bourbonnais to talk

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Bears running back Matt Forte said his agent Adisa Bakari is expected to arrive today at ONU to speak to general manager Jerry Angelo about an extension.

Forte, scheduled to make $550,000, considered not showing up on time to training camp but arrived on time because Angelo assured him they would talk about an extension soon.

"It's encouraging," Forte said. "It's better than negotiating over the phone."

Angelo said at a press conference Sunday evening that his "intent" was to get a deal worked out with the running back, although he didn't provide a timetable.

"When I say intent, then we're motivated to do something. The timetable is yet to be determined. Just be patient," he said. "Take care of your job as you already have and continue to do and we're going to do our part.

"But again, it's a negotiation. You've got to find that common ground. That part of it will be a challenge. You're not talking about [an unrestricted free agent], where there's an open market [and] you bid. These extensions are much tougher, because agents normally look at the UFA market to set their counts. But he's not a UFA."

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